Thursday, November 15, 2007

30. Everybody Just Wants to Have Guns

It's January 1996, and we're coming down to the very end of John Tomlinson's tenure. The handoff to David Bishop has already come, but it has not been announced in the prog yet, and I've got something else to look at in the next installment, so this is a good point to stop and re-evaluate. Conventional wisdom suggests that Bishop was the one who turned 2000 AD around from the early 1990s pre-movie doldrums, but this prog suggests that things were already moving in the right direction. The lineup this time is the continuing story of Judge Dredd in "The Pit" by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra - clearly the best thing going in the comic - with reasonable support provided by four other thrills, none of which are really bad, even if they've been mostly forgotten over time. These are Venus Bluegenes, a spinoff from Rogue Trooper by Dan Abnett and Simon Coleby, Flesh, by Abnett, Steve White and Gary Erskine, Kid CyBorg by "Kek-W" (Nigel Long) and Jim McCarthy, and Darkness Visible by Nick Abadzis and John Ridgway.

Of the strips, Kid CyBorg is very much the weak link, but it's definitely a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, Jim McCarthy's art really fails the material, and looks so unappealing that it's no wonder readers gave it the thumbs-down. McCarthy had been associated with unpopular strips throughout the early 90s, including Bix Barton (which I liked) and The Grudge-Father (which nobody did), and so I imagine people just tuned this one out completely. It also simply looks as though the printers fumbled the ball with it, like his coloring choices just got swallowed by the paper, and so while Kid CyBorg's art is actually streets ahead of his other work, the strip looks flat, unfocussed and, when weighed against Ezquerra, Ridgway and Erskine in the same comic, decidedly amateurish. Long' s script is pretty good, and I was surprised to learn that all the elements are there for a memorable, classic 2000 AD character, but with art this ugly, nobody wanted to read it in the first place, let alone see the kid again.

This isn't poor scanning; it looks this muddy on paper, too.

Flesh was created by Pat Mills and was one of the original 2000 AD series. This is a seven-part story called "Chronocide," and sees the put-upon hero of the original run, Earl Regan, conscripted back to work for the Trans-Time Corporation. (Regan only appeared in Flesh Book One. That book's villain, Claw Carver, reappeared in 1978's Book Two. Flesh was rested until prog 800, when Pat Mills resurrected the concept with none of the original characters in "The Legend of Shamana.") Interestingly, "Chronocide" takes place in two time periods - Regan is dealing with one group of terrorists 80 million years ago and other characters are fighting the same gang in the Cenozoic. It's a solid story, with fine artwork. Incidentally, Gary Erskine's the new artist for Virgin's seven-part Dan Dare comic, which'll be in stores soon.

Nick Abadzis's Darkness Visible also features a character who might have returned had Bishop commissioned another series. This was a five-part story about a PI named Alec Perry, whose missing persons investigation has him crossing paths with a really dangerous cult. It's a scenario that would have played equally well in DC's Hellblazer, and Abadzis's script does a good job making readers care about the character and keeping us guessing where the plot would go. Abadzis didn't have a very long 2000 AD career - he did have some Vector 13 episodes in 1996, but no other series - but he resurfaced earlier this year with the critically acclaimed graphic novel Laika. The art is very, very good. It's always nice to see John Ridgway in the prog.

And then there's Venus Bluegenes, who gets off to as okay a start as a Rogue Trooper spinoff can. But you know, that's not a terrible lineup of heroes. Venus and Earl Regan pre-existed this run, but these stories are treated as effectively pilots for the characters. 2000 AD works best when its recurring series spotlight a heroic character - even an anti-hero like Nemesis - on some kind of ongoing storyline. I think you see this in Tomlinson's later Tor Cyan series; the editor clearly knew what sort of ongoing series 2000 AD needed and commissioned the right kinds of strips during his short tenure. Clearly none of them succeeded, but they're a huge step in the right direction. David Bishop would inherit a couple more of these strips, including R.A.M. Raiders, which runs in the spring of '96, and Sinister Dexter, which would prove to be Tomlinson's most lasting commission to the comic.

Sinister Dexter will take the spotlight next time, but that won't be for another three weeks. As I've mentioned, I'm sharing the reread with my son, and he's going to spend a long Thanksgiving holiday with his mother in Kentucky. Normal service will resume in December!

(Originally published 11/15/07 at LiveJournal.)

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