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2000 AD Prog Slog

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Prog 779

You might remember when previously writing about Michael Fleisher’s Harlem Heroes that, as much as I disliked it, it was never the 2000 AD strip that I hated the most. That strip was still to come and, now, that strip is here; The Clown. Written by Fleetway PR guru Igor Goldkind and painted by Robert Bliss, it’s the story of a clown who takes out revenge on the gangsters who killed the pony he uses in his act.

At the time, I resented another member of the editorial team writing for the comic when they should have been concentrating on their day job, which, in this case, was promoting the comic, even more than David Bishop, editor of The Megazine, scripting The Straightjacket Fits. I was also losing my patience for fully painted comic art, particularly that informed by Simon Bisley whose work I enjoyed as a one off but didn’t want to see replicated by other artists. Encountering The Clown again, I can see the triggers in it that annoyed me. The idea itself isn’t particularly good; the humour isn’t that humorous; the main character looks inappropriately over muscled; the use of pencilled drawings over a paint wash as a legitimate method for producing panels instead of as a short cut. However, this time for The Slog, I can see that actually it isn’t so bad that it doesn't deserve the accolade as worst ever thrill although I wouldn’t say I like it particularly either. My heart did sink again when, at the end, a character speaks for the author and implies the strip’s return although that might be a remembered feeling instead of a genuine one.

The accolade for the worst thrill ever is still held by Michael Fleisher’s Harlem Heroes, which finishes another story this prog. Even shortening its runs and having the mighty Ron Smith draw it does little to redeem the strip. It’s like a horrible virus that keeps returning just when you think it’s gone for good.

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Prog 777

My last entry about Toxic was partly a preamble for Finn, Pat Mills’ latest creation for 2000 AD written with Tony Skinner. As mentioned there, Finn is the Third World War strip from Crisis reconceived for Squaxx Dek Thargo. Fantastical elements have been thrown in and all of that boring other stuff removed. Paul Finn is now more overtly a witch agent of the goddess whose mission is to flush out evil gods, The Newts, by killing enough of their human agents, The Shining Ones, to attract their attention.

I like Finn. I think of it more as the adventures of a descendant of Slaine than the continuation of Third World War. It also feels pleasantly free of laboured pretension, something that has weighed down other Mills’ strips, such as The ABC Warriors, recently. The painted art by Jim Elston and Kevin Wicks helps. Elston’s characters over act so that taking Finn too seriously is difficult.

I am also enjoying Tales From Beyond Science at the moment. This is the new vehicle for artist Rian Hughes where writers Mark Millar and Alan McKenzie relay the scripting job back and forth between each other. Each episode is a surrealistic tale of the unexplained hosted by Professor Hilary Tremayne.

Future Shocks can often be used as the venue to try out new creators. Sometimes this tactic undermines the strip’s perception so it’s nice to see Tales From Beyond Science, a Future Shock styled thrill, appearing regularly with a tight team of established creators investing creatively in it. Besides, I just like Rian Hughes. His comic artwork brings me joy.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Prog 775

The presence of Pat Mills’ Finn in 2000 AD at the moment has me thinking about the context in which the strip and, more widely, his work at this time exists. More obviously, Finn is a sequel to Mills’ Crisis strip, Third World War, remastered for 2000 AD and its audience. Characters from the Crisis strip feature in Finn, only now it’s a genre story; a violent adventure fantasy for crusties and part time pagans.

Mills has not only recently seen the end of Crisis, the politically worthy Fleetway title in which he was heavily involved, but also the altogether more anarchic colour weekly, Toxic, for which he and his co-writer Tony Skinner conceived the majority of strips for. Toxic was an independently published comic which enabled its contributors to keep the rights to their creations. It’s said that its presence was the main reason for 2000 AD turning to full colour content about a year ago.

The theory is that Toxic existed partly as Mills’ own reaction against the worthiness of Crisis. However, I always felt that it was created to fill the gap in the market left by 2000 AD during its years of turbulence (covered here in The Slog). While the galaxy’s greatest comic went in search of its new identity in the changing comic marketplace before settling into the shadow of its former self in 1992, Toxic was 2000 AD as it was originally conceived only this time with better reproduction and without any boundaries.

Personally, I found Toxic’s editorial embrace of over the top violence and second rate swear words a little off putting and lacking in charm. That’s not to say that it didn’t feature a lot of great content like Marshal Law, Accident Man and Muto-Maniac. My personal favourite was The Driver by ex-Oink cartoonist Banx with David Leach. Editorially, however, Toxic failed by composing strips with the imagined collected album in mind. Further more; they seemed to appear for only short runs before disappearing mid-story sometimes never to appear again. Whether this is because a limited budget prevented the accumulation of a library of work I don’t know but I do know that many readers found these factors very annoying. In the comic shop that I worked in the time, I could see the sales of successive issues drop like a stone.

Toxic’s cancellation represented an end to a period that saw experiments in comic publication such as Crisis and Blast that occurred thanks to the successes of 2000 AD, The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen. For mainly that reason, its failure is sad to me. All we have to look forward to from here on is a glut in comics published by Marvel UK which, as far as I am concerned, weren’t real British comics at all but an imprint of the American publisher for direct sales shops. And after that, free gifts with beaten up leaflets attached that may or may not feature some comic strip content.

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Prog 773

There are thrills that you just never expect to see again in 2000 AD. Zenith is one; Halo Jones is another. Another still is Skizz but here it is up to part 7 of its second run. Originally, it appeared ten years ago to cash in on the upcoming success of the film ET and was written by Alan Moore with at by Jim Baikie; now it’s been renamed named “SkIIzz” and is now written by the original artist.

In it, we rejoin Interpreter Skizz to see that he is being held in quarantine on a moon thanks to the live yoghurt he ate during his time on Earth. As he attempts to outwit his robot guards and the mechanisms in place to keep him there the original cast of Earth characters reunite in Birmingham. Cornelius is still in procession of a communications device that originally belonged to Skizz which warns the authorities of the upcoming destruction of Earth’s sun thanks to our war like inclinations. (Damn those war like ways of ours! They’re always getting us into trouble!)

For a thrill that has drifted into being sacred in the mindset of many Squaxx dek Thargo, this revisit to it is quite enjoyable. Baikie, who I have never seen write his own work outside of Skizz, is demonstrating that he has a strong inclination for it. In fact, the overall result is I suspect a lot better than it would have been had it been written by anyone other than Moore, I suspect.

Personally, I’m intrigued by what the existence of SkIIzz implies. My understanding about copyright in the UK is that permission from the original creators needs to be had before it can be reprinted and revisited. Would Tharg have had to have had permission from Alan Moore for Baikie to be able to create the sequel? Or, because Baikie is one of the two principle creators of the original series, no permission from Moore is necessary? If this is the case, could we theoretically see sequels to Zenith and Halo Jones appear as long as Steve Yeowell and Ian Gibson are involved? Of course, I am not a copyright expect at all, and I could be making a great big fool of myself by asking these questions in the first place but, well, there you go.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Prog 771

ITEM: The latest Garth Ennis penned Judge Dredd yarn comes to an end, Justice One. I remember first time around feeling disappointed by this tale because, for some reason, I expected it to run for a lot longer than just six episodes. This time, I found it to be an utterly satisfying Dredd adventure. In it, Dredd spends time aboard the Justice One space craft last seen ten years ago during The Judge Child Quest. Two members of the judge crew have made plans to jump ship and to start a new life amongst the colonies but Dredd’s presence on this mission forces their hand and they start murdering their colleagues.

A major plot screw up occurs when one judge shoots another with his own gun. As we all know, firing someone else’s law giver would result in it self destructing. I don’t think that it’s necessarily nerdy of me to notice something like this which is, after all, an established piece of Dredd lore.

ITEM: To celebrate fifteen years of the galaxy’s greatest comic, Tharg has organised a dance event called Panic in the Year Zero at The Camden Palace. DJ’s include Mark Moore of S’Express (I remember them!), Micky Finn Crusher (huh?), Chris Coco (no, sorry, name doesn’t ring a bell) and Roxilla (oh, she works for 2000 AD!). Also present will be writer and artist droids and unnamed celebrities.

I’m fascinated to know how successful the night was. Did many Squaxx dek Thargo attend? What was the woman to guy ratio like? I envisage lots of adolescent males sitting in dark corners, glaring at anybody they think might be a comic creator. Perhaps Grant Morrison and Mark Millar had a dance together in their shiny new leather jackets (a photograph of them at a signing appeared in the Nerve Centre a couple of progs back). Personally, I wouldn’t even consider attending something like this unless the ad made it clear that women get in for free.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Prog 769

Brigand Doom is back, which is impressive given that at the end of the last story he was dead thanks to six bullets being shot into his chest. He’s alive again thanks to a voodoo priest who has reanimated his body. The mindless shell of what was once Brigand Doom seems to have been smart enough to have tricked the priest into returning his full faculties after he failed to complete his orders correctly. What a mistake!

Brigand Doom feels like one of those early sci-fi films that you’ve read about in a magazine somewhere but have never got to see. Dave D’Antiquis art is noir-like and very evocative. Writer Alan McKenzie knows to keep the dialogue stripped down and tight allowing the atmospheric black and white artwork to breathe. The result is a strip that’s very enjoyable to read even though, when you stop to think about it for a moment, you realise that there’s not much going on underneath the surface.

Meanwhile, in her first solo story, Durham Red has been fed the hallucinogenic drug psyke-o by bad guys and chained to an island populated by mad men. We learn, thanks to feverish flashbacks, that her sister died because of the drug. This is all very well but I find myself wondering if calling a strip “Strontium Bitch” in 2009 would be as acceptable as it was back in 1992. The word “bitch” has a lot more misogynistic weight to it now than it did as recently as seventeen years ago.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Prog 767

After Michael Fleisher’s string of diabolically bad strips for 2000 AD, you’d have thought that Tharg would have learned his lesson and stopped hiring the established American writers from the seventies to script his thrills and yet, here he is again, this time booking work from Paul Kupperberg. In Trash, British environmental officer Trask travels to New York and independently investigates why all of the plants in Central Park have developed a single, unified intelligence and turned violent.

Nigel Dobbyn provides the artwork for Trash. I’ve always liked the seemingly controlled way that he composes and draws his panels and I imagine that they would look great in black and white. My only criticism is that the colour looks a little bleached to me. It could do with a bit more vibrancy, a bit more zing.

And contuary to my deliberately misleading opening paragraph to this entry, Kupperberg isn’t bad either. He is investing intelligence and humour into the strip, something his American colleague avoids doing to the point of it being stubborn. He even writes an okay British accent. Also, from the point of view of the word count, he’s giving us value for money. In fact, you’ve got to respect the guy coming into the 2000 AD environment at a time when Anglo-Squaxx Dek Thargo American-professionals relations are at an all time low. It must have felt almost hostile to him.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Prog 765

For a blip, Alan Grant has been the main voice for 2000 AD having recently finished Anderson PSI Division Engram and currently writing Durham Red and Judge Dredd The Art Geomancy. In Geomancy, one of Stan Lee’s clan, the Wu Wang, travels to Mega City One all the way from China, to avenge the defeat of Deathfist in an earlier story. It involves the capture and then the torturing of Dredd by a martial arts lady nut job.

It’s an accessible tale from Grant with extra delights thanks to cameos from Stan Lee and Max Normal. Where in Engram his approach to the subject matter failed to engage the reader in the way that I think it should have, in Geomancy his method of writing is entirely right. It allows the stunning artwork from John Burns to shine. Everything about Burns’ work is right. The page and panel composition is effective. The drawing, finely crafted. The colour, vibrant and bright, as if he understands to compensate for the inadequacies in reproduction that have failed some of the fully painted artwork before it. On one hand, it’s no surprise that Burns has been drawing comics for years, on the other it’s puzzling that he’s a relatively new comer to 2000 AD.

ANNOUNCEMENT: Tonight at 10 PM, More4 is broadcasting the documentary Here’s Johnny. It’s about 2000 AD artist John Hicklenton. Here at The Slog, we know him for his troubling work on Nemesis the Warlock which is really saying something given that he is a successor to Kevin O’Neill. More recently, I covered a Judge Dredd story called Black Widow, the grotesque themes of which he drew utterly appropriately. Seven years ago, Hicklenton was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The documentary follows how he lives with his condition including how it affects his drawing.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Prog 763

As you know, Anderson PSI Division is the antidote to the fascistic brutality of Judge Dredd. Often a story will see Anderson on a mission but usually she’s away on some sort of personal journey that Justice Department has to patronise because of her special skills. In Engram by Alan Grant and David Roach, she has a complete mental breakdown after encountering a mutant baby in the Cursed Earth and ends up straitjacketed in an asylum.

One important thing to note about this story is that it’s the first to appear in black and white after 2000 AD went full colour a few months ago. Why this is, I don’t really know, although I suspect it is because Engram started when the comic ran two black and white strips regularly and then went on a break.

The other important thing is the revelation that Anderson experienced regular sexual abuse at the hands of her own father who she later went on to kill. Sexual abuse is a pretty heavy subject for a genre driven strip aimed at young people to handle. Grant seems to know this and decides not to deal with it directly but uses pretty unsubtle symbolism instead. The result of this and the long break is a story that seems to fail to evoke the connection in the reader that it should. Which is a shame because not only do I think that this subject matter can be dealt with in genre based comic strips meant for young people but I also know that Grant could have been more successful at it had he taken a different approach. For me, seeing Anderson not killing her father but living her life as the best person she can be with her memory always intact resolutely refusing to feel sorry for herself would have made the revelation much more effective.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Prog 761

If Alan Grant’s intention by killing Johnny Alpha off was to leave Strontium Dog in such a way that it couldn’t continue without him, then he failed. It’s back, been re-titled Strontium Dogs, and is being written by one of the current voices of 2000 AD, Garth Ennis.

Monsters, which finishes its run this prog, follows Feral’s hate driven attacks on the paramilitary occupiers of Parnell’s World as his own mutation develops. As the story rolls on and we learn that the paramilitary and the Mutant Liberation Front (MLF) have a mutually beneficial relationship, Feral falls in love with Bet, a norm rebel old enough to be his mother.

I feel a bit sorry for Ennis. His seems to be inheriting the high profile strips that occupy big places in the hearts of the Squaxx dek Thargo. With Strontium Dogs, he does the right thing by not trying to replicate or tribute what has gone before but write it in his own voice. The result is a tale that lacks the same quota of amusing grotesquery that we’re used to from our Strontium Dog stories but succeeds in making the character of Feral likable, something his creators Alan Grant and Simon Harrison failed to do.

What makes this first Strontium Dogs story particularly memorable is Steve Pugh’s art. Although drawn to the wrong page shape for some reason, his work is big, bold and beautiful. Pugh is one of my favourite new artists of this time. I could happily while away the hours just looking at his comic work. Although this cover he did for earlier in the run makes me think he spent too much time drawing pop divas during the eighties.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Prog 759

Max Brewster’s time hanging out with Tim Kelly from the old Kelly’s Eye strips from the 1960s in Universal Soldier The Indestructible Man ends this prog. The story written by Alan McKenzie has washed over me a bit, I’m afraid. All I can remember is that Brewster goes in search of Kelly, finds him, they have a couple of fights together and then it ends. Had I been more familiar with the original Kelly’s Eye then I might have had a frame of reference that made this story feel more exciting to me.

However, McKenzie seems to be very good at writing a script that complements the artist and Brett Ewins comes out of this looking very good. The art on The Indestructible Man is charming and is what really made this run particularly enjoyable.

Unfortunately for Mark Millar, I am familiar enough about Sam Slade Robo-Hunter to know that he’s writing it all wrong, wrong, wrong. I’ve already mentioned the confusion over Slade’s apparent age, haven’t I? There seems to be an obvious absence of robots in Sam’s day to day life too. For example, he has human friends with him on his stag night and a human taxi driver. The real Sam would have been driven home by some crazy ol’ droid after spending a miserable evening with Hoagy and Stogie (who, incidentally, have only made cameo appearances so far).

Anthony Williams’ art on this run has been enjoyable; all loose and cartoony, but Millar seems to be writing a different strip altogether that’s then been forced through a Sam Slade shaped gauze. The result, unlike the Harlem Heroes and Rogue Trooper reboots, doesn’t make me cross or fill me with dread; it just leaves me feeling a bit baffled.

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Monday, February 09, 2009

Prog 757

ABC Warriors Khronicles of Khaos Book One finishes this prog. In it, Deadlock takes the team to the planet Hekate to enlighten them in the ways of chaos. This means killing over zealous priests and evil vivisectionists in what Deadlock thinks of as imaginative ways but I often feel to be sadistic and a bit tedious.

The good news for everyone is that, after a ridiculous period of time where he seemed to be just inking other artist’s pencils, Kevin Walker is painting the strip. His work is bold and colourful and loyal to the story and compensates for the failings in reproduction that has affected other recently fully painted work.

The bad news is that, for a story that’s supposed to be extolling the virtues of chaos, it feels a little obvious. Since the ABC Warriors returned to their own strip, the characters seem under utilised. It’s as if every time we encounter them now they neither develop nor shine. The fact that Ro-Jaws, a character who at one time was so popular that he occasionally sat in for Tharg in the Nerve Centre, is left to work in a bar to book end the story is amazing to me. Also, I’m slightly fed up with feeling that it’s not Deadlock tying to convert Hammerstein to the ways of Chaos (Or “Khaos”) that we’re reading about but writers Pat Mills and Tony Skinner trying to convert us.

It’s another example of the reality of producing a fully painted strip by a single artist balanced against expectations resulting in story that we feel we are being drip fed. Just as you think it is getting going it disappears off on a break for Grud knows how long leaving us feeling a little disappointed. Furthermore, perhaps Mills’ current workload, which includes work for America, means that this script written with Skinner reads less in shape than we’re used to from him. Instead their partnership being greater than the sum of its parts it feels like they bring out a cynical aspect in each other. The result isn’t a story that’s bad; it just doesn’t match up to what we know them to be capable of.

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Friday, February 06, 2009

Prog 755

In Judge Dredd Twilight’s Last Gleaming Part 2, we officially learn the result of the referendum after the story in the 1992 yearbook spoiled it for us. Yes, the judges beat the democrats fair and square. It’s been a mature story that refers not just all the way back to that first democrat single prog tale several years ago but also to an Error in Judgement before then. It’s Dredd’s personal journey which has forced him to ask about the appropriateness of the system of rule that Mega City One has and if it is what the citizenry really need or want. I guess if you’re John Wagner fated to write this character on and off for thirty years, it makes sense for him to grow if only for your own sanity.

Except, although the opening The Devil You Know was written by Wagner, Twilight’s Last Gleaming is being scripted by Garth Ennis. I found myself wondering after finishing the Judge Dredd story in the 1992 2000 AD yearbook (not that again) if all the stories were from this point onward un-credited if I could work out who had written what. (The Dredd story in the yearbook was un-credited and I had to look it up online). When I notice, two episodes in, that it’s being written by Ennis and not Wagner I find my opinion changing. When the monologue thought by Dredd last prog or the doubt expressed by democrat leader Blondel Dupre this issue was written by Wagner I decided that they were great moments of insight. When they turned out to be written by Ennis, they became ponderous and dull. Of course, it’s good no matter who wrote it. It does go to show however that when Ennis isn’t busy paying tribute to stories from the past and I forget about proving my initial conclusions about his time on Dredd for The Slog by just giving in to what I’m reading, then he compares favourably with the master.

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Prog 752

Free with this prog is Tharg the Mighty’s Database; a Panini album in which the trading cards free with the last two progs can be placed along with those bought separately. What I think is interesting about my copy is that it was still sealed and had to be opened by me to continue with The Slog. It makes you wonder doesn’t it? Was the guy I bought this collection from on eBay now just buying the comic and chucking it into a box without reading it? It’s understandable if this is what was happening. The previous two to three years had been a particularly turbulent period for 2000 AD and now, although things are better, it still lacks most of the vitality it had during its first decade, a period he clearly experienced. Maybe he continued to buy it in the hope that it would return to its former glory and he wanted to be there for it. Or maybe 2000 AD was now a habit for him. Or maybe he was a completist who, by prog 1188, had come to his senses. Or maybe he just forgot to read prog 752.

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Prog 751

After a couple of weeks away reading The Magazine and other associated publications, it’s actually quite nice to be back reading 2000 AD again. Although this is a time of re-launch which can fool even the most cynical of Squazz dek Thargo into thinking things are better than they actually are. As you know, there’s nothing quite like a re-launch prog.

Currently the Judge Dredd story The Devil You Know is running in which democratic groups and the judiciary campaign to win the upcoming referendum. It’s a pretty good tale by John Wagner and Jeff Anderson despite me remembering the outcome of the vote not from seventeen years ago but from the 1992 2000 AD Yearbook which I read a couple of days back. There’s a story in there in which Dredd thinks back over the events of the year in Mega City One including Necropolis and the results of the referendum. The thing is that I seem to remember exactly the same thing happening at the time of publication.

In Robo-Hunter by Mark Millar and Anthony Williams, Sam Slade visits his mother to break the news to her of his upcoming marriage to Cutie, his robo-metre. Ignoring this troubling turn in Sam’s love life, I’m surprised that he has any still living relatives left at all. In the 1992 yearbook (that again) we are introduced his gran. You might remember that during the original stories, Sam started out as a very old man whose journey through hyperspace resulted in him becoming young again. This makes me think that Millar’s Robo-Hunter is a complete reboot of the character which has jettisoned the Wagner, Grant and Gibson stories altogether. At least with Rogue Trooper Tharg told us it was a reboot but with this we have been left to work it out for ourselves.

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Batman Judge Dredd Judgement on Gotham

Let me tell you, a lot of comic readers from this period spent much of their time getting over excited about upcoming Batman projects which, when they arrived, usually late, disappointed. I’m referring to Killing Joke which, as good as it might be, didn’t really qualify as a graphic novel, and Arkham Asylum, which turned out to be an expensive clash of themes. However, Batman’s first meeting with Judge Dredd, Judgement on Gotham, delivered on its expectations.

Firstly, Simon Bisley’s art is stunning. I imagine American readers, unfamiliar with Slaine The Horned God, must have been amazed when they saw it. Typically, the book was late and there are some of Bisley’s signature short cut pages of blue wash over pencils towards the back done, I imagine, due to deadline pressures. However, he more then compensates with the many impressive single images that work like big budget movie special effects.

Alan Grant and John Wagner always write a strong access story when the need arises and Judgement on Gotham is a very entertaining introduction to both Judge Dredd and Batman’s worlds. All of the characters get fairly represented although I’m not so sure that Judge Death performing a song on stage at a heavy metal concert is a good idea.

After Judgement on Gotham, cross company efforts become increasingly common place during the nineties and less eventful. Seeing Superman fight Predator and Doctor Strange mashed into a single character with Doctor Fate deadened the thrill of it. However, for us British comic readers, Judge Dredd’s meeting with Batman at this time said that not only was our favourite comic character better than what had come before it, such as Dan Dare and Dennis the Menace, but now he is on a par with the international established greats.

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Monday, February 02, 2009

2000 AD & Judge Dredd Yearbooks 1992

This year, the annuals are now called Yearbooks and they are no longer hardbacks but soft covers. I’m not really sure why publishers Fleetway decided to make this dramatic format change. My memory is that the style magazines at the time where producing yearbooks in this way and now that 2000 AD is aspirational it wants to be associated with publications like The Face rather than The Beano.

Visually the effect is impressive. The covers on both books fold out to create a panoramic scene, stunning as much due to its size as to the quality of the artwork. The interior is much like the old style annuals in that there is a mixture of black and white and colour art but the reproduction is big. The binding is also better allowing you to open the book wide and view it properly without having to worry about the spine-glue snapping and the pages falling out.

The content is a similar mix of both originated and reprint material but, overall, is an improvement on the quality of the last couple of years’ worth of annuals. There’s a nice surprise when Glen Fabry provides the art to a new Slaine story for the 2000 AD Yearbook. It looks as though he has actually painted the artwork in grey-tones.

My favourite strip is Sleeper, by John Wagner and Geoff Senior, the lead in the Judge Dredd Yearbook. In it, we become reacquainted with Walter the Wobot, now a successful businessman. I found watching the dynamism and self respect bleed out from the character thanks to the reappearance of Dredd in his life almost heartbreaking. It goes to show how rarely we see Wagner write stories of standard US comic length and how effective he can be when given the space. Either that or I’m going through the change.

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