Thursday, December 13, 2007

32. My Dinner With Einstein

March 1996: Another week, another subpar cover. Prog 985 sports a decent enough picture of Judge Dredd looking moody, but is that any way to sell a comic to someone not already actively looking for it? Goodness, how dull. The contents are considerably more interesting. Dredd's epic "The Pit" continues, now in its second arc, "True Grot," written by John Wagner and with art by Alex Ronald and Alan Craddock. Rogue Trooper continues a four-part story by Steve White and Henry Flint, and Sinister Dexter has another one-off story by Dan Abnett and Charles Gillespie. We also get the first episode of a new series written by Alan McKenzie called R.A.M. Raiders. I'll discuss this a little more next week, but I will mention art on this story is by Calum Alexander Watt. Bringing up the rear is the second and final outing for Canon Fodder by Nigel Long and Chris Weston.

In another of those fascinating little "I had no idea" revelations in Thrill-Power Overload, it turns out that Canon Fodder's co-creator and original writer, Mark Millar, objected to the series being continued in his absence. Millar had already stopped working for 2000 AD by this point, and only one further story, a four-part Janus: Psi Division adventure planned for the Megazine, was still in the drawer. Millar was working for American publishers, principally on DC/Vertigo's Swamp Thing, around this time.

Millar's objection ranks among the most hypocritical lines of self-serving nonsense I've ever heard in the hobby. The pinhead got his start by ruining Robo-Hunter about five years previously, and then had the balls to complain about Nigel Long taking a crack at his character?

Yeah, anyway, the first Canon Fodder series, from late 1993, had this really great premise that the Rapture came, the dead regained life, and yet God never showed up to take folk up to Heaven. Now that's a fabulous idea. I may have spent some column inches here complaining about Millar, but that is one awesome premise. And it's completely wasted on this idiotic story about a typical Millar indestructible he-man punching his way through the afterlife in pursuit of Sherlock Holmes and Prof. Moriarty, who've gone to Heaven to kill God. It's got some pretty good moments, and some pretty good art, but it also reimagines the corpulent Mycroft Holmes as a skinny Hannibal Lecter. It is stupid beyond stupid.

Long's Canon Fodder story sees our hero allied with Jules Verne, Nikolai Tesla, Albert Einstein and Wilhelm Reich to defend reality from sentience formed from dark matter. (Which, Wikipedia tells us today, is "matter of unknown composition that does not emit or reflect enough electromagnetic radiation to be observed directly, but whose presence can be inferred from gravitational effects on visible matter," and which accounts for a "majority of mass in the observable universe." Huh.) Long is still a novice writer and learning his craft, and some of his plot twists are kind of telegraphed in advance, but this, unlike the first, is a very clever story, with some great character moments. Reich, for instance, is a quiet little loon who keeps to himself, but he has to share how happy he is that Kate Bush wrote "Cloudbusting" about him. Sigmund Freud, who appears in the earlier episodes having incarcerated Fodder at Bedlam, is aghast in a wonderful moment when he realizes that Carl Jung was correct about that whole collective unconsciousness theory.

Even more impressively, Canon Fodder himself gets his character fleshed out, so that he's not merely a shouting, musclebound gunman. His unrequited love for his housekeeper is almost touching, really. It's a much, much better story than the first series, and Weston's art has improved from "good" to "fantastic," but David Bishop evidently decided against aggravating Millar any further, and Canon Fodder joined what's going to be an increasingly large number of series from the early 90s to be shelved under Bishop's tenure. It is also worth noting that, as it was never commissioned again, it adds to the discussion in the late 90s about series continuing without the participation of the original writer. Perhaps Millar was being hypocritical, but his point was nonetheless valid - if 2000 AD was going to shelve, as it will over the next year, Rogue Trooper, Robo-Hunter and Strontium Dogs, then Canon Fodder fits the same criteria.

Bishop will have some other tough editorial decisions in the weeks to come, which I'll talk about more next time. Here, watch Sinister and Dexter try to prop up a corpse and act like nothing's wrong and wonder whether it might be a metaphor for something.

(Originally published 12/13/07 at LiveJournal.)

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