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2000 AD Prog Slog

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Prog Zero

In November 2006, after an impetuous ill-thought out bid on eBay, I won the first 1188 programmes of 2000 AD. Rather than just have them sit piled up in my bedroom collecting dust tormenting me about how much money I had spent on them, I decided I was obliged to read them all. I thought, rather than just read them why not blog about the experience too. So, I started the 2000 AD Prog Slog Blog where I reviewed every other issue of the Galaxy’s greatest comic.

But it didn’t end there. In fact, I became a little obsessed with it, seeking out associated publications that hadn’t been included in the original win. A complete set of Star Lord; all of the annuals and Sci-Fi Specials; the first two volumes of Judge Dredd The Megazine; it seemed as if, contrary to what I said in The Slog, I never wanted it to end. In fact, as the end did eventually approach and some commentators asked if I would consider continuing the project beyond the originally planned prog 1188 limit I was actually tempted. During a fortnight of confusion a few months ago, I spent the time buying up auctions of Marvel UK comics on eBay thinking I could do something similar to The Slog with them.

When I started, I fully expected to enjoy the first ten years worth of 2000 ADs but after that for it to then be really hard work. The truth is that, over all, I enjoyed the following thirteen years as well. Reading so many comics in quick succession has made me tolerant of the failed thrills and more appreciative of the good ones. The truth is, 2000 AD has always been a good comic, it’s just less good at some times than at others.




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One of the cool things about writing The Slog has been the occasional feed back from creator robots I’ve received that has often been very nice and has always been reasonable. I’ve heard from Paul Kupperberg and Igor Goldkind in the comments section as well as directly from other creators via email. Another commenter has been ex-Tharg David Bishop whose recent appearance initially unnerved me a little as I had been having fun blaming him for driving me away from the comic I had once loved. I contacted David late Thursday offering him the opportunity to put right any unfair assumptions I had made regarding his time as editor of 2000 AD. As I suspected, I had left it too close to deadline. He did, however, kindly provide this note for this final Slog entry –

“Sigh. I'm sad to see the end of Paul's Prog Slog Blog.Though he's been taken my name in vain on a regularbasis, the PSB has been a fascinating trip down memorylane for me. It offers an interesting observer's POV on2000AD, a comic I was lucky enough to edit for a while.Curiously, the end of Paul's slog pretty much coincideswith the end of my spell as Tharg in terms of prognumbers, so there's a lovely symmetry to PSB ending here. In the meantime, Splundig Vur Thrigg, Earthlets- or however that old saying goes...

Let's Call Him David Bishop.”

Ha ha. Wicked.

Now, I want you to know that what I am about to say I had always intended to write towards the end of The Slog, that I don’t have a correspondence relationship with David Bishop which has provided me with any additional insider knowledge and so this is me completely assuming again but…

I no longer blame him for driving me away from 2000 AD. As I see it, he became editor around the time that the Judge Dredd film had kicked the legs out from under the 2000 AD brand leaving upper management scurrying around and wondering what to do with what they had seen as one of their big assets. For the majority of his time as Tharg, Egmont Fleetway was preparing the 2000 AD franchise for sale, which is why the line shrank, frequencies were lowered, page counts dropped and long, on-file thrills (one of which they no longer even had a script for) were published. Working in that sort of uncertain environment where your employers are demanding more for less is a nightmare for anyone, let me assure you. Now, I’m not saying that every decision David Bishop made was understandable in the circumstances, the Sex Issue being a good example, but I do believe that there are few people who could have lasted in the role in the situation I’ve imagined. He would have been under pressure to run a lean, tight ship and, in what I’m sure were very trying times, made some difficult decisions, some of which weren’t so good (replacing Tharg with the Men in Black) and others of which worked and stuck (Sinister Dexter and Nikolai Dante). It didn’t matter who was editing 2000 AD at this time, I’m almost certain I would have stopped buying it anyway. David Bishop is the man who stepped forward and suffered the slings and arrows for decisions that either he didn’t make or had little choice but to. As far as I’m concerned, he was the man who got the comic into the shape that enabled it to be sold on to Rebellion thus securing its future. We probably have him to thank for 2000 AD still being here today.


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Believe it or not, 2000 AD continued to be published after prog 1188, and continues to appear on limited newsagent shelves to this day. Now, let me tell you a secret; although I no longer buy the comic, I flick through the latest issue every week in the one Milton Keynes shop that I know stocks it and let me tell you something; it looks pretty good. The art is always spectacular and I’ve no reason to think that the scripting isn’t either. And yet despite this, I have absolutely no intention of returning. I feel when it comes to slowly accumulating large piles of comics in my bedroom that I’ve been there and done that. However, once my brain has cooled down (which may be some time), I have every intention of catching up on Judge Dredd stories collected in graphic novels since. I want to read all of the newer thrills written by John Wagner and Pat Mills. I might even track down collections of Nikolai Dante, the strip that I originally disliked but grew fond of during The Slog, and other stories I’ve heard good things about. One thing is for certain though; I’ll be reading them for pleasure and not writing about them here.

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However, despite my version of this blog going into total lock down after today’s entry, it doesn’t mean that The Slog is over. Regular commenter, David Page, has agreed to continue the project beyond prog 1188 and I’m more than happy to pass it over to his more than capable hands. David has already introduced himself and declared his intentions so see you all over there hopefully.

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Finally, I want to thank everybody for reading my Prog Blog Slog, especially those of you who left feedback in the comments section. I’ve been genuinely surprised by the amount of comments The Slog has received and delighted how positively you all seemed to enter into the spirit of the project. Some regulars run blogs themselves that I strongly recommend. Checkout Grant The Hipster Dad’s Thrill Power Thursday . I also enjoy Mark Cardwell’s Bad Librarianship. Apart from being very funny, Mark seems to have a preference for my favourite era of 2000 AD and frequently posts about the work creators from then are doing now. I should also give special mention to official 2000 AD website, Barney, from which I lifted most of the cover scans I used in my Slog. Barney is a terrific resource for 2000 AD readers. Every single cover to 2000 AD and related publication seems to be there, even the shit ones. Pete Ashton is an active and always interesting presence on the internet so check out his website here. If you want to keep abreast of all the current British comic news then you should be visiting the Forbidden Planet blog and John Freeman’s Down the Tubes regularly. They are both excellent sites. If you’re interested in what comics I’m making now and in the future then please visit my website or subscribe to my news feed here. And don’t forget, David Page is continuing The Slog from where I’ve left off at his blog.

Thank fuck that’s over with. Goodbye.

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Friday, May 14, 2010

Prog 1188 12/04/00

Item: In Blood Cadets, Judge Dredd assesses another rookie, only this time it’s his own clone. Remember that story from years ago where Dredd teams up with a confused Mean Machine Angel to rescue some Justice Department babies from a felled ship in the Cursed Earth. Well, young Dredd is one of them now grown up. As this is the last prog of 2000 AD I’m reading for The Slog, it’s nice to see a story referenced that, when I first read it during the early eighties, gave me an adolescent rush.

Item: When I wrote about Missionary Man The Promised Land a couple of entries ago, I commented on how much better the story would be had we known more about the wider cast Preacher Cain is supposed to be helping. Well, in the final episode this prog, writer Gordon Rennie goes some way to rectifying that. We find out all about Josef Guzman as he gets an axe in the head, Mikhal Danr as a spear pierces his throat and Big Suh as he’s overwhelmed by mutants. Better late than never, that’s what I say.

Item: I’ve just noticed that David Bircham draws Slaine, the ancient Celtic warrior, wearing skin tight leather trousers. Don’t get me wrong, and I appreciate that these stories take place in a magical realm, but even skin tight leather trousers are probably beyond the capabilities of the tribal tailors of this time. Whatever next? Brainbiter being drawn to look like an electric guitar? He’s also wearing a pair of Bat Man styled leather forearm protectors which, although even more unlikely, look pretty cool.

Item: If there’s one thing I’ve learned from doing The Slog, it’s that there is absolutely no point trying to anticipate what’s going to happen in a John Smith scripted thrill. Take Pussyfoot 5 for example; you just have to accept that the bad guys are harvesting all of the creatures that hatched out of the infected passengers of a leisure space ship as weapons for an alien race. Just sit back and enjoy the crazy ideas and perfectly drawn bottoms.

Item: This is the last prog of 2000 AD that I have read for The Slog… EVER! I know, amazing, isn’t it? I can’t believe that it’s nearly all over. It feels a bit like the last day of term today. Anyway, please report back over the weekend for my farewell entry which, amongst other things, features news of how The Slog is continuing elsewhere and a message from an ex-Tharg.

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Prog 1186 29/03/00

Because The Slog is rocketing towards its end, I’m looking at thrills a lot earlier in their runs than I might usually do. For example, Slaine The Secret Commonwealth is only four episodes in and here I am, already talking about it. In The Secret Commonwealth, Slaine returns to his tribe after his travels through time and his death. On his return however, he discovers that his tribe’s magic has been drained away from the land leaving them, basically, without their mojo.

Slaine’s travels through the eras weren’t as successful as previous stories and so returning him to his tribe, particularly as the flashback tales to his years as High King had proven to be better, makes total sense. What I find most interesting about the thrill at this time is the art by David Bircham. We’ve grown used to a fully painted art being deployed on Slaine so it’s surprising to see a more contemporary style being used. Bircham’s work is big and spacious and it looks as if Pat Mills is scripting the story taking this into account. The result, so far, is a refreshing reading experience.

Also hitting part four this prog is Nikolai Dante The Rudinshtein Irregulars or, as it’s also known, Tsar Wars (somebody must have been really pleased with themselves when they came up with that one). All out war has broken out in the empire and Dante, as usual, is trying to do the right thing by everyone.

It’s undoubtedly another engaging script by Robbie Morrison (that I won’t see the end of this time) but it’s the art that wins this for me. Co-creator Simon Fraser is drawing the current Judge Dredd story which might seem wrong to some Squaxx dek Thargo when he could be drawing Dante. However, John Burns more traditional art style, certainly when compared to Bircham’s Slaine work, looks stunning to me. Just look at the cover to Prog 1183 he painted reproduced alongside today’s entry. That’s how good the artwork looks all the way through. No offence to Fraser, but I’m glad it worked out this way on this occasion.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Prog 1184 15/03/00

It’s still a few issues away from its conclusion but because The Slog only has a few progs to go, I wanted to do a bit of clear up before the end. In Missionary Man The Promised Land, a Hell Trek crosses The Cursed Earth to where their religious elders believe to be, well, the promised land. Despite knowing that this wonderful place doesn’t exist, Preacher Cain agrees to be their guide so that they can get there and back with as few casualties as possible.

It’s another journey across The Cursed Earth adventure, and the convoy encounter all sorts of weird and scary things on their route as you would expect. Writer Gordon Rennie provides us with some real Judge Dredd like set pieces, such as the town Americaville, that cherry picks from the American constitution for its own bigoted convenience, and the genuinely unnerving Gila Bruja tribe.

The Promised Land tributes the very original Cursed Earth story by using a strong team of rotating artists such as Alex Ronald, Trevor Hairshine and Colin MacNeil. However, it reminds me more of a poorer HellTrekkers. In HellTrekkers, John Wagner and Alan Grant created a wide cast that the readers couldn’t help but invest in. In The Promised Land, Rennie hasn’t done this, so when we learn that another five travellers have died, my instinct is to shrug my shoulders and think, ‘well, as long as Cain is all right’. It’s a shame, because in every other sense the story works.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Prog 1182 01/03/00

Ending this prog is Glimmer Rats, the other dimensional war story that paints it fully as hell. A team of convicts enter the ‘Glimmer’, a Hell like dimension, like so many criminals before them, and battle almost hopelessly as their comrades burst like skin-sacks of offal and blood around them. Their only hope is a rumour born from desperation of a way home, but the nearer they get, the likelier they are to die. The reality is the Glimmer only kills them when it wants to and even then it doesn’t allow the release of a proper death after all.

Gordon Rennie does a pretty good job of conceiving the story and the grim remorseless logic of the place. Glimmer Rats often reminds me of Bad Company only gorier and with less clearly defined characters. Mark Harrison’s fully painted art is as spectacular and as difficult to decipher as his work on Durham Red. It’s often impossible to see what is going on and there are only the occasional characters that I can tell apart from each other. Funnily enough, the effect of the art is to make the whole war zone seem even bleaker and crueler than Rennie’s script already does. However, I might have had more empathy towards the cast had they been more clearly defined by both the artist.

Also concluding this prog is Badlands, written by Dan Abnett and painted by Kevin Walker. Badlands is a Western and Dinosaur mash-up in which a gun-slinger and scientist find themselves trapped in a land that time forgot. Badlands reads like only a partly formed idea that might have been quite good had the creators lived with it for a bit longer. Instead it’s an unchallenging thrill that could have read a lot better with more work but still manages to look beautiful.

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Monday, May 10, 2010

Prog 1180 16/02/00

Eight episodes into The Keeler Conspiracy and Strontium Dog is going on a break until May which is really annoying as it’s February now and the thrill isn’t due back until after The Slog finishes. I’ve been pretty much enjoying the character’s return despite the absence of Wulf Sternhammer.

In the story, the spaceship that Johnny Alpha is transporting his bounties on is hijacked by a group of anti-mutant arseholes who abduct the genetically curious pilot and leave the passengers and crew for dead. Only a small group manage to survive, led to safety by our steely focused hero.

Apparently, this is an adaptation by John Wagner of a script he wrote for a proposed Strontium Dog film that never happened. It does feel as if the overall arc is being considered more so than the rules that might normally apply to episodic story telling. Also, this is a reboot, and already a more successful one than Rogue Trooper and Robo-Hunter that precedes it. There’s also been some continuity rejigging going on and the inclusion of Milton, a sort of sarcastic iPhone that Alpha carries. I imagine that there are many readers irked by the return of a character killed off years earlier. Personally speaking however, I think as Strontium Dog’s creators, John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra are morally entitled to pretend that death never happened, especially as they aren’t the ones who killed the character in the first place.

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Sunday, May 09, 2010

Prog 1178 02/02/00

I don’t know what has been psychically worse for 2000 AD; the Judge Dredd movie or reaching the year 2000. Content wise things are improving but this doesn’t change the fact that truthfully, nobody expected the comic to last this long. I remain amazed that the title is unchanged. Instead of representing a future that will happen during our life times, it now looks like a stale old comic set in a past that never even happened.

To be fair, the title 2000 AD might get a second wind in a few years time just as the eighties has been popular this last decade and the seventies during the one before. Unfortunately, this will be a short lived fascination. And I’m assuming here that a nostalgic interest in the last millennium will result in increased interest in 2000 AD. In fact, the comic was at its peak during the eighties so any sales boost due to a retro curiosity should be happening right now, surely.

Keeping the title as it is because it’s a recognised brand (this is an argument I’ve heard, incidentally) is nonsense if the sales of the comic over the last few years have been as low as rumoured. Originally, 2000 AD sold well and was bought by a broad range of boys of a certain age. Now, however, I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the comic sells mainly to hardcore Squaxx dek Thargo and cult TV and film fans. If the title were to change these readers are likely to stay with it whilst new customers might be more inclined to get onboard. I genuinely can’t see how re-launching the comic as 3000 AD could result in a product whose content and sales are worse than they are now.

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Saturday, May 08, 2010

Prog 1176 19/01/00

Item: Alan Grant has written a couple more Judge Dredd one-offs since his cryptic John Wagner tribute in prog 2000. Grant’s other recent thrills, Anderson PSI Division and Mazeworld, haven’t worked as well as I feel he’s capable of while Judge Dredd, as brilliant as it often is, has been caught up in it’s own continuity a bit too much for my tastes. So, it’s a pleasure to be able to say how much I’m enjoying his recent Dredd’s. It’s like he’s pulled the character into his workshop, brushed away the cobwebs and oiled all of the squeaks. This prog’s Doledrums feels contemporary, successfully satirical and is unexpectedly cheerful. More importantly, it feels a little like somebody’s opened the window and let some fresh air in.

Item: Something else I’m delighted to see return is Strontium Dog by the original creative team of John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra. Tonally, everything looks just right except… where’s Wulf? I thought we were pretending that both characters hadn’t died. I love Wulf. I want him back.

Item: Of all the current generation of young writers, Gordon Rennie is the one that I have the biggest soft spot for. So, I’m happy to see that at present, he’s setting 2000 AD’s tone being responsible for writing 75% of the comic. New thrill Glimmer Rats and the double length return of Missionary Man.

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Thursday, May 06, 2010

Prog 2000 15/12/99

What happened? Have I accelerated into the future or something? This is prog 2000 already! It seems like only yesterday when I was reading prog 1173. Of course, what this really is is a celebration of the comic that for the last twenty three years has obsessed itself with the year 2000 and has at last reached it. A one hundred paged celebration that is the size of three regular progs and sits in the place of four. Personally, I would rather this existed in addition to rather than instead of four weeks worth of issues but that’s just me.

The thrill content is great. Dave Gibbons returns to Rogue Trooper and confirms that Tor Cyan is actually a descendant of the genetically enhanced infantryman. Mike McMahon draws the opening Judge Dredd. Johnny Alpha returns as Strontium Dog which might annoy some people that cried because his death all those years ago but personally speaking I’m happy to see him back. Kevin O’Neill draws the very final episode of Nemesis the Warlock. There are newer thrills in there too such as Sinister Dexter and Nikolai Dante, which unnervingly, don’t look out of place alongside their older colleagues. The oddest thrill is Alan Grant and Cam Kennedy’s tribute to Judge Dredd head writer John Wagner. In it, Dredd goes to arrest his co-creator but Wagner flies away in a bath, gets shot down and ends up as brain in a jar. I can’t help feeling that this is some coded comment on how Wagner feels about his relationship with the character but I’m just too thick to interpret it.

The whole package is inside this sexy cover drawn by Brian Bolland. Bolland draws a selection of 2000 AD characters hoisting up a flag atop a huge pile of British comics, all of which are no longer published. You could interpret this as 2000 AD having weathered the storm that otherwise saw the end of the British comic industry. Or you could see it as 2000 AD being partly responsible for its state at the time. I’ll let you decide.

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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Prog 1173 08/12/99

It feels like years since the last appearance of Nemesis the Warlock and perhaps ten since the last book. When we last encountered the characters, it felt as if the thrill had become circular; constantly referring to itself and going over old ground. Still it’s great to see it back, partly because we all know that this is definitely the end.

In Nemesis Book X, Termite, the hollowed out Earth, has at last turned against its chief bigot, Torquemada, and put him on trial for his crimes. However, as Nemesis acknowledges, Torqumada is at his most dangerous when the odds are against him. In this penultimate episode, he escapes by operating on and stealing Nemesis’s Blizspear Seth, intending to detonate a ‘Doomsday Device’. Sounds sinister.

I don’t know what took Pat Mills so long to eventually decide that the saga of Nemesis and his feud with Torquemada was worth ending. Perhaps he spent years thinking that there were many more stories to tell, if he could just think of them, before eventually realising that it wasn’t going to happen. Perhaps he had decided never to write a Nemesis story again but was persuaded by Squaxx Dek Thargo or Tharg himself to revisit character one last time. Or perhaps he’s been so busy that it’s taken him this long to get around to it. Whatever the reason, it’s pleasing to see a classic reach a natural conclusion when so many previous thrills, such as Dan Dare, Halo Jones and Rogue Trooper, remain incomplete.

For the final episode published next week in prog 2000, original artist Kevin O’Neill returns. It will be great to see him back but it will also be a shame considering just how stunning Brother Henry Flint’s work has been on the story up until this point. It’s a super detailed tribute to the original artist which also features bursts of Flint’s own unique flare. It’s not often I say this during this era of fully painted art, but Flint’s work is so great that it couldn’t have been reproduced in anything other than black and white.

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Monday, May 03, 2010

Prog 1170 17/11/99

While Judge Dredd has been freeing Mega City One from robot control, Sinister and Dexter tracking down their late boss’s murderer and Devlin Waugh breaking all of our minds, Nikolai Dante has been experiencing a saga of his own. All of these great big epics make me feel as if all business if being cleared away by Tharg before the start of the year 2000.

In The Courtship of Jena Makarov, the love of Dante’s life is violently kidnapped the night before her wedding. Dante is arrested for it but everyone knows that the charge is bollocks as it’s just the excuse the two great Russion dynasties have been waiting for to go to war with each other. It’s another sweeping adventure driven by acts of cruel inhumanity, slight innuendo and peppered with tiny acts of tenderness written by the increasingly likable Robbie Morrison.

Head Dante artist Simon Fraser is back for this story. His work reminds me of the more European artists that Tharg used during the comic’s early years. He certainly looks a lot less influenced by American comic book artists than his contemporaries. Fraser’s characterisation and acting is strong but it’s his building designs that excel. He builds these great scene setting structures that reek opulence. They must take him ages to draw.

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Sunday, May 02, 2010

Prog 1168 03/11/99

In Devlin Waugh… um… er… well, lots of stuff seems to be happening. I’ve been feeling slightly intimidated by writing about the character’s first 2000 AD run mainly because I’m not entirely confident I know for certain what’s going on. It starts with the theft of Herod’s Skull from the Vatican. Then the summoning of a supernatural monster that can travel through mirrors, that looks a bit like a walking, gnarled old tree and is killing everyone born on July the 23rd. Now, Devlin and his shrinking team of supernatural specialists anticipate the arrival of July the 23rd when creatures from Sirius are expected to be summoned to Earth by Hekt where upon they will take over every human being like they’re old suits waiting to be put on.

This Devlin Waugh story is as a great big mash up of fantastical characters (including a pre-cog lying in a bath, spouting nonsense. Battlestar Gallactica, anybody?), fantastical genres (including horror, science fiction and superhero) and spiritual belief systems. It’s as if John Smith has decided to write his own logical conclusion to giant cross over comic strips such as Crisis on Infinite Earths or Zenith Book Three and it’s only right that some Aleister Crowley and Philip K Dick should be in there too.

The art is great. Steve Yeowell (with colours provided by D’Israeli) is the perfect artist for this sort of mentalism. You want a guy drawing this sort of thing that gives it to you straight, free of all embellishments. The visuals remind me of silver age Marvel Comics drawn by Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko at their most crazy. Yeowell seems to know when to leave the art alone and as the reader I find myself looking at something that he’s drawn and wondering where did that come from?

It’s great to have John Smith back too, who hasn’t been writing much for 2000 AD recently before this. He seems to have got over his preoccupation with meat during his time away and replaced it with a celebration of the fantastic. All of the characters he has created here are brilliant and I love the dynamic between them. Of course, Devil Waugh remains the best of them all, overeating to the threat and yet remaining, worryingly, the best equipped to deal with it all. Like I say, I might not be following this story as well as I feel I should, but I’m loving every single panel of it.

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Saturday, May 01, 2010

Prog 1166 20/10/99

It occurred to me recently that perhaps Sinister Dexter, or Downlode Tales as it’s now called, is more in tune with old school 2000 AD that I had previously given it credit. It’s not like one of those thrills that Titan Books kept in print in one form or other during the eighties and think of as a classic, it’s more like one of those forgotten thrills such as, well, I can’t think of one off the top of my head because they’re, by definition, hard to remember. Perhaps I expect a higher level of quality from it because it comes after the likes of Halo Jones, Zenith and Slaine The Horned God rather than before.

Currently, Sinister and Dexter are reunited after weeks of looking for Demi Octavo’s murderer in their own idiotic way. Dexter has been helping an ineffective police unit while Sinister has been shooting up the city with a bunch of guns for hire. What I want to know is why everybody cares so much? They all operate on the dodgy side of the law; you’d have thought that they would be used to seeing bosses getting knocked off by now.

Eventually, when the characters are reunited and they’re facing off against each other with their guns out (because they couldn’t just bump into each other in the supermarket or at a friend’s birthday party) and I’m a little embarrassed to say I found it a bit thrilling. I knew they weren’t going to shoot each other and that Dan Abnett was egging the pudding but I realised that as irritating as the characters and the logic of the strip can be sometimes I’ve grown to quite like it all. I can understand why people like it.

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