Thursday, September 6, 2007

20. The Strange Case of the Missing Armitage

By the beginning of June 1995, volume 2 of the Megazine is winding down for its big relaunch to coincide with the Judge Dredd feature film. Similarly, the two companion reprint titles are closing down in favor of new FIRST ISSUE relaunches with new titles: The Best of 2000 AD Monthly, after 119 issues, becomes Classic 2000 AD, for instance. As 2000 AD itself is aiming more at older teens, a new, twice-monthly companion title called Judge Dredd: Lawman of the Future is launched, targetting 8-12 year-olds. It's all part of the odd reality of magazine publishing in the mid-90s. Everything is controlled by marketing analysis and common sense loses out to people who spend all day writing memos about the viability of corporate synergy and redemographication in the advertising market.

2000 AD itself narrowly avoids being renumbered FIRST ISSUE along with the rest of the line; editor John Tomlinson pens a Thargnote in prog 943's output page dismissing the rumors that 949 would be the last under the old numbering, with 950 appearing instead as vol.2 # 1. This was indeed Fleetway's plan for a time, as David Bishop confirmed in in Thrill-Power Overload. I recall reading of that suggestion in the comic and being baffled that anybody would start such a bizarre rumor, little realizing that it had basis in fact.

The Megazine is burning away the last of some stockpiled stories during this period. These include the impenetrable mess that is Pandora by Jim Alexander and John Hicklenton and another installment of Si Spencer's anthology title Plagues of Necropolis. There's a black and white Dredd episode - actually the first monochrome Dredd in several years - by John Wagner and newcomer Tom Carney, and there's a Missionary Man one-off which my son thought was incredibly awesome, but I found Jon Beeston's artwork disagreeably lurid and gory, which is probably why he thought it was incredibly awesome.

The only shining light in this Meg, I'd say, is the other Dredd episode in the issue, "Whatever Happened to Bill Clinton?," which is the sequel to an episode from earlier in the spring. In this one, by Wagner and Siku, a mutant criminal named Heap Molinsky - what a great name! - has stolen some technology to do a mindswap through time with the president, and he immediately orders in some prostitutes and calls the generals to get the nukes ready.

It's fluff, of course, and the plot, such as it is, is only there to justify gags at Bill and Hillary's expense, but it's incredibly silly and very entertaining. And no, as I say all too often in this feature, it's not yet been collected. Hopefully before too long...

The genuinely bizarre thing about this issue is this note about what to expect in the following issue:

This Armitage two-parter never appears! It's the 2000 AD equivalent of Shade the Changing Man # 9 or those other DC Implosion books of the late 1970s. This would have been Kevin Cullen's last art job for the Megazine - he has a few one-shots coming to 2000 AD in the months to come - but the artwork actually goes missing, and, from what I understand, was never found.

That just about wraps it up for Armitage. The character, Dave Stone's take on a plainclothes detective in Brit-Cit, is next seen in a text story in a Judge Dredd Mega-Special, but doesn't appear in the comics again for five years. He gets a four month story and is passed over again for another three and a half years. Armitage was one of my favorites, but he's pretty much forgotten today.

In old business, I heard this week from former 2000 AD editor Alan McKenzie, who wrote to clarify that the "Sonny Steelgrave" pen-name was one shared by himself and John Tomlinson, and consequently, he shouldn't receive sole credit, or sole blame as the case may be, for the Steelgrave-penned Judge Dredd episodes. I revised the third and sixth entries of this series to note his corrections.

McKenzie also discussed his claim to the copyright of Luke Kirby, and I certainly hope, as always, that creators and publishers work out their differences to all parties' satisfaction. A periodic problem I run across when I've been researching Reprint This! are cases where rights issues are holding up certain series; it may make me look like a company man, or it may make me look even more selfish than I'd like, but really, the pipe dream I hold is to see a hell of a lot more stuff in print than what we have currently. This may come across as a frustrated "get over it and deal with each other" attitude, which might well rub a creator who feels that he has some legitimate grievances the wrong way.

Anyway, next week, we wrap up the pre-movie era, in what's certain to be a short installment, as befits the three-episode lifetime of Tracer.

(Originally published 9/6/07 at LiveJournal.)

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