Middle aged would be hack that he is, Luke checks out a comic aimed at his demographic. Middle aged man child, disposable income(MAMCDI? You wait, everyone will be using it in 6 months))
The ’77 is billed as a “New Retro Anthology” and brainchild of the chaps behind the “1977-2000AD”, “Sandman Universe”, “Action! Hookjaw & More” Facebook pages and a few others that I’ve probably missed. 68 pages of punk attitude comics with the spirit of the arse end of the 70’s and early eighties.
It’s an interesting mix of new and established talent. Names that will be familiar to you from mainstream and alternative comics and a whole bunch of guys you will recognise if you lurk around the Facebook groups or internet forums. All have one thing in common, they are clearly passionate about their comics.
The cover takes a traditional approach, taking the same inspiration from Warrior (who in turn took it from somewhere else), with characters in an inset. The artistic style itself reminds me of Adrian Smith, who did a few covers for “Toxic” in the nineties. On the inside cover illustrations of the various strips are assembled like a roll call with a bold statement of intent “With emerging talent, present day creators and heroes from your childhood”.
It starts strong, with some amazing, eye candy Jason Brashill style art from Neil Sims in “Temporal Anarchy : Punk in Drublic” a wittily appropriate spoonerism. Alan Holloway’s script on the effect of a cursed safety pin on the lead singer of a punk band, its superficially redolent of the recent Black Crown series “Punks Not Dead”, but only because of its setting. Sims works in a few background jokes and cameos from persons real and fictional and Bolt 01 provides clear, apposite lettering.
Next up is “The Tinkling Triangles” written by Mac 1 – aka former “Tharg”, Steve McManus and artist Brendon T Wright with letters by Filippo T Firefly. The titular Tinkling Triangles are a family of singing stars in the future, a kind of sci fi “Osmonds”, hoodwinked by their spiv manager and finding themselves dispatched to a war planet. The bright & breezy art and its subject matter seem an odd fit in with the rest of the package. The strip suffers from being a bit short, it needed to be a bit longer to establish itself.
“Prodigal” by Mal Earl. In the 26th Century, the Fae have taken over the Earth, humans have been subjugated, but there may be a chance for humans to reassert themselves. Lots of purple fantasy style wordplay which occasionally left me feeling a smidge confused, but overall this gets a thumbs up. It’s well executed, intriguing and I can’t fault the highly stylised art.
Steve Bull and Ade Hughes’ “V” is a futuristic gladiatorial tale. Hughes’ art is incredibly detailed, he cross hatches to within an inch of his life, it’s beautiful. Storywise, it’s an extended fight scene, brainwashed amazon gets sent in to the arena to fight for her life, but it was never going to be as simple as that.
“Technofreak” is an established strip, but new to your reviewer. Joe Assi and John Charles providing plot and script, Tom Newell on Paul Grist / Uderzo mash up art. A burglar looks to make some money from stealing military secrets from Biocorp. It did feel like I’d come in halfway through the story, but fun nonetheless. Lighthearted, slapstick and witty until the gritty cyborg chap appears at the end.
Every science fiction anthology needs a Future War story. “Division ’77” by Dave Heeley, Sinclair Elliott, Phil Elliott and Bolt 01 is the “77’s”. A timely tale of virus devastated humanity saved by alien benefactors, encoding the personalities of survivors in robot bodies to fight a thousand year war for them. This establishes the world nicely. Bold art, nice colours. Top stuff.
From 2000AD alumni Kek W, Conor Boyle and Annie Parkhouse comes the horror / thriller “The Screaming Hand”. In times of danger a disembodied hand appears to protect Dr. Stoneman, but he has no control over it. It would be reductive to call this a supernatural version of the “Steel Claw” or “Thing” from the Addams Family gone postal, there’s more to this than that. Boyle’s grayscaled art is spookily atmospheric.
Up next, “The Last Man” drawn, coloured and lettered by Phil Elliott, written by Michael Powell. A science fiction allegory of the Brexit/immigration argument, not particularly subtle and a bit on the nose, but a good read, with some lovely bold art from Elliott. In tone, think Pixar’s“Wall E” rewritten by remainers. Great stuff.
“Have Blaster will Travel” by Paul McCollum, Ed Doyle supplies bold art & lettering. Cutsie aliens in a western setting happy in their lot until the “Cyborg With No Name” rolls into town, and that’s all she wrote, mainly set up for a series perhaps?
“Penny Pentagram : How to Play Safe in a Supernatural World”, written by David Thomas, art by John Roydon. Think the “Green Cross Code Man” (which I’m sure most of us will remember) crossed with “Rent a ghost”. This is another odd fit, if the “’77” echoes “2000AD / Action”, this is more “Misty” (as far as I can tell) and not just because it has a female protagonist. Art is nice and clean, spoiled by some ill advised lettering positioning and overloaded bubbles. A bit twee for your reviewer’s taste.
“Angel” from Baden James Melonie, who is an old hand at this comic writing lark, and Steve Austin, a rising star in the 2000AD firmament, with lettering by Bolt 01. Austin’s art has echoes of Phil Jiminez, fine, detailed line work.
Comedy strip “Butch Yeehaw”’s bright art and all round zaniness is light relief from the angst, horror and action.
Writer artist Drew Marr’s “Key Runners” is next. A sterling effort from 10 year old Mr Marr, an imaginative idea, inspired by contemporary events with action and intrigue to maintain interest. This gent will go far.
Historical drama “The Tempered Curse”, by Dave Bedford and Morgan Gleave is an abridged version of the tale of Jacques De Molay, the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar. This looks lovely, in a style that reminds your reviewer of Marc Hempel. Unfortunately, what lets the strip down is that there is no background as to who DeMolay was or the events leading up to his execution, unless this is the first part of a series? It needed a few more pages. I’d like to see more from this creative team.
Finally, we have Lew Stringer’s “Sgt Shouty”, who caps the anthology with his light buoyant line work and boundless energy as our ebullient NCO vents over biscuit shortages.
It’s a great package, beautifully presented and Ian Gibson’s character sketches for his “Lifeboat” series on the backcover are an unexpected bonus. Like any anthology, not everything is going to be to everybody’s taste. It’s well balanced, with my only real criticism being that some of the strips could have been a page or so longer to offer a better introduction, plus I always like a bit of editorial. An introduction from the editor can help tie an anthology together.
I think the team sell themselves short by describing it as a “Retro Anthology”. Sure, some of the strips are inspired by the strips of our youth, but others are trying something different, and not just sticking to the action adventure straightjacket. It does hark back to the past, but it has one eye on the future.
This is an amazingly ambitious project. I’m in awe of the time and effort that has gone into it. I know if I’d attempted to arrange something like this I’d be a gibbering wreck, divorced, or both.
I’m lucky to have both digital and dead tree versions. I was relieved when my dead tree copy arrived, and warmed even more to the strips. Who cares about future generations? Give me paper.
When’s issue 2 out?
The Kickstarter to fund it, kicks off mid June with issue 2 emerging in mid August. I will have my introduction in that issue and appreciate your supportive and considered words. My wife says ‘Hi!’ too…. BenKsy
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