Thursday, May 24, 2007

8. The Conspiracy Reaches 2000 AD

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.

I've only read a couple of issues since the last update, as I was out of the country. I'm still in June 1994 and the prog is 893, featuring a really awful cover by Mark Harrison, who is capable of much, much better work. (Some of it's in this very issue!) We're five weeks out from the last promotional, jump-on prog, which had been advertised by an animated TV commercial that appeared at 5 in the morning for a few weeks on a satellite channel called Sky Sports. Unsurprisingly, the ad was seen by very few viewers, few of whom were honestly in 2000 AD's target demographic, and failed to bring in the tens of thousands of new readers that the ad agency had told Fleetway to expect. Naturally, the editorial staff got the blame.

Stories in this prog include a double-dose of David Hine, who is probably best known for all the cartoon "how-to" illustrations he did for Dennis Publishing's magazines Maxim and Stuff in the late 1990s. Here, he provides story and art for both a Future Shock and for the first series of Mambo, a police series set in the future, and whose complicated backstory plays out in flashback across the first story. These days, Hine is principally working as a writer in mainstream books like Spawn, and he has an Inhumans miniseries starting at Marvel soon, with art by Frazer Irving. Also, there's Slaine by Pat Mills and Dermot Power and Armoured Gideon by John Tomlinson and Simon Jacob, and a very interesting Dredd by Wagner and cover artist Mark Harrison called "Conspiracy of Silence."

The mid-90s were an incredibly frustrating time to be an American 2000 AD reader, since the comics weren't available here through Diamond. This lasted for about 18 months, when DC licensed Judge Dredd for a pair of short-lived monthly comics, and 2000 AD just vanished without word from the Diamond catalog. The Judge Dredd Megazine had never been available; the US licensor (SQP, d/b/a "Fleetway/Quality") had, after finding nobody was interested in their overpriced, squarebound, shrunk-to-US-size $5.00 version of the Meg in 1991, been cherry-picking individual series for their own reprint volumes.

So I was aware, from house ads in 1992-93, that the Megazine had been featuring an recurring series called "Mechanismo" featuring Dredd dealing with robot judges, but as these weren't then available in America, I had no idea what it was about. Suddenly, and out of the blue, there was this 4-part story in 2000 AD which I'd got in via Forbidden Planet mail order which brought the Mechanismo story to the weekly.

Chief Judge McGruder, dealing with age, senility, creeping dementia and a few years getting irradiated in the atomic wasteland of the Cursed Earth, had decided that eight foot-tall robot judges were what Mega-City One needed after the disasters of Necropolis and Judgement Day.

Judge Dredd had, naturally, opposed this idea as madness, but, well, the chief judge kind of has the upper hand in these sorts of situations. The Mechanismo storyline weaved its way through three separate, brilliant stories written by Wagner: a five-parter painted by Colin MacNeil, a six-parter illustrated by Peter Doherty and a seven-parter drawn by Manuel Benet. In the last of these, Dredd finally put an end to this insane robot plan, but...

There were two lines of robots. Number Five was a Mark One, and it had escaped into the sewers, deranged and badly damaged. Over time, the unhinged Judge Stich, who had overseen the first stage of the project, had been searching for Five. Mark Two robot judges were already in production, outside of Stich's hands, and their field test had been to track down Five. Dredd had arrived too late to stop a Mark Two robot from finally destroying Number Five. Dredd then destroyed the Mark Two, and convinced the insane Stich that the damaged Five was the one who blew up the Mark Two, proving that this line was just as flawed as the rest, and therefore the project must be scrapped. For Dredd to commit perjury was completely unheard of, but that's how desperate the issue had become: stopping McGruder from continuing to develop the robots was more important than the law.

In "Conspiracy of Silence," one of Dredd's fellow judges, among a number who believe McGruder should step down but have no legal recourse to force her to do so, passes Dredd some information that leads him to a testing facility. There, he learns that the robots are secretly into a third phase of development, and that Mark 2A droids are undergoing combat tests...

To call this story a breath of fresh air is an understatement. Since Americans were missing all the really good John Wagner Dredd scripts in the Megazine, we had been making do with his substitutes in the weekly for far too long. Garth Ennis was periodically excellent but mainly just okay. The other writers in the weekly just didn't get Dredd at all.

After this installment, the Mechanismo storyline switched back to the Megazine, while Dredd continued with some first-time scripters in the weekly, among them Dan Abnett and Chris Standley. The Mechanismo storyline is not available in a collected edition, but it certainly should be. There's some debate about how to continue the big, chunky Dredd reprint phonebooks once they reach the painted art era (these can't realistically be reproduced in black and white), and while I do believe they should switch to thinner, color volumes, the majority of fans seem to favor just collecting all the major and popular stories. The 22 episodes that bring the Mechanismo story through "Conspiracy of Silence" would make one great collection (Mechanismo: Volume One?), while the next big chunk of the story would make a good second edition...

Next week, it's Dredd... in person!

(Originally published 5/24/07 at LiveJournal.)

No comments: