2000 AD Prog Slog

Monday, April 30, 2007

Star Lord 12

(This is definitely issue twelve. It's got a big twelve on the cover. They wouldn't lie to me about what issue this is, would they?)

I'm surprised at how much I'm enjoying reading Star Lord. I had always thought, because it was later amalgamated into 2000 AD, that it was inferior in content but this doesn't seem to be the case. I fully expected to find Strontium Dog and Ro-Busters to be fun, as they successfully made the leap across in the amalgamation, but enjoying Mind Wars as well? Now that is a revelation to me.

There are elements to the strip that seem lifted from Star Wars. For example, the importance of the psychic twins in a galactic war seems reminiscent of Force gifted Jedi Knights affecting the balance between the Empire and the rebels or something. There was even a scene a few issues ago where we see a planet blown to pieces by a space weapon. But there's enough about the strip that has it stand aside from these comparisons. The twist and turn of the plot is an aspect that I am particularly enjoying.

When I started The Slog, there were writers that I fully expected to enjoy reading again, such as John Wagner and Pat Mills, and others whose work I thought I wouldn't. Alan Hebden was one of the latter. Let it be known that I am man enough to say here, right now, that I was wrong.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Star Lord 10

(Well, I think it's number 10. It could be number eleven. I'm not entirely sure. This is because it wasn't common practice for British comics to be numbered at the time. In fact, I'm sure that 2000 AD's programme numbering policy was one of the rare exceptions.)

Planet of the Damned ends this issue. Many of the differently era-ed factions climb aboard the jet deserted in the first episode nine, ten or eleven weeks ago, reverse the polarity of something and get sucked back up through a vortex to home. After all the danger and excitement of the last few weeks, it's a surprise to see the return wrapped up in a single panel. If it were these days, we would be exposed to several more episodes of extended recollection and character reconciliation.

Or maybe all this is still to come. I haven't read Star Lord before and know very little about it really. How do I know that there isn't a sequel where the World War Two squadrons and the eighteenth centaury pirates continue their feud in in late seventies Miami?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Star Lord 6

All delays and alternatives to having to read my damaged copy of Star Lord number six have been exhausted and a complete copy has, so far, eluded me. Therefore, I had no choice but to make do with my damaged one for The Prog Slog to continue. As it turns out, only two panels from the Strontium Dog strip appear to be affected by a previous owner of the copy cutting stuff out on the reverse side of the page and I was still able to make sense of the story. It's just that owning a copy that has been damaged this way bothers me, that's all.

In relative terms, I haven't had many copies of the original 2000 AD eBay purchase to replace due to damage. Four very early progs had had the back covers cut off and there was another four from slightly later that had had the centre pages removed. I've managed to replace them all although I am amazed at the number of eBay sellers who seem happy to describe something as being in excellent condition when clearly it isn't. Unless the postman opened the envelope, tore pages out of the comic and filled in some of the puzzles in pen before resealing it and delivering it to me.

Now all I need to do is find a copy of the last issue of Star Lord, 22, before I get to the point, within the next two weeks at the current reading rate, where The Slog hits a wall or have to skip that issue all together.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Dan Dare Annual 1979

You would think that if you were given the 2000 AD 1979 annual instead of the Dan Dare one for Christmas 1978 that you would have got the better deal but actually this would not be the case. Funnily enough, Dan Dare makes a better representation of what is happening in the weekly 2000 AD than the annual that shares its name. In fact, for all intense and purposes, Dan Dare is the secret 2000 AD annual of that year. In addition to the colour lead strip, painted by Ian Kennedy, there is a typically no nonsense Invasion strip, where Peter Silk is alive again, and a Judge Dredd tale, illustrated in colour by Kevin O'Neill.

More importantly, there is the tale of how the highly regarded big chinned hero from Eagle became the bomber jacket wearing character from 2000 AD. It includes face changing surgery and suspended animation, obviously. This is really the only acknowledgement that the character originated in Eagle, which was regarded at the time as having been Britain's most popular comic ever. In fact, Tharg even makes frequent appearances in the annual as if to say to any old comic readers that might have wandered by, "he belongs to us now".

Monday, April 23, 2007

Annual 1979

The early annuals are becoming a bit of an enigma to me. For example, the strips are now hand lettered instead of type written and we're seeing more characters that we recognise from the weekly but they still seem to be rendered in a non standard style. Judge Dredd is drawn by Brett Ewins but his version seems more in line with how the character was being drawn a year before. In Invasion, Bill Savage's number two (titter), Peter SIlk, is alive again.

The cover is a painting by Kevin O'Neill that references no characters that readers would recognise from the weekly. It's as if the reader surveys from the actual comic have so far revealed that Dan Dare isn't the most popular strip but not yet shown that Judge Dredd is. It's interesting I think that the publishers believed that the cover being science fiction themed was enough to attract the attention of potential buyers.

It makes me wonder how far in advance of publication the annuals were prepared. My recollection is that they were usually published at the end of the summer, although they were expected to sell significantly over the Christmas/New Year holidays (hence them being dated for next year). But even considering a late August publication date, the two annuals so far seem very old fashioned and quaint in comparison with what is happening in the main comic at the time. It makes me think that work might have started on them the Christmas before.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Massimo Belardinelli 1938 - 2007

I first read news of art droid Massimo Belardinelli's death on a couple of web sites at the start of this week. Given that in recent years there have been reports of this type about him that were inaccurate, I was initially dubious about believing the latest batch of obituaries. But as more and more web sites report it I guess I have no choice but to accept the news as fact.

It's still relatively early days for The Prog Slog, so I am certain that I will write about Belardinelli's 2000 AD work (which is all I know, really) on more than one occasion over the next few months as I have Meltdown Man, Ace Trucking Co and Slaine to look forward to. Having recently finished reading his run on Inferno, I found it impossible not to believe that he could ever have not enjoyed drawing. His artwork always looked like he was having a good time.

When writing about prog 1, I missed the opportunity to talk about the centre spread he drew for the Dan Dare strip (the reproduction of which is above, totally lifted by me from Lew Stringer's blog http://lewstringer.blogspot.com). I've read thousands of comics over the years and, arguably, it would be easy for me to become jaded by much of the samey artwork that I've seen. Other pieces, however, stay with you and I can never forget the impact that seeing this centre spread for the first time had on my nine year old mind. It was as if the comic itself had cast a hook into my brain that I've never successfully been able to wriggle free from. The cover to the first issue is completely forgettable, thanks mainly to it being designed to have a big free gift taped to it, but of all the content from this prog that got readers coming back for more, it was this.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Prog 85

It's nice to be reminded of, when comics were amalgamated together, which was common place in the seventies and eighties, how the editors would try to put a positive spin on what was, after all, the failure of one of the two titles. This is the final issue of 2000 AD before Star Lord joins forces with it and Tharg is telling us how great this is for everybody.

All the main stories wrap up in time for Star Lord's arrival this prog. The Cursed Earth comes to what feels like a natural conclusion. Finishing Ant Wars must have been easy considering how repetitive each episode was (find giant ants, kill giant ants, walk away to find more giant ants). Only the Dan Dare story hints at perhaps being finished earlier than it might have been otherwise; art droid Dave Gibbons returns form a break with artwork that looks bigger, as if it has been drawn at a similar size to reproduction. It still looks great, though.

The Prog Slog is at an interesting juncture. I stopped reading Star Lord at number five because my copy of number six has half a page of the Strontium Dog strip missing. I was hoping to have replaced it in time but this doesn't look likely to happen now. Instead, I decided to read the damaged strip from a copy of Strontium Dog: Search/Destroy Agency Files Volume One in Ottakers book shop but was disappointed to see that they have sold out. It looks like I might have to skip those missing panels altogether. In the meantime, I have the 1979 annuals, 2000 AD and Dan Dare, allowing me some extra time to track down a copy of issue 22 which I have missing altogether.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Prog 84

I didn't mention that a few progs after his run in with Ronald MacDonald in The Cursed Earth, Judge Dredd also had a scrap with the Niblet's sweet corn mascot, Green Giant. I don't know which episode might have inspired which, if one did indeed inspire the other at all. Given the close proximity of their original (and only) printings, and the second tale being drawn by the slower art droid Brian Bolland, it's difficult to tell.

Fans of Judge Dredd must have been ecstatic this prog. Not only does his story run to eight pages but there is also a Walter the Wobot tale and a half page Cursed Earth interlude where Dredd and Rotten meet the real Green Giant. I wasn't aware of this ever existing before now. Here the characters clarify that their previous encounter was with what only looked like the Green Giant from the adverts and not the real thing and, incidentally, their product is great.

As I continue the slog, I wonder if I am going to encounter a similar styled strip reassuring us that the Ronald MacDonald Dredd met recently is, in no way, the same character who functions as a mascot for the fast food restaurant of the same name and that the strip was meant only as a satire, just in case we weren't sure.

It is illuminating, I think, if this clarification of the authenticity of The Green Giant is the only one of it's type to appear given the intensity of mascots satired in such a short space of time by the comic. I also think that it's interesting that one of the two main 2000 AD characters to appear in the interlude, Spikes Harvey Rotten, is shot to pieces a few pages later in the main strip.

Ho ho ho.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Prog 82

Over a year after The Sex Pistols were interviewed by Bill Grundy on live tea time telly, during which they swore like troopers, 2000 AD introduced its first punk character, Spikes Harvey Rotten. Admittedly, he did appear in a two part Judge Dredd story prior to the start of The Cursed Earth, but then he was clearly a biker, maybe even a grebo. Whatever, all the cool music writers were saying that punk was over by the time the definitive version of Spikes appeared.

I was nine years old and terrified of punk rockers. I actually saw the Grundy interview live as it happened. My mum was washing up in the kitchen and oblivious to the barrage of bad language that was dismantling all that I had previously assumed about those who swore; school children, basically. Later, I treated with great suspicion, a man (who, in retrospect, was probably just a bigger boy) that I would see around the town centre with spiky hair and a studded, leather jacket.

Punks were weasel like, sneering, fowl and contemptuous individuals. Spikes, especially when drawn by art droid Brian Bolland, reminds me of an American version of a punk rocker; dumb, slightly grubby and looks like he works out regularly in the gym. Yet, when Tweak tells Dredd that Spikes will die during their crossing of Death Valley, the final leg of their journey to Mega City Two, I feel very sad because, due to having read the story before, I know that there are no loopholes to his foresight and there is nothing that will prevent it from coming true.

2000 AD may have been slow with the cultural use of the word punk but it was punk to my mind from the start. Its inky, low quality reproduction was a direct opposite to the overall strong quality of writing and art. It oozed attitude and almost certainly tapped into the same cultural influences that kicked off punk. Gob on you if you think different.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Prog 80

In this prog, readers can win a set of Matchbox Adventure 2000 toys in a competition. Amongst the toys is a vehicle similar in design to that of The Killdozer or Land Raider; the big eff off tank that Judge Dredd is using to cross The Cursed Earth. Interestingly, in a Nerve Centre from a few progs back, in response to a reader's curiosity, Tharg admitted that the Land Raider design was based upon the Matchbox toy.

Meanwhile, I've been amazed at the rate that art droid Mike McMahon is producing pages of artwork for The Cursed Earth story, especially given how, later, we would often go years between strips from him. Could it be, in a deadline looming drawing haze, that the design of The Killdozer, AKA the Land Raider, was lifted from the Adventure 2000 range of toy vehicles without initial permission from Matchbox? Could Tharg's conversational admittance on the letter's page and subsequent competition be an attempt to stave off any potential legal action on behalf of the toy's manufacturer?

This is the late seventies and maybe franchising was dealt with so differently then that this sort of cross-pollination between entertainment companies was commonplace. Perhaps comic publishers negotiated deals where they can use a single toy design from a range within their strips all of the time. Could it be that only the passage of time has made this arrangement appear suspicious?

You may remember in a previous entry to the slog (that I am too lazy to link to), I told you about a warning from Tharg to readers. He said spacecraft designs that readers send to the Nerve Centre should be original and not be redrawings of, say, Matchbox toys for passing off as their own work for the ten pounds prize money. Have I, by partaking in this slog, unearthed a twenty nine year old scandal or is reading all of these old comics inside a short space of time already having an effect on my psychological well being?

Friday, April 13, 2007

Prog 75

Talking of John "Giant" Clay, the good news is that in the last part of Inferno he didn't die, which would be stupid if you remember that he is yet to father his son, Judge Clay, I mean, Judge Giant. The bad news is, that everyone else did die. In fact, the slaughter of his team mates got to be so relentless that, in the last episode, Tharg, drawn by someone else, made an appearance and skimmed over a couple of character deaths as if we, the reader, didn't think much of them. At least, in Invasion, we actually got to see Peter Silk's demise.

There are strips from around this time that seem to have no over all structure, that just run and run until the idea exhausts itself or editorial says to stop. In the case of Inferno, it's as if Tharg said to the writer, "wrap it all up next week, will ya?" I guess even in 1978, the long-term certainty of 2000 AD wasn't entirely known, and some strips led a hand to mouth existence.

I guess if I was writing a weekly strip that unexpectedly had the rug pulled out from under it, a satisfying and subversive way to end it would to have the bad guy win. In Inferno, after making The Harlem Hellcats' life a misery by murdering everyone, I'm not sure if the gambling syndicate is talking to Giant or to us when they say, "let that be a lesson to you".

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Prog 74

If you think, just because this chapter of The Cursed Earth has cloned, ex-amusement park dinosaurs running around and eating people, that the theme of today's entry is going to be Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park, which was first published twelve years later, then you're wrong. Instead, after discovering that Satanus (the tyrannosaurus rex who, at the end of this episode is about to chow down on Judge Dredd) is the resurrected son of Old One Eye, the dinosaur who caused so much mayhem in the Flesh strip, I want to talk about the notion of the 'enclosed universe'.

In mainstream American comics, the 'enclosed universe' came about from a cool idea; wouldn't it be fun if this character we own here meets up with this other character we own over there. However, over the years, publishers have submitted to the logical (or semi-autistic) conclusion where events in one comic can now impact upon those in another. For example, you couldn't possibly breeze along just buying an issue of Superman every month. Before long you would be completely baffled by the plot, no matter how long you've been a regular reader for, because of it referring to a comic you've never heard of before produced by the same publishers.

2000 AD has never allowed their same worlds to lapse into a syndrome and stop being fun. For example, Judge Giant is supposed to be the son of John Clay from the strips Harlem Heroes and Inferno. Although, by the current Inferno story, it's not been established that the young John Clay has ever had sex let alone conceived a son, it hasn't stopped me ever believing that he could be decapitated in his next match. In fact, if you run with the logic, shouldn't Judge Giant be called Judge Clay, after all, "Giant" is a nickname. When you start to think like this, the imagination gets restricted and possibilities shrink. You shouldn't be thinking like this; you should be thinking, wouldn't it be cool if Judge Dredd had a fight with a tyrannosaurus rex.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Sci-fi Special 1978

It seems that now, 1978, the Summer Special, now renamed the Sci-fi Special, is the place that all of the slower creators get to see their work in print. Gary Leach both writes and draws the Dan Dare strip here. Anyone who remembers waiting months between "monthly" episodes of Marvel Man in Warrior magazine will know that Leach's work rate is as if he draws through treacle. Even seven paged episodes seemed too much for him, which is why he was replaced by Alan Davis, I imagine.

With both Dan Dare and Judge Dredd established as the most recognisable characters from the weekly, it's interesting to see a more "super cover" styled, generic painting for the front by Kevin O'Neill. He also draws the best strip here, an episode of MACH Zero.
My understanding has always been that typically, British comic creators weren't credited properly for their work until 2000 AD, which is why it's a surprise to see so many creators using pseudonyms around this time when, I would have thought, they would have been crying out for some attention. Brendan McCarthy uses "Subliminal Kid" to draw Judge Dredd with. McCarthy, in case you're interested, is one of those artists who draws a larger Walter the Wobot which just stops short of drifting into the man/baby look for the character that I have talked about before.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Prog 72

Back at 2000 AD, the second of four Judge Dredd episodes, which have been described as banned, appears in this prog. Two rival towns, The McDonald's and The Burger Kings, are fighting for burger dominance of lawless territory that is The Cursed Earth. In one scene, a McDonald's employee is shot dead for not cleaning a table in one of the restaurants fast enough.

EBay sellers describe these stories as being banned, insinuating that the burger giants had threatened legal action against publishers IPC, and given the legal cases McDonalds have bought against individuals and small businesses since, it's not an unreasonable assumption to make. In fact, IPC lawyers, after seeing the offending issues of 2000 AD, advised that they never be reprinted just to be on the safe side.

On the surface, it's not easy to tell that John Wagner wrote this two-part chapter given that the first is mistakenly credited to Pat Mills and for the second his pseudonym of "TB Grover" is used. It’s interesting to see, having read these strips for the first time, early examples of his astute sense of satire (McDonald's had only opened their first restaurant in the UK four years before) and his grasp of American dialects (in this case, Ronald McDonald talking with a deep southern accent). In fact, Wagner seemed to learn from this experience that it only takes the tinniest tweaking for his sense of satire to be equally effective and for the lawyers to find his work acceptable.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Star Lord 4

Even though Judge Dredd became the most popular strip in 2000 AD inside three months of its start, I would say that the gestation period during which the character and his world became close to being fully formed took around eighteen months at least. Even in the classic Cursed Earth story, currently running adjacent to Star Lord, Dredd can be seen being surprisingly fair minded and civil towards other characters.

Reading Star Lord for the first time, I am impressed at how established the characters, relationships and themes are this early on in the longer lasting strips, Strontium Dog and Ro-Busters. The friendships between the lead characters, Johnny Alpha and Wulf Sternhammer and Ro-Jaws and Hammer-Stein, are clear from the beginning, as is their roles and their objectives.

It's the cruelties that the characters have inflicted upon them that separate them from Dredd, who is the one to usually do the inflicting. Johnny Alpha has strangers shout "you dirty stinking mutie" at him in the street. Hammer-Stein is threatened with destruction at the hands of Mek-Quake, the walking robotic knackers yard, after saving a bus full of school children from a swamp full of mad crocodiles. Ro-Jaws is told by his owner that his personality, his best feature, is down to a malfunction in a data chip. Why can people be so cruel? Don't they know that it's nice to be nice?

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Star Lord 2

Unlike 2000 AD's Death Planet, which seems a bit like a day trip to Chessington World of Adventure, Planet of the Damned actually appears to be more of a dangerous place. I have only read two episodes so far and already the stranded group has been attacked by the venom spraying natives, drank water that is actually poisonous and were caught in a shower that strips people to the bone.

I had almost forgotten how exotic the Bermuda Triangle seemed to many of us during the seventies. I love it that the strip's narrating voice explains that popular scientific theory at the time has these missing vessels and airplanes passing through a rip in time and space and ending up on an alternate Earth. What is the main theory in 2007? They all just sunk to the bottom of the sea? We all just got a bit confused and no ships or planes disappeared after all?

When the passengers and crew of the missing airplane first arrive on the Planet of the Damned, of all the people amongst them, it’s a writer of science fiction books who assumes the role of leader. Apparently, even though he has only a passing knowledge of science (otherwise he would be a scientist, wouldn’t he) and is in no way an outdoors type, he is the best equipped to cope with them now being in another dimension. But when he shouts the word "Solarific!", it being the catchphrase of one of his characters, even the nerdiest of the survivors must have started to doubt that he should be a science fiction writer let alone the one to make the decisions for them all.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Star Lord 1

Meanwhile, thanks to the success of Star Wars or 2000 AD or a combination of them both, IPC started to publish a second science fiction weekly, Star Lord. Unlike it's sister comic, Star Lord was printed on a higher grade of paper and contained more pages of colour.

Because this is the place that Strontium Dog and Ro-Busters first appeared, strips which featured characters that later went on to become main stays in 2000 AD, I have decided to include it as part of the Prog Slog project. This does not mean that I will also include Tornado, Dice Man, The Megazine, Crisis and Revolver (titles that either went on to amalgamate with 2000 AD or spin out of it) or that I won't. I haven't really decided yet.

For your information, I have never read a single issue of Star Lord before now. At 12 P (3P more than 2000 AD at the time), it was well out of my price range in 1978. Basically, with its painted covers and toned interiors, I thought that it was meant for bigger boys