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2000 AD Prog Slog

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Prog 1118 04/11/98

Item: In Judge Dredd Virtual Soldier, a tap gang find what they think is a games console amongst their booty but is in fact a remote control for a war robot. As is often the case with a John Wagner scripted Dredd story, it’s a neat idea that’s over in two episodes. I can’t help wondering, however, if in the hands of a more contemporary writer if it would have been turned into a six part creator owned series released over three years in the hope that the film rights get sold.

Item: I know I’m writing about Slaine a lot recently but I’m really enjoying it at the moment. In Macha, he is denied the chance to take place in the chariot race in case it brings bad luck on the tribe. The only fun thing he is aloud to do is to sleep with newly married women on their wedding day. But even this doesn’t work out for Slaine. The first bride is unattractive and the second’s new husband objects. As a compromise, Cathbad the elderly druid sleeps between the pair. Okay, I accept that I’m not telling this very well, but I laughed out loud at this scene, which is something I haven’t done reading 2000 AD for a long time.

Item: The Quote of the Week has changed from featuring lines from forgettable, crappy little movies to actual thrills. I’ve even got a couple right recently. However, I still have this sense that Tharg, let’s call him David Bishop, is reaching blindly into a pile of back progs and sticking a pin in a page that it falls open at. Last week’s quote was ‘No! No! Not… The Teeth!’ which, apparently, comes from Judge Dredd super epic, The Cursed Earth. Now, is it me who thinks that of all the quotes one might decide to use from The Cursed Earth, ‘No! No! Not… The Teeth!’ isn’t one of them.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Prog 1116 21/10/98

It continues to impress me after all these years that stunning new artists continue to appear in 2000 AD. It’s as if Tharg has a tap in The Nerve Centre that he just needs to turn on for a great new original artist to pour out of. We recently had Wayne Reynolds paint a couple of beautiful Slaine stories and now we have brush master Andy Clarke just finishing Nikolai Dante The Octobriana Seduction.

In The Octobriana Seduction, Dante and his mute brother Viktor are sent to France to investigate the death of one of the Tsar’s spies. There they meet the mistress of seduction, Octobriana for whom Viktor takes a special shine and Dante, like a good brother, helps to seduce.

Octobriana seems to be a non-copyright Russian character that pops up in comics every now and then. Although I don’t quite get what the appeal of her is, I did experience that silly little thrill of recognition. “Oh, look, it’s her. What’s her face from Luther Arkwright.” The Octobriana Seduction is another fun Dante story written by Robbie Morrison in which the characters continue to become increasingly likable.

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Prog 1114 07/10/98

I can’t express enough how pleasing it is to say here how improved Slaine has been since the thrill started to focus on his time as the High King. His adventures set later with him and Ukko travelling through time became plodding and formulaic. Now they seem fresh and promising.

In The Swan Children, we learn that Slaine has many wives and adopted children. One of those wives, Aeife, is jealous of one of the children and so turns her and three of her siblings into swans. Slaine is pretty pissed off with her and a fight with a giant snake ensues (obviously) but it’s the reaction of other cast members which is a revelation. Ukko seems particularly saddened by the change in the children and concerned for their fate.

Siku paints all three parts of the story. His interpretation of the character seems to sit half way between the modern and original lean versions which I like. I haven’t always enjoyed his previous artwork but for The Swan Children everything about it is pitched perfectly from the story telling to the page composition to the colour.

It’s great to see Pat Mills softening his pagan militancy and focusing more on story, ideas and characterisation. I understand from The Slog comments section that, at this time, nothing other than Slaine commissions were being accepted from the writer which, at first, seems amazing considering his history with 2000 AD, but if this sort of story is the result then maybe it’s not such a bad thing.

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Prog 1111 09/09/98

There’s nothing quite like a re-launch prog although I’m not sure that this qualifies seeing as how each of the thrills is a self contained story. It’s a 48 paged special issue the theme of which is death. When we had the sex issue, the word was plastered in big writing on the cover, but for this prog I just happened to notice from reading the strips. I had to skim read the Nerve Centre for confirmation. In fact, you could be mistaken for perhaps thinking that the theme of this issue is actually Sex from the cover. Just change the colour of the blood dribbling from Durham Red’s mouth and between her cleavage and, well, if you don’t know what I’m implying here then I’m not going to tell you.

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Batman Judge Dredd Die Laughing

Some say this is the second, or the third, but I say this is the fourth team-up between DC Comics’ Batman and 2000 AD’s Judge Dredd. The reason there is ambiguity is Die Laughing was years in the making, work on it supposedly having started around the time that Judgement on Gotham came out. My God, that was years ago. Two more team-ups were written, drawn and published in the meantime.

In Die Laughing, The Joker has managed to partially beam over to Mega City One and free the four Dark Judges. Now immortalised through Judge Death’s Dark Judge making process, Dark Joker and his new friends get sealed up inside a nuke proof dome with ten thousand hedonists. Thank God that Batman followed him to the Big Meg and got inside with Dredd before the shields came down.

Die Laughing, despite being bigger than earlier team-ups, is a little under whelming. The story by Alan Grant and John Wagner feels as if it was written years ago. It ticks all of the right boxes but lacks the vitality I associate with their early parings or the depth that Wagner’s more recent Judge Dredd stories have since developed. Clearly, the advantage of a team-up such as this is it’s an opportunity to sell Judge Dredd to the Americans (us British readers don’t need Batman selling to us) and that’s how this, and all the team-ups feel. It’s not helped by the fact that by this time Dredd’s perception amongst comic readers is on the descent thanks, mainly, to the movie from a few years before. Die Laughing feels like a contractual obligation, probably because it is.

I’m not so sure that the art is as great as, in theory, it should be. Glenn Fabry’s pages look too dark to me, which is surprising given the paper that it’s printed on, but then I have the smaller sized American editions and, for all I know, the UK version might look fine. It’s down to Fabry, I understand, that Die Laughing was so long in the making and, although I don’t know why, it doesn’t look like he had much fun on this gig as this doesn’t look like his best work to me. I much prefer Jim Murray’s pages. They’re bright and even garish in places but I can pretty much see what’s going on.

On the one hand, I’m relieved that Dredd’s meetings with Batman are over, but on the other, I still like the idea of him taking out Superman with a Kryptonite bullet or The Incredible Hulk trashing Mega City One. I guess I’m just a sucker for this sort of thing.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Prog 1110 02/09/98

Judge Dredd story Beyond the Call of Duty ends this prog after ten episodes, twelve if you think about the double length opener and closing. In it, Judge DeMarco from The Pit has been made Chief Judge of Sector 303. Dredd has been drafted in temporarily, on the surface as a low level street judge but actually has been tasked with reporting his operational observations back to the new chief. During this period of change, 303 is also troubled by a vigilante group who feel that the Judge system is too soft.

It’s perhaps wrong to think of this as a sequel to The Pit. Judge Dredd has evolved over the years into a more substantial strip, expanding the cast and taking the time to flesh out characters. So DeMarco has appeared a few times since her premier and this is the latest instalment in her narative. Judge Dredd is a thrill that’s had to grow, if only for the sanity of its head writer who’s been here since the start. As a character, he has had to become more flexible, more tolerant, more accepting of the idea of the world not fitting into how he thinks it should work otherwise, after twenty one years, the strip would have become very repetitive. Besides, John Wagner writes these sorts of stories so well.

One of the threads of the tale sees DeMarco make an unsuccessful pass at Dredd. The rule that prevents Judges from having physical relationships has become a theological discussion point for the two characters, although I’m not so sure that Dredd wishes to take part in it. I love this narative and I hope Wagner revisits it. It’s a great analogy not just to celibacy in the Roman Catholic priesthood but also to our expectations of people in authority in their private lives.

Dredd’s reaction to DeMarco’s advances show just how attitudes have matured in the strip. In the past he might have arrested her but, now, he walks away and tries to put the incident out of his mind, beyond the call of duty. Perhaps this is the final ending to Judge Dredd Wagner plans to write just before he retires from the character for good; Rules on physical relationships between Judges are relaxed and the lives for the citizenry in Mega City One improve simply because everyone in the judiciary is getting laid.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Prog 1108 19/08/98

According to the cover banner, this prog features a preview of the long awaited fourth team-up between Judge Dredd and Batman. Now, I don’t know about you, but my idea of a preview is something more substantial than a quarter-page sized ad for the comic. If this were a motivator for me to buy this prog, I would have been very disappointed.

In The Great Game, Nikolai Dante races across the Romanov galactic empire to track down the stolen Darkstar device, a weapon so deadly, so powerful it can destroy entire planets within minutes and, who knows, maybe even the solar system it’s a part of. Dante has become reacquainted with his estranged wife (who knew?) who, in this episode, dies in his arms as the planet starts to implode around them.

There’s a moral high ground that 2000 AD has always had over its American peers and that is its refusal to rest on its laurels. While Marvel and DC continually churn out comics starring characters created thirty-five, fifty, even seventy years ago, 2000 AD, despite its restricted space, insists on presenting its readers with new ideas and thrills. Had it curled up into a frightened commercial ball we would have had constant reinventions of Ro-Busters, Flesh and Zenith over the years and we wouldn’t have got something as excellent as Nikolai Dante. Robbie Morrison and Simon Fraser have created a great contemporary thrill that has all of the imagination, excitement and emotional pull of strips all of us Squaxx think of as classics.

Fortunately, Tharg also recognises the attraction long running thrills such Slaine have. Since my comments about his prog long adventure in 1100, it’s as if the strip has reinvented itself as domesticated sword and sorcery. We’ve already seen Slaine brawl in a pub with some sea creatures, now, this prog, he and his wife are summoned to their son’s school because of his out of control behaviour. I’m interested to learn if upcoming stories see Slaine down the bookies or worrying about the gradual influx of people from other tribes to the local area.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Prog 1106 05/08/98

I’m six parts into the second Mazeworld story The Dark Man and I’m still feeling that it’s not as good as it could be. I love Arthur Ranson’s artwork, obviously, and I remain intrigued by the idea of the Hooded Man seeking redemption in a possible fantasy world but that’s pretty much where it stops. The world itself and its characters remain insubstantial to me. Furthermore, the internal logic of the thrill seemed compromised recently by a scene where doctors tending to Adam Cadman’s comatose body in the real world saw a maze appear on the monitor recording his brain activity. It just seemed stupid to me.

In Sinister Dexter Slay Per View, Dexter had convinced himself that he is Downlode’s serial killer because he’s been having dreams that mirror the real life murders. It was Sinister who worked out that the TV implanted into Dexter’s brain has been picking up signals from the real killer just in time before he shot himself. There’s a part of me that wishes he hadn’t.

I’m surprised that more isn’t made of Dexter’s implant. It’s become like Maggie on the Simpsons; it seemed like a good idea at the time but, actually, exploiting it story wise is really difficult and sometimes it’s better to forget that it’s there. Anyway, the two guns for hire are now helping the police to track down the real killer as if they have some sort of moral high ground because they only kill people for money. Personally, I think the serial killer is the good guy here. At least he (or she) isn’t doing it for commercial gain.

Finally, yesterday I expressed surprise at the height of Slaine’s son, Kai, given that he’s spent twenty years in druid school. Actually, he’s only spent seven of his twenty course years there, so there you go.

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John Hicklenton

According to several news sites including Forbidden Planet, artist John Hicklenton has passed away. As you may know, especially if you watched the award winning documentary about him Here’s Johnny, he had lived with MS for many years.

John Hicklenton came to the notice of 2000 AD readers as the new artist on Nemesis the Warlock during the late eighties. His work was striking, challenging and subversive. As you will see if you look back over The Slog covering that period, I had difficulty adjusting to his style initially. However, his comic strip work improved at a rate that matched my adjustment so that by the end of the eighties he had become one my favourite artists of the expanding 2000 AD line. His Judge Dredd work for The Megazine during the early nineties was both fresh and expressive.

I don’t think I encounter anymore of his artwork for The Slog project. I did, however, see a strip he drew for The Megazine a couple of years ago. I was impressed at how intricate and yet undeniably John Hicklenton it was. He seemed to be an artist who never stopped improving which is amazing given how most comic artists tend to settle into a grove after a while and his illness.

My thoughts are with his family and friends.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Prog 1104 22/07/98

I’m surprised to see the return of Slaine so soon after his extended appearance in prog 1100. I thought all of the re-launch thrills were bedded in and, for a moment, I couldn’t work out which of them it had replaced. It turns out that Anderson PSI Division Lawless was just a two part story. I hadn’t even noticed it had finished.

In Lawless, a mysterious anarchist commits creative anti-authoritarian acts in Mega City One that manage to humiliate the Chief Judge. Despite her sympathy for the mysterious law-breaker, Lawless (that’s his codename) manages to escape and, well, that’s how the story ends. I imagine Anderson will return in the near future for a new run that picks up where this tiny one left off but then, I’m still waiting to hear more about all those kids that walked out of the city a couple of stories ago. It’s a shame it finished as soon it did as Lawless was drawn by Trevor Hairshine whose interpretation of Anderson I was really enjoying.

I know it’s only one episode in but Kai already feels like an improvement on recent other Slaine stories. Seeing a crew of sea creatures trying to fool Slaine and Ukko into thinking that they are normal humans was enough to make me feel that. At the moment I’m slightly confused as to how Slaine is back in his home era or how, after twenty years of training to become a druid, Kai looks no taller than a twelve year old but I’m hoping it will all be revealed as the story unfolds.

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Prog 1101 01/07/98

There’s nothing quite like a re-launch prog except, increasingly these days, they’re less memorable. There’s a new procedure to the re-launch process that basically protracts the jumping on process to beyond a single week. Week one, as with prog 1100, runs an issue long solo story. Week two (this week), launches three new strips, a couple of them with extra long openers. Week three (which sometimes can leak into a fourth week), starts the remaining one or two thrills. Actually, it’s a nice little re-launch method. Well done, Tharg (let’s call him David Bishop).

I’m really looking forward to Judge Dredd Beyond the Call of Duty, which starts with a double episode and looks to be a sequel to The Pit. You can tell that it’s by the old masters John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra; the story starts so well. I’m also surprised to see the return of Mazeworld. When I last wrote about it here, I was convinced that the strip never returned. Hopefully this follow up goes someway to substantiating the world that Alan Grant and Arthur Ranson have created.

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Prog 1100 24/06/98

I’m finding it increasingly difficult to find anything to say about Slaine these days. There was a time when it seemed like the most exciting thrill from the Nerve Centre but at the moment it feels middle aged; the very thing that the strip seemed to once stand against. Ukko, the only real ray of sunshine anymore, summed it all up during Secret of the Grail when he said, ”…Slaine and Niamh are in love…. And, indeed, boring us with it for all eternity.”

To celebrate this prog’s centenary, there’s an issue long Slaine story called Lord of the Beasts written by Pat Mills (of course) and painted by Rafael Garres. Instead of exposing us to more of Slaine traipsing up and down through time after the continuously resurrecting love of his lives, we’re treated to an untold tale from his days as the High King of Ireland. There was a time when the idea of Slaine being stuck in his warp spasm form would have been exciting to me but I’ve grown so used to what this strip has to offer now that it’s just another thing I expect from it.

Slaine continues to be well written and painted but it occurred to me recently what it reminds me of now. There was a time when it was described as ‘the thinking man’s Conan’ but these days it actually looks as contrived, like those old covers to The Savage Sword of Conan magazines that Marvel UK published during the seventies; Elaborately painted over muscled men with usually at least one woman wearing a metal bikini hanging off a leg. Those old comics were pitched at ‘older readers’, which I wasn’t, and that is how Sliane feels to me now; like it’s being pitched at somebody else.

I can’t think what it would require to revitalise the strip but whatever it takes I hope it happens soon. As fond as I remain of Slaine it seems as if it’s being usurped by newer and more vital thrills such as, and I can’t believe that I’m saying this, Nikolai Dante. The suggestion from the Goddess in a recent adventure that the past is as uncertain as the future doesn’t bode for this revitalisation happening soon.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

prog 1097 03/06/98

Item: I’ve seen some pretty freaky Judge Dredd chins during my time on The Slog but the latest painted by Julian Gibson (an otherwise fine comic artist in the painty style) has to be the freakiest. It looks like the stump of an arm. In fact, I’m beginning to wonder why nobody is throwing Dredd out of Mega City One for severe mutation.

Item: After really enjoying the last Sinister Dexter story, Dan Abnett manages to write one that irritates me from beginning to end. Queenpin Demi Octavo goes to her local gym to use the sun bed there (which goes some of the way to explaining her flip-flopping skin tone but doesn’t explain why someone of her affluence doesn’t have their own sun bed at home). She’s been tipped off that somebody’s out to whack her there so she’s taken Sinister and Dexter with her for protection. (If you know somebody’s out to kill you, then why go in the first place?) The two gun sharks that pride themselves on their professionalism start behaving like elderly hormonal boys from the Carry On films, peeking through the door at a naked Octavo (cor!) and getting distracted by big titted lady assassins (pheor!). At one point, Sinister is mesmerised by the button between a lady’s cleavage pinging off of her top to the actual sound effect of ‘poink!. Abnett and Paul Johnson aren’t even being ironic here. It’s supposed to be funny in a ‘I can’t get any work done in the gym because it’s filled with sexy women’ and ‘we get like this, don’t we, lads; incapable when there’s a sexy woman nearby’ way. This is how witless this episode is; it even ends with Octavo walking back to the car when all the brouhaha is over in a dressing gown. What, doesn’t she wear clothes to the gym or does she throw them away after every visit?

Item: Now that Vector 13 is pretty much over, the new series of one-off thrills with a twist is Pulp Sci-Fi. It’s pretty much the same as Tharg’s Future Shocks except without The Mighty One. If Tharg were present, then that might suggest that 2000 AD is aimed at less mature readers and we can’t have that, can we? (See the Sinister Dexter story referred in the item above). Actually, the two I’ve seen so far have been pretty good and if this new strip features more stories written by Kek-W then I’ll be more than happy.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Prog 1095 20/05/98

Another enjoyable Judge Dredd story finishes this prog. In Down on Sausage Tree Farm, Dredd encounters a feud between Cursed Earth meat farmers and local mutants. The farmers have redirected the only water nearby from the mutant settlement and have decided that their retaliations are all the justification they need to slaughter them. It’s one of those stories where despite normally sentencing litterbugs to cube time you know Dredd will do the right thing on this occasion.

Down on Sausage Tree Farm is slightly reminiscent of an old ABC Warriors story in places. The one where Martian farmers grow strawberry flavoured meat on artificial cow frames. The Sinister Dexter story, Mother Lode and the Red Admiral, which also concludes this prog, reminds me of those Judge Dredd and Strontium Dog tales where the hero assembles a team of likable misfits and losers for a special mission. In the case of Sinister Dexter, it’s to lead an assault on the Zanya-Peshdin Nuke Plant where the Red Admiral is holed up and holding the city to ransom. As you know, normally it’s not hard for me to find something irritating in the most enjoyable of Sinister Dexter stories but on this occasion, I couldn’t. I liked it so much that I didn’t even try.

The problem with Missionary Man Mardi Gras for me is there are a bunch earlier stories that appeared in The Megazine that I haven’t read. So, I don’t really know how Missionary Man got to be the sheriff of New Orleans and I don’t fully appreciate why Texas City Justice Department hates him so much. However, there’s no denying that there’s something about an individual of unshakable principle standing up against the apparently overwhelming forces of corruption that is fundamentally core 2000 AD. It grabs you right there; by the gut.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Prog 1093 06/05/98

Item: Lady Squaxx, Ms L Tomlinson, will hopefully still be reading 2000 AD because this prog’s episode of Slaine goes someway to counter balancing the amount of scantily clad female characters appearing in the comic recently. In it, Slaine dreams he is trying to cross a chasm using a ‘sword bridge’ without any clothes on. Throughout the account, we see pretty much everything, except for his genitals which get conveniently concealed by his axe and other objects (thank the Goddess). Later, there is a picture featuring some nude women at a feast but it’s only a single panel whereas Slaine’s dream occupies an entire page. So, I hope that makes her feel better.

Item: Once again, Finnigan Sinister is back to his pasty white look in the current Sinister Dexter story, Mother Lode and The Red Admiral. Like I’ve said before, all of this flip flopping back and forth between his pale and pink skin looks is confusing. When S B Davis first painted characters this unhealthy tone, I could explain it away as comic artist shorthand, but once other art robots started to do it also, it implied something more meaningful is going on. So who tells the artists, in this case Callum Alexander Watt and Alan Craddock, to colour Sinister the way they do? Is it Dan Abnett’s script directing them, is it Tharg interfering in something they shouldn’t be or is it the artists deciding for themselves? Things get really confusing in this story when Queenpin Demi Octavo appears and her skin tone is now a healthy pink. Consistency; that’s all I ask for, consistency.

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Prog 1091 22/04/98

The good; I like that Missionary Man is now appearing in 2000 AD from this prog instead of in The Megazine. I suppose this is because of budgetary cut backs and The Megazine running mainly reprints at this time. Missionary Man is one of the few Megazine strips that I liked and I was missing it a little.

The bad; I suppose that it’s also down to budgetary constraints that the back of each prog now reproduces the artwork to the next issue’s cover. This is a practice that The Megazine engaged in that I never liked. When I walk into the shop to buy my comic, I like to be surprised by the cover, not thinking that it’s last week’s prog racked the wrong way ‘round. Surely, it doesn’t take much to knock up a ‘coming next prog’ page that maintains that cheap newsagent thrill I like so much.

The status page that preludes the appearance of Missionary Man features artwork by Duncan Fegrado. It’s lovely looking artwork that, in two progs time, is also used on the cover. Surely Tharg, let’s call him David Bishop (actually, is it still Bishop at this time?), could have used artwork from The Megazine that many Squaxx might not have seen.

The ugly; Ms L Tomlinson writes to comment on how few clothes Durham Red wears in comparison with the male characters in her adventures. Tharg doesn’t seem surprised like I am that 2000 AD has any female readers left anymore after all the arse, tits and old-boyism that’s been taking place here recently. Typically, Tharg misses the point of her letter entirely and responds by pointing out that when Red visited an ice planet once she wore a very big coat. Grud help us all.

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Prog 1089 08/04/98

Dan Abnett’s opening Durham Red saga, The Scarlet Cantos, concludes this prog. In it, Red wakes up twelve hundred years into her future and discovers she has become the figurehead in a galaxies wide war between human and mutant kind. She then sets about, well, doing stuff, like exposing the fake Durham Red and telling the mutants what she thinks of them waging war in her name. (Just for the record, she’s against it.)

Abnett is a paradoxical writer to me. On one hand he creates an intriguing character set-up with Godolkin, a human fiercely loyal to Red but only because he believes himself to be under her supernatural allure, but doesn’t do much with it seemingly preferring to write in a matter of fact way about fake planets and imagined cultures. He does succeed, however, in creating a sense of universal scale in the story.

This sense of scale is helped significantly by Mark Harrison whose artwork is undoubtedly stunning. The recently improved paper stock really makes a difference here. However, my problem with it remains; I continue to find it difficult to follow what’s going on. It’s like the end of a big budget movie to me when the giant robots brawl or the space ships fight; I often find it so difficult to interpret what’s going on that my eyelids grow heavy and I have to fight falling asleep. Having said this, his style is very effective at illustrating how mystifying the far future should be.

Like I said before, deciding to set the strip even further in the future seemed initially like a good idea to me. However, I’m left wondering now that she is separated from the established Strontium Dog world if there has ever been enough to the character for her to support a solo series. She was okay as a counterbalance to intense characters like Johnny Alpha but on her own? Well, she’s just not all that.

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Prog 1087 25/03/98

I’m finding what colour Finnegan Sinister is supposed to be increasingly baffling. S B Davis established him as this pale, unhealthy light blue, along with several other characters, a while ago. However, during the recent Taking the Mick story (the title of which should probably be the subject of several Slog entries in its own right), Steve Yeowell coloured him in a normal fleshy white colour. Sinister looked so healthy that I nearly didn’t recognise him. And yet, just to confuse things more, Queenpin Demi Octavo pops up wearing the same pale blue skin Davis paints her in. In this prog’s story, he’s back to the blue skin and Albert Tatlock tipped nose look again. It’s all very, very confusing to me, that’s all.

In this prog’s Sinister Dexter story Hand Maid in Downlode, the boys are hired to protect a highly sexified robot lady, otherwise referred to as a ‘simulacrum’. Everyone is falling in love with her including Sinister and Dexter and she wants to be de-sexified. Here’s something you might like to try, robot lady; put some clothes on, that might help.

Sinister Dexter is a favourite of Tharg’s at the moment having appeared pretty much continuously in 2000 AD for months now and even, more recently, frequently being awarded double and, on one occasion, triple length stories. Personally, I continue to find the strip both enjoyable and irritating but having said that, Hand Maid in Downlode is a favourite so far. The friendship between the two main characters and the usually flexible code that they are supposed to work to is at its most convincing here. Having said that, the robot lady walking around dressed like that and moaning about everybody fancying her really irritated me.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Prog 1086 18/03/98

Item: Yeah… well… umm… It appears I messed up. I got to the end of this prog after quite happily reading it when I realised that I had completely missed an issue. I had put prog 1085 on the other side of my bed, ready to read later, but had completely forgotten I had done this. There was a moment when I was reading this prog during Durham Red when I thought, ‘I don’t remember her being captured by the Tenebrae’ but I’ve not been into this story particularly and I decided that I had probably forgotten. The super-sized Sinister Dexter strip was a self contained episode but the Judge Dredd story was the conclusion to a two-parter and I didn’t notice. Anyway, as curator of The Slog, it’s my responsibility now to the read last prog next before continuing. That’ll learn me.

Item: The last few progs have been interesting because they have been running fewer thrills but with longer stories. This prog, as I mentioned, featured a fifteen paged Sinister Dexter while last, the one I skipped, ran a double sized Durham Red. Prog 1084 was a forty-eight paged twenty-first anniversary issue which ran longer versions of all the strips. It’s the sort of content experimentation I’m okay with to be honest. I’m not so sure about skipping weeks in the publishing schedule though, which is what happened after 1084. (Bit of a funny coincidence when you consider that I also jumped a prog here). It just feels like deciding to do so is poor practice for a comic that’s supposed to have a weekly frequency.

Item: I’m alarmed at the rate of improvement artist Alex Ronald is displaying. Each time I see a new strip drawn by him it’s vastly better than the one he did before. His work on Judge Dredd Headbangers in prog 1084was excellent and, although I don’t want to underestimate the role of Gary Caldwell’s colouring, at this rate of improvement, I fully expect to see Ronald in demand to draw everything by 2004.

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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Prog 1083 24/02/98

Item: Take a look at this prog’s cover; Gives the impression that the men in black characters from Vector 13 are returning to their mother-ship never to return with their stale stories of conspiracies and aliens, doesn’t it. Unfortunately, inside, it’s business as usual suggesting that, even though this is the final story in the current series, Vector 13 is likely to return.

Item: The great thing about performing The Slog at this time is reading John Wagner scripted Judge Dredd stories that I’ve never encountered before. This prog sees the conclusion of Missing, in which Dredd is missing and presumed probably dead by justice department. Only a small team of characters from The Pit story are looking for him but the Chief Judge has given them a tight deadline. In fact, Dredd is imprisoned along with other exceptional citizens of Mega City One all of whom are the prisoners of a mad art collector called Cronix.

Missing reminds me of an old Avengers story from the seventies in which a super villain called The Collector gradually abducts members of the team over a period of issues for his collection of superheroes. It’s hard to imagine Wagner ever having encountered that story, however. Also, all those people communicating from cell to cell made me think of his short lived DC comic, Chain Gang War. If you’ve never read it, then a recommend keeping an eye out for it on eBay, I really liked it at the time.

Item: The Input page has started running a ‘Quote of the week’ feature in which a famous phrase appears and you need to guess where it’s from. It’s not a competition, it’s just for fun. Last week’s quote, “My vote is outer space. No way these are local boys” is revealed in this prog to be from the movie Tremors. That’s right, Tremors; that all-time classic sci-fi movie.

I should read the letters page more often. In response to a letter from Eammonn Lynskey, Tharg reveals that the Judge Dredd story In the Year 2120 was co-written by Alan Grant. That explains the overall vague Anderson PSI Division vibe to it. If Wagner and Grant co-wrote this story as Tharg claims, then I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that they used a different method to the one they did when they worked together back in the eighties.

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Monday, March 08, 2010

Prog 1081 10/02/98

When I wrote about Nikolai Dante before my focus on the vagina monster might have distracted Slog readers from my declaration that I’m enjoying the thrill. When I encountered the strip first time around, I didn’t care for it much, but now I’m beginning to wonder if I even read it at all. I certainly couldn’t have stuck with it for very long after an episode or two.

Currently, the thrill is in the midst of a story called The Gulag Apocalypse in which Dante is sent to supervise at the legendary prison in the frozen wastes by his new family. Accompanying him is a sexy (of course) female alien called Khara whose race has an arrangement with the Romanov Dynasty for the pure genes of the weaker prisoners. However, as they arrive, the prison is attacked by others of Khara’s race who have access to technology similar to Dante’s weapon’s crest. It’s all just a good excuse for a big morphing machines battle.

Writer Robbie Morrison has helped to conceive not just a highly likable lead character but also a fascinating fantasy world. Nikolai Dante manages to feel substantial at the same time as being accessible. The art for this story by Henry Flint is, obviously, terrific. When he draws a strip it looks like it could have appeared in an annual from the early eighties which is a good thing as far as I’m concerned. However, the real art robot star is Simon Fraser who normally draws the strip. His work is animated, expressive and stunningly detailed when the story requires it.

So, there you go; I enjoy Nikolai Dante. Although I maintain that many of the double entendres used aren’t particularly subtle and if the character happens to based on a real person I fully expect him to be imprisoned by now for sexual harassment.

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Friday, March 05, 2010

Prog 1078 20/01/98

There’s nothing quite like a re-launch prog yada yada yada. This time the script robot who owes me a pint, Dan Abnett, is responsible for setting the tone due to him writing four-fifths of this issue. Abnett is now the writer of Durham Red which opens with a double-sized episode. Setting the story twelve hundred years after Pete Hogan’s run seems to be pretty good thinking on the author’s part. At least it frees the character from the rest of the Strontium Dog-verse and opens it up to more possibilities. Mark Harrison paints it fully and I was right about the new paper, his work looks amazing. Like a great big special effect.

Sinister Dexter continues its long run with another one-off called Dressed to Kill. In it, we learn that Dexter considers himself to be the best dressed shark in Download City and is mortified when they encounter another hit man and a bunch of body guards all wearing the same suit. It’s not a surprise for me to learn that the characters have such shallow and narcissistic priorities which is why I feel that this thrill works better as a bunch of pop one-offs instead of longer stories where the lack of substance shows.

Abnett also writes a great little Vector 13 called Houdini. Set in 1993, a building contractor renovating an old theatre starts to receive phone calls from escapologist Houdini. I just think this is a great notion, the idea of Harry Houdini escaping death decades after he was supposed to have died. It seems almost a shame that more doesn’t get made of it. In fact, I think it’s very generous of Abnett to allow this cool idea to vent into our consciousnesses via a normally tedious series of five paged comic strips.

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Thursday, March 04, 2010

Prog 1077 13/01/98

Things change this prog with cover paper stock now used throughout. I remember commenting somewhere at the time how 2000 AD now felt like a wall paper catalogue. Actually, it should hopefully put an end to that issue which has plagued the comic for years and that’s dark reproduction of fully painted artwork. It does come at a price though; a reduced page count by four, back to the original thirty-two. There was a time, a few years ago, when Tharg made a big deal about the comic being printed entirely on recycled paper; I don’t know if this is still the case.

Despite no longer buying 2000 AD at this time, I did return for this prog because I was intrigued by the issue long (twenty four pages) Judge Dredd story, In the Year 2120. After disaster being foretold in 2120 for Mega City One back when I was a little kid at the start of The Judge Child Quest the thrill itself has at last reached the actual day of truth, something John Wagner and the readers never honestly thought would happen. As far as I was concerned though, all of the threads from that premonition got tied up years ago at the end of the City of the Damned saga.

In the story, a smog has settled over the entire city resulting in an increase in violent crime and suicides. Dredd spots who he thinks is the Judge Child and races after him but Owen Krysler changes into The Mutant and all of the stuff seen in City of the Damned seems to start to come true. Thank God then for Judge Anderson who has a psi-flash, tracks Dredd down and helps him overcome whatever it is that’s happening inside his mind.

Jason Brashill draws the story and, I must admit, his work here is too fast and loose for my tastes. It’s surprising to me that in an issue where the paper for the first time seems best disposed for his more considered painty-style that he would chose his less attractive inky –style instead. As for John Wagner’s story; there was no need for it as none of us were really expecting it but, if it’s happening anyway, I’m disappointed something more satisfying didn’t result. Instead, at the end, we get fobbed off with the question, did mass anxiety about this day cause the smog or was it the other way around?

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Prog 1074 23/12/97

BLAIR 1; It started out as a fun, almost off the cuff joke in the 3000 AD free gift a couple of months back. Prime Minister Tony Blair imagined as early 2000 AD character MACH 1 who, in turn, was inspired by The Six Million Dollar Man TV programme. I remember commenting here that satirising Blair as Prime Minister before he’s even elected is a tad premature, or words to that effect. Well, now the strip is back, completing its opening four week run this prog and, I’m afraid to say, it’s not very good.

SB Davis is an artist I can quite enjoy normally but satire isn’t his strong point. Real life politicians aren’t represented particularly insightfully or even scathingly. Blair himself is painted with a permanently fixed grin, I suppose as directed by Alan Grant’s script, which as a piece of satire is already a cliché by this time and unoriginal as it was used as a short hand for President John F Kennedy decades before. Grant’s script is floppy and, ultimately, unfunny. It’s as if he’s not sought to be well observed or feels particularly strongly about the subject matter but instead wrote it after getting a general sense of things through osmosis.

On the one hand, I feel a bit sorry for Tharg, editor David Bishop, at this time. If I had his job and had been approached by the man who helped to provide years of great Judge Dredd, Strontium Dog and Robo-Hunter baring scripts for Blair 1 I would have found it difficult to say no to him. On the other hand, it does feel like another example of recent 2000 AD populism. New Labour hasn’t had the chance to implement any policies before this so-called satire appeared. Had everybody waited a couple of years they could have come up with something quite good. Instead, their over eagerness to get the boot in first looks like opportunism and reads like a slap by a wet fish instead of proper heart felt satire.

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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Prog 1072 09/12/97

Take a look at that Judge Dredd mouth on the cover of this week’s prog painted by Kevin Walker. It looks like a flap cut into a slab of meat. It isn’t uncommon anymore for artists to take that early Brian Bolland scowl and exaggerate it even further like this. Inside, Paul Marshall reverses this trend with Dredd’s sneer. It looks more believable, more effective, and less ridiculous, less like a Muppet character.

Now I’m experiencing a run of progs that I haven’t read before for this final phase of The Slog, I’m really enjoying Judge Dredd. They’ve all been written by John Wagner which, as you know, is always good news. It’s amazing to me that he can still provide for the character and his world after nearly twenty-one years. The strip has also been blessed with a run of particularly strong artists recently, including this prog’s Marshall. Although he draws Dredd a bit over muscled for my liking, his interpretation of the character and his domain is so spot on otherwise that he has become one of my favourite artists on the thrill.

Another strip that benefits from a rotating team of artists is Sinister Dexter. This prog’s strip is painted by the always strong Paul Johnson. His character renditions, environments and use of colour are always a joy to see.

Sinister Dexter is far more acceptable at the moment thanks to it being in the midst of a run of self contained singles. There is still something fundamentally annoying to me about this thrill that makes anything longer than a short story very difficult to manage. For example, it irks me that we are supposed to find the relationship between the main characters charming despite them casually murdering people every episode. They don’t just kill people that ‘deserve it’ as this issue’s story, Long to Rain Over Us, demonstrates. A security guard and the inventor of the Climate Control System get ‘whacked’ because, at worse, one of them has annoyed a main character. Traditionally, successful thrills with a high body count have been self aware enough to know the difference between ’someone who deserves it’ and some poor working sap just doing his job. Sinister Dexter thinks anyone who peeves you off is fare game. I half expect an upcoming episode to feature a scene where someone installing a speed camera gets a bullet through the head. In fact, if it happens, you all owe me ten pounds.

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Monday, March 01, 2010

Prog 1070 25/11/97

Item: In the interests of full disclosure I would like to announce that I am no longer reading Tharg’s editorials for The Slog. They’re pretty much the same every week and I find the prospect of reading them depressing. I hope you’re not disappointed but I’ve done pretty well so far I think and, actually, I’m not that bothered if you are.

Item: For a strip that has some pretty good writer and artist robots working on it, Vector 13 is increasingly contrived and wearing recently. 2000 AD is supposed to be a comic and yet this ‘thrill’ insists upon telling stories in the first person narrative, pretty much ignoring speech balloons and often defeating the point of an artist altogether. The thought of an episode focusing on the assignation of US President John F Kennedy is a pretty depressing one given the weeks of obvious conspiracies that Vector 13 has churned out at us already.

At least writer Dan Abnett strips down the text and visualises the proceedings for this episode by having the narrator walk amongst the events as he tells the story. What makes this Vector 13 fun is it works more like a Future Shock in that the reveal has JFK being assassinated by gun sharks Sinister Dexter. I completely admire Abnett’s audacity on this occasion. Well done. Unfortunately, this prog’s cover by Steve Sampson pretty much gives the game away, which is a shame as artist Neal Brand had worked so hard at concealing it until the climax of the story. Ho-hum.

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