Thursday, November 20, 2008

76. It's Tough to be a Girl

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.

If the only measure of success in 2000 AD was "how often Tharg reprints your work," and mercifully it is not, then Nigel Long might get the booby prize for least successful of all of Tharg's script droids. Writing under the oddball pseudonym "Kek-W," he worked for the House of Tharg for about a decade, but try as I might, I cannot think of a single story of Long's that has ever been reprinted, collected, dusted off or even recommissioned for a second series, unless it was in one of those godawful American-sized reprints in the mid-90s. And that's a shame; when garbage like the Michael Fleisher Rogue Trooper and Harlem Heroes was able to find new homes outside of the weekly, there was no reason for Long's whimsical and quirky stories to be ignored. Of course, I'm writing this at work, and I could go home and look him up on Barney and have a face-palm moment when I realize I've overlooked something*, but the promising Kid CyBorg was nowhere as awful as its reputation suggests, and the strange little throwback story Second City Blues, his last 2000 AD offering, from a couple of years ago, was charming if unnecessary, and he also contributed several good Vector 13 and Pulp Sci-Fi one-offs.

In fact, Long did the impossible in the spring of '96 and took Mark Millar's completely brain-dead Canon Fodder into a second series which was miles better than the first (see My Dinner With Einstein), but, bafflingly, it was the first series which was reprinted as a bonus "graphic novel" bagged free with the current Megazine, and Long's second, superior, offering was left on the shelf.

Long also gave us Rose O'Rion, the final episode of which appears in prog 1158 (August 1999). Now this really was a shame, and an awful missed opportunity.

Rose first appeared in a June 1998 Pulp Sci-Fi episode called "False Profits," which was not at all bad. But her second appearance, in December's "Hot Rocks," felt like the pilot for what should have been a fantastic, over-the-top, downright wonderful series. Rose is a thief and treasure hunter in the most delightfully pulptastic, goofball world of throwback sci-fi, where thousands of planets are just a few days' warpflight away, and each one of those wild worlds was once the home of a thriving civilization which was lost in some cosmic calamity, except for one lone relic of unimaginable power and value. Cherry-picking the universe of its lost treasures is the work of greedy, backstabbing, improvising brigands, tough guys and sassy broads, who forge alliances at the card tables in backwater casinos.

It's one part Raiders of the Lost Ark and one part Maverick and eight parts every schlocky '50s potboiler you read when you were twelve. "Hot Rocks" demanded a series. Unfortunately, the series we got was really, really dull, and nowhere as fun as the lively universe suggested in the Pulp Sci-Fi one-offs. It's full of big, boring galactic threats, and the dialogue sounds wrong. At one cliffhanger point, some giant alien with a big manly gun shouts "Intruder, identify yourself! Your actions have been designated hostile... prepare for immediate physical disincorporation!" This might just be the worst pair of sentences ever written. Just try speaking them out loud!

Rose never gets the chance to redeem herself after this misfire. The series is quietly shelved, and a promising character and universe derailed. Periodically, fans would mention they'd like to see her again, but the moment passed and Rose passed into obscurity.

Incidentally, the eye-catching cover to this issue by Steve Cook announces the second phase of the lengthy Devlin Waugh storyline and introduces several new characters, including the mysterious and wealthy actress Anji Kapoor, in another episode by John Smith and Steve Yeowell. Other stories in this prog include more of Judge Dredd's "Doomsday Scenario" by John Wagner and Colin Wilson, Downlode Tales by Dan Abnett and Chris Weston, and Mazeworld by Alan Grant and Arthur Ranson.

*note: I looked up Long's credits at Barney, and see that I didn't overlook anything.

Thrillpowered Thursday will be taking a week's break while my young co-readers take a Thanksgiving vacation in Kentucky. See you in December for more Dredd, and a graphic novel review or two.

(Originally posted Nov. 20 2008 at hipsterdad's LiveJournal.)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

75. Veteran's Day

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 had a moment of very odd coincidence when I read Judge Dredd Megazine # 57 last night. See, I should explain that while this feature appears on Thursday mornings, I do the writeup and the scanning on Wednesday afternoon, meaning that I read the featured issue on Tuesday, which of course was Veteran's Day. The Meg lineup is the same as it was the last time I stopped by; it contains a new, extra-length Dredd episode (here, part two of "Doomsday" by John Wagner and Colin Wilson), some pages of Daily Star Dredd newspaper strips by Wagner, Alan Grant and Ian Gibson, and an issue of Preacher by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon. And so it was, on Veteran's Day, that I read one of the most stunning episodes of that series, in which Jesse bumps into an old army buddy of his dad's in an airport bar. The vet, who was called Spaceman to John Custer's Texas, still holds onto his "FUCK COMMUNISM" lighter that the actor John Wayne had delivered to their unit on a goodwill tour to Viet Nam. Jesse still has his dad's lighter as well. It is the only thing he has of his father, who died while he was four, in events recounted in the earlier Angelville storyline. I still stand by my assessment that Preacher is just too unpleasant and too unrestrained for me to like it, and this violent installment of shit-talking soldiers won't change the mind of anybody who has written it off. However, this episode, which closes with a quote from Mark Baker's Nam, is unbelievably effective and moving, and a heartfelt tribute to all the men and women who've given time and blood for freedom.

Interestingly, around the time this issue was in production, 2000 AD's present owners at Rebellion made their first, unsuccessful, bid to buy the comic and all its intellectual properties from Fleetway. The events are recounted in Thrill-Power Overload by David Bishop, who explains that Rebellion's Jason Kingsley was, surprisingly, rebuffed in his efforts to license Strontium Dog for a video game, and so made the offer to purchase everything outright. The negotiations were carried out in secret, but Bishop and Diggle were unwittingly clued in, and encouraged Kingsley to give it another try once his effort was turned down. Perhaps even more surprising than Fleetway's reluctance to license Strontium Dog is that it's been almost ten years, and Kingsley owns the character, and yet we've got no game. Hey! Get a move on, will ya?

As for the actual Dredd content, Colin Wilson's return to action in Mega-City One has been really effective. Wilson had been among the artists in the rotation for both Dredd and Rogue Trooper in the early '80s before finding jobs with various French publishers. His best known work was for the Western series Blueberry, but Wikipedia notes that he also penned several volumes of Dans l'Ombre du Soleil. At any rate, he returned to 2000 AD for a pair of Pulp Sci-Fi one-offs before rejoining the Dredd rotation for about three years at the suggestion of assistant editor Andy Diggle, who also booked him for a few issues of The Losers in 2005. Among other work, in 2006, he illustrated that excellent Battler Britton miniseries by Garth Ennis that I enjoyed greatly.

As far as I'm concerned, any comic which gives you fifteen pages of Wilson art and twenty-odd pages of Dillon art is doing the right thing, but of course the reprints of the Dredd newspaper strip, about which I spoke at greater length in a Reprint This! feature last month, are bringing you wonderful artwork by Ian Gibson. Really, if you're going to have two-thirds of the comic reprint material, this looks like a lineup worth following, doesn't it?

And now, an appeal from your host.

Gang, I still need to track down nine issues of the Megazine - volume three # 69-77. Either the issues themselves or scans of the Dredd / DeMarco / Mean Machine episodes. These are issues I used to have, but lost when my house flooded three years ago. Can you help? I've got a giant stack of double progs, and some graphic novels, that I can swap, or PayPal you some cash... please drop me a line ASAP!

Next time, the Doomsday business continues in Mega-City One, and Devlin Waugh continues the hunt for the Herod. See you in seven days!

(November 13, 2008)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

74. Who Will Save the Day?

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.

June 1999: Greg Staples' absolutely wonderful cover to prog 1149 features the long-overdue return of Devlin Waugh, following the path of his stablemates Missionary Man and Judge Anderson and making his move over from the pages of the Megazine to 2000 AD. It's the prologue episode to a really remarkable series, almost unique in 2000 AD's color era. This lengthy serial, known by the umbrella title "Sirius Rising," is by John Smith and Steve Yeowell. While it will be broken down into three separate stories, it will run without a break for six months.

It's the only time since Wagner and Ezquerra's 31-week run on the Dredd epic "Necropolis" that a writer-artist team has kept a six-month residency in the prog, and nobody since has come within spitting distance of their tenure. Other stories in this issue include the continuing Dredd storyline "The Doomsday Scenario," by John Wagner and Simon Davis and with the action now moved to the Mediterranean Free State, Downlode Tales by Dan Abnett and Calum Alexander Watt, Pulp Sci-Fi by Robbie Morrison and Siku, and, most importantly for future commissions, Nikolai Dante by Robbie Morrison and guest artist John Burns, who will, in time, replace Dante's co-creator Simon Fraser as the strip's regular art droid.

For those of you that have never met Devlin Waugh, he is a paranormal investigator in Judge Dredd's world, working chiefly in the employ of the Vatican. Certainly among Smith's finest creations, one reason he works so well is that while Mega-City One is extremely well-defined, to the point that the city is almost as much of a character as Dredd himself, readers just don't know much about the Europe of the future. Actually, most of what readers know about the rest of the planet is kept to tantalizing glimpses and references, but it's clearly not all radioactive deserts surrounding totalitarian dictatorships. Smith has helped define most of the rest of Dredd's world, a place where most people have the sense to avoid the lunacy of what used to be North America.

Devlin's world is populated by bon vivants and celebrities, with both a thriving middle class and mega-cities where the unemployment figures don't make you cry. It's a world of violent occult phenomena and freaky aliens. Taking a cue from both the strange exploits of Psi-Division in the main Dredd strip and from Grant Morrison's run on Doom Patrol, it's a world of bizarre collectors of paranormal oddities and supercriminals with amazing technology. It's a world, in short, that's too weird for Judge Dredd. But you drop Waugh, a steroid-abusing gay vampire with a Terry-Thomas grin and a Noel Coward way with words, into that world with his sharp suits and fisticuffs, and you've got one of 2000 AD's best series ever. That it doesn't appear for at least thirteen weeks every year is completely criminal. In fact, Devlin has only appeared in five stories since the end of '99, with a new one apparently due sometime in 2009.

The Sirius Rising storyline was collected in the second of DC and Rebellion's two Devlin Waugh collections, Red Tide, in 2005. Unfortunately, this would be the only one of all the Rebellion books that deserves to be skipped by buyers. The best anybody can figure, the films provided to the printer featured about sixteen pages towards the end of the storyline which were some sort of preliminary or interim drafts, and are each missing about half of the word balloons!

This was reported to DC early on, but DC was already in the process of backing out of the deal after flooding the market with too many (three a month!) books with no advertising support, and evidently didn't feel the need to issue a revised, corrected edition. Since taking over production and distribution themselves, Rebellion has not redone this book either. It's a shame, but the line has close to a hundred volumes in it at the time of writing, and this is the only one that I know of that has a production error that egregious. They do a pretty good job overall!

Next time, the Doomsday business continues in Mega-City One. See you in seven days!

(Originally posted Nov. 6 2008 at hipsterdad's LiveJournal)