Brawler is a brand new UK based anthology of comic tales. And, if that cover happens to remind you of a certain other famous Brit anthology, well you’re in good company… this is a modern attempt at capturing the wild spirit of Warrior. (And seeing as I’m referencing a comic from 1982, you might need some help… there’s a quick summary right at the bottom of this article. But seriously, it was incredible.)
Published by co-editor Steve Tanner’s Time Bomb Comics, a long-standing and well-respected publisher here in the UK, the first issue of Brawler smashed through its Kickstarter in April and launched in May. The cover, the strapline, the sidebar with strip previews, it all screams Warrior. And it’s something immediately mentioned in the intro from co-editor Jason Cobley. Thing is, if you’re modelling yourself on Warrior, you have to have the strips to back it up.
And Brawler, although good, well, it ain’t no Warrior. But then again, there was no way it could have been.
Now, let’s take a spin round what’s inside this first issue of Brawler…
28AR by Richmond Clements and Nigel Dobbyn
“Twenty-eight year ago, Ragnarok happened. The few remaning humans are trying to survive an ice age while Viking Gods battle Frost Giants for control of Midgard“.
Yes, Ragnarok’s come and gone and now we’re on the trail with Thor and his human companions, complete with snowmobiles. Watched by Frost Giants, using very hi-tech binoculars and in communication with Odin, via satellite, this is, obviously, a very hi-tech sort of retelling of Norse myth.
It all comes to a head with a very big, very bloody battle, or at least the start of one, something that feels just that bit off… it’s the first issue of something we’re not sure when we’ll be seeing the second issue of, and I’d have liked more story here than mere set up, albeit very good, very interesting setup and some damn fine art from Dobbyn.
MAJOR RAKHANA by Steve Tanner and Pete Woods, letters by Bolt-01
“The steampunk space-ace that calls the shots, Major Rakhana is our Glorious Empire’s staunch defender against the wicked alien hordes in our outermost colonies”
More unusual settings and characters seemingly out of place in Major Rakhana, as this is set on Venus, in 1885, and we’re following a swaud of English redcoat soldiers in the 1st Offworld Grenadiers, wending their way through the Royal Victoria Jungle on the lookout for Venusian ‘gators… definitely not the Venus we might have expected!
Likewise, when we hear talk of ‘the Major’, you’re not expecting a kickass woman as a very un-Victorian sort of soldier, complete with half-naked male concubines… “You can’t be ‘ere, wearing that! This is a battlefield!“
There’s fun to be had in the gender reversal, with the pompous soldiers soon getting their heads handed to them, all with some lovely looking art from Woods, but even here, there’s still a couple of moments where the art just loses perspective or positioning, pulling the reader out of the flow of it all, but… even with those niggles, it’s still impressive to read.
Unlike the first strip, this one does deliver a done in one tale, just what you want for this opening issue, although there’s, obviously, plenty of ways to go forward with it and I for one want to see more adventures of the Major.
BANSHEE SPACE EXORCIST by Kate Cunningham and Grace Toscano, letters by Bolt-01
“Fanshaw is a banshee who’s moved into space and become an exorcist. Undead in the space age, she makes a ‘living’ travelling between moon colonies and star stations, helping hapless humans rid themselves of the spectres and ghouls they’ve brought with them from earth”
A space-borne tale of Kelpies and 1000-year-old Banshees that just seems to meander a little too much for it to work well. It takes quite a while to say not too much. And the art just seems that little too raw and rough, indistinct, and although I can see what Toscano was going for, it’s just not quite there yet.
AMNESIA AGENTS: A CORNER OF A FOREIGN FIELD by Jason Cobley and James Gray
“There is a physical place where your memories go. You forget a person, a place or even your keys, they end up in Echo. Sometimes, evil forces led by the Forget Foxes steal memories and hide them, and it’s the job of the Amnesia Agents to get them back”
Agents investigating lost memories and stolen pasts, two of them now at the French cemetery commemorating the Battle of Arras, 1917. Talk of the Amnesiapp and anomalies, memory orbs and … a forget fox?
They’re investigating a grave wiped of a name, replaced as yet another unknown soldier and end up, thanks to one of those foxes, inhabiting his memories, back in 1917. It’s another done in one, but there’s questions to be asked… story wise, there’s lots of potential for more and there’s a nice bit of near photo-realism in the artwork at time. Again, not perfect, occasional lapses in the figure work, a little too much roughness in parts, but there’s also some nicely done panels and pages.
FORTUNE by Fraser Campbell and James Corcoran, colors by James Gray, letters by Nigel Dobbyn
“In a destitute star system, a rare mineral find on a distant planet sends thousands of brigands and adventurers into the big black on an interstellar gold rush, all willing to do whatever it takes to find their fortune. Among those making the journey is 13-year-old Amara Gladstone and her own band of buccaneering misfits”
Any time you get pretty decent Kirby-esque moments in a space fantasy… not a bad thing at all. Corcoran’s art looks nice, but the tale itself, a cosmic fortune hunt for Hermisium, the stuff that powers every comms device in the universe, plus a set of space pirates and you have something that comes off as Guardians of the Galaxy meets a Future Shock. All a bit hmmm.
FRANKENSTEIN, TEXAS by Dan Whitehead and David Hitchcock
“What if the ending to Mary Shelley’s famous Gothic novel was a lie? A fiction spun by the real Victor Frankenstein to cover his tracks, so he and his creation could instead flee across the Atlantic to a promising new world: America. Now, the monster fights to redeem himself as the new sheriff of the town of Frankenstein”
Now, I loved Hitchcock’s artwork when I saw it on his past works, and it’s just as impressive here. Black and white shades, against the desolation of the desert setting works a treat.
As for the story, it’s just as the title suggests, Frankenstein’s monster as a cowboy loner type, pitched up in a Texas cowboy town, but he’s not the only Universal Monsters refugee in town, not by a long stretch. Another decent tale, a good one-off, but it’s a generic thing. Hitchcock’s art is the star for sure.
KEIKO PANDA by Jason Cobley and Mitz
“Turn left and the world is different. Humans live and fight alongside and against Mammalians and Arboreans, intelligent animals and vegetables! Samurai Commander Keiko Panda of Nippon investigates strange events and crimes in the mountains and mists of the east”
Oh yes, Keiko Panda is back. This won’t mean anything for anyone not heavily into the UK self-published scene of the last 20 years, but Keiko Panda was a strip by Cobley coming out of his Bulldog comic, a great anthropomorphic anthology of the past.
Here, it’s more Keiko, in glorious colour from Mitz, all kinetic beauty, looking great. Story’s great too, lightweight sure, but all-action, exposition and explanation all over and done with in panel one, page one. After that it’s all out fun, fighting and philosophy done well.
SUPERCOVER STORY by Richmond Clements
Finally, a page of prose from Clements, based around the cover by Staz Johnson, about a secret military op in 1944, a BIG op… no prizes for guessing what it’s about given the cover!
So… the idea behind Brawler, putting together a really professionally done, full colour comic anthology for today, that’s a great thing. I get the idea of harking back to Warrior, but the trouble is, for people as old as me, that just makes me start comparing things… and there’s no way it was ever going to live up to that particular comparison.
However, as an anthology without comparing it to Warrior, it holds up pretty well. It’s by no means perfect, of course it’s not, but there’s plenty in here to enjoy, plenty of promising works. Nothing screams wonderful, but plenty says good. Will that be enough? I’m just not sure. If I’m honest, I wanted something that really leaped out at me, I wanted one or two strips that I could absolutely rave about, and instead, I’m left feeling that it’s a good, but not great collection. Having said that… I’d still want to see a second issue.
You can get hold of Brawler from Time Bomb Comics online.
Warrior – A Quick Summary of the comic to inspire Brawler…
Right, as I promised at the top of this piece, a quick summary of what Warrior was and how important it was. Published from 1982 – 1985, 26 issues. This was all put together by Dez Skinn, who’d just come off a successful run at Marvel UK. But Warrior was something decidedly different, a way more grown-up comic experience, long before comics became all grown up over in the US. Just a quick idea of the strips and creators in issue 1 should give you all you need to know….
Marvelman/Miracleman by Alan Moore & Garry Leach (later Alan Davis), V For Vendetta by Alan Moore & David Lloyd, The Spiral Path by Steve Parkhouse, The Legend of Prester John by Steve Moore & John Bolton, Father Shandor, Demon Stalker by Steve Moore & John Bolton, Laser Eraser & Pressbutton by Pedro Henry (Steve Moore) & Steve Dillon.
Yeah, that’s impressive.
Later issues would include The Bojeffries Saga by Alan Moore & Steve Parkhouse, Warpsmith by Alan Moore & Garry Leach, Big Ben by Dez Skinn & Will Simpson, The Liberators by Grant Morrison & John Ridgway, Madman by Paul Neary & Mick Austin and more.
It was incredible, it set the mold for so much of what would come later, and it’s a slightly lost portion of UK comics. Go look at the Wiki page, Lew Stringer has a nice overview of issue 1, and head down to the second half of this page from Dez Skinn for a very personal view of the magazine’s genesis.