Review of Black Jack Justice – Season One

Aural Noir: Review

Black Jack Justice - Season 1Black Jack Justice – Season One
By Gregg Taylor; Performed by a full cast
12 MP3s or podcast – Approx. 5 Hours [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: / Decoder Ring Theatre
Published: September 2006
Themes: / Mystery / Crime / Private Detective / Toronto /

“There was no time to explain the extra sensory properties of a truly eye-popping hangover.”
– from “Justice Incorporated”)

Black Jack Justice is a free podcast audio drama available through and Decoder Ring Theatre. Set in post WWII Toronto, it follows the cases of a pair of private detectives who right wrongs and investigate the investigateable. This review of the first season started life as a brief mention in an upcoming Five Free Favourites post. But, as I was re-living the show in my mind, and then, fannishly re-listening to the first season, I realized that it was totally unjust to leave Black Jack Justice – Season One without a full and glowing review. Let me put it simply. This is the greatest mystery audio drama since the Nero Wolfe series that aired on CBC Radio in the 1980s. Just like The Red Panda Adventures, also produced by Decoder Ring Theatre, Black Jack Justice is also written by Gregg Taylor. Like Panda, this show is absolutely top shelf entertainment. Not a single episode will leave you cold – every single one is fast, witty and clever. Black Jack Justice – Season 1 is like a good old fashioned cup of java and a slice of cherry pie and the heroes, Trixie Dixon and Jack Justice, are the greatest detective team since Nick and Nora.

The production of any given episode of Black Jack Justice is both an echo of those old time radio dramas like Richard Diamond, Private Detective and tribute to the superior techniques of modern storytelling. Actors Christopher Mott and Andrea Lyons, playing Jack and Trixie, are letter perfect, firing an endless rat-atat-tat of peppy dialogue that delivers exposition and character with equal enthusiasm. Mott’s Jack is hard and canny, but with a soft center shown only to dames in trouble and lost kittens. Lyons’ Trixie is whip smart sexy, she knows what she wants and she takes it – no ifs ands or gun butts. Guest actors, many familiar from their roles on The Red Panda Adventures, are also uniformly excellent – they typically play characters like cops, heiresses, and mob bosses. Audio production is minimal, with music being the main addition to the mix. Both Jack and Trixie have their own musical themes that play as they narrate their cases. The stories are lean and snappy, quick paced adventures. The show even has extremely subtle breaking of the fourth wall (of the style found in The Pirates of Penzance) – I absolutely love it. If Martin Backnell, the creator of Black Jack Justice weren’t totally fictional, he’d be smiling so wide at this series.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Red Panda novel audiobook preview

SFFaudio Online Audio

Tales Of The Red Panda

Gregg Taylor of Decoder Ring Theater has recorded the first three chapters of his first Red Panda novel Tales of The Red Panda: The Crime Cabal! This isn’t audio drama, this is AUDIOBOOK! The print release is already available for pre-order, but I’m going to be lobbying hard for a full unabridged release. If that whole acting gig on RP doesn’t work out Taylor can begin an audiobook narrating career based on this sample alone. Check out the three chapter sneak peak audio version |MP3|.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Red Panda Adventures – Season 3

SFFaudio Review

Superhero Audio Drama - The Red Panda Adventures - Season ThreeThe Red Panda Adventures – Season 3
By Gregg Taylor; Performed by a full cast
12 MP3 Files – Approx. 6 Hours [AUDIO DRAMA]
Podcaster: Decoder Ring Theatre
Podcast: September 2007 – May 2008
Themes: / Fantasy / Superheroes / Mystery / Adventure / Magic / Time Travel / Robots /

“None of the other heroes kiss their sidekicks!”

You’d think after thirty-six episodes The Red Panda Adventures would have become formulaic – to have settled into a well-worn style. It sure doesn’t feel that way, RP shows no signs of becoming anything like a mere dry routine. The familiarities are only in the iconic lines of character dialogue that are heard in every episode – bits like: “Kit Baxter, behave yourself!” and “He’ll face justice at the hands of The Red Panda!” If there is a formula, it must be a magic one secretly possessed by Gregg Taylor and the Decoder Ring crew. There’s really no other way to explain how bloody wonderful this show really is.

Plotlines from Season 3 still obviously follow the ‘heroes fight injustice’ thread, but other than that the storytelling is extremely varied. In one show the story is told very heroes-light, with the twin leads barely showing up, in another it’ll be very hero-heavy with barely another actor on the stage. One show will showcase a new villain up to old tricks, another will offer an old villain up to very new tricks. Injustices too run the gamut: from arson, to bootlegging, to racketeering, to pickpocketing, to mysterious and seemingly profitless industrial accidents. Heck, there was even a Christmas show performed entirely in rhymed verse (“Tis The Season!”). Other favorite episodes from Season 3 included the locked room style “A Midwinter’s Murder,” the series of three short adventures chronicled in “Now, The News,”. Scenes too standout, there was a certain scene on Sunnyside beach in “The Rat Lord.” that is utterly classic. And finally, there is the shocking (and I do mean shocking!) season ender – “The Field Trip.”

Voice talent abounds in the Decoder Ring troupe, there’s hardly a performance that isn’t spot on. Although, I should say, there was one actor, who obviously wasn’t very experienced, as he was playing a kid, and obviously was a real kid! But this is an aberration, normally, the child characters are played by female adult actors (as is done on The Simpsons). My favorite returning villain for Season 3 was the Mad Monkey (voiced by Christopher Mott). But this time he’s returned with his own assistant, but just like RP, he can’t seem to wrap his mind around an aggressive female sidekick. New characters like The Red Squirrel (played by Denise Anderson) also charm – I do hope to hear more of her! One thing I’d been missing from the show by listening to the podiobooks collections in the past, was the wonderful commercials. Every episode in the regular Decoder Ring feed has some sort of commercial endorsement. This could be from a website or a company, but often they are just the cutest little skits paid for by family members wishing each other a ‘happy birthday’, or ‘happy anniversary.’ How cool is that?

In the final episode of Season 3, old villains like Professor Von Schlitz are aligning themselves with new enemies like the Third Reich (!) but that isn’t the half of it. See, on the personal front, the blossoming romance between Panda and Squirrel is brought to the fore in the last epsiode. I imagine every longtime listener to the show who’s heard it is just freaked-out to the max about the final scene. Will where the show has now gone ultimately bring the end of the show? We’ll have to wait about two more months to find out.

Happy Canada Day everybody, go celebrate with some RED PANDA!

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Red Panda Adventures – Season 2

SFFaudio Audiobook Review

As a special CANADA DAY treat for everyone worldwide, has scored the entire 2nd Season of The Red Panda Adventures! The entire season is up and ready for download today! And here’s our review of it…

Podiobooks Audio Drama: The Red Panda Adventures - Season TwoThe Red Panda Adventures – Season Two
By Gregg Taylor; Performed by a FULL CAST
12 MP3 Files – Approx. 5.5 Hours [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: /
Published: 2006/2007
Themes: / Fantasy / Superheroes / Supervillains / 1930s / Toronto / Secret Identities / Hypnotism / Magic / Parallel Worlds /

Mad Monkey: “Security pays, but it can’t live without fear. And all I want is my cut.” -Episode 20: Monkeyshines

Like the first season of The Red Panda Adventures, season two is an incontestably enjoyable frolic through original, but familiar, comic book territory. The Red Panda and his faithful driver, Kit Baxter (AKA Flying Squirrel), patrol Toronto rooftops by static boot, and whunk their way through superhero sized pneumatic tubes concealed about the city, fighting wrongdoers. New and old supervillains, voiced by professional audio actors, execute egregious crimes that can only be foiled by a prosperous panda with hypnotic powers and a volitant rodent with a mean right-hook.

The second season has more of what made the first season so terrific. Standouts in traditional storytelling include episode 14: The Sunday Supplement, Episode 16: The Sweet Tooth, and Episode 20: Monkeyshines. The latter introduces a terrific new antagonist called “The Mad Monkey,” an arch-scoundrel on par with DC Comics rogues like The Joker and The Penguin. Season two also has a few episodes that expand the storytelling in different directions. Episode 18, for instance, was the long requested Secret Origins episode – in which we discover the first ever meeting of Panda and Squirrel. Episode 15: When Darkness Falls tells its tale from the perspective of a young boy in a city with a vigilante superhero. And episode 24: The World Next Door posits the existence of an alternate universe in which the Red Panda is a Nazi fighter and the Flying Squirrel is a teenage boy! In naming this show an SFFaudio essential I’ve got to cite both the writing and the production. The acting here is absolutely tops. Recording the scenes in-studio, together, works. The writing is perky, puissant, perfect, and seemingly effortless. The series scribe, Gregg Taylor, is a master storyteller.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Red Panda Adventures – Season 1

SFFaudio Audiobook Review

Podiobooks Audio Drama: The Red Panda Adventures - Season OneThe Red Panda Adventures – Season One
By Gregg Taylor; Performed by a FULL CAST
12 MP3 Files – Approx. 5.5 Hours [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: /
Published: 2005/2006
Themes: / Fantasy / Superheroes / Supervillains / 1930s / Toronto / Secret Identities / Hypnotism /

Flying Squirrel: “We could have two super-power’d loons on our hands.” -Episode 11: Duality

Masks, grapple-guns, static boots, retractable membranes, ring-radios? Check. Supervillains with names like The Golden Claw, The Electric Eel and Diablo? Check. Okay then, tune your podcatcher to ‘pure pulp’ and break out the hockey organ because The Red Panda Adventures – Season One is ready to glide into justice. This first 12 episode season is full of flying kung fu fists, mesmerizing hypnosis, snappy dialog and mystery. Most memorable for me are the characters and the dialogue. Plot lines are reminiscent of comic-book and radio serials from yesteryear but the parlance is all modernistic as filtered through a roaring-twenties speech pattern paradigm. Episode 2: Night Mission and Episode: 7 Red Panda Wanted Dead Or Alive stood-out because these episodes highlighted the interaction between the love-blind hero, Red Panda, and his adoring sidekick The Flying Squirrel. The Panda’s superpowers are a cross between those of The Green Hornet and The Shadow. He’s a master hypnotist, able to cloud the minds of villains. Other fun aspects are the introduction of other superheroes and superhero groups, in a way the whole show reminds me of animated version of The Tick if it were played slightly straighter.

The Red Panda Adventures – Season One is a super-fun diversion delivered in delicious half-hour doses. The only thing better than the production of this fab audio drama series is the vocal talent. I get endless kicks out of the sexual tension between the oblivious Red Panda and his pining sidekick/driver Kit Baxter. Their city, 1930s Toronto, is quieter than many other audio dramas, I hear less foley and fewer sound effects, I like that they aren’t obsessed with putting in the sound of footsteps in every scene – it usually isn’t necessary. Also nice is that from episode one of this series this show really works. This is probably because of the experience gained during the previous Red Panda incarnation (a six episode series set during WWII). Season Two is already underway and I look forward to devouring it too.

Posted by Jesse Willis