I've been trying to write this review for days, but I just can't get it straight in my head. Be warned then that this might not make a lot of sense, because I'm just going to have a go anyway.
Imagine a world where Tharg isn't a green alien from Betelgeuse, he's school teacher from East Anglia. Instead of satirising the extremes of American society, 2000AD's lead strip celebrates and gently mocks Britain and Britishness. Rather than a Rigellian hotshot, you'll be handed a sound thrashing. No - this analogy isn't really working. Jason Cobley, BAM's writer/editor, is obviously in love with the weekly adventure comic. BAM! looks the part. There's a bold cover with teaser copy trailing the strips in side. Inside the cover, there's a proper editorial missive, a who did what in this issue and everything. It's great.
Jason once described himself as a wannabe John Wagner. Actually, he's better than wannabe. More than simply admiring adventure comics, he's learned what makes them work. Bulldog, BAM!'s lead strip of some 20 years standing, is still a strong read, for many of the same reasons as Judge Dredd is. The central character is strong, the surrounding cast is good, there's an integrity about the whole deal and, most important, Jason isn't afraid to throw everything in the air and shake it around. For a good long time, Bulldog was the hero of Blighty's Air Defence Force, fearlessly taking the war to the aggressor Vegenation. Now the war's ended, the Queen assassinated and even the mighty Ian Botham Memorial Statue destroyed, Bulldog finds himself fighting a civil war against a despotic new government. It's ace. Here's a writer deliberately trying to write beyond himself, to still keep pushing and working. You've got to applaud that. The strip is drawn by a variety of artists with a pretty wide spread of styles, but the narrative is strong enough that it isn't especially hampered by this.
As an editor, Jason doesn't seem to be afraid to risk eclipsing his own lead strip by carrying other people's work. There's solid support in the form of Jim Cameron's Bobby Buccaneer. That's an interesting strip - Cameron's cartooning is cutesy, but the opening battle sequence is played dead straight. I'm not entirely sure it's working, but it's a strong try. It much more successful that his Vrai text pieces of the last couple of issues, though. This issue's stand out strip is Garen Ewing's Rainbow Orchid, a 1920s set high adventure. It's just so complete - everything about it is good and all fits together wonderfully. If there's any justice you'll see this turning up in local Waterstones on that spinner with the Asterix and Tintin books in.
So there you go. BAM! is a just a big fat solid good damn comic. Buy it.
£2.60 from Jason Cobley, 94 Elm Road, Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, PE13 2TB, or order online. Other issues also available. BAM!Blog - Rainbow Orchid