Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Ramthar

Ramthar
by Mike Deodato Sr. (story) and Mike Deodato Jr. (art)
Caliber Comics, 1996


The Brazilian comics father-son team of the Deodatos, Mike Sr and Mike Jr, first produced this post-apocalyptic sci-fi tale in the 80s. US publisher Caliber Comics released it in English in 1996.

As with Mike Deodato's other sci-fi comic from the 80s, Fallout 3000, with 'Ramthar', he takes the graphic art techniques used in the black-and-white comic magazines of the 70s and adds his own unique style.



Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Chronicles of Genghis Grimtoad

The Chronicles of Genghis Grimtoad
by Alan Grant and John Wagner (story) and Ian Gibson (art)
Marvel Graphic Novel, 1990


'The Chronicles of Genghis Grimtoad' (49 pp) was published by Marvel in 1990.

Alan Grant and John Wagner were veteran comics writers, having done memorable work for 2000 AD and a number of U.S. publishers, when they teamed up to write this humor-centered parody of the 'Dungeons and Dragons' storyline.


I won't disclose any spoilers, save to say that the plot involves your usual fantasy world (Shadow-Earth) and your usual fantasy kingdom (Haven) under assault by the hordes of an evil wizard (Toadthrax).


It transpires that Eric, the Prince of Haven, is obliged to flee for his life across most of the World. His goal is the land of Torbeck, where he will be given sanctuary. Accompanying Eric in his flight are his supermodel mother, Queen Jade; the barbarian warrior Quanah; knight of the ream Sir Hakkem; and apprentice sorcerer Genghis Grimtoad. A worthy company of heroes, but also a target for the malevolent sorcery of Toadthrax................


I'm not a big fan of fantasy humor and parody, but Grant and Wagner's story is content to insert the gags and jokes in a mild way that doesn't strain the reader's patience.

Where 'The Chronicles of Genghis Grimtoad' shines is with Ian Gibson's artwork. Gibson, another 2000 AD alumnus, uses a quasi-psychedelic range of colors in his painted artwork for this graphic novel. The color separations are outstanding for a comic of this era. 

The verdict ? While I can't say that 'Grimtoad' is a title you need to rush out and buy, if you happen to see it for sale for $10 or less at your used bookstore or comics shop, it's worth picking up.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Book Review: Quest for Lost Heroes

Book Review: 'Quest for Lost Heroes' by David Gemmell


4 / 5 Stars

‘Quest for Lost Heroes’ first was published in 1990; this Ballantine / Del Rey mass market paperback (291 pp) was published in July, 1995, and features cover artwork by Luis Royo.

QFLH is the fourth book of the so-called ‘Drenai Saga’. The books are loosely linked, so it’s not necessary to have read the preceding volumes to understand the backstory to this entry:

Nadir raiders attack an isolated settlement in the country of Gothir, slaughtering most of its people and carrying off its young women to sold into slavery at a forthcoming auction. Among the abductees is Ravenna, the beloved of Kiall, a young man who survives the raid.

Refusing to consign Ravenna to a wretched and miserable life as the concubine of a Nadir nobleman, Kiall travels to the capital of Gothir, there to ask the Earl of Talgithir to send a force of armed men to recover the captives.

Rebuffed by the Earl, a desperate Kiall turns to the eponymous band of Heroes for aid. 


These are Chareous, reserved and contemplative, a master swordsman….. Beltzer the Axeman, a hulking, foul-tempered man with very bad personal hygiene……..and Finn and Maggrig, accomplished archers and boon companions (wink wink) who have retired from society to live together in a cabin (wink wink) in the remote wilderness.

All four of the Heroes earned their laurels 15 years previously, at the siege of the fortress of Bel-Azar, where they alone survived a pitched battle with the Nadir hoards. However, the passing of the years, and the fading of their fame, have been unkind to the Heroes, who are struggling to find a meaning in a time of uneasy peace……. a time in which heroes are no longer needed.

More out of a sense of bored frustration than a dedication to the ways of chivalry, the Heroes agree to accompany Kiall and rescue his beloved. This, however, is no small feat, for their journeys will take them through the realms of darkness, where all manner of otherworldly evils assemble…..and even if they should survive those trials, the company will be forced to venture into the heartland of the Nadir kingdom……and a confrontation with Jungir Khan, its psychopathic ruler…….

‘Quest’ follows the standard approach David Gemmell took to crafting his fantasy novels: injecting a note of sober-minded realism into the narrative. In this case, the heroes of myth are shown to be vulnerable to decidedly un-heroic fears and depressions; their status as heroes derives not from their fame, but from their willingness to confront, and rise above, their human foibles.

The 2010s are an era in which fantasy novels are getting more and more bloated; so much so, that they are stretching the limits of paperback printing and binding technologies. For example, the latest novels from Brian Sanderson of ‘Mistborn’ fame are The Way of Kings (1280 pp) and Words of Radiance (1328 pp), the first two volumes in a projected 10 - volume series called 'The Stormlight Archive'. 


In comparison, ‘Quest’ is an example of a straightforward and entertaining heroic fantasy read. This one is worth getting.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Gotterdammerung Part Two

Gotterdammerung
Part II
Script by Budd Lewis, art by Isidro Mones
from Eerie No. 101, June 1979


Part one is available here.

This rockin' sockin' space adventure kicks into high gear with some intense battles, and the introduction of 'General Daniel Nightshadow'....?!  Only in the 70s..........

Despite the rather decrepit state of the copy of Eerie from which I made these scans, Mones's art remains eye-catching, almost forty years after it first appeared.












Friday, May 19, 2017

Book Review: Habitation One

Book Review: 'Habitation One' by Frederick Dunstan

3 / 5 Stars

‘Habitation One’ ( 256 pp) was published in the UK in 1983 by Fontana Books. The name of the artist who provided the striking cover illustration is not disclosed. 'Habitation' was the first (and apparently only) novel by author Dunstan, who evidently (according to its British review) was a 19 year-old college student at the time of its publication - !

The two reviews available for this novel at the 'Goodreads' website gave it only a few stars. But in my opinion, ‘Habitation One’, while not perfect, deserves a three star rating.

The novel is set in the year 2528, centuries after a combination of wars and eco-disasters have rendered the Earth a wasteland. The Remainder of Humanity – 1200 people – lives within the eponymous Habitation, a massive doughnut-shaped structure four miles in diameter, erected on an enormous column rising miles above the Earth’s surface. Within the Habitation rests an ecosystem resembling a rustic English village. The awareness of the Habitation as a post-apocalyptic arcology has been long forgotten by the successive generation of residents; to them, the interior of the Habitation is all the world they know.

As the novel opens, there are winds of change penetrating the simple existence of the residents of the Habitation. The mysterious machineries that supply the arcology with its electrical power and water are starting to break down; food harvests lessen with each passing year, and the population is starting to slowly, but inexorably, decline.

Settle, the middle-aged Librarian of Habitation One, leads a group of five residents, called The Scribaceous and Anagnostic Society, who regularly meet to discuss and debate Habitation society, mores, and politics. Not quite outcasts, but also not content with the direction the Habitation’s ruling class have taken, the Society is intrigued when Settle discloses that his efforts to explore the partially ruined floors of the Library have led to access to previously closed-off rooms and galleries.

Within these dust- and debris-covered rooms are ancient artifacts and databases, and a store of knowledge that can either save the Habitation......or doom it. For the revelations Settle has uncovered about the history and origins of the Habitation are not going to be received with equanimity by all of its residents……….

‘Habitation One’ belongs to the sub-genre of sf in which a closed, post-apocalyptic society ignorant of its origins comes to a ‘conceptual breakthrough’ occasioned by a degree of psychological, religious, and cultural trauma. It has a quirky originality that keeps it from being routine, however.

The author’s prose style, while frequently self-conscious and awkward (have your dictionary at hand to look up ‘coacervation’, ‘assentience’, 'insalubrious', and ‘manducate’), is really no worse than much of the prose appearing elsewhere in sf during the late 70s and early 80s (and here Donald Kingsbury's Courtship Rite, and any novel by Gene Wolfecome quickly to mind). The plot takes its time to unfold, but the narrative gets propelled by regular episodes of violence, some of which are frank Splatterpunk. While these Splatterpunk episodes were repugnant to the reviewers at 'Goodreads', they do lend urgency to the growing conflict stealing upon Habitation One.

Summing up, while I can’t recommend ‘Habitation One’ as a must-have example of 80s sf, if you happen to come upon it during one of your trips to the bookstore, it is worth picking up.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

OPS from Totem magazine

OPS
from Totem No. 6, 1977


Totem - subtitled 'The Magazine of New Comics' - was the Spanish version of Metal Hurlant and began publishing in 1977, the same year that Heavy Metal debuted in the USA. 

Totem was published rather irregularly from 1977 to 1994. While much of its content was made up of translated material from Metal Hurlant, it also ran additional content from other European sources, such as 'Corto Maltese' episodes. 

One of the strangest, weirdest, but most original of these unique strips to appear in Totem was 'OPS', which was published in issue No. 6 (1977). The artist is unattributed. It's too bad 'OPS' never ran in Heavy Metal.........the magazine's stoner readership would have reacted well to it..........









Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Rook Archives Volume 1

The Rook Archives: Volume 1
Dark Horse Books, April 2017



The story goes that in 1976, James Warren thought the time was right to bring back the Western genre, and cowboy heroes, to popular culture. He contacted Bill Dubay, an editor at Warren, and Howard Peretz, an executive at the California toy company Package Play Development, and asked them to create a Western hero (Warren and Peretz apparently wanted to market toys and other collectibles based on the newly created concept).

After some contemplation, Dubay and Peretz came up with a character that combined both Western and sci-fi themes: a time-travelling cowboy named Restin Dane, who went by the nickname 'The Rook'. 

Restin Dane was a brilliant inventor who, in 1977, used his unique time machine - styled in the shape of the eponymous chess piece - to travel to the Alamo, in order to save his great-great-grandfather Parrish Dane from being among those who perished in the battle against the Mexicans.

The Rook first appeared in Eerie No. 82 (March 1977 cover date). The series quickly proved to be one of the most popular franchises in Eerie, and the character was given his own magazine in 1979. The Rook lasted for 14 issues before it ended, with all of the other Warren titles, in early 1983. 
Dark Horse is issuing the complete inventory of Rook comics in a series of hardcover volumes, modeled much like the Archives editions of Creepy and Eerie released by the New Comic Company. The Rook Archives: Volume 1 reprints six Rook adventures first published in Eerie issues 82 - 85 (March - August 1977) and 87 - 88 (October - November 1977).

The Rook Archives: Volume 1 features a Forward written by Ben Dubay, nephew of Bill Dubay, in which Ben fondly recalls a childhood visit with Uncle Bill in the summer of 1982 that led to Atari videogames, and introductions to artists and illustrators working for Warren. Prior to his death in 2010, Bill Dubay requested that his nephew return the Rook to glory, and the release of the Archives is one part of the fulfillment of that quest.
As with the Creepy and Eerie Archive books, The Rook Archives: Volume 1 is a quality publication, printed on heavy stock paper. It's hard to tell if the contents are scans made of the original artwork (much of which vanished in Warren's bankruptcy proceedings) or from actual printed magazine pages. But all in all, the images hold up reasonably well considering they were first created 40 years ago.


Bill Dubay was editing and writing a considerable proportion of the content for the Warren magazines during 1977 and his plots for these first few Rook episodes tend to have a straightforward, humor-centered approach. The emphasis is on employing the time travel aspect of the character to explore the Old West. It's only with the last story  in this volume, 'Future Shock', that the sci-fi elments become center stage, along with a more downbeat, melancholy tone to the script.

The Spanish artist Luis Bermejo provides all the artwork for these inaugural episodes. His distinctive drawing style, with its use of heavy contrasts of black and white, works reasonably well in terms of rendering the Old West landscapes among which most of The Rook's adventures take place.
So, who is going to want to read The Rook Archives: Volume 1 ?  It's a good question. I suspect that Baby Boomers are going to be the primary audience. I can't see comic readers under 40 being all that taken by DuBay's plots, which as time went on become more oriented towards the campy, tongue-in-cheek humor that DuBay eventually would fully unleash in the pages of Warren's 1984 and 1994. And Bermejo's artwork is simply too abstract in nature to have much appeal to a younger readership raised on contemporary outline-oriented art that is expressly designed for coloration using PC software.

Summing up, if you're a fan of the old Warren magazines and The Rook, or perhaps someone interested in proto-Steampunk, then picking up a copy of The Rook Archives: Volume 1 is worthwhile.