Thursday, 29 March 2018



Well... where do I start! An adaptation of a book I heaped praise on three and a half years ago (read the review here), this one was always going to be tricky. Not because the book isn't awesome, because it is, but because a lot of the stuff within it would be shite on the big screen. I mean, do you really want to watch a film where the main character plays Pac Man, or Joust? Nah, me neither. How about one where he races in a Delorian against shedloads of other cool, iconic vehicles through a wild, dengerous track that culminates in a face off against King Kong (not to mention the part where a T-Rex chases the cars)? If you think that sounds a teeny bit awesome this is the film for you.

So here's the gist of it: In the next 20 years or so a genius will invent the Oasis, a virtual reality universe that you can basically do anything in. It's quite simply world changing. Said genius dies (natural causes) 20 years on and leaves behind a challenge that invites people to find three hidden keys within the Oasis, and the first person to do so will get the whiole shebang to control as well as oodles (oodles ia a lot) of cash. Fast foward five years an no one's got past his first challenge yet, the race described above. We follow young hero Wade Watts, a poor but very smart kid who uses the Oasis as an escape from real life. Wade wants to find the keys, as do his friends, as do the EVIL (yep - capital letters evil) IOI corporation who basically want to use it to make money off everyone (it's currrently free with no ads). All together - Boooo!!!

So we have Wade, online name Parzival, and his bestie Aitch (a sort of orc who is great at making things within the Oasis),  who get thrown together with Art3mis, a die hard enemy of IOI, plus Daito and Sho, two of the Oasis' best fighters. What starts as a fun competition turns deadly serious as they discover IOI has no qualms about taking the fight into the real world, where you can lose much more than your gold and magic items.

As a fan of the book, I was worried about what changes would be made, although with author Ernest Cline co writing the script I wasn't THAT worried. The essential plot has been kept, with a few set pieces as well, including a fantastic climactic battle. Some characters have been subtly altered, others excised completely, and the end result is a very different Ready Player One to that which is on paper. That said, I sat there for two and a quarter hours as entertained as I have ever been in a cinema, glad that I was getting the same amazing story but with brand new twists and turns.

Visually, it's a wonderful experience, with the drabness of real life at odds with the beauty of the Oasis. The VR sections are flawless, managing to look real and at the same time computer generated, if that makes any sense. Characters within the Oasis have real personality and depth despite their generally non human look, and all the other visuals around them are stunning. There's so many nerdy references crammed in that aren't even alluded to this is going to be freeze framed and squeed over for years to come. Best one, though? Definitely "HADUKEN!" - you'll laugh when it happens.

It's hard to see how well non readers of the book will take this film, but if you are one of the already converted just go with the changes and you'll have a whale of a time. Spielberg has crafted one of the most enjoyable films of his glittering career with this one, and whilst it's unashamedly geeky it's hits it's targey audience squarely in the face like a well thrown batarang (yeah, he's in it as well).  Hopefull Cline's follow up 'Armada', a less technically challenging tale, will be next.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

ZARJAZ Issue 30 Review (2000AD Fanzine)

Zarjaz is Betelgeusian for 'Excellent', as every devoted Squaxx Dek Thargo knows. If the previous sentence is a bit confusing, then you're probably not a long term reader of 2000AD, the UK comic that gave us Judge Dredd in 1977 and is still going strong, with Dredd celebrating his 41st anniversary this week.

Fanzines in comics are not a new thing, and are often useful in digging out new talent or people who have just one idea in them but it's a great one. For example, the cover artist for the latest Zarjaz is Dan Cornwell, who is a previous contributer that now is a bonafide official artist in the main comic. Similarly, current Dredd author Mike Carroll also made his early career steps in Zarjaz, so it's nothing to be sneezed at. It's really nice of Dan to do the cover when he's got so much actual paid work to get on with, and as you can see it's a belter.

Unusually, issue 30 is 100% Dredd centric. Normally other strips are included,but I guess there was just a lot of strips submitted featuring ol' stony face and his world this time round. The character has so much history and the world that's been built around him so much scope that he's a natural draw for would be scripters, I suppose. As a reult, we've got seven strips over 48 A5 pages of glossy loveliness.

First up is Judge Pigg, by Rich McAuliffe and artist Mick Cassidy. It's a tribute to the strip that the ludicrous and the dead serious have always gone hand in hand, and this a nicely daft take on the first ever Dredd story that is really funny and full of wince  and smile inducing puns. The art suits the tone perfectly, and the final page reveal would bring a smile to the face of Dredd himself, right before the creators wer arrested.

Next up is 'Spare The Rod', by Alan Holloway, with art by Dan Goodfellow. This perfectly illustrates my point about silly and serious strips, as this one is blacker than Baldrick's underpants. Addressing a topic never before attempted in the strip (quite a feat after 41 years), it's a tale that would have major repercussions if it had been in the weekly. Both writer and artist treat a potentially tricky subject with style and respect, with some excellent layout work from Goodfellow throughout.

The third strip is 'Descendants' (part one) from Alan Trench, illustrated very nicely by Robomonkey 147. Regular Dredd fand will be painfully aware that Dredd's home, Mega City 1, is routinely put through the wringer by the writers, resulting in plenty of deaths and misery. Each time it rebuilds and waits for the next disaster. The tale concerns a survivor of the first disaster, the Apocalypse War, and her subsequent life afterwards as she survives each citywide sneck up, though not without her own losses. It's a well told, serious story that works very well. Personally, I look forward to the next part.

'Law In Exile - Madhouse Bop' comes next, a tale from Judge Hershey's past by Santiago Mayaud and illustrated by JP Vilchis. In the strip, Hershey tracks an excaped hacker to a mental hospital on an asteroid, and violence ensues. It could have been a routine story, but Mayaud delivers a very clever twist to wrap things up in a satisfying way, comfortably aided an abetted by Vilchis' nice art.

The second half of the magazine starts off with 'Interrogation', always a popular subject in Dredd's world, where police brutality is a given. It doesn't help, however, when a Judge goes a bit nuts and is convinced an innocent(ish) citizen is a mass murderer and a hostage situation ensues. Although the art by Aaron Murphy is really nice, I found Gavin Johnston's script a wee bit clunky and at odds with how I expect Dredd's world to run. It's still an enoyable strip, though, even if my brain kept asking too many questions.

The penultimate (and longest at 9 pages) strip takes us away from Mega City 1 to Brit Cit and it's favourite vampire son, Devlin Waugh. Kevin McHugh obviusly has a fondness for the character and has the speech patterns and humour down well, but to be honest the simple story seems rather stretched out, even if Lorenzo Nicoletta's art is welcome throughout. As with 'Interrogation' , though, it's still a fun read, although this time my atitude to the strip may be tempered by the fact I have never had much love for Devlin Waugh.

Finally, we get back to Dredd with 'No Good Deed', written and drawn by Edward Whatley. A purely visual tale, it takes us down into the sewers and features an appearence by everyone's favourite gutter mouthed droid Ro Jaws. It's a short, sweet, smart and funny end to the issue, with Whatley's visuals showing genuine talent. One of several stories here that would not be out of place in the weekly itself, 'No Good Deed' will leave readers with a happy glow, and that's a job well done.

Zarjaz is worth a few quid of any 2000AD fan's money, showing a depth and quality that outstrips it's fanzine status. If you are a Dredd fan, or if you know one, go and get a copy because you (or they) will not be disappointed.


Monday, 5 March 2018


Before Judge Dredd caught on, the breakout star of 2000AD was John Probe, a super spy better known as M.A.C.H 1. The dots mean it's an acronym, and by gad it's a clunky one, as John Probe is a Man Activated by Compu Hyper-power.... 1! This means that because he's got a computer in his brain controlling his body he has the strength of 50 men and can run at 120mph among other things. So exciting was he that editor Tharg would regularly tell readers that 'Only an idiot would copy a superman like M.A.C.H 1', just in case kids tried to, I don't know, assassinate a foreign dictator or something.

Consisting of 200 pages of mainly self contained episodes, The John Probe Mission Files certainly represent good value, but after having my rose tinted specs pissed on by Ant Wars I was concerned that my memories or the strip might be blurred by 40 off years of trying (and failing) to grow up. Certainly, there's plenty of talent contained within, from writers Pat Mills (also co creator), John Wagner and Steve Macmanus to artists Enio (the other co craetor), Massimo Bellardinelli and John Cooper. Mostly the art is of a decent standard, only falling short a few times. Script wise it's all very entertaining, and John Probe jets around the world killing people left, right and centre and visiting such inetersting made up countries like Irania and Turkistan. It's pretty cheesy, sure, and pretty brutal stuff that I loved as a kid. Surprisingly, it's held up pretty well, and I still heard a little voice in my head go 'Yeah!' as John Probe cried 'Take that Laser tank!'.

As well as the stories from the weekly, there's a few strips from annuals and summer special that aren't too bad, and we also get some color pages of 2000AD covers featuring the strip, including some very nice early work from Brian Bolland. M.A.C.H 1 is definitely one of those 'of it's time' strips, but when taken as a simple, exciting adventure strip it still has the capacity to entertain, as long as you don't sit and think about the physical impossibilities that litter every story. In the end, M.A.C.H 1 may not be the best story the comic ever had, but you can see why it captivated a young audience back in the late 70s, and I'm sure it will have the same effect if shown to today's kids, though you might have to explain to them what strange things like a 'video cassette' are...