2000 AD Prog Slog

Monday, June 30, 2008

Prog 546

I’ll be honest with you, first time around, I was a little resistant to the work of Pete Milligan. Yes, I enjoyed Bad Company, but I had a suspicion that he didn’t really like comics and only fell into the job because he did a favour for Brendan McCarthy and Brett Ewins one time. Then, along came Freaks.

In Freaks, shallow Carl Woolf, whilst sneaking off from an unattractive blind date, is snatched by aliens who mistakenly believe he can explain to them how humanity’s technological advancements work. Now, he is on the run on the alien world where he is thought of as grotesque and monstrous, with his three eyed companion Kilque and spitting pet Cuddles.

John Higgins’ art for the thrill is undoubtedly great. There’s a temptation to only remember his painted work but on Freaks his black and white art is considered and bold. Milligan, however, proves he isn’t just a literate cynic. Freaks is funny, warm and, although it’s not something I want to see all the time, the main characters experience a positive change. See, all it takes is a morality tale for me to warm to you.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Annual 1988

It’s a great cover by Brendan McCarthy but I’m interested by the absence of Judge Dredd on it. Is everyone now thinking yes, we all like Dredd but 2000 AD has other great characters too such as this sexy, full lipped lady and these two green guys next to her? I sense that this period during the eighties is where some people involved in the comic feel that Dredd’s popularity has, in part, been to the detriment of other great thrills like Anderson PSI Division and Strontium Dog. And yet inside, inappropriately, this year’s Dredd story occupies sixteen pages instead of the usual eight.

Inside, the new material there is the cream of the crop. There’s Torquemada painted by Kevin O’Neill, Dredd by McCarthy with Riot and Brett Ewins and Strontium Dog by Carlos Ezquerra. There’s no doubt now that everyone involved sees the annual as the showcase for the weekly, even if there are still budget constraints.

Also reprinted herein are a handful of Judge Dredd strips from The Daily Star. Still by John Wagner, Alan Grant and Ron Smith the focus seems to have drifted from a disciplined glimpse of Mega City life to isn’t-Judge-Dredd-a-big-bully gag strip. The average number of panels has dropped from nine to six, the dialogue more sparse and the art work less detailed. However, it still continues to be very entertaining and, if anything, now contributes to the world of Judge Dredd rather than settles on sampling from the lengthier stories in 2000 AD.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Prog 544

Art robot Liam Sharp is becoming a regular face around The Command Module these days, especially on Judge Dredd. Before The Slog, he’s not been an artist whose work I’ve followed particularly although I’ve been aware that he goes on to work for Marvel in both the UK and USA. The truth is I never really rated him very highly.

I am reminded by his current Dredd story, Killkraze, what my problem with his work has always been; he draws Dredd as if he’s a muscle man. To me, Dredd is always at his visual best when drawn with the sneering menace of someone like Mark E Smith of The Fall. Sure, he’s also tall and lean with a good posture, but drawing him so that he wouldn’t look out of place in just a thong on muscle beach displays a misunderstanding of the character to me. I don’t like to think that Dredd spends six hours every day pumping iron with the guys in the Justice Department gym when he can achieve the same affect with a pair of elbow pads and big boots.

Of course, I have been wrong to allow this opinion on Dredd’s physique to colour my opinion of Sharp’s artwork particularly when you consider the artists to come later that will draw him as a muscle bound meat head. Sharp is a fine artist whose use of black is dynamic and whose line work is often lovely.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Prog 342

In the current Strontium Dog story, Johnny Alpha transports unassuming prisoner Sorry Bobbs to the spaceport for a thousand credits, only the job proves more problematic than it should thanks to him being a jinx. Special note should be made of this story, A Sorry Case, as it’s one of a handful of Strontium Dog adventures up until this point to be drawn by someone other than Carlos Ezquerra. It’s interesting to see art robot Colin MacNeil attempting to draw in Ezquerra’s style. Although by no means the best art to appear in this prog, there’s something about the obvious enthusiasm with which it has been drawn that makes it very charming.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Prog 539

Thanks to the extra-media coverage comics were getting at this time a friend of mine was being switched onto the joys of the art form. He had already discovered Love and Rockets, The Spirit and Cerebus the Aardvark, now I attempted to turn him onto 2000 AD by giving him a copy of this prog. Not long after, he returned it saying he didn’t like it. He has always been deeply resistant to being recommended anything by his friends but I’ll run through the contents of this prog just the same to see if his dislike was for good reason.

First up, Zenith. Undoubtedly confidently written but script robot Grant Morrison is unravelling the story in a casual manner leaving any reader encountering a single episode out of context disinterested.

Then, Universal Soldier. Great artwork by Will Simpson but the concept of a soldier imagining he’s in a situation to enable him to deal with another, equally dangerous, encounter must seem, well, stupid.

Tales of mega City One. Latest in a series of single paged Judge Dredd gags. Perhaps a little too poppy although, personally, what’s not to like?

Judge Dredd Alabammy Blimps. The final part of this story featuring Dredd’s showdown with Big Mammy and the rest of her cannibal tribe of women folk. Fun in context with the rest of the story, bewildering, I imagine, if read alone.

Tharg’s Future Shocks Occupational Hazard. Man sneezes inside space suit in single paged gag strip drawn by Simon Harrison. Again, what’s not to like?

Mean Team. I can see how this thrill might be an acquired taste.

And finally, Tharg’s Future Shocks The Jigsaw Man. Best artwork from Mike Collins I’ve seen so far (inks himself here). Two page build up to a terrible pun which, to the uninitiated, must be unforgivable. I can barely forgive Collins myself.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Prog 537

ITEM: It’s interesting to note that Zenith might have been running for three weeks now but the actual character himself has only appeared in the middle episode so far. It’s more interesting, however, to see the appearance of a “many angled one” in context to much of what Grant Morrison goes on to write over the next twenty years. Masterman isn’t just a super villain but he’s also a Nazi possessed by a nine angled dark god as well. Was it, I wonder, the Slaine saga from a couple of years ago, Time Killer, that made Tharg believe that the readers would understand the weight of this?

ITEM: The Slog might currently be in the era of unforgettable thrills such as Zenith but it is also in midst of the forgettable. This prog sees the beginning of Universal Soldier by Alan McKenzie and Will Simpson. It had almost completely slipped my mind that this thrill had even existed until I turned to it in this prog earlier today.

Some guy is sent to a prison planet to sort out some problem when he is attacked by a feral woman. Because he is the ultimate soldier, his brain translates this into something he can cope with. Personally, I’m not sure that imagining you are being attacked by a rabid dog makes dealing with a crazy woman any easier. It doesn’t bode well for the thrill if the first association made with a woman is a dog, does it?

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Prog 535

Note to Tharg; don't interpret the question, whatever happened to The Mean Team, as a request for that thrill's return. It could just be a genuine enquiry about a strip that started, ran for a while and then suddenly stopped mid story. The answer, "we thought it was a good idea to begin with but it didn't work out" is an acceptable one, just as long as you don't use it too often.

The Mean Team returned a few weeks ago drawn once again by master art robot Messimo Bellardinelli but written this time by Alan Hebden. When John Wagner and Alan Grant abandoned strip, it was with the characters having just returned to Earth where absolutely no technology works anymore. Hebden takes the change in locale as an opportunity to dispense with the future sport idea and introduce his more mystical interests. The result is something that's hard to imagine Wagner and Grant ever having been involved in.

I've noticed whilst doing The Slog that a Hebden strip has a knack for persevering with characters that any right minded reader would find annoying. In the case of The Mean Team, it's Bloo-Baloo. Conjoined twins, attached at the waist upside-down to each other, who turn into a separated giant eagle and big cat during times of stress and talk in rhyme. It's enough to drive a priest to self harm. I've also noticed that a multi-part Hebden story often seems mad to me until, at some point, the objective reveals itself. In this case, it's mad Jack Keeler and his sister Emerald Eyes' search for a magical rod that might or might not be the salvation of everyone trapped on Earth. Now it's all starting to make some sort of sense... I think.

I find the presence of Hebden's Mean Team amongst the start of Zenith and the longer Judge Dredd episodes of the era somehow reassuring. The thrill is resolutely itself at at a time when other strips and their creators have half an eye on America. It's a trait I think we should all admire.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Prog 533

As the weekly continues to go through its transition from what it was to what it is to become, Judge Dredd is experiencing changes also. Previously, more enlightened Squazz dek Thargo had always understood that the thrill takes place in a sub-fascist future America and that the protagonist could often be the bad guy. If you were younger or only interested in the more spectacular elements of the strip then it delivered that to you also as the political and ethical subtext remained present but not in your face.

In Revolution, Dredd heads the mission to undermine a march organised by The Democratic Tendency against the judicial system that runs Mega City One. This involves undermining the march’s leaders in various ways from arresting one on a trumped up bigamy charge to threatening to enrol another’s children into the Academy of Law. Still, twenty million citizens attend the march but it’s undermined further by undercover judge infiltrators and low frequency sonic attack ending in violence and, ultimately, dispersal.

Revolution isn’t the first time that Judge Dredd has dealt with the political implications of the thrill, it being a sequel to the one-off story from last year, Democracy. The fact that John Wagner, Alan Grant and John Higgins returned to the theme rather than just leave it at that is interesting. Democracy is like a statement from them to us that they are aware of the politics, they just chose to deal with it less overtly, Revolution is them declaring their intent to return to the subject as often as they see fit to.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Sci-Fi Special 1987

Now that the printing quality of the weekly has improved it doesn’t leave much space for the Sci-Fi Special to be, well, special. It kicks off with an untitled Judge Dredd strip drawn by Collins and Farmer which ends with Dredd waking up after ten minutes in the sleep machine, it all having been a dream. After that, there’s Nemesis the Warlock story in which he and Purity Brown visit London, 1987. It’s a novelty thrill, back then because it’s a photo-strip and now because much of it takes place in the old Forbidden Planet shop on Denmark Street, London, and it’s nice to be reminded of what the place used to look like.

For a publication that is twice the current price of the weekly, it actually features less new material. I don’t even like the cover art very much (uncredited but I’m guessing it’s by John Higgins). Obviously, whoever did it has talent but it looks dour. I want some action, some drama, not headshots of a bunch of moody guys just hanging out with each other. They look as accessible to me as catalogue models. If the artist had painted a full-figures image they could all be standing around logs in their underpants for all I know.

What is noteworthy about this years Sci-Fi Special is the Judge Dredd illustration on the “Cosmic Contents” page. As far as I can remember, this is the only published work Dave McKean ever does for 2000 AD. It’s such an atmospheric, deceptively casual drawing of the character done between the artist’s discovery of Bill Sienkiewicz’s black and white and colour work.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Prog 529

The upcoming arrival of Zenith, forewarned by Tharg in the Nerve Centre last prog, seems to have inspired John Wagner and Alan Grant to make clear their feelings about superheroes; that they're stupid and there is no place for them here in 2000 AD. In the current Judge Dredd story, Mega City One's new superhero, Fairly Hyper Man, introduces himself to old stony face, casually explaining how law and order will be administered locally from now on now that he's here.

Despite the influence of American comics, superheroes have pretty much had an absence from 2000 AD, apart from Captain Klep and Super Bean, both of which were short-lived farces. At this time, Marvel's grown up imprint, Epic Comics, is just about to release Marshal Law by creator robots Pat Mills and Kevin O'Neill, in which thinly disguised versions of superheroes we know are portrayed as drug addicts and bed wetters. The opinion in UK publishing has always been that British comic readers' preferences lie elsewhere. The constant presence of Marvel UK titles in the newsagents doesn't seem to prove a thing because to us, superheroes could only happen in America and not here in dreary old Blighty.

Dredd's encounter with Fairly Hyper Man is pencilled and inked by the art robot team of Mike Collins and Mark Farmer. Wagner and Grant might have misgivings about a superhero themed thrill appearing in the galaxy's greatest comic soon but the artists don't necessarily feel the same way. Collins and Farmer, although accepting the tone of the script that they're working with, seem to enjoy drawing FHM, perhaps secretly hoping that the arrival of Zenith will enable them to produce straight superhero work for the comic in the future.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Prog 527

You wait months for a new Anderson PSI Division story to come along and when eventually it arrives she spends most of it in a coma dreaming about wolves. At the very beginning, Anderson experienced a psi-attack from soviet agents. They wanted Anderson out of the way so that they were free to work on busting Orlok the Assassin from out of the cubes, except we're not meant to know what they're planning is at this point, although I remember it from reading the story the first time twenty one years ago.

The most notable thing about this Anderson run is Barry Kitson's art. Previously, I've described his work as though being by an enthusiastic amateur but here, there is an obvious improvement. It's as if the new format for 2000 AD is more Kitson's environment than the one before.

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Prog 525

For years, Rogue Trooper was an almost constant but modest presence in the pages of 2000 AD, occasionally beating Judge Dredd in the readers polls. Then, inevitably, The Believability Equation caught up with it; internal logic times quantity of episodes divided by reader tolerance. In other words, it was decided that finding The Traitor General couldn't be put off any longer. Once this original piece of the concept got tied up the thrill seemed to become directionless with a fleeting visit to the planet Host and the two sides in the war almost signing a peace treaty.

Now Rogue Trooper is back with a shiny, new and, let's face it, bold direction. Rogue is now working for the mysterious aliens who seemed to sabotage the peace talks in the first place, killing major players in the war in an attempt to put an end to it once and for all. He arrives mysteriously at a destination with only the name of his intended victim and has to work out what's going on from there. He's like that guy from Quantum Leap, he even has the invisible friends in the form of his bio-chipped equipment to talk to, except he's blue.

Steve Dillon is now the Rogue Trooper art robot in residence and draws it like he's a superhero. It's full of dynamic poses. What I once thought of as his uniform often looks like it could be a costume. And those shadows under his eyes? I saw his helmet ride up once and they were still there. It looked like he was wearing a Green Hornet styled mask.

Ex-editing droid Simon Geller has been reprogrammed as the thrill's script robot for The Hit. He has a way of pacing the story that is similar to Alan Grant which, first time around, I saw as becoming the house style. The dialogue between the main characters reads like banter and lacks the cruel under current that existed when Gerry Finley-Day had the gig before. However, it's early days at the moment. It seems unfair to make final judgements at this time even though I can remember what happened with the thrill from first time around.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Prog 523

It's good to see a long standing art robot like Kevin O'Neill having the opportunity to take advantage of the higher quality printing that 2000 AD now provides. By "taking advantage" I mean "having his regular, excellent artwork printed well". In Torquemada the God, O'Neill returns to some of the characters he made famous originally six or so years ago, albeit for only five weeks.

In the story, Torquemada returns as leader of Termite only this time, because he has defied death, the population has gone totally bonkers for him. It means he is able to get away with things like having random members of the public killed and getting his first wife, Crystal, sectioned. Torquemada has now married Sister Sturn instead, a particular exuberant follower of his preaching and, worse still, a Goth.

This prog's cover by O'Neill, which accompanies the story, attempts to take advantage of the new full colour printing and doesn't really work. The separation hasn't successfully picked up many of the subtle differences between his more sombre tones so that it ends up looking a bit dreary. Still, if you look hard enough at it, there's a great illustration in there struggling to be noticed.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Prog 520

Since it began ten years ago, apart from a short period during the early one hundreds, 2000 AD has been printed on shoddy newsprint. The ink came off on your fingers when you held it, the edges were jagged because they were never trimmed properly and the paper was so inferior that it was difficult to hold a copy for at least an hour after having a bath. Often, the comic looked as if it had been assembled by drunks on a Friday night bender and stapled together by them the next morning as they shakily recovered from their hangovers. For ten long years, in direct defiance to the actual quality of the artwork it published, 2000 AD looked like shit.

Now, at last, it's got the paper and print quality that it has always deserved. The finishing is professional and the colour reproduction, for what there is, has switched from four to full. And at no extra price too. Okay, the price did increase by 2p about a month ago and you could argue that this was in anticipation of this prog's physical improvement but, even if this is the case, so what? It's just 2p. 2p wasn't even a lot of money in 1987.

The shape has changed too. Now 2000 AD is taller and conforms more to the internationally recognised shape for comic books. It means that Quality Communications, the successors to Eagle Comics as the re-packagers of 2000 AD material for the American market (more about them another time, I'm sure), don't have to stretch, hammer and saw off bits of artwork to get it into the required format. For the last six months, Tharg has been performing scheduling miracles to ensure that all of the squarer art is out of the way by the time this prog appeared. It makes Slaine the King's fitful appearances recently understandable in the circumstances.

Later, many old school Squaxx dek Thargo will refer to this format change as the beginning of The Slide in quality for them. I usually retorted that it was just a coincidence. The fact is that this is one of the first in a succession of changes that 2000 AD is about to go through. My opinion has always been that it's amazing that classic art robots such as Bolland, Gibbons and McMahon had the majority of their work reproduced in such an inadequate manner when, really, there was no justifiable reason for it. Thanks to the artwork by O'Neill, Leach and Kitson and the new format this prog demonstrates the perfect balance between price paid, quality of content and standard of reproduction.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Prog 519

If it seems to you like I have barely mentioned Slaine the King in The Slog since it started in prog 500 it's because it has only run for about a third of the twenty progs since. And now that the current phase has come to its natural conclusion rather than experiencing an interruption due to poor scheduling, we learn that this is just the first book and there is more to come. Also, earlier episodes of Slaine the King Book One had six pages each but they quickly dropped to four. I don't know about you but the Slaine book hyped as being drawn entirely by Glen Fabry seems like a bit of a false start so far.

I am, of course, being slightly flippant. This run of Slaine has been as entertaining as it has always been if a little less mental (but then the Time Killer storyline is still relatively fresh in my mind). Slaine's trip around the signs of the Zodiac just prior to prog 500 set a touchy, feely, more hippy tone that seems to have carried on into the most recent yarn. Sure, he has had a warp spasm and chopped up a few Fomorians with his axe, Brain Biter, but on the whole Slaine the King Book One has been a story about fond reunion and, dare I say it, love.

This prog's episode ends with the promise that Slaine the King returns in full colour episodes before the end of the year. I don't remember this happening. Unless they are referring to what became known as Slaine the Horned God which doesn't appear for another year of two. But it is interesting that they would think that considering the format changes that 2000 AD is about to go through.

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Monday, June 09, 2008

Prog 517

For the last few weeks, Pete Milligan has been providing the dominant voice for 2000 AD and for those of us more used to the black satire of Wagner, Grant and Mills it's a weird and deliciously pretentious one. He's been teasing our brains with the cover hogging Bad Company since prog 500 and for the last month he's been bending them with The Dead.

In The Dead, mankind has discovered the secret of immortality and, after the initial two hundred year honeymoon period, everyone is beginning to feel a little jaded. This is when people start to burst open with demons. It all seems pretty grim for mankind until some character called Fludd manages to overcome the one that attacks him. This is the beginning to of a journey around the after life for our reluctant hero as he tries to get to bottom of what is happening.

Its a pretty crazy concept for a thrill but what makes it even loopier is the artwork provided by Messimo Bellardinelli. Bellardinelli is off on one for The Dead. He's drawing irrational aliens, truly grotesque demons and impossible landscapes. It's difficult to follow and undoubtedly the most exciting artwork he's produced for the comic since that Dan Dare centre page spread ten years ago in prog 1.

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Friday, June 06, 2008

Prog 515

Now that Wulf Sternhammer is dead, God rest his soul, Johnny Alpha looks to be feeling around for a new partner. He's already spent some time with Middenface McNulty helping to avenge the murder of his "dawg", now he's working on a case with vampire-a-like, Durham Red. In Strontium Dog Bitch, the pair have been tasked with freeing from the Chinese, I mean Kaiakians, President Ronald Reagan, snatched from the year 1987 and held hostage on the planet Hong Kong, I mean, Kaiak.

Tharg has been at pains to point out in the Nerve Centre that although Durham's teeth are pointy and she has a barely controllable urge to drink blood most of the time, she is a mutant and not a vampire which is why she can walk around in daylight and eat garlic. Well, duh. What's interesting to me is that it's taken this long for a female mutant bounty hunter to feature in the thrill.

Of all the characters that have appeared in Strontium Dog recently, Reagan is the most entertaining and man, after a years worth of revenge driven obsession do we need some amusement. Is it ironic that, two progs ago, Michael Jackson's 2000 AD appearance ends up being disguised for fear of litigation while the leader of the free world is portrayed as an idiot with absolutely no attempt at concealing his identity?

Bitch contains scenes of drooling fools who are in charge of nuclear arsenals and the casual drinking of blood. There I am in 1987, hormones raging, reading a magazine article about the dangers of unprotected sex that my mother has left out for me while a documentary on the doomsday clock ticking towards midnight plays on Channel Four in the background. Thank God for 2000 AD, is all I can say.

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Prog 513

In Judge Dredd The Come Back, by John Wagner, Alan Grant, Gary Leach and possibly someone from the unsolicited scripts pile (let it go, Paul, let it go), twentieth centaury pop star, Jaxxon Prince, is brought out of suspended animation for the performance of his career. The Judges are expecting trouble at the concert. When Prince first went into suspended animation the technology was in its infancy and he's woken up with brain damage. As Prince enters the stage, Dredd orders his colleagues to brace themselves for the crowd to react badly but no one can tell the difference between the pop star’s vintage dance routines and his new zombie like twitching and shuddering.

In case you didn't know, originally The Come Back wasn't just a piece of thinly disguised satire of Michael Jackson but was completed featuring the name and drawn image of the performer himself. However, someone at either 2000 AD or higher up in IPC got uncomfortable about the strip and had the character rewritten as an unconvincing mash-up between Jackson and Prince. Is drawing a bit of Prince influenced stubble onto Michael Jackson's face really enough to prevent you from being sued? The changes always seemed unnecessary to me. The Come Back has always read as if Wagner and Grant admired the pop star that they were supposed to be writing about.

Reading it again for The Slog, I found the opening of the strip where a lawyer summarises to his colleagues Jaxxon Prince's memorable career interesting. Apparently, the amusement park in the Never Never Land Ranch owned by Prince, who is actually Michael Jackson, never stopped operating during the pop star’s lifetime and there's no mention at all of the accusations against him of child abuse. Most amazingly, the British Government were able to run The National Health Service for ten years using only the billion dollars he paid for The Elephant Man's bones.

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Prog 510

How many times can you say with effect, "War is rubbish. Really, really rubbish"? If you're 2000 AD, at least twice in recent memory. First we have lovely Halo Jones fighting on a planet where the gravity is so strong it even affects the movement of time, and now we have Bad Company. Originally created by the fallible idea factory of Wagner and Grant, Bad Company has been reworked by the first wave of the new generation of creator robots, Pete Milligan, Brett Ewins and Jim McCarthy. Set on the war ravaged planet Ararat, Bad Company is told from the point of view of young Danny Franks, a raw recruit, who writes in his diary about the erosion of his humanity as he is broken in by a renegade unit of soldiers.

And what a collection of freaks and oddities Bad Company is. There's a really hairy guy that's led around on a chain who, supposedly, has had a dog's brain transplanted into his head. There's Tommy Churchill, who thinks that he's fighting in an idealised version of World War Two. Thraxx, whose sole role in the unit is to undermine their leader's authority. There's Wallbanger, who eerily looks exactly like a dispassionate robot on the outside but behaves exactly like any reasonable person might. And then there's the unit's charismatic leader, Kano. Kano; The flat headed giant. Kano; Sitting under a dead tree staring blank eyed into that box he carries around with him.

Everyone behind the scenes seems to be working hard at making Bad Company a hit with the readers. It has been designated four of the last eleven covers, a frequency usually only granted to the sales generating Judge Dredd, and each of its episodes so far have been six pages long, a length that even established thrills only occasionally reach. The reason for this is probably because it is very good. There's something intelligent and a little bit sinister throbbing under the surface of this thrill that makes me think that it hasn't been written and drawn in accordance with how comics are normally made but brewed like a potion in a cellar somewhere. Part future war strip, part intelligent examination of the cruelty of men. A potent mix of literate writing and perfect, pop comic art. Let's face it; it's not just Danny Franks being broken in but the loyal Squaxx dek Thargo too.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Prog 508

One mainstream American comic practise that traditionally 2000 AD has never indulged itself in very often is the use of pernciller and inker teams. Normally, art robots ink their own work for reproduction. At the moment however, there seems to be a bit of a trend for it.

In Bad Company, Brett Ewins' pencils are being inked by Jim McCarthy, Brendan McCarthy's brother. On one hand, this new dynamic creates a sense of loss in me; as long as McCarthy is around we're not going to see those wonderfully over sized Letratone effects Ewins used during his time on Rogue Trooper. On the other, McCarthy is a fine inker and it's almost certain that had Ewins chosen to ink his own pencils for Bad Company then we would not see the twenty consecutive weeks by him that the thrill requires. More importantly, Ewins seems to be an artist who likes to feel as though he's part of a creative team, in this case Milligan and McCarthy, and a happy artist is a productive artist as far as I can see.

In Judge Dredd The Taxidermist, Cam Kennedy's pencils are being inked by Mark Farmer, fresh from finishing off Mike Collins' art on Slaine for reproduction. First time seeing this artwork, I could have sworn that I spotted a disappointing difference between this and the work that Kennedy produces entirely himself, this time, though, I can't tell. Whatever, this seems to have been a temporary experiment in an artistic alliance as I don't recall them working together this way after.

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Monday, June 02, 2008

Prog 506

Once I had fallen in love with 2000 AD I decided that I wanted nothing more than to become a script robot and started to send in the occasional unsolicited Future Shock. Using the sample Judge Dredd script published in the 1981 annual as a guide I banged out my first attempt on the type writer I had got for a Christmas. I can't remember what it was called but in it, two teenagers wander around their local town moaning about how “nothing ever happens ‘round ‘ere” while, unobserved behind them, space ships battle in the sky. Real editor at the time, Steve McManus, sent what I saw as a very encouraging rejection letter. The fact that it was a hand written, personal note not signed as “Tharg” meant a lot.

By my third attempt I was receiving standard rejection letters with scrawled notes down the side. "Poor dialogue, poor plot, poor twist", it said. In this story, the national radio station was being broadcast from loudspeakers on every street corner in the country. The constant witless DJ prattle and promise of music that never came drove one guy to break into the station with the intention of violently shutting up the culprit for good. The twist being that the DJ was on a life support machine, his banter provided by electrodes attached to his barely active brain. Sound familiar? In this prog's Judge Dredd story, They Shoot Deejays Don't You Know, Cuth Hartley is driven mad by the constant DJ prattle that a brain implant he has picks up twenty four hours a day. He breaks into the radio station intending to kill the idiot responsible but, instead, finds Dredd there waiting for him. Poor plot, my arse!

What I think happened is this: One of the editors at the time, whilst working through a backlog of unsolicited scripts, read mine and decided that they didn't like it, in the their haste wrote as their reply "poor dialogue, poor plot, poor twist" and then got on with the job that they were really there to do. At some point after, while in conversation with Wagner and/or Grant on the hunt for inspiration, the editor mentions the idea of being driven mad by the inescapable, relentless DJ chat believing it to have been conjured by his own mind and, from that, they wrote They Shoot Deejays Don't You Know as their own. To me, the similarities between the two stories are so great that it is just as likely that Wagner and Grant had the same idea as it is that they consciously set out to plagiarise it.

These days, many publishers are so nervous about being sued by an aspiring writer that they no longer accept unsolicited submissions. It's this policy that, in part, has contributed to the number of comic writers from other media rather than from the real world which is where stars like Alan Moore and Grant Morrison originate from. It's the difference between making comics because it’s something to do after a day writing gags for Family Guy and because you absolutely have to. I have always understood that the environment within which Wagner and Grant worked and the rate at which they were expected to produce thrills during 1987 required the free exchange of ideas not just between the pair of them but with others as well. If this meant that, occasionally, wannabes like me had their ideas accidentally lifted, then it's a small price to pay. Even if the result in my case was an altered relationship with the comic I loved and a period of doubt over the fertility of two of my favourite script robots.

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