2000 AD Prog Slog

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Prog 475

Bad City Blue is the current thrill written by Alan Grant, probably with assistance from John Wagner, using the pseudonym of “Craig Lipp”. Set on board a city in space, it's the story of a below average intelligence hit man for the state who discovers that all of the "category A" citizens (rich people) have left the city because it's on the verge of being sucked in a black hole. Bad City Blue seems to have been written especially for ex-art editing robot Robin Smith to draw. Smith isn't an artist that I’ve always like but here, he has clearly taken a lot of effort and pride in his work on the strip. Unfortunately, as good as the artwork might be, I'm not finding the thrill itself particularly engaging. Fundamentally, the idea for the story is sound but there's something about the way that Lipp is unfolding the tale and the language he is using which is deadening it.

To make up for it, Grant, almost definitely with Wagner, wraps up another corker of a Judge Dredd two parter, The Law According to Dredd. By chance, Dredd uncovers a mutant in the Cursed Earth who is impersonating him and passing off the cuff laws along with cruel sentences. What follows in one hell of a law man versus mutants brawl in the irradiated dirt drawn by the mighty Kevin O'Neill. Yes, I know, I thought he had left 2000 AD to draw American comics too and, like you, I'm not expecting the pound I contributed to his leaving present back any time soon.

Labels: , , , , ,

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sci-Fi Special 1986

There's usually something interesting happening in a sci-fi special. Like, for example, the Pete Milligan written Rogue Trooper thrill drawn by current principle artist Jose Ortiz. Two Nort soldiers turn against their commanding officer and go AWOL. Turning traitor is a big decision for them. Unfortunately, Rogue Trooper stumbles across the pair and Gunner auto fires, shooting them dead. In the weekly, it's been well over a year since Rogue found the traitor general and left the hostile environment of Nu Earth behind. I guess everyone still thinks as this being the definitive version of the strip.
The real star is the Judge Dredd strip, Beyond the Wall by Wagner, Grant and Steve Dillon. A fourteen year old is arrested for suspicious behavior. When the judges learn that the boy has regularly been visiting a secret garden, Dredd contacts the owner only for her to say she isn't interested in pressing charges. Dredd isn't satisfied with letting the boy go and believing him to have an attitude problem, charges him with Withholding Information and sentences him to six months.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Prog 473

Wagner and Grant might be writing pretty much most of 2000 AD at the moment but what I think of as the second generation of creators is beginning to exert itself. The tight fighting unit of Brett Ewins, Pete Milligan and Brendan McCarthy are making their present felt. Okay, Ewins and McCarthy have been around since the early days but they’ve been away and returned with a higher profile, crazier ideas and a thoroughly modern writer in tow.

Ewins is currently drawing the second long Anderson PSI Division story The Possessed, written by Alan Grant with possibly John Wagner using the name “R Clark”. This is another good example of decompressed story telling 1986 style. On one hand, the dialogue is thin, but on the other, every line counts. In this story telling environment, Ewins’ art looks big and iconic.

This prog, McCarthy provides nine pages of art. Sooner or Later with Milligan sits on the back page like a pop art assault. Now a single page long every week after its six paged opener in prog 468, I remember back in 1986 enjoying and being irritated by it equally. I had a sense that Milligan was a writer with literate sensibilities who fell into writing comics by association. I have no idea if I was right to think that but the scales are tipped towards enjoying Sooner or Later this time around.

McCarthy’s big artistic contribution is to Judge Dredd Riders on the Storm. Lavish blacks and big oval shapes; oval helmets, oval view screens and oval buildings. The Earthlet eye is tricked into thinking its experiencing high definition, big budget CGI affects when, actually, all it is seeing is great art reproduced on cheap newsprint.

This prog’s notable first and another contribution to my second generation theory; script robot John Smith writes the Future Shock.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Prog 471

John Wagner and Alan Grant have always been prolific but now they’re writing everything for 2000 AD between them. I say everything but there’s the back page thrill Sooner or Later written by Peter Milligan. Still, everything except for a single page remains an impressive quantity and none of this includes the work that they are producing for elsewhere such as, for example, Doomlord for Eagle. I’ve always felt that 2000 AD is at its best when there is a consistency of tone and usually this is achieved when all the thrills are produced by the smallest team possible.

The least engaging thrill at the moment is ACE Trucking Co. It feels as if the story of the two Aces attempt to smuggle class A drugs, I mean, Boozlbugs to Uckpuck the chicken planet is over running. That’s not to say that it doesn’t still manage to be entertaining and everyone involved isn’t having fun but I have a sense that Wagner, Grant and Belardinelli are procrastinating so that their return to the less successful Mean Team is delayed.

The best thrill continues to be Judge Dredd. In this prog, The Exploding Man returns to Mega City One to blow up a sector house in memory of his young family killed during The Apocalypse War. John Higgins, whose straight artwork has always been underrated, does a great job drawing this tale. Considering the writers’ output at the moment I find it amazing that Dredd has been enjoying such a long and diverse run of self contained stories recently.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Prog 469

This prog’s centre pages promotion is the only excuse I need to talk about Oink, the new pig based comedy comic for boys and girls. Like 2000 AD, it was published by giant multinational IPC but unlike their comics normally, was run off site in Cheshire. It seemed as if everyone involved understood that the best children’s comics had at one time a great sense of anarchy; even The Beano, now pillar of the establishment, in the dim distant past might have encouraged unruly behaviour in its grubby faced readers. For the new generation of Kids’ humour comics to succeed, they needed the space to be naughty.

Like 2000 AD, there was a broad range of strong, individual creators. Lew Stringer, who had been writing enthusiastically in the fan press for years about British comics, provided Tom Thug and Pete and his Pimple. Jeremy Banks, AKA Banx, who I think of as the Oink equivalent of Mike McMahon, provided some of the more surreal strips with Burp! The Smelly Alien, Mister Big Nose and Van Hellsong. The Daily Mail’s Tony Husband drew the heart breaking Horace (Ugly Face) Watkins. BBC Radio’s Marc Riley, at this time already known for the bands he had been in and fired from, provided Harry the Head and Snatcher Sam. Big headed, man/boy comedian Frank Sidebottom provided readers with his elaborately prepared updates on events from Timperly. BBC 4’s Screenwipe’s Charlie Brooker, who can’t have been old enough to have left school at this time, gave us Regurgitating Robbie. An impressive list of creators and only a sample of those who regularly contributed to Oink.

It’s heart breaking to think that such a great comic failed. Early on, it might have seemed that Oink was doing well when its frequency switched from fortnightly to weekly, but that didn’t last long and, once it was dropped to monthly well, the end seemed inevitable. Hints at why it didn’t succeed can be seen in the first issue in strips drawn by Viz Comic creator Chris Donald. The very adult Viz was, at this time, a publishing phenomenon and had inspired many inferior, opportunistic, copy publications. Oink appeared at a time when both the retailers and customers were confused by the idea of a humour comic aimed at children. Consequently, it was often racked on the top shelves alongside Viz and the soft porn magazines creating resentment amongst stupid people (of which there have always been many) for not featuring swear words, sexual language and ads for explicit telephone lines.

To me, Oink continues to hold a special place in my heart. Whenever I think of it, I daydream about the creators reuniting for, when I’m feeling fanciful, a one off special or, when I’m at my most delusional, a return of the weekly.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, April 18, 2008

Prog 466

Eras are now starting to end at 2000 AD with the recent death of Wulf and now the final part of Halo Jones Book Three, this prog. Book Three covers a depressing period in the military for Halo, during which, the once bright and bubbly eighteen year old from Book One becomes damaged and institutionalised by her time in combat. In this story she witnesses the death of many of her friends and ends it by her killing her lover, General Cannibal, before stealing his space Cruiser. First she escaped the confines of The Hoop, then the Clara Pandy and now the galaxy itself, never to be seen again (apart from in reprint collections and the occasional pin-up).

After this prog, apart from a single page for Prog 500, script robot Alan Moore is never seen again either. Apparently, he and Ian Gibson intended for Halo Jones to run for nine books. Why there were never any more, I don’t know. In 1986, Moore has been writing Swamp Thing for three years while the hit Watchmen had started to be serialised. Moore had reached a level of respectability and achievement that no comic writer had ever achieved before and he was still in the ascension. I think I have always assumed he had been distracted by the higher profile and better paid gigs in America and, ultimately, never found the time to carry on with Halo Jones. When he did find it he had fallen out with DC Comics and had given up on genre comics altogether. When he eventually returned to superheroes and the like, Halo must have seemed like an old idea to him and besides, 2000 AD will have changed a lot by then anyway.

Of course, another explanation might be that as Moore has fallen out with the majority of his publishers over the years then why wouldn’t he have with Tharg? It’s almost certain that he would only have been interested in returning to Halo Jones if the rights to the thrill reverted to him and Gibson. Whatever the reason for its discontinuation, in my mind, Halo Jones remains unfinished. What a massive shame. Since Book One, we have totally understood the character’s desire to break free of her surroundings. I want to know where else there is for her to go after she decides that the universe is too small for her. I want to know what Halo thinks when there is literally nowhere new for her to go at the end of Book Nine. Will she find what she has been looking for all her life or should she have stayed on The Hoop all along?

I don’t want the last time I see Halo to be as a damaged and hard faced war vet… I know I am being very naive when I say this… And I know that it probably wouldn’t necessarily be good for Moore, Gibson or 2000 AD for it to happen… But wouldn’t it be cool if they sorted things out so that the remaining six books could be made.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Prog 465

There’s no way I can continue to deny it to myself; Wulf Sternhammer is dead. Johnny Alpha’s loyal partner from Strontium Dog after being staked out onto the ground twenty weeks ago has, this prog, broken free only to get shot dead by Max Bubba and his mutie henchmen. That bastard! I suppose someone else reading this story for the first time at this point might say, “he could still be alive. Maybe something we haven’t thought of has happened enabling him to survive” but I remember encountering this tale twenty two years ago. Wulf is definitely dead; for at least fourteen years, anyway.

I loved Wulf. Wulf was funny and, more importantly, very loyal to Johnny. This was an important relationship in 2000 AD. Other major character relationships contain a heavy dose of cynicism (ACE and the rest of the crew of the Speedo Ghost, for example), a resentful dependability (Rogue Trooper and his bio-chip buddies) or were non existent altogether (Judge Dredd). 2000 AD readers deserved a friendship between characters that was genuine and sincere.

Why Wagner, Grant and Ezquerra decided to do away with Wulf, I can only speculate. Were the writers one-upping each other? Were they daring each other to kill Wulf but never really believing that the other would do it? Maybe they did it to engage more cynical readers with the thrills in 2000 AD. No one really believed that a character as liked as Wulf would actually be written out. If they could do it to Wulf then they could do it to anyone. Perhaps they did it because Wulf’s role as a partner to the otherwise silent Johnny was becoming redundant since the introduction of characters such as Middenface McNulty.

I can’t help but find myself drawing comparisons between the events in this story and those in mainstream American comics during 2008 where the killing off of previously untouchable characters is becoming a trend. The twenty part flash back recounting the story of Johnny and Wulf’s first meeting is a good example of comic strip decompressed story telling except done well. Every action has been choreographed, every line of dialogue considered, every moment savoured. You can see that Wulf’s killing, as senseless as it might be (which could be the point) came about not in an attempt to generate publicity for Strontium Dog and 2000 AD but to engage the reader.

Wulf Sternhammer; may Valhalla welcome you, old cucumber.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Prog 463

Judge Dredd The Falucci Tape, a three part story which finishes this prog, confirms something that older Squaxx Dek Thargo have suspected for a long time; that judges aren't allowed to experience loving, sexual relationships like the rest of us citizens are. They are married to the law and there's no space in their lives for anything that might be a distraction. That means no fishing at the weekends, no collecting stamps and definitely no knookey. This probably explains why judges often seem over zealous with their day-sticks when on crowd control duty. Dredd might be a big, tough lawman who has been to the Moon and gets to ride around on a cool bike all the time but at least I've done it. (I'm not doing it again, though; I got my head stuck). *

This prog's notable first: A Future Shock written by new script robot Grant Morrison. Hotel Harry Felix has a good set up, bounces along nicely, has a fun twist and, at just two pages long, contains absolutely no fat.

PJ Nobel writes to the Nerve Centre moved by the plight of a reader who contacted Tharg in a few weeks ago telling him that his move to the Netherlands prevents him from buying copies of 2000 AD, the Galaxy's greatest comic. PJ has offered to buy a second copy every week to forward onto the other Earthlet. What a generous, thoughtful young man. If my memory is correct, Tharg advised the other reader to contact an international subscription service. My advice to PJ is to confirm that the reader isn't able to get 2000 AD by any other means before committing himself. Presuming the guy covers the cost, you still don't want to feel obliged to post him the comic every week for, let's say, twenty two years (and counting).

Finally, 2000 AD goes up to 26p Earth price next prog.

* Alexie Sayle joke from sometime during the 1990s.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Prog 461

The journey of Slaine and party through the tomb of Grimnismal concludes this prog. It turns out that Slaine was too thick to be driven crazy by the sight of all nine of his/her/its dimensions. Instead, he cut the Dark God's feeding tubes so that he/she/it experienced full Warp Out. The story seems to end happily with Slaine, Nest, Ukko (weighed down by treasure) and Myrddin flying away from the devastation atop Pluke, the good macrobe.

I might not have taken part in the role playing game associated to this story due to, well, contempt I suppose, but I would say that it has had an interesting affect on the actual thrill. Each episode seems to have been constructed in such a way that it begins by resolving last week's cliff hanger before moving on to set up this week's. The framework that script robot Pat Mills uses to sit the strip upon is also versatile enough to accommodate the dynamic between the characters very successfully. Further more, the pacing, like the story telling currently taking place in Strontium Dog (more about that another time, Wulf fans), is a well choreographed example of comic strip decompression. During the Time Killer story, episodes were often dense with ideas and events but for this tale, partly because we have a better understanding of the concepts introduced before, I think that it's been a very enjoyable journey.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, April 14, 2008

Prog 459

ITEM: Slaine, whilst squaring up against Grimnismal, has the protective ruins rubbed off his face by Elfric so that he ends this episode seeing the Dark God in all nine of his mind breaking dimensions. That's up/down, left/right, forward/back, time, gravity, paper, scissors, stone and Henry Kelly.

ITEM: In Judge Dredd Last Voyage of the Flying Dutchman, a sky boat has been hijacked by radical mutants determined to fly it into the Halls of Justice. Obviously, the mutants' plot has similarities to real life events in New York during 2001 and obviously, these similarities are nothing but coincidence. This is one of the symptoms of a post 911 world; terrorist plots of this type that appeared in genre fiction before September 2001 have a sadness associated with them when encountered after.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Prog 457

ITEM: Currently, in ACE Trucking Co, our Ace has managed to survive being burned alive in the heart of a sun by getting himself transferred to an alternative universe where he is discovered by the Ace there, point intact, and the rest of the Speedo Ghost crew. Meanwhile, art robot Bellardinelli's personal appearances are becoming increasingly audacious. In this prog, he and the biplane he is flying occupies approximately one quarter of a page. Even more amazing, this seems to have absolutely nothing to do with what else is happening on the page. Surely, Tharg has something to say on the matter and, consequently, this must be the final PA by Messimo I would think.

ITEM: After making an error in judgement in an earlier story, Chief Judge McGruder takes The Long Walk. As a strip, Judge Dredd rarely features fundamental story developments so it's always a bit of a thrill when something like this happens. Art robot Cliff Robinson's work improves this prog although Brian Bolland continues to exert his influence. When we are introduced to the new Council of Five, the panels in question look like they could be straight versions of the comedy Deputy Chief Judge applicants from the Bolland drawn sequence in The Day The Law Died.

Labels: , , , , ,

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Prog 454

Although there hasn't been much pre-publicity for it, the new monthly comic, Dice Man, arrives like an unseen plot twist. This prog, all four centre pages are given over to promoting the new title which features familiar 2000 AD characters in role play comic strips. YOU are Nemesis, YOU are Slaine, YOU are Judge Dredd. It turns out that Slaine's current journey through the tomb of the dark god, Grimnismal, in the weekly isn't just a good yarn in its own right but is also a sweetener to Squaxx Dek Thargo for the new publication.

The role paying comic strips here work differently; each panel is numbered. When the character YOU are has to make a decision, YOU are given a number of options. Depending on what YOU have decided, YOU go to the appropriate panel as directed. It means that a simple story has to have various directions worked out, although most of those usually end in your character's death, and the strip itself is jarring to flick through because the panels don't appear in chronological order.

Over the years, my 2000 AD collection came, then went (sold to greedy dealers during the 1990s) and then returned again (thanks to eBay) but for some reason, despite not liking role playing games, I kept hold of all the issues of Dice Man perhaps because of their novelty. Dice Man is clearly the baby of Pat Mills. He's credited as writing most of the stories and, even when Wagner and Grant pop in to script the single Judge Dredd tale, Mills is credited as the game designer. There is some great art appearing here, which is probably the main reason why I kept them. Kevin O'Neill returns to Nemesis. Bryan Talbot draws his first Judge Dredd strip. David Lloyd surprises me by demonstrating that he was born to draw Slaine. John Ridgeway makes the premier of the actual Dice Man strip appear vital.

I might have been spending £1.45 a month on Dice Man but it didn't stop me resenting it. If it didn't exist then these creators could be working on proper thrills for the weekly. Also, there is the issue of the Judge Dredd comic. 2000 AD readers had to fill in a survey a while ago regarding the possibility of a Judge Dredd comic only for it not to happen (until 1990, anyway). Dice Man just seems to appear from nowhere without any comparative market research. I'm guessing that Mills fought for it and, thanks to his success with 2000 AD and Action, who are IPC to say no?

Dice Man only lasts for five issues proving, perhaps, that my feelings about role playing aren't uniquely mine or, at least, that there isn't necessarily an over lap between the two forms of entertainment. Although, at this time, comic fandom was becoming increasingly vocal most people that bought 2000 AD read it in the train, on the bus or in the bath and didn't file it away in special bags as an investment. Dice Man assumed that there was a significant number of 2000 AD readers willing to set aside time to sit down with it at a table along with paper, a pen and pair of dice. There is also a fundamental problem with the role play comic strip. Play the game once and you only, say, see the equivalent of six of the eighteen pages. Play it so that all options are covered and it becomes repetitive and starts to feel like work. An eighteen paged Dice Man strip could never feel as satisfying as a straight thrill of the same length.

As is often the case with failed comics, it is the last issue that demonstrates the direction that Dice Man should have pursued more actively. YOU are Ronald Reagan is a fun political satire drawn by the excellent underground artist Hunt Emerson. Although Dice Man disappears after this it doesn't stop Mills and Emerson returning later with YOU are Margaret Thatcher published by the always astute Titan Books.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,