The Phoenix Weekender – Issue 263 – 265 – oh, it’s been a while!

Published On February 4, 2017 | By Richard Bruton | Comics, Comics For Children, Reviews, The Phoenix Weekender

Right then, it’s been rather a long time since I did a Phoenix Weekender, almost 6 months, and although I’m not promising that you’ll be getting one of these every weekend, I do plan to regularly update you on what I maintain is the best weekly childrens’ comic available right now.

It’s actually still all very familiar, with no new strips in any of these issues, and I’m not entirely sure that’s a good thing. Maybe, just maybe, The Pheonix would benefit from more new blood? Heaven knows there’s enough talent out there. Or at least there was back at the end of 2015 when I was last deeply involved in it all. However, as always, what is inside is awfully good, so perhaps I’m just being grumpy Richard today?

Inside the three issues I have in front of me there’s the end of John Blake, which I’m still convinced will make a far better book than it did a serial. There’s Robert Deas’ great space romp Trailblazer, just the older, more grizzled version. There’s two different Adam and Lisa Murphy strips, the ever educational and entertaining Corpse Talk, featuring the incredible tale of Mary Seacole and Lost Tales, this time featuring a German folktale The Witch’s Pupil. Alexander Matthews’ silent but ever so noisy POW! returns in Bergman-esque style, playing chess on the beach with The Grim Reaper (although nowhere in The Seventh Seal do I remember either Badminton or a guest appearance by Mary Berry?) Laura Ellen Anderson’s Evil Emperor Penguin makes a return, as does Joe List’s Doug Slugman PI and Jess Bradley’s Squid Bits features a better candidate for President than the Trumpet…

Lorenzo Etherington’s Von Doogan returns with even more pages than ever, allowing Etherington to really blow his art up BIG… and it’s a real treat to see….

But seeing as this is my return to the comic, I figure I’ll end this with the strip that’s been a continual favourite here at Bruton Mansions, old and new version, Jamie Smart’s Bunny Vs Monkey.

Smart’s the only artist to appear in The Phoenix from issue zero to the present day, whether it’s BvM or the equally impressive Looshkin. And along the way he’s developed his style, his characters and consistently delivered all the slapstick comedy that you expect, alongside a surprising amount of heartbreak and melancholy.

By now you may well know the setup, and as with all great ideas, it’s so simple in its concept but so complex in its delivery. This is the tale of the woodland, where various strange creatures live, including a former lab test monkey and a long suffering bunny. But along the way we’ve met so many wonderful woodland friends; Skunky, the melancholic evil genius; Action Beaver, a crash test dummy in beaver form; the tragic and no longer with us Le Fox, the idiotic double act Weenie and Pig and many more.

My favourite ever BvM strip is still one I picked for my best of year 2014, a heartbreaking and yet uplifting two pages of Action Beaver. You can see the whole thing online here. Oh it was a beautiful, beautiful thing. Full of subtle heartbreak and absolute joy at the same time.

But this latest BvM has just a tinge of the same sense of heartbreak, as Smart shows us yet again that he’s not afraid to say goodbye to much loved characters. Obviously spoilers here, but with the full permission of Jamie Smart and The Phoenix Comic, the entire Bunny Versus Monkey 2-pager from The Phoenix Comic issue265 is at the bottom of this post.

Metal Steve is another of the woodland characters that pop up semi-regularly, one of Skunky’s creations, and just like Action Beaver we don’t really know all that much about him. He rampages around a bit causing chaos every so often. That’s about it. But at no point has anyone really thought of him not being there.

Until now. Because like all tech, it seems as though Metal Steve is simply reaching the end of his product cycle, and Skunky wants him boxed up for posterity…

And as Skunky says, “You.. you didn’t think I was going to leave you running forever, did you?”

Ow, that’s just cruel. So cruel. Skunky just has no idea what he’s doing there, does he? The pragmatist scientist or just unfeeling? It’s not really obvious is it? All part of the subtleties of Smart’s work.

Anyway, Metal Steve is just a tad reluctant, understandably, and off he goes, self-preservation mode going haywire, rampaging through Skunky’s base in a desperate attempt to escape.

And then it happens, then Jamie Smart does what he does every so often and throws a nasty twist into this tale, with Skunky delivering the killer blow in place of his artist… and Metal Steve goes to sleep, just like this…

Those final panels. Heartbreaking. Just us watching a beloved friend die. Oh Jamie, Jamie, Jamie. You’ve done it again haven’t you. Poor Metal Steve.

So, finally, as promised, and with the full permission of Jamie Smart and The Phoenix Comic, the entire Bunny Versus Monkey 2-pager from The Phoenix Comic issue 265.

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About The Author

Richard Bruton
- Started in comics retail aged 16 at Nostalgia & Comics, Birmingham. Now located in Yorkshire, he's written for the Forbidden Planet International Blog since 2007. Specialising in UK Comics and All-Ages comics, Richard's day job in a primary school allowed him to build the best children's graphic novel library in the country.

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