2000 AD Prog Slog

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Prog 1027 28/01/97

Item: In his editorial, the Vector 13 character announces the start of a new company called Fleetway Film and Television set up to develop and produce projects based on 2000 AD characters for the big and small screens. The Man in Black guy quotes a lot from what I presume to be the press release. “We learned from our experience with Judge Dredd that we needed a much more hands-on involvement with the development and production of movies based on our characters.” In other words, the Judge Dredd film was rubbish and the fall out from it has had a detrimental impact on both the sales of the line of comics and licensing. Just in case you’re interested, there have been no films based on 2000 AD characters since this announcement.

Item: Janus: PSI Faustus reaches part 4 this prog. Or is it part 3? I ask because this strip was originally commissioned for the Megazine but, for some reason, has ended up here. Normally, Megazine strips run at about seven or eight pages each and yet now, each episode has been running at the standard six. It means even though Mark Millar and Grant Morrison wrote the story in episodic form somebody, let’s for the sake of argument call him David Bishop, has chopped them up and spliced them together for publication here. It wasn’t more apparent than in last prog’s episode where halfway through the story jarringly jumped forward in time. This is appalling, especially when you think that there is no reason why it couldn’t appear here as it was originally intended. Fortunately, one of the advantages of reading progs in quick succession to each other for The Slog is it enables me to follow strips that when read a week apart would have baffled me and I can tell you that Faustus is delicious fun.

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Friday, January 29, 2010

Prog 1024 07/01/97

In Darkside, Judge Dredd is sent to Luna 1 with Psi Jusge Hassid. Hassid has a 72% accuracy rate and foresees experiencing a significant psi-flash there in Dredd’s Presence. At the same time, the zombie version of Dredd, the one that followed him back through time at the end of City of the Damned saga (remember that?), is also loose on the Moon having been smuggled there by a dodgy antiques dealer.

Of the third generation of writers, we’re used to seeing Garth Ennis and Mark Millar scripting Judge Dredd, John Smith however, not so much. Smith is focusing more on the action and story momentum for Darkside than he does usually although there’s still a bit of slicing, dicing and butchery going on. He pretty much gets the tone of Dredd right although the non-threatening and very likable Hassid speaks in a voice that reads a little clichéd at times. Paul Marshal’s art is terrific. Perfect visual and story clarity, his work is free of all extraneous detail, every line utterly considered.

Really, Darkside couldn’t go wrong where, when boiled down, the main character is brawling with a wrong version of himself. Also, the different location adds an extra frisson. In fact, here’s an equation I’ve devised for all of wannabe Judge Dredd writers to file away for future reference; wrong version of main character (zombie) + change in environment (Moon) = Zarjaz.

ASIDE: Here’s an interesting piece that draws comparisons between a classic John Smith and Paul Marshal thrill, Firekind, and James Cameron’s new movie, Avatar. I can’t really comment as I haven’t seen the film but what I’ve read about the plot does seem familiar now that they mention it.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Prog 1023 30/12/96

Item: Well, after bigging up Rogue Trooper(s) a couple of entries ago, it turns out that it was all for nought as it’s run finished mid-story last prog never to return. Why this is I don’t know. Perhaps everyone just gave up on it. Ever since the character’s re-invention nobody’s really known what to do with it and I’ve always been slightly baffled by important aspects of it. (Like, is this the same Nu Earth the original Rogue was on or a different one? I thought it was a future version of our actual planet but there’s a black hole next to it). It’s all a little curious as it was only recently that they published a Rogue Trooper Special (which I couldn’t be bothered to cover for The Slog. Sorry).

Item: This issue is a Christmas prog and we’re celebrating by being charged an additional twenty pence for eight extra pages. However, we’re only getting an extra two pages of actual strip, the rest being taken up with bumf, and we have to wait two weeks for he next issue. Merry Christmas to you too.

Item: Mazeworld ends this prog after a ten week run. Over thirty years after the end of the capital punishment, Adam Cadman is hanged for the murder of his brother and then, after his death, is transported to a fantastical place called Mazeworld. Still in his hood and noose, Cadwell is mistaken (or perhaps not) for ‘The Hooded Man’ by the oppressed locals, a hero supposed to help them in their rebellion against the Maze-Lord. Unfortunately, Cadman is a selfish man concerned only for his own well being… or so it seems.

I like Mazeworld. It’s cosily reminiscent. It reminds me of half remembered thrills from the first year or two of 2000 AD when the comic was still forming. A protagonist of questionable morality with a hood stuck on his head and a noose around his neck that tightens whenever he does something selfish; it’s ridiculous, just like the Visible Man. A character transported to another world at the moment of death, just like The Meltdown Man. Arthur Ranson’s art is spectacular, packed with detail and intricate design. It’s probably some of the best work I’ve seen from him. Alan Grant’s story is strong but strangely incomplete. The world seems only glimpsed and I want to know more about the circumstances surrounding the restoration of the death penalty. It feels as if there are a lot more Mazeworld stories to come, none of which ever do.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Prog 1021 10/12/96

Item: It must have felt like a scoop luring Garth Ennis back to 2000 AD considering his success in America with Preacher at this time. Unfortunately, he’s writing a second Time Flies story and not something as substantial as his Vertigo series. Little seems to have changed in Time Flies during its years away. The characters are still zipping up and down the eras and blundering into real events. What makes this series truly enjoyable is the art. Original artist Philip Bond draws the opening episodes in his chunky and energetic way. If you don’t like Philip Bond then you don’t like life, is what I say. Surprisingly though, when the unthinkable happens and he’s replaced by another artist, John Beeston, the art maintains that Bond momentum but with greater intricacy.

Item: In Mambo Fleshworks, Rachel Verlaine and Captain Rickard are investigating a series of murders that have taken place in Hyperspace by the comic’s creepiest villain for a long time, Skinhead. Hopefully, the current regime at 2000 AD appreciates the talent they have in a creator like Dave Hine who not only writes but draws his own strips. Fleshworks has a great balance between pop ideas, shocking moments, over the top abilities and character interplay. Although, I would like to point out, we never did find out how Jaydee and Rachel experienced their unlikely rescue floating in space above Fleshworld t the end of the last story.

Item: There seems to be some confusion behind the scenes of the current Judge Dredd story, Darkside. First, the opening two episodes are mistakenly credited to John Wagner instead of John Smith, then episode five is classified as ‘Part 4’ again. Tharg never made this type of error, know what I mean?

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Prog 1019 26/11/96

Although Rogue Trooper has improved a lot since the arrival of writer Steve White, it still wasn’t entirely to my taste due mainly to the over use of techno and militaristic babble. Recently, the use of jargon has been stripped back perhaps thanks, in part, to the arrival of co-writer Dan Abnett, although these changes occurred before his credit.

Another improvement has been the refocusing the enemy to religious extremists, The Karvanu. For such a substantial force for bad, they seem to have arrived from nowhere, but it’s a lack of foreshadowing I’m happy to overlook. I’m also pleased to have a break from the bio-chips. I talked here during the first half of the character’s re-invention about how they were an essential part of Rogue Trooper’s mythology but some time after their return I started to realise that I found their voices and over animated faces irritating. Hopefully, when they return again they will have calmed down a bit.

I’m not sure that I’ve bought into the re-branding of the strip as Rogue Troopers with-an-‘s’ just because Venus Bluegenes is in it a lot these days. Greg Staples draws the episodes starring just her and, like I said recently, his work is very strong. The Friday episodes are by Alex Ronald whose art has improved a lot since those episodes of Judge Dredd The Pit he drew. He’s drawing a more diverse range of character types and backgrounds here. Some panels look a little forced but, overall, it’s pretty good.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Prog 1017 12/11/96

It’s four progs old already. The definitive demonstration that current editorial, let’s call him David Bishop, doesn’t fundamentally understand 2000 AD. Those shitty Men in Black characters from Vector 13 have usurped Tharg as the fictional editorial helmsman of 2000 AD. I can’t tell you how much I hated this first time around. Every week I was waiting for Tharg to return and dish out some righteous wrath on the blue skinned little bastards and every week, for what seemed like forever, there they still were droning on and on and on in the output box.

I have never read David Bishop’s book Thrill Power Overload. Not out of protest, I’ve heard good things about it and I’m sure it’s fine, but because I’ve got 2000 AD taking up enough of my life at the moment. However, when I’ve flicked through copies in the shop (it looks very nice, by the way), there’s one sound bite that leaps out at me every time, the one where Bishop describes Tharg as an ‘anachronism’.

Anachronism?! Tharg isn’t an anachronism! He’s the foundations upon which the comic stands! He’s the force whose arms hold the diverse range of characters together! You can run a sword and sorcery strip, a future cop strip, an ill conceived western strip all in the same comic and it makes complete sense thanks to Tharg. Give Vector 13 editorial credit for it all and the whole structure destabilises and starts to crumble.

Reading Tharg’s editorials for The Slog knowing this change is about to happen has been interesting because it’s clear that whoever wrote them, let’s call him David Bishop, couldn’t find the character’s voice. I’ve already said here that his tendency was to just list the strips in that issue, but they also read like he kept forgetting he was supposed to be in character. It’s like somebody would read the editorials he wrote and say, “David, you’re meant to be Tharg not David Bishop, remember? Stick a couple of ‘Zarjazes’ in there and refer to the writer and artists as ‘creator robots’ and you should be fine”.

I can imagine the circumstance that led to Bishop making this decision. Sales of the comic were dropping like a stone thanks, in part, to disappointment in the film and he was under pressure to do something about it. I guess that included thinking the unthinkable and dropping Tharg altogether. With the benefit of hindsight, I know that all things pass and eventually the mighty one returns. At the time, however, I didn’t just think this change was misguided but a display of absolute arrogance. Was the shake up going to be so dramatic that, by the end of it, all we had left were personality free strips such as Vector 13, Black Light and Outlaw?

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Prog 1015 29/10/96

ITEM: There’s nothing quite like a re-launch, but after the one that occurred last prog, I think that the patterns are becoming more transparent. One recent practice is the drop in the quantity of strips from the standard five to four. The slack is taken up with catch-up pages and ads. Interestingly, another pattern is that it’s thought of as an ideal time for a price increase, this time to a shocking £1.10. So, effectively, where once a re-launch prog was a special happy time for loyal Squaxx dek Thargo, it has become an occasion where you get less thrill for your buck.

ITEM: The God damn fucking X-Files! Okay, I watched most of the first season, and I remember quite liking the one with the guy who climbed out of the toilet, but I never really got into it. Besides, a few years earlier I read the excellent Silent Invasion by Larry Hancock and Michael Cherkas and if there’s one thing I learned from that about this type of fiction is the mysteries get more involving and circular and there are never any answers. Despite this, I can understand why 2000 AD might run a strip like Vector 13, as there is bound to be some overlap between its readers and the show. But for God’s sake; the free gift and article last issue, and now the free gift in this. I know, they say it’s a fine art print of Vector 13 by Kevin Walker but look at it. That’s Mulder and Sculley for certain!

ITEM: In this prog, it’s announced that John Wagner and Arthur Ranson have signed a deal with an American production company for Button Man to be made into a film. What’s interesting to me about this item is the remark, “The pair are hoping their character makes a more successful transition to the big screen than Dredd did”. It’s like an official admission from 2000 AD that the movie isn’t very good. It’s occurred to me recently that the most effective way for the comic to deal with the despondency as a result of the film is to accept that it isn’t very good and to make constant derisive remarks about it at every opportunity. “This week, non-scrots can win a copy of the thrill sucker invested Judge Dredd movie on video”. How good would that be?

ITEM: In a recent entry, I made flippant remarks about Greg Staples artwork. I just want to say that his art on this prog’s Rogue Trooper episode is a distinctive combination of his ink and his fully painted styles and I like it very much. Also, I want to give a special mention to Henry Flint for his art on Judge Dredd The Pack. If ever there was anyone born to draw Dredd it is him. It’s great.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Prog 1013 15/10/96

In Rogue Trooper Rogue Alone, Friday has been running around the jungle without his bio-chip buddies trying not to be found by Karvanu troops. It’s been good fun watching him survive by his wits. Kudos to Steve White for choreographing it all so well. I’ve mentioned before that I normally find the current Rogue Trooper jargon and tech heavy so it’s great seeing him getting his hands dirty. It’s pleasing to see Callum Alexander Watt providing the artwork on a character that we’re more familiar with after first seeing him on RAM Raiders. He draws Rogue Trooper all shiny and muscley and clean. His work must be good if I’m willing to say that online.

Meanwhile, Outlaw concludes this prog and it really is as stupid as I first thought it was. The story ends with Outlaw keeping his title in the Deadliest Man Alive Contest only for the heads of the company who run it to kill his daughter and leave him for dead anyway. So although we now totally understand Outlaw’s motives for any future revenge he might decide to enact we do not for these company heads for who, earlier, it was really important that he defend his title but suddenly it isn’t in any future contests.

If I were to learn that Outlaw was created by an eight year old Blue Peter competition winner and then given to writer Paul Neal to make sense of then I wouldn’t be surprised. Instead, thanks to the feature a few progs back that I mentioned before, it looks like it might have been made up by current Tharg, David Bishop. On the positive side, however, the art has been relentless good. I want to give a special mention to Tom Carney and David Millgate whose episodes I enjoyed looking at especially.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Prog 1011 01/10/96

In addition to Vector 13, Sinister Dexter and Outlaw, another thrill Tharg is working hard to make a success is Black Light. Black Light are a small, modern day, black ops team tasked with exposing corrupt goings on within the government, military etc, who report directly to the American President himself. Already they’ve stopped his assignation in the UK (that would have been embarrassing for us, wouldn’t it) and a super soldier programme. Currently, in Pandora’s Box, the team are trying to crack a ring of nuke smugglers.

The art for Black Light has been consistently good. Steve Yeowell, with colourist in residence Steve Craddock, is currently producing Pandora’s Box, and this is after we’ve already had Lee Sullivan and John Burns on previous adventures. The writing team Dan Abnett and Steve White are producing solid and concise stories of espionage and intrigue. The thrill, however, feels to me like it’s missing something. Judge Dredd is about a future law man but with more to it and Slaine is a sword and sorcery strip with more to it, Black Light is what it is and nothing more. The characters seem undefined. The leader, Emma Price, is a pretty woman with a cute facial scar, while other team members include a bloke with glasses and a black woman. Apart from their visual differences, none of them have their own voice or personality.

What makes Black Light notable is the appearance twice so far of one of Vector 13’s Men in Black characters. It’s not just the Marvel fan boy inside me that is a little thrilled by this cross over, it’s also the memory it triggers of me reading this first time around and thinking that there was a wider story arc for these characters and strips that will eventually be resolved. I don’t remember that ever happening.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Prog 1009 17/09/96

Tharg’s editorials read these days as if from the hand of a tired man. All he seems to do is list stuff. Normally, it’s whatever’s in the current prog. A couple of weeks back he listed the results to prog 1000’s reader survey question, what is your all time favourite thrill? He does the right thing and tells us the top three, Judge Dredd, Slaine and Rogue Trooper, then makes special mention of the positions of current Tharg favourites, the ones he’s leaning on hard to make successful, Vector 13 (7), Sinister Dexter (10) and Outlaw (15). Any survey that has Outlaw coming in at fifteen in it after only just one episode has surely been established as unreliable and should be disposed of immediately.

Last prog, he was back talking about the Judge Dredd movie, thanks to the new widescreen video release. Apparently, it was the fourteenth biggest grossing film in the UK in 1995. “Alas, it was not so successful in the US where it grossed slightly less than The Goofy Movie – but more than Rob Roy!” Perhaps Tharg, like the rest of us, was so excited for such a long time over the possible and then definite Judge Dredd film that when eventually it arrived and turned out to be poor, it’s left us all feeling our relationship with both the thrill and 2000 AD was in doubt.

According to regular Slog commenter, Kennyevil, this was a period during which Tharg is giving serious consideration to dropping Dredd from the line up altogether. It seems unthinkable in 2010 but this a good example of the black reach that that movie had for a long time after its release. Currently, Dredd’s name has been dropped from the masthead and the thrill itself moved to the rear of the comic. Kennyeveil’s comment also reminded me that, despite the excellence of The Pit, I became increasingly disinterested in the thrill. If both Tharg and I feel this way then it’s going to be interesting over the next few weeks in The Slog seeing if John Wagner became as disappointed and fed up as the rest of us.

Dead Reckoning and Return to the Hottie House might have been shaky Dredd stories, however this prog’s Death of a Legend is anything but. In it, the Medical Jurisprudence Sub-Committee decide to put previous Chief Judge McGruder to death by lethal injection after her accelerated descent into mental illness. Unknown to them however, Dredd has smuggled her out of the city for one last mission in the Cursed Earth. Thanks to the cover, from the moment you read the first panel of the strip you know that McGruder is going to die but seeing her go in the line of duty in full Judge’s uniform makes this an unexpectedly moving story.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Prog 1007 03/09/96

Slaine is good example of a signifier to me that I’ve been reading 2000 AD for too long. These days, the character is a timeless warrior travelling up and down in time, enacting the Goddess’s wishes. But usually I miss the old Slaine. The one that was banished from his tribe and wandered the Land of the Young getting into all sorts of scrapes thanks to money and lust. However, I seem to have come around to the current Slaine. I quite enjoyed Lord of Misrule and, so far, The Treasures of Britain seems pretty strong too.

In this tale, Slaine and his unfaithful dwarf Ukko arrive in Arthurian Britain. For Arthur and his knights, their heroic days seem to be behind them. On behalf of the Goddess, a united Morgan La Fee and Merlin task Slaine with finding the magical treasures of Britain to unite the land. But the likable Saxon warrior, Hengwulf, is also interested in the treasure, and he has seen in the runes that he triumphs.

The usual themes that we’ve come to expect from a Pat Mills story are present here, but the wider and stronger cast seem to bring out the best in him. Although at its root this is another Slaine-goes-on- a-quest-to-find-some-stuff story, Mills’ spin on the Arthurian legend, the environment that it takes place in, is entertaining in its own right. Dermot Power’s art is great. As you know, I’m not always inclined to a painty artist, but Powers work seems to have been made for reproduction and the colourful bold images haven’t been created at the expense of good story telling.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Prog 1005 20/08/96

In Durham Red Night of the Hunters, Red sees off the last of the competition killers and says goodbye to a dying Fuzzy, the hairy mutant. I think this means that her and the Gothking can now declare a truce but there is an epilogue to go so who knows. I hope so; thanks to its stops and starts, it feels as if this story has been dragging on forever.

Like in the sister thrill Strontium Dogs, Peter Hogan is still in a mood with Tharg and writing using the Alan Smithee pseudonym. Mark Harrison’s art at first glance looks spectacular, like a giant special effect, but reading it is another matter. Red dispenses with one of the killers just before another runs at her from out of the jungle. Or is it the one that she’s just killed? It’s not always easy to tell what's going on.

Red’s competition is televised with tacky ads scrolling across the screen at inappropriate moments. It’s a great satire idea that doesn’t work, unfortunately, as the panel designs are jarring and the lettering difficult to read, which is a shame.

Greg Staples, another normally painty artist who works in the Simon Bisley style, this time just draws current Judge Dredd story Dead Reckoning. Even when he’s only pencilling and inking, his work looks a little like Simon Bisley’s when he’s just pencilling and inking. I prefer it when he draws Dredd this way; at least I can see what’s going on.

In Dead Reckoning, Judge Death escapes, possesses a very old lady’s body and is chased back to Deadworld’s recent past by a determined Dredd where he teams up with the four Dark Judges including himself. For me, Judge Death no longer has the scary attraction that he had when he first appeared and is almost just a comedy figure now. John Wagner might be trying to write it for laughs portraying Death as a feeble old lady this time but, if he is, Staples doesn’t get the joke because he draws her like a muscle man in a dress, which is a shame.

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Prog 1003 06/08/96

Last prog there appeared a fascinating article on the creation of new thrill, Outlaw. Apparently, writer Paul Neal pitched the idea to Tharg which he liked but couldn’t use because of its similarity to the upcoming Mazeworld. So instead, Tharg’s editorial droids decided to keep the things that he liked, the name and the sci-fi/western tone, and to work with Neal on a new story. Tharg stresses that the new thrill isn’t in anyway like Strontium Dog because Johnny Alpha’s motivation was bounty whereas Outlaw’s is revenge. Clearly Tharg’s memory is on the blink because he seems to have forgotten all about Alpha’s year long search for Max Bubba to avenge the murder of his norm partner, Wulf.

Anyway, the story that these great minds came up with is this; Five years ago, a teenager won a gun fighting competition which really annoyed everyone so they killed his family. He went on the run then fell in love with an alien and then they had a daughter together somehow. Now some bad men turn up and kill the alien and kidnap the daughter telling Outlaw (that’s his real name apparently) that he has to defend his gun fighting title or they’ll kill the kid.

What’s great about this setup is that it’s a fabulous example of comic strip contraction as it’s all done in three pages. Since that opening, the thrill has become a good example of protraction with episodes that are virtually dialogue free. The story follows Outlaw’s journey across the planet to the gunfight where he’s already encountered, shot and killed a grave robber, some guys who want him to take part in their alternative competition and ‘sand pirates’. It seems to me if this planet is populated entirely by arseholes it might have been a good idea for the kidnappers to give Outlaw a lift to the gun fighting competition that they want him to take part in so badly.

Most baffling of all to me is how Outlaw won the competition in the first place. When I think of gun fighting I imagine great speed and dexterity with a pistol and taking out your opponents with a single shot each. Outlaw seems to get himself out of his scrapes by producing a pair of great big cannons from which he sprays his opponents with ammo from a seemingly bottomless supply.

To be fair, Outlaw is only four episodes old so, who knows, maybe the strip has many surprises to come but Tharg’s feature certainly places unnecessary pressure on the thrill to be good.

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Prog 1000 16/07/96

Wow. One thousand progs. Who would have thought, over one thousand weeks ago, that 2000 AD would still be going? The best everyone hoped for was a few years out of it before it eventually amalgamated with a more popular successor. But look at it, still here.

Instead of this being a big celebration, it’s a little underwhelming and is at best just another re-launch prog, and one of the more forgetful ones at that. We’ve got Slaine in a one-off story, Durham Red picking up from when we last saw her, a new thrill called Outlaw and, tucked away at the back, Judge Dredd. In prog 500, we got a memorable creator robot jam cover and strip. In prog 1000, we don’t even get the full compliment of five thrills.

Judge Dredd isn’t even on the cover. Instead it’s a painting of the less known Slaine by Jason Brashill. It’s a nice painting but in typical David Bishop fashion (he used to do this a lot in The Megazine), the same image appears again on the Output page and on Slaine’s introductory page. I’m not going to mention the whole cover to prog 1000 appearing as is, blurb an’ all, on the back of 999.

And to top it all, Tharg mentions in his editorial that 2000 AD is moving from Saturday to Wednesday publication which means we have to wait another eleven days for the next prog and not just four. This reminds me of my millennium night; what a disappointment.

For The Slog, the sixteen page souvenir supplement that comes free with this prog is missing and so, of course, all of the celebration could be contained in there. But when I close my eyes and try to picture it all I can imagine is that Slaine picture page after page after page.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Prog 999 05/07/96

The most satisfying Judge Dredd super epic for a long time comes to a double sized conclusion this prog with the sector wide riot being quelled, Warrens’ greed leading to his death, drug addict Lee dying in the line of duty, Patel contradicting Dredd’s leniency and sentencing his own father to one years suspended ‘encubement’, crazy Priest putting his gun to his own head and crime lord Fonzo Bongo being sentenced to twenty five years for non-payment of traffic fines. Sector 301, or The Pit as it was once referred, is as corruption free and well run as any other sector in Mega City One now.

It’s not been a completely smooth read however. As prolific an artist as Carlos Ezquerra is, even he found it impossible to provide all thirty, six paged (sometimes seven) episodes by the required deadlines. So, stepping in to help have been Lee Sullivan and

It’s important in a story like The Pit which features a large cast of characters who look very similar to each other once in uniform that their defining physical features are maintained. Sullivan manages this and even though his style is very different to Ezquerra’s he proves himself to be a worthy understudy drawing the brutal landscapes, vehicles and characters that make up the Dredd-verse confidently. Unfortunately, Ronald doesn’t succeed so well. Many of the characters look very different and he seems less inclined than most artists to Dredd-land. Many panels are drawn at a dizzying forty five degrees perhaps to compensate for the lack of background or detail work in the hardware. Maybe this is down to deadline pressures and it does seem a little cruel of Tharg to push a brand new artist into playing with the headline act. However, every now and then, Ronald disarms me with a panel that feels utterly naturalistic suggesting that on a lower profiled strip with looser deadlines he will become a strong art droid.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Prog 997 21/06/96

Pat Mills sets the tone this prog writing, or co-writing, the majority of thrills that appear in it. In Slaine Lord of Misrule, Marian calls on the Goddess and summons the spirits of the forest to come to her aid, while in Finn Season of the Witch, Finn calls on the Goddess and has an out of body experience. I’ve said here before that Finn often reads like a Slaine strip set in the near future to me. Sometimes I wonder what’s really going on here, though. Is Mills just being a little creatively lazy by revisiting the same themes over and over again in various thrills? Or does he actually believe this stuff which explains why reading his thrills can feel like being trapped on the doorstep on a Saturday morning with a religious enthusiast when there’s a cool science fiction comic waiting to be read indoors.

Mills also writes this prog’s episode of Vector 13 called Video Nasty in which various opposing religious deities possess everyday people around the world and fight each other to the death. It’s actually one of the better Vector 13 stories even if it has to conform to the dry format of the thrill. It’s especially nice to see Mills writing a self contained one-off after years of experiencing only long arcs.

I like Slaine and Finn but I sometimes feel that Mills’ strength lies in the conception of a thrill. All of the work gets done during the early stages and then, any stories that appear two, five, ten years later featuring those characters are generated automatically by the initial plan. The reason his Vector 13 story is so notable is that it’s great to see Mills using a creative side of himself that is seen less often these days.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Prog 995 07/06/96

Among my personal issues with 2000 AD, including it having changed and me reading it for too long, is by this time, thanks to comic news magazines, I know a little bit about what’s really happening behind the scenes. For example, I know that David Bishop, editor of The Megazine during the period I grew to dislike it, is now Tharg. A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing because I’m not only expecting the worse, I’m looking for it. As impossible as it is, I want my old 2000 AD back.

Another bad sign is when a popular thrill returns, like Strontium Dogs, and the script credits go to Alan Smithee. Put ‘Alan Smithee’ into Google, press ‘I’m feeling lucky’ and the Wikipedia page it comes back with says on its opening line “Alan Smithee (also Allen Smithee) is an official pseudonym used by film directors who wish to disown a project”. Peter Hogan might not be a film director but it amounts to the same thing. Why would Tharg agree to credit the strip to ‘Alan Smithee’ when it’s as a good as saying to readers that publisher/creator relationship is at a low here.

It’s a shame because not only is Trevor Hairshine’s art on the thrill reminiscent of old school artists which means it’s great, I also think that Hogan’s Strontium Dogs was beginning to get somewhere, especially now that Middenface McNulty is back in it. Instead it looks like being another false start for the strip that feels to me like it hasn’t successfully taken hold since Johnny Alpha died. But why it’s really a shame is because looking back at this time of 2000 AD with the benefit of Slog eyes, the comic as a whole has been quite good recently and it’s sad to think of Hogan as an unnecessary victim of this period of refocus.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Prog 993 24/05/96

This is my Dan Abnett anecdote. Around the time that The Slog is at, I attended a comic convention. During the evening on the first day, some friends and I were getting very drunk in the hotel bar. One of my friends knew Abnett so he joined us. At one point, I got a round in and being a nice guy I got Abnett a drink. He went on to commit what I consider to be two big faux pas. One; he didn’t offer to buy me a drink back. Two; the next morning, he passed me in the foyer and blanked me. These were the final factors I needed to decide that I didn’t like his work.

Currently, he’s writing new thrill Sinister Dexter which has been running for a few progs now. Clearly inspired by John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson’s characters in Pulp Fiction, Finnigan Sinister and Ramone Dexter are ‘gun sharks’, an assassins-for-hire partnership that work in the Europe sized city of Downlode and who take great pride in their reputation, often at expense to their own safety.

Now that I’m revisiting this thrill, I realise that I was wrong to dismiss it first time around as it’s actually enjoyable. Abnett clearly works hard at writing it. There’s a rhythm to it that I like and the scripts themselves seem tight and well executed. I’m particularly pleased that the stories so far have been short, often no longer than a single episode. At this time, it must have been tempting for Abnett to write them for easy collection in US comic book or graphic album formats later on. Like Vector 13, Tharg is working hard to make this thrill a success by commissioning lots of episodes and a strong, rotating team of popular art droids for it.

However, I can still see in the thrill what I doubted about it the first time around. Abnett doesn’t have the same subversive instincts that the strongest 2000 AD script robots have traditionally had. In fact, I sense an eagerness to please and to give the reader exactly what he thinks they want. His sense of humour doesn’t seem as well developed either. He writes characters whose idea of funny is to call women ‘babes’. I half expect to see the English being mocked for their dentistry in the near future. Having said this, Sinister Dexter remains a strong thrill and I can only put my initial conclusion about it down to the lack of drink, the snub the next day and an old Squxx looking for a way out of the comic altogether.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Prog 991 10/05/96

ITEM: I think that I might have been a little bit harsh on RAM Raiders in my last entry. Since then, the opening story has concluded with the death of Meg and her return as a computer generated ghost. I can see now that what I thought the thrill was it wasn’t and that writer Alan McKenzie was merely setting the general conceit up. Also, criticising it because the main character just walked into Canary Wharf unchallenged might have seemed churlish, especially when you consider that in this prog’s episode of Finn the boss of a multinational energy company boasts about the various sacred sites of indigenous tribes around the world he’s helped to desecrate in the terrorist’s local pub and I wouldn’t dream of criticising that. It’s clear now that RAM Raiders is a supernatural, Scooby Doo styled strip with a digitised spin. I still hate that hat, though.

ITEM: We all thought that Ron Smith had disappeared for good from the pages of 2000 AD nearly a hundred progs ago, but here he is, for the last few weeks, contributing new Star Scans of the interiors of Justice Department buildings and spaceships. It might be that current Tharg is clearing out a backlog of work but it says a lot about my relationship with the comic when I tell you that just the sight of his drawing style makes me feel warm inside.

ITEM: I was surprised during last prog when Tharg in his editorial for the Output page said that Vector 13 is ideal for readers who like The X Files. Well, duh, we all know that. Creating thrills based on what is popular at the time isn’t anything new. Skizz as Alan Moore's ET is a good example. Hell, the comic itself spun out of the anticipated success of Star Wars. But actually saying it, Tharg? I mean, really!

Tharg is working hard to make Vector 13 a success, returning it for a third run and continuing to commission some of his highest profile creator droids for it. For me, some stories are better than others but it still continues to be dry and lacking in personality. Given the creative shared understanding as to what the strip is about, I’m curious to know how Vector 13 was originally conceived and who was originally involved.

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Saturday, January 09, 2010

Prog 988 19/04/96

It’s not common for a thrill that annoyed me first time around to annoy me even more for The Slog but RAM Raiders manages it. Set in the near future of 2008, Codey is a computer repair man who steals business from larger companies. Meg is his assistant and girl fiend. In the opening story, Love and War, Codey bluffs his way into Canary Wharf to fix the building’s malfunctioning computer.

And this is why it’s really annoying. I don’t get how somebody who raids business off of other companies can invoice for the work. I don’t see how walking into the building and saying, ‘yeah, I’m from the other company’ gets him entry. (He actually says, “If anymore ACME guys show up, tell them I can handle this alone”.) I don’t understand, even if they believed him to be from the legitimate company, how he’s able to order everyone evacuated from the building, to walk freely around Canary Wharf and to demand that all the power be switched off.

If you can accept that computer and business security is even worse in 2008 than in 1996, then you’ve still got the characters to contend with. Writer Alan McKenzie, much of whose other work I respect, has tried to give them a flirty rapport but they just look and sound like Big Brother contestants. Not even the memorable ones but the shitty ones that get voted out at the end of week one. And I really hate that fucking hat Codey wears all the time.

On the positive side, I like the art by Callum Alexander Watt. It’s clean, clear and fresh and I hope to see more of it on another thrill before The Slog is through.

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Friday, January 08, 2010

Prog 986 05/04/96

In the return of Cannon Fodder, the story renamed Dark Matter retrospectively and up to its penultimate episode this prog, Fodder has a psychological breakdown after his encounter with God last time. With the help of a rather arrogant Sigmund Frued and the charming Deacon Blue, he goes on a mission to find the missing members of The Priest Patrol. The search leads them to another dimension made mainly of Dark Matter and where Fodder’s psychological troubles take on physical form.

This Cannon Fodder story is written by Kek-W who, at the time, I decided must be Mark Millar but actually turned out not to be. Instead, Tharg commissioned this run from a different creator which, apparently, irked the original writer. It’s perfectly acceptable for Millar to feel this way I suppose, especially when you consider how Pat Mills can be when his creations get farmed out to other people behind or in front of his back. The upshot of this is that by this time Millar had officially moved on from 2000 AD (although there are still stories yet to see print) and real editor David Bishop agreed to commission no further Cannon Fodder runs out of respect for his wishes.

However, this interview Chris Weston did for Bishop’s book Thrill Powered Overload reproduced on his blog
here implies that the dispute was slightly bitterer than the official story suggests. According to Weston, Millar considered challenging Tharg over ownership of the character. He said, “I agreed to do the story thinking it was 2000ad's property. Even if someone in Egmont-Fleetway's legal department had cocked up by not sending out a contract, I thought it was pretty low to exploit that mistake. Call me old fashioned.”

You’re old fashioned. Actually, it’s a good point Weston makes. It’s interesting to imagine that many of the rights disputes 2000 AD has encountered over the years could be down to some poor underpaid office worker not doing their job properly. How could anyone produce comic work for Tharg believing it to be theirs and not 2000 AD’s property even if they never see a contract? Weston’s remark also suggests my suspicion that Millar and perhaps Grant Morrison stopped working for the comic because of ill feeling between the creators and their bosses might not be entirely stupid.

This is all an aside. Cannon Fodder II is excellent and I would have loved to see more. Kek-W’s story is strong and imaginative and his scripting tight, witty and pacey. Weston’s art is absolutely brilliant. He reminds me of Brian Bolland’s best Judge Dredd work here in that he populates this fully rendered, fantastically detail, fantasy world with utterly authentic faces that I’m sure I’ve passed in the street before. I remember Cannon Fodder II as the last truly great non-Dredd thrill before I go… And I hang around buying 2000 AD for a little while after this, let me tell you.

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Thursday, January 07, 2010

Prog 984 22/03/96

The problem with PSIs to the world of Judge Dredd is, left in the hands of a weaker writer, they can be used as a convenient plot get out clause. So the fascistic editorial voice in my head says to keep the number of them appearing in solo strips down to a minimum as they run a danger of unbalancing the credentials of the head thrill. Now that Judge Anderson has returned to duty in Mega City One after here sabbatical (see The Megazine) there isn’t, in my editorial point of view, any space left for others. However, from the point of view of a reader, I can make an exception for Janus PSI.

In A New Star, three young PSIs are murdered in the Academy by the ghost of Ashley, a young PSI brutally killed before. Janus follows Ashley to purgatory itself for a final showdown with the supernatural mentalist.

If you’re Tharg, how can you say no to Mark Millar and Paul Johnson when they pitch a new Janus PSI story to you? Johnson is a completely solid story teller whose painted art is colourful and exciting. Millar writes this in a smart, bright and upbeat tone, which is really an achievement given the story’s themes of death. It’s just a shame that the run is only five episodes long.

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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Prog 982 08/03/96

For old school Squaxx like me, there is early Judge Dredd epics against which all successors get compared. For example, Oz is okay but it’s no Judge Child Quest, Judgement Day was good but, really, it’s nothing compared to The Day The Law Died, Wilderlands is fine but you really should read The Cursed Earth. These early sagas hold a special place in our hearts so that even strong recent contenders, such a Necropolis, have a hard job standing up against them. However, there is The Pit.

In The Pit, which reaches part thirteen this prog, Dredd is tasked with sorting out the judiciary in sector 301. Also referred to as The Pit, 301 has been the dumping ground for every misfit and lowlife judge for years. Now that policy is at an end. New Chief Judge Volt wants the sector cleaned up and the normally street preferring Dredd has agreed to lead the mission.

Judge Dredd proved long ago that it has the scope to accommodate a wide variety of genre styles but with The Pit it demonstrates that the thrill has developed great substance as well. For it, John Wagner has created a whole new cast of strong characters and sets of dynamics. The Pit also states definitively that the character of Dredd has evolved. In those classic epics he was an inflexible borderline-fascist, but he’s had to learn tolerance and to give the benefit of the doubt to get a more complicated job done. Perhaps Wagner did this to maintain his interest in the thrill or to keep it relevant to political changes in the real world. Whatever the reason, the result is a significantly more rounded and interesting character.

If 2000 AD has to age (albeit slowly) with its readership, then this is the quality of story that it should aspire to. Concise dialogue, tight plotting, strong cast, great art (provided mainly, so far, by the on form Carlos Ezquerra). Not required; big fanfare, huge body count and supernatural villain. The Pit is probably the best epic since The Apocalypse War, as far as I am concerned.

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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Judge Dredd Lobo

Another cross company team-up (obviously) but this time Judge Dredd meets DC’s space metal-head gun for hire, Lobo. The thought of Dredd meeting someone else is nice if only because it conjures thoughts of him one day going on to encounter Superman or perhaps, my personal dream date, The Incredible Hulk. (Just imagine the Hulk rampaging through Mega City One).

Lobo’s latest client, a shape changing mutant, runs out on him before paying, leaving the Kiss styled greebo no choice but to track him down to Mega City One where he accidentally releases Mean Machine Angel from the Cubes. It’s up to Dredd, already tasked with body-guarding the president of Belgium, to sort it all out.

I’ve never really cared for Lobo. The secret of his success has always struck me as down to him being a DC protagonist who is the opposite of Superman. Unfortunately for me, Psycho-Bikers Vs. the Mutants from Hell reads more like a Lobo story than a Dredd one. Drawn by American, non-2000 AD artist Val Semeiks perfectly well, it lacks the intricacies that I normally associate with Tharg’s art robots. (Perhaps because it was drawn to US comic size). The story is credited to both Alan Grant and John Wagner but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it was written mainly by Grant. The story seems to be missing that indefinable Wagner class (but, please note, I did break away from reading The Pit mid story to read this which can’t have helped.) Psycho-Bikers Vs. the Mutants from Hell is by no means a disaster, it’s quite good fun actually, it’s just that for an event book it’s just not eventful enough.

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Monday, January 04, 2010

Prog 979 16/02/96

All non-Judge Dredd thrills conclude this issue including the supernatural strip Darkness Visible by Nick Abadzis and John Ridgeway. In it, private investigator Alec Perry is hired to find the missing daughter of a client. The case leads Perry to a black magic sect made up of the privileged who resurrect the dead for their own dark purposes. The story finishes with the mystery of Perry’s own missing daughter unresolved and a witch foretelling that they will meet again.

Five weeks is a short run and Darkness Visible feels very much like an opener for a series of tales that, unfortunately, never come. So we never find out what happened to Perry’s daughter and he never meets the alluring witch again. Still, it’s always great to see Ridgeway’s artwork although it remains mystifying as to why Abadzis doesn’t provide a greater amount of upfront work for the house of Tharg.

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Sunday, January 03, 2010

Prog 977 02/02/96

Steve White and Dan Abnett seem to be playing writers-relay with each other. Together they are writing Flesh Chronocide, the strip that they probably shouldn’t be thanks to it being the creation of Mister Pat Mills. Set twenty thousand and eighty million years ago, it’s not entirely clear yet how the two eras are connected although it probably has something to do with a terrorist group’s plan to release smallpox and wipe out mankind before he gets a proper grip.

White and Abnett seem to be a good partnership as the story is tight and the protagonists likable, although, intriguingly, they’ve avoided populating the strip with rampaging tyrannosaurs and the like which, to me, defines Flesh. Gary Erskine’s art manages to be stylish, clear and perfectly told all at once.

Over in Venus Bluegenes Venus on the Frag Shell, the Rogue Trooper spin off, Dan Abnett is in charge. Venus is lumbered with a Nort deserter with what transpires to be a perfectly rational phobia of water. It’s early days for this strip but what makes it most interesting so far is how improved Simon Coleby’s art is. Before I’ve been critical of his work for its samey character physicality and wonky angles but now those issues seem to have been fixed. Here his unique sense of perspective is used to effect and his characterisation strong. I’m delighted by it.

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Saturday, January 02, 2010

Prog 975 19/01/96

Item: I’m not suggesting that this was done deliberately, but a good way of discouraging your readers from giving up your comic when it passes the psychologically damaging one pound price point is to temporarily increase the page count. 2000 AD is now back to its standard 36 pages but the price, unsurprisingly, stays the same. I remember thinking, ‘the moment it reaches a pound, that’s me off’, and yet here I was, continuing to buy the comic. So, it worked on me.

Item: This prog’s free gift is the sleeve to the Judge Dredd movie now on video. Ha ha! Do you remember video cassettes? Great big, clunking square things that took up all your shelf space. It’s interesting that 2000 AD should give away the sleeve as a free gift; it gives us something to slip inside the case of any pirate copies we might buy. Arrr!

Item: In Kid Cyborg, TV journalist Gabrielle Lincoln and her cameraman Russ liberate a military experiment in the form of a cyborg. The team cleverly outwit their pursuers by broadcasting their pursuit live as they try to learn who the amnesiac Kid Cyborg really is.

For a story with such a dark undertone, Kid Cyborg is surprisingly cheerful and with an upbeat dynamic between its likable cast. Jim McCarthy’s art is as enthusiastic as you would expect from him except this time it’s computer coloured. The result in print is murky and stodgy. Still, a fun thrill.

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