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2000 AD Prog Slog

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Prog 859 30/10/93

There are some thrill runs from 2000 AD that I am surprised to have completely forgotten and Slaine Demon Killer is one of them. It’s fully painted by Glen Fabry who, for many, was the definitive artist on the character before Simon Bisley came along. (Although, for me, the definitive Slaine artist will always be Mick McMahon.) I can’t believe I have no recollection of his return to the character.

Fabry’s art compares favourably to Bisley’s. In fact, it looks altogether more considered, detailed and substantial. It certainly benefits from the improved reproduction of 1993 compared with when Slaine the Horned God originally ran in the weekly. Interestingly, this prog’s final episode is painted by new guy, Dermot Power, due to, according to Tharg, Fabry having recently got married. (Art robots are allowed to do that?). Had it not been pointed out, I wonder if I would have noticed the difference as Power seems to do an extraordinary job of mimicking Fabry’s style from earlier episodes. In fact, this is where we are now with Slaine; Thanks to Bisley’s interpretation, all subsequent versions are obliged to be fully painted and refer to his heavy metal influenced designs as a template, even if, as in the case of Fabry, the artist predates him. This is so unlike the early strips which alternated between Belardinelli’s short spiky hair Slaine and McMahon’s long hair tipped with caked mud version.

In Demon Killer, Slaine and Ukko the Dwarf are sent forward through time by the Goddess to aid Boudica in her battle against the Caesarians and Elfric. It’s a story, written exclusively by Pat Mills, that doesn’t really get its hooks into me, if it has any hooks at all. This probably explains why it had completely slipped my mind.

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Prog 856 09/10/93

I think John Smith wants us all to know that, although we might believe ourselves to be free thinking, independent human beings with an imagination and emotions, we are in fact just meat machines. Sacks of meat wandering around which, at any moment, could be carved up just like all the meat we see on display in a butcher’s shop window. I get the impression that Smith turned vegetarian a few years ago and has been having a hard time of it ever since. For God’s sake, have a lamb chop or something. Just stop going on about it. You’re putting me off my dinner.

Tyranny Rex is back! The once narcissistic artist who joined a nunnery at the end of her last adventure is now, seven years later, under attack with her fellow sisters by The Dammamites who, for some reason, want The God Skin. (Skin, incidentally, being the organ that holds all our meat together and which could easily split spilling its contents across the floor).

There are two things I really like about this run on Tyranny Rex. The first is the art. The opening four episodes are by Mark Buckingham whose work is a thing of beauty. There’s something about the way that he orders and colours the page which makes it a joy to behold. The most recent episodes are by Paul Marshal with Gina Hart. Marshal draws comics with a deceptively simple assurance and clarity.

The second is the nuns. There’s such a diversity of alien looking holy women that they remind me of The Green Lantern Corp, except in habits. There’s a nun with a fish head, one with the face of a racoon and another that looks a bit like George from the old children’s TV programme Rainbow. Seeing them drawn this way reminds me of how scary nuns are in real life. In fact, now that I think about it, I can’t remember the last time I saw a nun, which makes me think that they no longer wear their habits and walk among us in civilian clothes; a truly terrifying prospect. This is really the sort of thing that Smith should be writing about once he’s finished eating that rare steak.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Prog 855 02/10/93

Mark Millar’s time as misguided writer of Sam Slade Robo-Hunter is at an end. Last prog, saw the conclusion to a three part story by new team Peter Hogan and Rian Hughes. Winnegan’s Fake is far more in tune with what we expect from a Robo-Hunter strip. Slade is hired to track down and destroy a model of an antique robot to increase the scarcity of the copy owned by his employer. The idea is fine but it’s made much better by the presence of Hoagy who, uninvited, accompanies Sam and irritates him throughout his job. Millar didn’t seem to like Hoagy and Stogie during his time on the thrill, bare essentials as far as I am concerned, and only used them on very rare occasions.

Rian Hughes is perfectly suited for this strip. In fact, it’s so obvious that it makes me cross to think that he wasn’t given the gig earlier. My only criticism of the art is the font he uses for the lettering which I often found hard to read. A difficult font prevents the reader from engaging properly with the thrill, everyone knows that.

Mark Millar is much better suited on Judge Dredd. In this prog’s story, Judge Tyrannosaur, a dinosaur breaks into The Big Meg from The Cursed Earth through a crack in the wall, bites a hostage taker in half and, consequently, becomes the focus of a city wide campaign for it to be given the keys to the city. This farcical series of events is the type of thing that used to happen all the time in Judge Dredd and which Garth Ennis, as second in command on the character, has never really engaged with. Of course, it helps that the art is by Ron Smith whose very presence, like Carlos Ezquerra, authenticates any writer they’re working with on the character. Smith’s work here is brilliant. It’s as if he’s decided to produce his best art during his last year working for 2000 AD.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Prog 852 11/09/93

There’s nothing quite like a re-launch prog. The Summer Offensive is over; it’s now time for The Autumn Attack. Coming up next there’s The Winter Warmer followed by The Spring Surprise. Whereas the thrills that appeared during The Offensive where linked creatively and tonally, those in The Attack just have the commonality of appearing in 2000 AD. It feels a little disappointing for that, as if an important lesson hasn’t been learned.

It’s not a complete re-launch prog as the tail end of Judge Dredd micro-epic, Inferno, continues. Following on from the Mark Millar penned Purgatory, all of the escaped convicts make it back to Earth, crash their space ships into major Mega City One buildings like real villains do and release a virus to which only they have the antidote. The Judges are driven out of the city to regroup in The Cursed Earth. Although other Judge’s appear in the story, including Hershy and new Psi-Judge Janus, Dredd’s retake of The Big Meg seems to almost be a solo effort driven by his good old fashioned sheer bloody mindedness.

Inferno isn’t the best thing written by Grant Morrison for 2000 AD and neither is it Dredd’s best epic but after a run of sagas that seemed overly grim in tone and focused on body counts it feels almost refreshing. Great spectacles of destruction, mad bad guys motivated exclusively by hate and the protagonist retaliating just to get in everyone’s face is sometimes all you want from a Dredd story. Fun cameos (Walter the Wobot pops up briefly at one point), great one liners and Carlos Ezquerra art; Inferno feels almost like a visit to home base and a reminder of what, through osmosis, we all know Judge Dredd to be at its core.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Prog 851 04/09/93

It’s not often that a phase of 2000 AD gets so clearly defined as The Summer Offensive or The Autumn Attack and it’s almost unknown for the progs that sit between them to feature such top division thrills. Traditionally, the issues before a re-launch feature Future Shocks and other fillers to puff them out. For this and last prog we’ve been treated, uncharacteristically, to two part runs of Tharg’s highest profile thrills of the time.

There’s a prequel to Luke Kirby, a Slaine tale painted by Greg Staples and Nick Percival and a charming little story from the Gronk. The only fly in the ointment, and it’s a big, ugly fly, is Rogue Trooper by Michael Fleisher and Simon Coleby. I’m not going to go on about how horrible this strip is as I’ve talked here before about how unpleasant I find this period of Rogue Trooper to be but I will tell you that even the addition of a co-writer called “Falco”, whoever he or she might be, does nothing to improve things.

Despite the presence of Rogue Trooper these are still a strong pair of progs and I want Tharg to know that I really appreciate the effort. Is this really the same Tharg that gave us Bradley and invited Michael Fleisher to re-invent Harlem Heroes?

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Prog 849 21/08/93

It’s the final prog of the Summer Offensive and all non-Judge Dredd thrills come to an end. Big Dave cops off with a sexualised Princess Di, Stanley Modest is revealed to actually have killed all of those people after all and Maniac 5 pops Maniac 4’s brain in his grip. Really & Truly also wraps up. After eight episodes travelling across country with Scuba and Johnny Zhivago, the two girls, Really and Truly, arrive in San Francisco with their shipment of ‘bullets’ just in time for the Big Summer Burn Out.

Clearly, this is an attempt by Grant Morrison to engage all the party people, clubbers and ravers out there amongst the Squaxx. Personally, I don’t think this is one of his best strips but even Morrison in partial effect is better than all the of the pop star bothering episodes of Bradley and Heavy Metal Dredds rolled into one. The strip does feature allusions to drug taking and pill popping, inappropriate material for my imagined young audience perhaps, but the ‘bullets’ in question turn out to be telepathic wave modulators that enable the audience to hear the music being played. T Mobile should consider using this thrill as the basis for their advertising campaign; it would definitely be less irritating than their current one. The real appeal of Really & Truly is Rian Hughes’ art. It looks so clear and perfectly pitched, particularly in the context of the comic’s design as a whole, which he is also responsible for, incidentally.

On the subject of the age appropriateness of 2000 AD currently being covered by The Slog, I watched this issue being read by an eleven year old earlier and he laughed all of the way through Big Dave. If I hear from his mother that there has been deterioration in his behaviour or his general well being, I’ll let you know.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Prog 847 07/08/93

Closest thrill to being the odd one out in The Summer Offensive is Slaughterbowl if only because it’s the single strip written by John Smith, otherwise tonally it fits in perfectly. In it, quiet, unassuming Stanley Modest is convicted of the murder of 96 people, including his own children. Still apparently reeling from the death of his kids and the shock of his conviction, Modest enters the annual Slaughterbowl competition to raise funds to pay for an operation on his comatose wife who has Huysman’s Disease. From the name alone you can guess what Slaughterbowl is like. Entrants are normally desperate, sadistic convicts who race riding dinosaurs whilst shooting at each other with heavy artillery. Not the sort of place for someone like Stanley at all, you would imagine.

Slaughterbowl is the sleeper thrill. One of Smith’s accessible strips, the story of a seemingly innocent and unassuming man bullied and despised by the world, who might yet be proven to be a great competitor and, dare I say it, guilty is very compelling. Paul Peart’s art is strong as well; deceptively simple with clarity of line.

Another young, dumb and full of fun strip is Maniac 5 by Mark Millar and Steve Yeowell. America deploys its maniac robots against an alien invasion; machines operated remotely by soldier Frank Bullock. However, once the aliens are defeated, Bullock, thought to be too dangerous, is shot by his superiors. But Bullock’s consciousness is still alive and exists in the ferocious body of Maniac 5, now heading for HQ, bent on revenge.

This is what 2000 AD should be like. Great ideas put out there in a non-precious way, morally ambiguous heroes who may or may not survive until the end of the story, over the top scenes of violence, great one-liners, fantastic art and good jokes. I’m really enjoying The Summer Offensive.

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Prog 845 24/07/93

The first Big Dave story ends with him and Big Terry Waite tearing Saddam Hussein to shreds, sending the aliens that aided the Beast of Baghdad back where they came from and being hailed as heroes by a liberated Iraq. Sound familiar? Like all commentators on wars in The Middle East say about this sort of thing, the story could have been rerun ten years later and no one would have noticed the difference.

The Slog is demonstrating to me that the perception I have of the inappropriate aging of 2000 AD started a lot further back than just the last few years. At this stage, it hasn’t featured semi-erect penises, although a recent John Hicklenton drawn Heavy Metal Dredd strip in The Megazine featured a giant schlong painted against Judge Dredd’s thigh, nor either category a (such as “fuck” and “cunt”) or b (“wanker” and “shit”) swear words but there’s much in Big Dave that makes Tharg’s recent moaning about the racking of 2000 AD on the top shelf in some thrill merchants seem a bit stupid. Big Dave is xenophobic, homophobic, misogynistic and anti Muslim or, at least, is a satire of these things. Perhaps a comic for kids, whose senses of irony and satire aren’t fully developed yet, isn’t the place for this sort of thing. Up until Big Dave, 2000 AD’s satire had always not been so obvious.

As a satire of tabloid newspaper attitudes, I’m not sure that the logic is consistent. The Sun might advocate setting your dogs on Saddam Hussein rather than having him stand trial or glassing an otherwise proud Brit compelled to be affectionate towards another man in direct contradiction to his usual sexual inclinations but I find it hard to believe that a shell suit wearing, violent, benefit cheat would automatically be perceived as a hero. Perhaps Dave should have been a pipe fitter or white van driver; someone with a good ol’ fashioned job who paid his own way and only set his dogs on homosexuals after work in his free time.

However, I’m just expressing my reservations here. I’m old enough to understand the context of this thrill and because I remember Grant Morrison, Mark Millar and Steve Parkhouse knowing exactly when enough Big Dave was enough and ending the strip then I’m allowed to find it very entertaining.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Prog 842 03/07/93

There’s nothing quite like a re-launch prog and there’s definitely no re-launch prog quite like this one. 842 is the first issue of what is called “The Summer Offensive”, where responsibility for the comic for eight weeks has been given over to script robots Grant Morrison, Mark Millar and, to a lesser extent, John Smith.

I must admit that I really liked the whole vibe that this run gave off. I had always felt that 2000 AD works better when it’s run by a smaller, tighter creative unit so that the overall themes feel more unified. The temporary team seemed to do a pretty good job of this, I would say, with even Tharg’s editorial on the Output page reading a lot better than usual. They even got some real world coverage in The Sun I recall with the writers appearing in a photograph posing like suave sophisticates by an expensive car with sexy models (although this is down completely to my unreliable memory so if you know different then please let me know).

Even the cover is good. A great illustration of Judge Dredd by Dave Hine accompanied by pop shots of his fellow housemates down the side. An uncluttered, unpretentious cover that looks fresh to me even today.

Of course, how the content compares is a little too early to say.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Judge Dredd Mega-Special 6 1993

I’m back, you Squaxx! I decided to take a little break from The Slog to recharge my batteries after I brought seventy comics published over the last year for 50p each. They included runs of The Boys, written by Garth Ennis, the Fantastic Four, written by Mark Millar and Kick Ass, written by Mark Millar, plus sets of Dan Dare by Garth Ennis and Gary Erskine, Punisher War Zone by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, Sea Guy written by Grant Morrison and War is Hell; First Flight of the Phantom Eagle written by Garth Ennis. That’s right; I took a break to read recent works by regular contributors to the era of 2000 AD that The Slog is currently at. You could argue that this hardly constitutes a break at all.

This years Mega-Special is a flip comic, a format I am surprised isn’t used more frequently. One half is given over to the theme of hate and the other to love. What is the most interesting thing about it is that there seems to be a lot of contributors I haven’t heard of before or since. These are mainly artists such as Benet, Darren Stephens and Lol who seem to have arrived fully rather than as partially formed creators finding their skill set and voice.

The real fun in the Mega-Special for me this year is the contributors known more for their non-main stream comics. Shaky Kane draws another iconic little number written by East Enders’ scripter, Si Spencer. Paul Grist, who at this time is writing, drawing and publishing the very early issues of the excellent Kane, provides the art to Judge Dredd Kinky Boots. Everything visual about this strip is perfectly placed and timed. Ilya writes and paints a one off called Carrion Carnage which features all of the humour and energy you associate with his other work such and The End of the Centaury Club and Skidmarks. I can only assume that the pull of creative control that comes with non-mainstream comics is why Ilya and Grist never go on to become regular contributors to 2000 AD and The Megazine when they are clearly better than a lot of the other regular creators they use.

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Friday, June 05, 2009

Sci-Fi Special 16 1993

In his editorial, Tharg states that Chris Weston is Rogue Trooper’s new regular artist. I don’t even have to look at this prog’s episode to know that this is a great choice even if I have absolutely no recollection of this actually ever happening.

In The Crying Scotsman, I learn that Bix Barton is set in the future. For some reason, I had always assumed that it was set in the present despite Bix owning a flying car; I just thought that this was a comic strip conceit. The giveaway for me is the discovery that trains are a form of transport from the past. Well, I just used a train on Wednesday and found it a trouble free experience.

Dave Hine draws the premier of Maniac 5. Those of you only familiar with his comic work for American publishers this centaury might be surprised to learn that he can draw as well. It’s a mystery to me that he isn’t, even if occasionally, encouraged to draw some of his own scripts. He really is very good, you know.

It should be noted that Judge Dredd seems to have been demoted to just reprint status for the Sci-Fi Special these days, which is a shame. It’s not really a decision which makes much sense given that in comparison to the other strips that appear Dredd is the certainty twhen it comes to appealing to the casual reader. Oddly, Tharg chooses to reprint a story originally printed in a Sci-Fi Special a few years before. During the early eighties, I went through a period where the only 2000 AD publication I would buy with any regularity was the Sci-Fi Special. I don’t think it’s unreasonable of me to assume that there are some people like me out there, and so if Tharg insists on running a reprint he should at least choose one that originally appeared in the weekly.

Finally, still no Daily Star reprints. I really miss them.

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Thursday, June 04, 2009

Prog 841 26/06/93

Despite his misguided reinvention of Sam Slade Robo-Hunter, Mark Millar’s involvement in 2000 AD and the world of Judge Dredd has increased recently. Over recent progs, he has written every other Dredd story. Millar seems more in tune with the early style of stories written by John Wagner with Alan Grant. The dialogue is stripped down and the plot almost gleeful in defying the reader’s expectations. At the time, I thought Millar might actually be more of a natural successor to Wagner than Garth Ennis and it was a surprise to me to learn, years later, that Millar never really cared for 2000 AD growing up.

His big contribution to the world of Dredd at the moment is Purgatory, the eight part lead into another Judge Dredd epic, Inferno. It’s a big, nasty prison break story in which convicted ex-judges slaughter their guards and escape Titan intending to exact ugly revenge on Judge Dredd who, probably, is responsible for sending most of them there in the first place. Millar has the advantage of Purgatory being drawn and painted by the mighty Carlos Ezquerra. Ezquerra’s very presence on a strip can legitimise the writer of it, I feel. Here, he seems to relish in drawing the angry men with their grinding teeth, furrowed brows and shaking fists.

This prog’s final episode is at first a little confusing thanks to its pages appearing out of order. What’s going on at 2000 AD recently? First Firekind skips an episode and now this! Despite this cock up, Purgatory remains good old fashioned, nasty, violent 2000 AD fun.

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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Prog 839 12/06/93

It’s part eleven of another Armoured Gideon adventure and, uncommon these days in 2000 AD, this episode opens with a page long recap of the story so far. World invaded by demons from other dimension, psychic photographer Frank Weitz switches Armoured Gideon back on, sect of monks resurrect Gideon’s brother Jerubaal, Jerubaal possessed by a sorcerer from elden times, in pursuit of sorcerer is old acquaintance of his with long beard and sword. It took Chris Claremont’s X-Men years before it got this convoluted.

I find myself enjoying and being irritated by Armoured Gideon in equal measure. Part of this is down to my own issues with fiction that over relies on its supernatural element. In these sorts of stories, any old gobbledygook can be employed for the convenience of plot as far as I’m concerned and I don’t always find it easy to just sit back and accept it. I’m not necessarily saying that writer John Tomlinson is doing this as my own prejudices have stopped me from giving in to Armoured Gideon as fully as I should. If it’s any consolation, I can’t engage with Harry Potter for exactly the same reason.

Simon Jacob’s art is the strip’s real appeal for me. It’s colourful and kinetic. There’s a great double paged image this episode where all the world’s demons are being sucked into the vortex conveniently created by Gideon and Jerubaal. Brilliant. It seems odd to me that he isn’t more highly regarded. Whatever happened to him, I wonder.

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Prog 837 29/05/93

The Slog is entering an interesting period for me as, despite being present for these progs first time around, I am now encountering thrills that I had completely forgotten about. For example, I am aware of the first two Bad Company books but needed to be reminded about this third one called Kano.

Kano is different in tone to the previous two books although downbeat and bleak just the same. Kano has retired from the war and now lives on an alien planet with a wife and child who he loves very much. However, something in the nearby woods is killing the locals and Kano is under pressure to help his ill equipped neighbours deal with the threat.

Artist Brett Ewins is in the midst of what I would describe as his minimalist phase. Inked by Jim McCarthy, the drawings are often simple and repeat themselves from panel to panel. It’s a technique that worked for the previous two books and continues to here. Pete Milligan uses a lot of first person narrative which in the same prog as Firekind (a lot of first person narrative) and Armoured Gideon (first person narrative) feels like one first person narrative too much on occasions. Just the same, Milligan handles his theme of getting what you need rather than what you want with his usual early nineties class.

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Monday, June 01, 2009

Prog 834 08/05/93

Thank Grud for those of you that warned me about the missing chapter of Firekind. It happens this prog and I had completely forgotten about it until it was mentioned. My dilemma was, as keeper of The Slog, if I should read the episodes as they were printed for authenticity’s sake but, at the last minute, I thought spug this for a game of soldiers, and read the missing chapter, printed in prog 840 as “The Director’s Cut”, in its correct place. Thank you for the warning.

Firekind is a good example of John Smith at his best. In it, a botanist investigates an alien planet and gradually gains the trust of the local inhabitants. Smith takes his time setting this up and it’s only now in the correct episode seven that a merciless gang of mercenaries have turned up, torturing their way through the peace loving locals in search of the ‘lantrisant’ and its youth giving properties. The art is by Paul Marshal, one of my favourites at this time, whose straight story telling style benefits everyone involved.

If an episode from a multi-part story has to go missing then it might as well have been this one. As observed by some of you that warned me of it, at the time, we seemed to accept the abrupt leap forward in time as deliberate. It’s because it occurs directly after the botanist is breathing in the hallucination causing atmosphere for the first. Besides, John Smith is known for his challenging story telling sometimes; I suppose we just accepted this as being one of those occasions.

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