Sunday, 9 July 2017

COMBAT COLIN #1: SEMI-AUTOMATIC REVIEW


First up I just have to say what a delight it was to open the envelope containing this comic and see this character slide out after all these years.  When I began collecting Marvel UK's The Transformers way back in 1988 it'd already been going steady for 191 issues prior, so Combat Colin had established himself for quite a while after coming over from the pages of the cancelled Action Force.  This was another feather in the cap of Lew Stringer's stalking of me throughout the comics I collected as a kid, having already appeared in Oink! and The Real Ghostbusters.  His inclusion brought familiarity to this new weekly title for me and I thoroughly enjoyed Colin and Semi-Automatic Steve's adventures throughout the rest of the comic's long life.

You can imagine my thrill then when Lew announced a while back that he'd be following up his successful self-published Brickman Returns and Derek the Troll reprint titles with not one Combat Colin comic, but a series of them.  Aiming to have six issues in total, hopefully with two a year in the pipeline, this first issue takes all of Colin's original Action Force misadventures from across forty-three issues and repackages them into one volume.  I've only ever owned three issues of that title when about ten years ago I read through my (at the time newly-collected) The Transformers collection and its epic story from the 80s and early 90s.  Those few Action Force comics were the issues where the two comics had crossed over for one story, so apart from those few Colin strips all of this was going to be brand new to me.  Nostalgia for the character aside then, would these produce the laughs when read today, thirty years later?

What do you think?:

Part 3 of 'One of Our Milkmen is Missing!' (yes, really)

Clearly there was never any need to worry.  Not that I had been, mind you.  The humour remains timeless just like Lew's work in Oink! (and that comic as a whole) and there's plenty of chucklesome moments throughout, beginning for me with that fantastic front cover.  I love the design with the smaller Colin in the top-left reminiscent of the Marvel UK graphics and the main image with its War of the Worlds-esque War Machines.  Oh, and you'll never guess the solution on page 2!  As for the inside, the first handful of pages are made up of quick gag strips and they're very enjoyable but after that we start getting into the meaty multi-part adventures, the style of which I'd loved so much in The Transformers.

Above you can see one of the parts of the first ever Combat Colin serial which ran for six weeks and culminated in a full-page finale.  Even from this early stage all the classic ingredients are there such as groan-inducing puns, ridiculous cliffhangers, equally ridiculous cliffhanger resolutions, wild scenarios, crazy baddies and unexpected twists and humour from as far out of the left field as you could possibly get.  There's even one told in Lew's trademark rhyme.  It isn't long before each and every instalment takes up a full-page... well, apart from one double-page spread.  Regular baddies make ridiculous reoccurring appearances and as Colin settles in to the whole cliffhanger serial approach there's more and more opportunity to spoof that genre.  For example one of the recap panels simply states, "The story so far: Colin and Steve's vilest villains have ganged up... blah, blah... death trap of feathered barrels and acid pit... blah blah... should have bought last week's Action Force... blah, blah, etc... etc...".  Brilliant!

There's plenty of memorable moments I'm looking forward to again in future issues, but from these strips my favourite has to be the six-part The Mystery of the Missing Pyramids.  Perhaps it's because I'm a sucker for anything to do with Ancient Egypt or maybe it's simply the lunacy of it all.  From the opening on a hijacked plane, to last minute heroics that don't quite work out, flying pyramids, kung-fu penguins and a mummy named Arnold, it's chaotic and crazy from start to finish with barely a panel that doesn't hit the funny bone.  (Oh, and no, I didn't make a mistake by including penguins there in a story about Egypt.  Trust me, it works.)

A page from my favourite story of this issue

Fans of Colin and Steve will be in their element here and shouldn't pass this up.  At only £3.50 plus p&p it's a bargain for a 40-page comic of such quality.  The strips are just as strong as you'll remember so don't be worried about reading these today without the rose-tinted glasses.  For newcomers who haven't read any of these before then you're in for a real treat, because this is a superb introduction to Lew's work and the even more epic, more insane strips to come from the pages of The Transformers over the next few years.

If it sounds like I'm gushing somewhat then yes I'll admit I am.  But you've got to remember I was already a huge fan of this character over so many adventures previously, loving all of the ones I'd read again about a decade ago just as much as the first time around.  It'd be like one of my favourite Oink! characters getting a reprint book of their strips, I'd know going in it was going to be a treat.  So yes, I'm gushing and I'll happily admit that.  This blog is only about the comics I enjoy after all.

There's a couple of little extras included in here too, such as an introductory page which will serve as an actual honest-to-gosh letters page from issue two onwards.  Fantastic stuff and it will lend a real retro feel to events and take readers like me right back to writing in to our comics as children.  I'm sure there's plenty of adults who'll read this and wish to take the fun opportunity to do so once again all these years later, although there's no clue as to whether it'll be Lew answering the letters himself or whether he'll hand it over to one of the characters.  I'm sure you can guess which one I'm hoping for and I'd bet I'm not alone in that either.

For this issue though we get some background information on how Lew got the job on Action Force and the creation of Colin, as well as some details on the development of the strip throughout its lifespan and beyond, even after the robotic war comic was laid to rest.  There's also a very funny fact-file on Colin and some footnotes under certain strips, including one where Lew displays concern about how some of the humour on that particular page could be seen today, plus every strip is annotated with information on which issue it was originally published in and the date.  Finishing it all off is an advert for Lew's other comics and even a 'Next Issue' panel:

Get your letters in now for #2 at Christmas (hopefully)

All told it has a lovely feel to it and I don't just mean its high quality paper and glossy cover.  It feels like a complete comic in its own right rather than a simple collection of reprints, the whole package coming together rather wonderfully.  As a fan already it's neat to have all the Action Force strips together in one issue and The Transformers ones kicking off separately, while for those new to Colin it works as a great, solid premiere issue of a new comic.

It's the kind of publication I'm sure we'd all love to see on newsagents shelves, but this is 2017 and the world has changed but in my view it's been for the best.  There's still plenty to entertain the actual kids on the shelves, while for them and children of all ages today's technology has resulted in such a huge, varied and vibrant self-publishing scene here in the UK.  So much so, that going online now in search of comics to purchase (and support) almost feels like taking those Saturday morning trips to my local newsagents and scouring the huge array of quality comics on offer anyway!

Back to this particular comic and if you're interested (and I'm going to assume you're sane enough to be interested) you can click here to go to Lew's online shop to buy this issue and his other titles right now!  Or there's further information about Combat Colin #1 on both Lew's personal comics work blog and his Blimey! blog on the British comic industry past and present.

To finish with, for all pig pals reading this there's even a few references to a certain other comic for you to find too, just in case you needed any further incentive:

Just one of several little Oink! appearances from Colin's run

Now get going troops!  Get buying!  We all want issues two to six!

1 comment:

Bacon Roll said...
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