Thursday, May 1, 2008

51. Witch World

August 1997 brings us to prog 1056, and this Greg Staples cover - I believe that it's an homage to some famous piece of fantasy art by Frank Frazetta - is showcasing a short-lived series called Witch World. It ran for twelve episodes which comprised four short stories and the writer, Gordon Rennie, has been known to dismiss it as a failure not worth remembering. Personally, I'm inclined to agree. It's incredibly wordy, and the words are straight out of the Cliche-o-Tron 2000. Rennie had done much better than this before - the earlier episodes of Missionary Man, for example - and he'd do much better work than this in the future, so we should probably just discreetly dismiss this effort.

And yet...

I'll set the artwork, most of which is very good, aside for the moment. I'll also note only briefly that Witch World gets as many, if not more, calls for a sequel series as many other, superior efforts from the period. Seriously, Black Light, which ran a year previously, is a better strip on practically every level, but the time's long since gone where people on the message board were hoping to see new episodes of that. And yet the usually sane Floyd Kermode, known to all squaxx dek Thargo as the fandom's most prolific letterhack, was suggesting new Witch World stories on the official message board just a week ago, and he's by no means the only one.

I think Witch World was a very interesting example of editor David Bishop's style of commissioning series from the era. It didn't seem to be very effective in actually launching new, long-running strips, because the best-known launches from the period, Sinister Dexter and Nikolai Dante, had been ordered by his predecessor John Tomlinson and then revised to fit Bishop's needs. Witch World, like Black Light and Outlaw before it, was commissioned to run for 12-14 weeks, with the episodes divided into 4-5 short stories, each with different artists.

It's around this time that I realized that Bishop had taken an approach from television scheduling, for example with four clearly-defined season launches a year. Each series then got an order approximate to the standard television 13 weeks. If you've ever been involved enough in cult TV fandom to put together an episode guide for, say, Ace of Wands or Taggart, then Witch World's serial format makes perfect sense. Had Witch World been considered a success by Rennie, Bishop and the audience, then it could have picked up another order for 13 weeks, and maybe even regular scheduling like Sin Dex and Dante would be receiving.

Witch World did include some very nice artwork. The four stories were illustrated by, in order, Siku, Paul Johnson, Will Simpson (a panel from his "The Anatomist" is pictured above), and finally John Burns. They all look great, and the characters of Caitlin and Prestor Jon are engaging, but I don't think it ever really clicked. That's why it was so surprising to see a solicitation last week for a collected run in the pages of a summer 2000 AD Extreme Edition. It'll be nice to be able to enjoy all the great-looking painted artwork on better paper, but otherwise there's not a lot of reason to be thrilled to see it again.

Elsewhere in the prog, we have the continuing adventures of Sinister Dexter and I Was a Teenage Tax Consultant, as mentioned last time. There's also a really good Judge Dredd four-parter by John Wagner and Kev Walker. Entitled "Fast Food," it shows Dredd investigating corruption and thrown games on the competitive eating circuit.

Stories with Mega-City One's super-obese "fattie" population rarely disappoint, and this one's absolutely a winner. What I like best is Wagner once again taking a sledgehammer to the morons who provide commentary to the action. This is a gag he's done before and he'll do again, but it never fails to please. Actually, if the commentary in that panel above sounds familiar, it's because I understand that those droning morons at Fox Sports who called the 2006 Capitol One Bowl used it as their script.

Of these stories, only the Sinister Dexter adventure is currently available in collected form. Murder 101 was the second of the three Sin Dex books compiled by DC and Rebellion during their short tenure together and it includes this twelve-parter along with some other stories from the period. Witch World will apparently be republished in a few months in the pages of 2000 AD Extreme Edition. I say "apparently" because sometimes those solicitations don't always match the contents.

Next week, a decision by Chief Judge Volt in the pages of Anderson: Psi Division sparks a debate which lasts for many years. It's the defining moment of this ill-defined character's tenure as chief judge, and you can find out more about it in seven days.

(Originally published 5/1/08 at LiveJournal.)

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