Tag Archives: Dan Abnett

ViSiONARiES ANNUAL 1988: REPEAT PERFORMANCE

When I reviewed Marvel UK‘s monthly Visionaries comic earlier this year the general reaction on social media fell into two camps. There were those who’d forgotten all about the comic and those who never knew it existed. Even fewer knew about this annual. Exactly 33 years ago to the day, back in 1988 I received it on Christmas Day, not knowing about the existence of a regular comic until it was mentioned inside. I was gutted I’d missed out, being such a fan of the cartoon, so finally reading their origin story was a thrill.

Of course, today that thrill is diminished somewhat after only reading that story several months ago in the comic. I can imagine fans weren’t too pleased that over half the book was reprint material either. But let’s start at the beginning with that eye-catching cover by Martin Griffiths (Thundercats, The Real Ghostbusters, 2000AD) and John Burns (Transformers, Sable and Fortune, G.I. Joe). Original Marvel UK pieces like this are the envy of American Visionaries fans, like the opening spread by Dougie Braithwaite (The Punisher, The Real Ghostbusters, Batman) and John.

There’s an editorial matching the comic’s design, although at least here it’s all hype for the annual in the reader’s hands rather than advertising for other titles. Surprisingly it explains the strip is a reprint but it does make a big deal of the fact there are two brand new prose stories and a handful of fact-files. There’s also the obligatory space to fill in your name in case your friends decided to steal it away from you.

Monthly Visionaries editor Steve White is credited as designer here, most likely because most of the design is taken straight from the comic with minimal changes. The editor is Marvel UK stalwart Richard Starkings (Transformers letterer, The Real Ghostbusters launch editor, Elephantmen writer and Comicraft founder) and with limited resources to produce an annual for a comic which had proven unsuccessful, so no UK originated strips, he’s done a fine job in pulling together a book I have very happy memories of.

So yes, the most exciting thing in this annual for me originally was finally reading how it all began and it’s always a good read, no matter how many times I do so. The End… The Beginning takes up a whopping 38 of the 64 pages available here and is the original version of the strip, minus the great big lump of text that removed some important panels from the start of the second half when published in #2 (see below).

Based on the teleplay by Flint Dille, adapted by Jim Salicrup, pencilled by Mark Bagley, inked by Romeo Tanghai, lettered by Janice Chiang and coloured by Julianna Ferriter it’s still a masterpiece in origin storytelling today, however I’m not going to read it again for this review. It may have been brand new and exciting 33 years ago but I read it for the comic’s reviews last spring and again in the pages of Transformers this year! (I’ll explain that at the end of the review.) So for the full details of this story check out the reviews of #1 and #2 of the comic.

So I’m just reading the parts that are new and as such it’s a much different, much shorter experience this time around. We begin with the fact-files, of which there are six featuring Spectral Knights Leoric, Witterquick and Arzon, and Darkling Lords Darkstorm, Cindarr and Cravex. I’m not sure who drew the images for them but they are rather basic. Four of them were used for the editorial page, although just their faces. Given how far in advance annuals are created I think we can conclude these were drawn for these fact-files and then used in the monthly’s editorial.

The descriptions have basically been lifted from the toy packets, reworded slightly to include the occasional reference to the origin strip. While the cartoon and comic had our heroes turn into the animals on their chest plates, the toys simply said these totems “represented” the characters’ personalities and you can see that’s used here too, which is a bit strange. Also, by this stage Darkstorm‘s goal had been established as more than simply wanting to conquer his foes (I’ve gone into that in depth in the monthly reviews) so it’s a shame to see that included.

I loved getting my Marvel annuals every year with their mix of strips and text stories. Unbelievably, some of my friends didn’t read the prose tales and wished their books were strips from cover to cover. They really missed out, these were some of the very best stories told by Marvel UK; it was one of the annual text stories that created Megatron‘s background of being a gladiator before the war, something that’s canon in basically every interpretation of Transformers today.

The writers would often concentrate on a couple of characters for the whole story, using the format to have some fun with them. While Transformers used it to develop them, for most of the other annuals it was a chance to take one small battle or incident and create a story full of personality and humour. That’s definitely the route the two new stories take here. First up is The Edge written by Ian Rimmer (Zoids, Action Force, Transformers) with art by Will Simpson (Transformers, Hellblazer, Rogue Trooper) and colour by Stuart Place (Captain Britain, Transformers (yes, again!)).

The story is bookended with Merklynn playing a game of chess, or whatever the Prysmos equivalent is, and equating his game to the ongoing battles between the two factions of warriors he’s created. The theme here is luck, that no matter the strategy in the game chance will always play a part. The story itself is simple but fun and these bookends are an attempt to make it all feel more substantial than it actually is. It’s an interesting way of doing it and a good example of the more experimental writing techniques used in the text stories.

Reekon and Virulina are stalking about the lake near Leoric‘s compound when they happen upon Cryotek gathering drinking water and immediately hatch a plan to take him out involving both of their totems, a plan which is quite smart and very entertaining. In the midst of the fight the wooden shaft of the Spectral Knight’s staff gets snapped in two and the magic power itself disappears from within. This is a moment of revelation for the Darkling Lords but surely they’d have known this already? Has no damage come to their own wooden staffs in all this time?

The Lords launch a mass attack in which their targets aren’t the Knights themselves but their staffs, and they begin destroying them one by one. Surely a risky manoeuvre since their own staffs would be just as vulnerable, surely? Cryotek is holding the two pieces of his and needs a free hand to fight, so he holds them together in one hand at the point where they snapped apart. The magical energy returns, all it needed was to be held together and connected via the inner energy of the person whose persona is embodied within it. The battle ends in a draw and we read about Merkylnn resetting his chess game ready for the next battle and laughing.

It’s a strange little tale that doesn’t make an awful lot of sense if you think about it too much but there are some nice character moments, particularly for Reekon and Virulina. The dialogue between the two is snappy and funny as they whisper and bicker about their plan, and Reekon shows a masterful mathematical mind in working out the odds of success (and survival), an aspect of his character we never got to see in the comic before its premature cancellation. Definitely worth it for these moments alone.

The second prose story in this book in the final new Visionaries story of the whole run, so in hindsight it has an awful lot to live up to. I’m very happy to say it does so with aplomb. False Light at Fulch Rock stars Arzon, Darkstorm and Cravex and is written by Dan Abnett (Doctor Who, Knights of Pendragon and a legend on The Real Ghostbusters), with accompanying art by Dougie Braithwaite and Cam Smith (Supergirl, Sinister Dexter, New Mutants), and colours by Chris Mattews (Thundercats, Mighty Max).

I was won over from the very first sentence, which paints the picture of a monastery on a cliff edge in the middle of a “dark storm”. With an image of the similarly named leader of the Darkling Lords on a purple horse across the page it immediately draws you in; we’re in for a treat with this one in atmosphere alone. However, everything else about the story is a winner too.


Darkstorm: “The Crystal of Light. With it, I will be supreme.”

Cravex: “You?”

Darkstorm:”The Darkling Lords. Whatever. Now come on!”


It tells the story of the Knights and Lords travelling to townships offering protection in this new dangerous age and Arzon’s next stop is Fulch Rock where the Order of the Lightfinders have taken refuge, led by Murnoc. Before he can get inside he’s set upon by Darkstorm and Cravex, barely escaping thanks to his Power of Knowledge spell poem, with which he’s able to predict the most likely next attack from his foes. However, he eventually falls over the cliff, transforming into his eagle form at the last second, slowing his decent enough to survive although he’s badly injured. He’s found by the Lightfinders and brought inside, where Darkstorm is ordered not to harm Murnoc’s guest while he works out which side to accept protection from.

It’s a great start. The rest of the story explains how the Lords are only offering protection because of the rumour of a Crystal of Light much like Merklynn’s being hidden inside. There’s some cracking dialogue here which we’ve come to expect from Marvel UK text stories and in the end we find out it’s all been a ruse to lure the Lords there to steal their armour, the “Aftertech” these religious nuts worship as their salvation, to power themselves and take over the land. The crystal is a fake and the three Visionaries must work together to escape due to the vast numbers of followers Murnoc has amassed.

Dan’s writing paints a picture in the mind and I think the story works so much better as prose than I think a strip would have. The Visionaries comic was always very good at building atmosphere with its descriptive panels, but having what is essentially seven pages of that kind of writing is something else! After the final battle Arzon tells Darkstorm the lesson to be learned is not judging others by appearance alone and that it’s a shame the two sides, so formidable together for the greater good, couldn’t work together to rebuild the planet. Darkstorm actually hesitates here. But in the end they leave as enemies. It’s a nicely written reference back to the monthly and the fact Darkstorm truly believed he was just doing what was best for his world.

See if you can track the whole series down, you’ll enjoy some of the very best 80s comics you’re ever likely to read.

So if you’ve read the strip is it worth your while picking this book up? Most definitely. The exclusive art and text stories are worth the entry fee and it’s essential for the completist. It’s also a bittersweet moment because as I finished Fulch Rock I realised that was the last story these wonderful characters had. There’d be a Spring Special a few months into 1989 which was a page-for-page reprint of #5 of the comic, released to plug the fact Visionaries were returning to the Transformers comic, which I’m reading in real time on the blog’s Instagram. But when they did reappear it was yet another reprint of The End… The Beginning, making it three times it was published in the UK in one year!

I’ll take a look at those reprints next year in time for their own anniversaries but for now it’s been a blast reliving the feeling of receiving this annual all those years ago. It’s sad to know there are no more stories to come when there were so many that could be told. The comic had some of the greatest potential of any licenced comic. It began in such strong shape and was developing so fast. I truly believe it’s a great loss we didn’t get to see what could’ve happened if the lifespan fellow Hasbro franchises like Transformers and G.I. Joe had been granted to the Visionaries.

After Christmas get yourself on to eBay and see if you can track the whole series down (it won’t take too long to complete), you’ll enjoy some of the very best 80s comics you’re ever likely to read.

THE REAL GHOSTBUSTERS: PREMiERE iSSUE ANNiVERSARY

I admit that back in 1988 when I finally got to open my copy of The Real Ghostbusters‘ premiere issue I was a little confused. I’d been looking forward to something like Transformers but with the ghost busting team, with a lengthy multi-part story and certainly no text stories which I associated with comics aimed at much younger kids. However, any confusion, or indeed initial disappointment, evaporated as soon as I started to read.

By the end of its 24 pages I was hooked and didn’t regret placing the order with my newsagent before even reading it. In fact, I stayed with the comic for the majority of its run. Now, 33 years later I’ve just finished reading issue one for the first time in decades. How does it hold up to reading today?

That front cover is nothing short of iconic, often copied by my young self back in the day on several school exercise books. Andy Lanning and Dave Harwood‘s introduction to this new title perfectly captures the light-hearted tone of the comic. Unlike the aforementioned Transformers I’d enjoyed reading at my friend’s house, The Real Ghostbusters would focus on smaller, complete tales aimed at getting a chuckle out of its readers. A unique approach, brave even, but they pulled it off and created a comic like no other.

The first issue has no less than three strips and a text story, fact-file, activity page, ghost guide, request for readers’ letters and of course a Lew Stringer strip. What Marvel comic was complete without one? It’s all introduced on the HQ page which starts off the whole shebang by reciting the movie, setting the tone perfectly for this comedy comic (a term I’ll clarify later). The overall design of the comic wouldn’t change, there’d be no ‘new look’ every 50 or so issues, instead the cover and feature pages would remain the same throughout.

There’s certainly a confidence about this comic from the very start.

All of the strips here are written by John Freeman. Editor of Doctor Who Magazine at the time he was asked by Richard Starkings to supply stories for the first issue. John told me this was literally his first regular gig, which is incredible since this was the launch of a brand new comic based on such a hot property. Needless to say, John knocks it out of the park.

As with the other stories, “There’s a Ghost in my House!” takes place with the team already on the job and gives us an idea of the pacing we can expect, as well as acting as an introduction to the Ghostbusters’ equipment, interactions and most importantly their humour. That’s all it really needs to do, but there’s still a twist. The ghost itself is a buggane, a house ghost and harmless if treated right. The homeowner ends up feeling sorry for it and keeps it as a pet!

The strip is drawn by Anthony Williams with Dave Harwood on inking, lettering by future Slimer! artist Bambos Georgiou and coloured by Steve White whose work could also be seen in Transformers. One of the other stories, The Ghost Under the Hood is also drawn by Williams but with Dave Hine inking and there’s quite the difference. For the previous blog site I’d read a couple of the annuals and Dave’s inking added ample shadow work to gloomy, haunted scenes and made for some very eye-catching, atmospheric frames, coloured by Paul Jacques.

Again, it’s full of action and humour and plays out like one scene has been plucked from an episode of the cartoon. This was Richard‘s intention, he wanted each story to take place right in the midst of the action whenever possible. Here, Ecto-1 is out of control, Egon unable to steer or brake. You can see from the page above the plan isn’t to Peter’s liking. In the end the car suddenly stops, sending him flying. Now parked outside a Chinese Takeaway, Slimer appears from under the hood.

To establish a scene and scenario, pack in some action, wit, character and a funny conclusion all in three pages is quite the achievement. Indeed, by the time I finished reading the comic I was a little breathless (metaphorically speaking) with the fast-paced nature of the stories and gags.

The humour in their interactions was always well developed and genuinely very funny.

The covers were mainly used to illustrate the text stories, doubling up as their title pages. So yes, basically we’d be getting two identical pages in our comic but we didn’t care, some of the front covers would have us frantically flicking straight to that story. This was especially true later in the run with some simply stunning artwork on the covers.

I’ll admit it took me a handful of issues before I read one of the prose stories as a kid because of a false perception they were aimed at younger children than me. But I remember discovering just how good they were and reading all the ones I’d glossed over one very enjoyable afternoon. From then on they often became the first thing I would read.

Space constraints might have been a factor here, but they would often focus on just a couple of members of the team per story. This would give each individual character time to shine, and in doing so the humour in their interactions was always well developed and genuinely very funny.

None were funnier than the Winston’s Diary series which ran in alternate issues, with Brian Williamson‘s panels repeated each time. In this issue, my favourite character takes us through a typical day in the life of the team. Over the course of a few busts Winston’s cool head provides a hilarious contrast to the others. Here’s just one example, where a rock star is hearing strange noises in his apartment:


“The apartment was newly decorated and equipped. Egon took PKE readings in all the rooms. Ray spectra-scoped the walls and balcony. Peter explained that he must carefully examine the rock star’s expensive Hi-Fi and video in case the ghost was lurking there. We all heard weird noises, groans and whines. I bled the air bubbles from the newly-installed radiators and the noises stopped.”

Winston Zeddmore (Dan Abnett)

This repeats throughout the day, Egon and Ray going to ever more extreme methods of ghost hunting, Peter finding something to distract himself and Winston solving the issue with common sense. It’s deadpan humour at its best.

Another text feature would also be a highlight every issue.

Spengler’s Spirit Guide appeared in every issue until just before the end. In the film and cartoon Egon would make reference to ‘Tobin’s Spirit Guide’ and this ongoing series was his own version of the tome. These were all written by Dan Abnett, which is no small feat when you think about how the comic went weekly from issue 14 onwards and he created well over 150+ of these! In an issue which featured The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in a story the Guide detailed the other half dozen or so Horsemen that don’t get talked about. I can remember laughing hard at that one in particular!

What I’ve found out recently is that little illustration of Egon was drawn by none other than future Marvel US, DC Comics and 2000AD artist Cam Smith. This means Cam’s work appeared in more issues than anyone else’s of course, technically speaking.

This issue also contains the first fact-file. As a child I drew a combined figure of the Ghostbusters based on that final sentence. From what I remember Egon was the brain, Winston the heart, Slimer the stomach (obviously) etc. It was a real Frankenstein’s monster which I decided not to send in to the letters page because, well, some things just aren’t meant to be seen!

Once in a while the comic would include what it called Ectoplasmic Activity, such as this membership card and masks in a couple of future issues but it didn’t appear much, unlike Blimey! It’s Slimer. While it wouldn’t be too long until Bambos (letterer on our first strip) took over, at the beginning the little green blob was in the hands of OiNK’s very own Lew Stringer. With Lew at the helm, of course Slimer is going to make his way to Britain for a slap up feed.

A look at a classic comic wouldn’t be complete without a look at the advertisements within, especially when they’re connected to the subject matter. I welcomed these figures into my toy collection Christmas 1988, along with Ecto-1, Slimer, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and a few other ghoulish monstrosities, and I recall I ate far too many packets of these crisps that summer too. They were surprisingly nice for a tie-in.

So how did this 33-year-old comic hold up for this 43-year-old? One word: brilliantly. I was surprised at how many times I actually laughed out loud while reading it, even though I’m not exactly the original target audience anymore.

I called it a “comedy comic” above, a term I’ve never used before. The definition of “funny comics” conjures up images of OiNK itself, Beano, Buster etc. But while this is indeed a comic which sets out to be as funny as it can be (something it succeeds at incredibly well) it’s more the sitcom to OiNK’s sketch show. I also think calling it some combination action/adventure/funny comic would sell it short. The Real Ghostbusters was a unique comic and remains so to this day.

WHEN YOU GONNA CALL?

Just as it happened 33 years ago today I have an urge to collect this comic all over again. This issue has been immense fun and the comic just kept getting better and better. In fact, as brilliant as it began my favourite time with the comic wouldn’t be until around issue 80 onwards!

It’s just such a fun comic there’s only one thing for it.

Now of course this will take a while, it was Marvel UK’s most popular comic at one stage and lasted a whopping 193 issues, alongside four annuals, specials, poster magazines and more, even a puzzle spin-off. It’s going to be quite the task so don’t expect real time reviews after this one for quite some time, but I am officially announcing they’ll be joining the OiNK Blog posse as soon as possible. The daunting thought of covering a series of its size on a weekly basis has put me off in the past, but after reading an actual issue there’s no way I could do anything less.

REANIMATING THE UNDEAD

Just before you go, if you’ve enjoyed this look back over The Real Ghostbusters #1, if it’s brought back some happy childhood memories, then I have a bit of very exciting news for you!

Over on Sony’s official Ghostbusters YouTube channel they’ve decided to bring back Saturday morning cartoons and release the entire series one episode a week! Now of course this means Saturday afternoons over here (2pm to be precise) but still, if you grew up with this cartoon get yourself over to the playlist now and then every week after that. With 140 episodes made, if they do indeed bring them all back that’s a lot of fun weekends ahead.

The Real Ghostbusters on Sony’s official Ghostbusters channel

Finally, just look at this little Easter egg I found while doing some research, from the pages of IDW‘s Ghostbusters Crossing Over comic from 2006!