Tuesday, 7 March 2023

The Last of Us

 It's my new favourite show - apparantly, it's based on a Playstation game but that was completely off my rader - I'm not a gamer so I've come to this fresh, with no pre-conceptions other than being told that it's a little like The Walking Dead. I suppose comparisons between the two are inevitable, but other than that fact that both shows contains zombies there are very few similarities.

The show opens with a TV talk show from the 1960's - guests on the show smoking cigarettes as they chat away about the possibilities of a fungus evolving to control humans rather than ants in a slowly warming world. And then we fast forward to the modern day where the worse case scenario has come to pass. With the world in ruins we are introduced to Joel (Pedro Pascal), and the opening of his arc is shocking and totally unexpcted, at least to those of us not familiar with the game - BIG FAT SPOILER ALERT -  When his daughter is killed early in the first episode we see and understand his loss of humanity and later when he is paired with Ellie (Bella Ramsey) we see some of that humanity return as he reluctantly accepts the responsibility of protecting her as he travels this post apocalyptic landscape.

Both leads are excellent with the best lines coming from Bella Ramey, while Pedro does his utmost to provide a brooding hero, who is often the straight man to the young girl's histrionics. I'm currently up to episode eight, there are ten in this first season, and already there have been a few offbeat classic episodes that I have no doubt will be remembered as classic TV. The third episode is a tender love story between two aged men, and sits largely outside of the main narrative of the story, but it's so well done and played out that it even connected with this grizzled old hetrosexual. It was quite beautiful and will provoke a tear in all but the hardest of hearts,

Following that detour of an episode it's been pretty much brutal, violence but not once has it lost it's core wonder - I'm very much enjoying this. Bring on episode nine and ten.

Friday, 17 February 2023

A whisper of love, a whisper of hate: an unofficial James Bond novel by Gary M. Dobbs


James Bond relaxed as he shifted gear and took the Jaguar XJ through the country lanes. The sun was behind him, a cloudless sky above him and he felt good to be alive. He was now completely recovered from the mission last summer that had left him as close as he’d ever been to dead. His ribs had healed, the reconstruction work on his jaw no longer pained him, and once again he was able to take pleasure from the simple things in life. He reached down to the console and slid one of the cigarettes, made especially for him by Moorland’s and containing a mixture of Balken and Turkish tobaccos, out of the gunmetal cigarette case and lit it with the aged Ronson lighter he habitually carried in his right-hand hip pocket. Bond was a creature of habit, likely the worse thing to be in his profession, but now in the moment he didn’t need to worry about that.

            At the moment, James Bond didn’t feel that he had anything in particular to worry about and it felt good.

            He shifted gear again as he approached the hill, the incredibly powerful 4.2 litre engine, responded immediately and Bond felt himself pushed back in his seat as he built up speed. There was a woman waiting for him at the end of this road and Bond anticipated a pleasant evening ahead. Good food, a few drinks and an early night. Though Bond knew that much of the coming night would be spent enjoying the delights of the woman’s body.

 Elizabeth Lyon possessed a particularly fine body.



Thursday, 16 February 2023


It's back for a five issue mini-series from Rebellion Publishing.... Battle Action, 2000AD publisher’s relaunch of the title inspired by two classic British weekly comics, Battle Picture Weekly (aka Battle) and Action, returns as a five-issue miniseries, with writer Garth Ennis playing a principal role in its latest incarnation.

Battle Picture Weekly,  still holds an exalted position in my memory - in fact it is probably my favourite comic book ever. But besides that Battle displayed a stunning use of the medium over its run and of course gave us a genuine comic book masterpiece in Charley's War - but more on that seminal strip later.

Battle was launched in answer to rival D C Thompson's  successful war strip title, Warlord and although born out of imitation Battle did better Warlord and is perhaps one of the, if not THE, most important British comic titles ever.

Battle's answer to Warlord's main character, Lord Peter Flint was Mike Nelson codenamed The Eagle - however readers preferred the more gritty strips in Battle and Mike Nelson, although featuring in several series of adventures, was soon dropped. 

Early stars of Battle Picture Weekly were D-Day Dawson, The Bootneck Boy and the truly exceptional Rat Pack which was based very much on the popular movie, The Dirty Dozen.

So well remebered are The Rat Pack that Titan Books have a trade paperback collection  that collects together many of their most popular stories.

which one is Lee Marvin?
"We were looking to movies like Dirty Harry and the spaghetti westerns for inspiration," writer Pat Mills said in his introduction to the story in Titan's Best of Battle. "And with Rat Pack we got it from the movie, The Dirty Dozen. It's an archetype that will never go away."

Another early strip that was hugely popular was D D Dawson - it told of Sgt. Steve Dawson who took a bullet during the D-Day landings but survived. However the bullet moved closer to his heart with every adventure and he knows that it will inevitably kill him. And so he vows to fight on until his own personal D-Day finally arrives. And arrive it did in the issue dated 22 Jan 1977 when the character finally went down. The next two scans depict D Day Dawson's last adventure - click on the images for a bigger readable version.

                                                                                       The comic merged other titles into it during its long run and the details are:

  • Battle Picture Weekly (8 March 1975 - 16 October 1976)
  • Battle Picture Weekly and Valiant (23 October 1976 - 12 November 1977)
  • Battle Action (19 November 1977 - 20 February 1982)
  • Battle (27 February 1982 - 1 October 1983)
  • Battle Action Force (8 October 1983 - 29 November 1986)
  • Battle (6 December 1986 - 17 January 1987)
  • Battle Storm Force (24 January 1987 - 23 January 1988)
When the Battle itself began to fail it was merged into the new relaunched Eagle but by then the glory days of British boy's comics was long over.

The world of Battle was a non-PC world where the Americans were Yanks, the Japanese were Japs, the Germans were Nazis and the British were Limeys, but it wasn't always as clear cut and one strip in particular, Charley's War  created by Pat Mills with almost photographic artwork from Joe Colquhoun, was an anti-war strip in a boys war comic and today stands as a true masterpiece of British comics. Titan have published several deluxe hardback volumes collecting the stories with still more to come.
True depth in the comic book medium

It's a bleak and terrible story, but despite the overwhelming cynicism and negativity that surrounds the trenches, there's just a grain of faith in the human spirit. Not enough to ever make this remarkably sad tale ever attractive to Hollywood, but there's something genuinely moving in Charley's letters to his parents and the real friendships forged among the men in the front line. Like most of the great comics Pat Mills created during his most vibrant period of, say, 1976-89, the power of humanity is greater than the power of the "authority" which commands it to do terrible things in the name of royalty, nation or planet.

                           Battle truly was an exceptional comic book and it's great that the legacy is still remembered and felt even today. It may have started off as a typical gung ho style comic book but the skill of the creators soon led it into avenues previously unexplored in the comic book medium. It was incredible reading for a young kid to be presented with war in a realistic fashion in strips such as Charley's War and Johnny Red. to be presented with the unglamorous truth and to discover that bullets really did hurt and that the glory of fighting for one's country soon becomes secondary to surviving when the reality of war is felt.

Oh you are awful but I do like you!
             On a lighter note Battle had the popular Airfix Modellers Club page which was presented by British comedian, Dick Emery. And the letter's page was supposedly edited by Captain Hurricane that hangover from the days of Valient Comic.

To fully cover the importance of Battle would take more than one, two or even several blog articles - indeed a full scale book would be called for, but the article here is merely a taster of a time when British Comics really were a formidable creative force.

Now bring on the new version

Sunday, 12 February 2023

Retro Comics feature - MACH 1

 The acronym stands for Man Activated by Computer Hyper

puncture - the strip ran in boy's comic 2000AD and ran for 64 issues. The strip was created by Pat Mills and was initially the most popular strip in the comic - bigger even than Judge Dredd during the early years of the comic.

The strip was heavily influenced by TV's The Six Million Dollar man which was huge at the time - the character of M.A.C.H 1, agent John Probe even looked like Steve Austin as played by Lee Majors. In the introduction to the Extreme M.A.C.H 1 magazine, editor Alan Barnes said John Probe was not so much Steve Austin as an Austin Allegro and he confirms that during the comic's early days the character was more popular than Dan Dare and Judge Dredd combined.

The earliest strips saw John Probe battling terrorists, enemy agents and killers but as 2000ad found its legs and became more subversive, Probe found himself battling against his own government.

 Probe's boss Sharpe was revealed to have insisted a piece of code be written into the computer inside Probe that would self destruct, killing the agent if he disobeyed orders. This added much depth to the character and made Probe less Steve Austin and more a tortured man forced to work for a shadowy government organisation.

The first truly epic story for the character was M.A.C.H 0 in which Probe discovered that he wasn't the first man to be turned into a secret agent (again a plot that had been used in The Six Million Dollar Man) but this earlier experiment had gone wrong. 

Of course Probe saved the day. In the final strips of M.A.C.H 1 we saw John Probe turn on his boss and kill him . He then sacrificed his own life to save the world from alien invasion. This was a massive shock to the readership. This was not Marvel or DC and when a character was killed he usually remained dead.

M.A.C.H Zero would return to the comic for his own short lived series, but this was more Frankenstein retold than anything else.

Stories from M.A.C.H 1 have been reprinted in several versions - Reprinted? 2000 AD Extreme Edition #6 (12/04) reprinted 9 of the first 10 episodes (all but #3), along with "Airship," "The Planet Killers," "Everest" and "MACH Woman." 19 episodes in one handy package, with a great cover by John Burns. A second batch of 20 episodes were reprinted in Extreme Edition #9 (6/05). These included "UFO" and the final 16 instalments. Many other episodes had previously been collected by Quality Comics in a series that ran nine issues.

The character was so fondly remembered that a spoof, entitled B.L.A.I.R. 1, a satire on Tony Blair appeared in 2000 AD in the late 1990s, and gained considerable media attention at the time. The story was not popular with readers, however, and was soon killed off.


 The first episode of my new You Tube series...a life in books

Saturday, 11 February 2023

Those deadly Cooks

 History has not bestowed upon them the notoriety of The James Gang, nor are they as well known as The Daltons but in their day The Cook Gang were every bit as feared as any of the Old West's outlaws.

"They are a stench to the nostril of lawful men." Said one Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) newspaper in 1890. and during the height of their crimes they were pursued by a team of U. S. marshalls, the Army and even The Texas Rangers.

Their leader was William Tuttle Cook but their ranks changed so often that it is impossible to pin down all the names of the actual members.

The first recorded incident of Bill (William) Cook falling foul of the law was in 1892 when the half Cherokee, was charged with selling whisky in Indian Territory. Later Bill worked as a posseman for U.S. Marshall Will Smith. But when his kid brother Jim was charged with larceny and jumped bail in 1894 he moved over to the other side of the law and joined his brother on the lam. It was not too long before the two brothers met and joined up with Crawford Goldsby, an outlaw, better known to history as Cherokee Bill.

Together with other men, drifters mostly, including Jim French, Skeeter Baldwin and The Verdigris Kid (Sam Mcwilliams then only 17 years old), they started stealing horses whilst keeping one step ahead of the law.

In the Spring of 1894 the U.S. Government passed the law that became to be known as, 'Strip Money'. This was $7 million of compensation to be paid to the Cherokee Nation at Tahlequah. Now Cherokee Bill and the two Cook boys were entitled to payment under the scheme but being on the scout, as they called it, they didn't see how they could claim it. They eventually gave written persmission to one Effie Crittendon to collect their shares on their behalf.

When the law learned of this they sent a Cherokee posse out to Effie's home at Fourteen Mile Creek to capture the outlaws. The posse included Effie's husband, Dick Critterdon. There was a shoot out and Sequoyah Houston, a respected member of the Cherokee police, was killed. The two Cook brothers and Cherokee Bill managed to escape. Though Jim Cook was wounded by buckshot.

Following the incident the newspapers were calling the men 'The Cook Gang' and so began a trail of theft, murder and unspeakable violence that would turn The Cook Gang into household names across America.

Yet they are not remembered today in the way other Old West Badmen are -there was nothing romantic about the Cook gang, nothing to really mythologise though some did try - legend says that as Cherokee Bill was finally led to the hangman his last words were - "I came here to die and not make a speech. It is a good day to die." Though in fact documents record that he had no last words.

Bill Cook, leader of the gang, died in prison in 1901. His brother Jim had died the year earlier when he came second place in a gunfight over an argument about a steer.

If this brief article has prompted anyone to want to learn more about The Cook gang then I suggest getting hold of Black, Red and Deadly by Art Burton, or then again you can check out this video which was made by Samantha Ponce and tells the story using her children's toys. Or click HERE

Full Length Western


The Last of Us

 It's my new favourite show - apparantly, it's based on a Playstation game but that was completely off my rader - I'm not a game...