Fantasy Girls – Top 10 Girls of Video Games: (9) Juliet Starling – Lollipop Chainsaw (2012)

julietstarling

 

FANTASY GIRLS – TOP 10 GIRLS OF VIDEO GAMES: (9) JULIET STARLING – LOLLIPOP CHAINSAW (2012)

 

Juliet Starling has it all – she’s the top cheerleader at San Romero High School in California, she has her boyfriend Nick and she’s celebrating her eighteenth birthday after school.

 

There’s just the “minor matter of a zombie apocalypse tearing through San Romero High”, which is the premise of her “comedy horror action hack and slash video game”, Lollipop Chainsaw (of which one of the creators was James Gunn, more notably known now as the director of the Guardians of the Galaxy films).

 

juliet_starling_by_ivances-d5j52cz

 

Among the victims of the zombie apocalypse is Juliet’s boyfriend Nick, after he saves her from a zombie and is bitten in her place. But what’s a little zombie death compared to true love? Fortunately, in a line of inspiration drawn from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Juliet is a zombie hunter – with enough knowledge of magic to separate Nick’s head from his infected body, while keeping it alive and hanging from her belt as her companion through the game (to voice his displeasure about his predicament).

 

julietlollipop-chainsaw

 

Armed with her magic chainsaw of the title – and with her health fueled by lollipops that are the other half of the title – Juliet sets out to stop the overlords of the zombie apocalypse.

 

Juliet-Starling-lollipop-chainsaw-39432452-1920-1080

 

In the words of TV Tropes:

 

Armed with her magical chainsaw to keep any grope-happy zombies at bay and aided by the support of her family and utterly bewildered disembodied boyfriend, Juliet becomes the last line of defense against disgruntled classmate/emo-goth-wannabe Swan and the Dark Purveyors, a group of Rock’n’Roll Zombie Lords who want to rip the entire world’s collective head open and gnaw on the brain matter therein.

 

And if that happens, who’s going to help Juliet celebrate her birthday?

 

julietgallery_pic_6906_0_63163

 

Of course, apart from her iconic cheerleader’s uniform, Juliet has a number of different costumes available through gameplay, including some anime cosplay characters (such as the thematically similar Rei Miyamoto and Saeko Busujima from High School of the Dead) – and particularly including her pink rider body suit, possibly painted on.

 

juliet-lollipop-chainsaw-cosplay-01

 

However, it is her iconic cheerleader’s uniform that lends itself most to cosplay – including the queen of cosplay herself, Jessica Nigri, who was official spokesmodel for the character in the marketing campaign for the game.

 

juliet-starling-larry-alan

Mega-City Law: Vienna (Complete Case Files Volume 3 – Prog 116)

2017-02-23 (1)

 

MEGA-CITY LAW: VIENNA (COMPLETE CASE FILES VOLUME 3 – PROG 116)

 

We start our review of Volume 3 of the Complete Case Files with just one episode, as this episode introduces part of the human side we so rarely see of Judge Dredd – he has family. Given that he was cloned and that Mega-City judges, like Jedi (or the Catholic priesthood), are meant to be celibate, family possibilities are limited – in this case, to his niece Vienna Dredd, the daughter of his clone-brother Rico Dredd.

 

We first encountered Rico back in Volume 1 (prog 30), which pitted clone-brother against clone-brother – Rico, judge gone bad, against Joe, the titular Judge Dredd. Firstly, Joe apprehended Rico for corruption, resulting in Rico being sentenced to the space penal colony in Titan (reserved for former judges as prisoners), and secondly, Joe killed Rico when the latter returned from Titan seeking revenge.

 

Of course, the introduction of Rico’s daughter and Joe’s niece Vienna needed some explanation – not because of her conception contrary to judicial celibacy, a lapse which can be attributed to Rico’s corruption, but the timing of it. Given the age she is in this episode, Vienna must have necessarily been conceived on the penal colony of Titan. Apparently, this was subsequently explained by some liaison on Titan itself, although that just raises further questions.

 

But who cares? It’s worth it just to see “Uncle Joe” pushing Vienna on a swing – adorable!

 

2017-02-23

 

Anyway, the plot of the episode is driven by Vienna being kidnapped by Harry Carmen, an “electronics genius” arrested by Dredd for a “computer swindle” and now seeking revenge against Dredd. Carmen – and Vienna for that matter – are introduced by somewhat clunky exposition in the first two pages of the episode, but hey – each episode is only six pages or so. Carmen places Vienna in a death-trapped room, with an updated version of Edgar Allen Poe’s swinging pendulum blade. Of course, Dredd fights his way through the traps, just in time to save Vienna from the blade – but not before Carmen blurts out that Dredd killed Rico, something Dredd had kept secret from Vienna, for obvious reasons of the therapy THAT would involve. Yet Vienna forgives him for killing her father, because “Uncle Joe” must have had a good reason. Seriously, I wiped away a tear at that. Even more so as Dredd tells her guardian, Mrs Pasternak, that he will see even less of Vienna – and hopes that Mrs Pasternak will help Vienna forget him. As he thinks to himself as he walks out of Vienna’s life, “I’m a judge. Someday I, too, will be killed. Vienna couldn’t take that again, not a second time. She’s suffered enough because of me. Let it end here”.

 

And indeed we did see less of her – nothing – until twenty or so years later, when she was to return into Dredd’s life on a more enduring basis. After all, she was too good a character to let lie, as a reflection of Dredd’s humanity, with all the conflict that brings with the Law.

 

TO BE CONTINUED – CITY BLOCK!

Top 10 Comics Revamped!

vampirella_by_rahzzah-d9c9lcg-1

 

TOP 10 COMICS REVAMPED!

 

And it’s time to revamp my top 10 comics for 2017 – not so much with new entries, but more reshuffling entries, both within the top 10 and with my honorable mentions.

 

I’ve reinstated the classic Vertigo titles – Mike Carey’s Lucifer and Peter Milligan’s Shade the Changing Man – to fourth and sixth place respectively, shuffling Hellblazer back up to join them in fifth place. They’re just too classic and enduring for anywhere else. Also, they’ve all been revived in ongoing titles – Shade the Changing Man has been revived with a new title character as Shade the Changing Girl (which certainly sounds intriguing) and Hellblazer has been revived as Constantine (about which I’ve heard mixed reports), but most of all Lucifer has also been revived with new issues written by none other than Richard freaking Kadrey of Sandman Slim fame.

 

Sadly, that has meant that another classic Vertigo title, albeit more recent, Bill Willingham’s Fables will now rank in honorable mention, along with Dark Horse comics title, Mike Mignola’s Hellboy – sadly squeezed out between my revived Vertigo classics and new upcoming favorites from Dark Horse Comics (Empowered) or Image Comics (Morning Glories, Saga, Monstress)

 

So here are my top ten comics or graphic novels, judged by their mythic effect on me – the comics or graphic novels that changed or shaped the way I see the world or my personal mythos, my myth and mystery.

*

monstress

*

(10) MARJORIE LIU – MONSTRESS (IMAGE COMICS 2015 – PRESENT)

*

My tenth place wildcard entry is Image Comics’ ongoing fantasy series Monstress, which leapt into my heart at first sight  – I mean, just look at  that lush and gorgeous art by artist Sana Takeda. Look at it! Are you not entranced? And unlike many other comics, the covers are representative of the lush art throughout the series.

*

2016-10-15-8

*

However, the lushness isn’t confined to the art but extends to the rich fantasy story, akin to an Asiatic steampunk Game of Thrones, with even higher stakes between the human Federation of Man and the magical Arcanic Empire – the latter populated by the various Arcanic races, descendants of humans and the animal deity Ancient Ones. After devastating war, there is an uneasy truce between the Federation and the Empire – a truce undermined on the Federation side by its ruling order of witch-nuns known as the Cumaea, who harvest Arcanic body parts for the fuel they use to power their magic, including resurrection. The Arcanic side is…not much better, divided between the decadent Dawn and Dusk Courts.

*

maika-halfwolf

*

Enter our Arcanic protagonist Maika Halfwolf, in an opening scene as arresting and striking as any in Game of Thrones – a teenaged female, one-armed and stripped naked for auction into slavery. Seemingly captive and helpless, it is all part of her plan to seek out answers about her dead mother (with lavish side helpings of vengeance), for which she has an ace up her sleeve, almost literally, in that she is irrevocably intertwined with one of the Monstra (Monstrum in the singular) or Old Gods, beings in the style of the Cthulhu Mythos – “There is nothing divine about the Old Ones. They are horrors”.

*

2016-10-15-2

*

And so begins her roaring rampage of revenge across the Federation and the Empire – in the words of TV Tropes, “driven by rage at the humans who enslaved her, the Arcanics who abandoned her, pretty much everyone really”. As a gem of dialogue sums her up – “Maika, are you alright? You look like you’re about to kill someone” “No…I think that’s her happy face!” A lot of powerful factions are trying to use Maika as a pawn towards their own goals – including the Courts, the Cumaea and the Monstrum itself (hence the title). But Maika is no pawn – and never will be.

RATING: IT’S A RAVE! 4 STARS****

*

saga18tnj7prkjclpjpg

*

(9) BRIAN K. VAUGHAN – SAGA (IMAGE COMICS 2012 – PRESENT)

*

“Star Wars for perverts”

*

How can you resist a tagline like that? Although it does overstate the perversion on display in Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga – as well as underestimate my imagination when it comes to Star Wars, perhaps the most porn parody-able (paradoable?) franchise in cinema.

*

Of course, the tagline was Vaughan’s joking description for his juxtaposition of its mature subject matter with its direct inspiration in Star Wars. A more serious tagline for solicitations was “Star Wars meets Game of Thrones” – as well as the distinct flavor of Romeo and Juliet’s star-crossed lovers, almost literally.

*

Genre website io9 has previously published its own top ten list for Saga – 10 Reasons You Should Be Reading Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga. And it’s difficult for me to improve upon that list, so I will simply recap on some more distinctive features from it, albeit perhaps with some of my own personal spin on things.

*

The first reason in io9’s list was that “it’s just like Star Wars”. And indeed it is a fantasy space opera like Star Wars – except, as the second reason states, “it’s nothing like Star Wars”. Star Wars is a space fantasy that always seemed to aspire more towards science fiction but be a little ashamed of its fantasy elements, tiptoeing around them – the Jedi or Sith and the Force – in vaguely mystical terms or worse, the vaguely scientific rationale of midichlorians in the prequel trilogy. Saga fully embraces its space fantasy, for a galaxy that’s as full of magic and monsters as it is spaceships and lasers.

*

Like Star Wars, the setting is a galactic war fought between the technological planet Landfall with its winged inhabitants reminiscent of angels and its magical moon Wreath with its horned inhabitants reminiscent of devils. Unlike Star Wars’ resemblance to the Second World War, this galactic war resembles the Cold War, a proxy war fought throughout the galaxy as the belligerents fear the mutually assured destruction that would result if they took the war directly to the other’s home world. The protagonists are two soldiers, winged Alana from Landfall and horned Marko from Wreath, who have fallen in love and deserted together – and the series starts with the birth of their daughter Hazel, who occasionally narrates it from the future. The star-crossed couple are hunted by both sides, as each side is equally embarrassed by their desertion – and worse, their love and child – and retain bounty-hunters or ‘freelancers’ to track them down.

*

Unlike Star Wars, it is not a heroic narrative of a good war. In Saga, war is hell – with the civilians caught in the crossfire and exploited refugees we didn’t see in Star Wars. And the protagonists are not on a heroic quest to end the war or defeat the evil empire (the warring sides appear to be morally equivalent) – they want nothing more than to be left alone with their daughter.

*

Saga5

*

*

And then there is its wild creativity beyond anything in Star Wars – or to quote io9’s third reason, “it is completely insane”. You want robots? We have Prince Robot, one of the freelancers hunting down the protagonist couple and heir to the throne of Landfall’s robotic planet ally – except, like all of his people, he is completely humanoid but for his television head.

*

saga9cover

*

You want aliens? There’s the Stalk, the kinkiest alien spiderwoman I’ve seen outside of Japanese anime and another freelancer hunting down the protagonist (and also in a sexual relationship with human freelancer the Will – they swing all ways in Saga!)

*

And as io9’s eighth reason states, it has a Lying Cat – a walking, talking lie-detecting animal. Because we all need a Lying Cat in our lives…

saga18tniz3zni7lgjpg

*

RATING: IT’S A RAVE! 4 STARS****

*

2016-10-29

*

(8) NICK SPENCER – MORNING GLORIES (IMAGE COMICS 2010 – PRESENT)

*

“What did you see when your eyes were opened?”

Well, for one thing, I saw Morning Glories, an ongoing series from Image Comics that has had me enraptured from the first issue I read. In the tagline of its writer Nick Spencer, it’s Runaways meets Lost. Indeed, in the words of TV Tropes, the tone and feel of the story is “something akin to Lost in its earlier seasons: lots of character exploration and flashbacks amid completely baffling events that seem to hint toward a bizarre and complicated machination”

*

 

In my eyes, it’s as if the Illuminati had a high school – or perhaps more aptly, since it is referenced by name, as if Grant Morrison’s Invisibles had a high school. (Or if Night Vale WAS a high school, given that it has one). Indeed, Nick Spencer shows a Morrisonesque flair for twists and turns of storyline, at times even coming close to Morrison’s unrivalled hand at those fabulous comics one-liners or that juxtaposition of word and image. (High praise, given how highly I rank Grant Morrison as a comics writer, although he is a little…chaotic at times. Indeed, Morning Glories is more coherent than the Invisibles).

*

The Morning Glories (or just Glories) is the nickname for the protagonist group of six new students, selected for the prestigious Morning Glory Academy – selected, that is, for a very particular set of selection criteria, most notably that they share the same birthday. Which may or may not explain that they all seem to manifest mysterious abilities or future selves, and that they all seem to have dark or strange pasts (including – perhaps – the occasional homicide). It doesn’t explain why the location of the school is kept mysterious by drugging each new student before arrival – or why their parents don’t even seem to remember their very existence when they call them from the school (with one notable exception, which necessitates the most unfortunate consequences). It certainly doesn’t explain the “mysterious and shadowy purpose of this dizzying boarding school of horrors”, which remains mysterious and shadowy except only that it seems to be the tip of a global conspiracy – or conspiracies. Not to mention the other paranormal phenomena or time travel within and without its walls. (In one of my favorite Morrisonesque one-liners from the series, a student enquires as to the trippy design of a time machine from the future self of one of the other students – “Who built it?” “You did” is the reply). Nor does it explain the sadistic faculty staff, led by the unseen headmaster behind the scenes – who don’t hesitate to resort to progressive mind control techniques, extreme physical discipline and the occasional sacrifice.

*

After all, it’s “for a better future” (either that or “the hour of our release draws near”) and we all have to make sacrifices. Literally.

*

RATING: IT’S A RAVE! 4 STARS****

*

empowered

*

(7) ADAM WARREN – EMPOWERED (DARK HORSE COMICS 2007 – PRESENT)

*

Empowered is Adam Warren’s ‘sexy superhero comedy’ graphic novel series – the titular heroine and her series, originated from commissioned ‘bondage’ sketches of a comics superheroine ‘damsel-in-distress’, which then became the basis for the episodic shorts for the commencement of the series, illustrated in Warren’s characteristic ‘manga’ influenced style. The series started (and still continues to some extent) as a playful deconstruction of superhero comics tropes, particularly those involving female superheroes, along with (in the words of TV Tropes) “healthy doses of bondage, fanservice and comedy”. Indeed, it’s a fantasy kitchen sink of comics tropes and more – alien doomsday technology, clans of ninjas in New Jersey, grandiloquent interdimensional hell-beings (trapped in coffee table ornaments), deals with the devil, psi powers, undead superheroes (or the ‘superdead’) and catgirls (nyaan!)

empowered_by_adam_warren_by_the_darcsyde-d1ovyy6

*

Empowered herself is a “plucky D-list superheroine”, who is precariously dependent and constantly betrayed by the fragile, fickle source of her superpowers – her skin-tight ‘hypermembrane’ suit. It gives her superpowers while it is mostly intact, but it tears easily – leaving her without powers at critical moments (although as the series progresses, the full nature of her suit and its powers becomes more complex and mysterious). As a consequence, Empowered spends most of her time with her suit in tatters or various states of undress, bound and gagged by supervillains or even common criminals (in accordance with the unspoken code of conduct towards captured superheroines, which precludes anything more harmful), a joke to her superhero peers and supervillains alike (albeit something of status symbol as arm candy to the latter).

As the series has progressed however, it has developed deeper, darker and longer story arcs – and Empowered has emerged as an increasingly formidable superheroine, relying on her wits and strength of character to overcome the flaws of her suit. On the other hand, her superhero colleagues or ‘Capes’ have become increasingly darker – beware the Superman! Remember San Antonio!

*

RATING: IT’S A RAVE! 4 STARS****

*

Shade_the_Changing_Man_001

*

(6) PETER MILLIGAN – SHADE THE CHANGING MAN (VERTIGO COMICS 1990-1996)

*

Peter Milligan is part of the so-called British invasion of American comics, yet another British comics writer that started in 2000 AD, most notably with Bad Company – a future war story in which a bizarre company of soldiers fight humanity’s bizarre war against the alien Krool.

*

However, my favorite of his oeuvre remains his work for DC Comic’s Vertigo imprint label for more mature graphic novels outside the publishing restrictions of mainstream comics. Milligan came to Vertigo towards the end of the first wave of the British invasion – and like his fellow British writers for Vertigo, he revamped an obscure DC Comics character, Shade the Changing Man.

*

shade13286_900x1350

*

The focus of the series is Shade, an interdimensional traveler to Earth from the parallel world of Meta, with the reality-warping ‘power of madness’ (which seems to be part of Metan technology) – akin to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, but with power born of madness instead of dreams. But then, what are dreams if not a little madness in our lives?

*

Shade_the_Changing_Man_Vol_2_2

*

In other words, it starts off weird and gets weirder – a psychedelic fantasy and odyssey in three parts. The first part has the most defined plot structure, as Shade was sent to Earth to defeat a dangerous manifestation of madness and the American psyche or collective unconscious, the American Scream. After that, it is the personifications from Shade’s own psyche that are dangerous, as well as other beings born from the Area of Madness – which after all extends to the land of dreams and the dead, angels and the Devil. Shade himself dies, but is reborn through the power of madness – jumping bodies and on one occasion gender as Shade the Changing Woman.

*

shade1065344-as

*

Milligan’s Shade the Changing Man ran for 70 issues and acquired a cult following, but unfortunately Vertigo has only republished the first 19 issues in collected editions – so that I have had to hunt down each of the original comic issues in my ongoing quest for the end of the story (and of the madness). However, the classic concept (like those in the other classic Vertigo titles in my fourth and fifth place entries)  has been revived for a new title in 2016, Shade the Changing Girl, but I have yet to encounter it

*

RATING: IT’S A RAVE – 4 STARS****

*

hellblazertad2suq

*

(5) HELLBLAZER (DC VERTIGO 1988-2013)

*

“I’m the one who steps from the shadows, all trenchcoat and cigarette and arrogance, ready to deal with the madness. Oh, I’ve got it all sewn up. I can save you. If it takes the last drop of your blood, I’ll drive your demons away. I’ll kick them in the bollocks and spit on them when they’re down and then I’ll be gone back into darkness, leaving only a nod and a wink and a wisecrack. I walk my path alone… who would walk with me?”

*

Hellblazer is THE DC Vertigo comic series – one of Vertigo’s most popular titles and its longest running series (but sadly all good things must come to an end, as Hellblazer did with the 300th issue, although it has subsequently been revived under the title Constaine). It also represents an anthology for the best comics writers. Like 2000 AD, virtually every British comics writer of repute has written for it or its protagonist (including my two favorite writers, Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison, albeit not for any extended length or run of the series).

*

That protagonist, John Constantine, originated in Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, with the intended appearance and British nationality of Sting. TV Tropes sums him up best –  a “con man, occult detective, gambler and magician of ill repute” who “tangled with Hell, Heaven, the police and the criminal underworld”. John Constantine may not have been the origin of the occult detective trope, but he codified it, particularly of the trenchcoat variety, and various other figures of contemporary fantasy have followed in his occult detective footsteps – Harry Dresden, John Taylor and Sandman Slim amongst others. Hellblazer combined dark fantasy and horror in its contemporary real world setting with lashings of social or political commentary (mostly about Margaret Thatcher in its early days)

*

What more do you need to know? Read the damned thing, already!

*

hellblazerhlb-cv169_580_54488ca3c8e4c2-87464073

*

RATING: IT’S A RAVE! 4 STARS****

**

Lucifer16

*

(4) MIKE CAREY – LUCIFER (VERTIGO COMICS 2000 – 2006)

*

When Neil Gaiman was asked which character he would choose for a spinoff from his Sandman series, he was quick with his answer – Lucifer. Lucifer was indeed one of the more, if not most, fascinating characters in the Sandman series – particularly as in the course of that series he abdicated from his reign of hell and literally handed over the keys, retiring initially to Australia (of course) and then to Los Angeles (again of course).

*

Gaiman had also insisted that Lucifer resemble David Bowie – “the Devil was David Bowie…you must draw David Bowie. Find David Bowie, or I’ll send you David Bowie. Because if it isn’t David Bowie, you’re going to have to redo it until it is David Bowie”. So now you know what David Bowie is doing in the afterlife – and hell is once again much cooler than heaven for it.

*

lucifer

*

However, Gaiman did not write the spinoff, but passed the torch to Mike Carey – who proved a worthy successor. Once again, Carey is a British comics writer who previously wrote for 2000 AD (my favorite of his work there is his series Thirteen) and proved adept at portraying infernal politics or power plays – other works along such lines include his Felix Castor series of novels as well as his work on Vampirella, after her origin had been revised to Hell and her mother to Lilith.

*

Because I just can't resist any opportunity for a Vampirella pic!

Because I just can’t resist any opportunity for a Vampirella pic!

*

Carey’s Lucifer commenced where it had ended in Sandman, with Lucifer running his piano bar Lux in Los Angeles. However, things soon become much more complicated when he acquires the door to his own universe (or multiverse), which places him in a power play and collision course with other powerful forces – the angelic host (although God is missing in action), his brother the archangel Michael, his niece and Michael’s daughter Elaine Belloc, Japanese gods and Nordic deities, including the truly terrifying Fenris Wolf. And the events set in train involve a large cast of characters, including perhaps my favorite character (along with Elaine Belloc), Christopher Rudd – who rises from amongst the damned to become ruler of Hell through sheer noble badassery.

*

That is, apart from the main character of Lucifer himself, who remains the engaging focus of the series. His word is his bond and indeed he refuse to lie, contrary to his title as lord of lies – “When the Devil wants you to do something, he doesn’t lie to you at all. He tells you the exact, literal truth. And he lets you find your own way to Hell”.

*

lucifer_v3_52e710dc93bff5_17493387

Carey’s run on the series concluded with its 75th episode in 2006, but you can’t keep a good devil down – Lucifer is up and running in a new incarnation, with issues in 2017 being written by Richard freaking Kadrey of Sandman Slim fame. Awesome!

*

RATING : IT’S A RAVE – 5 STARS*****

*

DREAM

*

(3) NEIL GAIMAN – THE SANDMAN (DC VERTIGO 1989 – 1996)

*

Neil Gaiman. You knew this was coming, particularly if you read my top 10 fantasy books that rocked my world. Or if you’ve read him. Or if you read my sixth and fourth place entries, where I dropped hints for this one

*

As I said in my fantasy top ten, Neil Gaiman may simply be the greatest living writer of fantasy, the literary (and suitably English) heir to J.R.R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis (both of whom were substantial influences on him). Stephen King has praised Gaiman as “a treasure house of story” and added that “we are lucky to have him in any medium”. And indeed we are – with his lyrical prose, his power of story and his sensibility of fantasy as ultimately the layers of story within our world.

*

sandman-comic-1280jpg-dbd8061280wjpg-60a2af_1280w

*

His most mythic work – indeed, the core of Gaiman’s mythos – is his comics series of The Sandman. It is of course within the genre of fantasy, with an episode even winning the 1991 World Fantasy Award for Best Fiction (prompting the awards administration thereafter to revise – or remember – the rules to exclude comics or graphic novels, those snobs!). Indeed, it “falls within the dark fantasy genre, albeit in a more contemporary or modern setting”, but transcends genre – and audience appeal, attracting fans who weren’t traditionally seen as readers of comics or fantasy – into urban fantasy, epic fantasy, historical drama, superheroes, mythology and more. Its mythos, and even more so its mythic themes of the power of belief and the power of story, recur throughout Gaiman’s writing.

*

Neil Gaiman was yet another part of the British invasion of American comics (albeit with minimal in 2000 AD), revamping obscure DC Comics characters for their Vertigo imprint – in Gaiman’s case, a number of obscure and embarrassing characters with the title of the Sandman. Gaiman transformed the Sandman into one of the seven archetypal beings known as the Endless, beyond even the gods and other mythological creatures (who exist because people believe in them) – including God and Lucifer – seven anthropomorphic personifications of Destiny, Death, Dream, Desire, Despair, Destruction and Delirium (previously Delight). The Sandman is of course Dream or Morpheus, ruler of the realm of dreams and of stories, the dreams of our world, which makes him the most powerful of the Endless, after Destiny and Death. He even faces down the collected hosts of Hell with the power of dreams – “What power would HELL have if those here imprisoned were NOT able to DREAM of HEAVEN?”.

*

There-are-seven-beings

*

Gaiman once summarized the plot as “the Lord of Dreams learns that one must change or die – and makes his choice”. Although it does capture the essence of the overarching story, “ultimately placing its protagonist in the role of tragic hero”, this summary – or any other – could never hope to capture the sheer dazzling range of characters and story threads within it, that linger in your imagination well after you have finished. Like dreams – or nightmares, like the Corinthian.

*

sandman.corinthian

*

As for the series, it starts off decently enough, but truly finds its depth and distinctive voice with the eighth ‘issue’ or chapter, “The Sound of Her Wings” – in which we are introduced to Dream’s older sister, Death, one of the most engaging characters in any comic and my personal favorite personification of death. And I’m seriously going to be very disappointed if I am not greeted by Death of the Endless at the end of my mortal life.

*

death_of_the_endless_by_13wishes-d7gl3dr

*

RATING: IT’S A RAVE – 5 STARS*****

*

zenith

*

(2) GRANT MORRISON – ZENITH (2000 AD 1987 – 1992)

*

Quite simply, Grant Morrison is my favorite writer of comics. (My favorite comic on the other hand is written by a number of authors – including Morrison!)

*

grantmorrison

*

Opinion is mixed about Morrison. In the words of TV Tropes, some people love him, while others “believe he’s just some wacky guy…whose constant forays into This is Your Premise on Drugs ends up dominating his books”. Although come on, be honest – even the latter sounds more awesome than many other things you read. Granted, Morrison can be self-indulgent and wildly esoteric, but then what else would you expect from a practicing chaos magician? (Seriously). What he never fails to be, even when his stories don’t quite work – or work all too well as sheer mind screws – is interesting and intriguing. Like the other writers of the British invasion of American comics, Morrison won his reputation revamping comics characters (starting with DC Comics’ obscure Animal Man for its Vertigo imprint), but perhaps distinguished himself even more so than the other writers – to the point he has been styled as the ‘revamp guy’ (and to the point he can make any comics character AWESOME).

*

grantmorrison2821835-tumblr_m35robbdcc1qc9vexo1_1280

*

However, my favorite Morrison work remains his first substantial work for 2000 AD, which brought him to the attention of DC Comics and other American publishers – Zenith. Perhaps that’s because of the perfect combination of his writing with the art of Steve Yeowell – or perhaps because his more flamboyant and mind screwy elements remain subdued in its elegant story and classic deconstruction of superheroes.

*

zenith2

*

The starting premise of Zenith is similar to that of Captain America – the Second World War and a serum that creates superhuman powers. Unfortunately, it’s the Nazis that have the serum to create their Nazi superman, Masterman. Even worse, the Nazis obtained the serum from the lloigor, who are nothing other than the extradimensional beings of the Cthulhu Mythos, down to their very names – although Morrison adapted Yog Soggoth to Iok Sotot and made him even more terrifying. The serum is simply their means to create superhuman bodies capable of being occupied by the lloigor as they come into this world. True to their Lovecraftian roots, the lloigor are beings beyond time and space, beings of infinite power and infinite cruelty – well, either that or the most dangerous lava lamp in history (read it and see)…

*

This always reminds me of work. Or life for that matter.

This always reminds me of work. Or life for that matter.

*

Fortunately, German defectors help the British to replicate the serum for the British superhero, Maximan. That’s effectively where the comic starts – and it illustrates Morrison’s ability to juxtapose words and visual images perfectly, as well as to cut from one scene to another. The opening scene is in the style of a kitsch British wartime newsreel, proudly displaying the feats of Maximan defeating German forces and declaring “it could all be over by Christmas”.

*

Cut to Berlin, 21 December 1944 – the Nazi Masterman stands gloating over the broken and fallen Maximan. “Does it hurt? I hope so. Even if I let you live, you’ll never use your legs again, you know that?” All Maximan can do in reply is murmur his hopeless prayer – Psalm 23 – and Maximan gloats further. “Save your breath. No one is listening. There’s no one up there”

*

Except…there is, although not quite in the sense that either of them had in mind, as we cut to an American plane, about to drop “the big one” – the atomic bomb – except in this history on Berlin. And we cut back to Masterman and Maximan as they are enveloped in light.

*

The story continues with a new generation of British superheroes created by the serum – but which have apparently lost their powers, been killed or disappeared, except for Zenith, a second generation superhero born of two superhuman parents, both killed by the American ‘Shadowmen’ agents. However, the Cult of the Black Sun – the secret society behind the Nazis – have other plans for Zenith, as they revive the Masterman twin for a new and more powerful lloigor. From this relatively straightforward contest, the story becomes increasingly complex and dark – more superhumans are introduced due to secret illegal testing of the serum and still more to a cosmic battle across parallel worlds as the lloigor seek the ‘alignment’ that will deliver the multiverse to them, concluding with the truly apocalyptic climax as the lloigor are finally unveiled for what they truly were, are and will be.

*

It would be amiss of me to conclude without reference to my favorite characteristic of Morrison – his ability to write perfect comic one-liners and dialogue. An example is when the organization secretly testing superhumans sent a killer robot after Zenith – Zenith destroys it, but not before it sends its footage back to the organization. One of them muses about Zenith – “He has his mother’s eyes”. The other replies “Really? I thought we had his mother’s eyes”. And indeed they do – the actual eyes in a jar behind them in their laboratory.

*

And we’ve all mocked villain monologues – but Morrison shows how it is done, to chilling effect (with verbal tics of insanity):

Now that's how you do an insane villainous monologue, bitches!

Now that’s how you do an insane villainous monologue, bitches!

*

RATING: IT’S A RAVE – 5 STARS*****

*

POS-DREDD-PROP_original

*

(1) JUDGE DREDD (2000 AD 1977 – PRESENT: 40 YEARS, PUNKS!!!)

*

You knew this was coming – I’ve said it before so I’ll just say it again!

*

My first and true love in comics is not one of the ruling duopoly of comics (and even more so comic book movies), DC and Marvel Comics, nor strictly speaking a superhero comic (although it’s main character is arguably as much of a ‘superhero’ as Batman), nor even an American comic (although it is set there, albeit drastically transformed in the twenty-second century).

*

It is Judge Dredd, the most iconic character from the British weekly SF anthology comic, 2000 AD, ongoing since it was launched in 1977 – although ironically for its longest-running and flagship character, from its second issue, as the opening Dredd story was not ready for the first issue. Time has passed in the Dredd strip essentially in real time ever since, so a year passes in the comic for each year in real life – the first Dredd story in 1977 was set in 2099 and the present stories in 2015 are set in 2137 (an interesting feature as distinct from many American comic franchises).

jd

Unfortunately, American audiences remain somewhat unfamiliar with (or unresponsive to) Judge Dredd, despite his American setting (albeit futuristic) and despite that he is effectively a quintessential American hero in the same vein as Batman – relying on superior discipline, training, experience, equipment and resources, except as a governmental lawman rather than a vigilante billionaire. (They even both effectively remain masked in their public identities, as Dredd never removes his helmet). This is despite his iconic status, particularly in Britain, and despite American audiences being familiar with many of the alumni of 2000 AD, as virtually every British writer (and artist) of note working in American comics started there (and indeed often in the Judge Dredd storyline itself) – Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, Mark Millar and so on.

*

Even more unfortunately, the most substantial introduction of American audiences to Judge Dredd was the 1995 film, although fortunately that particular horror is fading with time. This Hollywood travesty was particularly inexcusable, because the essence of Judge Dredd is ultimately very simple – Judge Dredd is a futuristic Dirty Harry in a dystopian (and post-apocalyptic) SF satire. How hard is that, Hollywood?! On second thoughts, this simple formula is probably too much for Hollywood to handle – when they couldn’t even have Dredd keep his helmet on throughout the film.

*

The recent 2012 film was much more effective in capturing the elements of the original comic (not least in keeping Dredd’s helmet on throughout the film), but not as effective in capturing an audience. In its own way, this is as unfortunate as the first film, particularly at a time when comic book movies are in such vogue (and dystopian or post-apocalyptic movies have always been popular) – because if ever a comic deserved its own cinematic or screen adaptation, it’s Dredd, especially when you consider the dreck (or drokk – Judge Dredd slang in-joke alert) that does get adaptations. Perhaps a television adaptation would have been better, as it suits the more episodic nature as well as longer arcs of the storyline. Whatever the case, here are my ten reasons why Judge Dredd is the galaxy’s greatest comic – and why it deserves its own cinematic or screen universe:

MEGA-CITY LAW – 10 REASONS WHY JUDGE DREDD IS THE GALAXY’S GREATEST COMIC (AND DESERVES ITS OWN SCREEN UNIVERSE):

(1) APOCALYPSE WOW!

(2) SCI FI FANTASY KITCHEN SINK

(3) REAL WORLD SATIRE (OR HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE SEXUAL OLYMPICS)

(4) FUTURISTIC DIRTY HARRY (OR DO YOU FEEL LUCKY, PUNK?)

(5) MORAL COMPLEXITY (OR JUDGE DREDD DIED FOR YOUR SINS)

(6) THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE UGLY AND THE WEIRD

(7) THERE WERE 800 MILLION STORIES IN THE MEGA-CITY

(8) ROGUES GALLERY

(9) DIVERSITY OF GENRE AND TONE (OR HOW THE DAY OF CHAOS TORE MY HEART OUT)

(10) THE TAO OF DREDD (PLATO’S REPUBLIC AND HOBBES’ LEVIATHAN)

*

1704131-dredd

*

RATING: IT’S A RAVE – 5 STARS*****

Fantasy Girls – Top 10 Girls of Video Games: (10) D. Va – Overwatch (2016)

 

dva-screenshot-001

 

FANTASY GIRLS – TOP 10 GIRLS OF VIDEO GAMES: (10) D. VA – OVERWATCH (2016)

 

“Nerf this!”

 

My tenth place entry is the newest entry – D. Va from Overwatch, a “team-based multi-player first person video shooter game developed and published” in May 2016 by Blizzard Entertainment, the same people behind World of Warcraft.

 

One might expect that it will rise through the ranks over time. Indeed, it was hard to choose (and may well qualify for its own top ten list) as there are an abundance of female player characters, some of which came very close to claiming this spot (hello Widowmaker!), but ultimately I went with D. Va because she’s simply too adorable.

 

dvathumb-1920-703553

 

As for the game background story, Overwatch is an “international task force of soldiers, scientists, adventurers and oddities” that was formed in 2046 in response to the global catastrophe known as the Omnic crisis – that standard trope of SF, a Robot War, after the so-called Omnic line of construction robots went rogue and militarized themselves. It was subsequently de-commissioned, only to be called for again thirty years later (in 2076) due to the activities of the mysterious Talon terrorist organization.

 

dvathumb-1920-704657

 

As for D.Va herself, that’s the call sign of South Korean girl Hana Song, a 19 year-old professional gamer – who reads something like a characteristic blend of anime and gamer dream girl, with some K-pop diva thrown into the blend. Her combat strength comes from her mecha robot suit, with the archetypal anime mecha backstory to match. During the Omnic crisis, an Omnic robot ‘monster’ rose like Godzilla from the East China Sea (presumably from a background of constructing deep sea rigs or something like that) to wreak devastation on coastal cities in South Korea and neighboring countries.

 

dvathumb-1920-701235

 

In response, South Korea developed the Mobile Exo-Force of the Korean Army (MEKA). Originally a unit of drones, they had to adapt to piloted mecha (due to disruption of the drone units), but struggling to find suitable pilots, they turned to the country’s professional gamers, because of course they did – it’s set in a video game. Top stars were drafted, including reigning world champion D. Va.

 

dvathumb-1920-715394

 

And how! Clad in a skin-tight cat suit with a pink bunny girl theme – “her gameplay icon consists of a white bunny, she has a bunny decal sticker on her chest, and her gun even has a pink rabbit keychain”. For that matter, her mecha suit even resembles something of a stylized pink bunny and she often resembles a bunny girl herself, with her face markings evoking whiskers and her headset bunny ears.

 

d_va_by_artgerm-da77wzt

 

Of course, this is often emphasized in art and cosplay by placing her in a Playboy bunny costume.

 

D.Va Bunny Suit Cosplay Costume2

 

And speaking of cosplay – she’s an animesque South Korean gamer girl in a cat suit with a pink bunny theme. So of course she’s a popular subject of cosplay.

 

dvaKayqRFD

Fantasy Girls – Top 10 Girls of Video Games

duke_nukem_sant_john_armchair_girls_gun_21062_3840x2400

 

FANTASY GIRLS – TOP 10 GIRLS OF VIDEO GAMES

 

If anything can compete with comics for their notoriety for, ah, idealized female figures, then it is video games – reflected in the game graphics or designs themselves, in art as prolific as that of comics (including adaptations of games into actual comics) and in the usual ubiquitous cosplay.

 

Although I'm not entirely sure why Duke Nukem has schoolgirls hanging off his legs...

Although I’m not entirely sure why Duke Nukem has schoolgirls hanging off his legs…

 

Anyway, these are my top 10 girls in video games.

 

TO BE CONTINUED – COUNTING DOWN FROM TENTH PLACE

Mega-City Law – Judge Dredd Complete Case Files Volume 3

deathx

 

MEGA-CITY LAW – JUDGE DREDD COMPLETE CASE FILES VOLUME 3

 

And so we begin Volume 3 of Judge Dredd’s Complete Case Files – a volume spanning episodes (or progs) 116-154 of the original publication in 2000 AD, or years 2101-2102 in Judge Dredd’s timeline (which runs at the same pace as ‘real time’, only you know, more than a century ahead).

 

Volume 3 lacks the epic storylines (The Cursed Earth and The Day the Law Died) of Volume 2. Whereas those epics helped establish Judge Dredd, the episodes in Volume 3 more than make up for it with the more definitive Dredd and his Mega-City One we recognize in subsequent episodes (including a subtler and more satirical humor than the somewhat heavy-handed humor of the epics). In The Day the Law Died, the population of Mega-City One was stated as 100 million. In the episodes in this volume, the writers obviously felt that population didn’t sufficiently capture the crowded overpopulation of the dystopian megalopolis, so they quietly increased it to 800 million. Equally, these episodes introduced that characteristic feature of Mega-City One we all know and love today – the concentration of its population into mile-high self-contained residential apartment ‘blocks’, the future equivalent of feudal city states, where tens of thousands of residents live and have amenities, often barely leaving them (if at all). And in introducing the blocks, these episodes also introduced the block names – typically named for twentieth century celebrities or figures, often adding humor or hidden meaning to the storyline. For example, Judge Dredd himself resides (as ‘block’ judge – an exercise in community policing and public relations) in Rowdy Yates Block – a play on the origins of his character in Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry, as Rowdy Yates was the name of Eastwood’s character in Bonanza.

 

Dredd-flatDirtyHarry

 

And to add to the desperate dystopian atmosphere of Mega-City One, gone is the suggestion from The Robot Wars (back in Volume 1) that robots have brought Mega-City One’s citizenry a life of automated ease and leisure. Instead, these episodes see the reference to an unemployment rate of 90% or so, bringing with it for the overwhelming majority of Mega-City One a life of grinding welfare dependency and boredom, the origin of much (if not most) of Mega-City One’s crime.

 

The episodes in Volume 3 also see the introduction of a number of iconic figures or features for Judge Dredd or Mega-City One – Dredd’s niece Vienna, eccentric entrepreneur Otto Sump, the miracle plastic Boing (and the somewhat less miraculous plasteen), random ‘crime blitz’ searches of citizen’s apartments, the dangerously addictive Umpty candy and the judicial ‘retirement’ of the Long Walk. They also see the brief reintroduction of the Cursed Earth tyrannosaur Satanus (at least in part) and also of the Sovs as antagonists of Mega-City One, with more long-term hints towards the Apocalypse War.

 

And although there are no epics, there are two longer story arcs (or mini-epics) that both feature incursions into Mega-City One from my other favorite Judge Dredd venue – the Cursed Earth. The first sees Father Earth, the mutant living embodiment of nature (and flower power), and his followers, most dangerously the Doomsday Dogs, descend upon the urban abomination of Mega-City One to return it to nature. The second sees the Black Plague, the super-swarm of millions upon millions of mutant Cursed Earth spiders turn their rudimentary hive mind on a mutant township in the Cursed Earth before turning to bigger prey, the big Meg itself. Needless to say, this particular arachnophobe has a morbid fascination for spider horror stories.

 

death_4

 

And above all, towards the conclusion of this volume is a story arc that introduces perhaps the most iconic figure other than Dredd himself, and certainly Dredd’s most iconic recurring adversary, supernatural extra-dimensional fiend Judge Death – as well as an almost equally iconic figure, Psi-Judge Anderson (and indeed the Psi Division of judges), herself a recurring adversary of Judge Death and ally to Judge Dredd in some of his most crucial missions.

 

anderson2

 

TO BE CONTINUED

Cult, Pulp & Kink: Richard Matheson – Born of Man and Woman (1950)

2088451._UY458_SS458_

 

CULT, PULP & KINK: RICHARD MATHESON – BORN OF MAN AND WOMAN (1950)

 

And now we come to a giant of the genre – Richard Matheson. I use genre loosely, as he transcended the fantasy, science fiction and horror genres (as well as writing and screenwriting – of the latter, I always recall Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, adapted from his own story of that name). No less than the King – Stephen King – has identified Matheson as an influence, and he’s hardly alone in that. His influence on the genre(s) is perhaps best attested by the novel for which he is best known, I am Legend (which despite three cinematic adaptations has never quite been successfully adapted in my opinion) – in which he effectively originated the zombie apocalypse, albeit as a vampire apocalypse (with a twist).

 

However, it is his short stories that I particularly enjoyed, and which well deserve a top ten of their own. Of course, a writer as prolific as Matheson over such a long period necessarily means some of his stories are not as good as others or are somewhat dated, but there are still enough enduring classics for their own top ten. In his collected stories, Matheson summed up his overarching theme for his stories as paranoia, on a cosmic as well as personal level.

 

Strangely enough, my favorite remains his first published story, Born of Man and Woman – one of his shorter stories, written in an experimental style of broken English matching its protagonist, a monstrous child locked in the proverbial attic (or more precisely basement) by his parents. And yet its brevity and simplicity is what makes it an enduring classic as well as a personal favorite.

 

History never repeats but sometimes it rhymes – Matheson would subsequently write a thematically similar female version in A Dress of White Silk, another classic and personal favorite. (And perhaps if you gather enough fey girls, you get something like “Witch War”, another favorite of mine – although it is somewhat different from the suburban horror of the other stories)

Cult, Pulp & Kink: Diana Wynn Jones – The Tough Guide to Fantasyland (1996)

Tough-guide-fantasyland-map

 

CULT, PULP & KINK: DIANA WYNN JONES – THE TOUGH GUIDE TO FANTASYLAND (1996)

 

The Tough Guide to Fantasyland (a play on the Rough Guide books that used to be in circulation) poses as a parodic tour guide (in dictionary form) to the generic fantasyland that is the setting of, well, most of the modern fantasy genre (not least The Lord of the Rings itself) – on the basis that it is the same or universal Fantasyland for every story. To quote TV Tropes, “this piece of Meta Fiction by Diana Wynne Jones pretends that pretty much all of the fantasy stories ever told — well, most modern genre fantasies, anyway — took place in a place called “Fantasyland”

 

In doing so, it humorously skewers all the clichés, conventions and tropes in the modern fantasy genre. Again in the words of TV Tropes – “the whole point of the book is to list and deconstruct as many fantasy tropes as the author could identify…and, pretty much to a one, subverted and lampshaded.)

 

Let’s just say it playfully exposes some pretty big holes in the setting or world-building of modern fantasy- “why there are Dark Lords but no Dark Ladies, why casual sex in Fantasyland almost never results in pregnancy, and why male virginity is useless whereas female virginity is highly prized”.

 

The ecology and economy is full of holes – the lack of industry and technology are particularly noticeable in the latter. The icons of fantasy are equally problematic. Swords are dangerous, not simply because they are pointy and sharp, but because they are dangerously magical – swords that shine in the presence of enemies (like Sting in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings) being particularly useless to avoiding detection by those same enemies (in case you want to hide from or ambush them). Rings are as dangerously magical as swords – cursed rings in particular be returned whence they came, preferably at over a thousand degrees Centigrade, and the Curse means you won’t want to do this”

 

And then there is one of my favorite rants about elves (and I am fond of rants about elves, so it has some stiff competition) – “Elves appear to have deteriorated generally since the coming of humans. If you meet Elves, expect to have to listen for hours while they tell you about this – many Elves are great bores on the subject – and about what glories there were in ancient days. They will intersperse their account with nostalgic ditties (songs of aching beauty) and conclude by telling you how great numbers of Elves have become so wearied with the thinning of the old golden wonders that they have all departed, departed into the West. This is correct, provided you take it with the understanding that Elves do not say anything quite straight. Many Elves have indeed gone west, to Minnesota and thence to California, and finally to Arizona, where they have great fun wearing punk clothes and riding motorbikes”.

 

Elves

Cult, Pulp & Kink: Shirley Jackson – The Lottery (1948)

lotterymaxresdefault

 

CULT, PULP & KINK: SHIRLEY JACKSON – THE LOTTERY (1948)

 

Like the Awards named after her, Shirley Jackson is known for stories of psychological suspense, horror and dark fantasy, ever so subtly bubbling to the surface of our world. This is amply demonstrated by her most famous story The Lottery, and indeed, in her collection of stories, named for it – The Lottery and Other Stories.

 

One might consider the nature of her stories as fantasy to be arguable (as opposed to the stories), but as I said, the fantasy in her stories is a subtle intrusion into our world – maybe mundane, maybe magical. The Lottery and Other Stories bore the subtitle The Adventures of James Harris, for a recurring figure in the stories of that collection, who may or may not be supernatural – he certainly seems to be a daemon lover or Dionysian force, complete with his retinue of maenads (who can then take over people’s apartments by sheer force of persuasion).

 

As for the Lottery, it has an ambience of dark fantasy to it – set, it seems, in an alternative United States. One in which small American towns casually celebrate an annual festival in much the same way as any other annual event – a lottery which the winner does not seem eager for the prize (and indeed vociferously protests its fairness), but which the townsfolk insists on giving to her. Because, you know, the crops and harvest depend on it. Cue the stones…or in the words of John Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn – “Who are these coming to the sacrice?”

 

Of course, the story’s power is in its symbolism, resonant of so many images of the dark underbelly of American society, or the American Dream. After all, it doesn’t take too much to imagine something like the Lottery – perhaps not so blunt of course, but still, you know…

 

As newscaster Kent Brockman referred to it in an episode of The Simpsons, it is a chilling tale of social conformity – and not, much to Homer’s disappointment on checking it out of the library, a guide to winning the lottery.