Thursday, December 20, 2007

33. The Hit List

April 1996: Prog 989 sees the last part of the first R.A.M. Raiders adventure. This is a notable series in one respect: detailed anecdotal evidence over the last decade has proven that I am, in fact, the only person on the entire planet who liked R.A.M. Raiders. The series was the last one that Alan McKenzie brought to 2000 AD - quite possibly the last one he did for any comic - and featured a pair of young hackers in the near future, Cody and his girlfriend Meg, who stole customers out from under bigger and better-established tech support crews. They run into very weird evidence that computers are becoming sentient. Just like my iPod, in other words. It's slight, and, if we're honest, not anywhere near as thrilling as a 2000 AD series should be. But it's a nice counterpoint to the heavier, gun-laden stories elsewhere in the prog (this time, Judge Dredd by John Wagner & Carlos Ezquerra, Rogue Trooper by Steve White & Steve Tappin, Sinister Dexter by Dan Abnett & Charlie Gillespie and Vector 13 by Simon Furman & John Higgins).

At the end of the first R.A.M. Raiders story, there's a completely bizarre twist: Meg gets killed in an explosion and returns as a ghost that only be seen by Cody or by robots. So the story starts as a lighthearted TechGhostbusters before turning into Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased). Maybe that's why it was so unpopular: it felt more like a TV series that McKenzie had failed to sell than it did a comic. He scripted two five-part stories under John Tomlinson's commision, the first with art by Calum Alexander Watt and the second by Maya Gavin. This very much falls in line with the sort of strips I was mentioning in the thirtieth entry, and could certainly have been in the regular rotation had Tomlinson remained with 2000 AD.

But David Bishop had other ideas, chiefly that these slight stories were a little long at five parts apiece. Watt had already completed art on the first, but the second was edited down from five parts to three before Maya Gavin got to draw it. Even if McKenzie had continued in the business, it's unlikely that R.A.M. Raiders would have returned. It appears that McKenzie has evidently tired of comic publishing by this point and is looking at a new career. Other early 90s names are finding other outlets in magazine illustration or jobs for American publishers. But several of their fellows find commissions drying up as Bishop looks elsewhere for ongoing 2000 AD work. Even several of the creators that he'd commissioned for the Judge Dredd Megazine become conspicuously absent over the next couple of years. I did a little tally, and whether by default or by design, the list of 2000 AD creators who will move on includes about twenty names, among them all three of R.A.M. Raiders' script and art droids.

There are some really positive changes to the comic during this period. I particularly like the tendency for longer residencies in the lineup. You could easily imagine the two R.A.M. Raiders stories, under the Richard Burton days, appearing months apart from each other. By running these and other strips in longer runs with multiple artists, readers are able to get more interested in the settings and the characters. The 10-14 week runs of Rogue or Venus Bluegenes, or Sin Dex, or some of the other series which will be launching soon, like Outlaw or Black Light or the big run of Slaine strips to come, are much more memorable than what we are unfortunately seeing in the present day, where, for example, The 86ers returns to the weekly after a year's break, with virtually no recap or reminder, and rushes through six subplot heavy weeks before vanishing again.

Further, Bishop brings to 2000 AD one of his staples from his tenure at the Megazine, the intro page. Each new storyline is preceded by a pinup page which recaps the story so far and refreshes readers' memories about the subplots - even if the series was in the previous issue! Prog 990 gives R.A.M. Raiders an intro page for its second and final story. Now, this is a strip which everybody involved has already decided will not be returning, and yet it gets the benefit of the intro page to help any first-time readers understand what they're about to read. That's a very nice idea and I wish today's Tharg would resurrect it.

Speaking of resurrections, the previous month saw a mention of one of Sinister Dexter's occasional employers, the ganglord Holy Moses Tanenbaum. In the current two-parter, we meet the criminal kingpin. A contract's been put out on him by his moll, the statuesque torch singer Demi Octavo. Finnigan has a little trouble with Holy Moses's force field, but Ramone finishes the job.

This is interesting because Sinister Dexter really never collect much of a rogue's gallery - most of the recurring antagonists are fellow gunmen and theirs is an occupation with more terminal ends than typical comic book heroes. Some of the more recent storylines have seen some shenanigans about Moses Tanenbaum "returning to life" through somewhat eyebrow-raising means (there are two: one is a clone and one comes from a parallel dimension), and the characters in the strip treat this like it's the worst thing imaginable, like Moses is, by some distance, the most menacing character in all of fiction. This remains head-scratchingly odd. Dan Abnett never made Moses into a serious threat in the first place. It's all very well for him to tell us ten years later on what a spectacular supervillain he was, and how his return is the worst thing that could possibly happen to the city of Downlode, but I've got the issues right in front of me, and he wasn't much of a villain, and his return is, thus far, unsatisfying and convoluted.

Next week: Middenface McNulty!! But more importantly... Simon Davis!!

(Originally published 12/20/07 at LiveJournal.)

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