Thursday, May 8, 2008

52. Volt's Folly

We're at September 1997, just in time for one of the more controversial moments in 2000 AD's fictional history. There have certainly been more dramatic moments offscreen for people to discuss, but what happens in prog 1060's Anderson: Psi Division episode - part eleven of "Crusade" by Alan Grant and Steve Sampson - had people muttering for years, in newsgroups and letters pages.

The situation is this: more than a million Mega-City One citizens demand to leave the city and make their way into the Cursed Earth. They're all children. Faced with a situation far too great for them to control, the judges relent and let them go, in order to find out exactly what has lured the children out there. It turns out to be Hope, the mutant child previously seen in a 1991 Anderson story called "Engram," a telepathic being of perfect purity born in the hellish radlands that used to be middle America. The judges send the psychic cadets Corann and Lesley, long-time supporting players in Anderson's adventures, to infiltrate the children's crusade, but they also send a heavily-armed assassination squad to take out the ringleader.

The fellow with the silly haircut in the images here is Chief Judge Volt. He's been in the job since the aftermath of the 1994 Judge Dredd epic "Wilderlands," but nobody, not even his creator John Wagner, has given the guy any personality or major storylines. You could make the case that this is how it should be, because strong characters like Dredd and Anderson really don't need a "boss" figure except in really big, world-changing events. Volt only gets two, this one and 1999's "Doomsday," and he doesn't come out of that one very well.

So here's Volt's defining moment. He orders a missile attack on Hope.

Was he right to do it? As I remember it, the scale of the killing was overstated by the serial's critics. Earlier in the story, when senior judges were debating the next course of action, Dredd growls that they could "nuke 'em," and that seems to have been the impression some people took from the story, but that isn't what's shown. In part twelve, the carnage looks pretty high as Hope and a shocking number of bystanders appear to be killed by the explosion, but the missile is launched from a shoulder-mounted bazooka-type launcher. What would appear to be several hundred thousand survivors carry on, and, if I'm not mistaken, are never seen again after going through a massive set of blast doors set into the side of a mountain.

Since the "holy shit, the judges just sent missiles into a crowd of children" reaction was pretty harsh, it isn't surprising that Alan Grant never followed up on the story. But it might also be because he never intended to. Anderson, who was seriously wounded in an earlier episode, which is why she's not on her feet here, insists that Hope does not intend to use the children against the city or harm them in any way. Nobody's out there secretly building an army with conscripted Mega-City One kids. The story takes its inspiration from classic stories of children's crusades (like the tale of the Pied Piper and the incident of 1212, which, it turns out, wasn't really a "children's" crusade), much in the same way that Neil Gaiman did in a 1993 Vertigo series, but considers how the totalitarian regime of the city would react to such a thing. Predictably, they react badly.

Other stories in this prog include Dredd in "Spooks," a four-parter by Wagner and Calum Alexander Watt, Sinister Dexter in "Murder 101" by Dan Abnett and Simon Davis, Witch World by Gordon Rennie and John Burns, and a Vector 13 episode by Rennie, Dylan Teague and Dondie Cox. As mentioned in previous installments, only the Sinister Dexter story has been reprinted.

Sinister Dexter Bullet Count Update: If you click the Sinister Dexter tag below, you'll see how I've been counting the number of hits the heroes take throughout the series. Sinister takes his second bullet in this storyline. He gets shot in the back of his right shoulder by his fellow gun shark Bubba Dotrice. This character will reappear in a year or so's time, meaning "Murder 101" marks the first appearance of five recurring players in the series: Billi, Weld, Rhodes, Bunkum and Dotrice.

Next week, the folly's all the editor's. In fact, it'll be his folly for the next three weeks, as we look at the short-lived "marketing-led" approach to series commissions that brought us the Space Girls, BLAIR One and the Sex Prog. It won't all be wince-inducing, I hope!

(Originally published 5/8/08 at LiveJournal.)

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