Explosion High Issue One!

If your sidekick is slacking, your alien hero’s awful or your deity’s down in the dumps, you can always send them to Explosion High to learn how to be a superhero!

The school’s got a beautiful jungle campus surrounded by lasers, dinosaurs and laser dinosaurs, but don’t worry, the forcefield around the campus works 90% of the time!

Professor Explosion’s strict courses involve training students in skills needed for both your hero and secret identities, punctuated with deadly traps to keep students on their toes!

Kid, Trouble, Dawn, Mercury, The Mighty Z, Knight Lite and Skyshark are some of the newest students in Explosion High! and possibly the best, if they survive the first day!

Split into three stories, Explosion High follows our doomed students:

The Exploding Race literally drops the characters into the action and blows them up! Kid, Skyshark and Mercury have to pass the final test, fleeing through the jungle to the campus, being chased by dinosaurs. Art by Norrie Millar and colours by Faye Stacey.

Bad Guy follows Trouble, Knight Lite and Dawn as they’re late, lost and surrounded. Can they survive each other, let alone the dinosaur jungle? Art by Debora Lancianese.

The Faulty Stars brings the surviving cast members together and drops an alien into the mix, as we finally see our team! Art by Mike Armstrong, colours by Debora Lancianese!

The stories are written by me, lettered by Rob Jones, edited by Matt Hardy and there’s even an epilogue with my previous collaborator on Blob Detective and Tales from the Quarantine, the wonderful Russell Mark Olson.

If you like the X-Men, Venture Bros and Clone High, then this is the place for you. It’s some high energy superhero nonsense, able to be both brightly coloured fun despite all the deadliness.

Digital Copies

There are a few different places you can pick up Explosion High at the moment.

ComicHaus is a kind of ‘Netflix for indie comics’, where you can subscribe to get access to anything from their library with a subscription fee (or a free trial if you just want to check it out for this). As well as Explosion High, there’s work from Mad Robot Comics and the regular creators we team up with.

Itch.io is a digital platform for creative indie content. That includes video games, RPGs, prose and comics. I’ve put up Explosion High up on there as I’m curious to see how comics do on that platform, and I know creators generally get a better cut, even if it’s not the most searchable platform. If you go here, you’ll get the comic in PDF.

DriveThruComics is a digital storefront similar to Itch, but with better search functionality and a lot more content already on there, so it’s swings and roundabouts as far as what’s better. Again, you can get a PDF copy here.

I’m also proud to say that I’m the first of the Mad Robot Comics empire to be on BuySmallPress with Explosion High, so you can get it there, too!

Physical Copies

Mad Robot Comics are currently seeking distribution through Diamond, who have had what could be called ‘a year’ for the last two years. I used to spend hours every month putting through orders with them back in my comic shop days, so it’d be interesting actually listing a comic through them. That’s a little while off, though.

Speaking of my comic book days, I’ve been selling physical copies through Dave’s Comics in Brighton, my alma mater and one of my favourite places. There are limited supplies there, so if you’re in the city, pick one up ASAP.

Similarly, my current home away from home is the Dice Saloon, where I professionally GM indie RPGs every other week. They also have a limited supply of the comic, so you can pick them up there.

Finally, follow the Mad Robot Comics Twitter account as the Magnificent Matthew Hardy (Cyberarchy, Cadavers, Vehicle-Kill) and Awesome Ash Deadman (Murder Most Mundane, Saxon’s Second Hand Books) are currently attending comic conventions on the Mad Robot Comics stall. They’ve been to several last year and depending on how everything goes with the pandemic, hopefully they’ll be back out in 2022 and I’ll be joining them in the future to shill all our comics.

The amazing pin-up by Gustaffo Vargas!

The Kickstarter and The Future

Explosion High Issue One’s Kickstarter is done. Everything’s been shipped out apart from a couple of physical copies which people have not given me addresses for. I’ll be checking in every few months to see if they’ve finally updated their details, but I figure at this point I’m calling it done.

I need to start sending copies to reviewers, as I want not only to get this issue into more hands, but to get more eyes on issue two.

Speaking of which, I am planning to have issue two out on some crowdfunding platform this year, although I’ve got a lot of things to consider with that at the moment. I have most of the original art team returning and a pair of more tightly-connected stories going from a dorm party to gym class.

The annotated script reward level was a joy, but it was incredibly labour intensive, so I’m thinking I’ll create one annotated script, scan it and then have a less limited tier where I’ll vandalise one part of each annotation in a unique way. That was more people will get to see the tangents I go on both in the script and annotations, the pictures I put in, and any puzzles, tears, burns and cut-out sections. I’ve also put in a couple of spots where people can back and have themselves as superhero students, probably not surviving Explosion High.

During CabinCon, a mini-convention with friends, I wrote the script for a 16-page ‘zine style comic which I’m also hoping to find an artist for an get up on Kickstarter next year after the EH2 project. It’s somehow even scrappier and weirder than Explosion High, a kind of cross between Masters of the Universe, Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth, Adventure Time and Yor: Hunter from the Future. I’ll share more noise about that when I can.

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Casual Trek Episode Six: Odo Exploded!

I was going to put in a photo of a balloon popping, but Odo actually popping looked better.

I wasn’t a fan of the Mirror Universe, although I think it was mainly a case of encountering too many DS9 episodes and the lengthy second arc of Discovery season one. Watching three episodes about the Mirror Universe from different shows was a much more interesting exercise.

The Original Series: Mirror Mirror

Like most of TOS, this was one I missed. Here we discover that the Mirror Universe is basically one running on a betrayal-based society. I thought the government was just based on Klingons, but it’s actually quite different and seems to have started with Earth being jerks.

There’s some fun with Kirk and the rest trying to prevent the Mirror Enterprise doing terrible things and to keep their cover.

Deep Space Nine: Crossover

My main experience of the Mirror Universe has been from DS9 and the universe went through a ton of changes, although it still keeps to the core conceit that they’re all jerks over in the Mirror Universe.

Rather than echo the standard alternate universe story we have a Mirror Universe who also experienced the TOS episode and adapted, we also get Kira who doesn’t care about the protocols of Starfleet.

There was a thing that happened in this episode which caused us to go a bit manic. It was great fun to do and to hear again, hopefully folks will enjoy it.

Discovery: Despite Yourself

Discovery had a few Mirror Universe episodes so it was a case of working out which one to use. This one had the Discovery having their first encounter with the Mirror Universe and ‘Captain Killy’ which was a joy.

There are a couple of issues which feel born more of trying to be a ‘modern’ TV show, like how easily Michael straight up murders a guy and the overall ongoing story arc, but as a whole it holds up alright and is less annoying than I remember when it first aired.

The episodes can be found on all podcatchers, on Spotify or using these links:

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Casual Trek Episode Five: A Lovely Walk

This episode was a bit of a different one and way more personal than the usual episodes. Having watched the wrong episode and having some personal life things in the way, we wanted to make an episode, but had to go a bit off the beaten path.

I love walking and do it a lot, despite my hobbit-like figure. I’m a fan of wandering the South Downs and had a lot of questions for Miles about how it is to walk in America. He’s a fellow Brightonian and used to the many hills of our fair city (although it may come off a bit less than fair in the episode, admittedly), so I figured it’d be a good perspective.

This was taken on my birthday which was shortly before we recorded the episode.

We also got into Miles’ first encounter with the big roads and an Ed Gein type situation, my anxiety walks at night. As I said, it got oddly personal. We both share a bit in the regular episodes, more so here.

Our inspiration for this episode was Jay & Miles Xplain the X-Men who space out their edited episodes with “Hawk Talk” where they don’t edit and talk about any subject. We’ll return to this concept again in the future. I’m not sure if it’ll be every five episodes or just any time we get under pressure. Because I’m me and we’re still getting used to the pace & technology, I have edited this episode, but cutting the extra time for prep definitely helped us catch up.

The episodes can be found on all podcatchers, on Spotify or using these links:

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Casual Trek Episode Four: Daddy Beard of Sadness

I’ve been loving Strange New Worlds and pacing out the watching of it. As of writing I’ve still got one episode to go, and I know that it’ll be a shame once it’s over.

I knew the first episodes of Casual Trek would be the pilots, that I wasn’t going to touch Picard for a while and that I’d need to do something special for Strange New Worlds.

This image will make sense if you listen to the podcast

Enterprise: Strange New World

I started looking for other episodes with the same name and was shocked there was only one. An Enterprise episode. I’m sure I’d seen it before when I acquired the first ten or eleven episodes, but I’d managed to completely forget what it was like. I decided to try and make it a ‘bit’ that we were specifically reviewing this episode and that I’d not realised there was a TV show by the same name, although I probably didn’t warn Miles to extract me from the bit as soon as possible. I gather Enterprise gets better later on, but this is four episodes in and it’s uh… it’s not good.

Discovery: Through the Valley of Shadows

There wasn’t a second Strange New World or Worlds, so I decided we’d watch the backdoor pilot to SNW on Discovery. The problem was that the entirety of season two was kind of a backdoor pilot, so this one was the one to go with as it features Pike’s vision.

Then I watched the wrong episode and spent the whole thing thinking the vision would pop up at some point, only to realise I’d goofed. Between this and some medical appointments on Miles’ side of things, this was why episode five would be a different thing entirely and why it was recorded before episode four. The episode itself is fine. I keep being impressed that Discovery’s episodes hold up better on the rewatch for me.

Strange New Worlds: Strange New Worlds

The main event. This one’s a pilot I saw once on my own, saw once with Emma and then watched again for the podcast, and I don’t even mind. It’s really fun and even though Miles is quite right about the Whedony quippiness, I think I’m a bit more immune to it than him. I like Discovery, I experience Picard, I love this. The only shame is that it’s stuck on a channel like Paramount Plus instead of on channels where future generations of nerds can easily access it.

The episodes can be found on all podcatchers, on Spotify or using these links:

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Casual Trek Episode Three: Oh Dear, It’s Blackface!

We finally hit regular episodes instead of pilots and you can tell by the length of our recaps and my many pages of notes for each episode being reduced to a couple of pages.

As well as our big sheet of best to worst, I have a list of potential themes for episodes and literally the first big one I knew we had to do was Klingons. They’re the big iconic enemy whether you’ve seen one episode or hundreds (oh dear god there are hundreds of episodes, what have I done?)

Sure, I ship these two.

The Original Series: Errand of Mercy

This episode helped solidify what I’ve been thinking which is, “I actually like the mystical space bullshit” which I didn’t care for when I was a kid. There’s a Ren Faire planet and some smoldering tension between Kor and Kirk. We also can’t avoid talking about the whole ‘blackface’ problem with the Klingons, especially in this era.

The Next Generation: Matter of Honour

Next up we have a weirdly mundane episode where the enemy is bacteria! I also kind of love that. There’s an alien I recognise mainly from the Star Trek Collectable Card Game and Riker goes on work experience!

Deep Space Nine: House of Quark

Finally we have House of Quark. This feels like a fun story game like Fiasco where you have to keep escalating things going wrong until it reaches a massive crescendo. When my Star Trek mood hit big time, this was the last episode I watched and having to go back to it really didn’t matter as it’s that much fun.

It’s also got the glorious mad eyes of Gowron which are amazing.

Gowron will return for a Casual Trek Gowron Power Hour

The episodes can be found on all podcatchers, on Spotify or using these links:

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Casual Trek Episode Six: Odo Exploded!

I wanted to use an exploding balloon as the image, but nothing could top Odo exploding.

I wasn’t a fan of the Mirror Universe, although I think it was mainly a case of encountering too many DS9 episodes and the lengthy second arc of Discovery season one. Watching three episodes about the Mirror Universe from different shows was a much more interesting exercise.

The Original Series: Mirror Mirror

Like most of TOS, this was one I missed. Here we discover that the Mirror Universe is basically one running on a betrayal-based society. I thought the government was just based on Klingons, but it’s actually quite different and seems to have started with Earth being jerks.

There’s some fun with Kirk and the rest trying to prevent the Mirror Enterprise doing terrible things and to keep their cover.

Deep Space Nine: Crossover

My main experience of the Mirror Universe has been from DS9 and the universe went through a ton of changes, although it still keeps to the core conceit that they’re all jerks over in the Mirror Universe.

Rather than echo the standard alternate universe story we have a Mirror Universe who also experienced the TOS episode and adapted, we also get Kira who doesn’t care about the protocols of Starfleet.

There was a thing that happened in this episode which caused us to go a bit manic. It was great fun to do and to hear again, hopefully folks will enjoy it.

Discovery: Despite Yourself

Discovery had a few Mirror Universe episodes so it was a case of working out which one to use. This one had the Discovery having their first encounter with the Mirror Universe and ‘Captain Killy’ which was a joy.

There are a couple of issues which feel born more of trying to be a ‘modern’ TV show, like how easily Michael straight up murders a guy and the overall ongoing story arc, but as a whole it holds up alright and is less annoying than I remember when it first aired.

The episodes can be found on all podcatchers, on Spotify or using this link:

In addition to that, if you like what we do and want to support us monetarily, we have a Ko-Fi page and we even had a first supporter on there (thanks Amo!)

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Casual Trek Episode Bonus Episode

Technically this is the first episode of Casual Trek Miles and I recorded. We wanted to make sure that the tech worked, we could manage scheduling and our interactions were good.

Calibrating systems! I barely resisted putting Garrus from Mass Effect on the cover.

The plan was to talk about our experience of Star Trek as we’re casual Trek fans, but still massive nerds enough to have a long, storied history with it.

We talk about our first Trek experiences, our opinions of the shows and our favourite characters from each show.

We also talk a lot about niche Brighton nerd shop lore. It sounds woolly and it is a little, but it’s still entertaining and we do refer back to this episode so if you’re a hardcore Casual Trek canon fan, check this one out.

The episodes can be found on all podcatchers, on Spotify or using these links:

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Casual Trek Episode One and Two: The Pilots

The Casual Trek podcast cover

I announced my Star Trek podcast, Casual Trek, but I realise I’ve been remiss in not mentioning the episodes here as they come out. This is supposed to be the repository of what I’ve done creatively, after all.

Miles and I watched the first six pilots of Star Trek television shows: Original Series, Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise and Discovery. Then we recorded ourselves recapping the details for folks and put them on a big list of best to worst.

This is a podcast in the style of Battle of the Atom, BatChat and Every Story Ever, but we figured with Star Trek television shows, folks might not always remember what happened in an episode. For our first show, “Flat Galaxy Theory” we didn’t set any limits and ran a bit long on the recap. From the second show, “Attack of the PS1 Aliens!” we set a timer and that helped us move more of the discussion over from the recap to general discussion of the episode, the themes and ideas in it, as well as where it stands on our big list.

Ultimately the list is just an excuse to chat about the episodes we liked and didn’t, and as a fan of weird quests, this kind of arbitrary mission is entirely up my alley.

Episode One: Flat Galaxy Theory

Spock and Pike admire some vibrating flowers

This episode covers The Original Series, The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine.

It was interesting revisiting these shows. The Cage was one of the few Original Series episodes I remembered watching and while there were some elements I’d forgotten, I’ve become massively more forgiving to the hokey effects, shaky sets and weird space fantasy looking elements.

I forgot to mention The Singing, Ringing Tree in the discussion about The Cage, as the vibrating flowers reminded me of that, and while we ran long, I was pretty proud of this as a first podcast episode.

Episode Two: Attack of the PS1 Aliens!

The best character on Enterprise

This episode covers Voyager, Enterprise and Discovery’s pilots.

Voyager was watched mostly on a train, while Enterprise and Discovery were watched at home. With Discovery, I realised partway through “The Vulcan Hello” that it was a two-parter and I’d need to keep watching the show, but also that we wouldn’t meet most of the cast. Still, a pilot’s a pilot, so I pressed on.

The episodes can be found on all podcatchers, on Spotify or using these links:

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Casual Trek

The cover for our podcast

I’ve been in a Star Trek mood for a little while and it’s not gone away. I’m a fan, but not a massive fan. During lockdown I started a rewatch of Deep Space NIne and after running Modiphius’ Dishonored RPG I started reading up on their Star Trek one. I think that in that time and even now, I needed a glimpse of something a touch utopian.

Starfleet… they’re not a perfect organisation, but they’re generally on the right track. While there are some bad seeds, the group as a whole are pretty good. It feels like there’s a split of turbo nerds and swashbuckling idiots in Starfleet. People who love examining rocks and people punching and/or sleeping with anything they find in space. That combination seems to work out for them as a whole.

I’ve run RPGs set in the Star Trek universe a few times and once had a couple of massive bin bags of Star Trek VHS tapes thanks to a friend. They were mostly unlabelled tapes taken from the television, so I watched and filed most of them before eventually getting them disposed of because VHS tapes weren’t a thing anymore.

A video case for The Cage, the first of the Star Trek pilots.

Anyway, podcasts… I’m a fan of podcasts like Battle of the Atom, BatChat with Matt and Will, and the podcast within the War Rocket Ajax podcast, Every Story Ever. They cover a few comics in each episode, ranking them on a big list from best to worst. I found BatChat when I was playing Arkham City, and I started looking for a Star Trek equivalent. There wasn’t one, and the idea of making my own version game into my head.

Enter Miles.

We were part of the same writing group who met every November for NaNoWriMo, and would keep meeting up even when the other people dwindled away. Every Sunday we’d write, chat about things and write some more. Miles moved to Wisconsin to be with his love, and we fell out of contact. He visited Brighton once after, we got chatting like old times and each realised the other religiously listened to Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men. From that point, we would regularly chatter on Facebook Messenger about comics and general other things.

I told Miles about my idea to make a Star Trek podcast, and the bastard called me on it.

I appeared on the Who Dares Rolls podcast, but I literally just showed up, spoke into a Rock Band mic (later a fancy gamer headset from my brother) and that was all the experience I had.

The challenge was set, and I figured I’d try it and pretty much learn as I went.

An advert for Star Trek: The Next Generation’s pilot on Videocassette

Miles and I recorded a test episode, calibrating our tastes in which Star Trek series we liked more than others, our own experiences of the shows and our favourite characters. I used that to try out Audacity and learn how to edit. It worked, so we came up with more of a plan for episode one, and even more of one for episodes two onwards. I’ve edited the first three episodes and the fifth’s been recorded. You’ll hear our test episode as a bit of bonus content between episodes two and three.

This Monday, you’ll get to hear our first episode, “Flat Galaxy Theory”, where we watch the first three pilot episodes from Star Trek series, discuss them and put them on a big list of best to worst. We’re both fans of Star Trek, but it’s not our biggest fandom, so as folks who think Star Trek’s “Pretty decent”, we should be the objective authority about whether or not any given episode of Star Trek is better than the last.

Episode one’s cover. Surprisingly I made no Singing Ringing Tree references when talking about The Cage

You can subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify and probably a number of other podcatchers. If you do that, then on Monday morning at 11am, you’ll get an episode of our podcast, followed by another every fortnight.

This podcast is part of the Nerd & Tie Network, and you can find the official announcement along with some of those podcatcher links here.

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Amphigorey (Graphic Novel Quest)

By Edward Gorey

We got a couple of the small Edward Gorey books in at Dave’s Comics when I was working there. I immediately enjoyed the Gashleycrumb Tinies and when Amphigorey came in, I picked it up right away.

The one time Nick Cave came into the comic shop, we ended up talking about ceilings and about Edward Gorey’s work as he was unsurprisingly, a fan.

The Plot

It’s difficult to really get into the plot, as this is a collection of several morbid short stories, illustrated two to a page, sometimes with a caption, but sometimes the images just stand on their own.

The stories are all entertainingly creepy. The Gashleycrumb Tinies is a rhyming A-Z of infant death, although they’re often teased at in the images and all adorably dark. The Bug Book is a weird, colourful change from the black and white the rest has. The Willowdale Handcar is a fun journey which goes past a number of odd locations as we follow a trio on a handcar. The Doubtful Guest is kind of adorable, but also a little unpleasant.

They’re best taken one at a time and digested in that fashion rather than binged. I know I’ve raced through it before and aside from a couple, they didn’t all sink in so much.

Is it any good?

Yes, it’s very good. If there are still the individual volumes, you might want to check those out instead, but this is a fantastic collection and a good book to dip into from time to time.

Am I keeping it?

Yes, and I’m annoyed I can’t find my copy of the second volume.

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Alias Ultimate Collection Vol 1 (Graphic Novel Quest)

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by Michael Gaydos, Colours by Matt Hollingsworth and Letters by Richard Starkings

Marvel Comics went hard when they decided to launch their ‘Max’ line of Comics Codeless ‘mature readers’ comics. They also tapped Brian Michael Bendis who most people might have known from Ultimate Spider-Man, but also had a background in crime comics (more on those later this year).

Alias may have the same name as the spy show which came out the same year, but it’s a totally different story. Handily, a lot of you will know the basics from the Jessica Jones television show which aired a few years ago, although this is a lot closer to the Marvel Universe than that show, it’s also a bit similar to DC’s Chase, which was one of my motivations for buying the series when it first came out.

This is literally the start of Marvel’s mature readers ‘Max’ line. They really start as they mean to go on.

The Plot

Jessica Jones was an Avenger for an incredibly short time. That’s okay, they’ve had tons of members who no one remembers. Did you know they had Gilgamesh from the Eternals on their roster? Or that Mr Fantastic was an Avenger briefly? I only did because they were in an Inferno tie-in.

Anyway, Jessica was an Avenger and then *something* happened, which is alluded to but not discussed openly in this volume. We get two stories and several hints about Jessica’s life both as the super-powered Jewel, and as a post-heroic private detective.

A memento from Jessica’s brief stint as an Avenger.

The first story arc has Jessica hired to spy on someone and getting some footage of Captain America with them, shortly before their death. She has to navigate a superhero community which she ditched and suspicious motivations from her employer.

The second story has Jessica searching for Rick Jones, the constant sidekick to Captain America, Hulk and the Avengers as a while. He’s apparently married, mooching off folks and now vanished.

I enjoyed the Jessica Jones show, but I did wish there were some cases which weren’t all tied back to her origin and her superhero times. I can understand how it would be impossible for an MCU to have all the appearances of Captain America, Captain Marvel and many other heroes whose names don’t begin with Captain.

Some classic Bendis patter

Is it any good?

There are valid criticisms for his style, but I’m a sucker for a Bendis page. This is a good book, although it is only half of the comic, all of which I still have in floppies. Gaydos’ art definitely feels of the era and you wouldn’t recognise Jessica if you’d only seen the television show, but it’s still a classic.

Rick Jones, who I was confused by after reading the Peter David Captain Marvel. There is a reason for his presence here, though.

Am I keeping it?

This one’s difficult. I am definitely keeping it in some form. I’ve got the whole thing in individual issues and while I’d like a collection of it, the hardcover version I’ve got is very out of print, so I’d need to either get rid of the collection and replace it with modern softcovers which collect the whole thing, or stick with the individual issues.

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