2000 AD Prog Slog

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Prog 181

Alan Grant's first continuous Strontium Dog story as main script robot, Death's Head, concludes here. Johnny Alpha, Wulf Sternhammer and The Gronk hunt down one mean hombre, Willy Blanko, who already it's been established has donated his own arms to a gunslinger so that he could become the planet's fastest draw. A very generous gesture you might think except they were booby trapped to blow up when in close proximity of Alpha.

Wulf isn't sparing us the use of the word "cucumber" anymore. "Hello, ol' cucumber." "You've been cucumered." "Cucumba, cucumber, cucumber." I'm loving it. I'm really looking forward to seeing him stuffing a sock into a bounty's mouth to keep him quiet, which I remember happening first time around but am yet to encounter during The Slog.

It's noticeable that Grant's writing style has similarities to the strips co-creator, John Wagner, which probably explains why they later go onto work together so often. It's concise and pacey with a sense of the absurd. It does lack the same foreboding atmosphere of the earlier stories but, instead, there are freaky mutants and odd aliens in abundance. Helping to make the script read light and airy is Carlos Ezquerra's art. Since he last drew Strontium Dog we've seen his style grow less murky and more spacious in other strips. For me, Grant is the definitive Strontium Dog script robot, which is really saying something, I think, when you consider that the previous writer was John Wagner.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Prog 179

It seems that no sooner do I make a statement in print that something comes along to contradict it. On this occasion, it was my statement in a previous Slog entry that the planned "Comic Rock" series began and finished with Going Underground by The Jam. In fact, it finished this prog with the Killer Watts album. How do you go from Going Underground, which I recently heard playing on the juke box in The Rover's Return on Coronation Street twenty seven years after it got to number one, to Killer Watts, which even Google has hardly heard of?

This episode of Nemesis the Warlock is as good as the first and seems to feature a high-speed chase thorough the hollowed out planet Termite's communication network. Nemesis's return lacks the ceremony that the character’s first appearance had as this story seems to be a single seven paged thrill split by Tharg into two parts to fill space.

Meanwhile, elsewhere this prog, art robot Kevin O'Neill seems to be wasting his time drawing the Flash Gordon satire, Dash Decent, when he could be working on the getting the first full Nemesis series finished. Two episodes in and already we're being told the thrill will be back in two weeks time. Exactly the same thing happened to single paged funny strip Captain Klep when he joined 2000 AD and look what happened there.

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Star Lord Annual 1981

Now I know where all the budget for this year’s Judge Dredd Annual has been diverted from. The Star Lord 1981 Annual really is rather poor. Made up mostly of reprinted strips and dull looking articles about future trains and communication satellites. Even the Brian Bolland cover seems to lack lustre, as if the artist was bung ten quid and asked to bang an illustration out on the cheap.

There are only four originated strips, as far as I can tell, all by uncredited artists we don’t recognise. Mind Wars returns with an epilogue to the saga which ran in the weekly and got so perfectly wrapped up by writer Alan Hebden. I am disappointed to see that, a year after the war, Tillman still isn’t shagging Ardeni. I suppose making a move on a psychic must be even more intimidating than on a normal girl.

Ro-Busters is amazing for all the wrong reasons. Ro-Jaws takes a dislike to a new member of the crew simply because he’s Italian. The tale has racial insults spewing from the garbage droids mouth through out and, to top it all, no one learns a lesson in the end as the Italian robot is discovered to be a member of the mafia.

It’s a weird time for annuals. The Star Lord comic must have been cancelled at least a year before the publication of this book. At the time, I remember getting Action annuals at Christmas for years after its weekly had finished. What was it that compelled Fleetway to continue to produce annuals inferior to the comics they were based on and had already proven to be commercial failures?

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Star Lord Summer Special 1978

This has taken on a bit of mystique for me, mainly because it has been the single issue of Star Lord that has eluded me for so long. (Well a few months anyway). As you might remember, I decided to read every issue of Star Lord for The Slog (but not Tornado), which required me to seek them all out via eBay. For some reason, on the occasions that a copy appeared there, it rarely sold for less than twenty pounds, including postage, which I considered to be over the odds for an issue.

My understanding has always been that it was the Brendan McCarthy drawn Strontium Dog strip that makes it so desirable. But this doesn't explain why other specials and books featuring his early work remain so affordable. One good example is the 1980 Star Lord annual which contains a fully painted Strontium Dog tale by him. It's lovely to look at but my copy only cost around £2, including postage. Of course, in general, the annuals from this period stink whereas this special is pretty good value for money in some respect. Forty-eight pages of all new comic strip (as far as I am aware), except by a group of creators who, in general, drop off the comic radar afterwards.

McCarthy's black and white work from this period, although good, is small and pulpy. Not much like his imaginative, bold and funny later work that we've all come to know and love. Yes, thinking about it, you’ll be better served buying the Star Lord 1980 Annual for your Brendan McCarthy goodness.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Judge Dredd Annual 1981

It feels as if the editors at 2000 AD had been siphoning off some of the budget for annuals from previous years so that, this year, they can publish some kind of Uber-book in the form of this, the Judge Dredd Annual for 1981. The contrast between this and the first 2000 AD annual, hell, this and this year's 2000 AD annual, is massive. It’s just fantastic!

Firstly, the paper quality and reproduction is top notch. In fact, even after all these years, the copy I just finished reading still smells new (and we all know how important the sense of smell is in the comic reading experience, don't we). Secondly, although there are some features, all the strips are original and by established acts. We got Max Normal in the shuggy hall by Alan Grant and John Casanovas. A surprisingly enjoyable The Spirit tribute Walter the Wobot strip by Gary Rice and Brendan McCarthy. Kevin O'Neill's Shok, the first 2000 AD strip to be made into a film, Hardware, although, admittedly, it was without permission. We got three, count 'em, three judge Dredd strips written by John Wagner and fully painted by Mike McMahon. And all inside a dynamic cover by Brian Bolland. I don't know about you but I am spent just thinking about it.

Pages from Compulsory Purchase, the story of a still living citizen having to donate his heart to someone more important, were reproduced on newsprint in the weekly to promote the book. I remember thinking how good it looked but £1.80 was well out of my price range. I never got given it for Christmas either, unlike the still inferior 2000 AD annual. Now, twenty-seven years later, the first Judge Dredd annual is as good as I hoped it would be. Well worth the wait.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Sci-Fi Special 1980

This is the first Sci-Fi Special I remember buying. After this, even during periods of not going anywhere near the weekly, I continued to buy the special. I don't really know why. I guess I must have really liked it.

What's not to like? Just look at that cover, for example. To me, for a long time, Judge Dredd wasn't a muscle man in leather but a surly, sneering, tall, lanky bloke filled out by pads and boots, thanks to this picture by art robot Mike McMahon. This image pre-dates the phase in mainstream comics of big boots and big guns by fifteen years and is infinitely wittier and more charming than anything that came then.

Inside, there is a notable first; the first Judge Dredd strip drawn by art robot Steve Dillon. At this time, I knew Dillon as the artist on the UK originated SHIELD strip that ran in the first twenty issues of Hulk Comic a year or so before. All I can remember thinking at the time was, "what took Tharg so long to give this guy a gig?" A year is a long time to a thirteen year old.

Even the Future Shocks are memorable, including a particularly gruesome one written by script robot Alan Moore (who suddenly seems to have become a 2000 AD regular) and a Robo-Tale (mainly for being especially silly) where an unstoppable robot circles the world, cutting it in half.

Now that I think about it, in comparison to the weekly, the Sci-Fi specials represented good value for money what with sixty eight pages of strong thrills and features printed on better quality of paper and all for just forty-five pence. No wonder I stuck with them for a long while.

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Prog 177

There’s nothing quite like the last issue of 2000 AD before a re-launch. This prog sees the end of Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World and The Mind of Wolfie Smith. That’s after recent finishes to The VCs and Robo-Hunter. Half of these thrills disappear never to reappear for at least fifteen years. (I think. I keep making these bold statements which get disproved when I open a prog published a few months later for The Slog.)

There is also the conclusion to the two part Tharg story, The Great Human Rip-Off. Art droid Carlos Ezquerra draws twelve pages for this prog, including the cover. This is an uncommon achievement for any art robot but especially impressive on this occasion as I don’t recall a recent prog that Ezquerra hasn’t provided work for which would allow him the time to produce it.

Tharg stories are usually credited to TMO (an abbreviation of The Mighty One) or to no one at all. This tale sees editorial robot Aaln-1 be destroyed by the Dictators of Zrag. In a dramatic gesture of sacrifice, Aaln-1 is blown to bits running to the rescue of his boss, Tharg the Mighty. It’s meant as a parallel to Aaln-1’s human equivalent, Alan Grant, leaving his editorial job at 2000 AD to pursue a career in writing for comics. You might not be surprised to learn that the heroic end to Aaln-1 is written by script robot Grant himself.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Prog 175

After my initial anxieties regarding the racial under/overtones in the strip, The VCs didn't turn out to be too bad in the end. In fact, I could almost believe that any similarity between the ‘geeks’ and a race or nationality in the real world is purely coincidental. It's as if Smith's father's verbal slip up (as mentioned in a previous Slog entry, he "accidentally" referred to the Geeks as "gooks") might have been script robot Gerry Finley-Day letting us know that the association is something that had never occurred to him before then.

Okay, I sound like I'm trying to convince myself more than anyone but I'm not convinced that the association stuck for most of the thrill's run. When I encountered the VCs as a kid, I thought of the geeks as being a more modern and literal interpretation of the word itself; "other than us"; "less than us"; "those with an interest in and knowledge about something that we're not interested in or knowledgeable about". Basically, alien. In the case of this strip, the Geeks are meant to be the enemy; meant to mean nothing more to us than Doctor Who monsters or Godzilla adversaries.

This isn't to say that the VCs is a strip worthy of being in 2000 AD's Premier League; now that I've read it from beginning to end, I am still baffled on the occasions that I encounter old school readers who refer to it as their favourite strip. But there has been some great artwork by Mike McMahon, Gary Leach and Cam Kennedy, and some great moments where grown up me has got worked up over the ego driven decisions made by those administrators in charge of the troops.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Prog 173

It's in this and the previous episode of The Judge Child that we see a display of my favourite stylistic features of art robot Brian Bolland; his ability to cross meticulously detailed realistic artwork with the absurd. Judge Dredd visits the planet Ab, a truly alien place where escalators go to nowhere and 2000 AD is read upside down and back to front. Bolland manages to draw the dignified crossed with the ridiculous giving his art an extra level of the surreal. It's an aspect of his style that has made many of the hundreds of covers that he has drawn over the years since especially striking.

We also witness a side to Dredd that previously we had been spared. Last episode, Judge Lopez was fed a single drop of Oracle Spice, the dangerous hallucinating drug that, it is hoped, will reveal the whereabouts of the Judge Child, under orders from Judge Dredd. Dredd, who it should be noted doesn't normally think anything of risking his own life in pursuit of a perp, claims that Lopez's psychological profile makes him the most appropriate for exposure to the spice. But, over the last few weeks, Dredd has been writing asides in his mission log about Lopez refusing to shave off his mustache. When Dredd returns to the ship this episode, Hershy tearfully informs him that Lopez has died.

Around this time, I was turning thirteen years old and was in the midst of chicken pox. I remember the artwork and the realisation that Dredd is a bastard took on a real potency. Even at that age, I knew that "psychological profile" was code for "doesn't conform" or "has a mustache ". It's a lesson that's stayed with me into adult life.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Prog 171

While reading each Nerve Centre, I've been on the look out for celebrity names for my Before They Were Famous files (stored entirely inside my head). Already, I've noticed a letter from an Earthlet who could be comedian Simon Day asking Tharg about humour on his home planet. This prog, I read this:

"Dear Tharg

These are all the stories that have appeared in 2000 AD from prog 1 - 163 and the full number of pages they have run. I have counted them all."

There then follows a list of all the strips and associated quantity of pages.

"Earthlet Simon Pegg, Mansfield. £3 winner."

I love the idea that this is from the same Simon Pegg who goes on to make Spaced, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, and becomes a 2000 AD creator robot himself, albeit for a short while. "Ha ha ha. Big shot comedian turned Hollywood star counted all the pages to all the strips in 2000 AD between issues 1 and 163! What a loser!"

This is Tharg's reply; "Thank you, Earthlet. You've obviously put a lot of work into this list. However, the same could have been obtained by pressing the third button down on the right-hand panel of my awesome computer, and in mere seconds, too." Sounds like Tharg's computer might be running a beta version of Windows Vista to me. (Queue self satisfied chuckling).

One of the fantasies I had when I read American comics would be that I was an editor for their UK division. I would divide each comic into fours for what would be the imaginary weekly reprints. I would also do the same for 2000 AD strips but in reverse. It's a daydream that I felt enriched the comic reading experience. The thing is, I am in no position to laugh at Simon Pegg, celebrity or real person, for counting all those pages because, now, entrenched in The Slog as I am, a weird behavior in itself, I find myself still indulging that daydream to an extent. My imaginary American edition of Judge Dredd is currently up to issue 37.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Prog 170

This prog contains a notable first that has occurred slightly earlier than I was expecting; the first script written by Alan Moore. As you should know, Moore goes on to become the most well-known and respected comic writer of the last thirty years. Here, his beginnings are as modest as some might expect; a well crafted but understated Ro-Jaws' Robo Tale called Killer in the Cab drawn by John Richardson.

It's interesting to see how panel heavy each of the four pages are and how word heavy each panel. Moore seems to have squashed together as much plot and character interplay that, a few years later, he goes on to include in a twenty-two paged story. The current episode of The Judge Child seems spacious and brief in comparison.

The twist doesn't really work either. Ro-Jaws' Robo Tales are like specialist Future Shocks; short stories with a twist at the end, except they always feature a robot. The twist in Killer in the Cab is that the unseen character on the end of the CB Radio is an android, not really a surprise as the reader should be waiting for the robot to appear at some point, anyway.

This prog is actually an issue I encountered first time around and, although I remember the strip, it isn't as memorable as, say, this episode of The Judge Child. The experience isn't comparable to, a couple of years later, reading the first issue of Warrior, noticing that two strips in particular seemed good (Marvel Man and V for Vendetta), deliberately turning back the pages to see who wrote them and noting that they were both written by the same guy, Alan Moore.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Prog 167

Comic Rock, the first and, fortunately, last in a planned series of thrills inspired by contemporary pop hits of the day, appears in this prog. It’s the first appearance of Nemesis the Warlock in a beautifully conceived and rendered strip by creator robots Pat Mills and Kevin O'Neill. In fact, if you have a copy of this prog, I advice you to dig it out and pour over this comic strip right now. Great, isn't it?

I've always felt that successful mainstream comics are better off distancing themselves from any overt association with pop music. Apart from science fiction, little dates faster than rock and just because on this occasion the strip was inspired by Going Underground by The Jam, which so far seems to have stood the test of time, future episodes could just as easily have been influenced by tracks by Hue and Cry or Fleetwood Mac. John Wagner and Ron Smith had the right idea of how to treat pop musicians when they featured in a recent episode of The Judge Child a more timeless rock satire in the form of Rockin' Rocky Rock.

By, in general, not desperately associating itself with whatever faddish pop trend was occurring at the time, 2000 AD managed to be even more cool for it. It seemed to get more coverage in publications like NME, Time Out and ID Magazine, anyway. It was only later, when it started to run feature pages on house and heavy rock music that it begins to slip towards being embarrassing.

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Prog 166

This prog served as a reminder that 2000 AD is meant to be savoured, not torn through as if it’s being read against the clock. Sometimes, whilst engaging in The Slog, I’ve been tempted to just get the job of finishing an issue done so I can get on with the rest of my day or go to sleep, depending on when I’m reading it.

It’s this prog’s episode of The Judge Child that has reminded me that The Slog is meant to be an enjoyed process. I remember first time around being completely awe struck by how good Mike McMahon’s artwork is for this episode. Although an occasional reader of 2000 AD at this time, I don’t remember ever pouring over an issue like I had, say, a Marvel comic, until this one.

In The Judge Child part 11, the space ship carrying Judge Dredd and crew enters the mysterious Hadean System. An uncharted planet opens up before them, grabs the ship with its tendrils and closes itself around it. What we see next is the crews fight to escape the creature before the ship is digested which involves blasting their way out into an acid duct then into the blood stream where upon they bomb its heart. In the end they fly out of the planet which now hangs in space looking like a giant smashed orange.

The art is as good as I remember it. (How often can you say that about anything from your childhood?) It’s expressive, stylish and inky with atmosphere. I’m pouring over it again exactly as I remember twelve year old me doing so over twenty seven years ago.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Prog 164

Please don't think that because I haven't mentioned the return of Robo Hunter yet, which is well into its run of Day of the Droids right now, that I am indifferent to it. I just got distracted by a compulsion to cover shorter run strips, that's all. You know, despite Day of the Droids being considered a classic from this period of 2000 AD, I don't think I ever got to read the thrill in its entirety before. I feel shame, great shame at this realisation.

Two great reoccurring characters make their first appearances in this story; Slade's idiot assistant, Hoagy, and his robot cigar, Stogie. Apparently, Stogie came about because publishers, IPC, had a clamp down on smoking in all of their comics. John Wagner's inspired solution was to turn his cigar into a robot, a talking Nicorette inhaler with a Cuban accent. Despite owning tiny arms and legs, for much of Day of the Droids, Stogie is drawn by art robot Ian Gibson inside Slade's mouth, emitting smoke much like a real cigar and basically defying the orders from those even mightier than Tharg himself. Aye Caramba!

Hoagy is the type of character that Wagner (here using his pseudonym of TB Grover) writes so well; the idiot. Usually, Wagner's idiots are run over by trucks or shot through the head but occasionally some survive to frustrate the protagonist. In Day of the Droids, Hoagy places an ad in a newspaper for a job he wants but doesn't exist, Robo Hunter Assistant, and then applies for it. The first Slade knows of this is when his office fills up with angry applicants. I've always loved Wagner's sense of farce, even when I was twelve years old and believed that TB Grover and John Howard were two different people. Yup.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Prog 161

Two major thrills end this prog, Fiends of the Eastern Front and Blackhawk. I'm reticent to say, "never to be seen again" because Wolfie Smith and MACH Zero return next issue and I didn’t expect to see them again while doing The Slog. Both strips end suitably grim. In Fiends, Schmitt is turned into a vampire. In Blackhawk, the cast tries to escape the pull of a black hole by clinging to a network of logs tied together. Well, it was worth a try.

My favorite Judge Dredd multi part epic, The Judge Child, is now under way. This episode, Dredd has tracked the child down to Mutieworld in Texas City only to see him being dragged into a car by The Angel Gang while trapped inside the head of a very tall statue. First time around in 1980, I only got to read episodes sporadically because of buying 2000 AD in fits and bits. I didn't get to read The Judge Child Quest, as it was later renamed, until it was re-reprinted as an American Eagle Comics limited series years later during the mid eighties. McMahon's art looks amazing now, printed big, even though it’s on newsprint brittle with age.

Already in The Judge Child we've seen Dredd's Lawmaster bike become a personality, moving independently and wise cracking as it shoots dead mutants. Some long standing characters make their first appearances in this epic but, interestingly, outside of it, I have no recollection of Dredd's bike ever behaving in such a way again. This is a shame because I always liked his smart-ass motorbike.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Prog 159

After establishing in recent posts that, in general, 2000 AD has been quite progressive in it's use of non-white characters, e.g. Harlem Heroes, a support character from the Judge Dredd thrill is coloured funny on this issue's cover. This guy, who was nameless in the strip, who acted as Dredd's informer and confidant while enslaved to The Garbage King, I thought was black, mainly because art robot Ron Smith seemed to think he was black as well. However, according to the cover to this prog, the guy's green. Well, who'd a thunk it?

Harlem Heroes was nearly not the only strip from the early progs to star black characters in the lead. According to an article in the most recent issue of Red Eye, art robot Mike McMahon originally drew Judge Dredd as a black man. The circumstances as to why this was so and why it didn't catch on with all the other creators involved I don't know, but it does make me wish that I could gaze into an alternate Earth where Dredd was clearly established as being black.

Then there's Blackhawk, currrently appearing in the comic. In the latest episode, Blackhawk remembers the time he was forced into slavery back on Earth. In flashback, we see him being dragged away in chains by a roman soldier who is calling him a "black pig". Since then, Tornado, the comic Blackhawk originally appeared in, has amalgamated into 2000 AD seeing the character get abducted by aliens (who, incidentally, called him an Earth pig), have his soul stolen, get sucked into a black hole and get disfigured in one of his many battles he's had trying to track down the creature that snatched it.

Whilst he's been with us, Blackhawk's journey has been a true nightmare, thanks mainly to the stunning artwork by art robot Messimo Bellardinelli. The array of freakish creatures that tap at the wrong side of the reader's brain is stunning. The reality defying moments seem wrought from a bad trip. (For example, he draws the black hole looking like a smooth sphere in a giant teacup on a saucer. Now that's just wrong!).

Script robot Alan Grant (using the pseudonym of Alvin Gaunt) has had the sense to write the strip so that it plays to Bellardinelli's strengths; artistic madness. He has also had the sense, this episode, to remind us of Blackhawk's ethnicity, as if to imply that the character's single-minded search for his soul and consequential journey into hell is symbolic. After starting not rating this strip very highly I now find that there is something both guttural and honest about it that seems to elevate it high above my original preconceptions. I am certain that, when it finishes, I will be utterly spent.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Prog 158

Today I'm talking about Gerry Finlay-Day's Fiends of the Eastern Front that might be interesting to you as I was critical of his The VCs in yesterday’s post. In Fiends, the diary of a young German soldier written in 1944 is found during 1980. Hans Schmitt's unit is fighting alongside a team of Romanians who he has discovered also happen to be vampires. Things get complicated for Schmitt when his unit receives news that Romania has switched sides.

During 1980, I was only buying 2000 AD occasionally so although I remember Fiends I don't remember ever reading it. I think this is partly due to the strip being continuous but, if I'm honest. it was mainly due to me feeling that it had no place being in 2000 AD. This was a science fiction paper, not a war or horror comic. I still wonder if the strip was created with its equal appropriateness for Battle in mind.

It hasn't helped that I've always felt vampires to be an overrated genre idea. What do they do? Drink blood… turn into bats… burn when exposed to daylight… get driven by powerful urges... How can this have generated so many stories over the centuries? However, I genuinely think that that Fiends is a good idea. The recent graphic novel, 30 Days of Night, is about to be released as a movie. Yet in fiends, the vampires enjoying the experience of weeks of nighttime in Antarctica, the premise for 30 Days of Night, is merely a four-paged episode.

Most interesting of all is that the main protagonist is a German soldier. This is quite a challenging and, coupled with the vampirism, dark idea at the time in what is a children's comic after all. It's thanks to strips like this that I find myself wondering if Finley-Day is a better comic creator than history gives him credit for.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Prog 155

I decided that I don't want to approach The Slog carrying the same baggage that I had when I stopped reading 2000 AD during the nineties. I want to approach it with the benefit of distance, as prejudice free as possible, just to see if the strips and creator robots stand the test of time; to see if I was right or wrong to feel the way I did about certain editorial decisions. It was thanks to this approach that I found myself enjoying the work of Alan Hebden, much to my surprise. So, after giving myself over to the idea that Gerry Finlay-Day might be nearer to a Premier League script robot than a fourth division one resulted in critical remarks about his work on the VCs by regular Slog commenter Mat Tait, my tactic fell into doubt.

First time around, I didn't particularly care for the VCs, despite some stunning artwork by Cam Kennedy and Gary Leach. It seemed to be like every other war comic strip around at the time except it was set in space. But now, my intentions to approach it again with a fresh mind have been soured by Mat's point about the bad guys in this strip, The Geeks, only being just a couple of vowels away from Gooks.

Mat has a point. In a recent episode, the crew goes to Mars, which has been colonised by the Chinese, and frequently refers to the population as "chinkies". In another, we meet Steve Smith's father who, thanks to a verbal slip up, refers to The Geeks as "The Gooks". There's nothing particularly subtle about that, Gerry.

But it is only March 1980. My memories of popular entertainment during the seventies is Jim Davidson's Chalky character and comedians asking black audience members where they are from so that, when they replied Rotherham, it got a big laugh. Racially derogative language was part of the mainstream at this time still and doesn't really start to become unacceptable for a couple of years yet.

When the thrills written by Wagner and Mills are an imaginative, beautiful mixture of satire and characterisation with great pulp sci-fi ideas thrown in, Gerry Findlay-Day's VCs can only feel slightly stagnant, closed minded and sterile in comparison.

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Prog 153

What is it with Pat Mills and Old One Eye, the dinosaur that took weeks to die in the first run of Flesh? First their was Old One Eye, then her son, Satanus, who he wrote into The Cursed Earth, then her grandson, Golgotha, who appeared all armoured up on Mars in ABC Warriors and now there’s poor Rex Peters who has been slipped the blood of Satanus in a drink in the current Judge Dredd story. Dinosaurs aren’t that good, Pat. Let it go. I am kidding, of course. Actually, there’s something a touch thrilling about being able to trace the transformation that Rex is currently experiencing back through multiple strips.

This is a period of 2000 AD where it is understood that the comic might actually last for the foreseeable future and not encounter cancellation like so many of its peers have. This comfort seems reflected in many of the thrills that currently appear in it. There’s a sense of creative investment; of the rough edges that made the comic so appealing originally having been filed down.

My alcohol damaged memory tells me that this is a period of the comic where Mills keeps his contribution to modest levels on principle. It seems to me that this story, Blood of Satanus, is him making the point that 2000 AD is becoming relatively sanitised in comparison to the early progs by making connections between what it is now and the early, dinosaur thrill, Flesh. Even art robot, Ron Smith, who normally can’t resist acknowledging the absurd, draws this tale with an uncharacteristic savagery and pulpy nastiness.

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Friday, July 06, 2007

Prog 151

It's the Judge Dredd story that went on to become, for many readers, their first exposure to the strip; Judge Death. Death, the twisted judge from a dimension that reasoned, as all crime issss committed by the living that life itsssself sssshould be a crime. It's the tale where you can't help but think, yeah, Mega City One might be a sub fascist future state but it can't be nearly as bad as the place that Judge Death is from.

As well a meeting Judge Death for the first time, we also get to meet Judge Anderson; the highly-strung and, let's face it, very attractive operative from Psi Division. I am now torn between the very wriggly Angelina from The Stainless Steel Rat (who, this episode, is operated on and has all murderous tendencies removed, thank God) and the Brian Bolland drawn Anderson. There's something about the way that she totters around in her high heeled judge boots, the faces she pulls when she's being processed by Death and the way she teases Dredd that I find irresistible.

It seems ages ago now, it might even have been as far back as when The Day The Law Died was running, that Tharg addressed a reader's concern at the lack of women judges by saying that script robot Howard (script robot Wagner's writing pseudonym at the time) was in the process of creating a major female character for the thrill. If that character is Judge Anderson, then those readers looking forward to her arrival must have found it frustrating especially when, one prog after her eventual appearance, the story ends with her processed by Judge Death and encased in Boing, the miracle spray.

Judge Death; this is the story that goes on to become the ideal starting point for many future new Judge Dredd readers. Here, both Wagner's writing and Bolland's art are at their tightest yet. In relation to the rest of the strips in 2000 AD at the moment, the current Judge Dredd thrill definitely stands out. It's no wonder really that it is used for years to come as a shining example of what the Galaxy's greatest comic is capable of.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Prog 149

It's thanks to the wonders of the Internet age that I am able to reach a gap in The Slog, go onto eBay to fill it and be able to continue within half a week. It just goes to show how hard the post office employees must work to have got prog 148 to me so quickly especially as it was sent second class the same week that two days of industrial action took place. Anyway, there would have been a slight delay anyway as I had received my fortnightly delivery of new comics on Tuesday morning. To remind you, new comics and graphic novels take priority over The Slog. Oh, and real life, I suppose.

When I first got into comics, my parents were delighted as they imagined me moving onto books, then academic success and financial security as an adult. They let me know how disappointed they were that I stayed where I was, even banning me from buying comics for two months; a life time when you're nine years old. To appease them, I would occasionally make sure that I was seen reading a proper book and I remember a couple of these being The Stainless Steel Rat paperbacks.

Now one of these books, I don't remember which but let's say it's the first in series, is being adapted by creator robots Kevin Gosnell and Carlos Ezquerra for 2000 AD. I don't remember much about the novels, other than having enjoyed them, but the comic strip version is okay. Gosnell seems to have boiled the text down to the consistency that you expect from 2000 AD although the strip is a bit caption heavy. Each episode works well as exactly that; an episode.

For me, Ezquerra’s art is the big sell. Slippery Jim diGriz looks like a late seventies porn star or the actor that just missed getting the lead in Space 1999. Angelina looks like one hell of a sexy bad girl. In fact, if she were my girlfriend, I would happily overlook the occasional mass murder, just as long as she didn't do it too often. No more than once a week, anyway.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Annual 1981

I've jumped ahead slightly in the prog order because I have reached an issue in The Slog that turns out to be missing. Don't worry, it's on its way to me from eBay, but to keep the blog moving I thought I could read the 1981 annual. I was halfway through it that it occurred to me that reading the next Sci-Fi special might have been more appropriate from a chronological point of view.

Even thought there is nothing to indicate that the budget has increased, this year's annual is a definate improvement on last year's. To begin with, the cover features characters that we recognise from the comic which is a step in the right direction; none of this painty nonsense meant to recreate the feeling of a cheap science fiction paper back. Inside, there is the usual high number of Future Shocks, reprints and two colour pages. There is also a high ratio of text stories this time around but at least they either star characters we know or have accompanying illustrations by artists we recognise.

There is a sense that the editorial duties haven't been entirely outsourced this time. For example, many of the features referance characters that we know from the weekly. I can imagine opening this up on Christmas morning at my grandparents' house, miles away from my comic collection, and it tiding me over quite happily until I get home. Definately the best annual of the lot so far but still below par.

As it happens, I used to own this annual. My favourite feature in it was an article on how an issue of 2000 AD is put together. In it was printed a sample page of script to Judge Dredd. Years later, it was this that I would refer to when writing all those unsolicted Future Shocks that got so cruely rejected.

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Monday, July 02, 2007

Prog 147

The Slog has been encountering hiccups recently. To begin with, I was unable to make any updates for a day because my computer had to go back to PC World for repair. This morning, I reached over from my bed to read prog 148 and found myself opening a copy of 149. It turns out that my eBay win of progs 1 through to 1100 is missing at least one issue that is supposed to be there.

This isn't the first time that I've encountered problems with The Slog. Previously, while reading issue 6 of Star Lord, I noticed my copy had half a page cut out from a Strontium Dog story. In the end I had no choice but to live with the disfigurement so that The Slog could carry on. (Incidentally, I eventually got a replacement copy that arrived last week). I am still to find an affordable copy of the Star Lord Summer Special, which for completist sake I feel I have to read, but for finance sake haven't bought yet. (For some reason, when the special appears on eBay, it ends up selling for twenty to thirty pounds.)

Fortunately, I was able to locate a copy of 2000 AD 148 on eBay immediately, but because of the postal strikes I am not likely to receive it before the end of the week at least. In the meantime, to keep The Slog moving, I am considering jumping ahead somewhat and reading the 1981 annual, even though it's only January 1980 right now.

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