Thursday, September 20, 2007

22. In the Spotlight

July 1995: To coincide with the Dredd film's UK debut, prog 950 features the first major redesign since prog 555 in 1987. The cover price goes up 20p to accomodate eight extra pages. The lineup features two Dredd episodes, which will be the standard for a couple of months. One of these is a three-part "retelling" of the classic "The Return of Rico," which introduced us to Dredd's clone brother. This expanded version is by Pat Mills and Paul Johnson. The other Dredd is a one-off by John Wagner and Jason Brashill. The other strips at this time are fan favorites Slaine (by Mills, this time with gorgeous painted artwork by Greg Staples, which, like a lot of painted art from this period, isn't served well by the paper) and Rogue Trooper (in a three-part story by Steve White and Charlie Adlard).

Conspicuous by his absence is Carlos Ezquerra. In fact, he's not been seen in the prog or the Meg for eight months. He'll be back next week, but during this period, he's been working for DC Comics, first on a four-part miniseries called Bob the Galactic Bum and also on the 64-page Dredd movie adaptation. This is written by Andrew Helfer and proves that Ezquerra can indeed draw anything and make it look good, even Sylvester Stallone.

On the other hand, you know what instantly turns Carlos Ezquerra's work from just about the best in the medium to painfully mediocre? Shitty coloring like this:

Along with the "proper" strips, we've also got this thing called Urban Strike, which Fleetway told the editors to do. It's a six-part adaptation of a video game that nobody remembers. Urban Strike is loathed by the readers, who write some pretty angry letters about its inclusion. Steve White, Brian Williamson and Mick Austin try to make something of it, but it's glaringly out of place. It feels exactly like that one-page strip on the back cover of all those 70s DC Comics about Spalding basketballs, starring Dr. Julius Irving and that white guy. It looked like a comic, it was part of your comic book, but it was, inescapably, an ad. But, you know, that at least had the decency to only be one page long and drawn by Jack Davis.

As for the eight extra pages, they're used both for introduction pages for each of the new stories in the issue, to help new readers find their feet, and for film hype. With the next issue, the story count will go up to six per prog when Vector 13 begins; more on that another time.

Also bagged with the issue is a 16-page sampler of one of the books released to cash in on the film. The A to Z of Judge Dredd was written by Mike Butcher and is a pretty neat reference encyclopedia, although the publication of six or seven new Dredd installments every month dated it almost instantly. The ad above is on the back cover of the sampler and shows how all the 2000 AD titles picked up a uniform design.

Hopes were very high at Fleetway for this film to do for Dredd comics what the 1989 Batman movie did for DC's books. They sink a lot of money into hype and advertisement and plan for high earnings in the wake of expected sales growth. But the film flops, and kids can't see it anyway because the director was more interested in gory exit wounds than telling a coherent story and so the MPAA and whatever its UK equivalent is called slap an R rating on it, which means Burger King wouldn't touch it and the video game is godawful and what few toys are out there are pretty pathetic, too.

It's a shame, because the quality kickstart is definitely in the works. Some great creators like Gordon Rennie and Simon Fraser are starting to be noticed, Vector 13 and Sinister Dexter are right around the corner, and it's almost for naught, because by this time in July 1996, three of the five titles above will have been axed and a fourth is on life support.

Next week: Ride into action with the Three Amigos!

(Originally published 9/20/07 at LiveJournal.)

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