Welcome to The Crusades of a Critic, an infrequently updated review blog that's like a drunken hobo stuck in a video rental store. Created in 2009 as a way of solving the boredom of living alone - after the euphoria of near-constant wanking wore off - The Crusades of a Critic focused primarily on shite movies, video games, and music. Since then the increasingly redundantly named blog has expanded its approach with reviews of my favourite media.

Recurring elements in my reviews include surrealism, cynicism, nihilism, misanthropy, and obscure references that most people probably have to Google. The Crusades of a Critic officially celebrated its fifth birthday in July 2014. Making it almost as old as some of my t-shirts.

Need more Iron? Then you should probably see a dietitian! Bad jokes aside, I created and used to edit an alternative music webzine, which finished its run in 2014. From 2012 - 2014 I also wrote for What Culture.

For archived posts visit the categorised links above, or for the latest post(s) scroll down:

The Crusades of a Critic © 2009-2017 by Iron Criterion.
This material may not be reproduced without permission, lest I throw you in the Sarlacc Pit.

Crystal Castle Review (Guest Review) - Humming the Crystal Maze Theme

It’s rare that a book jumps out at me and goes straight to the top of my ever-increasing 'stuff to-read' list. At this point, I'm pretty sure that list is going to outlive me. However about a month ago, the release of a book called Crystal Castle came to my attention. I gave it a read, and as you, my ever attentive reader, value my opinion so much (feel the sarcasm), I thought I'd give my two pence.

The first novel by John D. Ashton, from West Yorkshire, England, is a fantasy adventure wherein a handful of strangers find themselves in a strange land where they're led into battling a great evil. I don't read much fantasy, not since my family were killed by Orcs, but I thought it sounded like a pretty rad premise, and it's good to delve back into the genre once in a while, like how Rambo occasionally delves back in the The 'Nam.

The eponymous castle is the main evil, and the book opens very strong with one of the troupe recounting some legends of it. The castle is shrouded in mystery and some doubt it even exists.  That is until the castle shows up, drops from the sky, and crushes the kid to death. That's right: castle lands on the kid and kills him in the opening chapter. It's mental. I had to see where this rabbit-hole went. After Johnny's death, we're introduced to Janice and Jason, who also die by the end of their respective chapters. They all find themselves alive again and in the middle of a desert with a man named Gabriel waiting for them. This man's the selling point of the whole book, their guide through this world, and ours, and while not the progenitor of their transportation, the fates guided him to them the same way they were guided to him.

Over the course of the adventure they face off native monsters, environmental dangers, and evil abominations. The kind of evil they encounter has a 'sword and sandal' feel to it: giant elephants, giant man-eating birds, and a skeleton army straight out of Jason & The Argonauts. Though not exclusively, the world of New Earth has a post-cataclysmic, western feel to it. Like what civilisation there was collapsed long ago as the Crystal Castle absorbed the very life from the ground, drying it up into a husk.

The story does a good job of keeping pace. There are moments of stillness where the troupe sit around and chat, but it doesn't drone on so long it becomes a chore. If anything, I want to know more about the characters and the world they find themselves in, but the narrative doesn't get bogged down with reams of Dickensian garbage and over-description. At no point are there any florid sentences or big words thrown in just to make the author feel good about himself, thankfully.  It tells me what it is, and what it looks like. I can colour the rest in myself, which I can appreciate, because I hate being coddled by the narrative. It comes across a little formal at times, and sometimes overstates characters' actions, telling me what a character does, then why they did it, when I can figure out the why for myself. This is only on occasion though, as majority of the time its straight to the point.

As I said earlier, Gabriel is the main character. He's native to New Earth and he comes across as a lone gunslinger-type, a bearer of struggle who's no stranger to violence, similar to Roland Deschain from The Dark Tower. In fact, a lot of Crystal Castle reminded me of The Dark Tower: people from our world going to a dying otherworld, led by a lonely gunman on a quest to thwart mythical evil, but thankfully the similarities end there. John Ashton doesn't appear in the book as the crux of all creation, and he doesn't try to plagiarise just about every piece of everyone else's work that the 20th century put out. I digress.

Gabriel's a mysterious one. His past is only hinted at, but it’s clear that he's seen shit. He's gotten about. I'd have liked to have known more about his past: What he did for a living before his quest for the castle, how that mutant ended up with a piece of paper with Gabriel's own handwriting on it, and any previous adventures he may have had, but his intrigue is in his mystery-like that goth chick you saw in a nightclub once and you never had the balls to talk to.

Like Gabriel, the Crystal Castle is kept in mystery too. We learn very little about it. Why it exists, who, or why it was created. All we know is that it is evil. As we near the castle we are shown that it roots itself into the earth like a parasite, which is what I think explains the desolation of the world, and explains why it needs to be destroyed. While the lack of origin helps add to the mythical nature of it, it would have been nice to hear more legends, campfire tales from different characters maybe.  Something that adds to its sense of menace.

It's very subtle, but there's talk of fate in there too. The small coincidence of the band's names all starting with J, and them magically showing up, post-mortem, at Gabriel's camp. It hints that there are larger forces at work, and they do all decide to take it as a sign from on high, but what those signs are, are a mystery.

All in all the characters are interesting, and the variety of challenges they face is wide enough so that you never guess what's coming. There's a lot of depth in the story that, while it may not be on the surface, because the narrative doesn't shove it down your throat, you get a sense of the grander scale of things as you get further through the story, and closer to the Crystal Castle.

Buy the book here.

Prime Cuts Vol Two Review (Guest Review) - Another Round of Soggy Pizza

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of John Franklin's mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should read this level of shit. I am forced into speech because Indyplanet.com refused to follow my advice without knowing why. It is altogether against my will that I will tell my reasons for opposing this contemplated Prime Cuts: Volume 3, though I am writing this under appreciable mental strain, since by tonight, I will be in a private hospital for the insane near Preston, Lancashire.

TL;DR: You've gotta be fucking kidding me.

Prime Cuts is back, and in a way it’s nice, because I've always wanted a nemesis. John Franklin has become the Negan to my Glenn's minced brain matter, because I thought I was clear, home free, but he just had to come round for another swing. I wanted to use a 'Vincent Mancini to my Michael Corleone' simile here, but let's face it, you don't know who that is. Either way, curse you, John Franklin.  Curse you.

As I said last time, Prime Cuts is the brainchild (attic-dwelling anal-lovechild more like) of John Franklin: the child-playing midget from Children of the Corn, and the sequels that no one watched, and Tim Sulka, writer of 'Corn 6, and Prime Cuts...Wahey.  Brilliant CV there, mate.  Seems between the 6th film of a deceased franchise, and ripping off Sweeney Todd, Sulka has mastered the art of being completely unoriginal.

So, as before I'll be dividing this review up into 4 segments: plot, characters, narrative, and art.  Let's just get this over with.


It’s Sweeney Todd.  Next.

Only joking. Vol 2 picks up where Vol 1 ended. Electra Love (cringe with me) and Todd-this-hurts-my-soul-to-write-Sweeney, have just killed a trucker, because he made Electra suck him off, and earlier Todd gave him a 'mad haircut' against his will. They decide to cut him up into bits when-oh no, a health inspector comes by. What a coincidence. Electra keeps the inspector busy by playing Guess The Gender, which these days is about as futile as trying to tell Adam Sandler he isn't funny, while Todd stashes the body. The inspector leaves and Electra starts mincing the trucker up onto a pizza. People eat the pizza and it gets them incredibly high somehow, so they want more.  I'd like to see the science behind that. How does eating people make you high? Maybe Franklin just thought 'getting high as fuck' sounded more entertaining than 'horrific, uncurable, terminal cerebellar ataxia'.  Kuru: that's what you get from eating your own species. See, these reviews are educational too.

That's it in a nutshell. We see some gang leader type in the pizzeria and that shy blonde girl from Vol 1 again, as well as some cliché trailer-trash customers, but they're really just there for the sake of being there. Most of the book takes place in the kitchen.


Todd and Electra are back, naturally, and now that the introductions are out of the way, it’s time for some development. Turns out Electra has a senile old dad that she keeps locked away and only pulls out when she needs to feed him some meat, like Fritzl. She wheels him in to the pizzeria towards the end, hinting that he's next in line to be topping. A bit out of place as the first issue painted her more as a sympathetic character, now here she is telling her dad she only keeps him ticking for his disability cheques. What a bitch. Saying that though, she does let Todd feel her up on their first meeting, so she's clearly not all there.

Todd takes a back seat in this issue. He's hardly in it and when he is, he's either doing as his sociopath overlord tells him, or he's doling out one of his trademark 'mad haircuts'- OK, can we just clarify something? Can someone tell me what's so mad about this (below), because it looks like a short, back and sides to me? Anyone with a pair of clippers knows how to pull that one off. It isn't exactly wizardry.

The blonde lass makes a cameo again, but again, it's basically just to remind the reader that she exists, like celebrity reality TV. She's victim to the muscly biker's affection, as evidenced when he grabs her by the tit. I think she works at the pizarria, I'm not sure. I can't tell. This is why work uniforms exist. Either way, she's there. The second biggest travesty is the venue's customers. Talk about cliché, holy shit. Jeremy Kyle types who give their kids edgy, social commentary on the decline of Western civilisation names like Chlamydia, and wear edgy t-shirts with edgy slogans like 'Meth Man' on them. Now, if Meth Man was some sort of superhero in this world, that'd be pretty interesting, but I bet it won't be. In fact I know it won't be, because I've seen Sweeney Todd.

The worst crime by far though, a crime I've not seen since The Dark Tower, is that the author himself is in it. That's right, John Franklin is in Prime Cuts. In the ultimate show of vanity and self-fellation, he's a character. He's Electra's assistant, Pushmi, and he basically takes orders off her.  Now that the boss is gone she promotes him to 'Vice President... Whatever'. Way to go, John Pushmi Franklin. Pushmi? Like that Siamese Llama from Dr Doolittle? Really? Oh John, how low is your self-esteem that you make yourself the office bitch, named after a freak of nature? If I was going to put myself in my own work, I'd at least have the Stephen King level of balls to make myself the most awesome badass in all of existence. Johnny Bravo meets Johnny Matrix meets Ron Jeremy, GP, Warlock, Vietnam veteran, one of the immortals from Highlander, slayer of vampires, hunter of demons, the by-product of angels having sex with demons.


So Prime Cuts starts with more monologue from Todd and carries on the same kind of modern colloquialism of Vol 1. 'For reals this time'. 'Reals'. 'S'. Now, as a man who's said 'gnarly' at least three times today, I'm not adverse to slang; far from it, but it just comes off as a little cheesy in this format. I mean, when is this even set?  Do people even still say 'for reals' now? Usually the narration is either from Todd or Electra's POV, but sometimes it’s from neither. I wish it would make up its mind and stop being so all over the shop.

Oh and Fate's back. Hooray. 'So much for fucking fate... or maybe fate's fucking you!' At this point someone had better get fucked just to take the edge off all this angst. What fate? What is this fate Todd keeps whinging about? You can't keep talking about something off-scene, but never explain what it is. Imagine if Star Wars did that. Imagine if the Force was only mentioned by name, but never seen in the films, never used by anyone, and never explained.

In order to get the kidz on board, there's more of that edgy dialogue from the extras that I loved so much in Vol 1. Some skank offers to let Todd give her a pearl necklace (and don't you pretend you don't know what that is), and all throughout it tries to be funny but just comes off as stale. What with Meth Man and Chlamydia's mother just saying things for pure shock-factor, and Electra calling the health inspector 'sir' then correcting herself, just because the inspector looks like a cross between Danny DeVito and Stephen Fry. Oh John Franklin, you edgy bastard.


Oh my word. Just oh my word. Remember what I said about the last one being a sloppy mess of pallid colours and the ink not even staying in the lines? Well I got what I wished for. They've fixed it. Streamlined it. And in doing so, made it much worse. Though it’s more coherent now that they've switched the artist (Stan Maksun is on it now), there are things that bring it down. The purpose of the illustrator is to highlight the main focus in each panel. If done correctly, the reader will know what it is they're supposed to know, what the author wants them to know, and what it is they should be looking at.

So why then does it have to have massive arrows point out shit that the reader should be able to figure out on their own?  One panel shows Electra's senile dad. The next shows his feet in a yellow puddle. I can figure out for myself that it's supposed to be the man's piss; I don't need a big red arrow with 'Earl's piss' pointing at it. No shit. I didn't see him drop a bottle of Sunny D in the last panel. Same thing happens earlier on with the health inspector. There's a metal pot in the background with a 'Jimmy' arrow pointing at it. Couldn't we have just seen someone putting Jimmy's head in the pot? Show, don't tell.

In Vol 1 the blonde girl already had pretty long hair, but it Vol 2 it's gone all Dali and it looks like it’s never been brushed. There's one panel where it’s clearly longer than she is. Why? And that's the problem. I found myself asking why way too much with this thing. Why retell Sweeney Todd in a pizzeria in the first place?

So that's it. Normally I like to strike a balance and say something good about it, like I did with Vol 1, but honestly, I couldn't. It's a mess. It’s bland, it’s unoriginal, its characters are cardboard clichés, and why the fuck is John Franklin in it? It makes my brain hurt, it really does. Prime Cuts is the 9/11 of comics.