Thursday, February 28, 2008

43. Our Long National Nightmare is Finally Over

January 1997: Prog 1026's cover by Simon Davis features Sinister Dexter back in action in their first properly long storyline, "Gunshark Vacation," written by Dan Abnett. Our heroes have gone down to Europe's southern coast to let the heat from their last storyline die down, and get involved with more pistoleros and gangsters with punny nicknames, like the brothers Buddy Bing and Buddy Boom, and their kingpin employer, Philly O'Fisch. From this point forward, Davis owns the series. Dozens of other artists will tackle it as it becomes a semi-regular later in the year, and put in some great work, but everybody's still just playing catch-up with Simon. Also appearing in this prog, the continuing 12-part Judge Dredd epic "Darkside" by John Smith and Paul Marshall, a Vector 13 installment by Shaky Kane and David Bircham, and "Faustus," the final series for Janus: Psi Division. This will, I think, prove to be Mark Millar's final work for 2000 AD, although accuracy and geekiness demand that I report that a two-part Dredd, not among Millar's worst, will run alongside parts 6 & 7 of "Faustus." Honesty compels me to report that the story is co-written by Grant Morrison, and features a time travel incident that plays like a trial run for what he'd do a little later in his JLA arc "Rock of Ages" for DC Comics, but it's too little too late. Earthlets across the globe breathe a sigh of relief as Faustus, the last of Mark Millar's interminable, indestructible he-men, meets his end, and with him goes the final remnant of 2000 AD's "stupid days" of the early nineties.

But it seems that no sooner does one terror leave us than another starts. While I can relax knowing that I'm only a few evenings' reads away from not having to suffer any more Mark Millar in my prog, Vector 13 brings us the very first 2000 AD work by David Bircham. I'd overlooked his work some months previously when I suggested that Jim McCarthy might be my least favorite artist for the comic. And there's a fair amount of Bircham's work to come over the next couple of years, unfortunately. I'm sure he's a fine fellow, but I find his artwork deeply unappealing. So here, have a nice Simon Davis scan instead. Isn't it great?

Also surprisingly great is Slaine, which I'd previously dismissed as just sort of coasting and average during this period. I don't want that to sound like it's a bad thing; average Slaine is still better than sliced bread. It turns out, however, that book two of "Treasures of Britain," by Pat Mills and Dermot Power, is fast-paced and inventive and full of great ideas. I can't hold my hand to my heart and swear that I'm completely surprised that Guinevere turns out to be in league with the evil Cyth, as it's rather in keeping with Pat's pagan leanings, and I sort of wish the Guv'nor would have written against type and found something a little more out there, but the actual plot is downright thrilling. Mills and Power really use the format to its full advantage, and each six-page episode is packed incredibly tight with new plot developments, new characters, really excellent painted art, and some very humorous moments.

"Treasures of Britain" was reprinted by Hamlyn not long after it appeared here. While it is currently out of print, copies should not be hard to find on eBay, and I strongly recommend it. Rebellion is slowly working its way through the Slaine back catalog (the third and fourth volumes are due out this year), and I speculate we may see a new edition in 2009. Of the other material in this prog, "Gunshark Vacation" is available in the DC/Rebellion book of the same name, which I highly recommend, and you can read the Judge Dredd story "Darkside" in the 10th issue of 2000 AD Extreme Edition.

Next time, it's back over to the thinner, less-reprint version of the Megazine, where there have been some odd format changes to accomodate one of the best Dredd adventures from the period: the remarkable "Fetish." See you in seven!

(Originally published 2/28/08 at LiveJournal.)

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