Thursday, February 14, 2008

41. Mazes and Mambo

November 1996: Prog 1018 features David Hine's Mambo on the cover. This is the third and final series about a purple-haired future cop who can turn her body into tentacled, stretchy-attack vines. I always thought it was a pretty average little series myself, probably one draft away from something really special, but it never really impressed the fanbase and is among the strips on Tharg's chopping block.

Interestingly, Mambo provides an interesting look at how different audiences will perceive a series. The Hipster Daughter, who is nine and who joined us with prog 1000, missed the first two series of Mambo and started reading this story entirely the wrong way. Now she's a bright kid - she reads three grade levels ahead and is a voracious reader - but she started Mambo with the episode where Rachel and her alien associate are on a live call-in show, discussing what happened to the planet in the second series. Watching the show is a little girl whose brother has become the latest victim of a serial killer, about which, more in a second, and she calls in to get Rachel's help. The little girl isn't seen again after the second episode because she's no longer important to the story, and this confused my daughter completely. She thought that the little girl was called Mambo and the story was about her. I didn't know what she was talking about when she asked "When is Mambo coming back?" before the story actually finished...

Mambo's probably not due a reprint any time soon, despite David Hine's great artwork. This is not merely because it was never popular, but also because it is one of the most dated stories ever seen in 2000 AD. The serial killer is actually stalking people online, and when he kills them in virtual reality wargames or other fantasy simulations, THEY DIE IN REAL LIFE. Oh, and by "online," I'm referring to the "Hypernet." Now, fair's fair, this was written twelve or thirteen years ago, when everybody had e-mail addresses which had 40 characters after the @, and when comedians told jokes about having flat tires on the information superhighway. But honestly, this still didn't really pass for all that original at the time. "Virtual reality" quickly became buzzwords for "plots to avoid," but not until after eight or ten or thirty Doctor Who New Adventures from Virgin had the TARDIS landing in some artificial computer world.

On the other hand, the kids read this particular cliffhanger completely differently than I did:

Doesn't seem like the strongest incentive to make it back to the newsagent next week, does it? Not to hear my kids tell it. This was "creepy" and "scary" and "completely awesome." So perhaps Hine confused his younger readers as to who the audience identification figure was, but he also knew exactly what sort of story developments will get 'em back next week.

The other stories in this prog are Judge Dredd in the twelve-part "Darkside" by John Smith and Paul Marshall, Rogue Trooper by Steve White, Dan Abnett and Alex Ronald, Time Flies by Garth Ennis and Philip Bond and the very interesting Mazeworld by Alan Grant and Arthur Ranson. This is Grant's first new series for 2000 AD in quite a few years. He'd been writing Batman and some other titles for DC Comics, but was lured back to work with Arthur Ranson and the chance to do something creator-owned. Originally planned for the short-lived Toxic! some years previously, the series made its way to 2000 AD after five years "in development," as they say.

One downside to living in the States is that we're a couple of weeks behind getting progs and Megs. I understand that the current Megazine features the third part of a long interview with Alan Grant, where Mazeworld is discussed. It would make a great reprint choice - thirty episodes in one collection - if Rebellion can find the right deal with Grant and Ranson. As a story, it's honestly kind of dry, without any moments of humor or embracable, audience-identification characters. Yet the plotting is very solid, and Grant keeps readers guessing what will happen next. The artwork is, of course, excellent.

The hooded fellow is a condemned killer named Adam Cadman, the first in line for the noose in a future where Britain has resumed the death penalty by hanging. At the moment of his death, he reawakens in this odd, grimy fantasy world built around labyrinths, and finds he cannot remove his hood or noose, and that whenever he displays cowardice or tries to get away, he begins to choke and return to our world and his execution. So it genuinely becomes a case of "fight or die." There are three ten-episode series of Mazeworld; the second comes in 1997 and the last in 1999.

Speaking of last, stop back next week for the end of Rogue Trooper, in an installment we must surely call "Mercy Killing."

(Originally published 2/14/07 at LiveJournal.)

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