Thursday, August 23, 2007

18. Get 'em While They're Young

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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