Thursday, July 5, 2007

14. I Cannot Be a Nun!

The reread brings us to December 1994, and both the weekly and the monthly celebrate with expanded editions. The Megazine has seven installments this time around (vol.2 # 70). The regular lineup at this point is Judge Dredd (a one-off by the Harke & Burr team of Si Spencer and Dean Ormston), Mean Machine in part eight of "Son of Mean" by John Wagner and Carl Critchlow, episode four of the Calhab Justice story "False Dawn" by Jim Alexander and Kevin Cullen, Armitage in part seven of "City of the Dead" by Dave Stone and Charles Gillespie, and Karyn: Psi Division in part four of "Concrete Sky" by John Freeman and Adrian Salmon.

These are joined by two one-off stories. One of these is the final appearance of The Creep by Spencer and Cullen, and one is Wynter, an "unsold pilot" episode for a series which never made it by Robbie Morrison and Kevin Walker. Wynter is the name of a judge in Antarctic City, where it's very cold, you see, and... yeah. Both creators are very talented gentlemen, with a number of very good comics under their belt, but the best this one-off has to offer is a premise that probably wouldn't have made it beyond the pitch if the character had a name like Smith or Jackson. On the other hand, I suppose it's only one-fourth as silly as that strip about the fellow named Rogue who struck out on his own, accompanied by the bio-chips of a guy named Helm in his hat and a guy named Bagman in his backpack and a guy called Gunnar in his rifle.

Anyway, I mentioned in episode eight that 2000 AD had an expensive TV ad campaign in the summer of 1994, and the corporate bods at Egmont Fleetway were making some pretty unrealistic advance planning for third and fourth quarter sales, based on a cartoon commercial that ran at four in the morning on a sports channel that nobody subscribed to. So while the Megazine is celebrating the end of its fifth year in pretty good shape under the editorship of David Bishop, the results at 2000 AD are pretty ugly, and editor Alan McKenzie gets made redundant, leaving assistant editor John Tomlinson thrust into the spotlight as the new Tharg for the next year.

Both McKenzie and Tomlinson amass a pretty considerable backlog of inventory strips, but I do need to correct myself on one point. It's possible that the scripts for the last Bix Barton series, mentioned last week, had been on the shelf for a while, but it turns out that the art wasn't. There's a tribute poster to Peter Cushing, who died that August, only about three months before the story started, in the background of one scene.

In the Megazine, meanwhile, the ongoing strips are solid, if not always great. The weak link is certainly Calhab Justice, which has devolved from a lighthearted story about frontier judges fighting addictions to radioactive whiskey into some mad thing about a psychic super-judge obsessed with having children and bringing about the next stage of evolution or something. Armitage is a great character slogging through a turgid scenario this time around. Karyn's story is a pretty good one, and the stark black-and-white artwork by Adrian Salmon (all solids, no shading) is really fabulous.

But it's Mean Machine which has completely been stealing the show for weeks now. This happened before: in ealy 1994, Wagner had teamed with Ian Gibson on The Taxidermist, and while several other writers had been meticulously carving out their own little Dreddworld mythology of some other region or Mega-City, Wagner delivered a brilliant, understated little comedy gem which was far more entertaining than any of the dramas in the comic.

Here teamed with Carl Critchlow, Wagner expanded on a little plot point from an old Alan Grant/Robin Smith story in an old Judge Dredd Annual. I suppose I should explain that Mean Machine Angel was one of the criminal Angel Gang, based in the Cursed Earth and a constant frustration to the lawmen of Texas City for years. Mean Machine and his brother Link were executed by Dredd on the planet Xanadu in the epic "Judge Child" storyline, but the popular character was resurrected and made unkillable by the Judge Child in a subsequent adventure, launching him as a recurring foe for our hero. Meanwhile, Grant and Smith contributed some one-offs for the annuals, set in the past when all these villains were still active. One of these introduced Mean's wife, Seven-Pound Sadie (named for the weight of the hammer she used in bank robberies), and while Sadie hit the road with the weddin' loot as soon as they was hitched, their premarital canoodlin' left them with a son, who, much to their dismay, is a simpering, goody-goody sissy.

"Son of Mean" sees the incredibly helpful young brat sent to Mega City-One for some schoolin' in the ways of being bad, but Mean has absolutely no luck turning him rotten. Eventually he remembers that he was a no-account sissy himself until Pa Angel had him fitted with an aggression dial after some brain surgery.

With a doctor or two held hostage, Mean and Mean Junior need disguises to get into a Mega-City hospital. I love this sequence. It's classic slapstick cinema, and it's paced so very well. I even love that dead guy in panel six, who is, if such a thing is possible, quite hilariously dead.

Next week, Shaky Kane returns and people get hit in the head with planets.

(Originally published 7/5/07 at LiveJournal.)

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