Sign of the Hammer!

Thursday, 31 December 2015

The Paragon Paradox Part One: Master of Sparks

A homage to... something, not quite sure what. Pencils / inks by Davey Candlish, colours by Jim Cameron

The PARAGON Annual 2016 is out, in more formats than you can shake a rabid badger at. (Not that shaking tends to work - they just tighten their monochromatic grip.) So, if you want to see Spencer Nero, Jikan, Bulldog and Battle Ganesh team up to punch extradimensional evil (and each other) in the face, here's your chance. And here's mine too, to indulge in a multi-part blogging bout, in which I take a self-indulgent look at the genesis and development of 'The Paragon Paradox', my story for the annual. But first - here's how to get hold of the book in the incarnation of your choice.

The hardback:

The paperback:

The e-book:

Just 'The Paragon Paradox' itself:

And now, let's turn the clock back to find out how the story came into being. Feel free to wobble productively - this is a flashback after all...

In the worlds before PARAGON, primal chaos reigned...

'The Paragon Paradox' all began with Stephen Prestwood - specifically, this smashing picture that he drew of various PARAGON heroes, standing around looking tough.

Crossover candidates

Davey Candlish stuck it up on the PARAGON blog in March 2015, and I happened to mention we now needed a story where they all teamed-up and fought some interdimensional menace. Of course, saying something like that in front of Dave is like dipping yourself in gravy and dancing naked in front of a man-eating tiger - you can't be surprised when he bites. So it was decided there and then I was to script the multi-hero tale - a tale which the inspirational Mr. Prestwood suggested be titled 'The Paragon Paradox'.

Looking back at my notes, it seems I almost immediately decided to link the whole thing into Spencer Nero continuity by featuring Ekhidna, the extradimensionally-exiled Mother of all Monsters from 'Spencer Nero Goes South' in PARAGON #13. I could have come up with some other interdimensional menace, but since I already had one waiting, why not use her? I'd had plans to write a story called 'Spencer Nero's Army', in which he and various characters from his adventures to-date all teamed up to travel to Ekhidna's realm and rescue his uncle, so I thought I might use this basic framework for the crossover.

Panel from 'Spencer Nero Goes South', art by James Corcoran

I definitely wanted this story to 'count', for Spencer at least - I like crossovers that are very squarely part of a character's continuity, rather than ones that are detached, and never mentioned again. The Judge Dredd / Batman and Judge Dredd / Alien crossovers are perfect examples of the former - both draw on existing continuity, have some impact on Dredd's world, and are obliquely referenced further down the line.

So with that in mind (and deciding also that if I used Spencer's continuity, I had to make damn sure he didn't dominate the story), I had to choose my cast. It wasn't realistic to feature all the characters from Stephen's original drawing in major roles - this wasn't Crisis on Infinite Earths - so I decided to boil it down to a squad of four... a Paragon Patrol.

In the next post, I'll explain, who, why, and what they were originally going to get up to...

Saturday, 26 September 2015

I'm #18 and I like it!

Well, give or take twenty-years. But I'm never one to let the facts get in the way of an Alice Cooper-based pun, and the release of PARAGON #18 gives me that opportunity. Two Spencer Nero tales in this one  - aside, of course, from another smashing instalment of 'Bulldog and Panda' by Cobley / Prestwood / Campbell, and a particularly notable episode of Jikan from Howard / El Chivo / Caliber. Here's a few words on 'Spencer Nero and the Reckless Return of the Ruthless Rhymer'.

This story is a sequel to the original 'Ruthless Rhymer' two-pager from PARAGON #13, back in the mists of 2013 (Yikes! Time moves fast in the small-press world!) That tale was drawn by Neil 'Bhuna' Roche, and I loved his design for the Rhymer so much that I was moved to write a lengthier tale of the vicious versifier. The Rhymer is inspired by the cruel and hilarious writings of poet Harry Graham, but he's also very autobiographical - the Rhymer is the impatient side of me that gets annoyed by selfishness, thoughtlessness, bumbling, and general idiocy, the short-tempered side that wants to dish out ridiculously disproportionate justice to the irritating. As such, writing his antics proves very therapeutic - although his outrage inevitably makes things worse for him in the long run. I particularly enjoy writing in rhyme - rhyming stories have become a bit of a PARAGON tradition - and it's always a welcome challenge trying to get the meter right.

Art is by Nero-newcomer Dave Snell, who does an intensely characterful and atmospheric job - I absolutely love his scornful, self-satisfied and yet rather hapless Rhymer - exactly how the character should be

To finish up, here's a few random observations:
  • Can you spot the signed picture of Aleister Crowley on Mr. Alabaster's desk?
  • Also on page 1, the Rhymer's resurrection is a bit of a tribute to the end of the movie 'Carrie'.
  • The large ladies in the elevator on page 3 are a tad Beryl Cook - something which has cropped up in my stories before.
  • That's William Kitt in the museum on page 4 - the most chameleonic character in Spencer's supporting cast, he's like the David Bowie of the strip, when it comes to changing his look all the time.
  • Spencer is borrowing Homer Simpson's 'think unsexy thoughts' routine on page 5.
  • Page 6 sees Edward Lear in full fight - Davey Candlish is a real fan of this poet (though I didn't know that when I wrote the story.) In fact, Davey told me he'd had a recitation of The Owl and the Pussycat at his wedding!
  • Page 8 gives me the excuse to bring back the Rhymer any time I want - but given the conclusion to the story, I'm not sure how much rhyming he'll be doing!

Unfortunately, magic gremlins got into the works when the story was published, and replicated a speech balloon from a previous page atop the climatic panel - so here's said panel as it was meant to be seen. Cut it out and stick it into your copy - or paste it onto the screen if you're reading digitally!


Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Spencer Nero's Secret - The Lost Chapter

The 2015 PARAGON annual (still on sale here or FREE to download here!) contains a prose Spencer Nero story revealing the Civil Centurion’s darkest secret  – he’s actually Scottish! Clearly, this is a shameful state of affairs for such a bastion of civilised Englishness (and murderous Romanosity), but it was always part of my plan for the character. In fact, it’s even in the original pitch for the series I made to PARAGON editor Dave Candlish, which is preserved for posterity at the back of the Spencer Nero Compendium

However, what’s not  so well-documented is the fact that ‘Spencer Nero’s Secret’ was originally a chapter longer, and featured a fight with an ungodly Orcadian stoor-worm. I cut this chapter, because I felt the story was going off on too much of a tangent, and taking too long to get to a key conflict, but on reading it again, there are bits I quite enjoy, so I thought I’d stick it up here as a piece of Nero apocrpyha. One aspect of the lost chapter is alluded to in the published story, but sadly, there was no room for the stoor worm. Enjoy.

[Afflicted with a spiritual virus which he’s keeping at bay by wearing the Janus Mask, Spencer heads to Orkney, to fight the mythical beast that’s infected him.]

Part Four: The Flying Scotsman

Teddy Talbot had many unique qualities, but ‘tactful’ and ‘restrained’ were not amongst them. His blithe disregard for other people’s feelings or personal comfort was made all the worse by his position as in-house pilot for some of the more obscure civil service bodies, including the Department of Collusion, the Department of Oversight, and the Department of Contingency. Not only did Teddy frequently regale his passengers with the grisly details of what might happen in the case of a catastrophic engine failure, he often had the privilege of flying Spencer Nero to his latest destination, and would spend most of the trip speculating cheerfully on ways the Civil Centurion might meet his fate.  When dropping him off over the invisible Island of the Naztecs, for instance, he’d expressed his sincere wish that Spencer wouldn’t drown. When taking him to the Alps to tackle the North Face of the Eiger, he’d invited Spencer to consider the possible impact of below-the-belt frostbite, and to decide in advance whether he’d “keep them in a jar if they fell off from the cold.”

Thankfully, however, Teddy wasn’t even slightly Scottish, which made it safe enough for him to transport Janus. It was a rather like delivering a temperamental and highly explosive bomb to its target. As such, Teddy was sure to treat his cargo with the care and respect it deserved.

“Crikey, you’ve got a shiny face, haven’t you?” he asked, once the plane – a sleek and single-winged Percival Gull - had taken off. “Haven’t you, though? You have, haven’t you? What do you polish that with then?”

The skin of the fallen,” replied Janus, who was seated directly behind Teddy, his impossibly baritone voice redolent with menace.

“Oh, right. Do you ever use someone’s face to shine your face?” asked Teddy. “That’d be funny, wouldn’t it? It’d be a bit like kissing them, I suppose.”

Janus’s fists clenched visibly. “Tace,” he intoned – a simple request for Teddy to cease talking.

“Was that Latin?” asked Teddy. “Of course, you’re Roman, aren’t you? Reminds me of a joke: what’s behind Spencer Nero’s mask? Only a Roman knows. Get it? Knows? Nose? Get it? Get it? It’s good, isn’t it?”

Listen,” commanded Janus, his voice so deep the fuselage shook. “Janus delights only in carnage or the promise of carnage. Survive by silence.

Teddy’s eyes widened and he nodded his head, looking oddly thoughtful for a moment. Janus did not relax – such a thing was virtually impossible – but his fists became a measure less clenched.

“On the Good Ship Lollipop!” exclaimed Teddy suddenly, apropos of nothing. Janus simply stared at him, a disturbing twitch visible in his left eye.

“You know, the Shirley Temple song about the airplane?” asked Teddy. “Go on, sing it! With your voice, it’d be bloomin’ hilarious! Go on, sing it. Sing it! I’ll start you off. ‘On the good ship Lollipop, it’s a sweet trip to the candy shop, where bon-bons play...’ Come on, join in!”

Janus began to grind his teeth together, producing a noise that sounded like tectonic plates shifting.

It was going to be a long flight.

They were headed for the northern cluster of islands which comprised Orkney, near which the beast was known to lurk - a fact suggested by folklore and confirmed by the tarot cards of Mr. Alabaster. 

It is probable that Teddy avoided dismemberment only because the idea of dismembering the Nuckalavee (a much more interesting creature, anatomically speaking, with multiple limbs, torsos and heads, all ready to be ripped off) proved more tantalising. It was, however, a close-run thing. A stop-off for fuel in Aberdeen provided Janus with merciful respite, and when a vast Stoor Worm erupted from the sea near the isle of Hoy and nearly plucked the plane from the sky, it came as a particularly welcome distraction. 

The Worm was a horrid, segmented, rubbery thing. It was almost as tall as the Big Ben clock tower, though not nearly as thick, dripping with brine and tipped with a monstrous gnashing maw. Its black, oily skin was covered with projecting jelly-like fronds, which flapped unpleasantly as the creature spiralled and writhed, lunging at the plane. 

“Blimey – does that thing work for the Knuckle bloke you’re after?” asked Teddy, veering the Percival Gull sharply away from the snapping worm. “Or did it just wake up on the wrong side of the reef?”

Num importatis,” stated Janus flatly, and began to open the plane’s canopy.

“If you say so,” replied Teddy. “This is the bit where you hop out and I clear off, right?”


“Well, chances are you’ll get eaten or crushed - or you might just expire from that plague of yours first - but I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you anyway,” Teddy told Janus, as the latter scrambled out, digging his fingers into the very metal of the fuselage itself to maintain his position. “Won’t put any money on you surviving, of course – I mean, I’m not that stupid – but stranger things have happened. Cheerio!”

And with a profound and all-consuming sense of relief, Janus leapt from the plane and straight into the Stoor Worm’s mouth. As its warm, wet gullet enveloped him, and its many rows of teeth began to tear into his flesh, one thought resonated above all others in Janus’s mind.

His day was finally starting to get better.

Part Five: The Rammy

At the foot of the merciless cliffs of Hoy, from which Jock Numinous had plunged the previous night, an odd vessel eventually floated to shore. Someone well-versed in both folk and nautical lore might have suggested it looked like an impromptu dinghy, constructed from the insides of a Stoor Worm and using its uvula as a sail, but no such person bore witness.

Janus emerged from the fleshboat and clambered onto land. His skin was cut, his clothes were torn, and he was covered in a thin, semi-transparent layer of pharyngeal mucus, but if anything, there was a spring in his step. Swiftly, he traversed the rocks and began gathering up flat blades of mustard-coloured seaweed, heaping them together in a pile...

Friday, 26 June 2015

David and Goliath

Well, 'Goliath and Goliath' really, according to the press! For 'Martillo' has just got the loveliest review imaginable over on Down the Tubes, courtesy of dear Owen Watts. Check it out here. What I particularly enjoyed about Owen’s sparkling prose was how bloomin’ insightful the review was – it’s funny to think that I’ve now written enough small-press comics that I’ve got an identifiable style or obvious area of interest. According to Owen, I tend towards: “Insane cultural & historical mash-ups – and ludicrously ambitious set pieces” – and you know what? It’s pretty hard to argue with that. Thanks, Owen!

Monday, 15 June 2015

Hammer of Foxes

It’s been awful quiet on the ol’ blog of late. Too quiet. Which of course means there’s doings a-transpiring / rumblings on the horizon / axes being sharpened in the basement / a tube of green, sentient, Satanic liquid taking control of worms, Alice Cooper and the low things of the Earth.

Sorry, went a bit ‘Prince of Darkness’ there. But speaking of the forces of El Diablo, I wanted to share this smashing piece of ‘Martillo’ fan art I was sent by the lovely Owen Watts of Psychedelic Journal fame – knowing that your work has inspired a fellow small-presser to a spate of creativity is a real reward.

Looks like it was worth starting work on the ‘Martillo’ spin-off after all...