Thursday, January 31, 2008

39. The Fiction Behind the Facts Behind the Fiction

September 1996: In prog 1011, the summer's crop of thrills is wrapping up. It's been a mostly entertaining run. Slaine's comic foil, Ukko, gets the cover this week, spotlighting a pretty unusual little adventure. "The Cloak of Fear" is an interlude to the two-book "Treasures of Britain" story. Painted by Steve Tappin, the story is set in the Tower of the Ever-Living Ones, a location which Pat Mills introduced to the series some time previously. This is where Ukko and some of the supporting cast reside, long after the historical events of the Slaine series. Mills occasionally gets to have some fun poking at the differences between the reality of what actually happened, Ukko's selfish recollections of what happened as he records the tales, and Nest's insistence that Ukko's short-sightedness is preventing him from understanding the broader historical picture. That's not to say it's uniformly excellent storytelling - Slaine's days of consistent greatness are behind him by this point, though there are occasional moments of true genius to come - but it's a marvelous concept for the series. With the next issue, Slaine wraps up a run of about five months, and will return in '97.

Judge Dredd has a wonderfully gruesome one-off about an egotistical murderer contacting a TV sports show about his claim to the all-time record for most murders committed by a serial killer. It's by John Wagner and Tom Carney. Rogue Trooper continues a guerilla war against some religion-mad soldiers in a four-parter by Steve White and Calum Alexander Watt, and Black Light is halfway through its final short story, by White, Dan Abnett and Steve Yeowell. It's a pretty good prog, with a couple of sour notes.

First among them is Outlaw, which is coming to a conclusion and cannot end quickly enough. The artwork is occasionally amazing. Simon Davis's work on the last episode is actually his best work to this point, and since by '96 he'd already become one of my favorite 2kad artists, that means I think it is pretty damn sumptuous. But it's just so dreary and mindless. Somehow this thing took seventy-odd pages to tell, when there's no more than twenty pages of plot. And even those don't make sense, because we never get the chance to learn who the criminals behind the situation are, nor why they go to such stupid extremes for something which is conveyed as being small and unimportant. There's no sense of scale, that the "Deadliest Man Alive" competition means anything to any audience. And if it does, then the criminals who force Outlaw's hand are acting so illogically that readers cannot understand their motives, making the entire shenanigans seem pointless.

But the second sour note is really sour. It reads like this:

I've left some American comic fans utterly baffled by Tharg the Mighty, the "alien editor" of 2000 AD. Since just about all British comics in the 70s and 80s had a fictional editor at some point or other, their readers are used to the concept. The idea is actually an American one - the "fictional editor" we all remember was EC's Cryptkeeper of the 1950s, if not from the actual comics then from that incredibly stupid Tales from the Crypt TV series.

But, you know, the idea that an alien has come to Earth with an office full of robots to make our comic book... that's kind of silly. That's for kids. Editor David Bishop agreed, and decided to slowly phase Tharg out. What he overlooked is that the readers, sticking with the comic into adulthood, know perfectly well that the concept is something silly, for kids. We like it that way.

Of course, from time to time in the 1980s, editor Steve MacManus needed to take some vacation time, and so the task of penning the editorial notes would fall to his assistants Richard Burton or Simon Geller. So there would be a note from Tharg explaining that he had some business to take care of, or an infestation of Greater-Spotted Thrill-Suckers in the Magellan Cluster that needed exterminating, and the next issue's note would be from one of his droid assistants, Burt or SIM-1.

That's not what happens this time... check back next week as 2000 AD's fictional backstory gets totally ridiculous.

(Originally published 1/31/08 at LiveJournal.)

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