Thursday, December 27, 2007

34. Simon Davis Saves the Day

May 1996: Prog 993 sports a fun little cover by the great Sean Phillips, well known among current comic readers for his work on Criminal with Ed Brubaker. That feller on the front is Middenface McNulty, one of 2000 AD's most popular second bananas, heralding the return inside of Strontium Dogs. This series is a follow-up to the original run of Strontium Dog, which concluded five years previously, and continues the stories of the supporting cast in the wake of Johnny Alpha's death. Garth Ennis wrote a few series before moving on to work for US publishers. This left the writer Peter Hogan to take up his plot threads, and he divided the characters into two separate series: the Strontium Dogs strips dealt with the Gronk, Bullmoose, Feral and a gang of mad professors, while Durham Red and Frinton Fuzz took their story into the separate Durham Red run.

The problem was, as was common during the Burton / McKenzie regimes, it was ages between stories in the weekly. A new story would arrive after being absent for five months, run for four weeks, advance its subplots a little, and vanish again. Read in one go, they aren't bad at all, but spread out over years, it was pretty tedious. Reading this run with the benefit of hindsight, we know that the next four months are going to give us a good solid run of the two series at last, this time with the S/D art chores taken up by Trevor Hairsine, but there's a remarkable giveaway of a clue in this credit box about how much more we'll be seeing of Strontium Dogs in the future:

Alan Smithee, huh? That can't be good. Indeed, as with R.A.M. Raiders, which we saw in the previous entry, an appropriate level of hype and attention, including an intro page with art by Henry Flint, is being paid to a strip which will not be returning. It's always touchy to mention a couple of creators you enjoy and respect having a professional disagreement, but you know how last time I was saying how a number of creators begin moving on from 2000 AD during this period, as David Bishop declines to commission new material from them? Peter Hogan would be one of those.

Bishop is very forthcoming in Thrill-Power Overload about how he did not handle this decision as delicately as he might have done, but his decision means the end of the road for both Hogan's Robo-Hunter, which only has a single episode left in the can at this stage, and Strontium Dogs, while Durham Red will be given to Dan Abnett. Hogan's final episodes go out under the Alan Smithee pseudonym, and that's the last we see of the Gronk and Feral, and of Durham's ongoing war against the criminal Gothking.

Hogan really didn't get the chance to contribute to 2000 AD as much as I'd have liked. His subsequent work in comics has been sporadic, but he's highly regarded for some work with Alan Moore on the Terra Obscura series for ABC/Wildstorm. Hairsine, of course, has a number of projects for the House of Tharg still to come over the next few years. Most recently, he worked with Paul Cornell for Marvel Comics on a Pete Wisdom miniseries.

This sounds like a bit of a bummer of an entry, but the weekly is still very strong right now. Judge Dredd's epic "The Pit" continues. John Wagner is still scripting; art in this week's episode is by Alex Ronald and Alan Craddock. Vector 13 offers a ghost story by Brian Williamson and John Burns, and the final series of Finn continues, by Pat Mills, Tony Skinner and Paul Staples.

But then there is Sinister Dexter, and what has started as a pretty good, entertaining series has suddenly become unmissably fantastic, because Simon Davis has joined the art team:

Geez, that's beautiful. I love his work; Davis is among my five favorite comic artists. And here's the crazy thing: I imagine Davis will be quick to say that his painting looks the best when he's got a great deal of time to work on the pages, but his first two Sin Dex episodes were done under a pretty hellish deadline, and they look great.

In an earlier entry, I explained that five more episodes of Sin Dex were commissioned with very little lead time - about two months from the order until the comics went to the printer. So two episodes went to Charlie Gillespie, who'd done three of the first eight installments, one went to Henry Flint, who had just wrapped up some Rogue Trooper stories, and the other two went to Davis. Bishop had used Davis a few times as an artist for Missionary Man while he was editor of the Megazine, and knew that Davis could be counted on to make a tough deadline.

And he makes it look effortless. Over time, quite a few artists will be tackling Sinister Dexter, but Davis will get the first two of the important, long stories, "Gunshark Vacation" and "Murder 101," in 1997. These will cement Sin Dex's popularity to the point that it will become a semi-regular feature. But more on that another time!

Oh, one other note: I half-joked on the message board this week that I should keep a running Sinister Dexter bullet count. Turns out, across the first fourteen episodes, they each only take one confirmed hit apiece, in part two of "The Eleventh Commandment." Since Anthony Williams, at this time, was filling the negative space of his panels with as many shell casings as he can reasonably draw in them, I am amazed that our heroes only take two bullets across all of these installments. (In "Family Man," Henry Flint draws Ramone clutching his forearm as if to imply he'd been hit in just one panel, but there's nothing in the script to confirm it. Isn't this a great hobby?)

Next week, I'm not sure... probably a word or two about Finn and Slaine. Take care!

(Originally published 12/27/07 at LiveJournal.)

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