Carlos Ezquerra

carlosdreddJust a short post to note my sadness at the recent news of the passing of Spanish artist Carlos Ezquerra, whose remarkable work was a big part of my teenage years reading the British comic 2000AD.  Most famous for being the co-creator (with John Wagner) of Judge Dredd, Carlos did so much other great stuff too- notably Strontium Dog for sister comic Starlord and strips based on The Stainless Steel Rat books, as well as war strips for weekly comic Battle.

For myself, I’ll just say this- one my fondest memories from my youth is of reading the Judge Dredd epic The Apocalypse War week by week in 2000AD and sharing the weekly twists and turns with my mate Andy. A little bit like water-cooler television for us, we’d  each week marvel at the epic events and discuss what we’d read like people do over stuff like Game of Thrones now. Incredibly fast, Ezquerra somehow managed to single-handedly provide the art for an entire saga that stretched over six months. Several years ago I bought the Apocalypse saga collected in a handsome IDW hardback edition and re-reading it was such a great experience, it proved easily as good as I remembered it. Ezquerra’s storytelling was cinematic and peerless.

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Carlos was some kind of genius and as others have wisely noted in comments over the past few days, easily deserves to be considered one of the very greats of comicbook artists, like Kirby and Eisner before him. Yeah, another one gone.

1982

As I write this, 35 years ago.

Half a lifetime ago I guess. I was sixteen.

I remember, walking with a group of friends (most of whom I have not seen in decades- in that pre-social media era freindships had a habit of splintering off forever,  lives spinning off like shattered shards of glass). We were walking to another’s house on the other side of our council estate, to play Dungeons and Dragons (we were RPG-junkies for a few years back then). I remember walking down a street as we made our way across, talking about Blade Runner, thinking about the film’s year of 2019. Worked out how many years ahead it was, how old I would be in that year. A time so long-distant to a sixteen-year-old! 2019 was some incredibly far-off shore, a distant alien landmark, way past that other notable year, 2001, that figured so highly in our geek estimations.

It’s odd to consider that Kubrick’s special year was such a landmark to my generation and those before us-  2001: A Space Odyssey! Those very words were exciting, powerful, they carried some kind of arcane meaning. People now, kids, likely look back on it as just any other date, just another old movie. For us it was something bigger than us, something evocative of a space-faring future ambition. We had visions of returning to the moon, going to Mars. Even in 1982 it all seemed a matter of when, not if.

In hindsight, we were pretty stupid. But 1982, 35 years ago, it was another world.

1982 was a year for other worlds. Dungeons and Dragons, Traveller, Runequest, Gamma World. Well, I could go on and on about those RPG days. Back when the acronym TSR meant so much, Gary Gygax was some kind of genius, and Games Workshop was a gateway to incredible places- each of us of our group would pick a game system and create adventures we would later gather to play.  I ran a campaign titled Shadow World using the AD&D rules that went on for years. I still have books and folders of work I wrote for it, up in my loft- it was such a passion of mine that took so much time it’s hard to fathom now. I should have been out fooling around with girls but instead was inside my room dreaming up dark dungeons and evil sorcerers. Well, either that or reading or painting.

I read so much back then- Arthur C Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Robert E Howard…

1982, Arthur C Clarke was still alive and writing, as was Ray Bradbury. Frank Frazetta was still alive. John Buscema and Gil Kane and Gene Colan and so many others I grew up with were still working in comics. I was reading 2000 AD in those days, the comic still in its prime. 1982 was the year they ran the 26-issue Apocalypse War saga in the Judge Dredd strip. Each week after reading each installment I was trading comments with my mate Andy in the halls of our secondary school. Block Mania, East Meg One, War Marshall Kazan, Stubb guns, 400 million dead... it was some glorious soap opera, a comicstrip punk-Charles Dickens that unfolded each week, and we would marvel and moan at the various turns of fate as the saga progressed.

I remember the threat of global nuclear armageddon was very real, so that Apocalypse War storyline seemed very pertinent. We actually went to war that year, an old-fashioned war: Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands and we sent an armada to those small islands thousands of miles away that no-one had even heard of. I remember the daily updates on the news.

1982 was a very good year for films. Its why this blog has its name, for one thing.

Blade Runner, ET, Poltergeist, Star Trek: Wrath of Khan, The Thing, Mad Max 2, Conan.People often refer to it as the ‘summer of 1982’ and of course it was if you were American, but in other countries that incredible summer of genre films was spread out across the year, as releases were not so immediately global then. Wrath of Khan was here in July, The Thing in August (what madness was that?), Blade Runner and Poltergeist in September, Tron in October, and finally E.T. not until December when likely everyone had already seen it on pirate VHS. Video piracy-  how I first saw The Thing and Conan and Mad Max 2 (and The Exorcist, too, that Autumn).

I could never get my head around being able to watch films on-demand at the press of a switch. Even today it seems a bit weird, a bit like sorcery. In 1982 of course it was a slice of the future, but always over someone else’s house; at home we couldn’t afford a VHS machine until we rented one in late 1983.  Those dark Autumn nights of 1982 when we gathered over a freinds house when his parents were out and watched those VHS copies, they linger in my head forever, so intense it almost seems like yesterday. I giggled like some kind of idiot on first watching The Thing (it just seemed so extreme, in hindsight it was probably nervous laughter, not funny ‘ha-ha’ laughter, but I hadn’t seen Dawn of the Dead at that point). I detested Conan for not really being honest to the Howard books (though I made peace with it soon enough on subsequent viewings) and I remember being gobsmacked by the wild kinetics of Mad Max 2.

Backtrack a few months to Easter, 1982, and Tron: I remember playing an RPG over a freinds house and we paused to watch Disneytime on his portable telly. Imagine five or six of us enthralled when they showed a clip of Tron: it was the Lightcycle chase, and this little portable b&w television was suddenly a window into the future. Hell, I was still playing videogames on my Atari VCS and they were nothing like the cgi being thrown around in Tron. We had seen nothing quite like it, it was like something that arrived out of nowhere.

It was like that back then. Films did seem to come from nowhere. I remember every month going into the city to the specialist bookshops, reading all the latest movie news in the latest issues of Starlog, Fantastic Films, Starburst, Cinefantastique, Cinefex. Marvelling at the latest pictures, reading the latest previews/reviews/interviews. There was no internet, films were spoiled less and information harder to come by. Trailers were rarely seen (not available at a whim as they are now).

When I saw Blade Runner that September, I had never seen a single scene beforehand, hardly any pictures. I do remember a film-music programme on the radio on which I heard the sequence of Deckard meeting Tyrell- that was my only experience of that film beforehand. I wonder if that was why the film had such an impact on me back then? Nowadays we see so much, learn so much, before we even see a film. It steals the surprise somehow. It’s so hard to avoid these days.

Back in 1982, films kept their surprises.

 

 

April in Review

The nice thing about these month-in-review posts, which are something new to me this year (primarily just to keep track of my target of 100 new films/tv seasons) is the sense of perspective they bring. Looking back I can notice patterns of what I watch or a reminder of release dates but there can be an odd synchronicity evident too. Take April for instance, pretty much bookended by two huge superhero films that share a common theme albeit an opposite approach- Batman vs Superman and Captain America: Civil War. Two absolutely huge films; between them they must have accounted for over $500 million in their budgets. Half a billion dollars spent on two superhero films. If I’d been looking at that from the perspective of Superman: The Movie in 1978 (or the Spiderman tv series shot not long after) it would have seemed utterly impossible/insane. Half a billion dollars on two films you’ll each be able to buy for fifteen quid in a few months time. We live in a crazy time. So anyway, here’s the fun bit, that list of blog entries for this month-

  1. 2016.27: Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice
  2. 2016.28: The Last Stand
  3. 2016.29: Childhood’s End
  4. 2016.30: Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD
  5. 2016.31:The Purge
  6. Silver Linings Playbook
  7. 2016.32:Bride of Re-Animator
  8. The Problem With Superman
  9. Remembering Batdance
  10. 2016.33:Ender’s Game
  11. 2016.34:Mr Robot:Season One
  12. 2016.35:Captain America: Civil War
  13. 2016.36:Mr Holmes

There was definitely a comic-book/superhero vibe for the month, perhaps inevitable as it was bookended by those particular blockbusters (will we have another month like that again this year, I wonder?). Of course the huge impact and critical fallout over Batman vs Superman was the biggest thing about the month. I enjoyed writing my follow-up piece The Problem With Superman- I rather prefer writing those stream-of-consciousness/ranting at the keyboard commentary pieces to writing reviews. The comic-book theme was furthered by having the opportunity to watch the Future Shock! documentary, which was a particular thrill seeing those writers/artists I loved so long ago. All in all, it doesn’t seem too bad a month, there’s some interesting and varied titles in there, albeit not anything from the to-watch shelf.

Another opportunity to break the review-format, albeit for rather unwelcome reasons, was the Remembering Batdance piece marking the death of Prince. Still can’t believe he’s gone.

Looking at the list, I’ve seen ten ‘new’ films/tv shows to keep my 100 target pretty healthy. Best film was Captain America: Civil War and the worst Ender’s Game. Ender’s Game has its supporters though, as its comments section will attest. A reminder that every film has its fans/grudging admirers/defenders/apologists. Maybe I was in the wrong mood when I watched it- I’ll certainly admit that it likely turned out exactly how it was intended to; it wasn’t a film that turned out bad- it was exactly what it was meant to be, a film targeting the young adult/teen-hero fiction audience popularised by The Hunger Games/Harry Potter films and so many others. Cynical as that seems to me, every film is targeted at someone and in Ender’s Games case, that audience clearly wasn’t me in anycase.

A cautionary reminder of this- at work two colleagues saw Batman vs Superman nine times between them. One saw it four times, the other five times. So even if I didn’t really ‘get’ Batman vs Superman (one viewing was more than enough for me), at least some part of the films target audience clearly did, so the film did something right. I still enjoyed it more than I expected to, and look forward to the extended edition answering a few problems I had with it, but it’s also clear that it pales before Captain America: Civil War. Where the DC film stumbled, the Marvel film soared. And thats the story of April 2016.

(Come on, back on March 29th, that wouldn’t have surprised anyone really, would it?)

Cam Kennedy’s Judge Dredd Vol.1

dreddcam“Of all the comic heroes I have drawn, Judge Dredd is definitely my favourite. Who wouldn’t like being paid to disappear into the future where a 7ft character goes around thumping people in post-apocalyptic America. I had a ball sitting in my room in Orkney sketching away while the rain poured down outside.”Cam Kennedy, 2012.

An excellent book has just been released by IDW Publishing – it seems this is another example of the Americans showing us Brits how it should be done, with one of our own greatest properties to boot. It’s a large-format, finely produced hardback collection of classic Judge Dredd stories illustrated by the great Cam Kennedy. Kennedy is my very favourite Dredd artist, and that’s no small praise considering the competition by such greats as Brian Bolland and Mike McMahon or indeed the legendary Carlos Ezquerra (and if those three names mean nothing to you, well, I pity you, really I do).  When I talk about such artists I have to admit I’m pretty much ignorant of anybody doing the Dredd strip these days- I used to read 2000AD back in 1978 through to the mid-nineties (and naturally the Dredd Megazine during that period too), so I guess I could be referred to as a fan of Classic Dredd or Golden-Age Dredd or whatever they call it these days. There are likely great ‘new’ artists illustrating Dredd stories these days but I’m totally ignorant of them. The Dredd of ‘my’ era was back in the days of the Dark Judges, Block Mania, tales like  The Cursed Earth, The Judge Child Quest, The Apocalypse War… oh boy, those epics were something special.

Kennedy’s tenure actually dated a bit later, from 1983 when Dredd had fully matured. With a clean, bold b&w ink style all his own, Kennedy brought a gritty, realistic edge to the strip… as fine as the other Dredd artists were, it was Kennedy’s Mega-City One that seemed the most real to me, the closest to how I thought a movie Dredd might really look. Indeed, most of his strips were like storyboards for a Dredd movie. Dredd looked real, the streets and the hardware looked real, solid. It lived, it breathed. Whenever I picked up the latest issue of 2000AD and found that Cam Kennedy had drawn the issues Dredd strip I knew I was in for something really special. The writers seemed to respond to Kennedy’s artwork with some really special stories though (and creator John Wagner admits as much in his introduction to this book), to the extent that its really not just the astounding artwork that lingers in the memory but the great story-lines and memorable characters too. The Midnight Surfer, Kenny Who?, The Taxidermist.. there are great characters here, great drama, great laughs, and a towering depiction of a huge, no-nonsense Dredd.

dreddcam2So this book is a treasure-trove of memories for me. A fantastic read and a book to return to for many years to come, with some fantastic strips lovingly re-printed here on fine paper at a size somewhat larger than the original 2000AD comic itself. Why on Earth the UK publisher Rebellion couldn’t have done something like this itself is beyond me, as this is a well overdue treatment of the iconic classic strips. This book has the sub-heading ‘Vol.1’ so I hope a collection of later Kennedy work on Dredd will be forthc0ming (I dare say much of that will be new to me). Similar collections of Brian Bolland and Carlos Ezquerra have already been printed but I believe proved problematic. Bolland drew individual episodes during big epic storylines and understandably only those episodes featuring his art were printed in the first collection, proving a frustrating reading experience apparently, and the Ezquerra collection seemed a bit of a hit-and-miss editorial affair, but I think I will get the Ezquerra Vol.2 collection as that reprints the remarkable Apocalypse War in its entirety (Ezquerra was amazingly fast at drawing Dredd, able to complete entire epic storylines on his own).  To be honest though, I’m so impressed by the quality of the Kennedy collection I think I may well go for the earlier Bolland and Ezquerra books myself anyway. This is a great quality way or collecting/preserving classic Dredd.

For newcomers though this Cam Kennedy collection is superior to the others as the stories are all complete and indeed are some of the finest Dredd stories that have been written. Roll on the second volume of Kennedy Dredd art, I can hardly wait.

 

 

 

Dredd (2012)

dreddbluNote I’ve dropped that insane ‘3D’ from the films title that backfired so badly on the film’s theatrical release last September. As I’m someone who read the Judge Dredd strips in 2000 AD back when it all started in 1977, who bought the American reprints and various graphic novels, who even bought a Judge Dredd baseball cap back in the day, I guess I would be considered a dead-cert punter for the movies cinema release, right? Well, if they couldn’t even get me in through the box-office door what chance did they have? Okay, I may be a minority with my apathy for 3D (though the films utter failure makes my minority suspect), but really, the 3D-centric marketing and distribution evidently did it no favours at all.  So here we are several months later with the film’s Blu-ray and DVD release, and we are still stuck with the 3D nonsense, but at least we get a better choice regards seeing the film in 2D.

But the shadow hanging over this release is the shockingly poor box-office returns that this ambitious and, as it turns out, very good movie suffered last year which seem to have nixed any possibility of the mooted trilogy of films panning out. What should have been the first in a trilogy of ever more ambitious movies is just yet another frustrating  ‘what-if’ viewing experience like Michael J Bassett’s Solomon Kane film was a few years ago.  You can sense that a second, bigger and better film should follow it- that this film is sort of ‘proof of concept’ project, a tentative step into the larger world of Judge Dredd. But that second film won’t ever come.  And I’d contend its not the films fault.

Dredd, as the title would infer, is set in a dystopian future, in a  huge crime-ridden metropolis called Mega City One that is surrounded by irradiated apocalyptic wasteland.  Budgetary restrictions limit the films depiction of the city compared to the huge futuristic sci-fi world of the comic, but this actually helps the film regards cementing its sense of reality. I rather think  Dredd‘s Mega City One is an embryonic, formative version of that of the comic. It is pretty much a fascist police state, in which Judges patrol the anarchistic streets on machine-gun equipped bikes. These Judges are cop, jury and executioner, dispensing instant and brutal justice in an attempt to prevent society collapsing into bloody chaos.  In the comic the setting is used as an exaggerated allegory of our own world, with much darkness and twisted humour, and nuances impossible to digest into a 90+ minute movie.

Dredd has a simple plot, in which Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) is tasked with  assessing psychic rookie Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) whilst on patrol. Drug lord and  gang leader Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) is manufacturing and dispensing a virulent new drug called Slo-Mo which, when smoked, heightens its users sense of time. Ma-Ma maintains her lordship of Mega Block Peach Tree Towers as brutally as the Judges in the city beyond, literally skinning alive three of her competitors, but she comes under the attention of Judge Dredd when the bodies of said competitors are reported. Dredd takes  Anderson into the Peach Trees Megablock on a drugs bust. In order to stop Dredd and Anderson taking one of her right-hand men back to the Halls of Justice, Ma-Ma closes down her Megablock, shutting the Judges off from the city and any assistance. What follows is a violent life and death struggle as Ma Ma sets her army of thugs onto them- indeed, Dredd is pretty much one long violent set piece.

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Its simple, its direct, its violent. Its a wonderful throwback to films like Dirty Harry (which is perfect as that film, and Eastwood’s Harry persona,  was obviously a big influence on the original strip back in the day), and the films of John Carpenter’s glory days such as Escape From New York, complete with a thundering techno score eerily reminiscent of Carpenters own early scores. Anybody who loves those films will find much to enjoy here. Its a kind of movie we don’t see much of anymore.

The film has inevitably attracted some criticism for its violence but I think its simply because its a violence that hurts, and I’d contend that this is preferable to that of most action films nowadays. In most action films we see now, characters are depicted surviving fights and stunts that would rip arms and legs off – its a cartoon videogame-influenced violence with characters as indestructible as Captain Scarlet. I much prefer violence that has a sense of reality- I remember back in 1982 how violent Blade Runner seemed; not because of how much action there was in it, but rather because the action resulted in cuts and bruises and broken bones to the characters to the effect that the audience empathised and felt the violence.

Dredd may be the perfect Judge Dredd movie.  Yes, I guess we’d all like to have seen more of Mega City One as it was in the comic,  but I guess a true depiction of the comic’s world would require a huge sprawling blockbuster budget, and we’ve already seen where that leads with Stallone’s frankly anaemic version some years back. Keeping to a low budget (reported between $35-$45 milllion) allowed the film-makers to stay true to the comics violent, nihilistic tone. That further Dredd films may have indeed managed to show more of the comic’s wider canvas just makes everything regards its financial failure even more depressing. I can only hope, vain as it may be, that Dredd‘s possible success on home video (because there really does seem to be a lot of people like me who were turned off by the original theatrical emphasis on 3D who are buying it on disc now) might result in a rethink regards green lighting another film. Because I’m sure there is a market for future Dredd films- its just that this crazy preoccupation the post-Avatar movie industry has right now, with turning film experiences into amusement rides, has simply got to stop. Its not about the technology and being able to charge the punters more, its about the storytelling.

Word has it that Dredd only got greenlit at all because of the 3D angle, and I firmly believe from my personal experience that, ironically, that is what killed it at the box-office. There is a lesson there but I doubt anyone’s taking stock of it in Hollywood. That’s really the most depressing thing about it all. I’ll say it again- its not about the technology and being able to charge the punters more, its about the storytelling.  Please.