Thursday, October 30, 2008

73. Time-sensitive entry

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'm afraid work caught me at a bad time this week. I would have composed an entry yesterday, but my job sent me on a site visit (at last!) to Riverdale all day yesterday, and I didn't get time to, and now I'm behind on my desk duties. For those following along, I did want to note that this prog's cover reveals the new direction for Sinister Dexter. In the wake of "Eurocrash," the title of the series is changed to Downlode Tales as the former partners work opposite sides of the law to find out who was responsible for the incidents of that epic, and the death of their friend. So Finnigan Sinister begins assembling a cadre of like-minded criminals and gun hands, but Ramone Dexter turns himself in and is commissioned to work as an advisor to a new police initiative to combat organized crime, hoping they can find whoever had the resources to pull off that event.

Next week, evil rears its beastly head! I will definitely find more time to write about the spectacular return of Devlin Waugh...

(Originally posted October 30, 2008 at hipsterdad's LiveJournal.)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

72. Doomsday Begins

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.

April 1999: Megazine Vol. 3 # 54 brings us the third episode of the Judge Dredd story "The Narcos Connection," a four-parter by John Wagner, Andrew Currie and Stephen Baskerville which is told from the perspective of Galen DeMarco, the former judge and now private investigator. This is an incredibly interesting story that serves as the first chunk of a series of interwoven Dredd serials which will run through the summer and into mid-October. The overall title for this epic, engaging mess is "The Doomsday Scenario," and it is very much unlike the standard 12 or 26 part Dredd stories seen in years past.

Twice before, in "Judgement Day" and "Wilderlands," the action of a Dredd epic was split between 2000 AD and the Meg by having episodes appear in each comic. But those appeared when the Meg was published fortnightly. In 1999, the Meg is monthly and aimed at mature readers. So the Doomsday epic in 2000 AD runs for 24 episodes (prog 1141 to 1164), and in the Megazine for eight episodes (# 52 to # 59), and each comic can be read completely independently of each other. In fact, reading it in 2000 AD alone actually worked a little better for me, as working the material into DeMarco's P.O.V. is occasionally awkward and reveals dramatic moments before they happen in 2000 AD.

There is more to it than just the final assault on the city by the crimelord Nero Narcos and his robot army, although that's quite amazing in its bloody, violent chtuzpah. Narcos was behind a munitions company that was awarded the judges' new firearms contract, and, as was shown in a one-off in prog 1122, all of their sidearms were fitted with the standard "unauthorized user" self-destruct feature familiar to any longtime reader of the comic. But Narcos controlled the self-destruct system, and as soon as any judge drew his gun to fire on one of Narcos's robots, the gun exploded. The casualty figure for judges in this series is pretty astonishing.

But there's another element to Doomsday: the old Soviet assassin Orlok. He had crossed paths briefly with Judge Dredd in the early 80s before becoming a recurring foe for Anderson and, finding Earth too small for the two of them, taking his single-minded, violent life to a frontier planet. He learns that the East-Meg One government-in-exile has offered a 10 million credit bounty on Dredd for war crimes and returns to Mega-City One to bring him to justice. So seven (2000 AD) episodes into the proceedings, Dredd is captured and taken out of town while it falls to Narcos. When the action moves to Europe, the Megazine episodes breathe a little easier, no longer needing to relate the same incidents from two perspectives.

At 32 episodes, "Doomsday" is the longest of all the Dredd storylines. It is not currently in print, but it was collected into two books by Hamlyn in 2001, Doomsday for Dredd and Doomsday for Mega-City One. More detailed information can be found at the really excellent Wikipedia page for the story, which I probably should've looked at before I typed all that stuff out.

It has been some time since a Megazine made it into Thrillpowered Thursday, and perhaps I should point out that the format has changed just a little bit since then. Half of the comic is still made up of Preacher reprints - they're at the point where everybody's got together at Jesus de Sade's depraved party to beat the hell out of the smack dealers who killed Cassidy's girlfriend - but the black & white reprint pages no longer belong to American comics but to reprints of the Daily Star's Dredd comic from the mid-1980s by John Wagner, Alan Grant and Ian Gibson. Wasn't I just talking about this two days ago? Oh yes, I was.

The Daily Star Dredds - focussing on the Ian Gibson episodes - ran for about a year and a half in the Megazine and are the closest thing available to a complete, proper reprint of them. In Meg # 54-55, we have the story "Bride of Death," in which the actress in a film about the alien superfiend is convinced that she is being haunted. Naturally, bodies start turning up. It is great stuff!

Next time, Ramone Dexter gets a new job. See you in seven days!

(Originally posted October 23, 2008 at hipsterdad's LiveJournal.)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

71. Eurocrash

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.

March 1999: Prog 1138 marks the third and final time that the entire comic was given over to a single episode from one of 2000 AD's series, which doesn't do you much good if you're not a fan of the feature. In early 1998, there was an all-Judge Dredd issue, followed by prog 1100's feature-length episode of Slaine, and now episode twelve of the Sinister Dexter epic "Eurocrash."

I realize that very few of my readers are interested in this sort of trivia, but from the production / editorial side, "Eurocrash" is a very odd storyline. Had it run one five-page episode a week, then it could have been a 17-part epic, but it was apparently decided early on to compact its climactic episodes into one mammoth-sized part, like an omnibus edition, instead. I don't know that it is a tactic that should be employed ever again, but the sequence of spiralling, escalating drama that has fueled "Eurocrash" for the last three months deserves an epic climax which this issue provides. Dan Abnett and Simon Davis don't disappoint; it's a terrific story with more than one shocking moment in this issue.

"Eurocrash" begins with the confirmation that Downlode's queenpin, Demi Octavo, does not have as firm a power base as she had suspected. Her decisions have led the criminal underworld to mistrust her enough to begin consolidating power against her. Add to this the revelation that one of the city's principal sources for black market weapons has a mole in his office allowing long-illegal neural control units into play, and a confrontation with several gun sharks at the formerly neutral territory of their favorite diner, and the sprawling city has become a powder keg.

When it ends, it really does feel like the grand finale. There's an argument to be made - I've made it - that Sinister Dexter should have concluded here. Of course, there are still some fantastic moments to come down the line. "I Say Hello," which surely must be the best episode of the series, is about three years after this episode. And then there's "...and death shall have no dumb minions," which features at least two of the most heartbreaking scenes of the whole series, and that was just a couple of years ago, I think.

But there's also a lot of padding and failed humor to come. And had "Eurocrash" been the series finale, it would probably be better remembered, and its reputation would not have been tarnished by what will be shown to not work very well.

When DC and Rebellion had that ill-fated alliance three-and-a-bit years back, they released three collections of Sinister Dexter, right up to the point before "Eurocrash," leading fans to suspect Rebellion would soon continue with a fourth book compiling this story. Well, they took their time, but "Eurocrash" is finally on the schedule for March of next year. The book is tentatively listed as 160 pages, but I'm not sure how much additional material that will contain. Prog 1139's conclusion to "Eurocrash" (part 13) appeared to be the final episode of the series, with the protagonists going their separate ways into another series, Downlode Tales, that deals with this epic's aftermath, before reuniting in December '99. I imagine that at least a good chunk of Downlode Tales will make it into the book, but I don't know that 160 pages will be enough to cover it all.

Next time, we'll pop back to the Megazine for the first time in a while, to see how these Dredd subplots have been shaping up, and to see whether I can tie Thrillpowered Thursday into Reprint This! successfully...

Sinister Dexter Bullet Count: Finnigan gets his ninth hit of the series in this prog, a bullet to the left shoulder. It doesn't slow him down much, but there's a lot of blood.

See you in seven days!

(Originally posted Oct. 16 2008 at hipsterdad's LiveJournal.)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

70. Tour of Books

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.

February 1999: Prog 1032 has a pretty lovely cover by Greg Staples announcing the new Anderson: Psi Division six-parter, even if it's interrupted by a Babylon 5 promotion with some postcards from that year's TV movie. Staples is not the artist for the new story; in fact, I don't believe that he's ever drawn Anderson other than on this cover. It is instead handled by Anderson's semi-regular artist Steve Sampson. It's not quite his swan song, as a one-shot called "Semper Vi" will appear in the spring, and then Anderson will take a lengthy break from the comic. I don't believe that Sampson has worked for 2000 AD since. (It's a little difficult to check, as Sampson does not have a Wikipedia page, although a fellow by the same name who used to coach the Los Angeles Galaxy soccer club does...)

Judge Anderson is, sadly, quite poorly represented in graphic novel form. In the 1980s, Titan did a decent enough job by the standards they'd set for themselves. 64-page collections were pretty common then, and the annual 12-parters that ran in the summers of 1985, 1986 and 1987 were well-suited to that format. But as her series began more sporadic appearances, with one-offs, three-parters or longer adventures, drawn by a variety of artists, the collected editions really fell behind. There was a one-off Dredd in 1988 called "Night of the Brainstem Man," by Alan Grant and Barry Kitson which did not feature Anderson but which served as a prologue to Anderson's 1989 storyline "Helios," which cries out for a reprint, as does "Leviathan's Farewell," a critical one-shot which appeared in the 1989 Sci-Fi Special and whose ramifications are felt in a number of subsequent Anderson adventures.

But as Hamlyn got the rights to 2000 AD material in the 1990s, they released some trades which, haphazardly, just collected work by a single artist, so there's a Kevin Walker Childhood's End book and an Arthur Ranson Satan book, but not a compilation of "Postcards from the Edge," the interesting, episodic adventure with six or seven different artists.

And sadly, Rebellion seems to be following suit. While their graphic novel line is pretty amazing overall, as I will mention in just a moment, their first Anderson collection, Shamballa, is another assortment of Ranson episodes. It's more comprehensive than Hamlyn's Satan was, but it skips so many episodes that it doesn't seem like it could possibly read well, although admittedly I have not picked up my copy. I confess to being annoyed just enough that when four 2000 AD books were in my shop's box last visit and I only had enough cash for three, Shamballa was runt enough to warrant staying behind. It sure looks pretty, at least.

On the other hand, Rebellion's other lines mostly get it emphatically right. I started reading the seventh Nikolai Dante book last week and it's tremendous fun from start to finish. Rebellion have collected all the episodes, in order, and periodically found room for a little supplemental word or two from the creators or their sketchbooks. Plus, of course, the books are printed on gorgeous paper with very nice matte glossy covers and look fantastic. The image here is from the "Tour of Duty" serial, reprinted in the second Dante collection, The Great Game. "Duty" is the fourth of five short serials, written, as always, by Robbie Morrison, in which Nikolai is teamed with one of his half-brothers and sisters on some mission for the Romanovs. Simon Fraser handles art chores on the stories with Andreas and Lulu and Charlie Adlard illustrates the stories with Nastasia and Konstantin. Andy Clarke drew the first one, featuring Viktor.

"Tour of Duty," the adventure with Konstantin, is quite interesting from a production standpoint, as it is actually three separate stories run as a three-part adventure. Actually, I suppose I could get amazingly trainspotterish and tell you that the second Konstantin story was intended as a two-parter - that's the original cliffhanger above - but it was decided to run both parts so that each story would appear as a single chapter, but I think that level of trainspotter detail just makes my readers' eyes roll, so perhaps I shouldn't. Oh, too late.

Anyway, apart from Anderson and Dante, the prog also includes the concluding episode of the Judge Dredd eight-parter "The Scorpion Dance" by John Wagner and John Burns, and the continuing Sinister Dexter epic "Eurocrash" by Dan Abnett and Simon Davis...

...about which, more next week.

Sinister Dexter Bullet Count: Speaking of whom, our heroes each take a couple of wounds in parts three and four of this story. They're both very minor and almost instantly recovered from, but that still makes eight confirmed hits on Finnigan and two on Ramone.

See you in seven days!

(Originally posted October 9, 2008 at hipsterdad's LiveJournal.)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

69. Brothers in Property Damage

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.

January 1999: In the grand scheme of things, The Balls Brothers, which begins in prog 1128, is really just a minor footnote. The remarkably wild series by John Wagner and Kevin Walker runs for just eleven episodes - two short stories which are wrapped up by the summer, and never to be seen again. Comedies have always been difficult for 2000 AD to manage. On those occasions where a straight-up comedy is tried, it invariably divides the readership in two, with the ayes rarely having the last word.

Each detail of the Balls Brothers' backstory is revealed via a completely ridiculous and hilarious gag, so it's not fair to explain too much. The simple version: the superhumanly powerful and stupid Rocky and Eggy Balls are told it is time to leave the asylum where they have spent all their lives and make their way in the world. They conclude that pretty much the only thing they're any good at is fighting, so they make their muscles available as superheroes for hire, much to the dismay of costumed do-gooders like Captain Incredible, who is dismayed at the over-the-top violence that the Balls Brothers display in any given situation. Eggy, ostensibly the smarter of the duo, cannot even add up their bills without putting his finger through the calculator.

And there are Nazi jokes and superhero jokes and care-of-the-community jokes, oh, and a canary that's always flying around shitting everywhere. It's triumphant.

I could be wrong, but I think that this series is just about the only long-form example (in 2000 AD) of this art style that Kevin Walker was using at the time. He'd made his name with his lush, painted ABC Warriors stories in the 90s, but was now experimenting with pen and ink and an apparent desire to draw everything. The pages are completely full of little background detail, piles of debris and tiny sparking wires. In time, Walker would leave behind this style and adopt one reminiscent of Mike Mignola, with strong, solid colors and shadows, and so Balls Brothers, and a one-off ABC Warriors which will appear in December 1999, are probably the only examples of this style in this title. Did he use it in some of his other work, for Warhammer or whatever? I'm curious.

At any rate, editor David Bishop confirmed in 2002 on alt.comics.2000ad that Wagner felt that the series had run its course after just two stories, and that was the end of this superb comedy. But I'll tell you... somewhere, in some parallel universe, the Balls Brothers took up periodic residence as a back-cover gag strip for many years after these eleven episodes ended. And those pages are the funniest things we'll never see.

The Balls Brothers has never been reprinted, and since there are only about 55 pages of it in total, it is unlikely to be seen again. That's another reason it should have come back at least once - just one more four-parter and there would have been enough of it for a thin, 80-page graphic novel. What a missed opportunity!

Also appearing in the prog, Judge Dredd in another major continuity epic, "The Scorpion Dance" by Wagner and John Burns. This one continues the various threads of the Frendz, DeMarco and Jura Edgar subplots, all intersecting in a very good story. It was reprinted by Hamlyn in 2001 but is currently out of print. And there's Sinister Dexter by Dan Abnett and Simon Davis, Pulp Sci-Fi by Dave Stone and Ben Willsher and Nikolai Dante by Robbie Morrison and Simon Fraser. Not a dud in the deck, I'd say. 1999 started out strong.

See you in seven days!

(Originally posted Oct. 2 2008 at hipsterdad's LiveJournal.)