2000 AD Prog Slog

Friday, August 29, 2008

Prog 613

In Night Zero, cyborg cab driver Tanner has been hired to protect Allana, a beautiful woman in fear of her life, and with good reason. So far in the story, Allana has been killed twice and is now down to her last clone. Any murdering actioned upon her from now on is permanent.

Night Zero seems surprisingly traditional, especially when you consider how out there some of the work by newer 2000 AD creators has been recently. The story is told by writer John Bronson and artist Kev Hopgood with absolute clarity. Even the first person narrative is kept to a minimum which is surprising given the pulp novel influence on the strip and the fashion for it in mainstream comics in 1989.

Night Zero is undoubtedly professional. All of the rough edges have been filed away and any of the creators’ personalities seem to have been drained off. What’s left is a thrill that wouldn’t seem out of place had it appeared during the comic’s first ten years.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Prog 611

We may have had strips like Zenith and Nemesis feature recently but 2000 AD is going through its most thrilless period in its history so far. Prog 520’s format upgrade seemed to signify a change in editorial attitude towards its content but since the arrival of the glossy cover and four extra pages with prog 591 the approach seems to have changed again to, well, not trying very hard.

For example, the majority of progs since 591 have featured a reprint of some sort; either a run of Daily Star strips or, in this issue, a Walter the Wobot one off from one of the annuals. Cross promotion ads seem more common and less amusing. Next prog, The Best of 2000 AD, reservation coupons; they’re the same every week; Tharg looking at you from over his Ray Ban sunglasses and saying exactly the same words that he did last time and the time before that.

Future Shocks seem to lack the same pop pizzazz that they once had. This prog’s, by Mike Collins and Simon Jacob, features a prospective writer trying to come up with ideas for stories. I mention this because the writer is a human being and not a robot. Newer strips, examples this prog being Night Zero and Zippy Couriers, are at best straight and often bland.

Why I continued to buy 2000 AD during this period is probably the subject for a Slog entry itself but this prog’s Judge Dredd, Our Man in Hondo part 4, is probably part of the explanation. John Wagner’s solo Dredd might have a more dour tone to it but it remains excellent whilst artist Colin MacNeil seems to have been born to draw the character. Although, those chin-off covers are a bit of a cliché by 1989.

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Prog 608

From the point of view of The Slog, not all thrills are created equally. Therefore I should make clear that although I enjoyed the recent run of Moon Runners, compared to Zenith Phase II, which I was critical of here, it was not very good. There is a hierarchy of strips in 2000 AD from which more is expected at the top which includes Judge Dredd (obviously), Zenith and Nemesis.

In Nemesis Deathbringer, the characters arrive through the time wastes to modern day (1988) Britain (alternative Earth). There, Torqumada seems to be both in charge of a particularly bullying section of the police force and a property landlord. Nemesis, perhaps pissed off at the murder by Torquemada of his son but perhaps not, is closing in on him. At the same time, Purity’s memory has returned and it looks like she might actually switch sides.

Writer Pat Mills has succeeded in giving the Nemesis stories a mythic quality thanks, in part, to having the characters racing through history but, unfortunately, there is also often a really annoying element to them as well. Deathbringer, for example, has the relationships of a group of young characters weaved throughout. These self obsessed, time consuming little bastards (or “dastards” as someone from a Nemesis book now might say) are made all the more objectionable thanks to them being Goths. Surely it’s a failing if when reading Deathbringer the reader is aching for the obviously despicable Torquamada to take his chainsaw to each of the down to earth, working class, Goth cast.

John Hicklenton’s art style is undeniably memorable but his story telling, although improved, has a long way to go. I still have to work hard at deciphering what visually is going on. For example, one of the Goth characters, Jennifer, plays an important role in Deathbringer and yet she is drawn to look exactly like the other major human character, Purity.

So, in summary; Nemesis Deathbringer is mythic, annoying and difficult to follow but better than Moon Runners.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Winter Special 1

A strong enough start for the Winter Specials. It opens with an eight paged Zenith Interlude, not drawn by Steve Yeowell but by unfamiliar artist M Carmona, which summarises, in part, what happened in Phase I for those of us that were there but didn’t really follow what was happening properly.

Zenith is followed immediately by a reprint of a Rogue Trooper story set during his Nu Earth days serving as a reminder of how much better the strip used to be. There are some filler pieces as we’ve come to expect from specials and annuals. There’s an interview with comic fan Paul Thompson, the host of ITV’s Night Network. My question isn’t what ever happened to him but who the hell was he?

The second half is made up of new strips written by Alan Grant featuring the reliable work horses of Judge Dredd, Anderson PSI Division and Strontium Dog. If it wasn’t for the proficiency of Grant at this time I wonder what state the expanding 2000 AD line would be in.

The Special is a nice format; card cover with glossy interior, and yet, for £1.95, you would expect perhaps a lot less filler content. Still, Fleetway seem to be flirting with an even more upmarket production for the comic which, if you’re going to do, you should do with the specials and not the weekly.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Prog 606

Zenith Phase II ends this prog after an eighteen week long run. In it, the rock star superhero fights his Ed 209 bound father and foils an attempt by Richard Branson to bomb London from a lo-jacked nuclear submarine. Also, he confronts his creator, Peyne, just like Marvel Man did in his second book.

In the twenty-first centaury we talk about decompression in comics as if it’s a new thing but in Zenith Phase II two decades old examples of it can be found. Grant Morrison wrote whole episodes where it seemed that barely anything happened or was uttered as Zenith swaggered around the Scottish complex he was being held captive in or wrestled with his dad.

Steve Yeowell’s art for the strip looks simplistic throughout. During these almost silent chapters, his figure work is solid but his backgrounds are almost non-existent. It’s as if he found blacking out huge areas of the artwork with a brush the most satisfying act in the world.

Yet, despite Phase II being my least favourite of all the Zenith books, it is still the best thing that has appeared in 2000 AD recently. Morrison and Yeowell not trying very hard is still better than other new contributors at this time trying their best.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Prog 603

The latest in the ad-hoc series of Rogue Trooper stories, Hit Four, concludes this prog with his targets all being killed as instructed earlier by his mysterious benefactor. This time, Rogue and his bio-chip buddies have had to wipe out The New Moral Army in its entirety; an organisation of both South and Nort deserters who have united under a religious extremist.

At the moment, Rogue Trooper by Simon Geller and Steve Dillon is pacey, action packed and accessible. The problem with it is that it helps to emphasis the problem with this period of change that 2000 AD is going through right now. As the comic aims for an older and broader audience characters such as Rogue who established themselves in the guts of the comic’s boy biased past seem somehow to shine a light on the cracks in the current tone.

Rogue never wonders about the moral implications of just unquestioningly appearing and killing his targets. There never seems to be a satisfactory explanation as to why the victims keep the war rolling and are therefore targets in the first place. The bio-chips are chirper these days and never seem to hint at any sort of trauma at having experienced full body loss. Basically, the strip is dumber now than when Gerry Finley-Day wrote it.

If 2000 AD continued to be aimed at ten years olds as it once was, then a dumb strip like this would be perfectly acceptable, but now it’s aimed at seventeen year olds and somehow redirected Rogue Trooper, along with most of the other newer strips, seems less intelligent than what came before it.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Prog 601

Thanks to Band Aid, Live Aid and Comic Relief we, in the UK, were suffering from what the press referred to as “charity fatigue”. I liked “charity fatigue”. It made charity uncool and provided me with justification for not giving my money away to needy people. Before, I never really had a good excuse worked out.

In this prog, a four paged one-off Bad Company strip appears drawn by Brett Ewins, Steve Dillon and Tom Frame at UKCAC 88 (the UK’s Comic Art convention) to raise money for children’s charities. Incredibly, except for Pete Milligan’s script which was written in advance, it took them four and a half hours to produce the strip. What took them so long? I guess they must have stopped for lunch half way through. Nearly £150 was raised from donations from attendees as they worked. I was at that UKCAC and I seem to remember avoiding the room during the period in which they worked. The groats Tharg would normally pay creators for running the strip in the comic are also going to charity and the original artwork will be sold at a later date to raise even more money.

I think the artwork looks very impressive considering the brief period of time in which it was produced. I find myself wondering what the result would have been like had the annual 24 Hour Comic Day been happening in 1988 and they had taken part. Above average, I imagine. Most of all, I find it heart warming to think that at the time they were editing the UK’s coolest comic Deadline, Ewins and Dillon found the time to raise money for charity. Good on you, chaps.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Prog 599

Moon Runners has been running for nine weeks now; a story of a space trucking firm and the vying for its ownership between a group of over affluent and bitchy women. Sounds a little like ACE Trucking Co to me. Hell, it even has the same artist, Messimo Bellardinelli. But Moon Runners, written jointly by Alan McKenzie and Steve Parkhouse, is a straighter and camper strip (if that isn’t a contradiction in terms).

I couldn’t stand Moon Runners first time around. I couldn’t understand how anyone could think this combination of ACE Trucking Co and Dynasty would appeal to the readers of 2000 AD. Why is Tharg commissioning strips like this when he could be running mash-ups between Flesh and Knight Rider or MACH 1 and The A Team instead? Now that I understand that the comic seems to be in the midst of a half arsed and misguided attempt to appeal to female readers as well as the long standing it isn’t so confusing. I actually quite enjoy it. At least it makes lot more sense than the impenetrable Tyranny Rex Soft Bodies by John Smith and Will Simpson which is also currently running.

In this prog’s episode, handsome Captain Flynn stumbles across a naked Carroll Nash in one of the ship’s cabins, her bits tastefully concealed by objects and angles, at the same time that the Spirit of St Louis docks to receive cargo. You would have to be the most socially backward Squaxx dek Thargo not to have picked up of the sexual references established by the inter-cutting and yet, in comparison with the tit-fests and semi-ons that feature in twenty-first centaury editions of 2000 AD, it’s remarkably subtle.

Moon Runners occupies what I think of as 2000 AD’s ‘blind spot’; slap bang in the middle of each week’s episode of Judge Dredd, irritating like a kidney stone. Now that Dredd is in colour throughout, his stories begin in the centre spread before continuing five pages later. I wonder how many episodes of Moon Runners got missed by readers eager for their complete dose of future law.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Prog 596

I knew that a lot of Squaxx Dek Thargo enjoyed the Judge Dredd story Song of the Surfer but I never realised that Chopper as a character was popular enough to support his own strip. Yet, here he is, up to part three of a four part run. In Soul on Fire, Chopper tries to talk Jug into the racing the route to Supersurf 10 again. Jug agrees but it’s apparent that he isn’t particularly motivated which, obviously, irks Chopper as he is desperate to prove he is the better surfer.

After having made a good impression with his Strontium Dog shorts recently, Colin MacNeil gets the art gig here. I like his work at this time. With other new artists on 2000 AD making it difficult to decipher the story that they’re supposed to be telling, it’s good to see a guy who seems to have been influenced by the strengths of the original generation of art droids.

John Wagner brings with him the more dour tone he’s been using on Dredd since Oz finished. I feel that the original appeal of Chopper was that he was a rebel, flipping the bird at the authorities in Mega City One. Now, the character has changed from sparkling youth to bitter has-been. It’s hard to see what the commercial appeal of the character is now that he has grown up or to imagine how Chopper can go back to who he was after all that has happened to him.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Judge Dredd Annual 1988

The Judge Dredd Annual always works better when the colour art is provided by the same artist I think, this year being Carlos Ezquerra again, although I prefer three separate stories to one big one. In Costa Del Blood, Dredd tracks down Dracula and a nest of vampires which he gives what for to in typical pre Wagner/Grant split fashion.

The black and white pages are all reprint now. As you know, I like a Daily Star Dredd strip at the moment (in its place). This time, it’s called Pyro, drawn by Ron Smith; a mash-up between previous Dredd stories The Graveyard Shift and another, shorter tale I can’t remember the title of. What I’ve seen so far of the reprints of the daily strips is that they are reproduced too small with much of the detail by Smith and Ian Gibson lost. What I would like Rebellion to do when they eventually give in to pressure from The Slog to collect The Daily Star strips in order is to print only a couple of episodes a page, large enough for us to appreciate the art. I might even buy a copy in those circumstances.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Annual 1989

The weekly comic might be going through a period of change but the annual remains a bright and tidy hard backed unit of thrill power. Only the new logo and the presence of Bradley in Simon Harrison’s contents painting indicate that this is meant for 1989. Bad Company still patrol Ararat and John Wagner and Alan Grant still write together. In the past I’ve criticised the annuals for feeling old fashioned and out of date compared to what’s been happening in the weekly but now, for me, it’s an asset.

Interestingly, just as Moon Runners begins in the weekly, what I believe to be the last episode of ACE Trucking Co appears. Ace returns to his home universe by flying into the heart of a collapsing star only to find that Feek the Freak has turned ACE Trucking Co into an amoral, money making organisation. The story finishes with Ace locked in a prison cell and abandoned in space… And all in just six pages!

Friday, August 08, 2008

Prog 592

Free inside this prog is a double sided poster promoting Crisis, 2000 AD’s latest companion comic for older readers, published fortnightly and released this week during September 1988. My copy still has the poster stapled inside and I am genuinely tempted to stick it on my wall as some sort of ironic statement. Besides, what I can see of it looks pretty good.

Crisis launched to promotion heavier than usual for a Fleetway comic at the time mainly because its content was politicised and aimed at the more affluent teens and up age group. It featured two main strips both in full colour; Third World War by Pat Mills and Carlos Ezquerra and New Statesmen by John Smith and Jim Bakie. Each strip was fourteen pages long, or thereabouts; this was so that producing the twenty eight paged, monthly American versions would be easier when the time came.

I wanted Crisis to succeed but for me there were problems with the comic from the start. Although the main characters in Third World War were around my age group, I found none of them particularly sympathetic or easy to relate to. The second summer of love was just finishing so a strip earnest about the political state of the world felt out of date. New Statesmen wasn’t particularly accessible. I remember that, as a whole, it took a couple of reads for me to get to grips with, while single episodes were just baffling. Although altogether fresher looking than 2000 AD, the cover design to Crisis used for the early issues meant that they often looked too similar to each other.

Six months later, Crisis was re-launched with Garth Ennis and John McCrea making what I consider to be one of the most memorable comic premiers ever with Troubled Souls. Set in Northern Ireland, Troubles Souls understood something that the opening strips didn’t seem to; whatever turmoil the world around us might be in at the end of the day what’s more important to young people is their girlfriend and their mates.

Quite rightly, Ennis and McCrea became regular contributors to Crisis and, after the re-launch, we saw work by some particularly vital creators including David Hines, Sean Philips, Duncan Fegredo, Glynn Dillon, Mark Millar, Paul Grist, the Pleece brothers and John Smith (once he got New Statesmen out of the way). My favourite strip was The New Adventures of Hitler by Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell. Originally commissioned for the music magazine Cut, it caused a storm when ex-pop star and regular columnist Pat Kane resigned over it. Unfortunately, after all the fuss, the magazine was cancelled only a couple of episodes in. Crisis ran the strip, the perfect balance between pop disposability and literate permanency, in its entirety.

Perhaps the most memorable Crisis strip never got to appear in the comic; Skin. Written by Pete Milligan and gloriously painted by Brendan McCarthy, printers refused to print the issue of Crisis that Skin was due to begin in because workers at the factory were offended to the main character being a thalidomide skinhead. Isn’t workers organising themselves to censor the content of a left of centre publication during the time of rampant Thatcherism and union bashing at least a little bit ironic? Skin was eventually published by Tundra a couple of years later.
Yet, despite these bright sparks, something obscured our view of them; Third World War. Sitting there, like the fat establishment that the strip itself was supposed to be commenting on. For its entire run Crisis featured Third World War and although it started to use younger artists instead of Ezquerra after the re-launch, for me, the problem with it had never been the art but the tone of the stories. Eventually, Crisis switched its frequency to Monthly, never a good sign, started to run translated and less engaging European strips and, ultimately, was cancelled.

Over the years I sold a lot of my 2000 AD collection (before buying it back again) but I always kept my set of Crisis. I guess I am fascinated by the uniqueness of it, amazed that it even existed and see it as the forerunner to DC’s Vertigo line. I do believe that Deadline Magazine, which also started around this time, was far more successful at engaging with young adults than Crisis. Flicking through the set again, I am even wondering if I have been a little harsh on Third World War; maybe it was never old of date but ahead of the times with its themes of globalisation and deforestation.

Anyway, I won’t be re-reading Crisis for The Slog.

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Thursday, August 07, 2008

Prog 590

Second issue in and already the big format upgrade has been undermined by the presence of nine pages of reprint. I kid ye not. A Time Twister by Alan Moore called The Big Clock (five pages) and four pages worth of Daily Star Judge Dredd strips. Squaxx dek Thargo less charitable than me might say its ten pages as The Daily Star strips come with a fluff piece about how it’s being printed here to celebrate, get this, the character’s seventh anniversary in the paper. Not first, not tenth, not twentieth but seventh. Tharg told us that we were getting four additional pages a week for an extra 5p. I feel as if I’ve been duped.

I didn’t bother reading The Big Clock as I read it recently for The Slog. I did, however, read Judge Dredd The Mean Machine. Dredd now appears in The Daily Star every day in the more standard three panel format. This means that the stories run over several weeks instead of being contained into a single episode every Saturday as before. Interestingly, when the weekly version demonstrated pin point accuracy in story telling, the bite sized daily episodes provides the writers space to breath. How the average Star reader manages to follow what is going on in the overall arc, I have no idea.

It’s unnervingly reassuring to read a Dredd story co-written by John Wagner and Alan Grant so soon after the break up. It feels almost upbeat in comparison to the tone of recent stories in 2000 AD by Wagner alone. Replacing Ron Smith as artist, for the duration of The Mean Machine anyway, is Ian Gibson. I love his artwork here particularly. So energetic, so alive.

Having not read this story in the original Daily Star you might be wondering why I even consider it a reprint if my first encounter with it is here. The truth is, it is not built for 2000 AD, many of the story themes have been seen in the original Dredd already and, therefore, it has no place being in the weekly. By all means pad out the specials and annuals with this stuff but the weekly is meant to be the showcase of the line, where all the cutting edge thrills make their debut.

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Prog 589

In a formatting sense, 2000 AD makes another major adjustment this prog with an increased page count, more colour and a glossy cover. It doesn’t seem that long ago since it switched from the square newsprint format that it used for nearly ten years. Now look at it. It’s trying to look like a style magazine. It won’t be long before it has a spine, three hundred pages of ads and be filled out with aftershave samples.

In the Nerve Centre, Tharg has been gradually turning his head over the last few weeks from his blank stare to the right to, this prog, looking directly at us, smiling and winking. Well, at least he’s not wearing a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses and shouting “wus’up!”

Content wise, it’s a premier league collection of strips. Nemesis Deathbringer continues, Rogue Trooper appears in a one off written and drawn by Steve Dillon and Slaine the King and Zenith return by the usual suspects. To celebrate Judge Dredd now being in full colour throughout, John Wagner writes a story in which the character arrives by twister in the Land of Oz. Just like the film, it begins in black and white and switches to colour on his arrival. It’s drawn and painted by John Ridgeway, an artist whose work on Judge Dredd so far has demonstrated that he is remarkably appropriate for the job.

Since returning from Oz (Australia) and becoming Wagner’s sole writing responsibility, Dredd has made comments about his aching back and been less harsh on any exuberant citizens he’s encountered. Last prog, he actually smiled at the prospect of arresting Jug McKenzie. It’s as if Wagner has thought to himself, “if I’m going to be writing Judge Dredd for another ten years I’m at least going to fill out the character a bit more”. It’s a bit disconcerting for those of us who remember the Dredd that dispensed a deadpan quip at the end of each episode.

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Prog 586

In Strontium Dog The No-Go Job, up to its penultimate episode this prog, Johnny Alpha, Middenface McNulty, a representative of some church or other and a couple of other mutants go to a feud world in search of a missing bishop. The mission is complicated by the representative being a snide, less than holy man and Middenface having to mind his granny’s untrained, almost feral dog, Dougal.

It’s difficult to tell at this point how Alan Grant, now sole writer of Strontium Dog, is doing thanks also to the arrival of new artist is residence, Simon Harrison. Previous artist Carlos Ezquerra set the visual tone for the strip for many years, so seeing someone else drawing it is quite jarring, particularly someone whose style is so unique.

Surprisingly, thanks to only really knowing his work on Bradley before now, Harrison has an inclination for science fiction illustration. Some of the images he has produced have been very striking and remind me of pen and ink versions of old science fiction paper back covers from the seventies. However, although his panel arrangement has improved since Bradley, his story telling seems compromised by a lack of clear definition between characters. I can spot, for example, Johnny Alpha and Middenface because I am familiar with them from before and they were designed by someone else, but characters he has created himself look, on the whole, samey and not so easy for me to tell apart. Working out who is who slows reading the story down and makes Grant’s normally airy scripting style seem clunky. There’s something to be said for Ezquerra’s thick, clear and bumpy outlines.

I am aware though that replacing Ezquerra on the strip must be difficult for anyone, even for a more experienced art robot than Harrison. Tharg could have easily gone with Colin MacNeil whose Strontium Dog art seems to indicate a willingness by him to draw in the definitive artist’s style. Going with such a different artist is admirable and, believe it or not, I am willing hard for Harrison to succeed.

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Friday, August 01, 2008

Prog 584

In The Krool Heart, writer Pete Milligan seems to break the rules set for Bad Company during the first story by taking the unit off of Ararat and putting them in sight of defeating The Krool empire altogether. Furthermore, the team is now made up of more fantastical characters, such as psychics and shape changers, rather than the dirtier, more sci-fi driven creations of the first book. The result has been a story that is thematically different and, although entertaining, isn’t as engaging as before. It’s as if Milligan has been determined not to repeat himself with the second story and the result is solid but not nearly as spectacular. The artwork, however, by Brett Ewins and Jim McCarthy remains as good as before. In the midst of newer artists to the comic I find less than immediate, their work remains bold, dynamic and functional to the story.

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