Thursday, August 30, 2007

19. Like it or Not, That Film is Coming

It's May 1995, and the publicity machine is in overdrive, getting ready for that movie. With the benefit of hindsight, we can pretty much split the history of 2000 AD into two parts: the first eighteen years, which featured some of the greatest and most thrilling comics ever done, slowly but surely sliding down the quality slope until the Sylvester Stallone-starring turkey tanked, and the twelve years since, after the radical reinvention and surgery was applied to bring the book back to its former glory days. To illustrate what I mean by the quality slope, consider the stories on offer in this issue, which features the first episodes of four new stories and the continuation, after two weeks' rest, of Pat Mills and Paul Staples' Finn. The lineup includes the long-awaited Judge Dredd epic "Goodnight Kiss" by Garth Ennis and Nick Percival, which pits the lawman against the best assassin in Europe, who'd been introduced two years previously, and the return of Strontium Dogs, by Peter Hogan and Mark Harrison, both of which pretty good.

Unfortunately, it also includes the second appearances of two very turgid and dull flops from the past couple of years, Mambo by David Hine and The Grudge-Father, with art by Jim McCarthy and a new script droid who goes by the pseudonym "Kek-W." This is Nigel Long, who will be contributing several stories over the next few years, and while his first effort is at least readable, and no worse than the first series, by Mark Millar, there is an incredible sense of treading water in this issue.

John Tomlinson was editor for too short a time to make a really solid stamp on 2000 AD, which is why his era is often lumped in with Alan McKenzie's. The long lead time necessary for a story's commission means that much of this material was commissioned by McKenzie. In fact, when David Bishop takes over in 1996, he's still running junk that Alan McKenzie okayed.

Honestly, the best you can say about Mambo and The Grudge-Father is that, with her freaky body tentacles and his bizarre teeth and fingernails, the two "heroes" follow a proud tradition of 2000 AD leads who are physically unpleasant to a surprising degree. In fact, neither of them would have looked completely out of place on those old Forbidden Planet ads that Brian Bolland designed. Unfortunately, even if the characters defied the square-jawed, big-breasted stereotypes of action heroes, their stories weren't any good.

Next week: The strange case of the missing Armitage.

(Originally published 8/30/07 at LiveJournal.)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

18. Get 'em While They're Young

Annnndddd... yeesh, this isn't going very well. I think that my reread has resumed at what might be the comic's lowest point ever. Rogue Trooper, in particular, is just unreadable, with lots of blue-skinned men standing around for page after page talking about cellular breakdown. The only thing in prog 937 (April 1995) worth mentioning was, again, Finn, so let's see what's going on in the Megazine (volume 2, number 78).

Two out of five stories this time out are quite readable. Those are the Dredd story by John Wagner and Simon Davis, and part five of the Anderson: Psi Division serial "Something Wicked" by Alan Grant and Charles Gillespie. Way, way, way on the other side of the quality meter, you've got lifeless apearances by Maelstrom (Robbie Morrison & Colin MacNeil, who have each done some truly brilliant comics; this serial may be the weakest professional job from either of them), Pandora (Jim Alexander & John Hicklenton) and an EC horror homage called Plagues of Necropolis by Si Spencer and, on this outing, Jim O'Ready on art chores.

So, to sum up, across ten stories in two comics, the only three entertaining ones are those written by Pat Mills, John Wagner and Alan Grant. Not a good showing for creators who started writing comics after 1975, really. In part, you could blame the talent drain to America, where most of the 1980s wave of British talent had defected, or you could blame the editors for not finding really strong new talent, but the evidence on offer is damning regardless of the reason: these just aren't very good comics.

Wagner, however, really shines in the first part of a two-episode story about "Judge Pal," a really sinister and blackly comical idea which has resurfaced from time to time since. It turns out that Justice Department has a delightful program to encourage citizens to report crimes at an early age. This involves "The Pal's Club," in which young juves who narc on anybody get accumulated points which they can later redeem for prizes.

I love this concept; its exploitation of children's naivete is just deliciously nasty and is, of course, exactly the sort of thing you can imagine Justice Department concocting. Judge Dredd himself is barely in this story; it is a very fun little look at other departments and how the bureaucratic, bored civil servants who run the city operate, with all their tolerated vices and petty concerns blown up. One of the characters is a former street judge who couldn't hack it after all the years of training, and who now spends his days fielding calls from little kids so anxious to earn points that they'll report any "crime," regardless of legality.

The wonderful artwork is by Simon Davis, fresh from his first stint on Missionary Man. In a completely bizarre quirk, the odd, gopher-like child seen in the ad above actually looks like that in the story as well. Davis was one of the major art finds of the period; his second series of Stone Island is in the prog currently.

Next week, it's time to clear the decks before that movie begins. Has Tharg been holding back any gems in anticipation of it?

(Originally published 8/23/07 at LiveJournal.)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

17. That Time in London

We're back! Did you miss us? Well, I've found a place for a couple of other 2000 AD-related articles while waiting for my son to return from vacation. If you're one of my many non-Livejournal readers, you can click on the "2000 ad" tag below for more entries of note. Anyway, the reread brings us to prog 933, from March 1995. The lineup is much the same as the previous entry: Judge Dredd: "Crusade" and Harlem Heroes on the "poor" side of the fence, and Finn and Armoured Gideon on the "readable" side. Unfortunately, the kind-of readable Rogue Trooper, with the nice art by Henry Flint, has wrapped up and is replaced by a really dire Brigand Doom installment by Alan McKenzie and Dave D'Antiquis about vampire accountants. So, yeesh.

So, since I don't have much of anything nice to say about this prog, I'll point out that it is memorable to me for another reason. This was one of the issues that was available on newsstands when I was last in London. This was the trip I mentioned in the twelfth installment, when I spent a fair amount of money replacing all the subscription copies of 2000 AD which arrived in beat-up shape. The ex-Mrs. Hipster and I were in England for ten days that spring, and the faux-newspaper cover reminds me of the unusual experience of reading English newspapers.

The line on this prog's cover about Canadian model and actress Pamela Anderson reads "ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH PAMELA ANDERSON INSIDE - (SOB)." While an unusual sentiment for a science fiction comic, the London tabloids that this cover evokes feature a daily photo of a young starlet on page three or page five in a state of undress totally unacceptable for American publications. We thought this was the funniest thing in the universe and bought two different papers a morning. This gave us a wide range of editorial content, all of it incredibly heavy-handed, over-the-top and reactionary. It was through these eyes that we learned of the death of two celebrities during our vacation.

First to pass, shortly before we arrived, was Ronnie Kray, who, with his brother Reggie, was in charge of an organized crime network whose legend and myth have grown in pop culture since the 1960s. Monty Python's Flying Circus parodied the Krays as "Doug and Dinsdale Piranha;" Morrissey immortalized them in song as "The Last of the Famous International Playboys." The papers were full of letters from readers about Ron's passing, most praising them as gentlemen, but others reacting with disgust to so much media attention being paid to criminals. One paper used Ron's death in prison to question whether, after 27 years, Reggie had spent enough time behind bars, his sentence not equivalent to the mere decade that "child murderers" were getting these days. In the end, Reg served another five years before being released on compassionate grounds about a month before he passed away from terminal cancer. It's one of my big regrets - and Lord, I have a few - that we didn't join the thousands lining the streets for Ronnie's funeral, just to see it. One thing's for certain, you could sense a genuine difference in the mood of the city that day. It was quieter, more sober and solemn.

A few days later, a Mexican-American pop singer from Texas named Selena was murdered by the woman who ran her fan club. This was weird. To hear the papers tell it, ALL OF AMERICA MOURNS THE LOSS of the Tejano celebrity, and EVERY MAN, WOMAN AND CHILD IN THE NATION WEEPS A SINGLE, SILENT TEAR OVER THE LOSS OF THIS MAJOR TALENT... which was news to us. I remember Deb and I read this report together, and our eyes met, heads shaking, asking "...who?" London tabloids were certainly prone to exaggeration and hyperbole. We asked around upon returning to the States; exactly two friends had heard of Selena prior to her death, and five or six others had heard she died.

Just to prove that we didn't fly to England with our brains fully screwed on - given the devastation the trip did to our finances, we learned that real quick - it didn't even occur to me for days that Judge Dredd appeared in a daily newspaper strip in the Star, and if we had any sense, we'd have been buying that as one of our two tabloids a day. Then again...

The strip was in its final, faltering days at that point. A major motion picture was months from screens, and this bilge by Carlos Pino and, yup, Mark Millar was the best they could do?

The strip started in August 1981 as a weekly six-or-seven panel story by John Wagner and Alan Grant, with art by Ron Smith. It changed over to a Monday-Friday strip, telling ongoing stories over 65 installments (13 weeks) in 1986. Ian Gibson came on board as artist in the late 80s, and then it was passed off between a variety of creative teams until the Star finally cancelled it in 1998. Most of the strips have never been republished, although some have made their way into annuals and the late-90s, reprint-heavy Megazine.

So that's British newspapers in the mid-90s for you: iffy Judge Dredd comics, topless blondes, hyperbole, occasionally news, and every once in a while, a giant annihilating robot. Maybe next Thursday, there will be more in the prog to discuss, although it's unlikely Pat Mills will have started writing believable villains by then. I mean, the story's pretty exciting and original but oh, look: comedy Freemasons!

(Originally published 8/16/07 at LiveJournal.)