Review by Peter Duncan
The77, the 64-page independent anthology that has just published its fifth issue, has its origins in a conversation on a Facebook group dedicated to 2000AD. As time goes on, its looking less and less like a homage to “The Galaxy’s Greatest Comic”. and is developing a loyal fan base and an identity all of its own. The team behind the comic have ambitious plans for the future, involving new titles and annuals.
The latest issue, featuring 12 strips, sees the final episodes of three ongoing series and the start of three more, two of which provide what could be the artistic highlights of the title so far.
“Extinction 2040”, written by Paul Goodenough, features beautifully painted artwork by Ian Stopforth, who mixes pencil sketches, in various levels of completeness, into his layout to produce really attractive and interesting pages. The story, set in the near future, on an Earth ruined by man’s excesses, looks intriguing, but at five pages is little more than a taster of what I hope is to become a long running story.
“I Know the Secret of the Alien“, a stand-alone tale by Mike Powell featuring art by Mike Collins, could not be more different. Mike’s black and white art is as traditional as it comes and but for the better-quality printing, feels like it could be from one of the old Alan Class comics that reprinted Marvel and Charlton short sci-fi and fantasy stories from the sixties and seventies.
The addition of references to TV shows and other popular culture from 1977 sets this apart from being a simple pastiche and makes it one of the highlights of the issue. The host for the tale, The Traveller, a shadowy figure in trench coat and hat who tops and tails the story, owes something, probably quite a lot, to the Steve Ditko depiction of the old-time radio host, The Mysterious Traveller, but that can easily be forgiven as it adds to the nostalgia vibe of the strip. A really solid entertaining strip and a highlight of the issue.
The other new series, “Red by Night, Black by Day”, written by Jo Heeley, has an intriguing set-up, of a world changed by the actions of the magician to Elizabeth I, John Dee. Jo’s Elizabethan world is populated by strange magical creatures with some lovely touches from artist Rupert Lewis Jones, although I did want something done about the slightly over-intrusive lettering, it left me wanting more which is, of course, the purpose of a serial.
Of the strips that end with this issue, I’ll miss Brendon T Wright‘s “Martian Law” the most. Wild and funny, with distinctive art it’s been great fun and has a satisfying density of plotting, that contrasts well, with some of the more fast-moving strips. Brendon’s art sits in that mid-point between horror and humour and is the perfect foil to his script.
The other two series that are finishing with this issue, “Penny Pentagram” and “Undertow”, are both strips that would have benefited from being published in a longer format, rather than being presented in short episodes two months apart. “Undertow”, in particular, suffers slightly from this problem, but does act as a showcase for Jeremy Dunn’s bold and beautifully coloured artwork.
The art style on “Penny Pentagram, Occult Detective”, is not to my personal taste, but such is the nature of anthology titles, you are not going to like everything in every issue.
“Trackless Depths”, a monstrous riff on Moby Dick, with beautiful black and white, toned artwork, is not mentioned as coming to an end in the editorial, and the final words in this episode, “The End … for now”, gives us hope that Dave Bedford and Mac’s strip will return.
The spine of the comic is made up of three ongoing serials, “V”, “Division 77” and “The Cell’, all of which are given sufficient space for substantial, satisfying episodes this time round. But the highlights of the comic, for me at least, are Lew Stringer‘s, “Sgt Shouty” strip and the fantastic cover from Neil Blackbird Sims.
Lew’s one-pager is a genuine comedy-adventure serial of a type not often seen anymore and features some really funny lines, and hidden visual jokes. I can give no higher praise than to say that “Sgt Shouty” would have sat well in the pages of Smash! or Pow!, alongside “Grimly Fiendish” or “The Cloak”. I’m afraid only few people may truly get what praise that it, but the good Sgt. alone is worth the price of admission for this particular reader.
Neil’s cover is beautifully designed and depicts a mixture of organic and metallic tentacles attacking a mask wearing face. Very appropriate for the year just gone by and making the best of his very distinctive artwork. One nice, added, touch is the memorial to, downthetubes contributor, Colin Noble, in the name scrawled in the top right hand corner of the cover.
The77 has been a remarkable success, with five issues and a spin-off title, Blazer, being funded through Kickstarter since May last year. Its strength lies in the variety of material it presents and the superb production values. Its weakness, if it has one, is in the short page count of some of the episodic strips that taken with a bi-monthly schedule can be slightly unsatisfying.
The balance between two competing requirements, providing longer episodes while maintaining the level of variety that an anthology needs, is a difficult one to hit and each issue seems to come closer to finding the perfect equilibrium. I look forward to seeing what future issues bring.