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2000 AD Prog Slog

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Prog 826 13/03/93

Since the conclusion of Judgement Day, Garth Ennis has written a number of short run and single Judge Dredd stories. You might remember, when he took on the role of main writer for the character at 2000 AD, I expressed reservations here due to the memory that his version fails to satisfy. So far, when I’ve commented on his Dredd, it’s been favourable and any criticisms I have had have been understandable in the circumstances. Unfortunately, this six month run has reminded me of my issues.

Let’s take for example this prog’s tale, Unwelcome Guests. In it, the SJS raid a street judge’s apartment and because she’s a trained killer who’s cleaning her lawgiver at the time, she reacts by shooting them. The story follows Dredd’s attempt to represent her through the disciplinary process. My immediate problem with this is that it’s a revisit to a John Wagner idea; the latest in a line of what feels like either tributes or sequels from Ennis.

In the story, Dredd confronts the head of the SJS and, in a moment of anger, throws him to the floor. He responds, “You won’t get away with this, Dredd! It’s assault and I’ve got witnesses.” But the witnesses are two passing street judges who pretend not to have seen anything. Although he is capable of losing his temper, my understanding of Dredd is that he wouldn’t have accepted this response from the two judges. He would have told them to do their duty and then gone straight to the chief judge to hand in his badge. Ennis seems to want to portray Dredd as the man willing to get his hands dirty to get the job done, fiercely loyal to his colleagues and unable to resist a cruel putdown when the opportunity presents itself no matter who you are. However, he seems to forget that his main loyalty is to The Law and, by extension, Mega City justice.

When Ennis isn’t honouring what’s gone before, he’s satirising TV shows from his youth or the early 1990s. Already we’ve seen Blind Date, The Magic Roundabout and Why Don’t You? It feels to me as if he has only the two types of Dredd story within him, tribute and piss take, with a heavy dose of machismo thrown in for good measure.

Of course, even Wagner and Grant’s Dredd has behaved out of character and it’s possible that my perception of the character and his world is being shaped in part by a selective memory of those first ten years worth of stories. And I’m not suggesting that Ennis’s Dredd isn’t worthwhile or honourable, because it is. I just feel that he’s not providing the imagination and wit that I’ve come to expect from the thrill that those of us who have read his later work, such as Preacher, Punisher Max and The Boys, know him to be capable of.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Prog 824 27/02/93

Return of the Gronk, the second run of Garth Ennis’ Strontium Dog take, Strontium Dogs, finishes this prog. In it, the fearful, cute, little alien who once worked as Johnny Alpha’s medic and suffered a heart attack every time something frightening happened returns. He’s been reinvented as a decisive bounty hunter, like Alpha, after a hit on the head earlier in the story. The Gronk wants to know who killed “Johnnys” and his first stop is Purnell’s World to meet a drink addled Feral.

Since Alpha’s death and Alan Grant supposedly wanting nothing else to do with it, Strontium Dog/s has seemingly been stripped of its assets. Both Middenface McNulty and Durhum Red have had their own solo tales, written by Alan Grant, leaving Garth Ennis, now the official inheritor of the strip, a limited list of characters to call upon. Reinventing The Gronk in the way he and artist Nigel Dobbyn has is a good idea. Feral, by definition, needs a level headed mentor to look up to and if that happens to be a furry alien who at the next hit on the head could return to his natural, fearful self, then so be it. Personally, I think it’s a strong dynamic that is full of possibilities. Let’s just hope Alan Grant doesn’t turn up wanting either of these characters back.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Prog 822 13/02/93

Another short run Robo-Hunter story, Serial Stunners, comes to an end this prog. In it, a group of robots go on a rampage of humiliating public figures because they want their murder chips reinstated. Of course, this being written by Mark Millar, even when they’re not murdering, the robots are still managing to be sadistic. In episode two, Sam Slade visits a terminally ill boy in hospital. The entire episode seems dedicated to establishing a bond between the two characters but ends with the chair bound boy being kicked by one of the robots down a flight of stairs and out an eightieth story window.

I mention this now and not yesterday when I reviewed the prog that this incident occurred because I fully expected to see episode three begin with the boy being saved. Actually, what happened is that he wasn’t referred to again and we are left to believe that he died in the fall. I’m not sure that having a terminally ill boy kicked out of a window is very funny or that Millar exercised good judgement here. Of course, this isn’t the first time that we’ve seen a character in a wheelchair booted from a great height; remember that episode of Strontium Dog when Johnny Alpha kicks a disabled guy backwards through a wall and off a cliff? This was an over the top act of revenge against a very bad man enacted by Alpha over the death of his partner, Wulf. You could argue that the ill shouldn’t be spared the humiliating deaths that the able bodied, guilty and innocent, encounter regularly in 2000 AD but it was Millar going to such trouble to establish the situation and seemingly relishing this character’s murder that makes it disconcerting to read.

I could go further. I could argue that portraying the boy murdered by a robot who has been expressly programmed not to kill humans is dehumanising the terminally ill and the disabled but I won’t. The truth is I suspect that this was an error in judgement and I would fully expect 2009 Millar to be ashamed of this scene, if he remembers it at all.

(Scan of image nabbed from the excellent Thrillpowered Thursday)

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Prog 820 30/01/93

I get the impression that often when Squaxx dek Thargo think back through thrills from the early nineties that they forget Dead Meat featuring Inspector Raam. In case you’re unfamiliar with Dead Meat, it is set in a future and flooded London where vegetarianism is compulsary. Inspector Raam is a genetically modified ram who works for PULSE, the agency whose job it is to seek out and arrest meat eaters, dealers and the rest. The strip’s second run concludes this prog. In it, a loud mouth Texan diplomat has not only been serving meat at his banquettes and claiming immunity from PULSE but Inspector Raam has been lumbered with acting as his body guard thanks to the several attempts on his life.

I like it. Michael Cook writes a strong cast of characters who admittedly might seem like caricatures but, you know, this is a strip featuring a talking animal as its lead in a vegetarian society. Everyone has their own motives so what could be just a functionary story is actually filled out in a tight and satisfying way. Simon Jacob’s art is bright, fun and full of character. It looks to me like he’s worked at making every panel successfully exercising strong judgement on when to stop.

However, it seems that Dead Meat proved unsuccessful as this is the last time it appears in 2000 AD. Perhaps meat eating readers weren’t in the right frame of mind to enjoy a satire of this type. Admittedly, there are moments that seem extreme, such as tourists being arrested for still having undigested meat in their intestine, but we’re talking about a comic whose most popular character does something even more extreme every week. Perhaps Dead Meat had a limited life span thanks to its themes but it certainly seems a shame that we don’t seem to encounter anything written by Cook again whose plotting is tight and whose dialogue is fun.

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Prog 818 16/01/93

Brigand Doom seems to be appearing more frequently but in shorter runs; anything from a single episode to a six parter. In the past, I thought of the thrill as V for Vendetta but dumber (this isn’t necessarily an insult incidentally). If anything, it’s V for Vendetta with a supernatural element. An earlier story focused on a voodoo priest, which I thought was a device used to bring Doom back from the dead after he was killed at the end of the unexpectedly popular first story. It turns out that the supernatural is now a theme for the strip.

In Sprits Willing, Brigand Doom has a go at a medium turning the spirits that she actually communes with against her. It’s not exactly inconsistent for the thrill to dabble in this area but it does feel disappointing for it to do so. I was hoping for a bit of clever story plotting when the mysteries of Doom are eventually revealed but it turns out that he’s likely to have been using convenient hocus-pocus all along.

Doom’s motivations are becoming more ambiguous. He claims to be acting on behalf of the forgotten underclass but at the same time has no problem killing some poor working slob just because he’s a security guard at an art museum he doesn’t like. Whenever he encounters Investigator Nine, seemingly the main supporter of the issues he’s supposed to be fighting against, he doesn’t even consider twisting her head ‘till her neck snaps.

I like Brigand Doom and not just because it looks good. It’s like a paradox that becomes increasingly mystifying the more you turn it over in your mind.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Prog 816 02/01/93

Another enjoyable Finn adventure comes to an end, this prog. Mandy, the eternal, triple crosses everyone so that Finn is able to snatch the Tabula Rasa and use its powers to kill an alien and a few of its shining followers. Seeing him snap his fingers and three middle aged men in business suits fall out of the sky made me think that this thrill must be a due a 2009 reprint if only because currently we all hate bankers and crave a simpler way of life apparently.

The short run Robo-Hunter Ace of Slades also finishes this prog. In it, Sam teams up with various alternate reality versions of himself to defeat the most evil Slade of all. Seeing all of these wrong interpretations of Sam is quite good fun, including a girl one and another based upon Saddam Hussain, but it did make me think that the wrongest Slade of all is the Mark Millar version we’ve had to experience for the last year or so.

Sam Slade artist, Anthony Williams, also draws this week’s Judge Dredd New Year story, written by Garth Ennis. After analysing the loadstone, the one from Judgement Day which now has Sabbat’s severed head perched on top of it, Tech-Judges learn that it still has some power and will continue to exude influence for a while longer. This is exactly the sort of news those of us irritated by Judgement Day don’t want to hear. I was hoping we would all be pretending that it didn’t happen from now on.

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Winter Special 4 1992

As specials go, Tharg seems to have had a revelation in so far as this years Winter Special is successfully special. There’s no attempt to try and bulldoze the Squaxx dek Thargo into thinking that they should like a Bradley story or a Zippy Couriers adventure or a Judge Hershy instead of a Judge Dredd strip or an appearance by the meathead version of Harlem Heroes. Instead you get what you should; a sixteen paged Nemesis The Warlock, Judge Dredd, a Tharg story and an ABC Warriors spin-off one-off, Blackblood. Now this is zarjaz.

Special notes of interest for you; both Nemesis and Blackblood are written by Pat Mills without Tony Skinner. I don’t want to seem mean spirited but I would say that you can notice the difference. They read slightly more exuberant. Judge Dredd The Squealer is written by John Wagner. I like Garth Ennis but I would say that his version of Dredd reads like he’s worked hard at it. Wagner’s version has such confidant pacing, timing, brevity and characterisation.

The only nod to contemporary 2000 AD is a new Tales From Beyond Science by Mark Millar and Rian Hughes. (There is a an Indigo Prime text story but I have never read non-strip tales for The Slog, even when covering the first ten years worth). As you know, I like this thrill so am perfectly happy for it to appear here. Well done, everybody.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Prog 814 19/12/92

I didn’t really enjoy Revere’s second albeit brief run but I didn’t hate it either. I just felt disappointed. In it, Revere, the little witch boy, is on the run from the authorities (boo!), falls in love with a girl, has sex with her, she then gets killed, then he returns home and slaughters the bad guys. Simple really. What more can you expect from a six week run?

Except, Simon Harrison’s characters look too similar to each other again which means that when I think that that’s Revere jumping through the air it turns out to be his girlfriend being shot with a gun. It’s frustrating to me because only recently I was saying in The Slog how improved and beautiful his work had been getting. Furthermore, on a couple of occasions, I was reading scenes set in the recent past without realising it. Surely flashbacks must come with some sort of visual indicator.

John Smith writes almost beautifully but I can’t help feeling that, as much as I dislike Bradley, Alan McKenzie would have done a better job on Revere. McKenzie works to the artist’s strengths whereas Smith, despite Revere apparently being jointly conceived by him and the artist, writes what he wants to no matter who is drawing it. Which is fine if it’s Sean Philips, the man who can draw anything, but if it’s Harrison, then you have to accept that the cast will need to be small, at least.

Revere promises to be angst ridden and earnest but thanks to a disparity between the two main creators, it doesn’t work for me. Perhaps if they actually sat next to each other as the strip was being created, it would have been successful. Who knows?

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Prog 812 05/12/92

There seems to be a lot of magic themed thrills appearing at the moment which could be irritating to readers buying 2000 AD believing it to be a science fiction comic. There’s Finn and Revere, but my favourite, The Journal of Luke Kirby, concludes this prog after an appropriate thirteen week run. In The Night Walker, young Luke with the help of magic master Zeke, investigates a series of child killings and, ultimately, works to save his cousin abducted by the creature responsible for them.

As you know, my feelings about Alan McKenzie as a writer are that the quality of the work he provides is dependant on the artist he is working with. Again, he’s writing for John Ridgeway whose scratchy inks and watercolour washes conjure a detailed, atmospheric and authentic looking 1960s. There aren’t many occasions that I would accept the slow pacing McKenzie deploys in this story but it’s so effective and appropriate that it’s hard to imagine the strip being nearly as good squashed up into four, eight or even ten episodes. The Night Walker is definitely a story to be savoured, I would say.

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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Prog 810 21/11/92

I’m saddened to report that new thrill on the block, Wire Heads, isn’t working for me. I say “saddened” because the creators involved appear to have talent and the idea for the strip is strong but the execution hasn’t been entirely successful.

Wire Heads is set in a future world where what we now refer to as the internet has evolved into a vast virtual reality landscape called Paraspace. People go here for information, on holiday or to fight wars. Of course, while you’re there, you have to ensure that you’re body is in a safe place which is fine if you’re in Paraspace for a bit of innocent fun, but if you’re there for more subversive reasons then you had better be careful.

Mark Eyles writes it with a pace which is completely appropriate for what is supposed to be an adventure strip and peppers it with ideas throughout. Mike Hadley has an art style I like which teases a side of my brain that I only normally use when I’m asleep. However, I’m finding Wire Heads to be a flat experience. For example, I can’t always tell when the cast are not in Paraspace because the futuristic real world looks too much like the unreal one. I can’t tell the characters apart, even though many of them are drawn to look very different to each other (although not all of them). Their personalities are too samey and their names too ridiculous to remember. When they enter Paraspace, I find trying to follow who is who is confused further by me thinking that some of them have different bodies there (which may or may not be the case). It’s very frustrating because I can see how it wouldn’t have taken much reconfiguring for the thrill to work. Use a colour code or art style that differentiates Paraspace from reality, make the character names simpler, and occasionally step out of the story altogether to explain a concept or to elaborate on a situation. Instead, what we have is probably a good third or fourth Wire Heads run but not a very accessible opener.

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Friday, April 10, 2009

Prog 808 07/11/92

Book One of The Legend of Shamana finishes this prog, Pat Mills’, Tony Skinner’s and Carl Critchlow’s revisit to the world of Flesh, one of the thrills to first appear in prog one. Nothing much has changed, the humans are still in the Jurassic period, farming dinosaurs for their meat and the dinosaurs are still railing against them. Except this time, there is Shamana, a young Tarzan like girl, who’s been raised by dinosaurs and now runs with a pack made up of various species. The humans are seen as being like an infection whilst Shamana and her gang are the antibodies.

I like the idea of Flesh and I’m really enjoying having it back. The story is pretty much the same as the one that ran for four months or so back in 1977. I particularly like the way Critchlow paints the dinosaur characters with pink gums, purple scales and blue head feathers. The age of the dinosaurs is so colourful. My only criticism is that characters on the side of the humans seem under represented. In general, they’re shirtless muscle men in jeeps being crushed by boulders or running to the city from the slavering jaws of a tyrannosaurus rex. I’m surprised that during this time of a more sophisticated 2000 AD Flesh is actually even dumber than before but then, I wonder if this is a deliberate act of good guy/bad guy subversion on behalf of the creators.

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Prog 806 24/10/92

Well it turns out that the many angled one from Zenith Phase I, the Lloigor, the terrifying presence that occupies all space and all time or something, was the next evolutionary step for Doctor Peyne’s superhumans, I think. In Zenith Phase IV, the superhumans of Earth, except for Zenith himself and Prime Minister Peter St. John, decide that it’s their right to take over the world and, ultimately, the universe. They kill St. John, they kill Zenith, they reshape the world then reshape it again, they fly through the black sun into another dimension and when they return they are beings of pure consciousness. The only surviving witness to it all is their creator, Doctor Michael Peyne, who tries to make sense of events by writing a journal, starting out as an old man, he gets younger the more he writes, ends up as a twinkle in an eye and then as nothing.

I think Zenith Phase IV might be one of the best strips to ever appear in 2000 AD and I’m not just saying this to piss those of you off that have never read it and can’t because it remains out of print due to a dispute between writer Grant Morison and Tharg over ownership. It’s a culmination of all the themes and ideas established by Morrison and artist Steve Yeowell in the previous books so eloquently and confidently told. The ideas are big and mind bending but the humanity remains thanks to methods like extracts from Peyne’s diary appearing throughout. It’s weird and very affecting. Yeowell’s art is great, the best it’s been. He renders the characters and the ideas with absolute clarity and distinction. Morrison’s writing is assured, brilliantly paced, poetic and leaves me in awe.

When I re-read Phase I for The Slog, I thought of it as a tribute to the first Marvel Man book by Alan Moore, Gary Leach and Alan Davis. By the end of Phase IV, Zenith has transcended its source, becoming an altogether more imaginative and satisfying reading experience. Where Moore in his superhero comics of the eighties seemed self conscious of his association with the genre Morrison wants everyone to know that he loves them. When Morrison writes them, I do.

(A couple of observations; in the epilogue, Labour Party leader John Smith dies of a heart attack which, eerily, actually happens less than eighteen months after publication. Okay, I think he might have had a history of heart trouble and so foreseeing such a thing might not have been entirely ridiculous but still, it’s made me wary of Morrison whenever I read in interviews about his interest in magic. It’s made me think that the ex-hippy, suave and success hungry St. John might have been better represented as a member of New Labour instead of a Tory.)

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Monday, April 06, 2009

Prog 804 10/10/92

I wonder sometimes if I’m a bit too critical of nineties 2000 AD here in The Slog. At the moment it’s pretty good. It’s great to see Flesh back, Luke Kirby is creepy and atmospheric and Zenith is so good that I’ve held off writing about it here because I’m too intimidated by the prospect. New strip Wire Heads could be easier to follow but it’s only two episodes in. Garth Ennis’ version of Judge Dredd is okay although the character seems overly keen on cutting everyone including colleagues, perps, victims and Chief Judges to the quick. Also, I’ve noticed where once Dredd wore an intimidating scowl, now his jaw looks like a great clunking deformity that he should probably go to the face changing clinic to get sorted out.

Clearly, 2000 AD is aimed for the older reader now. Once it ran ads for ice lollies, now it runs them for the electric shavers. The comic’s product range is now so large that it needs an older reader to be affluent enough to sell it to. Currently advertised are two reprint monthlies, two yearbooks, a fortnightly, six graphic novels, a t-shirt, a sweatshirt, badges, mugs and the database which was previously given away free with prog 750 but is now selling for £11.00.

It’s an interesting period for the galaxy’s greatest comic; hard to imagine ever arriving during its first ten years and hard to remember happening now in 2009. Right now, it seems understood that if a line of successful accessories is going to continue to generate income then their source needs to be the focus of everyone’s creative efforts. I still feel that aging the target audience is a mistake but, at the moment, there has been no swear words (unless you count “bloody”) and no one’s been walking around with their genitals exposed so it still feels relatively young at heart to me.

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Friday, April 03, 2009

Prog 802 26/09/92

When you come up with a Robo-Hunter story called Return to Verdus, you create an idea in the mind of the Squaxx dek Thargo of a sequel to Sam Slade’s very first adventure containing at least some of the imagination, satire and character interplay that originally made the thrill so popular. If that’s what you thought then have you forgotten already the previous two long stories and the various one offs dotted around the specials all written by Mark Millar? It ain’t gonna happen. The Robo-Hunter we all know is dead, I tell ya! Dead!

In the story, Sam is duped into returning to the planet whose robot population he destroyed by a now evil Cutey. He ends up searching for Doc Magnet, some guy who is supposed to be brilliant, with a team of escaped robo-hunters abducted from around the galaxy who, during their journey, get picked off one by one by the various members of the Verdus’ vicious population.

Believe it or not, there is stuff to like here. For example, Kidd returns and seems to be pretty much written in character even if, last prog, he gets exploded like a sack of bloody organs. And of course the art, by Jose Casanovas, is energetic, imaginative and colourful. I still maintain that, when compared to Michael Fleisher’s versions of Harlem Heroes and Rogue Trooper, Millar’s reinvention has a lot going for it. But I can’t help feeling that I would have been a lot happier with this interpretation of the character if I had never encountered the original. Or if the strip didn’t feature Sam Slade or robots or any the characters you might otherwise associate with the proper version and was called something other than Robo-Hunter. Then, I think, I might have liked it more. There are the occasional Millar flourishes similar in tone to that which can be found in his more successful work but, in the end, his Robo-Hunter is less The Ultimates and more The Unfunnies.

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

Prog 800 12/09/92

There’s nothing quite like a re-launch prog and, well, I’m not too sure that this qualifies as one. Tharg says that it is but I disagree and besides, I don’t feel that he’s entirely trust worthy these days. Only three of the strips are new stories, Zenith and Robo-Hunter continue from last prog.

It is prog 800 and it does have a free gift, however. The gift is just a mini booklet stapled to the cover featuring cold stats about all of the thrills that have appeared in 2000 AD up until this point bar Judge Dredd. If I had known that this is the sort of thing that Squaxx dek Thargo actually want then I would have just listed stats in The Slog and saved myself a lot of trouble. (Incidentally, at the request of regular commenter Derek, I’ve started to include the prog date in The Slog entry titles as well as the issue number).

The new strips are the reappearance of Luke Kirby in The Night Walker, the unexpected return of Flesh in The Legend of Shamana and Judge Dredd in The Marshal. Artist Sean Philips paints this story and although he draws Dredd a little too informed by body builder physicality his interpretation is stunning. It’s satisfying to see this guy who has worked on so many other strips for various Fleetway publications over the years get his teeth into a decent Judge Dredd at last.

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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Judge Dredd Yearbook 1993

Great cover by Brendan McCarthy which, thanks to the format of the current yearbooks, folds out into a panorama of joy with a blue strip down the middle thanks to the spine. The Judge Dredd Yearbook doesn’t seem to be taking advantage of this format in the same way that the 2000 AD one does. In the 2000 AD one, the interior of the fold-out cover features the opening pages of a strip; in Judge Dredd, there are just some pretty patterns.

Remember when the annuals used to trail behind what was happening in the main titles, often by several years? Well, that isn’t the case anymore. Unfortunately, this isn’t good news like it would have been fourteen years earlier as what is happening in the fortnightly isn’t much to care about. Here we get new Soul Sisters and Straitjacket Fits strips which, despite the art, really, really stink worse than an open sewer. Why is Managing Editor Steve MacManus allowing Editor David Bishop to abuse his position like this?

On the plus side, we get a Judge Joyce solo adventure and a Red Razors short. My favourite strips, however, are the Judge Dredd story, Serial Killer, (I like a decent sized Dredd written by Wagner as you know) and Anderson PSI Division by Alan Grant and Russell Fox. In it, when faced with a gigantic satanic tapeworm, Anderson produces a crucifix… and stabs it through the head with it. I just can’t help but admire Grant’s audacity at writing such a scene.

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