Thursday, April 24, 2008

50. Murder 101

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. This week, I don't have time for an entry of any length, so enjoy the artwork with just a couple of comments.

July 1997 sees the very last appearance of a strip in 2000 AD commissioned by prior to David Bishop taking over the job of Tharg. I Was a Teenage Tax Consultant is a downright weird ten-week story by John Wagner and Ian Gibson about a motorcyclin' ne'er-do-well who gets bit on the leg by a rabid attorney, and, whenever the full moon shines, transforms into a bespectacled, calculator-obsessed nutjob. Now, you're probably thinking, "that's cute, but ten weeks?" Indeed, the strip might be a little padded, but it's occasionally very funny, with some of our hero's lines about archaic tax codes really hitting the mark, and as far as I'm concerned, any excuse to get Ian Gibson's art in the prog for ten weeks is a good one. Tax Consultant is, however, possibly not the most highly regarded of this run of progs among the readers. The current lineup also features Judge Dredd by Wagner and Greg Staples. "Mad City" introduces us to Homer Blint, a citizen who does some civilian "spotting" work for Justice Department, but who has no idea that his wife Oola is the notorious serial killer the Angel of Death. Homer and Oola will be recurring characters in the series for several years.

This really is an interesting lineup for a number of reasons, with all the stories deserving of some level of commentary. I'll come back to the Anderson: Psi Division story "Crusade," by Alan Grant and Steve Sampson, in a couple of weeks, and Witch World by Gordon Rennie and Siku, next time. The really big thrill this time around, is the excellent Sinister Dexter story "Murder 101" by Dan Abnett and Simon Davis. People who wonder why some of us fans once really liked Sinister Dexter probably never read this story, which is all kinds of fantastic, and would show them how great this series once was. It introduces several characters to the cast, including Agent Bunkum, Tracy Weld and Rocky Rhodes, and crime boss Demi's kid sister Billi Octavo:

Of these stories, only the Sinister Dexter adventure is currently available in collected form. Murder 101 was the second of the three Sin Dex books compiled by DC and Rebellion during their short tenure together and it includes this twelve-parter along with some other stories from the period. Witch World will apparently be republished in a few months in the pages of 2000 AD Extreme Edition. I say "apparently" because sometimes those solicitations don't always match the contents. More about Witch World next time!

(Originally published 4/24/08 at LiveJournal.)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

49. How Not to Advertise a Comic Book

June 1997: Prog 1048 continues the recent, solid lineup in the Galaxy's Greatest, with everything moving towards their final episodes in the following week's issue. Jason Brashill contributes the cover for this week's Anderson: Psi Division story by Alan Grant and Steve Sampson, and there are two episodes of Judge Dredd as John Wagner gets ready for the climax of "The Hunting Party," with art by David Bircham and by Henry Flint. Robbie Morrison and Simon Fraser continue Nikolai Dante, and Pat Mills and Steve Tappin have the penultimate part of Slaine: "The Grail War."

Normally, thanks to participation in fandom, reading interviews and the like, I have the benefit of knowing a little bit about the background to 2000 AD's history as it unfolds. This week, however, we have a subject that I didn't know anything at all about until it was written up in the fabulous secondary source that is David Bishop's Thrill-Power Overload. This is the sordid tale of the two worst advertisements that have ever been seen, anywhere. And to understand them, you have to know what the hell Loaded is.

American readers may recall that for a few years, we had these very tame little girlie mags on the shelves, called Maxim, Stuff and FHM, along with some even tamer contemporaries. Maxim's the only one that survived, and I don't know how long it's got, since The WB no longer exists, and that's got to have dried up the stream of twentysomething Hollywood starlets to pose in bikinis for them.

What many Americans may not know is that these were only the US versions of longer-running magazines with many international editions, and they all started in England in the mid-90s. John Harris's essential book Britpop! Cool Britannia and the Spectacular Demise of English Rock links the rise of these "lad mags" with the rise of Blur and Oasis and the demise of the Conservative Party. Heady times, as lad culture and a love of lager and soccer were louder and prouder than they'd been in years. Basically, the English editions are a little more than the tame girlie mags we got here - they're handbooks for single men in their twenties who embraced the culture. And they're slightly more risque, since it's de rigeur in the UK for twentysomething starlets with small roles in Hollyoaks to pose topless. But they're still no more explicit than Playboy was in 1969.

Maxim, Stuff and FHM found it easy to make the jump to US publishing, and it guaranteed a larger bank of pictorials for their international editions. So before long, the British edition could feature photospreads of American starlets like Alyssa Milano and Alyson Hannigan in their undies, and English starlets like Davinia Taylor and Gail Porter in very tame layouts with an occasional discreet nude photo.

Loaded, and their competitor Front, had no easy access to the WB's starlets, and no easy access to the BBC's starlets either, so they settled for the Sun / Daily Sport Page 3 set, giving the likes of Sophie Howard and Lucy Pinder more exposure. They're still just this shy of full-frontal, but considerably more explicit than their fellows, with unbelievably shallow PHWOAARRR LADS text features. In other words, remember how, in 1994, Grant Morrison created Big Dave specifically to lampoon the sort of morons who live their days guided by Daily Sport and Loaded editorials? This, of all places, is where Fleetway chose to advertise 2000 AD.

Then again, as has been mentioned in previous entries, Fleetway is the same company that blew tens of thousands on a cartoon ad which only aired in the wee hours on the poorly-viewed Sky Sports subscription channel.

How the heck this happened is described by Bishop thusly, on page 198 of Thrill-Power Overload:

"In 1997, a long-running dispute between Egmont Fleetway and IPC was settled when the comic publisher was offered £25,000 of free advertising in IPC's publications. It was decided to utilise this by hyping 2000 AD in the pages of Loaded. An advertising agency was brought in to design the ads and came up with the slogan, `2000 AD: Women Just Don't Get It'."

Bishop goes on to explain how this was completely out of the hands of the comic's editorial department, and that he was forbidden by the publisher from responding to reader complaints about the ads, which were pretty offensive, but more importantly, they were goddamned stupid. I mean, these really are the worst ads I've ever seen for a comic book, and whatever bozo came up with these things really had no clue at all. Somebody got paid for this! Well, Thrill-Power Overload was not able to reproduce the ads, which no doubt has left some readers curious about the articles in question. Fortunately, scans later made their way to the official site's message board, courtesy of user "opaque":

Yep. Bishop writes of several instances where editorial's desires came crashing against the marketing department of Fleetway and the focus-group goons who ran the place, but this might have been the most egregious and downright wince-inducing example. Personally, I don't know that I'm bothered by the jawdropping misogyny quite as much as the notion that these ads are supposed to sell a comic book which has never made a practice of excluding anybody.

It wasn't completely the PR nightmare that it could've been. It apparently cost the comic more than it gained, as offended readers cancelled their subscriptions, but the story wasn't picked up by any media, and, mercifully, the comic blogosphere didn't exist then. Because really, Marvel Comics may have pathetic statues of Mary Jane, and DC may apparently disrespect the memory of fictional females who dressed as Robin for two months before being killed off, and they both may release action figures that can't stand upright because their boobs make 'em topple forward, but when it comes to outright sexism and contempt for your readers, what you see there just can't be beat.

Thrillpowered Thursday's going to take a week off while the kids enjoy a spring break with their grandparents. I'm rereading the comic while they're enjoying it for the first time, and I don't want to get too far ahead of them. We'll be back in two weeks for the return of Sinister Dexter. Credo!

(Originally published 4/10/08 at LiveJournal.)

Thursday, April 3, 2008

48. Exit Polls

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. This week, I'm not particularly inspired at all, and so this could be a shorter-than-usual entry.

May 1997: Prog 1044 features the final part of the last Al's Baby story. This series had first been suggested for the comic Toxic! in 1990, but found a home in the Judge Dredd Megazine. Then, it was thought important that everything in the Meg be some part of the Dredd universe, and so Al's Baby was shoehorned in by way of a prologue and epilogue to the first adventure which suggested the story happened in the past of Mega-City One. Created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, it's the story of Al Bestardi, a real jerk of a mob enforcer in our near future. Since the godfather only has one daughter, a brutal, talent-free "singer" called Velma, and the godfather allowed Al permission to marry Velma, and Velma doesn't want to have her "career" sidelined by a pregnancy, and since male pregnancy has newly become medically possible... well... Two series of Al's Baby ran in the Megazine and they are both screamingly funny. But as the Meg had to give up space in '96 for reprints, the third series was moved to 2000 AD, and it's not a case of either creator firing with both barrels. It's funny, and Ezquerra's art is always good to look at, but it's weaker than what came before.

Also running at this time are Nikolai Dante in "The Romanov Dynasty" by Robbie Morrison and Simon Fraser, along with Slaine: "The Grail War" by Pat Mills and Steve Tappin and Mercy Heights, both of which are quite good, even if the time-travelling Slaine is starting to feel a little lost in the face of his guest stars. This storyline, which encompasses two books of ten episodes each, sees Slaine teamed with Simon de Montfort in an adventure with the Cathars, and it honestly feels like Mills would rather be writing this story without Slaine in it. And there's Mercy Heights, an SF soap opera by John Tomlinson, with art on this installment by Lee Sullivan, which is probably the weakest thing currently, but it's still very readable.

Judge Dredd's still in the Cursed Earth on his "Hunting Party" adventure. The story's by Wagner and the very nice art is by Henry Flint:

This wasn't a particularly good blog entry, was it? Five perfectly good stories by some of Britain's best creators, and all I can come up with was this? Well, I plead scattershot interest; I've got spring fever and have been doing other things.

Anyway, to beef things up a little this week, I had the Hipster Kids fill out Exit Polls for this prog. Tharg hasn't actually included these in years, but they might've done a little back in the day to let the editor know what kids liked. Here's what we thought of prog 1044.

Next week, be here to see what some have described as the worst advertising campaign ever seen.

(Originally published 4/3/08 at LiveJournal.)