2000 AD Prog Slog

Monday, November 30, 2009

Prog 943 09/06/95

Item: In his Output column, Tharg denies the rumour that 2000 AD will begin renumbering from prog 950 with prog 1. Personally, I don’t remember ever hearing this rumour. Anyway, it’s not true. I love the way Tharg is trying to imply that just because there’s a Judge Dredd film about to come out, it’s business as usual here, when actually it’s not. Just look at that cover for starters; another still from the movie.

Item: Script robot Kek-W made his or her 2000 AD debut a couple of progs back with the start of the Grudge Father sequel. I always really liked Kek-W’s thrills and thought for a long time that he or she was perhaps a pen name used by Mark Millar or Pete Milligan. I don’t know much about this mysterious writer but I do know that he or she is a person in his or her own right.

Item: My memory is that the Star Scan was phased out long ago but here it is continuing to appear. Just look at this one of Judge Dredd by Arthur Ranson. Isn’t it great?

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Pog 940 19/05/95

There’s nothing quite like a re-launch prog, except this one is relatively low key in comparison with others recently. I guess all of the brew-ha-ha is being saved for a couple of month’s time when the Judge Dredd movie is released.

This prog does boast about its exclusive pictures from the upcoming film though including this one on the cover. Inside are another five including Dredd riding his Lawmaster bike through a burning street, Mean Machine Angel adjusting his dial, a scar-less Rico standing in front of Hammerstein (?!) and Judge Griffen also standing by the “ABC Warbot”. There’s also the still that confirms that all of those terrible, terrible rumours are true; Dredd struts ‘round without his helmet on.

Director Danny Cannon is interviewed in Empire Magazine around this time saying that Judge Dredd fans need to grow up, accept that there is a real world and in it a movie version of the character would have to appear with his full face exposed. The little boy who had fan artwork appear in the Nerve Centre has grown up into a needy adult desperate for Hollywood’s approval. At one time at least, 2000 AD sold hundreds of thousands of copies to working class British kids who had real world lessons fed to them in imaginative, beautifully drawn and astutely satirical ways. They were not like those Star Trek fans you see on the news every now and then who speak only Klingon and have their living rooms decorated to look like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. To dismiss a Squaxx dek Thargo’s concerns over the dispensing of a Judge Dredd fundamental is bloody ignorant. We are entitled to be worried. After all, what other changes are going to be made if they are willing to show us the face of Dredd? Are the Lawmasters going to hover? Is Dredd going to have a comedy sidekick called Fergie who lacks the brain damage and dignity of the original character? Is Dredd going to smile and kiss Judge Hershey by the end of the film?

I’ve a lot to say about this movie and its impact on the relationship I and, I imagine, many readers had with 2000AD, as well as the contribution it made to the real world perception of comics, the art form I love, and many of the highly and under appreciated people that work making them. I guess I’ll write about some if not all of it over the coming weeks as The Slog covers those periods.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Prog 939 12/05/95

In Harlem Heroes Cyborg Death Trap, the team are hired by a corrupt corporation of drug dealers for some baffling reason who must know, if they had bothered to do any research at all, that they would scupper their plans to hook the world on Cerebrex, a made up drug. The team, as is often the case in a Michael Fleisher written story, roll from one catastrophe to another until Tharg has a quiet word and says, “I think it’s time this story ended now, don’t you?” And it does, with the Heroes bathing the satellite with all the Cerebrex on with microwaves, thus stimulating the nannites in the drug and making everything explode. Duh, this was all foreshadowed in an earlier episode, you idiots, we’re told in a ‘thargnote’.

The art for the entire twelve part run has been pretty good. Kev Hopgood has what are I presume are his pencils painted over by Siku, the result being both colourful and, mainly, good comics. And as for the story by Michael Fleisher? Well, I appreciate being able to follow it which, after a lot of the other stuff I’ve read recently, is a big plus, and although the characters spurt some shockingly cheesy lines of dialogue from time to time, I find myself softening to some of them.

Cyborg Death Trap also sees the return of Artie Gruber, the grotesque bad guy from the very first Harlem Heroes stories by Pat Mills and Dave Gibbons. Like Michael Fleisher, just when you think this guy is done for, he returns from an apparent death, more cross than ever before. I don’t know if Gruber ever makes an appearance again but, according to the 2000 AD Database, this is definitely the last time we see Fleisher here. In a way, I’m glad we parted company on a good note although I still remain surprised he got as much work as he did.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Prog 937 28/04/95

After ten weeks, Judge Dredd Crusade concludes this prog. In it, Judge Eckhart returns from a fifteen year deep space mission claiming to have a message from God. Judge representatives from around the world race to Antarctica where Eckhart’s space-probe has landed hoping to claim God’s secrets for themselves. The resulting scramble sees a judge from each of the international judiciaries that we’ve seen so far turn brutally on each other.

Although not an epic, it’s great to see a longer tale painted by the same artist, in this case, Mick Austen. Austen’s art is great here. It’s big, bold, colourful and professionally told. As for the story, I’m not so sure. It’s credited to both Mark Millar and Grant Morrison but I see no sign of Morrison’s contribution. Crusade reads like half an idea to me, as if one of the writers did their job but the other didn’t turn up for work.

The real disappointment in Crusade is the conclusion which fails to clarify the confusion the story creates over what is Grud. If Eckhart has a message from God, then who is Grud? I had always thought that Grud was God but now, it seems, they are two separate entities.

Having said this, I still don’t feel it’s a bad yarn, especially compared to most of the stuff that’s been appearing in The Megazine recently. If you think of Crusade as an excuse to get a bunch of Judges fighting each other, like in a dumb superhero cross over, then it’s fine. Millar, Morrison (yeah, right) and Austen deliver some grotesque and imaginative fates for their cast that makes it all good fun in the end.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Prog 935 14/04/95

All sorts of genre clashes seem to be taking place in at least two of the thrills at the moment. In Brigand Doom, which I have previously thought of as a vigilantly strip, vampires make an appearance, draining their victims’ bodies of their blood and bank accounts of their money. Okay, perhaps I’m being a touch selective here given that Doom himself is a reanimated corpse, but still, I have always felt that writer Alan McKenzie has downplayed the thrill’s supernatural aspects outside of the convenience of bringing back a popular character he had prematurely killed off.

Account Yorga – Vampire is awash with vampires inkily drawn by Dave D’Antiquis, looking as if they’ve been wrenched from a nourish film from the nineteen-thirties. I’ll be honest with you; vampires as a genre irritate the hell out of me. This sexual allure that they’re often portrayed as having strikes me as contrived. Give me Count Duckula over Twilight any day. However, this old fashioned quality the vampires have in Brigand Doom de-sexifies them and warms me to them; it’s as if they could all be my granddad when he was young.

Meanwhile, Finn looks to be turning into a superhero strip. Just this episode alone we see Finn blind tanks with his cloak of darkness and take out a helicopter with a spear. It ends with the appearance of The Crusader, a shiny character that flies around with his sword held out in front of him like Marvel Comics’ Thor.

For fans of the Third World War strip that appeared in Crisis from which Finn originates, characters Eve and Trisha also appear. Eve is now a TV journalist whilst Trisha is a policewoman. In this story, Eve originally doesn’t recognise Finn when he’s Paul the taxi driver and yet, in the tale before, he is telling Eve how he became the supernatural terrorist, suggesting that Tharg has committed some sort of scheduling cock-up. Perhaps in the past, Squaxx might not have minded the error, but that’s what you get from superhero readers; over attention to continuity.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Prog 933 31/03/95

In Armoured Gideon Trading Places, psychic photographer Frank Weitz and the giant robot have switched bodies thanks to a pair of magicians based upon Penn and Teller. The only way for Frank inside Armoured Gideon to return home from The Edge is for him to relive the worst day of his life, in Vietnam 1971.

Given that it was established in a previous story that Weitz is about forty years old and it’s the year 1995 now, it’s surprising to me to learn that he was working as a photographer for Life Magazine twenty-four years earlier. That makes him, what, sixteen? Let’s say eighteen at best. It just seems very young to me for a press photographer to be sent in a war zone, that’s all, even though it’s been established by Paul Hardcastle that the average age of a Vietnam vet was n-n-n-nineteen.

Although always well written and drawn by John Tomlinson and Simon Jacob, Armoured Gideon usually comes across to me as post modern and ironic in tone. It’s actually been refreshing to see Weitz’s cynical veneer peel away during this story and see a brutal experience from his past that goes some way to explaining why he is the way he is. As a result, Trading Places is probably my favourite Armoured Gideon story so far.

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Prog 931 17/03/95

I never for a moment thought that it would happen but now that it has it seems so obvious that I’m surprised that it didn’t happen earlier. The new Rogue Trooper, Friday, has met the original, Rogue Trooper, and his unit, Venus Bluegenes and a re-gened Helm, Gunner and Bagman. Normally I find this sort of encounter very exciting, like when the New X-Men had a fight with the original team, but I’m surprised to find myself feeling faintly disappointed.

Why this is I’m not entirely sure. Perhaps I have always considered 2000 AD above this sort of thing. Perhaps I see Tharg and the creative droids continued withdrawal from Dave Gibbons’ re-invention after they started, not so long ago, with the return of the bio-chips as a sign of weakness. Perhaps I find writer Steve White’s use of military jargon (real and made up) not to my taste and a bit of a turn off (although he’s a definite improvement on the previous guy).

Most curious of all, at least to me, is that despite having read this story before, I can’t remember it happening. This is weird because, despite my faint disappointment, I am actually intrigued to learn what the circumstances are that led to these characters of different worlds meeting each other. I’m just a little worried because of my memory blank that the answer is going to be too dreary to be worth remembering.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Prog 928 24/02/95

Hooray! We’re back! Just in time to celebrate 2000 AD’s eighteenth birthday. Eighteen? My God. It only seems like yesterday when I read prog 1 for the first time. I can remember it, all inky and exotic. And that colour Bellardinelli centre spread! Wow. Now look at it. All glossy and shiny. And about to release a movie too. I don’t know what to say.

To celebrate, instead of a free gift or extra pages, Tharg is giving away tickets to the new Star Trek film, Generations, in a competition. I like that cover by Dermot Power. It reminds me of the Star Wars cover to prog 166 Brian Bolland drew to mark the release of The Empire Strikes Back. I was big fan of early nineties Star Trek and really excited about Generations but I still didn’t enter this competition. Tharg doesn’t clarify where the tickets can be used (for all I know, they could be invalid at my local cinema), they’re not being given away in pairs (I don’t want to go on my own) and, as far as I recall, I wanted to go on or around the release date not a few weeks after. So, I didn’t bother. But just in case you’re thinking about entering, the answer is Gene Roddenberry.

This prog is also a re-launch prog and, as we’ve established here before, there’s nothing quite like a re-launch prog for reasons, on this occasion, which have mainly been covered above. All stories start afresh making it the ideal jumping on point for Star Trek fans confused into buying the comic by the cover. It also features the unbelievable return of Harlem Heroes written by Michael Fleisher. I can’t believe that it’s back, I really can’t. Just when you think it’s all over, Fleisher’s Harlem Heroes rises from the dead like some lazy horror film villain to annoy the hell out of you. Happy bloody birthday.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Judge Dredd The Megazine 2.83 07/07/95

Thank fuck that’s over. That’s right, I’ve finished reading volume two of The Megazine and it got to be really hard work in the end. Hopefully, this hasn’t been some foreshadowing of the final weeks of The Slog still to come.

As it happens, some of the support strips, which in general I’ve been dismissive of here, have been okay recently. The backup, black and white, un-credited Judge Dredd story in this issue for example, by Robbie Morrison and Steve Sampson, was very good, even if Dredd himself acts uncharacteristically sensitively towards a citizen’s needs. Missionary Man, which is always solid, featured some surprising art by Jamie Grant. On the surface, it looks sketchy and incomplete but up close it’s very impressive, I would say.

The real promise comes in the form of Plagues of Necropolis, which has been a series of self contained stories set during the Mega Epic from a couple of years ago. All written by Si Spencer with rotating artists, Plagues of Necropolis might be relentlessly grim but each story-with-a-twist functions as The Megazine’s equivalent of a Future Shock. Accessible, easy to follow strips that stand on their own is exactly what this comic needs.

I suppose the reason for the launch of volume three next issue is to provide the ideal jumping on point for new readers gripped by the fever that never happens caused by the release of the Judge Dredd film around now. The problem with ideal jumping on points is that they can also be ideal jumping off points. So, goodbye Megazine; it hasn’t been nearly as much fun as it should have been.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Judge Dredd The Megazine 2.81 09/06/95

I’ve seen the opening page to this issue’s Judge Dredd story, Whatever Happened to Bill Clinton, appear several times in The Megazine recently. In it, President Clinton, having had a personality transplant into the body of Heap Molinski against his will, sits unmoving in a Mega City One psycho-cube before muttering “heck”. Why it’s appeared in The Megazine on its own a handful of times recently I’m not entirely sure. Perhaps it’s a nineties form of viral marketing. You know, the type of viral marketing that isn’t contagious.

Another printing curiosity occurs in the backup Dredd strip drawn by the unmistakable John Hicklenton. Pages three and four appear twice instead of pages one and two. Perhaps this error is exclusive to just my copy, although I suspect not, but the consequence of it is that the strip itself is impossible to follow as a result. Okay, maybe it is possible to work out what is going on, but, I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t bother trying.

One thing that isn’t an error but editorial shouldn’t have allowed to happen just the same occurs on page five of Whatever Happened to Bill Clinton. Siku paints an over muscled Dredd kicking in the door to the White House before hitting two goons with Biz and MacNeil written on their foreheads in the face with a day-stick. Someone has stuck on Dredd’s back a ‘kick me’ sign. Maybe this is a dare that Siku couldn’t believe he got away with or an in-joke around The Megazine office. Whatever the reason, it’s shit. Don’t do it again.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Judge Dredd The Megazine 2.79 12/05/95

I’m back! Normally I would cheer but I’m back reading The Megazine during a period where I have difficulty remembering what happened in the last issue when I’ve been reading two a day so you can imagine how baffled I am after leaving it for over a week. If I hadn’t have got distracted by something else to read, The Megazine volume two would be over and I would be back on the weekly by now. Oh well, it’ll all be over by the end of the week, presuming I don’t get distracted by something else, that is.

Anyway, I wonder if the Judge Dredd story, The Secret Life of Judge Pal, which finishes this issue, is influenced in any way by this cover to the fifteenth Eagle Comic reprint drawn by Brian Bolland. There’s something about the sight of who might be Dredd himself grinning inanely that is quite alluring, I find. In the story, kiddie friendly Judge Pal broadcasts to the city and encourages young citizens to report crimes for prizes. I must be getting old because I found myself thinking that getting children to act as narks for prizes is quite a good idea. Gordon Brown should think about it. The indignity and banality of the programme comes at a price for Pal himself though who is known in Justice Department for his boozy bat-glider sessions.

Artist SB Davis fully paints the strip in a colourful and electric manner. The way Davis draws kids reminds me of the child actors Coronation Street seems to cast; they’re more like miniature old aged pensioners than actual children. It’s also pleasing to see that John Wagner’s sense of satire is as acute as ever.

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Thursday, November 05, 2009

Judge Dredd The Megazine 2.77 14/04/95

Long time readers of The Slog will know that I feel unable to comment on the work of creators who I have had personal experience of. For example, I was slowly coming around to the comic strips of Igor Goldkind when a couple of comments from him here muddled my ability to judge his work. I have always withheld from commenting on Steve Sampson’s comics because I used to know him. However, The Slog is now entering a period of strips painted by him that I have never encountered before and, furthermore, I haven’t seen him for well over ten years and we were only ever acquaintances in the first place. And besides, the last few times I saw him, I think he was trying to avoid me.

In Judge Dredd Poor Johnny, a fan breaks into a rock star’s mansion and starts to smash the place up. By the time Dredd arrives, the masked fan is gone leaving no evidence for the law to follow. It looks like the burglar has escaped scot-free. The strip ends, however, with the fan, who has clearly gone through face change surgery, killing and replacing his idol.

I strong one-off story with a nice twist at the end written by John Wagner whose Megazine contributions recently have been a bit hit and miss. As for the artwork; I’ll confess the truth to you now. Although my judgement of his early comic work was especially impaired, I always suspected that it was over stylised at the expense of the story. But I tell you this now because I realise what an arsehole I can be. Sampson’s comic artwork on this Dredd, and his recent run on Anderson PSI Division, has been great. Colourful: stylish; strong comic strip artwork that engages with telling the story. If his style ever did overwhelm the story in the past then he’s improved considerably since then.

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