2000 AD Prog Slog

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Judge Dredd The Megazine 2.75 17/03/95

Say what you like about The Megazine (by which I mean, I say what I like), it’s pretty good at finding the new artist talent. Okay, all you have to do is regularly attend comic conventions and do portfolio reviews for a couple of hours before getting drunk with your friends but you still have to be astute enough to know when not to fob off a prospective artist with a “your anatomy needs work”. (Ironically, this is often said by over weight editors whose own anatomies need work, if you know what I mean). Recently we’ve been introduced to a raw but improving Trevor Hairsine, now it’s Ashley Wood.

In Judge Dredd Skar, a man monster with claws, wings and teeth is on the hunt in Mega City One and Dredd is the guy whose job it is to hunt him down. This isn’t by any means John Wagner’s most original story, in fact it’s almost a retelling of Alan Grant’s superior Raptaur, but then, recently for The Megazine, they rarely are. The art by Ashley Wood, however, is stunning. Airbrushed, curiously composed and atmospheric, Wood’s art is definitely stunning. Unfortunately, I can’t tell what’s going on.

I’ll be honest with you, I’m unfamiliar with Wood’s work other than I know his name and that he goes on to be a big success, but at this time, on Skar, his art is impenetrable. Maybe he’s trying to create a scary atmosphere but, if he is, he’s gone too far as the characters are undefined, even, quite often, the most easily recognised, Dredd. Sometimes, I’ve only been able to tell what is happening thanks to the descriptive sound effects provided by the always clear Tom Frame. ‘Thwump’ is in there and ‘Slishhh’ but it’s the use of ‘Stab’ that I found most helpful.

It’s not all hard to follow. Some pages are absolutely clear and they demonstrate an obvious talent for story telling but most of it is a fancy demonstration of Wood’s art style that, if I had wanted to see, I would have bought an art book of and not a comic.

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Judge Dredd the Megazine 2.73 17/02/95

Instead of flipping back and forth between titles, I’ve decided to focus on finishing reading The Megazine for The Slog. I’ve worked out that it should take me just over a week. It’ll be a tough week but it’ll feel great, I’m sure, to get the bloody thing over and done with. Long time readers of The Slog might remember me wondering if I should read volume two for this experiment before eventually deciding to do so. Well, let me tell you something; despite the Judge Dredd cross-overs and the Missionary Man, I still feel like I made a terrible mistake. Even now, with just ten issues to go, I’m considering skipping strips I don’t like the look and sound of which feels like most of them. I can’t believe I secretly considered seeking out volume three at one time. Thank God I didn’t.

Still, it’s nice to see Anderson PSI Division, by Alan Grant and Steve Sampson back. As we suspected would happen, she’s returned to Mega City One and full duty after her gap year away. I can’t help thinking that Judges Karyn and Janus must feel a little pissed off that she’s returned given that they’ve been jostling to replace Anderson as our Big Meg based PSI Judge of choice. As if anyone could.

It’s also nice to read an Alan Grant penned strip as he’s been absent around these parts recently, probably too busy swanking around with his American friends. He’s such a naturalistic, accessible and clear writer that he almost feels like a blast of fresh air which is saying something given how long he’s been at it by now.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Prog 926 10/02/95

Item: Take a look at this prog’s cover. It’s not just a tribute to the film The Specialist but, if you look at the bottom right hand corner, is a declaration that the target age group for 2000 AD is older than a passer-by might otherwise think. A couple of years back for The Slog, I criticised that week’s issue of 2000 AD for featuring a character walking around naked with a semi-erection in full few of Squaxx dek Thargo. Gratuitous nudity, however, isn’t a recent addition to 2000 AD. Last prog’s episode of Finn features at least two sets of naked breasts drawn full frontal. Perfectly rounded, pert breasts with the nipples exposed.

I’m not a prude. Okay, I am a bit, and I am aware that in a comic that features people exploding like sacks of blood due to alien parasitic infestation that something as natural and normal as a lovely pair of naked boobies appearing as well shouldn’t make me uncomfortable. I just think it’s a shame when 2000 AD drifts into the same realm of old fashioned comics like Heavy Metal and Epic Illustrated and doesn’t continue to focus on subverting the imaginations and developing the sense of humours of eleven year olds like it used to.

Item: I’m really enjoying Judge Dredd The Exterminator. In it, Dredd travels back in time to 2001 New York to execute the innocent incubators of an alien disease that goes on to become the blight of Mega City One. The Extermintor, told from the point of view of a New York cop investigating the killings, is a great example John Wagner’s utterly engaging story telling. At first I was unsure about Emilio Frejo’s loose artwork as he replaces John Burns a couple of episodes in but his figure work and story telling is confident and it would be mean spirited of me not to like it just because he’s someone else.

Item: Previously, I described Peter Hogan and Tim Bollard’s Timehouse as twee. I would like to withdraw that statement as I’m enjoying the current story Centaury Duty. It’s not safe and quaint just because it doesn’t feature lovely, lovely naked knockers and people popping like meat-balloons, it’s just an extremely well executed thrill. Please accept my apology.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Prog 924 27/01/95

Usually 2000 AD goes months, often years without a cross over and then, unexpectedly, two happen at once. In Timehouse, two of the characters travel to the Nerve Centre in 1977 to install a time-support while Tharg and Burt, in the room next door, discuss what to call heir new comic. (Continuity buffs: I’m not sure that Burt worked for 2000 AD at this time. My recollection is that he first appeared in a story published during the 100s two or three years later. But I could be wrong). Skiiizz is the other. In it, the Gunlords of Omega Ceti travel to Judge Dredd’s OZ, 2110, and encounter the future lawman himself at the very end of the original epic to unintentionally help fill in any plot holes.

In Skiiizz, Skizz is now living off world with his son, Our Kid, while an un-aging Roxy and Cornelius hide out in the Australian outback waiting again for the alien’s return. Meanwhile, or ‘meantime’, the Gunlords, Wayne and Trevor, have been travelling up and down through time in an attempt to locate Roxy and Skizz and prevent their original meeting, or at least the introduction of yoghurt to their own society.

I must admit that my brain has been feeling slightly frazzled recently and reading back and forth between 2000 AD and The Megazine for The Slog hasn’t helped. It means that I haven’t followed Jim Baikie’s second sequel as closely as I might have. For example, I’m unclear as to why yoghurt is so important to Skizz’s culture (has it something to do with it making them pregnant?). Confusion aside, it’s clear that Baikie is enjoying working on this story. There are some great characters, voices, scenes and (obviously) art occurring. I particularly enjoy the sight of the slightly farcical Gunlords driving around in their classic design VW Beetle and the large, android, teddy-boy with the thick Birmingham accent that climbs out of the front to carry the vehicle into the sea. Now that’s just bonkers.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Prog 923 20/01/95

Item: Like Red Razors recently, The Corps is another example of a thrill set within Judge Dredd’s world that might have been more appropriately placed inside The Megazine. The story follows a six man unit Fireteam 1, part of the military arm of Mega City One’s Justice Department. Their mission on this occasion is to undermine the Klegg/Sino alliance by faking a fire-fight between the allies on a space fort. Unfortunately, this mission is too delicate for some of the team who are more used ‘no prisoners, no survivors’.

I really like the art by Paul Marshal and Colin MacNeil. It’s big and bright and the Kleggs look particularly excellent. And it’s interesting to read an earlier example of one of Garth Ennis’ military-dynamics themed stories. My only criticism is that the suits the team wear prevented me from identifying and relating to the characters. It wasn’t until the penultimate episode that I realised that they are all colour coded but still, it might work for the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, not necessarily here. However, it’s a strong strip, superior to most of the back-ups to appear in The Megazine recently and the fact that it was run here rather than in Dredd’s own comic says more about that publication than it does about 2000 AD.

Item: Shaky 2000’s art (as he’s known here) on Soul Gun Assassin is noticeably even better than his work on the previous thrill, Soul Gun Warrior. In the comic, the whole strip is credited to him but if you look at 2000 AD website, Barney, the script seems to have been written by Alan McKenzie. It’s further evidence that supports my theory that McKenzie is an artists’ writer. I often find myself feeling respectful of him for it. Soul Gun Assassin is such an out there concept, involving a pilot with multiple out of body lives, Robert Oppenheimer’s ghost and the devil posing as the president of the United States, that it’s not entirely surprising an outside writer was brought in to file down the spiky edges of Kane’s idea.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Judge Dredd The Megazine 2.71 20/01/95

I find it very hard to imagine anybody who is culture savvy at this time – watches a lot of TV, goes to the cinema for the latest releases etc– picking up a copy of Judge Dredd The Megazine and ever returning to it after a single issue. It’s almost impenetrable. I’ve read every issue of 2000 AD and The Megazine from the beginning and even I have trouble following what’s going on.

Take for example Armitage, City of the Dead, which concludes this issue. During Judgement Day when all the Brit-Cit judges are fighting the invading zombies and Dredd’s nuking major cities, Armitage is supposedly fighting an even bigger threat, some kind of Satan guy. But what’s actually happening in the story and exactly why he’s a bigger threat, I don’t know.

Admittedly, I’m finding The Megazine hard work in general and so sections of strip get read with me completely unable to recall what I’ve just encountered. I have no real idea as to what is going on in Calhab Justice either. I think Schiellion is having another breakdown or something and everyone is fighting each other but I’m just failing to engage with the story altogether.

In Karyn PSI, there is actually an accessible, well written tale taking place except the art undoes much of it. Every character is inked in perpetual silhouette which, overall, is very striking but when read often makes it difficult to tell a, say, vampire from a judge.

The Megazine is horribly out of touch. Radio 1 is in the midst of its brutal refit, Brit Pop is invading the charts, access to the internet is starting to become more common place and, with New Labour’s election win just around the corner, an unfamiliar optimism is beginning to grip the UK. And yet The Megazine perseveres with its convoluted and bleak stories of samey muscle men fighting Armageddon.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Prog 920

That’s the way to celebrate Christmas, Tharg. Give us an extra long prog for not much more money and fill the additional pages with actual comic strip instead of ‘status updates’ and editorial bumf. As we used to say in the old days; Zarjaz!

This prog opens with an eighteen paged Judge Dredd written by Peter Hogan and painted by Ross Dearsley and Dermot Power called The Big Sleet. It’s not actually a Christmas tale, being set in July, but it features a Weather Control malfunction that results in Mega City One freezing over which is as close enough an association we’re gonna get to the festive season even if I’ve never known it to snow on Christmas day and I’m seventy-three years old. Dredd tracks the fault down to the Norse Gods and the story concludes with a big special effects fight between Hela and Odin.

The art by both artists is very, very good. Dearsley’s opening six pages reminds me very much of early Duncan Fegredo due, perhaps, to his interestingly angled panel composition. When Power takes over, the art is spectacular, particularly the pages where Dredd first arrives at the museum. As seems to be common with painty artists of his style, after a few pages in, Power succumbs to deadline pressure and the art loosens up but still manages to look amazing. Normally, a special Dredd not written by John Wagner is enough to put me off but Hogan, who I find can occasionally miss, composes an enjoyable and well timed yarn, even if it would probably collapse under scrutiny. I must be in the Christmas spirit, I guess.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Winter Special 1994

This may not be the last Winter Special, that honour is held by next years, but it the last one I’ll be covering for The Slog. My 2000 AD experiment is reaching an interesting phase of ends weather it’s actual ends, as with the 1995 yearbooks, or decided ends, as with this special. Basically, I can’t be bothered to hunt down the 1995 Winter Special on eBay because I’m certain that the effort used to locate it will be disproportionate to the pleasure received from reading it.

Having said this, maybe I should reconsider, because this years Winter Special is quite interesting at least. Once a nice Judge Dredd short by John Wagner and John Burns is out of the way there are a number of curiosities. For example, a Maniac 5 credited to Alan “McMillar”, presumably written jointly by Alan McKenzie and Mark Millar. A Bix Barton written by a “Barney Legg”, which is presumably a pseudonym for someone other than Peter Milligan. A Brigand Doom fully painted by Dave D’Antiquis. A Terror Tale written by Nick Abadzis and painted by Paul Johnson. Over all, the content is more successful than the current yearbooks and, at £2.50, is less than half the price.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

2000 AD and Judge Dredd Yearbooks 2005

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve found it hard to resist a newsagent. During the seventies, I used to run into every one I saw in the hope that I would find a pile of US Marvel imports. These days, I run to the back of WH Smith’s hoping to see 2010 2000 AD annuals, transported there from a dimension where things went differently for Tharg.

The 1995 yearbooks are the last to be published and it’s not really hard to see why. The content of both books is lacking that something that used to make the annuals feel special. 2000 AD opens with a great looking Judge Dredd drawn by Jim Baikie who takes full advantage of the book’s format to create a visual spectacular. After that, there’s not much to get excited about. The rest of the book is filled with B list thrills such as Bradley and Babe Race 2000. The Judge Dredd Yearbook begins with an entertaining team-up between Dredd and Missionary Man but after that, most of the goodness slips away. The problem is with the art, provided mainly by unknowns.

There are some curiosities. Both books, for example, choose to run in their reprint sections strips from annuals published during recent years. Apart from them seeming quite recent, there are many readers who can be only relied upon to buy the annuals every year. The Judge Dredd Yearbook prints Chris Halls painted artwork for Son of Mean Machine, a project the artist bailed out off twelve pages in. Why would a casual reader be interested in an incomplete story like this? Furthermore, the cover, both inside and out, once again, fails to take advantage of the full panorama provided by the gatefold.

To be fair, there’s nothing specific about the 2005 yearbooks that make them worse that last years. My guess is that the switch over from being annuals to yearbooks eventually confused the market. Everyone understands that the purpose of an annual is for it to be opened Christmas morning and to keep the kids quiet for a couple of hours but a big, floppy, expensive yearbook… What’s that all about? Still, I miss the annuals, and it would be nice to see something return.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Prog 919 23/12/94

Two John Wagner strips might not have been enough to keep me with The Megazine but here, in 2000 AD, he works his magic with Arthur Ranson on Button Man II, The Confession of Harry Exton. In it, Harry is back on The Game, working now for a senator who has provided him with a new life including a wife in America. Senator Jacklin decides he wants Harry disposed of after his over exuberance results in the killing of all of his opponents.

Button Man II is a cold and remorseless strip executed with similar pinpoint accuracy to a Harry Exton killing spree. Wagner’s story telling and dialogue is stripped down and direct whilst Ranson’s art is awe inspiring and precise. There’s a lot about this sequel that is like the original story, and sometimes it feels that, basically, it’s the same tale but set in America. However, it’s the underplayed connections that Harry makes with his fake wife Cora and his German Shepherd, the sense that under the surface all of these characters are damaged, that make this follow up an improvement.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Judge Dredd The Megazine 2.69 23/12/94

I’m convinced that by this issue I had given up buying The Megazine. I’ve probably been through these points before but here’s why anyway; I hated the price to comic page count ratio; I hated the status update pages; I hated the humourless, almost self important editorial tone; I hated most of the covers; I hated the over frequent reproduction of said covers within the comic; I hated the dour looking printing of fully painted art; I hated the banality of the Inquisition feature; I hated the readers letters and the responses; I hated any images reproduced from the upcoming Judge Dredd movie (it looked like it was going to suck) and I hated the next issue page.

I didn’t hate the strips but I didn’t really love them either. There’s some interesting art and competent writing going on here at this time but the weight of everything that I hated evaporated any goodwill I might have had towards what should have been the heart and soul of the comic. Even two strips written by John Wagner at this time, the Judge Dredd lead and Mean Machine, had been dragged down by the negatives.

Any vitality had gone by the end of volume one but it took me another three years of misguided wishful thinking to realise that it was never going to return. For me, The Megazine was a habitual buy and the moment my local WH Smiths stopped carrying it and I had to place a special order for it, the writing was on the wall. I only lasted this long because I had been suckered into staying because of the Wilderlands cross over.

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Prog 916 02/12/94

The last ever adventure of Bix Barton, Nigel the Napolean of East Finchley, reaches a pivotal point this prog with the heart breaking death of his trusty sidekick, Michael Cane. Cane was dropped during a battle with The Nerd Youth and smashed to pieces. It takes Barton but a single page to pull himself together or, as writer Peter Milligan describes it, “after a decent period of mourning, Bix becomes head of the resistance movement…”

Peter Milligan rarely writes ‘em like this anymore. Every single word and phrase counts. Bix Barton is undoubtedly very, very funny, fifteen seconds ahead of the best of British comedy of the time (a vintage period). Jim McCarthy’s art might seem ugly to an outsider but I can tell you that he draws Bix Barton with an intensity that’s rarely matched. He’s the straight man making the strip even funnier. It’s a shame that I don’t encounter comic strips of this calibre anymore.

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Friday, October 09, 2009

Prog 915 25/11/94

Once Judge Dredd got his own comic, it wasn’t unreasonable to expect strips set within the character’s world, such as Anderson PSI Division, to migrate over to it. It’s a surprise to see it happen the other way ‘round, though. But that’s what’s happened with Red Razers, whose enjoyable premier book was serialised during the Megazine’s first volume and whose second big adventure appears now in the Galaxy’s greatest comic.

In The Hunt for Red Razors, Red’s judge conditioning fails for some reason and as a result he goes on a great destructive spree that involves blowing up buildings and slaughtering lots of judges. As a result, Mega City One has loaned East Meg Judge Dredd, who by 2177 is kept in cold storage and only defrosted for emergencies, to help deal with the problem. The city’s gangs are rioting and Red’s friend from his pre-judge days, Spike, now bigger and badder than before, is leading them.

Where the first book was packed with fun pop culture references, The Hunt for Red Razors reads like a dumb action pic version of the character and his world. Seeing Razors and Dredd brawl across the city is like watching a good old fashioned superhero fight from the sixties; it presses a lot of buttons I like having pressed. Although the story leaves plot threads flapping about in the wind, Mark Millar has written an adventure, deliberate or otherwise, that feels as if it could, in a different world, have appeared straight after Dredd’s first epic, The Cursed Earth. Dredd has a stripped back, uncluttered, less formed quality to him here.

The true creative star on this thrill, however, is artist Nigel Dobbyn. Dobbyn embraces the energy, violence and nastiness of the script with real professionalism. The art robot’s self control has enabled him to draw an edge to the strip that other, more popular artists, might have failed at doing. Truly thrilling.

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Judge Dredd The Megazine 2.67 25/11/94

Judge Dredd, whose comic this is supposed to be, doesn’t even make an appearance this issue. This isn’t the first time this has happened. Ironically, if this were to happen as often in 2000 AD, the comic that isn’t his, it would cause outrage amongst the Squaxx dek Thargo. Is this happening here because Megazine readers are more open minded or is it because they’re jaded by the overall editorial attitude? I don’t know. You tell me.

In prog 913 of 2000 AD, Tharg reacted badly to complaints from readers that the latest Judge Dredd epic, Wilderlands, runs through the two comics. He claims that the story is written in such a clever way that readers of only one of the comics would be able to follow it. Having read both, I’m not sure that this is the case.

In Wilderlands, the craft that Dredd, McGruder and Castillo are leaving planet Hestia in is sabotaged and crash lands before it can leave orbit. While in the weekly, Dredd uncovers the saboteur as he fights to protect the surviving passengers, Castillo treks across the planet’s surface with a Hestian native towards a research station in the fortnightly.

Wilderlands doesn’t function in the way that a Judge Dredd epic is expected to. In fact, it’s more accurately the culmination of a series of Dredd stories beginning with Mechanismo over a year ago. Long lasting plot threads are rarely dealt with in this way in the strip. In fact, if anything, it’s deliberately avoided such soap operatic tactics more commonly used in American superhero comics.

Reading the story over both titles has felt a little like listening to a radio show on the BBC Iplayer over an unreliable broadband connection; just as you’re into the flow of the show, the bandwidth narrows and it pauses as it polls for connection. The art, however, has been interesting. In the weekly, we have Carlos Ezquerra’s computer generated imagery, while here, in The Megazine, we have the early work of Trevor Hairshine. Hairshine is clearly influenced by 2000 AD artists from the early days. It’s probably another irony that the new artist is drawing in a traditional style while the old one is experimenting with technology.

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Friday, October 02, 2009

Prog 912 04/11/94

ITEM: This prog’s episode of Wilderlands is drawn by Mick Austin who I haven’t seen around here in a while. There’s something quite refreshing about his art in the midst of Carlos Ezquerra’s early computer style. According to Tharg, Ezquerra has taken a break from drawing Wilderlands to visit the set of the Judge Dredd movie. I’ll be surprised if he’s back for next week. I can just imagine the art robot’s little oil pump breaking after all these years of waiting for the film to happen.

ITEM: A good indication of how ropey my memory of this period of 2000 AD is on occasions can be found with The Hunt for Red Razors part 5. This episode ends, quite excitingly, with ‘Armageddon X’ being awakened from deep storage and revealed as Judge Dredd himself. I thought this was quite a revelation at the time even if it lacked any sort of foreshadowing at all. I was absolutely convinced that Red Razors ends unfinished with this episode’s full page image of Dredd rising from the dry ice but thanks to this being The Slog, I was able to sneak a peak at the up coming progs and see that it continues for another few weeks yet.

ITEM: Skizz returns for his third story this prog called SKIIIZZ. Had it happened, I wonder what a fourth Skizz adventure would have been called; SKIIIIZZ or SKIVZZ, perhaps. I guess we’ll never know.

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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Prog 911 28/10/94

Latest ABC Warriors story, Hellbringer, reaches a pit stop after eight episodes this prog. In it, we’ve seen Hammerstein wander ‘round the galaxy re-assembling his team of the usual members including the disappointing Morrigun. (I think of her as disappointing because I’ve always felt that she’s taking up Ro-Jaws’ position.) According to Deadlock, chaos is under threat from order again and only the ABC Warriors can put a stop to it or something. We’re all so accepting that order is a threat that Deadlock doesn’t need to explain in what form it takes anymore.

The fully painted artwork by Kevin Walker is undoubtedly stunning even though some of the pages look a little murky thanks to reproduction limitations I imagine. What stops me falling in love with the art is the way the characters are interpreted as looking like muscle bound clods. It’s almost as if Walker is caricaturing Simon Bisley’s earlier designs for the cast, if it’s possible to do such a thing.

Writers Pat Mills and Tony Skinner provide some fun one liners but the truth is I feel as if I’ve read it all before. Every new ABC Warriors saga seems to start with the (re)assembling of the team and unfolds with a tedious revelation from Deadlock that Magik (with a ‘K’) requiring the tormenting of Hammerstein and the torturing of teachers en masse. Since their return as support in Nemesis the Warlock, ABC Warriors stories feel under utilised and have lacked the vitality of the original run which is a shame because the cast is great… Except for Morrigan.

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