Thursday, May 17, 2007

7. The McMahon Angle

Thrillpowered Thursday is a weekly look at the world of 2000 AD. I'm rereading my collection of 2000 AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine, one issue an evening, and once each week for the foreseeable future, I'll see what I'm inspired to write.

Over in the Megazine, it's June 1994 and time for vol.2 no.56. This is notable for featuring some of Trevor Hairsine's earliest professional work. It's on a series called Harmony, about a bounty hunter who works in the frozen wastes of Alaska and northern Canada, and it would run off and on, with a variety of artists, for about four years. We've also got a new adventure for the excellent Missionary Man by Gordon Rennie and Garry Marshall, Karyn: Psi Division by John Freeman and the always wonderful Adrian Salmon, and Alan Grant's Anderson: Psi Division, midway through her outer space epic "Postcards from the Edge," finishing a three-part chunk with really awful art by Xuasus.

Speaking of awful art, the Hipster Son had, a couple of weeks ago, picked up no.53 to read. This featured the first part of the Judge Dredd story "Howler" by John Wagner and Mike McMahon. About ten seconds later, he bellowed "I HATE THIS ART!"

I knew exactly where he was coming from. It took me more than a little while to really appreciate Mike McMahon. I first saw his stuff in the American Doctor Who reprint comic. He did a fill-in story called "Junkyard Demon" which shocked and appalled my staid middle school mind when I saw it. In time, I grew to realize just how dynamic and inventive his art was, but at the age of 13, it was just a poor substitute for Dave Gibbons. I was wrong! Time prevents me from showing off more than I can quickly find online, but it looked a little like this...

At the time (1981), McMahon was one of Dredd's major artists, with a run of classic episodes including "Monkey Business at the Charles Darwin Block," "The Fink," "Umpty Candy" and parts of "The Judge Child." He finally stepped down from Dredd after the first two parts of "Block Mania," drew about 13 episodes of Slaine a couple of years later, and vanished from the House of Tharg.

He did commercial illustration work for some time before resurfacing in the pages of a short-lived 2000 AD rival called Toxic! with a strip called Muto Maniac, and the excellent The Last American, a four-part miniseries for Marvel's Epic imprint, written by Wagner and Grant. Then he stepped out of the public eye for a time and came back with "Howler" in 1994...

It wasn't just my son. The readership drew back a little and there was more than one letter printed suggesting that McMahon's new cubist style was a bit more than comics could take. I think it's amazing, but it's also thunderously bizarre. The pacing is almost note-perfect, but the anatomy is something else entirely. In squashing the characters flat and letting the colors provide the depth, McMahon presents an amazing challenge for readers.

Of course, if American superhero books have taught us nothing, it's that comic readers don't often enjoy challenges.

Wagner created a fun foe for Dredd in this story. The Howler is an indestructible, short-tempered alien - visually based on some kind of undersea beast seen in a wildlife documentary - whose method of conquest is to demand a room at a high-priced hotel and have tributes brought to him for torture. His comeuppance is awfully predictable, and it's hard to justify a story so slight demanding four episodes to tell...

...except that it gives us four episodes of this fabulous, freaky art!

Oddly enough, the Hipster Son liked McMahon's 1980s work just fine. He loves the ABC Warriors, and both "The Judge Child" and "The Fink" are firm favorites. Sadly, this, for many readers, was a step too far. He's only done a handful of episodes for the 2000 AD titles since this time, while continuing to work in illustration. He also worked for Sonic the Comic in the late nineties.

At the Bristol Comic-Con this past weekend, Titan announced they've got McMahon on a new project: Tank Girl.

Perfect. Sign me up!

(Doctor Who illustration by Mike McMahon © 1981 Marvel/Panini.)

(Originally published 5/17/07 at LiveJournal.)

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