Thursday, June 14, 2007

11. Back to the Wilderlands

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.

It's September 1994 and over in the Megazine, it's also jumping-on time, with the first episodes of four returning series in issue 63, among them the hilarious Son of Mean Machine by John Wagner and Carl Critchlow, Calhab Justice by Jim Alexander and Colin MacNeil and Armitage by Dave Stone and Peter Doherty. It's a very solid lineup. In fact, Judge Dredd's the weakest thing in it.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned this very interesting, ongoing story arc that was appearing in Dredd throughout 1993 and 1994 concerning some robot judges called "Mechanismo." Well, these running subplots all start coming together in a 16-part epic entitled "Wilderlands." The first two episodes appeared in 2000 AD 904-905, and the third part appears here, and so on for eleven weeks.

This episode shows newcomer Trevor Hairsine rapidly promoted to Dredd artist, following a very weak first outing on a strip called Harmony. Hairsine's learning curve is amazing; he knows he has to fill in for Carlos Ezquerra on every third episode and he really does an excellent job. Unfortunately, Wagner decided to break the storyline up by following Dredd in the 2000 AD episodes, and Judge Castillo in the Megazine episodes. Soon, the characters will part company and take the action to different locations, but this episode is merely the same events shown in part two, from a different perspective. It's genuinely not very essential at all. On the other hand, as I say, quickly promoted to the majors, Hairsine really steps up to the bat.

That is one desolate looking planet they've crashlanded on.

Overall, "Wilderlands" was a disappointment to me when it first appeared, in part because for some mad reason, Tharg elected to run some covers which spoiled the surprise of the killer's identity. It's kind of hard to maintain suspense when, as early as the second episode, we see Dredd's foe on the front cover. Then it was just a matter of waiting for the inevitable reveal. Read in a collected edition - Hamlyn Books did a very nice one a few years later - it is a much more satisfying story.

The other strip returning in this Meg is Missionary Man, by Gordon Rennie and, making his debut for the House of Tharg, the excellent Simon B. Davis. Missionary Man was certainly one of the highlights of the mid-nineties, and often featured very good artwork from the likes of Frank Quitely and Garry Marshall. It concerns Cain, a former Texas City judge who goes rogue and starts bringing law to the lawless in the Cursed Earth and the former New Orleans.

Rennie got a lot of ground from the notion of a weird, mystical west full of biblical demons, voodoo cults, mutie gangs and space aliens, and put the lawman through his paces against a number of memorable supernatural foes. This story's called "Treasure of the Sierra Murder" and introduces an excellent villain called the Undertaker:

You can bet I'll be ranting about this in another column, but it's outrageous that there aren't any Missionary Man collections in print right now. This is a great, great series.

Simon Davis is one of my favorite 2000 AD artists. He's best known for Sinister Dexter, which at this point is about a year away from its debut episode. It's photoreferenced, certainly, but done with such style and energy that it doesn't suffer from the stiffness that, say, Alex Ross brings to the page. I love that mix of scratchy ink and watercolor, too. Does anybody else do that? It's really good work, and I'll enjoy reviewing his work as the reread continues.

Back in seven, for the sad tale of how the old subscription department saved my bacon, plus bonus Rian Hughes awesomeness.

(Originally published 6/14/07 at LiveJournal.)

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