2000 AD Prog Slog

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Prog 582

The return of Slaine after over a year is, quite rightly, a big deal. Just look at that fully painted cover. Its composition is simple, yet terrific. But Slaine’s return is only three pages long and lasts just for this issue. What a jip.

In the strip itself, we pan out from a single corpse to see that it is part of a big pile of bodies. Then we pan in to see a heavily wounded but still living enemy being kicked in the face. There are only six words of text written by "A Mills" and they appear on the third page, it being a full splash of the kicker, Slaine, standing amongst the hundreds of corpses; “…He didn’t think it too many.” The art, by Glen Fabry, is gorgeous. I find myself wondering how much of this would have been lost had it been printed in the old format used before prog 520.

It turns out to be the prologue for Slaine the King, seven progs away. As teasers go, it’s undoubtedly amazing and, despite sitting at the end of a bunch of running thrills, is unarguably the best thing in this prog.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sci-Fi Special 1988

This years Sci-fi Special has always been a bit of an enigma to me. For starters, why is there such emphasis on Tyranny Rex? Admittedly, she goes on to become a liked character but , at this stage, she’s only made one three-part appearance in the weekly and I’ll be surprised if that had her rocketing to the top of the readers poll. The story itself, by John Smith and Steve Dillon, occupies the comic’s lead position and isn’t any easier to follow than her previous appearance. Most mysterious of all is why Tyranny Rex occupies the cover spot exclusively. I was pretty critical of last years cover featuring moody headshots but at least they were all known characters. Dillon, who paints it, doesn’t even seem to try very hard to utilise the space left by the corner biased logo and although I’m sure the image itself, guest starring Woody Allen, is very witty, it’s not very witty to me.

Inside, this prog’s notable first is scripter Hilary Robinson who provides a Future Shock styled strip called What’s Up Doc? There’s a feature on the stage adaptation of The Ballard of Halo Jones, Grant Morrison writes a Venus Bluegenes adventure and the excellent Phil Elliot draws his only 2000 AD strip known to me in which Judge Dredd encounters Mega City One’s Greenham Common Women.
Now that I think about it, after twenty years, the enigma of this year’s Sci-fi special might at last be revealed to me; it’s got a girl theme. It looks to me as if most contributors have been given the remit to make their strips appealing to women. So, there’s an increased presence of female characters throughout. However, even though the artists have avoided drawing the characters to look alluring to adolescent males (big plus points there) the writers are predominately male and the stories, on the whole, therefore don’t feel particularly feminine. Essentially, the Venus Bluegenes strip sums it all up; it’s a Rogue Trooper story but with a woman in it instead. This explains why I was confused by this Sci-fi Special on both occasions reading it.

I say “girl theme” but it doesn’t run throughout. In fact, the Strontium Dog story begins with a particularly gruesome image of rotting mutants strung up on the edge of an alien town as if Brendan McCarthy’s painting is deliberately designed to repel any possible female readers. Still, I like it.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Prog 580

In this prog, there’s an ad for the Quality Comics repackaging of 2000 AD material. This is all the excuse I need to talk on the subject. I’ve been waiting to do this for weeks.

Previously, 2000 AD material was repackaged in colour for American readers by Titan using the Eagle Comics imprint. Because the source material was originally published in black and white and a different shape it required them to colour it in and resize it. Their method of resizing was to get an artist, occasionally the original but not usually, to draw on extra chunks to the panels. Titan also cherry picked the strips that they reprinted so that, in the case of Judge Dredd for example, all of the Brian Bolland material was published very early on. This must have created a sense in the minds of American readers everything in the line getting progressively worse.

For the last eighteen months or so, the repackaging of material has been handled by Quality Comics. Originally headed by Dez Skinn, Quality’s resizing policy must have seemed even more alarming than Eagle’s on paper. Instead of bolting on extra art to the page, to begin with they chopped approximately an inch from the sides. This practice must have seemed like sacrilege to many loyal Squaxx dek Thargo but in my opinion, because the now resized art kept the dynamism and composition of the original, it was the best way in the circumstances.

Skinn’s Quality sought to keep the price of their comics low by increasing the ad space and dropping the paper quality. More money was saved by, in general, the non commission of new cover artwork. The line successfully disengaged itself from Eagle’s over reliance on internationally popular creators such as Bolland by reprinting material that its predecessors had either overlooked or ignored altogether. Finally, Quality recognised that there were a lot of newer British 2000 AD readers who would love the opportunity to catch up on what they had missed in an affordable way by making the entire line available from the same place that the weekly was available. It was an overhaul that, I must admit, I found fascinating at the time.
However, quite suddenly, the publishers changed again except, this time, they kept the name Quality Comics. New covers started to be commissioned by completely inappropriate artists.

The colouring became flat and lifeless. Worse of all, the method used to resize the artwork for reproduction was to (you might want to sit down before reading this next bit)… elongate it. It meant that even the shortest of characters now looked like they were seven foot tall and drawn by artists without a fundamental understanding of proportion. Furthermore, absolutely everything was being reprinted, which only added to my theory that Quality Comics were anonymous opportunists raiding Tharg’s warehouse while security took a nap.

I think it’s important to note that these truly awful reprints of 2000 AD strips added to the perception of The Slide that some long term readers felt was happening. The actual weekly itself might still be very good but the Best of 2000 AD Monthly, Titan Books and Quality Comics reprints only contributed to the wider perception of the past being better than the present. There were now more people taking advantage of an opportunity to make a lot of money out of what was once a modest and affordable comic that nearly always defied its readers’ expectations.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Prog 577

Simon Bisley is back drawing the recently returned ABC Warriors. As you may know, he’s currently taking turns on the art duties with the enigmatic SMS who, between them, operate a shift system of four episodes on, four episodes off. Mister Bisley’s art has definitely improved over recent weeks. The criticism I had before regarding his background work seems to have been resolved. My only issue now is, and this applies to both artists, that the rate at which I read the story is bing slowed down by my not often being able to separate the characters from their busy panels.

Writer Pat Mills doesn’t help by frequently diverting this story’s flow with distracting political and philosophical background. Do we really want to know about the Seven Sacred Orifices of The Cosmic Mother? (I’ve worked out that they are ears, eyes, nose, mouth, front bottom and back bottom, but what’s the last one?) Even when Hammerstein and Deadlock, leaders of the two opposing factions in the team, have a big fight at last they still manage to debate their view points during punches. Why can’t they just shout insults like “big nose” and “fat arse” at each other? Even sewer mouthed Ro-Jaws seems unable to lighten the tone of the strip.

In theory this ABC Warriors story should work. It’s got great characters, it spins out of Nemesis the Warlock, it has a regarded writer and two memorable artists. Unfortunately, it isn’t quite working for reasons similar to why Nemesis The Two Torquemadas failed overall for me; the writer seemingly having an agenda in addition to telling the story and the art not always being clear enough.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Prog 575

I don’t know about you but I’m as embarrassed now by this ad for The Best of 2000 AD Monthly as I was back then in 1988. If I thought that the guy writing Tharg’s speech was being ironic then I could appreciate it but I’m not convinced that this is the case. Tharg has never displayed a vocal style like this in the Nerve Centre before, there’s been no copy like this elsewhere in 2000 AD to give what he is saying any sort of consistency and the fact that Slaine is the star of the comic he is pushing makes it all the more inappropriate. I couldn’t be more embarrassed if it was my dad rapping the theme to The Fresh Price of Bel-Air at me and my friends in the pub.

Eleven years before, Tharg didn’t walk around the Command Module expressing anti royalist sentiments and gobbin’ on creator robots so why, despite the emerging dance culture at the time, is he talking like this? I’m looking forward to seeing him attempting suicide in 1993 and shouting “Girl Power!” in 1997.

By all means create a new editorial side kick to talk and pose like this but Tharg is a superior being who has always been above this sort of thing and often mystified by trends no matter how exciting and period defining they might be.

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Prog 574

As far as I can remember, the secret of Summer Magic is that it promises a lot in the way of secrets to be revealed and character destination but never reveals much. Set in 1962, young Luke Kirby is sent to stay with his Uncle Elias in the country for the summer. There’s a fierce, magical beast lose in the woods which seems determined to get at Uncle Elias through members of his family leaving him no choice but to tutor young Luke in the ways of magic.

If you’re a regular reader of The Slog, you will know that I’ve not always been very fond of strips written by Alan McKenzie before this. However, the slow, considered pacing he utilises in Summer Magic works even if the idea seems better suited for a comic other than 2000 AD. The spooky atmosphere is thickened even further by artist John Ridgeway. Ridgeway, whose excellent work on the earlier Judge Dredd story The Raggedy Man I never got to talk about here, is perfectly suited for this thrill thanks to its etchy style and its old fashioned preferences for story telling and characterisation.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Prog 572

In Strontium Dog Stone Killers, a group of rock hard assassins, literally, are responsible for the deaths of various search/destroy agents. Their next targets are a group of agents who have been hired to protect a distillery, including Middenface Mcnulty, all of whom have taken full advantage of the perks available. It’s the latest in a great line of Strontium Dog yarns. Before, there was the Rammy in which Johnny Alpha and Middenface explain in court how they organised a big wrestling match to flush out bounties protected by local law.

It’s been easy to take Strontium Dog for granted at this time. It has always been drawn by Carlos Ezquerra (pretty much), nearly always present, solidly told and yet, statistically, had fewer covers, always a good way to remind readers that you’re there, compared to other thrills. Now the strip is on the edge of major changes with a new regular artist around the corner and Alan Grant about to take over full writing responsibility for it.

Ezquerra will be missed (and I know because I’ve been through this before). There’s no other artist who is as dynamic, with the same sense of panel configuration, that draws mutant abnormalities so distinctly, conjures an environment, designs characters, sets a mood and paces a Wagner/Grant joke quite like he does.

As for Grant going solo, apart from the ultimate outcome, I can’t actually remember much that happens in Strontium Dog from this point onwards. I’m sure it’s all good, though.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Prog 570

It finishes in Judge Dredd, this prog. No, I’m not referring to the latest epic Oz but to the writing partnership of John Wagner and Alan Grant. Apparently, Oz is the story that rents their creative marriage asunder. Wagner gets Judge Dredd and Grant gets Strontium Dog and Anderson PSI Division from the separation with each of them having weekend access if they want it. I have no idea who gets Doomlord in Eagle.

It’s been a deeply enjoyable partnership from the Squaxx dek Thargo point of view. Wagner and Grant have produced some very imaginative, exciting and humorous work together and that shared creative mind of theirs will be missed. It couldn’t come at a more turbulent time, either. Thanks to the change in editorial approach to the comic recently, 2000 AD needs that fun generating output from them more than ever.

I’ve always been slightly fascinated by creative partnerships such as theirs, where the role of each contributor isn’t so clearly defined. I’m amazed that any two people could have produced as much material together as often as they did for as long as they did. As far as I’m concerned, there is often a lot of ego involved in the creative process and I’m surprised that any partnerships last for more than one story let alone for years as theirs did.

Actually, the great Wagner/Grant team-up doesn’t quite end here as there seems to be a couple of tidy up Dredd stories on the way over the next few progs. Also, it’s not an absolute end to their partnership as they later go on to co-write together occasional strips for both 2000 AD and other publishers. I don’t know about you, but I find this very reassuring. I would hate to think that two people who have provided me with so much enjoyment together had an irrevocable falling out.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Prog 568

The thing about The Slog at the moment is that I am encountering strips again that first time around left me a little lost. This time, it’s the Tyranny Rex starter for three by John Smith and Steve Dillon.

If you’re creating a new character for 2000 AD at this time then you probably want Steve Dillon as your artist given his popularity. Over the last three weeks, he’s drawn six strips; three Tyranny Rex, two Rogue Troopers and a Hap Hazzard. Man, can Dillon get the work done when he wants to. As you would expect, the job’s a good ‘un even if the cover paints her with white flesh tones. Even before we all learned she was green I could swear it looked wrong to me.
The plot has Tyranny as a music pirate who doesn’t just settle for recording albums from tape to tape and making her own little covers for the box but cloning the actual pop stars themselves. She’s after DNA from the actual Prince (rather than the Prince/Michael Jackson mash-up from Judge Dredd last year) at the same time that Detective Inspector Stalin is on her trail.

Sounds like not just a good idea for a story in 1988 but one with legs given the whingeing the music industry makes over illegal downloads in 2008. However, I had difficulty with this Tyranny Rex opener first time around and now, for The Slog, I find myself trying to justify it. Smith is a tight story teller but there are moments of brevity here where we are supposed to accept that something has happened. For example, we have to accept that Tyranny escaped execution by switching herself with a clone; how she did this isn’t the point. Smith also uses a lot of jargon, invented or otherwise, which I think I may have found distancing at the time.

However, there’s no denying that there are at least two longer Tyranny Rex runs coming up that I really enjoy nor that I had fun reading this tale this time around. Smith is a writer whose apparent contentment at 2000 AD and lack of success in America compared with his more obvious peers Morrison and Milligan is what really confuses me now. Whatever, I’m looking forward to encountering more of his work for The Slog.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Prog 566

ITEM: Well there it is in this prog’s Reservation Coupon ad, all the evidence I need that 2000 AD is, indeed, aiming for an older average reader age. Let’s face it Tharg, because of the genre of the comic and the basic concept of some of its most liked characters, the oldest you can achieve is spotty and awkward adolescence and not full maturity. For 2000 AD to keep up with its aging audience, all it had do was to improve its reproduction quality; the way content is sourced for it should have remained the same after all, this is the reason why the audience hasn’t drifted away in the first place. The inconsistent nature of this new policy is revealed in the ad’s disclaimer; “If under sixteen, parent or guardian must sign.” In other words, if under sixteen, your money is just as good to us.

ITEM: ABC Warriors go on a two month long break mid story (this is the sort of thing we can expect to happen more often now that we’re grown up) this prog. Artist (not “art robot”; no creators are referred to as robots in the credits boxes anymore because, I guess, this is too childish) Simon Bisley has definitely made a strong first impression. He’s a very assured and striking artist even if his designs for the characters seem copied from muscle building magazines. I can tell he’s aching to draw Joe Pineapples in a posing pouch kissing his own biceps.

There seems to be a lot of Bisley’s personality in his work. The panels he likes drawing he obviously spends some time on whilst others that he’s not so into, although, well drawn, lack the same consideration. The real problem for this ABC Warriors story is a visual one but might not be entirely the fault of the artists. There seems to be very little background work drawn which means that we have no real sense of environment. Given the Time Wastes is supposed to feel like a character in its own right I would have thought an agreed visual understanding of the surrounding world by the creative team would have been essential.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Prog 564

In yesterday’s Slog entry, I asked if script robot Pat Mills now wrote his thrills in the spirit of grim reinvention which is all the rage in American comics at this time. It’s just as likely that the age of the target 2000 AD audience has been raised and, consequently, the dark motives of his characters previously only alluded to can now be written about overtly.

Currently in Nemesis Purity’s Story, Mills tells of the first encounter between the alien rebel leader and who goes on to be his only human friend. Purity, thanks to some of Nemesis’ hocus-pocus and her own feminine charms, has been working on winning over Torquemada’s confidence by wooing the grand master. However, now she is exposed and on the run from Mimesis, a monstrous parody of the thrill’s main character.

For me, after the The Two Torqumadas story, where the Goth-metre pointed towards Marilyn Manson instead of Robert Smith, Purity’s Story is more successful. Much of this is down to art robot David Roach. His style might initially seem more traditional in comparison with his predecessors but he can tell a story well. The story itself is accessible too. The motives of the characters and its objectives are clear. These are all things, in my opinion, that Nemesis needs right now.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Prog 562

Recently, certain strips have been allowed to increase their page count as if Tharg tolerates this in the circumstances where the story dictates. Judge Dredd Oz has been averaging between seven to eight pages while this prog’s episode of the ABC Warriors runs to nine. That’s a lot of pages for a non-Dredd, mid run episode.

Thrills written by Pat Mills have taken a turn for the bleak over recent months and I’m trying to work out if this is down to the new art robots employed or to the writer himself. Take for example ABC Warriors. When it featured in 2000 AD during its first run all those years ago it, admittedly, avoided any sentimentality like all the best thrills did but it was never depressing. Now, during its long awaited return, it seems to be on a permanent downer.

The work of current art robot SMS (real name unknown to me) may seem a bit static sometimes but he tells the story adequately and appears bright enough. Superstar art robot, Simon Bisley, made a stunning premier at the start of this ABC Warriors story and although clearly predisposed towards heavy metal music and its culture I’ve not felt the presence of well oiled women and motorbikes depressing in any way.

Mills seems to be affected by the trend for modernising that some American comic characters and genres are going through at this time and looks to be reinventing his own creations. In Nemesis recently, the character appears almost pleased by the murder of his son for reinvigorating his war of hate with Torquemada. In ABC Warriors, despite accepting that he is a victim of his upbringing, Mills portrays Hammerstein as a fool while the real authority in the team is held by the chaos loving, magic embracing Deadlock. It’s as if the current 2000 AD regime frees Mills to do what he has always wanted to and wear the previously underplayed cruel dynamics between some of his characters on his sleeve whereas I, a reader, preferred it when it was downplayed.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Prog 560

The current Judge Dredd multi-part epic, Oz, reaches part 16. In it, after setting himself up as bait for the Judda, Dredd uses a nabbed teleporting device to beam himself into their lair. What I’m trying to understand is why Dredd had to go all the way to Australia to do this. Couldn’t he have just set the trap up back in Mega City One?

The art during Oz has been consistently excellent with, for me, Brendan McCarthy as the creator robot star. He’s provided the artwork for the last few episodes and it’s absolutely stunning. On one hand, there’s a sense of him having worked quickly to create it but on the other the result is so lose, kinetic and perfectly designed I’m agog. McCarthy’s instinct for design, his sense of humour and his story telling discipline is making Oz particularly memorable.

Apparently, Oz is the epic that breaks the writing partnership between John Wagner and Alan Grant in two. At present however, there are no obvious signs of tension in the story. Oz might feel altogether brighter than the relentlessly grim Apocalypse War but it’s significantly more successful than City of the Damned.

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Prog 557

Two thrills finish this prog before I really get to have my say about them, Bad Company II The Bewilderness and Nemesis The Two Torquemamdas.

In the end of Book Seven, Nemesis, consumed by hatred, chases Torqumamda through the time wastes. You can’t blame Nemesis for feeling this way; two episodes back, Torquemamda killed his son with a chainsaw. Good ol’ Torque seemed to writhe around in sexual ecstasy as he was splattered by the alien child’s blood. I don’t want to speculate on what galvanised art robot John Hicklenton to produce such a lurid progression of panels but, from a story telling point of view, it’s an improvement on his earlier episodes.

In the end of The Bewilderness, Danny Franks has assembled a new Bad Company and been reunited with Kano, at last. It seems that the secret of maintaining your sanity in the midst of war is to keep a diary. Franks manages to remain relatively unaffected so far by all of the monstrous events surrounding them whereas everyone else, even the mighty Kano, is given to an emotional outburst at least every now and then.

It turns out that The Bewilderness is the story of the new units’ reuniting with Kano and ends with the promise of the real adventure to come. After episodes of this, it feels a little disappointing not to experience the story in full. I guess we were spoilt by the substance and reliability of the first story last year.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Prog 555

This prog contains two notable firsts; Simon Bisley drawing The ABC Warriors, which I am bound to talk about in a later entry, and the new logo. I don’t know about you but for me this has always been the definitive logo. Simple and elegant, it works well on the cover, the spine of a collection, a badge and a t-shirt. Ingeniously, the new logo is also being used on the Best of 2000 AD Monthly instantaneously as well. Talk about branding.

What is interesting about the change is, from the cover alone, it is clear that the editors anticipate some negative reaction. I’m supposing from this and Tharg’s comment in the Nerve Centre “let’s have no heckling from the cheap seats” that when the shape and paper quality changed a few months ago there were Sqaxx dek Thargo who expressed their dismay. I interpret this, however, as the current regime’s intent to continue to rollout change to the comic irrespective of how a vocal minority or majority of readers feel about it.

Ignoring Dredd’s statement on the front of this prog, what comes with the new logo and design for the comic is the disappearance of the ironic and often witty cover banners and speech balloons. Inside, the box for Tharg’s editorial is smaller, the drawing of his head a constant and the reproduction of readers’ art tinier. It’s as if everyone has decided that there is no space for fun in the Command Module anymore. I imagine someone high up in editorial said, “If we want the world to take 2000 AD seriously then we’re going to have to start taking it more seriously ourselves.”

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Friday, July 04, 2008

Prog 554

At last, in this prog’s episode of Oz, Judge Dredd stops kicking his heels around Mega City One and arrives in Australia. Since the latest multi-part epic began ten episodes ago, Dredd has kept a relatively low profile in his own strip. Perhaps he’s keeping his head down after the embarrassingly easy way that Chopper escaped from the cubes at the beginning the story. He even managed to abscond on his own power-board; how humiliating is that?

Internationally and particularly here in the UK, Australia is huge at this time. Kids are bunking off school to watch Neighbours, Crocodile Dundee (the best film of the eighties; discuss) had recently been a hit in the cinemas whilst the country itself is just weeks away from celebrating two hundred years since its first settlement. Yet, despite all of this, I would never have expected a Judge Dredd multi-part epic to be set there.

To me, Oz changes the dynamic of the thrill by more firmly establishing the idea of an international judiciary. Yes, before we had learned of the existence of other Mega Cities in America, the East Meg Judges and Brit-Cit but because these places had been established as either threatening or indifferent (see The Apocalypse War) Mega City One still managed to remain unique and alone amidst the irradiated wasteland of America. Now thanks to friendly Australians, bright sunshine and easy transport to it, Dredd’s world seems less of a menacing place.

PLEASE NOTE: Yesterday, I blogged about my “concerns” with the strip Bradley. It seems that sometimes, all I need to do to start enjoying a thrill is to get my doubts about it off my chest. I quite enjoyed this prog’s little yarn in rhyme, A Krissmas Karrol. Maybe the writing, the art and the story telling has improved in just a couple of progs, but maybe it is just me.

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Prog 552

In this prog, Simon Harrison’s Bradley returns for its third outing. I don’t want to give you the impression that I was, at this time, resistant to absolutely every new art robot that appeared in 2000 AD after my comments about John Hicklenton the other day but I did have a hard time getting to grips with Simon Harrison’s work. My memory is that I was baffled by the apparent popularity of Bradley (after all, the thrill must have been popular because it kept reappearing). Now for The Slog, I find that fragments of that bafflement still remain.

Twenty years ago, I couldn’t understand why Bradley was even in 2000 AD as it doesn’t appear to have any science fiction or fantasy tendencies. It’s just about a hyperactive child, albeit drawn to look less than human but that hardly qualifies its presence. Is it because now that Tharg has allowed a superhero strip to appear the next logical step is for a thrill inspired by the tearaways that feature every week in The Beano? Bradley does have spiky hair like Dennis the Menace and a sweater that rolls up to conceal the lower part of his face sometimes like that character from The Bash Street Kids. But Bradley isn’t pushing against authority like those Beano characters. Instead, each episode seems to end with his parents sharing a humorous observation about his personality as if script robot Alan McKenzie is writing it for other young parents like he might be.

But it’s Harrison’s art I found most difficult to come to terms with. Characters are drawn with no eyes or big eys. No nose or a fat nose. They have three fingers and a thumb. Tharg might argue that this is because the characters are aliens. Sometimes I thought that this is because Harrison was influenced by artwork from The Beano before discovering The Sisters of Mercy and The Mission while on other occasions I thought his work came from the skateboard and graffiti art culture of the time (two things I knew little about). Whatever, I find I still have no idea.

Encountering Bradley again this time for The Slog, I find I’m enjoying the strip more although I totally understand why I thought its appearance was inappropriate. Other thrills at this time seem to be working hard to provide some substance other than what the surface tells us it to be about. Bradley is just about an annoying little kid. I’m okay with Harrison’s art this time too. I remember he goes on to replace Ezquerra as regular artist on Strontium Dog but I can’t recall how I felt about that so maybe I did grow fond of his work… Or maybe I was just pleased that this meant he didn’t have time to draw more Bradley.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Prog 550

At a Comic Convention around this time, my friend and I attended a panel. As we waited for it to start, he, uncharacteristically loudly, talked about how he felt that Zenith Book One was a rip off of the Alan Moore version of Marvel Man. This caused me some discomfort as I had spotted, sitting in the row in front, script robot Grant Morrison. I recognised him from the year before where I had asked him a quick question after a panel. He helpfully answered it but, despite being in the depths of the building and away from any natural light, I was unnerved by him wearing sunglasses. I have always wondered if my friend’s outburst contributed to Morrison’s frequent criticism of superstar comic writer Moore and his work.

Zenith Book One comes to a satisfying conclusion this prog. Nazi super villain Masterman is dead, the many angled creature that possessed him has been done away with, St John is now Minister of Defence for the Conservative Government and Zenith is number one in both the single and album charts. Art robot Steve Yeowell has provided a consistently spacious job throughout allowing Morrison’s deceptively casual script to breath. Everything wraps up nicely… except I can’t help feeling that had Alan Moore never written Marvel Man Book One we would never have heard of Zenith.

The inclusion of Lovecraftian monsters and the pop culture references can’t detract from what I see as structural similarities between the two strips. That’s not to say that Zenith lifted wholesale, like a naïve and gushing enthusiast, from its predecessor. Instead, I suspect Morrison saw Book One as his crossover thrill; the one that built a bridge from an established hit superhero strip of the time to his strange and hyper-imaginative version of the genre.

When Marvel Man was first serialised in Warrior during the early eighties, it was exactly what British comic readers wanted; a believable superhero we could call our own. It worked like a pain killer, providing the fix we needed almost instantly. Zenith, on the other hand, works like a course of antibiotics. It has an accumulative effect, with each episode of each new book adding a fresh new depth to what has gone before. Moore was stopping the pain but Morrison has been working to clear the infection altogether.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Prog 548

With the new format now six months old, The Slide I so smugly talked about before and first mentioned a year of progs ago still hasn’t really taken hold. In fact, just taking a snap shot and using only this prog alone as a guide, I would say that we are currently in the midst of a particularly strong period.

Bad Company returns with an eight page opener to their second story. It doesn’t seem that long since the first tale was wrapped up. Zenith rattles towards the conclusion of his first book. Strontium Dog is up to its knees in yet another memorable yarn called The Rammy. And Judge Dredd Oz is just getting started.

The only strip that looks anything like the odd thrill out is Nemesis The Two Torquemadas. John Hicklenton’s art is so ink heavy, so perverted, so gothic and such a departure from Brian Talbot and Kevin O’Neill who drew the thrill before that it’s a bit of a shock, even second time around. Major cast members get lost in the inky atmosphere, story telling seems compromised by indulgent splash panels and every character with even just a slight wicked streak is drawn with a heavily rendered, Joker sized grin.

But Messimo Bellardinelli’s work is often equally challenging and he’s an artist whose style I grew to like. My memory is that Hicklenton develops story telling discipline, his artwork becomes almost intricate and his comic work improves. Whether this change takes place by the end of The Two Torqumamda’s I can’t remember right now.

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