This is the fourth issue in an ongoing anthology series. Named I’m guessing after the year that 2000 AD Prog 1 was released.
Full Colour interiors – £6.95 physical copy and £4.95 for a digital copy.
Life is full of coincidences. After opening the doors of this site I have only so far gone about reviewing three comics. I bought this particular issue this very morning (05/01/2020). I gulped a little at the £4.95 price tag for a digital comic but carried on regardless. But mere hours later, and before the digital file had arrived, I saw that not only had Sentinel ( reviewed here) hit the number three spot in some awards but that The 77 had come in at number two! Yes, the Comicscene Top Comics of 2020 had been announced and luck would have it I had the second best comic of the year winging its way towards my Inbox.
As I write this introduction I am yet to actually read the comic. But my expectation level is already pretty damn high!
But…… in the words of Bill Watterson. ‘I find my life is a lot easier the lower I keep my expectations.’
So calm down. Let’s read this with only a low level of reasonable anticipation.
The Cover – Illustrated by Skottie. I can see that this has been designed as a slight pace away from 2000 AD homages and more towards the feel of a Misty comic maybe? It has however been illustrated in a style closer to modern animation and is slightly under rendered for my tastes. The shape of the wolf in the right of the cover bears down large on the male and female but the overwhelming background image of the Moon is a little too eye-catching and could do with something more. As you naturally scan the cover the boldness of the Moon pulls the attention where it should lay elsewhere.
The inside cover has that familiar and friendly combination of a letters page and an introduction and also offers us a Tharg/Cryptkeeper style comics anthology caretaker called Benksy. There’s some fun kids fan art and a little mention of an upcoming Kickstarter.
‘Bounty on the Mutie’
Written by Bambos Georgiou. Art by Neil Sims. Letters by Bolt-01.
This is a Science Fiction Western with elements of both comedy and horror. Johnny O’Mega (a name that is a little too on the nose) is a cyborg and there is a lot of killing and stabbing. I haven’t read any previous issues so not sure if this is an ongoing character (I’m guessing it isn’t) but it’s pretty fun. The art has an underground feel but with lots of colour. Neil works best when he is drawing the crazy looking creature and works the comedy-gore nicely.
‘Penny Pentagram – Occult Detective’
Script by David Thomas. Art and Letters by Jon Roydon.
This is the story that appears on the front cover and the art continues with the same animation style but feels somewhat more stiff, especially in the face and actions of Penny herself. This is Part 2 of a story and has Penny and her male Monster Hunter wannabe buddy encountering a werewolf. This story does have a great moment when the artist makes use of that old Enter the Dragon intro style martial arts kick. Roydon shows the turn and kick as a flow of movements in one single panel. But otherwise I feel there were some real missed opportunities to build tension through visuals. The lettering could also have done with a pass by Bolt-01 as it makes use of far too much whitespace around the dialogue. It’s also about two pages too long and you feel that the chase elements of the story are padding.
Created by Mal Earl.
On my first pass of this book I think I can say that this may be my favourite story. It is both idiosyncratic and stylish. There is something on show here that falls squarely into the more experimental areas of maybe a mid-nineties Vertigo story or something printed in the hinterlands of an old Epic Illustrated. I’m not going to pretend that I know what is going on but there’s a woman and a dragon and some great poetic narration. I note that it is titled as an interlude but I would have loved to have seen much more of this story.
‘The Trackless Depths’ – Part 2.
Script by Dave Bedford. Art by Mac. Letters by Filippo.
Mac fills the pages of this ongoing story with black and white art and some great personalities in the faces of the sailors. This has a nice through line of a story that makes you initially suspect some ghostly plot twists but throws quite a bit more at you. That logo though! You have to squint to work out what it actually says. I’m not sure if it’s the digital copy that I’m reading but there’s a shift mid way in the story to a tinted pencil colour. This may be a narrative choice but it seemed like a strange decision.
Written by Bambos Georgoiu. Art by Andrew Sayers. Letters by Filippo.
The art by Sayers feels like early Brendan McCarthy and works really well in this THX1138 style nightmare of a science fiction story. This is a continuing tale and so allows itself to develop character and tangents in its six pages. However, the panel where the sword-wielding Valkyrie strikes down some prisoners on the penultimate page could have done with some added detail and there were moments I was a little at a loss about who is who. But there is a real energy on show and it is very bold and very bright. One to watch develop.
Written by Steve Bull. Art by Ade Hughes.
Colours by Darren Stephens and Letters by Annie Parkhouse.
I’ll admit that this one is a little bit of a head-scratcher. It’s only three pages long and one of those pages is a pin-up. I’m also a bit confused why the main pro/antagonist has his face so in shadow on the first page. It is pretty gorey and that always goes down well with me. I’ll wait until I see something more substantial in narrative before making my mind up.
‘A Demon For Dinner’
Written by James Tomlinson. Art and Letters by Rupert Lewis Jones.
This is the seasonal story that just about resonates as I read it on the 5th of January. It’s a funny/scary story that works ok. The art isn’t my cuppa and comes from that school of comics art where the characters feel like they have faces carved out of wood. Almost as if you are watching a Victorian puppet show unfold. It’ got a joke about sprouts. I found it a bit of a slog to read through.
‘Martian Law – Marty’s Martian Mining Mission’ – Episode 1.
Art and Story by Brendon Wright. Letters by Filippo.
What follows an extremely short interview is the next full colour continuing story entitled ‘Martian Law’ (Again! What is it with these character names being so on the nose?). The art has a Mad Magazine feel but I’ll be honest and say that I haven’t got a clue what it was about. There’s a sheriff, a mouthy grandmother, a flying car, some camels wearing sunglasses and helmets and a horror story ending. Maybe I should have read the first issue?
Written by Joe Dunn with art by Jeremy Dunn.
Listen. I’m genuinely not ragging on this story but other than a well choreographed fight nothing much happens in this story. It’s very nearly wordless and then right at the end it says ‘Undertow concludes in the next issue’- which made me laugh. This reads as if it was a short sequence in a much longer story and just doesn’t work in this style of anthology. The art however works well and has a sequential fluidity to the action from panel to panel.
Script by Paul Duncan with art by Robert Wells.
This is the quickest read in the anthology of the longer segments and does show some artistic flair as well as some nice pacing between the violent ballet and the narration. It feels like the opening to something that we’ll now cruelly have to wait ages to get some closure on story-wise. The art feels a little sparse however and the story has that decompression vibe. I’d prefer to see this in maybe a 22 page comic and not split up into these shorter and slightly unsatisfying beats.
Script by Dave Heeley with art by Sinclair Elliott.
Colours by Darren Stephens with Letters by Bolt-01.
This is another ongoing story but again like we saw with ‘V’ earlier is a confusing two pages in length. What there is of it works well and the art looks good but just as you get into what is happening it ends quite abruptly. I’m not totally sure what to make of it but I would probably read a longer story featuring it’s android soldiers. Maybe?
‘Sgt Shouty of the Moon Force’
Created by Lew Stringer.
Lew adds a dose of credibility and his usual bombastic rambunctious art and dialogue to a one-pager at the back of the issue. You know what you are getting with Lew and this is just fun stuff.
All anthologies are a mixed bag. Even the mighty Prog suffers from good and bad stories and it’s dirty stepson ‘The 77’ is in all honesty no different. I’ll admit that if I was a casual reader I would have skipped some of these stories and there are some that could do with both being longer or perhaps in a different format. This is of course the UK small press and a comic done for the love can be forgiven for an odd failing story when there is enthusiasm and energy on show. Tactically I’ll question the decision to put a one-off Future Shock style story up front and I’m also wondering about the reasoning on those couple of two-pagers?
There are a couple of real highpoints in the art and Andrew Sayers and Mal Earl looked great on this backlit digital copy. But the price point for the digital version was sadly too high for comparative comics on the market. If I venture into this series again I’ll probably just grab a physical copy and wait patiently on the postman.
The question remains out there to be answered.
Was this the second best comic of 2020?
Well obviously not. The world of comics is a big one and there have been some absolutely amazing comics produced in the last twelve months. This comic can’t match up to them in art and story. But this comic does have an energy and it does chase those punk vibes of its predecessor with some interesting experimentation. I suspect that a very keen set of customers, fans and collaborators voted this up to it’s silver medal position in that ‘Major Poll’. I may be wrong – who really knows huh?
What was that thing Winston Churchill said about democracy?
That’s comics folks.
You can find out more about The 77 and upcoming releases by visiting the website here.
Many thanks for reading.