Coming from the mind of former 2000 AD editor, Steve MacManus, Blazer! sets out to be an unashamedly nostalgic thing, tongue firmly in cheek, with five strips evoking the wonderfully rich, wonderfully strange world of 70s Brit comics.
It aims high and doesn’t quite get where it wants to be, but there’s still plenty to impress.
Brought to you from the people behind The77 Comic and the mind of Steve MacManus, Blazer! tries and sort of succeeds in nostalgically pastiching classic Brit comics of the 70s.
It all came about when Steve MacManus was writing The SheerGlam Conspiracy, his novel of the wonderful world of British publishing, of which he has some experience, being editor of 2000 AD from 1979-1986 and Managing Editor of the 2000 AD Group from 1987-1995.
Part of SheerGlam involves the fictional Blazer! comic, so MacManus fleshed out the basics of the strips to include as part of his story. And then got rather too into it all, ending up with six complete first issue scripts.
Next, Ben Conan Cullis of The77 Comic got in touch with the idea for publishing two of the imaginary Blazer! strips, The Tinkling Triangles and The Collector, in The77 comic. As for the other strips… well, why not actually create the fictional comic itself?
Which is just what’s happened – and Blazer! is the result! Inside, you get 32 pages of nostalgic, over the top anthology comics masquerading as a lost comic from the time of Valiant, Battle, and Lion taking a heavily nostalgic look back to those classics.
Every strip here’s written by MacManus, just five or six pages long, and yes, it does a fine job of capturing that era of Brit comics where a five-page story would be absolutely packed with wonderfully bizarre and weird stuff, the absolute antithesis of the decompressed storylines of today.
It’s well-produced, with everything done to make it look and feel like it blasted straight out of the 70s, with the letters page, meet the staff section, a few gags, right down to the cream coloured pages… it’s almost as though it really has been sat there in a dingy warehouse all this time.
Despite all five strips having wildly different plots, settings, and characters, because it’s MacManus writing them all, the tone of the four b&w strips at least are all similar, everything dialled up to the absurd, plenty of puns thrown at the reader, some that work, others… not so much. And that’s a fair description of the material in Blazer! as well, with some of the strips working better than others.
But, for the market it’s aimed at, a reader of a certain age with that wistful nostalgia for the sorts of comics they read back when they were kids, it’s going to be like manna from heaven, a familiar comfort blanket.
So, what do you get in Blazer!? Well, lets start off with my two favourites, beginning with the opener, Godwin’s Law with art by Dan Cornwell, and Domenica’s Ring with art by Peter Western, son of the Brit comics veteran Mike Western.
Godwin’s War gives us hot and steamy World War II action in the jungles of Burma, where we get Indiana Jones with a bible in one hand and a huge machine gun, as Baptist Minister Moses Goodwin races to escape the approaching Japanese army with a lorry load of his flock.
Not even losing an eye can slow Godwin down, although he is a bit crap at keeping his charges alive, but hey, that’s the trouble with war… all those dead civilians.
As you’d expect if you’ve seen his art in 2000 AD, Dan Cornwell‘s art is a highlight, solid, exciting, great line, his art almost acting as the straight man to MacManus’ comic turn. But he packs everything into the short page count, even with that opening splash page, never losing the flow and pace to keep it moving along.
Before going on to the second highlight, there’s one thing to mention about Godwin’s Law, with the original print/digital versions having a single use of the derogatory term “Jap.” The publisher has issued a statement acknowledging their mistake is including it, any new printing will have an edited version, and anyone who’s bought a copy, in print or digital, can get the ‘redacted edition’ just needs to get in touch with them. But it’s something that shouldn’t have happened. Yes, it might have cropped up if this really was published in the ’70s, but we’ve moved on since then and become better than that. It certainly shouldn’t have been included in new material published in 2021, no matter when it’s pretending to be from.
The second of the stand-outs is Domenica’s Ring, the spooky turn straight out of Misty or Spellbound. It’s the only strip specially created for this collection of Blazer! and the only one that’s in full-colour, which Peter Western really makes the most of, putting his all into the art.
From dayglo fashion neons through to the subdued hues of the darkness, it’s a great looking thing, with solid character work and interesting layouts… even if there are a couple of times where it gets a little too ‘interesting’ and loses the flow.
It’s a really well constructed short tale, of Italian singing sensation Domenica Totti, whose appearance on an LWT talk show goes pear-shaped when her magical ring disintegrates the host. Ooops doesn’t really cover it.
MacManus juggling three different timeframes with ease, giving us a glimpse into just how we got to this point, all weirdness and dark magic (oooooohhhh), to end up with a storyline I really want to see the next part of. It’s probably the straightest story in here, MacManus pulling back on the puns and the gags in favour of pushing the supernatural spookiness higher in the mix.
Now the other three strips. They’re just not as strong compared to the fun of the other two, fading into the background a little.
Best of this three is The Sheriffs Of Nottingham, with some good looking art from Andrew Richmond, a body-swap comedy with a bad-ass, no-nonsense US cop from Nottingham, Texas getting dropped into ye olde worlde Dixon of Dock Green style plodding in Robin Hood’s neck of the woods…
Meanwhile, our poor old mild-mannered British Bobby gets zapped stateside to get a sharp introduction to Lone Star state law.
It’s a simple opener that actually feels like it could have easily packed a little more into the page-count, there’s some good looking art from Richmond but, although I know it was pretty standard in the ’70s, the lettering is bloody horrible to see.
Finally, two that just felt a bit hmm to me. Derringer & So’n, with art from Colin Maxwell, where a returned ‘Nam veteran and his adopted son spend their time bodyguarding the rich and famous out on the west coast, just falls flat and the storyline just feels like filler. Pretty much the same with The Boot Room Boy with art from Filippo Roncone, as Roy of the Rovers meets amateur sleuthing when the star import at Barchester United turns up dead.
All in all, not too bad at all, two great strips, one good one, a couple of what felt like fillers. But that’s the point of anthology comics, isn’t it? What I liked, you might not… variety is the spice of life after all. And Blazer! is a well put together anthology that does exactly what it set out to do.
Blazer #1 – All scripts by Steve MacManus. Godwin’s Law art by Dan Cornwell, Derringer & S’on art by Colin Maxwell, Domenica’s Ring art by Peter Western, The Boot Room Boy art by Filippo Roncone, The Sheriffs Of Nottingham art by Andrew Richmond.
Blazer! published by The ’77 Publications.
Issue #2 will launch on Kickstarter later this year.
Oh, and just before I leave you, I wanted to add in a bit of the PR sent out with Blazer!… a great bit of scene-setting for the imaginary history of the comic…
“One evening, whilst attending the 2019 Singapore Comic Con, a member of The77 publishing team got lost on the way back to her hotel. Feeling a little worse for wear, she strayed into the Singapore docks area, where she passed the night inside what appeared to be a disused warehouse.
Waking the next day, in the chilly interior, she found she had covered herself in what she took to be discarded newspapers. As her eyes became accustomed to the morning light, she realised her bedding was in fact copies of a British comic. On further inspection, the warehouse proved to be packed with shrink-wrapped bundles of the title, each one in pristine condition. It was only then that the amazing truth slowly began to dawn on the hung-over fan. She had stumbled upon the Holy Grail of the British comics collecting community, namely the first issue of Blazer!, whose 90,000 copy print run had inexplicably vanished shortly after being loaded into a distributor’s lorry some forty-five years earlier.
The story behind the mysterious disappearance of Blazer!’s first issue will be revealed in The SheerGlam Succession, the second volume in Steve MacManus’ intended SheerGlam trilogy.”
Now that’s how to do interesting PR!