Thursday, October 18, 2007

26. The Hondo Deal

It's November 1995, and 2000 AD is beginning a tradition of a new jump-on issue every 13-14 weeks, with all-new thrills. This will often include a one-off Dredd episode, as it lends itself more readily to a done-in-one simple introduction to the format. In prog 964, this is an episode by John Wagner and Cliff Robinson which brings back the minor character of Bishop Desmond Snodgrass and, in a very cheeky move, "outs" him as a simp. Simps are Mega City-One loonies who dress in bizarre, attention-seeking garb, and were introduced in a Robinson-illustrated story in 1987. The struggle for simp rights occasionally surfaces in Dredd as a metaphor for gay rights; this episode seems to recall a 1994 incident in which Peter Tatchell's group OutRage! outed fourteen bishops of the Church of England.

Rogue Trooper, by Steve White and Steve Tappin, also returns. It has to be said that the artwork is quite good, at least. More on this next week. Book Two of The ABC Warriors: "Hellbringer," by Pat Mills and Kevin Walker, finally kicks off more than a year after Book One concluded. "Finally!" says my son, who thinks there was far too long a gap between books... and this from a kid who's reading 5-6 issues a week! It's probably the best story in the lineup, but it will also be the last ABC Warriors story in the prog for four years. PARAsites, or possibly paraSITES, or conceivably PAINTdry by Mark Eyles and Mike Hadley, finally appears after sitting on Tharg's shelf for more than 18 months. This is a sequel to the universally-loathed 1992 series Wire Heads. The six-strip format will resume in the next issue when Vector 13 returns and this lineup will be settled in for a couple of months.

The other series beginning in this issue is a very interesting eight-part Chopper story. It's by Alan McKenzie, with art by John Higgins. I say it's "interesting" because I believe it is the last remnant of an abandoned storyline about the rebuilding of Mega-City Two, and a major global conflict. In 1992, this was one of the mega-cities wiped out in the Garth Ennis-scripted story "Judgement Day." The editorial team at the time had since been putting little pieces together in the comic about tensions between Mega-City One, Hondo City (Japan) and Sino-Cit One. These showed up in a Dredd episode by Mark Millar called "War Games" in prog 854 (Sept. 1993), along with Ennis's The Corps (progs 918-923, Jan. 1995). But as Richard Burton and Alan McKenzie, who evidently worked out the ideas along with Millar and Ennis, moved on from editorial positions, the big epic-in-the-works was quietly shelved, especially as John Wagner returned to 2000 AD in 1994 and had no interest in the idea.

From what we can piece together from the episodes that were published, Hondo City had grown to encompass the entirety of the Japanese islands, with very little room for its population. With a gigantic chunk of real estate on the west coast of North America suddenly freed after its population was overrun by zombies (see the "Judgement Day" page on Wikipedia), the Hondo City government decided to rebuild on the site, and to move a number of its citizens there. The giant rebuilding project drew hundreds of thousands of Mega-City One citizens to trek across the desert wasteland for construction jobs.

It's actually not a bad premise at all, but I wonder how McKenzie and the other writers intended to turn this curious backstory into an exciting mega-epic of destruction, the way these Dredd multi-part epics tend to go. I guess we'll never know, but I certainly enjoyed the way that other stories and serials were used as building blocks. I guess, since no major inter-city conflict emerged or another world war started, that the Japanese rebuilt Mega-City Two, moved millions of its citizens there to settle in with relocated workers from Mega-City One and Texas City, and they lived happily and peacefully without international incident. That certainly makes a change from the usual bloody Dredd mega-epic.

The Chopper story itself isn't really bad, but it's very slow, and takes forever to get going. As a character piece it works, but you sort of expect a little more action and energy from a strip about a guy who moves at 150 mph on a flying surfboard, you know?

In two weeks' time, I'll look at what actually was developed as the next mega-epic, and how remarkably different it was from its predecessors. It's called "The Pit," and I recall it being very, very much worth the wait...

(Originally published 10/18/07 at LiveJournal.)

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