Thursday, November 1, 2007

28. The Pit

In December 1995, prog 970 arrives with some interesting clues about the contents of the cancelled 1996 Yearbook. The official explanation, provided in a Meg a month or so previously, is that the Nerve Centre was simply so swamped with all the new Dredd product and the line-wide relaunches that the Dredd and 2000 AD yearbooks had to be shelved. Conventional wisdom, however, suggests that you don't shelve a perennial seller. By the mid-90s, the old Christmas tradition was sagging across all lines and publishers. Since the last couple of years' offerings had moved slowly, and since the sales spike provided by the Dredd film had already ebbed, it was decided to cancel the books and use their contents in the comic. So in prog 970, there's a Nerve Centre note about two upcoming thrills: one-off episodes of Red Razors and The Journal of Luke Kirby in the next two issues. These will prove to be the final appearances for each series.

On the back covers of progs 972 and 973, there's a two-part star scan by Mick Austin, who painted the cover of the 1995 Yearbook, featuring Tharg and a number of characters: Dredd, Rogue Trooper, Luke Kirby, Red Razors, Feral, Judy Janus and Sam Slade. Prog 953 had seen a Janus: Psi Division one-off, and Feral had appeared in a Strontium Dogs episode four weeks later. Were these all cast-offs from the axed book? As for our old pal Sam Slade, the next we see of Robo-Hunter is another one-shot by Peter Hogan and Rian Hughes in December 1996.

My curiosity about the activity behind the scenes at my favorite comic is an amusing distraction, but the real story this week is the first episode of one of the all-time great Judge Dredd stories, "The Pit."

Even if you're not really familiar with Dredd, you probably have seen images here and there to know he's a big action hero on a big motorcycle. "The Pit" promises readers that it will show them Dredd as he's never been seen before... behind a desk! This is a fantastic, 30-week change in the status quo that sees Dredd assigned to new duties in one of the Meg's remote regions, where rather than doing the job of a senior street judge, he's assigned to the task of sector chief.

It turns out that the Dredd formula works incredibly well as an ensemble police procedural, which was a huge surprise to everybody, including the writer. "The Pit" was originally planned as a 14-part story, the second to involve the organized crimelords called The Frendz, but it works so incredibly well, and the new cast of characters are so popular with readers that it is expanded into a thirty-episode epic which won't conclude until the summer of 1996.

Carlos Ezquerra is the principal artist of this series. Other contributors are Colin MacNeil, Alex Ronald and Lee Sullivan.

Hamlyn issued an out-of-print collection of this series in 1997. A new edition from Rebellion has occasionally been mentioned as a possibility.

Next week, the Megazine ends its twice-monthly publishing cycle... but why?

(Originally published 11/1/07 at LiveJournal.)

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