2000 AD Prog Slog

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.

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  • I only have two issues of Diceman myself. I never played the games - the one in Slaine was enough of a bore - but the artwork was pretty darn nice throughout.

    The publishers probably missed a trick not bagging each issue with a pen, dice and a notepad. Retailers would probably have stocked it differently, and it wouldn't have stood out, negatively, as just a very expensive comic.

    By Blogger Grant, at 8:13 pm  

  • I'd have thought it was probably an attempt to cash in on the popularity of the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks - Warlock of Firetop Mountain, etc - and the vast numbers of knock-offs (including a couple of magazines) they spawned. It have seemed like a better bet to the suits as hey'd be taking a bite at two different audiences. Which quickly turned into none, of course.

    By Blogger Peter, at 9:26 pm  

  • The cover price was probably the main reason it didn't take off. It was twice or three times more expensive than 2000ad...as far as I can remember.

    I loved the character of Diceman. A shame this died out. It was a 'novel' idea at the time...but probably arrived a few years too late to cash in on the 'FF' boom.

    By Blogger Stephen Reid, at 4:02 pm  

  • Grant, it was definately a curiousity.

    By Blogger Paul Rainey, at 5:58 pm  

  • Peter, you're right. In a sense, it's not an entirely bad idea; these days I imaging it would do okay in a Tokyopop style of book...

    By Blogger Paul Rainey, at 5:59 pm  

  • I liked the character too, Stephen. I'm beginning to regret its passing now.

    By Blogger Paul Rainey, at 6:01 pm  

  • I thought it was all right, but the problem I had was that when I was supposed to go to 'panel 16' or whatever, my eye was invariably drawn to other panels, especially ones drawn by Bryan Talbot.
    The dangers of using talented artists, I think - if memory serves, the panels weren't all the same size, so some were more eye-catching than others?
    Because of this sort of thing, and the flaw you mentioned with only 'reading a third of it', I'm rather inclined to think that role-playing and comics aren't a very good mix, though I could see they'd work well in a webcomic format (could well have been done before, but escaped my notice).

    By Blogger John Soanes, at 2:41 pm  

  • John, you're right. Technology is such now that a role play comic should be more appealing these days.

    By Blogger Paul Rainey, at 5:51 pm  

  • I'm surprised that people don't have fond memories; I remember being thrilled to actually have a hand in deciding which direction the Nemesis story went in after years of reading the comic. Ditto for Rogue Trooper and Judge Dredd.

    The darker, supernatural tone of Diceman, Slaine and the Dark Sector House was also a bonus.

    Am I not a candidate for fame?

    By Blogger nimble, at 11:10 am  

  • Heh. I must say I actually did like Diceman and enjoyed playing the games. The Ronald Reagan game was excellent. Wasn't there one involving Hitler too?

    By Blogger dmstarz, at 4:43 pm  

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