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.)

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