Thursday, August 28, 2008

64. Durham a la Drucker

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.

Prog 1111: The real world's kind of uncooperative and awful this week, so I don't have time for much of an entry. This issue is a very neat little double-sized one-off, with four ten-page episodes of the recurring strips Judge Dredd, Slaine, Sinister Dexter, all of which will be back with their regular-length stories in the next issue, and Durham Red, which is between series. Durham gets the cover, in this fantastically sexy portrait by Mark Harrison. There's a lot to like about this cover, even beyond the admittedly not inconsiderable "hot babe with cleavage" factor. Even the most casual readers have certainly noticed that 2000 AD covers are typically full of text. During this period, it was typed in a genuinely awful font, and hemmed in the artwork far too much, an unfortunate legacy, perhaps, from the higher-ups at Fleetway who were letting focus groups tell them that you needed lots of words on the cover to sell a magazine. Here is a far-too rare example of just letting the art do all the work. The result is magnificently sexy and inviting, a simply flawless cover.

The other real standout point about this cover: Durham's cheekbones, which immediately betray a huge influence from MAD's Mort Drucker. Harrison has never made a secret of his inspiration, and a few years later, he'd get to do an entire out-of-continuity Durham episode in Drucker's style, a simply perfect little story which I look forward to reading again.

Sinister Dexter Bullet Count: Finnegan increases his lead over his partner in this week's episode, "Death is a Lonely Donegan." Here, he suffers hallucinations of the afterlife while in the hospital recovering from bullets four, five, six and seven to the chest. Ramone still only has one confirmed hit, from back in part two of "The Eleventh Commandment."

Next week, assuming things get back to normal, it's deadline hell for Dredd and the Darknight Detective in "Die Laughing."

(Originally posted August 28 2008 at hipsterdad's LiveJournal.)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

63. Clowning Around

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.

You'd never know it from Marc Wigmore's completely inappropriate artwork (below), but this issue of 2000 AD features the most harrowing, intense and ugly of all the Sinister Dexter stories. Like Wagner and his fellow writers do with Dredd, Dan Abnett uses Sinister Dexter's very flexible format to tell stories in a variety of styles, from melodrama to comedy, and the editors who've been in charge of the series almost always match just the right artist to the strip. Prog 1105 features the third episode of a remarkably bleak story called "Slay Per View," in which Ramone Dexter is suffering horrible nightmares where he is stalking and murdering women, who are found dead the next day at the hands of a serial killer. Convinced that he is acting out these murders while asleep, Dex elects to kill himself, and the second episode ends with a breathtaking cliffhanger: Dex putting a revolver in his mouth.

I'd like to think that I'm pretty good about monitoring the Hipster Kids' reading and making sure that they don't read age-inappropriate strips. As far as I can tell, they even follow my directions, which is really impressive. I guess they figure that if I'm letting them look at occasional over-the-top violence and periodic bare boobs in 2000 AD strips, then when I tell them to skip Preacher or the "Russia's Greatest Love Machine" episode of Nikolai Dante, then I'm pretty serious about the mature content. So I spoke to my son (age eleven) beforehand, and made sure he knew that this was an intense and mean episode. I told him that he could read it if he wanted, but he might want to skip it. He soldiered on. His nine year-old sister, on the other hand, didn't get the option. The script itself was bleak and ugly enough, but that cliffhanger image was something I did not want her to see.

Speaking personally, the only really objectionable thing about this story was Marc Wigmore's art. What the heck happened? Wigmore had illustrated several episodes of Judge Hershey for the Megazine, and while he was never one of my favorites, he had a unique style, marked by thin, angular characters and very stark use of negative space. Wigmore drew the first three episodes of "Slay Per View" before Julian Gibson arrived to tackle the last two, and the art is just hideous, packed with wonky anatomy, way too much black ink, confusing storytelling and... well, while Sinister's "pale/drunk" look often had him looking a little like a clown, he rarely looked quite so much like Ronald McDonald as he does in these pages.

The rest of the prog is very good. Slaine is back for a new series of adventures set a little earlier in the character's life. For the last several years, the saga was telling stories from after his seven year reign as High King of Ireland, with a dismissal from Ukko that nothing very interesting had happened during that period. Evidently, Pat Mills had a change of heart and has been scripting a few new stories set during this time along with co-writer Deborah Gallagher. "Kai" is a four-parter illustrated by Paul Staples. The second book of Mazeworld by Alan Grant and Arthur Ranson continues as well, although the high points are certainly still Dredd and Dante.

As I mentioned last week, Morrison and Fraser's "The Great Game" is a genuinely spectacular story, with our hero taking a battering from a high-stakes plot on one side, family secrets on the other, and the emotional bodyblow of his own past on the other. I can't say enough good things about "The Great Game," because stories like this are why I read comics.


"Slay Per View" has been collected along with several other, better, episodes in the third Sinister Dexter book, and "The Great Game" is in the second Nikolai Dante book.

Next time, four stories about death.

(Originally posted August 21 2008 at hipsterdad's LiveJournal.)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

62. Ezquerra and Fraser

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.

It's sort of male nature, I suppose, to create best-of lists, or arrange things into definitive orders of favorites. Women tend not to do this. I suppose Pat Mills might consider this as more evidence for the male=order, female=chaos theory. But oddly, I never really thought about who my favorite artists were until about three years ago. As you do, I was filling out a profile on a singles site and was asked who my three favorite artists were. Well, with all due respect to people who are hung in galleries, my mind was on comics and went straight to 2000 AD, and there wasn't any hesitation. My three favorite artists are Carlos Ezquerra, Simon Fraser and Ian Gibson.

I mention this because prog 1101, published in June 1998, is a relaunch issue, and this time around there are double-length opening episodes of Judge Dredd with art by Ezquerra and Nikolai Dante with art by Fraser. They share space with the opening episode of Alan Grant and Arthur Ranson's Mazeworld, and so 80% of this prog is illustrated by two of my three favorite comic artists. How wonderful! And Ranson's no slouch himself, so this is a great looking comic.

"Beyond the Call of Duty" returns Dredd to the northern sectors of the city where he'd previously worked as a sector chief in the remarkable 30-part epic "The Pit." This also, if I remember correctly, resumes some of the subplots about the organized crime world of the Frendz and their leader, Nero Narcos. It also introduces SJS Judge Roffman, a security-obsessed paranoid man who remains an important supporting character to this day. Most critically, as we'll see in a future episode, it brings back the little rich girl-turned-judge, Galen DeMarco, as Dredd's sector chief for the storyline. Wagner keeps the story working through a number of unexpected twists and turns as what looks like routine street judging uncovers something really big in the sector.

"The Great Game," meanwhile, is one of the high points of Nikolai Dante's earlier days. It's a fantastic, epic tale of espionage, high stakes, family secrets and lost love. When it wraps up in prog 1110, nothing will be the same in the series again. Of course, Dante is such a wildly inventive, and re-inventive, series that the status quo gets knocked on its head every three or four years.

Both of these wonderful stories have been reissued in collections. The Dredd story is currently out of print, but it was compiled by Hamlyn in their graphic novel The Scorpion Dance. You can read "The Great Game" in the second Nikolai Dante trade, also called The Great Game. This was released by DC/Rebellion in 2005, and is available from Amazon.

Next time, Slaine is back and so are Sinister Dexter, in a story I judged too intense for the Hipster Daughter to read...

(Originally posted August 14 '08 at hipsterdad's LiveJournal.)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

61. Pulp Science Fiction

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. Although, I think I have decided to write a little less with these and let what images I've selected speak a little more for themselves.

Did you miss me? The Hipster Kids have stampeded and rampaged across the Southeast this summer and come back to find a stepmother-to-be all moved in and the legendary Hipster Dad British Comic Archive nicely arranged and accessible on two wonderful shelving units in the guest room. Having it all displayed in nice, browsable milk crates actually makes me want to start tracking down the remaining 1978-82 issues of Battle Picture Weekly that I'm missing. That reminds me, I could use the help of my readers in obtaining ten issues of the Dredd Megazine...

We resume the Big Reread in the spring of 1998. David Bishop is the editor, Andy Diggle is his assistant, and the Galaxy's Greatest Comic is launching a new series of one-off thrills to complement the ongoing series Judge Dredd, Sinister Dexter, Missionary Man and Slaine. This is called, properly, Pulp Sci-Fi. The superior-sounding, unabbreviated title is only used internally and in advertising, and Henry Flint contributed this cute cover which evokes Uma Thurman's role in the Quentin Tarantino film which gave the series its name. Prog 1096 features the first of four Pulp Sci-Fi tales which make up its first series. The feature will appear off and on for the next couple of years, whenever there's a hole in the scheduling. It replaces the Men in Black-led Vector 13, although there's still one more of those to see print down the line, before in turn being replaced by the return of Tharg's Future Shocks and Tharg's Terror Tales.

At the time of writing, the kids have read the first three stories and they agree that the first of these, "Grunts," is their favorite. It's by the Durham Red team of Dan Abnett and Mark Harrison and, to be honest, it's a little reminiscent of the famous Star Wars fan film Troops. But, well, the kids haven't seen Troops, and nor, mercifully, have they seen Fox's Cops to my knowledge, so this struck my son as being incredibly original and funny.

Pulp Sci-Fi is perhaps best remembered for launching a wonderful character named Rose O'Rion, a spacefaring cat burglar and con artist created by Nigel "Kek-W" Long and Dylan Teague, in a pair of really clever one-off episodes. Rose got a highly anticipated series a couple of years down the road which disappointed practically everybody, but the one-offs are very good. Quite a few good one-offs appeared under the Pulp Sci-Fi banner, but none of them have ever been reprinted. Speaking of which, I don't believe any of the stories from this prog have made their way to a collected edition. The Sinister Dexter episode by Abnett and Ben Willsher was skipped over for their third book Slay Per View, in 2005.

Next time, Jena Makarov meets the wife that Nikolai Dante never told her about, and Nikolai meets the half-brother nobody ever told him about...

Help This Blog! I am missing ten issues of the Judge Dredd Megazine, one that I never got and nine that were ruined by a flood in 2005 and had to be pitched. These are all from vol. 3, cover dates 1999-2001, and are # 52 and # 69-77. I'd like to have new copies for myself and the kids to read during this little project. If you're able to provide good copies, or perhaps scan the non-reprint episodes for us, please drop me a line! I'd be happy to buy them from you, or trade from my big stack of duplicate progs or trade paperback collections.

(Originally posted August 7 '08 at Hipsterdad's LiveJournal.)