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2000 AD Prog Slog

Monday, August 31, 2009

Prog 889 27/05/94

There’s nothing quite like a re-launch prog, although they are becoming increasingly frequent these days and run the risk of becoming less special. The last one seemed only a few weeks ago and the next one is bound to take place with prog 900 less than three months hence. I suppose this acceleration is due in part to the practicalities of putting together what is now a full colour comic. The art takes longer to produce in those circumstances and therefore organising a run by the same artist (it has to be the same artist because of those lucrative album collections that come later) longer than eight to twelve weeks is very difficult.

A re-launch prog is also the ideal moment to increase the cover price. This time, it goes up by five pence to 75p. I know, shocking, isn’t it? (I have no idea what the price is in Australia or on Neptune anymore, incidentally, as Tharg stopped printing this information long ago). Tharg doesn’t even bother to forewarn us anymore. It seems to have become an unspoken rule that the thrill of a re-launce comes at a price. The blow is lessened only slightly this time thanks to a one off page count increase from thirty-six to forty-four. These eight extra pages provide only three new pages of art used as recap openers to Judge Dredd, Rogue Trooper and Slaine, the rest is given over to editorial and advertising. Oh well.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Sci-Fi Special 17 Judge Dredd Mega-Special 7 1994

At around this time, script robot Mark Millar seems to be delivering either ugly disappointments such as Babe Race 2000 or surprising successes. His Judge Dredd, Mr Bennet Joins the Judges, and Tales From beyond Science strips are great. In Dredd, he satires the children’s TV show Mr Ben where the character is sent to Mega City One by the mysterious shop keeper. Paying tribute to programmes from our childhoods became something of a contrivance under Garth Ennis but Millar hasn’t done it very often as far as I can see and manages, on this occasion, to give it a creepy quality that’s very effective. In Beyond Science with Rian Hughes, Millar pushes conspiracy theories, what the nineties is soon to become awash with, to their very limit when every reality is exposed as a world inside a snow globe inside a larger reality.

The 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special seems to be special again after years of misguided disappointments. Peter Hogan is back on Robo-Hunter, Dave D’Antiquis actually paints Brigand Doom and there’s a Judge Dredd story from The Daily Star printed in its entirety. The first Rogue Trooper story by the new team of Steve White and Henry Flint appears. It feels a little too early to make a fair judgement about White’s scripting style but this is loaded with hardware and fancy jargon. Henry Flint’s art is, however, great. He’s like a version 2 art robot influenced by the best of the first generation.

Modern telephone technology meanwhile is being utilised to mind numbing effect in this years Judge Dredd Mega Special. Readers can spend 39p a minute cheap rate and 49p a minute at all other times to vote for their favourite strip. I would be interested to know how many calls were made. I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t very many or if a significant percentage of the calls were made from a small amount of (creator robot) numbers. Ignoring the likelihood of a caller’s finger slipping and accidentally dialling ‘a genuine housewife at home’ or to hear someone moan at them the quality of the stories is so poor overall that I find it hard to imagine anyone voting for anything other than Missionary Man… and not just because that’s the only option that sounds vaguely sexual.

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Prog 888 20/05/94

Yes, I do get what they’re trying to do with Babe Race 2000. They’re trying to be provocative so that when people contact the comic and say, “this is a bit sexist, isn’t it” writer Mark Millar can reply, “Oh, come on, it’s just a bit of fun. Get over it.” But it’s not just a bit of fun, it a pile of rubbish. My first problem is with the art by Anthony Williams, an artist whose work I normally like. Williams draws all of the women to look like they’re seven feet tall with pointy toes. They are the same and don’t look the least bit sexy which, I would have thought, is the point of a strip like this. My second issue is that Millar hasn’t even attempted to create characters. They’re all the same, vacuous bimbos. It means that the creators can’t claim any sort of high ground because it’s just deliberately provocative without there being anything else to it.

Thanks to Babe Race 2000, I am completely susceptible to current Bradley story The Sprog Prince. As you may know, normally I don’t care much for a Bradley tale, but on this occasion I was won over by the variation on the fairy tale The Frog Prince. The story and art were fun and nobody was trying to shock me. Perhaps I just needed to cleanse myself.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Prog 886 06/05/94

The back and forth between fully painted and more traditionally drawn thrills has probably been going on for years in 2000 AD by this point. The Clown, for example, seems to me to be a good example of a fully painted strip that’s very difficult to enjoy. Painted thrills have been running long enough in the weekly for the artists to know that certain styles of art reproduce badly and yet, Robert Bliss and Nick Percival seem to ignore this reality. Consequently, The Clown The Painted Mask might have art that in its original form looks amazing but in print is murky and difficult to follow.

On the other hand, The Journal of Luke Kirby has always enjoyed more traditional artists and benefits for it. Currently, Sympathy for the Devil is drawn by Steve Parkhouse with help from Nick Abadziz and Gina Hart. Everything about it is clear. The characters have their own visual personalities and carry their own features and expressions. They move around environments that, no matter how outlandish, don’t ever seem under or over rendered. Parkhouse is such an accomplished artist that he knows exactly when to stop drawing which is a skill in itself.

Not all fully painted art is by definition disappointing, however. Clint Langley’s current Judge Dredd story, The Enemy Below, works for me. Recently, I criticised his work on Dinosty because I was unable to tell the characters apart. He seems to benefit on this occasion because he’s either enthused by working on such an iconic character and has tried harder or he’s had all the character signalling work done for him by previous artists. His work makes me think of Richard Corben, a classic underground comic artist whose air-brush work never seems to forget his cartoonist sensibility.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Prog 883 15/04/94

ITEM: There are probably lots of tributes around this time to Jack ‘King’ Kirby who died on 6th February 1994 but this one is the only one I remember. It’s Tharg by Shaky 2000 (Kane) drawn in the classic Kirby Silver Surfer pose. Kane is very obviously influenced by The King but his influence on other art robots we associate with 2000 AD over the years isn’t nearly as obvious but is there nonetheless. In fact, I find myself wondering, had 2000 AD continued with its original editorial approach if a tribute of any kind would have appeared at all. I like to think that it would have.

ITEM: One of the interesting things about The Slog is the stuff I forget. For example, I have no recollection of Mark Millar writing a Robo-Hunter story after the first Peter Hogan/Rian Hughes one appears at all. And yet here it is, The Robotic Revenge of Dr Robotski. What Millar seems to have understood at last is that readers want to see Sam Slade interacting with Hoagy and Stogie all the way through a case. Unfortunately for Millar, like Michael Fleisher returning the bio-chips to Rogue Trooper, this understanding that you shouldn’t really mess with the fundamentals of a thrill arrives a little too late. Hogan and Hughes got there first, I’m afraid.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Prog 882 08/04/94

The Grudge Father is the creator of the world’s clones only there’s a finite number of souls to go around. Consequently, the clones are now warping into grotesque beasts and it’s up to The Grudge Father to stop them. Writer Mark Millar does seem to be accessing his inner nine year old hopped up on sugar to write this. And then this happens, and then this, and then this. At one point we learn that the pope is a clone of Saint Peter which is an idea a like but as a revelation seems to come from nowhere. It’s a bit like listening to a boy talk about some computer game he’s been playing. His enthusiasm is enjoyable up until the headache starts. Any more than six pages a prog and The Grudge Father could push me past the tipping point and have me telling it to shut up, it’s time for bed. Thank God for Jim McCarthy whose iconic art tones the whole thing down.

Regular readers of The Slog will know that I think of Mark Millar as a more appropriate companion writer to John Wagner of Judge Dredd than Garth Ennis. Although it’s early days, another one to watch is “Sonny Steelgrave” also known as Alan McKenzie. McKenzie seems to have a pretty good grasp of Dredd’s voice but I also like the fact that he’s willing to deal with subplots that Wagner has introduced in The Megazine. Current story, The Manchu Candidate, for example touches upon the tensions between Dredd and Chief Judge McGruder without going into a level of detail that might alienate Squaxx dek Thargo who don’t buy The Megazine. I like that.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Prog 880

It started out so well, but the second and concluding book to Tyranny Rex, Deus Ex Machina finished in a bewildering mess. The first book was engaging what with a group of alien nuns under siege in their nunnery. The line between who to support and who to want see loose was clear but once Tyranny got transmitted to the city to find the God Skin I lost interest. When all the nuns got wiped out, in what seemed like a brief footnote, I couldn’t even be bothered to try and understand what was going on anymore.

Another disappointment is Dinosty which is a shame as I really wanted this one to work. Created by Pat Mills and Clint Langley, Dinosty has all the triggers of a classic 2000 AD thrill; a dinosaur royal family, oppressed humans and the promise of a grotesque sense of humour. How could it not work and yet, somehow, it fails.

Part of the problem might be Langley’s art which, although undoubtedly spectacular, is busy often making it difficult to tell characters apart and to follow the flow of the story. However, that Pat Mills magic also seems to be missing. One of his writing strengths is usually the conception of a strip but Dinosty seems like his version of the Jim Henson sitcom Dinosaurs only not as funny (which, if you remember the show, is quite an achievement).

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Friday, August 07, 2009

Prog 878 11/03/94

I have been thinking about the new Rogue Trooper and why he does what he does. Originally, he traipsed around Nu Earth doing stuff because he was looking for The Traitor. Now, Friday, the current Rogue, interferes in other people’s stuff not because he wants revenge, not because he’s paid to and not because it’s his duty even but because… he’s good. What kind of lame arse motivation is that?

The current story, Scavenger of Souls, seems to promise at least a partial return to the status quo with the return of the bio-chips. Top, Lucky and Eight-Ball (formally Helm, Gunner and Bagman) have been found on the Scavenger’s spaceship backed up to computer chips. It’s almost like an admittance by Tharg that Dave Gibbons’ and Will Simpson’s rationalisation of the concept a few years ago stripped away much about the thrill that made it so enjoyable.

One good reason why the reboot never worked is Michael Fleisher who has been head-writer since and whose stories have on the whole read like they were coasted out. For Scavenger of Souls however, it’s co-written by Alan McKenzie (AKA Sydney Falco) or, as I suspect, partially rewritten. McKenzie’s influence is probably slightly more stripped down dialogue but, unfortunately, Fleisher’s will sapping influence remains. It’s only the reappearance of the bio-chips that makes this story in any way interesting.

The art my Chris Weston and Mike Hadley is strong. My only problem is I am unsure as to where Weston ends and Hadley begins. Does Hadley ink the pencils or just colour the completed black and white art. Whatever, the result seems to lack the intricacy of Weston’s Cannon Fodder and the intensity of Hadley’s previous work. Personally, I would rather see these guys working alone because, although the result is good, them together isn’t greater than the sum of its parts.

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Prog 876 09/02/94

Happy seventeenth birthday, 2000 AD. Once again, current Tharg throws a clanger into his editorial with the line, “The 2000 AD of 1977 was light years away from the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic it was to become.” Let’s make one thing clear, Tharg baby; currently, 2000 AD might be better than it’s been in recent years but it’s still a long way from the raw vitality of that first decade. Stop implying that the early progs were quaint and harmless because they were far from it.

Alan McKenzie is main contributor to the birthday prog writing, or co-writing, three of the thrills. This must make him the current tone setter, I suppose. For Judge Dredd The Sugar Beat, he uses, with John Tomlinson, the pseudonym Sonny Steelgrave. The pacing and humour of the strip is pretty spot on, if a little xenophobic, helped significantly by Ron Smith’s always fresh looking colour work.

With Michael Fleisher he uses Sydney Falco to co-write Rogue Trooper Scavenger of Souls. Already his influence is undoing the general disinterest and occasional hatred that a full Fleisher penned thrill can inspire. It looks like Rogue’s bio-chip buddies could be coming back after this episode ends with Friday uncovering a room full of them.

I don’t know why, during this age of creative openness, McKenzie is choosing to use aliases for some of his work. In Journal of Luke Kirby Sympathy for the Devil, Kirby travels to hell to save his father’s soul. Perhaps McKenzie is most proud of his Luke Kirby stories because he is credited with his real name here. Whatever, as current tone setter, I’m pleased that we’re being exposed to the positive influence of his work rather than episodes of Bradley and articles about rave culture.

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Prog 873 04/02/94

Flipping back and forth between The Megazine and 2000 AD for The Slog really underscores the difference in quality between the two comics. The Megazine might have John Wagner but 2000 AD just looks a whole lot better. The art throughout is nearly always great these days. Even the newer artists, including the painty ones, are focused on getting the story told.

This prog is a re-launch prog and, as you all know, there’s nothing quite like a re-launch prog. Here are some observations about it. The free gift, a badge version of the logo, might be a whole lot cooler if it were smaller and metal rather than big and plastic. There’s something about its rounded corners that makes its wearer look as if he’s been classified as unsafe to carry scissors.

All of the main strips, Judge Dredd, Rogue Trooper, Like Kirby, Tyranny Rex and Dinosty, are well promoted but the secret thrill to get excited about is Shaky Kane’s back covered Beyond Belief! There’s been a danger over recent years of the back cover as a legitimate place for new material as being forgotten. Here it’s being used for well illustrated, made up but entertaining Fortean styled ‘facts’.

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Judge Dredd The Megazine 2.49 18/03/93

Three what I would call lesser strips finish this issue. I say “lesser strips” not because I’m looking for reasons to complain but because the cracks in them seem to scream for my attention by running up and throwing a pint in my face.

Take for example Calhab Justice Unfinished Business. This might have been an eventful story in which the dynamic between the characters gets established more clearly but thanks to artist Lol’s inky and eerily composed panels I lost patience trying to follow it.

Harke and Burr has appeared in The Megazine a few times but has been unsuccessful on every occasion. Si Spencer seems to be trying to write a comedy with a zany seam but artist Dean Ormston, who has drawn impressive Judge Dredd stories in the past, is painting a strip oozing Fritz Lang atmospherics but forgets many of the story telling skills he’s demonstrated in the past.

Pan African Judges is interesting only because it’s written by future Doctor Who writer Paul Cornell. Story wise, it demonstrates a lot of promise, with some heart churning moments of cruelty but, typically of all three of these strips, characters are difficult to tell apart thanks to artist Siku.

Perhaps all of the above artists should take a leaf out Mike McMahon’s book who draws the cover to this issue. Simple, clear picture perfectly designed and composed. Thanks God no one shrank the image down and filled the free space with text.

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