Thursday, December 25, 2008

80. Prog 2000

Thrillpowered Thursday is a weekly look at the world of 2000 AD. I'm rereading my collection of 2000 AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine, one issue an evening, and once each week for the foreseeable future, I'll see what I'm inspired to write.

Brian Bolland has cover duties for "Prog 2000," the first in what has become an annual series of year-end progs which mix one-off episodes of classic and recurring thrills with the first episodes of new storylines, new artwork by favorite creators, and a variety of text features. The 100-page prog is on sale for three weeks over Christmas and has become a holiday tradition. But in 1999, editor David Bishop and assistant editor Andy Diggle were not thinking about what would become a standard ten years on, but rather to do a spectacular once-in-a-lifetime issue. The lineup includes a pair of Judge Dredd tales, along with one-off episodes of ABC Warriors, Nikolai Dante, Rogue Trooper, Sinister Dexter and Slaine, along with the final episode of Nemesis the Warlock and the first episodes of new serials for the new thrill Glimmer Rats and, back in action after a nine year absence, Strontium Dog, about which more next time. It really does feel incredibly special, and everyone involved deserved congratulations for a job very well done.

The creator lineup for Prog 2000 makes this issue a must-have for any comic collection. Inside you've got brand new work from Dan Abnett, Simon Davis, Brett Ewins, Carlos Ezquerra, Simon Fraser, Dave Gibbons, Alan Grant, Mark Harrison, Cam Kennedy, Mike McMahon, Pat Mills, Robbie Morrison, Kevin O'Neill, Gordon Rennie, Greg Staples, John Tomlinson, John Wagner, Kevin Walker, Ashley Woods and Steve Yeowell. There's not a joker in the pack!

Rather than spending Christmas with a lot of writing, here are some memorable images from this special issue. See y'all next week!

(Originally posted 12/25/08 at hipsterdad's LiveJournal.)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

79. Downlode Downtime

Thrillpowered Thursday is a weekly look at the world of 2000 AD. I'm rereading my collection of 2000 AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine, one issue an evening, and once each week for the foreseeable future, I'll see what I'm inspired to write.

As 1999 comes to an end, and all the big epic storylines from the last several weeks start wrapping things up, I see that I have been a little lax in mentioning the big developments in the two better-known semi-regular series from the period. I've mentioned in passing that there's a terrific epic going on in the pages of Nikolai Dante but haven't paused to let you know what it was. As of November 1999 (prog 1170, represented here by this funny Jason Brashill Devlin Waugh cover), our hero is about two-thirds of the way through the epic "Courtship of Jena Makarov" story. This brilliant story represents the close of the first of Dante's four storytelling phases, and was reprinted by Rebellion in the third Dante collection. Here, the mighty houses of Romanov and Makarov finally find an excuse to go to all-out war with each other, as Jena is abducted by a third party. Her supposed suitor Mikhail Deriabin plans to manouver himself into a position of power alongside whichever house wins the war. That it will decimate Russia is irrelevant to anybody involved; it never matters to the people with power. Not even family matters to them.

For fans of the series, the heartbreaking way that things play out really elevate this storyline into something both special and compelling. It features Simon Fraser's best art yet, and several of the Romanovs get screen time. But what really makes this story so memorable is that while Dante races desperately against time to rescue Jena before the empires start their war, writer Robbie Morrison has been putting all the pieces in play to make sure that it's going to happen regardless of whether Dante comes through. Most tragically, the spy that Dante and Konstantin conscripted some months previously does her part, and, in a heartbreakingly grisly cliffhanger ending to this week's episode, Konstantin shows up to murder Jena's sister.

Meanwhile, Downlode Tales, the follow-up to Sinister Dexter in which the protagonists have been working opposite sides of the law to track down the conspiracy which brought an end to Demi Octavo's empire, wrapped up in prog 1168 after the better part of five months. It's been quite a bloodbath, but the villain Telemachus Gore has been ferreted out, exposed and killed. The body count includes about half of the supporting cast: Nervous Rex, Steampunk Willy and Agent Bunkum are all dead, along with pretty much all the "Ass Kickers" and the "Whack Pack" assembled for the job.

The last part of Downlode Tales sees the duo in the hospital, having crashed a helicopter while hunting down Gore. It's less of a grand finale than a "what next" moment, and they'll be returning under the Sinister Dexter title in a few weeks.

Sinister Dexter Bullet Count: Adding to their previous totals, Finnigan and Ramone each take one more confirmed hit storming Gore's headquarters. This gives us a total of 10 for Sinister and three for Dexter.

That's really all I have time to discuss today, but please enjoy the following gorgeous picture of Nemesis from the Pat Mills-Henry Flint storyline which I discussed last week, and also this review of a new graphic novel.

I'm a firm fan of the "satisfying chunk" school of bookshelf collections. I'll take a slight downtick in paper quality if it means more bang for my buck. And that is certainly the case with the recent Ace Trucking Company collection. Rebellion's great big trade, the first of two, covers a whopping sixty episodes of the early '80s comedy series, plus a text story from an old annual.

Almost all of Ace Trucking was drawn by the late Massimo Belardinelli, and I think it's his finest work. Completely full of bizarre aliens, mechanical marvels and weird landscapes, he always found new ways to pace the action by way of strange angles and dramatic positioning of his characters. And they're a downright weird bunch, too. The grapevine says that the editorial team was rarely satisfied with Belardinelli's ability to draw tough guys at the time, so John Wagner and Alan Grant developed a strip with exactly one human being in it, and he was one of the loudmouthed bad guys. The hero was an absurdly skinny alien with a pointy head and enormous feet, and the supporting cast included an eight-foot tall dude with blank eyes and a mane of hair, and a half-naked midget with a skull for a head. Constantly screaming at each other in a parody of the palare used by CB radio nuts, it was one hairbrained get-rich-quick scheme after another for years, until the series was finally felt to have run its course in 1986.

Time's been kind to Ace Trucking. It's clearly a period piece - anything with "Breaker, breaker!" in a word balloon will be - but its comedy is timeless thanks to the likeable characters and escalating disasters of its situations. Belardinelli's work would eventually lose a little luster and he'd fall out of favor with subsequent editors, so it's likely you might not have seen very much of it before now. Also, his work, like Jesus Redondo's and Carlos Ezquerra's, was not favored by the editors at Titan Books, who originally compiled much of the 2000 AD reprints in the 1980s, and in many ways set the stage for what had been considered "classic" or not. Many of these episodes are only now seeing their first reprint, and it's great to see so much of this lovely art under one set of covers. This comes highly recommended, and I hope you check it out.

Next week, it's Prog 2000! Tharg promises the best issue yet - can he deliver?

(Originally posted 12/18/08 at hipsterdad's LiveJournal.)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

78. Back to Termight

Thrillpowered Thursday is a weekly look at the world of 2000 AD. I'm rereading my collection of 2000 AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine, one issue an evening, and once each week for the foreseeable future, I'll see what I'm inspired to write.

On to October 1999 and prog 1165. Well, there he is, back on the cover, promoted for weeks and with all sorts of ass-kicking promise, it's the freaky, pointy-headed, devilish alien freedom fighter Nemesis the Warlock, back to wage war on the tyrannical despots of totalitarian future Earth. It's a long overdue final series for Nemesis, who was last seen five years previously in a truncated three-part adventure. This had possibly been intended as the first part of a much longer storyline (and was discussed in these pages eighteen months ago, see Nemesis Arrives and Departs) but nothing more came of it. Now, with Henry Flint on art duties, Pat Mills is ready to really put him to the test for nine weeks of crazy perspective shots and nightmarish aliens and ugly steel masks and millions of aircars and spaceships running upside down through white holes and black holes. Nem himself doesn't turn up until the second week of the mayhem. This time out, we've got the human terrorist Purity Brown and her big green friend - the fellow with the mouth on his hand from the classic "Alien Pit" sequence - leading a raid in the Terror Tubes and finding, perhaps a little predictably, that the whole thing's a big trap engineered by their arch-enemy to get the plot moving.

Nemesis isn't the only eighties weirdie making a comeback this week. In Judge Dredd, we learn that during the recent Doomsday Scenario, a bunch of prisoners went missing from an iso-cube, among them the nasty alien bounty hunter Trapper Hag. He'd been seen just once before, in a three-part storyline from 1983, illustrated by Steve Dillon. Now, like "rogue's gallery" villains are meant to do, Hag goes looking for revenge instead of getting out of town like any sensible bad guy. In this two-parter illustrated by Siku, Hag gets the better of Dredd, plans to kill him, gloats too much and gets hoist on his own petard again. Following the intricate, twists-and-turns, multiple perspective plotting of "The Doomsday Scenario," this is a little bit by-the-numbers and, frankly, unnecessary.

At any rate, the rest of the current lineup is the same as it was during the last installment: Downlode Tales by Dan Abnett and Simon Davis, Nikolai Dante in "The Courtship of Jena Makarov" by Robbie Morrison and Simon Fraser, and more of Devlin Waugh by John Smith and Steve Yeowell. Of these, Nemesis, Dante and Devlin are all available in collected editions from Rebellion.

In other news, Rebellion recently released the fifth in a series of slim ABC Warriors collections, this one reprinting the 15-part "Return to Mars" serials under the title The Third Element. We haven't made it to this point in the Thrillpowered Thursday reread, and so I'll save the really juicy-but-sad behind-the-scenes drama that fueled this unhappy storyline until then, and just focus on the book itself.

To be honest, the previous two ABC Warriors books were a little underwhelming for one reason or another, and this one really gives off a glow of failed promise and expectations. When it works, it works incredibly well: the return of Mike McMahon to these characters after twenty-odd years and heaven-only-knows how many style changes is an absolutely fascinating curiosity, and Henry Flint, currently illustrating a Haunted Tank miniseries for Vertigo, turns in some terrific artwork. But Boo Cook's first pro job is frankly a mess, miles removed from what he'd later prove capable of creating, and Liam Sharp apparently abandoned all of his professional tools in favor of two Sharpies and a Bic ballpoint.

Pat Mills' script is almost enough to hold it together, because he's once again running with lunatic ideas and throwing lots of them at the wall in furious sequence. But everything that does catch your imagination here is abandoned too quickly, and each three-episode storyline would have greatly benefitted from an extra week to breathe. On the other hand, three episodes for each piece is somewhat appropriate for a story about three-legged tripod critters on Mars, I suppose.

Next week, a look at the finale to Downlode Tales as we begin closing out the 1990s.

(Originally posted December 11, 2008 at hipsterdad's LiveJournal.)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

77. It's Easy to be a Fanboy

Thrillpowered Thursday is a weekly look at the world of 2000 AD. I'm rereading my collection of 2000 AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine, one issue an evening, and once each week for the foreseeable future, I'll see what I'm inspired to write.

Welcome back to the little ol' sub-blog at my LiveJournal, for another few weeks of looking back at the run of the Galaxy's Greatest Comic! I already know that I'll be taking a few weeks' break again at the end of the year, but, as Kermit the Frog often said, "before we go," I'd like to finish up the issues that originally saw print in 1999. Prog 1162 is a very, very good comic. I'm not completely keen on the cover, by Dylan Teague, which spotlights the imminent conclusion to the Judge Dredd epic "Doomsday Scenario" (creators this week: John Wagner and Charlie Adlard). I was also a little underwhelmed by the Pulp Sci-Fi one-off written and illustrated by Allan Bednar, but the rest of the lineup includes Downlode Tales by Dan Abnett and Simon Davis, the completely brilliant Nikolai Dante romp "The Courtship of Jena Makarov" by Robbie Morrison and Simon Fraser, and more of Devlin Waugh by John Smith and Steve Yeowell.

One thing that I can't help but experience when I reread a bunch of old comics is that occasional sense of nostalgia for the original moment. And who'd have it any other way? Of course, now we know that Devlin Waugh survived the apocalyptic events of this epic storyline and would go on to several more stories. But back in 1999, John Smith had quite a reputation for killing off or maiming his wonderful characters. The casts of Indigo Prime, The New Statesmen and Tyranny Rex had met bloody demises throughout the 1990s, so how could you fail to be concerned that Devlin would join their number with so much at stake in this adventure?

So it was with no small amount of fanboy thrill, and no small amount of fanboy terror and paranoia at the possible death of a much-loved character, that I took up an offer from the fanzine Class of '79 to interview John Smith. The interview, available online here, is, I think, quite remarkable for how much Smith was willing to talk about the background and stories behind his stories. I'm not sure how many people will, before we're all good and done with fandom, be interested in piecing together histories of the Galaxy's Greatest Comic, but since Smith was so forthcoming and so full of information, this is honestly one of the better secondary sources currently available to amateur researchers.

It's also, embarassingly, a face-in-hands gushfest on the part of the obnoxious interviewer. I still stand by my conviction that the final Indigo Prime series, "Killing Time," is one of comics' most thrilling moments, and I can't wait to see what Paul at the Prog Slog has to say about it in a couple of weeks, but Jesus, what an over-the-top fanboy I was with those questions. The format was kind of unfortunate; rather than a proper e-mail interview over an evening, Class of '79 asked that I compose all of my questions quickly, and I hammered them out with the help of my girlfriend-of-the-time, Victoria, typed 'em all up at UGA's Memorial Hall computer sweatshop, mailed 'em in and never saw them again until the finished piece appeared a few months later. I don't think I ever spoke with John Munro, who added some very good questions which appeared at the end, after mine.

Well, Tom Spurgeon I am clearly not. Although I remain convinced that Tom'll find room for some British talent sometime soon, and do his peerless job of interviewing them, and not look like a complete spazz when he does, unlike certain LiveJournallers you might be reading. (Check out Tom's interview with James Kolchaka from last month if you haven't; all of Spurgeon's interviews are really fascinating reading, and a highlight of every weekend, even if I've only heard of maybe one creator in five.)

In other news, I decided to take a break from the What I Just Read feature/tag in my LiveJournal, mainly because I've grown tired of finding new things to say about my reading pile. But I did want to continue spotlighting the 2000 AD books, because many occasional readers miss the announcements elsewhere, and they are, as ever, very poorly promoted in the comic news-blog-world.

Back in '05, DC released a collection of Anderson: Psi Division which compiled the three 12-part adventures that originally appeared in 1985-87. Rebellion did not follow up on this book until recently, and they've made the curious decision to make this book an artist-focussed trade. Shamballa is a nicely satisfying chunk of a book, and it contains something like forty episodes, originally published throughout the nineties, all featuring fantastic color artwork by Arthur Ranson. It is not a complete Ranson collection; his first story, the black and white "Triad" serial, is not here, and neither is some of the more recent material from the Megazine, the stuff with the strange demon Half-Life, and Psi-Judge Shakta and Juliet November. But what is here makes for some pretty good reading. Ranson is a wonderful artist and some of these stories are very good. Well, apart from the brow-furrowing, disappointing damp squib of an ending to "Satan," a story which was very promising for many pages before petering out.

However, I can't completely get behind this book because while an incomplete Ranson collection is understandable, an incomplete Anderson collection is completely baffling. Alan Grant navigated the character through a fascinating series of stories, with character growth you certainly do not see with Judge Dredd, and there are, as a natural effect of the character-based continuity storytelling, several maddening references to the things skipped by this reprint. For example, between the incidents of "The Jesus Syndrome" and "Satan," there were three lengthy Anderson stories in the Megazine, all of which are missed in this collection but are nevertheless referenced in the stories that Ranson illustrated. The result is very piecemeal and felt very frustrating to me. Honestly, it's less of a spotlight for Ranson than it is a missed opportunity, regardless of how gorgeous the artwork is.

Next week, some serious thrill-circuit overload. Nemesis returns. Drawn by Flint.

(Originally posted December 4, 2008 at hipsterdad's LiveJournal.)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

76. It's Tough to be a Girl

Thrillpowered Thursday is a weekly look at the world of 2000 AD. I'm rereading my collection of 2000 AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine, one issue an evening, and once each week for the foreseeable future, I'll see what I'm inspired to write.

If the only measure of success in 2000 AD was "how often Tharg reprints your work," and mercifully it is not, then Nigel Long might get the booby prize for least successful of all of Tharg's script droids. Writing under the oddball pseudonym "Kek-W," he worked for the House of Tharg for about a decade, but try as I might, I cannot think of a single story of Long's that has ever been reprinted, collected, dusted off or even recommissioned for a second series, unless it was in one of those godawful American-sized reprints in the mid-90s. And that's a shame; when garbage like the Michael Fleisher Rogue Trooper and Harlem Heroes was able to find new homes outside of the weekly, there was no reason for Long's whimsical and quirky stories to be ignored. Of course, I'm writing this at work, and I could go home and look him up on Barney and have a face-palm moment when I realize I've overlooked something*, but the promising Kid CyBorg was nowhere as awful as its reputation suggests, and the strange little throwback story Second City Blues, his last 2000 AD offering, from a couple of years ago, was charming if unnecessary, and he also contributed several good Vector 13 and Pulp Sci-Fi one-offs.

In fact, Long did the impossible in the spring of '96 and took Mark Millar's completely brain-dead Canon Fodder into a second series which was miles better than the first (see My Dinner With Einstein), but, bafflingly, it was the first series which was reprinted as a bonus "graphic novel" bagged free with the current Megazine, and Long's second, superior, offering was left on the shelf.

Long also gave us Rose O'Rion, the final episode of which appears in prog 1158 (August 1999). Now this really was a shame, and an awful missed opportunity.

Rose first appeared in a June 1998 Pulp Sci-Fi episode called "False Profits," which was not at all bad. But her second appearance, in December's "Hot Rocks," felt like the pilot for what should have been a fantastic, over-the-top, downright wonderful series. Rose is a thief and treasure hunter in the most delightfully pulptastic, goofball world of throwback sci-fi, where thousands of planets are just a few days' warpflight away, and each one of those wild worlds was once the home of a thriving civilization which was lost in some cosmic calamity, except for one lone relic of unimaginable power and value. Cherry-picking the universe of its lost treasures is the work of greedy, backstabbing, improvising brigands, tough guys and sassy broads, who forge alliances at the card tables in backwater casinos.

It's one part Raiders of the Lost Ark and one part Maverick and eight parts every schlocky '50s potboiler you read when you were twelve. "Hot Rocks" demanded a series. Unfortunately, the series we got was really, really dull, and nowhere as fun as the lively universe suggested in the Pulp Sci-Fi one-offs. It's full of big, boring galactic threats, and the dialogue sounds wrong. At one cliffhanger point, some giant alien with a big manly gun shouts "Intruder, identify yourself! Your actions have been designated hostile... prepare for immediate physical disincorporation!" This might just be the worst pair of sentences ever written. Just try speaking them out loud!

Rose never gets the chance to redeem herself after this misfire. The series is quietly shelved, and a promising character and universe derailed. Periodically, fans would mention they'd like to see her again, but the moment passed and Rose passed into obscurity.

Incidentally, the eye-catching cover to this issue by Steve Cook announces the second phase of the lengthy Devlin Waugh storyline and introduces several new characters, including the mysterious and wealthy actress Anji Kapoor, in another episode by John Smith and Steve Yeowell. Other stories in this prog include more of Judge Dredd's "Doomsday Scenario" by John Wagner and Colin Wilson, Downlode Tales by Dan Abnett and Chris Weston, and Mazeworld by Alan Grant and Arthur Ranson.

*note: I looked up Long's credits at Barney, and see that I didn't overlook anything.

Thrillpowered Thursday will be taking a week's break while my young co-readers take a Thanksgiving vacation in Kentucky. See you in December for more Dredd, and a graphic novel review or two.

(Originally posted Nov. 20 2008 at hipsterdad's LiveJournal.)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

75. Veteran's Day

Thrillpowered Thursday is a weekly look at the world of 2000 AD. I'm rereading my collection of 2000 AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine, one issue an evening, and once each week for the foreseeable future, I'll see what I'm inspired to write.

I had a moment of very odd coincidence when I read Judge Dredd Megazine # 57 last night. See, I should explain that while this feature appears on Thursday mornings, I do the writeup and the scanning on Wednesday afternoon, meaning that I read the featured issue on Tuesday, which of course was Veteran's Day. The Meg lineup is the same as it was the last time I stopped by; it contains a new, extra-length Dredd episode (here, part two of "Doomsday" by John Wagner and Colin Wilson), some pages of Daily Star Dredd newspaper strips by Wagner, Alan Grant and Ian Gibson, and an issue of Preacher by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon. And so it was, on Veteran's Day, that I read one of the most stunning episodes of that series, in which Jesse bumps into an old army buddy of his dad's in an airport bar. The vet, who was called Spaceman to John Custer's Texas, still holds onto his "FUCK COMMUNISM" lighter that the actor John Wayne had delivered to their unit on a goodwill tour to Viet Nam. Jesse still has his dad's lighter as well. It is the only thing he has of his father, who died while he was four, in events recounted in the earlier Angelville storyline. I still stand by my assessment that Preacher is just too unpleasant and too unrestrained for me to like it, and this violent installment of shit-talking soldiers won't change the mind of anybody who has written it off. However, this episode, which closes with a quote from Mark Baker's Nam, is unbelievably effective and moving, and a heartfelt tribute to all the men and women who've given time and blood for freedom.

Interestingly, around the time this issue was in production, 2000 AD's present owners at Rebellion made their first, unsuccessful, bid to buy the comic and all its intellectual properties from Fleetway. The events are recounted in Thrill-Power Overload by David Bishop, who explains that Rebellion's Jason Kingsley was, surprisingly, rebuffed in his efforts to license Strontium Dog for a video game, and so made the offer to purchase everything outright. The negotiations were carried out in secret, but Bishop and Diggle were unwittingly clued in, and encouraged Kingsley to give it another try once his effort was turned down. Perhaps even more surprising than Fleetway's reluctance to license Strontium Dog is that it's been almost ten years, and Kingsley owns the character, and yet we've got no game. Hey! Get a move on, will ya?

As for the actual Dredd content, Colin Wilson's return to action in Mega-City One has been really effective. Wilson had been among the artists in the rotation for both Dredd and Rogue Trooper in the early '80s before finding jobs with various French publishers. His best known work was for the Western series Blueberry, but Wikipedia notes that he also penned several volumes of Dans l'Ombre du Soleil. At any rate, he returned to 2000 AD for a pair of Pulp Sci-Fi one-offs before rejoining the Dredd rotation for about three years at the suggestion of assistant editor Andy Diggle, who also booked him for a few issues of The Losers in 2005. Among other work, in 2006, he illustrated that excellent Battler Britton miniseries by Garth Ennis that I enjoyed greatly.

As far as I'm concerned, any comic which gives you fifteen pages of Wilson art and twenty-odd pages of Dillon art is doing the right thing, but of course the reprints of the Dredd newspaper strip, about which I spoke at greater length in a Reprint This! feature last month, are bringing you wonderful artwork by Ian Gibson. Really, if you're going to have two-thirds of the comic reprint material, this looks like a lineup worth following, doesn't it?

And now, an appeal from your host.

Gang, I still need to track down nine issues of the Megazine - volume three # 69-77. Either the issues themselves or scans of the Dredd / DeMarco / Mean Machine episodes. These are issues I used to have, but lost when my house flooded three years ago. Can you help? I've got a giant stack of double progs, and some graphic novels, that I can swap, or PayPal you some cash... please drop me a line ASAP!

Next time, the Doomsday business continues in Mega-City One, and Devlin Waugh continues the hunt for the Herod. See you in seven days!

(November 13, 2008)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

74. Who Will Save the Day?

Thrillpowered Thursday is a weekly look at the world of 2000 AD. I'm rereading my collection of 2000 AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine, one issue an evening, and once each week for the foreseeable future, I'll see what I'm inspired to write.

June 1999: Greg Staples' absolutely wonderful cover to prog 1149 features the long-overdue return of Devlin Waugh, following the path of his stablemates Missionary Man and Judge Anderson and making his move over from the pages of the Megazine to 2000 AD. It's the prologue episode to a really remarkable series, almost unique in 2000 AD's color era. This lengthy serial, known by the umbrella title "Sirius Rising," is by John Smith and Steve Yeowell. While it will be broken down into three separate stories, it will run without a break for six months.

It's the only time since Wagner and Ezquerra's 31-week run on the Dredd epic "Necropolis" that a writer-artist team has kept a six-month residency in the prog, and nobody since has come within spitting distance of their tenure. Other stories in this issue include the continuing Dredd storyline "The Doomsday Scenario," by John Wagner and Simon Davis and with the action now moved to the Mediterranean Free State, Downlode Tales by Dan Abnett and Calum Alexander Watt, Pulp Sci-Fi by Robbie Morrison and Siku, and, most importantly for future commissions, Nikolai Dante by Robbie Morrison and guest artist John Burns, who will, in time, replace Dante's co-creator Simon Fraser as the strip's regular art droid.

For those of you that have never met Devlin Waugh, he is a paranormal investigator in Judge Dredd's world, working chiefly in the employ of the Vatican. Certainly among Smith's finest creations, one reason he works so well is that while Mega-City One is extremely well-defined, to the point that the city is almost as much of a character as Dredd himself, readers just don't know much about the Europe of the future. Actually, most of what readers know about the rest of the planet is kept to tantalizing glimpses and references, but it's clearly not all radioactive deserts surrounding totalitarian dictatorships. Smith has helped define most of the rest of Dredd's world, a place where most people have the sense to avoid the lunacy of what used to be North America.

Devlin's world is populated by bon vivants and celebrities, with both a thriving middle class and mega-cities where the unemployment figures don't make you cry. It's a world of violent occult phenomena and freaky aliens. Taking a cue from both the strange exploits of Psi-Division in the main Dredd strip and from Grant Morrison's run on Doom Patrol, it's a world of bizarre collectors of paranormal oddities and supercriminals with amazing technology. It's a world, in short, that's too weird for Judge Dredd. But you drop Waugh, a steroid-abusing gay vampire with a Terry-Thomas grin and a Noel Coward way with words, into that world with his sharp suits and fisticuffs, and you've got one of 2000 AD's best series ever. That it doesn't appear for at least thirteen weeks every year is completely criminal. In fact, Devlin has only appeared in five stories since the end of '99, with a new one apparently due sometime in 2009.

The Sirius Rising storyline was collected in the second of DC and Rebellion's two Devlin Waugh collections, Red Tide, in 2005. Unfortunately, this would be the only one of all the Rebellion books that deserves to be skipped by buyers. The best anybody can figure, the films provided to the printer featured about sixteen pages towards the end of the storyline which were some sort of preliminary or interim drafts, and are each missing about half of the word balloons!

This was reported to DC early on, but DC was already in the process of backing out of the deal after flooding the market with too many (three a month!) books with no advertising support, and evidently didn't feel the need to issue a revised, corrected edition. Since taking over production and distribution themselves, Rebellion has not redone this book either. It's a shame, but the line has close to a hundred volumes in it at the time of writing, and this is the only one that I know of that has a production error that egregious. They do a pretty good job overall!

Next time, the Doomsday business continues in Mega-City One. See you in seven days!

(Originally posted Nov. 6 2008 at hipsterdad's LiveJournal)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

73. Time-sensitive entry

Thrillpowered Thursday is a weekly look at the world of 2000 AD. I'm rereading my collection of 2000 AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine, one issue an evening, and once each week for the foreseeable future, I'll see what I'm inspired to write.

I'm afraid work caught me at a bad time this week. I would have composed an entry yesterday, but my job sent me on a site visit (at last!) to Riverdale all day yesterday, and I didn't get time to, and now I'm behind on my desk duties. For those following along, I did want to note that this prog's cover reveals the new direction for Sinister Dexter. In the wake of "Eurocrash," the title of the series is changed to Downlode Tales as the former partners work opposite sides of the law to find out who was responsible for the incidents of that epic, and the death of their friend. So Finnigan Sinister begins assembling a cadre of like-minded criminals and gun hands, but Ramone Dexter turns himself in and is commissioned to work as an advisor to a new police initiative to combat organized crime, hoping they can find whoever had the resources to pull off that event.

Next week, evil rears its beastly head! I will definitely find more time to write about the spectacular return of Devlin Waugh...

(Originally posted October 30, 2008 at hipsterdad's LiveJournal.)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

72. Doomsday Begins

Thrillpowered Thursday is a weekly look at the world of 2000 AD. I'm rereading my collection of 2000 AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine, one issue an evening, and once each week for the foreseeable future, I'll see what I'm inspired to write.

April 1999: Megazine Vol. 3 # 54 brings us the third episode of the Judge Dredd story "The Narcos Connection," a four-parter by John Wagner, Andrew Currie and Stephen Baskerville which is told from the perspective of Galen DeMarco, the former judge and now private investigator. This is an incredibly interesting story that serves as the first chunk of a series of interwoven Dredd serials which will run through the summer and into mid-October. The overall title for this epic, engaging mess is "The Doomsday Scenario," and it is very much unlike the standard 12 or 26 part Dredd stories seen in years past.

Twice before, in "Judgement Day" and "Wilderlands," the action of a Dredd epic was split between 2000 AD and the Meg by having episodes appear in each comic. But those appeared when the Meg was published fortnightly. In 1999, the Meg is monthly and aimed at mature readers. So the Doomsday epic in 2000 AD runs for 24 episodes (prog 1141 to 1164), and in the Megazine for eight episodes (# 52 to # 59), and each comic can be read completely independently of each other. In fact, reading it in 2000 AD alone actually worked a little better for me, as working the material into DeMarco's P.O.V. is occasionally awkward and reveals dramatic moments before they happen in 2000 AD.

There is more to it than just the final assault on the city by the crimelord Nero Narcos and his robot army, although that's quite amazing in its bloody, violent chtuzpah. Narcos was behind a munitions company that was awarded the judges' new firearms contract, and, as was shown in a one-off in prog 1122, all of their sidearms were fitted with the standard "unauthorized user" self-destruct feature familiar to any longtime reader of the comic. But Narcos controlled the self-destruct system, and as soon as any judge drew his gun to fire on one of Narcos's robots, the gun exploded. The casualty figure for judges in this series is pretty astonishing.

But there's another element to Doomsday: the old Soviet assassin Orlok. He had crossed paths briefly with Judge Dredd in the early 80s before becoming a recurring foe for Anderson and, finding Earth too small for the two of them, taking his single-minded, violent life to a frontier planet. He learns that the East-Meg One government-in-exile has offered a 10 million credit bounty on Dredd for war crimes and returns to Mega-City One to bring him to justice. So seven (2000 AD) episodes into the proceedings, Dredd is captured and taken out of town while it falls to Narcos. When the action moves to Europe, the Megazine episodes breathe a little easier, no longer needing to relate the same incidents from two perspectives.

At 32 episodes, "Doomsday" is the longest of all the Dredd storylines. It is not currently in print, but it was collected into two books by Hamlyn in 2001, Doomsday for Dredd and Doomsday for Mega-City One. More detailed information can be found at the really excellent Wikipedia page for the story, which I probably should've looked at before I typed all that stuff out.

It has been some time since a Megazine made it into Thrillpowered Thursday, and perhaps I should point out that the format has changed just a little bit since then. Half of the comic is still made up of Preacher reprints - they're at the point where everybody's got together at Jesus de Sade's depraved party to beat the hell out of the smack dealers who killed Cassidy's girlfriend - but the black & white reprint pages no longer belong to American comics but to reprints of the Daily Star's Dredd comic from the mid-1980s by John Wagner, Alan Grant and Ian Gibson. Wasn't I just talking about this two days ago? Oh yes, I was.

The Daily Star Dredds - focussing on the Ian Gibson episodes - ran for about a year and a half in the Megazine and are the closest thing available to a complete, proper reprint of them. In Meg # 54-55, we have the story "Bride of Death," in which the actress in a film about the alien superfiend is convinced that she is being haunted. Naturally, bodies start turning up. It is great stuff!

Next time, Ramone Dexter gets a new job. See you in seven days!

(Originally posted October 23, 2008 at hipsterdad's LiveJournal.)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

71. Eurocrash

Thrillpowered Thursday is a weekly look at the world of 2000 AD. I'm rereading my collection of 2000 AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine, one issue an evening, and once each week for the foreseeable future, I'll see what I'm inspired to write.

March 1999: Prog 1138 marks the third and final time that the entire comic was given over to a single episode from one of 2000 AD's series, which doesn't do you much good if you're not a fan of the feature. In early 1998, there was an all-Judge Dredd issue, followed by prog 1100's feature-length episode of Slaine, and now episode twelve of the Sinister Dexter epic "Eurocrash."

I realize that very few of my readers are interested in this sort of trivia, but from the production / editorial side, "Eurocrash" is a very odd storyline. Had it run one five-page episode a week, then it could have been a 17-part epic, but it was apparently decided early on to compact its climactic episodes into one mammoth-sized part, like an omnibus edition, instead. I don't know that it is a tactic that should be employed ever again, but the sequence of spiralling, escalating drama that has fueled "Eurocrash" for the last three months deserves an epic climax which this issue provides. Dan Abnett and Simon Davis don't disappoint; it's a terrific story with more than one shocking moment in this issue.

"Eurocrash" begins with the confirmation that Downlode's queenpin, Demi Octavo, does not have as firm a power base as she had suspected. Her decisions have led the criminal underworld to mistrust her enough to begin consolidating power against her. Add to this the revelation that one of the city's principal sources for black market weapons has a mole in his office allowing long-illegal neural control units into play, and a confrontation with several gun sharks at the formerly neutral territory of their favorite diner, and the sprawling city has become a powder keg.

When it ends, it really does feel like the grand finale. There's an argument to be made - I've made it - that Sinister Dexter should have concluded here. Of course, there are still some fantastic moments to come down the line. "I Say Hello," which surely must be the best episode of the series, is about three years after this episode. And then there's "...and death shall have no dumb minions," which features at least two of the most heartbreaking scenes of the whole series, and that was just a couple of years ago, I think.

But there's also a lot of padding and failed humor to come. And had "Eurocrash" been the series finale, it would probably be better remembered, and its reputation would not have been tarnished by what will be shown to not work very well.

When DC and Rebellion had that ill-fated alliance three-and-a-bit years back, they released three collections of Sinister Dexter, right up to the point before "Eurocrash," leading fans to suspect Rebellion would soon continue with a fourth book compiling this story. Well, they took their time, but "Eurocrash" is finally on the schedule for March of next year. The book is tentatively listed as 160 pages, but I'm not sure how much additional material that will contain. Prog 1139's conclusion to "Eurocrash" (part 13) appeared to be the final episode of the series, with the protagonists going their separate ways into another series, Downlode Tales, that deals with this epic's aftermath, before reuniting in December '99. I imagine that at least a good chunk of Downlode Tales will make it into the book, but I don't know that 160 pages will be enough to cover it all.

Next time, we'll pop back to the Megazine for the first time in a while, to see how these Dredd subplots have been shaping up, and to see whether I can tie Thrillpowered Thursday into Reprint This! successfully...

Sinister Dexter Bullet Count: Finnigan gets his ninth hit of the series in this prog, a bullet to the left shoulder. It doesn't slow him down much, but there's a lot of blood.

See you in seven days!

(Originally posted Oct. 16 2008 at hipsterdad's LiveJournal.)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

70. Tour of Books

Thrillpowered Thursday is a weekly look at the world of 2000 AD. I'm rereading my collection of 2000 AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine, one issue an evening, and once each week for the foreseeable future, I'll see what I'm inspired to write.

February 1999: Prog 1032 has a pretty lovely cover by Greg Staples announcing the new Anderson: Psi Division six-parter, even if it's interrupted by a Babylon 5 promotion with some postcards from that year's TV movie. Staples is not the artist for the new story; in fact, I don't believe that he's ever drawn Anderson other than on this cover. It is instead handled by Anderson's semi-regular artist Steve Sampson. It's not quite his swan song, as a one-shot called "Semper Vi" will appear in the spring, and then Anderson will take a lengthy break from the comic. I don't believe that Sampson has worked for 2000 AD since. (It's a little difficult to check, as Sampson does not have a Wikipedia page, although a fellow by the same name who used to coach the Los Angeles Galaxy soccer club does...)

Judge Anderson is, sadly, quite poorly represented in graphic novel form. In the 1980s, Titan did a decent enough job by the standards they'd set for themselves. 64-page collections were pretty common then, and the annual 12-parters that ran in the summers of 1985, 1986 and 1987 were well-suited to that format. But as her series began more sporadic appearances, with one-offs, three-parters or longer adventures, drawn by a variety of artists, the collected editions really fell behind. There was a one-off Dredd in 1988 called "Night of the Brainstem Man," by Alan Grant and Barry Kitson which did not feature Anderson but which served as a prologue to Anderson's 1989 storyline "Helios," which cries out for a reprint, as does "Leviathan's Farewell," a critical one-shot which appeared in the 1989 Sci-Fi Special and whose ramifications are felt in a number of subsequent Anderson adventures.

But as Hamlyn got the rights to 2000 AD material in the 1990s, they released some trades which, haphazardly, just collected work by a single artist, so there's a Kevin Walker Childhood's End book and an Arthur Ranson Satan book, but not a compilation of "Postcards from the Edge," the interesting, episodic adventure with six or seven different artists.

And sadly, Rebellion seems to be following suit. While their graphic novel line is pretty amazing overall, as I will mention in just a moment, their first Anderson collection, Shamballa, is another assortment of Ranson episodes. It's more comprehensive than Hamlyn's Satan was, but it skips so many episodes that it doesn't seem like it could possibly read well, although admittedly I have not picked up my copy. I confess to being annoyed just enough that when four 2000 AD books were in my shop's box last visit and I only had enough cash for three, Shamballa was runt enough to warrant staying behind. It sure looks pretty, at least.

On the other hand, Rebellion's other lines mostly get it emphatically right. I started reading the seventh Nikolai Dante book last week and it's tremendous fun from start to finish. Rebellion have collected all the episodes, in order, and periodically found room for a little supplemental word or two from the creators or their sketchbooks. Plus, of course, the books are printed on gorgeous paper with very nice matte glossy covers and look fantastic. The image here is from the "Tour of Duty" serial, reprinted in the second Dante collection, The Great Game. "Duty" is the fourth of five short serials, written, as always, by Robbie Morrison, in which Nikolai is teamed with one of his half-brothers and sisters on some mission for the Romanovs. Simon Fraser handles art chores on the stories with Andreas and Lulu and Charlie Adlard illustrates the stories with Nastasia and Konstantin. Andy Clarke drew the first one, featuring Viktor.

"Tour of Duty," the adventure with Konstantin, is quite interesting from a production standpoint, as it is actually three separate stories run as a three-part adventure. Actually, I suppose I could get amazingly trainspotterish and tell you that the second Konstantin story was intended as a two-parter - that's the original cliffhanger above - but it was decided to run both parts so that each story would appear as a single chapter, but I think that level of trainspotter detail just makes my readers' eyes roll, so perhaps I shouldn't. Oh, too late.

Anyway, apart from Anderson and Dante, the prog also includes the concluding episode of the Judge Dredd eight-parter "The Scorpion Dance" by John Wagner and John Burns, and the continuing Sinister Dexter epic "Eurocrash" by Dan Abnett and Simon Davis...

...about which, more next week.

Sinister Dexter Bullet Count: Speaking of whom, our heroes each take a couple of wounds in parts three and four of this story. They're both very minor and almost instantly recovered from, but that still makes eight confirmed hits on Finnigan and two on Ramone.

See you in seven days!

(Originally posted October 9, 2008 at hipsterdad's LiveJournal.)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

69. Brothers in Property Damage

Thrillpowered Thursday is a weekly look at the world of 2000 AD. I'm rereading my collection of 2000 AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine, one issue an evening, and once each week for the foreseeable future, I'll see what I'm inspired to write.

January 1999: In the grand scheme of things, The Balls Brothers, which begins in prog 1128, is really just a minor footnote. The remarkably wild series by John Wagner and Kevin Walker runs for just eleven episodes - two short stories which are wrapped up by the summer, and never to be seen again. Comedies have always been difficult for 2000 AD to manage. On those occasions where a straight-up comedy is tried, it invariably divides the readership in two, with the ayes rarely having the last word.

Each detail of the Balls Brothers' backstory is revealed via a completely ridiculous and hilarious gag, so it's not fair to explain too much. The simple version: the superhumanly powerful and stupid Rocky and Eggy Balls are told it is time to leave the asylum where they have spent all their lives and make their way in the world. They conclude that pretty much the only thing they're any good at is fighting, so they make their muscles available as superheroes for hire, much to the dismay of costumed do-gooders like Captain Incredible, who is dismayed at the over-the-top violence that the Balls Brothers display in any given situation. Eggy, ostensibly the smarter of the duo, cannot even add up their bills without putting his finger through the calculator.

And there are Nazi jokes and superhero jokes and care-of-the-community jokes, oh, and a canary that's always flying around shitting everywhere. It's triumphant.

I could be wrong, but I think that this series is just about the only long-form example (in 2000 AD) of this art style that Kevin Walker was using at the time. He'd made his name with his lush, painted ABC Warriors stories in the 90s, but was now experimenting with pen and ink and an apparent desire to draw everything. The pages are completely full of little background detail, piles of debris and tiny sparking wires. In time, Walker would leave behind this style and adopt one reminiscent of Mike Mignola, with strong, solid colors and shadows, and so Balls Brothers, and a one-off ABC Warriors which will appear in December 1999, are probably the only examples of this style in this title. Did he use it in some of his other work, for Warhammer or whatever? I'm curious.

At any rate, editor David Bishop confirmed in 2002 on alt.comics.2000ad that Wagner felt that the series had run its course after just two stories, and that was the end of this superb comedy. But I'll tell you... somewhere, in some parallel universe, the Balls Brothers took up periodic residence as a back-cover gag strip for many years after these eleven episodes ended. And those pages are the funniest things we'll never see.

The Balls Brothers has never been reprinted, and since there are only about 55 pages of it in total, it is unlikely to be seen again. That's another reason it should have come back at least once - just one more four-parter and there would have been enough of it for a thin, 80-page graphic novel. What a missed opportunity!

Also appearing in the prog, Judge Dredd in another major continuity epic, "The Scorpion Dance" by Wagner and John Burns. This one continues the various threads of the Frendz, DeMarco and Jura Edgar subplots, all intersecting in a very good story. It was reprinted by Hamlyn in 2001 but is currently out of print. And there's Sinister Dexter by Dan Abnett and Simon Davis, Pulp Sci-Fi by Dave Stone and Ben Willsher and Nikolai Dante by Robbie Morrison and Simon Fraser. Not a dud in the deck, I'd say. 1999 started out strong.

See you in seven days!

(Originally posted Oct. 2 2008 at hipsterdad's LiveJournal.)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

68. Making room for the Hipster Daughter

Thrillpowered Thursday is a weekly look at the world of 2000 AD. I'm rereading my collection of 2000 AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine, one issue an evening, and once each week for the foreseeable future, I'll see what I'm inspired to write.

December 16 1998: That's the cover date of prog 1124, the third and last of three double-sized progs which had been on sale for a two-week period and featured extra-length editions of the stories within. The issues turn out to be "trial runs" for the now-standard end-of-the-year 100 page progs. This time, Judge Dredd (represented in parts two and three of Dredd's latest run-in with the Angels of Death, Oola and Homer Blint, by John Wagner and Jason Brashill) is joined by Sinister Dexter (Dan Abnett and Steve Yeowell), Mercy Heights (John Tomlinson and Neil Googe) and Missionary Man (Gordon Rennie and Henry Flint). For the record, the Missionary Man installment is one of the venerable series' finest moments. Flint chose to depict Preacher Cain full-on in camera shot exactly once in the episode, in a stunning, surprise pants-filling moment when the reader turns the page, and for the rest of the story, he's seen in shadows or off-panel. I'm not certain whether it was Rennie or Flint who made this decision, but the effect is just amazing - it really emphasizes that Cain is absolutely not the man you want to be anywhere near while he's carrying out his vengeance in this episode. Chilling stuff.

But that's not what I wanted to mention this time. I'm not really inspired this week to tell you what 2000 AD was doing almost ten years ago; I wanted to tell you that on December 16 1998, my daughter was born. And while Pat Mills may be discouraged to learn that she does not care for either Slaine or The ABC Warriors at all, she is certainly a squaxx dek Thargo and enjoys Dredd, Sin Dex and Nikolai Dante hugely.

For some reason, the geek in me naturally associates my son's birth with the debut of Nikolai Dante in the spring of '97, but oddly enough my daughter's birth brings an association with a certain third season episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. You remember the episode where Cordelia wishes Buffy had never come to Sunnydale and creates an alternate reality where some of the cast are vampires? Well, the week before my daughter was born, we had a false alarm - a pretty frightening one, since the darn kid wasn't due 'til the end of January - and watched that episode from the hospital bed, hoping for an all-clear.

So every time my daughter makes some little baby step towards turning into a little goth chick with her Living Dead Dolls and her BeGothed dolls, I figure this had to be coming, because we were watching Alyson Hannigan's "Dark Willow" schtick that evening and it simply must have rubbed off.

The Hipster Daughter was born eight days later. She was very seriously jaundiced and stayed in the hospital, in one of those little "Baby Tank" incubators, for a whole week. The process was incredibly surreal. We had a baby that... we couldn't take home. We had to go home without her. We had another kid who couldn't quite understand what was going on, and while we told him that he had a sister, he couldn't quite connect that this little baby that he couldn't touch would, one goddamn day, come home with us. So we spent some time in the hospital, but couldn't really do a whole lot other than look into this plastic thing and periodically, awkwardly, rub and pat her through the rubber gloves. It was like visiting the zoo or some museum, because you'd park a mile away and trudge up to the building and join the lines and... this is no way to connect with another human being. "Hey, after I get off work, let's get some dinner and go see that little girl who just sorta lays there and fidgets and cries again!" What began as surreal gradually became unbearable, with neither of us wanting to be in that ward any longer without being allowed to cuddle her, and it was certainly a huge contributor to the post-partum depression that her mother and I suffered for many months afterward.

By about Day Six, I'd become about as angry as it's possible for a human being to get, utterly furious to a point not one of you save her mom has ever seen. As we hissed and growled our concerns to some hospital administrator, literally the only thing keeping me from strangling him to death was my desire to actually get to know the kid with whom we were being prevented from spending any private time. I'd already had words with the neo-natal ward of the other hospital in Athens, who'd gone so far above and beyond the call of duty in taking care of our son, and they were pretty disappointed by what was going on as well. Unfortunately, the different insurance we had with our daughter kept us at St. Mary's. I've made it a point of advising people to not visit that hospital if Athens Regional is available. We finally took her home on the 23rd.

For years, there was a sign at St. Mary's directing people to the MATERIEL SHIPPING AND RECEIVING entrance. This was around the time that Coors marketed a beer called ARTIC ICE.

Next week, I'm thinking the Balls Brothers debut. Less of the biography and more of the comic, perhaps.

(Originally posted Sept. 25 2008 at hipsterdad's LiveJournal.)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

67. Prog 1120: the bestest prog ever

Thrillpowered Thursday is a weekly look at the world of 2000 AD. I'm rereading my collection of 2000 AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine, one issue an evening, and once each week for the foreseeable future, I'll see what I'm inspired to write.

November 1998: Would you believe that this terrific Henry Flint piece was the one and only time that the great, shamefully ignored Sancho Panzer made the front cover of the Galaxy's Greatest Comic? Every so often, a series comes along which features just the right mix of script and art droids, and a perfect blend of comedy and drama, and the darn readers stubbornly refuse to give it its due. This is just a remarkably goofy, light-hearted strip full of puns and action, featuring a very agreeable lead hero in his sheepskin jacket, cowboy hat and cigar, driving around a wartorn planet in the far future in an unbelievably huge tank.

Perhaps Sancho Panzer was never destined for the all-time Hall of Thrills and a half-dozen bookshelf editions, but I am having a blast rereading his three-month tenure in 2000 AD. My son also loves it, although I fear that the Hipster Daughter's skeptical crosseyed look was echoed by the readership of the time. Dan Abnett's mix of witty wordplay and intense drama somehow seemed to work together a little better in Sinister Dexter, which, even in this week's subpar outing (more of the "Smoke and Mirrors" storyline drawn by David Bircham and mentioned last time), has an urgency and importance to it that Sancho Panzer lacks. So after this thirteen week run, Sancho hangs up his hat and sheepskin jacket ("his ma said it cost a packet"), and the thus-far unreprinted series is shelved for good.

Other stories in this prog besides the two Abnett-scripted ones are the second part of a pretty funny Judge Dredd by John Wagner and Peter Doherty, a one-off Pulp Sci-Fi written and drawn by Mark Harrison, and more from Missionary Man by Gordon Rennie, Alex Ronald and Gary Caldwell.

But what makes prog 1120 the bestest issue of 2000 AD ever? Well, he said with a gush, it was the first time I had a letter printed in Tharg's cosmic comic. I was so darn pleased that I decided to try and be a regular correspondant. According to Buttonman on the official message board's "Writing to Tharg" threads, I'm actually among the top three or four on the all-time list - I'm not sure whether that Kavanaugh fellow might have passed me - and, this year, have had two letters in the Meg and at least one in the prog (1600).

I never know what the current editor is really looking for in any given letters page, and I'm rejected more often than I am printed, but I've always figured that there should be a little room for being silly, and playing up the created-by-robots / alien editor / plastic cup / oil ration / Rigellian hotshot is something that I enjoy doing because it's just so darn goofy. I think, however, that Matt Smith tends to decline those letters which allude to controversies, as is his right. Looking forward to Andy Diggle's tenure on the comic in the early 2000s, we can probably learn a thing or two about allowing fandom too much access to the inner workings of the business. I penned a letter last year hoping that the unpleasant friction with Ian Gibson could be salved, knowing as I wrote it that it wasn't going to be printed. Still, it really saddened me as a reader and a fan and I felt like saying something. It's probably best, however, to not be all that controversial at all, as this first letter shows...

Oh, yeah, "Colonel X." There's a funny story behind that pseudonym of mine, which works its way from Press Gang to Lois & Clark and includes having a letter printed in Dreamwatch under the mangled "Colin Ecks." Some other time, perhaps.

On the other hand, I sent Tharg this missive back in March, and I still think that the big green Betelgusian bonce was wrong to bin it.

Dear Tharg,

It's very magnanimous of you to periodically send some droids to do a little work for publishers in New York City, but I wonder whether this is less the friendly hand of interplanetary co-operation and more some Zraggian plot. Invariably, your creator bots get sucked in by the bright lights and big city and are put to work on some tedious superhero property which had its day decades ago. I mean, look at poor Simon Spurrier. Not only is he trying to breathe life into the Silver Surfer, a trademark which should've been retired in 1970, but his obligations for these publishers have prevented him doing much work on your own mighty comic. Only the Dictators of Zrag could come up with a scheme so nasty that would see your titles forced to shelve (temporarily, we hope) the thrill-powered Lobster Random, Harry Kipling and Jack Point, while poor Spurrier struggles to find something new about a character which John Buscema exhausted long, long ago. And weren't we supposed to get a series out of that Domino character in Justice Department? What ever happened to her?

It's long past time you put a stop to this and sent some Rigelian hotshots New York's way. Let them keep the droids you've sent to their companies in the past, but we want our Spurrier back, and more Lobster Random. Actually, some new Tharg Tales in the comic every once in a while would be a fun little diversion as well. The production 'bots in Droid Life are entertaining enough, but we haven't seen Mek-Quake mangle a recalcitrant art droid in far too long.

For what it's worth, Lobster Random did return in prog 1601 late last month, and I do have some creator loyalty to want to wish 2000 AD alumni well in non-tooth activities, including Work For Hire. But, you know, there's Henry Flint drawing The Haunted Tank for DC this December, and then there's, well, the Silver Freaking Surfer.

Next time, Tough guy Tor Cyan becomes an Ice Warrior. See you then!

(Originally posted Sept. 18 2008 at hipsterdad's LiveJournal.)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

66. The Swan Children and the Holiday in Barakuda

Thrillpowered Thursday is a weekly look at the world of 2000 AD. I'm rereading my collection of 2000 AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine, one issue an evening, and once each week for the foreseeable future, I'll see what I'm inspired to write.

October 1998: Meanwhile, as Die Laughing appears to some small success at British newsagents and shops, the prog has been featuring some pretty worthwhile material which has aged much better than the Batman crossover. Judge Dredd has had a solid run of good stories by John Wagner, the most memorable of which is possibly "There's Something About Four Marys," a parody of a long-running series from the pages of the old girls' comic Bunty. In prog 1117, there's the start of a new story called "Virtual Soldier" with art by Rafael Garres. Nikolai Dante and Sinister Dexter have been reliably solid for several weeks, and Slaine has really been surprising, with Pat Mills pulling off one of his finest moments yet with "The Swan Children," an adaptation of the Irish legend of the Children of Lir, which concluded a couple of weeks previously.

I think one of the reasons we readers are hard on Pat Mills for the work he did in the 1990s is that while little of it is demonstrably poor, or anywhere near the low standards set by certain other publishers, it's that the Guv'nor's highs are just so great that when he's treading water, it's visibly dispiriting. Subpar Slaine is worth any number of other comics, but most of his work in this period was nevertheless mediocre by comparison, cursed to linger in the shadow of superior work from the 1980s. So when a fantastic, well-told tale like "The Swan Children" comes about, it's easy to overlook. There is a scene in which the scheming Aoife lies to Slaine and tells him, in turn, that each of his four adopted children have drowned. This is absolutely one of the most heartbreaking things in comics, spectacularly well-paced by the artist Siku, and a genuine high point in the series' long history. If you, dear reader, are among those who've overlooked "The Swan Children," then you have some back progs which need revisiting.

Anyway, prog 1117 sees the final installment of Vector 13, the conspiracy-minded anthology series that looked into fortean events throughout human history. This time, Lee Marks and Cliff Robinson contribute "Divine Fury," a five-page look at the slightly familiar subject of Adolf Hitler getting his hands on occult or alien technology and it failing to win the war for him. With this, the Men in Black are finally retired, never to trouble the readers again. In their place will come a few more episodes of the Pulp Sci-Fi series of one-shots with twist endings. This prog also features Sancho Panzer by Dan Abnett and Henry Flint, about which more next week, and, sadly, it also includes the first part of an especially dire Sinister Dexter serial.

Now, I've been very fair to Sinister Dexter here at Thrillpowered Thursday, mostly because I really liked it for a good while. Speaking from the benefit of having read the whole run, I suggest that it's had flashes of excellence since "Eurocrash," a great big climactic event in the series. "Eurocrash" will appear in '99, so it's just around the corner for our heroes at this point. However, despite the periodic post-"Eurocrash" stunners in the strip, as the recent eleven-week run (progs 1589-1599) demonstrated, it is well past the sell-by date and needs to be retired very badly. "Smoke and Mirrors," a six-part story by Abnett and David Bircham, is where the rot sets in. There had been one or two misfires in the series up to this point, usually artistic ones, but this was the first time that Abnett looked like he was running out of material.

I'm always leery of calling artists out for what I perceive to be poor work, because so much of it is so subjective. Technically, these are not bad illustrations, and the work is certainly better than the Judge Dredd episodes that Bircham contributed in 1997, and overwhelmingly superior to the Slaine serial he'd paint in 2000, but I still find it lacking. His figures look creepy to me, with enough flesh on the face to make their skin sag, and with awkward, inhuman posing. But while that's an "eye of the beholder" complaint, his pacing and storytelling skills are simply not of professional quality. There is no sense of place on any of his pages, no understanding of how any of the characters relate to each other and their surroundings, and no flow from panel to panel. Comics should be far more than a series of random illustrations in frames.

"Smoke and Mirrors" is a colossal failure from start to finish. It has not yet been reprinted, although it is possible that may appear in a Sinister Dexter book that is planned for March 2009. In fact, nothing from this prog has yet been reprinted, although Dredd, Slaine and Sancho Panzer are certainly entertaining enough to see the light of day again.

Next time, more about this Sancho Panzer character. See you then!

(Originally posted Sept. 11 2008 at hipsterdad's LiveJournal.)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

65. Crossover in Gotham

Thrillpowered Thursday is a weekly look at the world of 2000 AD. I'm rereading my collection of 2000 AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine, one issue an evening, and once each week for the foreseeable future, I'll see what I'm inspired to write.

October 1998: Years and years in the making, Die Laughing finally limps into stores amid a small publicity blitz from Fleetway and a noticeably smaller one from DC Comics. This was the fourth time that John Wagner and Alan Grant scripted a team-up between Judge Dredd and Batman, but although this was the biggest - a 96-page story told across two squarebound editions in the US - it is a story long past its time.

When Dredd and Batman first met in 1991's Judgment on Gotham, it was a huge success that sold by the truckload. A sequel was released called Vendetta in Gotham which didn't sell quite as well, perhaps in part because Cam Kennedy's splendid artwork on the second did not have the fully-painted wicked-cool heavy metal bloodsplodo of the first book's Simon Bisley work. It's certainly fair to speculate that many of the first comic's buyers picked it up more for Bisley than for following the continuity of either character.

Die Laughing was intended to be the third story, and was pencilled in to be released in 1995 to capitalize on the Batman Forever film. But the artwork was not ready in time, and another title, The Ultimate Riddle, appeared in its place. By the time Die Laughing finally did make its way into shops, it was no longer anything special. DC was releasing at least one, and as many as three, "prestige format" Bat-books a month, ranging from "Elseworlds" stories of Batman as a Victorian detective or a space vampire to crossovers with every comic company on the planet. Judgment on Gotham had been a novelty, and an occasionally impressive one, in its day. Eight years later, with comic shops sagging under the weight of shitty squarebound Batman comics jammed into longboxes that nobody wanted, this two-parter seemed to get little attention from anybody.

The delay was mainly down to Glenn Fabry, who had been contracted to paint the adventure, but in the end completed less than forty pages, with Jim Murray and Jason Brashill stepping up to finish the project. The story isn't Wagner and Grant at their finest. Forced once again to contrive some reason to get the characters and their villains together, they have the Joker get hold of a dimension-hopping device left over from the first story, pop to Mega-City One, learn the lay of the land, take over a criminal gang and, in the most credibility-straining incident since disbelief was first suspended, this gang hijacks the armed transport carrying the disembodied spirit forms of the Four Dark Judges.

It gets even stupider. Despite a pretty amazing track record of murdering every self-serving criminal who's ever released him from the judges' custody, Death doesn't kill the Joker immediately, but instead arranges for the Clown Prince of Crime to become the fifth Dark Judge and... oh, just stop it now.

It would be another five years before Judge Dredd crossed over into anybody else's fictional universes. That would be 2003's excellent "Judge Dredd vs. Aliens," published in tandem with Dark Horse, and it would be many, many times better than this. Nevertheless, "Die Laughing" is available, along with the first and third crossovers, in the first of the titles co-published by DC and Rebellion in 2004, The Batman/Judge Dredd Files.

Next time, Sinister Dexter take a Caribbean holiday and meet some ugly, ugly artwork.

(Originally published Sept. 4 2008 at hipsterdad's LiveJournal.)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

64. Durham a la Drucker

Thrillpowered Thursday is a weekly look at the world of 2000 AD. I'm rereading my collection of 2000 AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine, one issue an evening, and once each week for the foreseeable future, I'll see what I'm inspired to write.

Prog 1111: The real world's kind of uncooperative and awful this week, so I don't have time for much of an entry. This issue is a very neat little double-sized one-off, with four ten-page episodes of the recurring strips Judge Dredd, Slaine, Sinister Dexter, all of which will be back with their regular-length stories in the next issue, and Durham Red, which is between series. Durham gets the cover, in this fantastically sexy portrait by Mark Harrison. There's a lot to like about this cover, even beyond the admittedly not inconsiderable "hot babe with cleavage" factor. Even the most casual readers have certainly noticed that 2000 AD covers are typically full of text. During this period, it was typed in a genuinely awful font, and hemmed in the artwork far too much, an unfortunate legacy, perhaps, from the higher-ups at Fleetway who were letting focus groups tell them that you needed lots of words on the cover to sell a magazine. Here is a far-too rare example of just letting the art do all the work. The result is magnificently sexy and inviting, a simply flawless cover.

The other real standout point about this cover: Durham's cheekbones, which immediately betray a huge influence from MAD's Mort Drucker. Harrison has never made a secret of his inspiration, and a few years later, he'd get to do an entire out-of-continuity Durham episode in Drucker's style, a simply perfect little story which I look forward to reading again.

Sinister Dexter Bullet Count: Finnegan increases his lead over his partner in this week's episode, "Death is a Lonely Donegan." Here, he suffers hallucinations of the afterlife while in the hospital recovering from bullets four, five, six and seven to the chest. Ramone still only has one confirmed hit, from back in part two of "The Eleventh Commandment."

Next week, assuming things get back to normal, it's deadline hell for Dredd and the Darknight Detective in "Die Laughing."

(Originally posted August 28 2008 at hipsterdad's LiveJournal.)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

63. Clowning Around

Thrillpowered Thursday is a weekly look at the world of 2000 AD. I'm rereading my collection of 2000 AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine, one issue an evening, and once each week for the foreseeable future, I'll see what I'm inspired to write.

You'd never know it from Marc Wigmore's completely inappropriate artwork (below), but this issue of 2000 AD features the most harrowing, intense and ugly of all the Sinister Dexter stories. Like Wagner and his fellow writers do with Dredd, Dan Abnett uses Sinister Dexter's very flexible format to tell stories in a variety of styles, from melodrama to comedy, and the editors who've been in charge of the series almost always match just the right artist to the strip. Prog 1105 features the third episode of a remarkably bleak story called "Slay Per View," in which Ramone Dexter is suffering horrible nightmares where he is stalking and murdering women, who are found dead the next day at the hands of a serial killer. Convinced that he is acting out these murders while asleep, Dex elects to kill himself, and the second episode ends with a breathtaking cliffhanger: Dex putting a revolver in his mouth.

I'd like to think that I'm pretty good about monitoring the Hipster Kids' reading and making sure that they don't read age-inappropriate strips. As far as I can tell, they even follow my directions, which is really impressive. I guess they figure that if I'm letting them look at occasional over-the-top violence and periodic bare boobs in 2000 AD strips, then when I tell them to skip Preacher or the "Russia's Greatest Love Machine" episode of Nikolai Dante, then I'm pretty serious about the mature content. So I spoke to my son (age eleven) beforehand, and made sure he knew that this was an intense and mean episode. I told him that he could read it if he wanted, but he might want to skip it. He soldiered on. His nine year-old sister, on the other hand, didn't get the option. The script itself was bleak and ugly enough, but that cliffhanger image was something I did not want her to see.

Speaking personally, the only really objectionable thing about this story was Marc Wigmore's art. What the heck happened? Wigmore had illustrated several episodes of Judge Hershey for the Megazine, and while he was never one of my favorites, he had a unique style, marked by thin, angular characters and very stark use of negative space. Wigmore drew the first three episodes of "Slay Per View" before Julian Gibson arrived to tackle the last two, and the art is just hideous, packed with wonky anatomy, way too much black ink, confusing storytelling and... well, while Sinister's "pale/drunk" look often had him looking a little like a clown, he rarely looked quite so much like Ronald McDonald as he does in these pages.

The rest of the prog is very good. Slaine is back for a new series of adventures set a little earlier in the character's life. For the last several years, the saga was telling stories from after his seven year reign as High King of Ireland, with a dismissal from Ukko that nothing very interesting had happened during that period. Evidently, Pat Mills had a change of heart and has been scripting a few new stories set during this time along with co-writer Deborah Gallagher. "Kai" is a four-parter illustrated by Paul Staples. The second book of Mazeworld by Alan Grant and Arthur Ranson continues as well, although the high points are certainly still Dredd and Dante.

As I mentioned last week, Morrison and Fraser's "The Great Game" is a genuinely spectacular story, with our hero taking a battering from a high-stakes plot on one side, family secrets on the other, and the emotional bodyblow of his own past on the other. I can't say enough good things about "The Great Game," because stories like this are why I read comics.


"Slay Per View" has been collected along with several other, better, episodes in the third Sinister Dexter book, and "The Great Game" is in the second Nikolai Dante book.

Next time, four stories about death.

(Originally posted August 21 2008 at hipsterdad's LiveJournal.)