Thursday, January 29, 2009

85. Out of My Mind on Dope and Umpty

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.

May 2000: Meanwhile, over at the Megazine, some very interesting things have happened. Andy Diggle is now the editor of this publication, while also working as assistant editor on the weekly, and he's beginning to put his own, inventive stamp on things. Much of Diggle's perspective on what 2000 AD should be would later be summed up with his expression "a shot glass of rocket fuel," about which, more another time. What it means in practice is keeping one eye trained on what the comic did best in its 1980s heyday, and how they did it as well as they did. There's plenty of room for nostalgia under Diggle's watch, but principally nostalgia for the fast-paced storytelling style that made early 2000 AD so memorable, and not necessarily for old characters. There will be a few old faces and names showing up again over the next couple of years, but the emphasis will be on new series and storylines, and when classic thrills are resurrected, it will, arguably, be done with a little more attention to detail and respect than some of the second-rate comebacks from the early 90s. Although you might want to watch this space; there'll be a riproaring argument about that point regarding a certain big, mean tyrannosaur in due course.

As editor, Diggle brought an end to Preacher's two-year tenure in the Megazine's pages. After reprinting that comic's first 25 issues (up to the finale of the Masada storyline), the Megazine was resized and now matches the dimensions of 2000 AD during the 1980s. This is to accomodate the new reprint feature: the classic Strontium Dog serial "Journey Into Hell." This adventure first appeared in the weekly in progs 104-118 and had never been reprinted, since the films had been lost, and shooting from the printed pages was not considered an option. Finding the films was motivation to give the serial a fresh airing, and a well-timed one, since Johnny Alpha had a new story running in 2000 AD.

Interestingly, "Journey Into Hell" proved to be a unique challenge for Diggle, who was doing double-duty as the Megazine's designer. Each episode is five pages long, with a double-page opening spread, so there's an ad forced into the space between each of the three episodes reprinted in each of five issues. Journey Into Hell has been reprinted in collected editions twice since this appearance, in 2004's Strontium Dog: The Early Cases and 2006's Strontium Dog: Search/Destroy Agency Files 01, proving itself a layout headache for further designers.

The Strontium Dog reprint is teamed up with two new episodes each month. These are a 12-page color episode of Judge Dredd and a 10-page black-and-white episode from one of the Megazine's supporting characters. This format will stay in place for about a year and a half before the Megazine makes a radical upgrade in the summer of 2001. Currently, the second strip is a new case for Armitage, making his first appearance in about five years, in a new four-part story by Dave Stone and Steve Yeowell. The debt owed to Inspector Morse is made very clear in this episode, part of which takes place in Brit-Cit's "Colin Dexter Block." This isn't actually Yeowell's strongest work, and compared to, say, Zenith, it looks like he's being very tightfisted with the black ink, but he still does layouts like nobody's business, and effortlessly proves what a fantastic storyteller he is.

Judge Dredd, meanwhile, is about halfway through a seven-month storyline called "Dead Ringer" which is the spiritual descendant of classic tales like "The Judge Child" and "The Mega-Rackets," with several events and incidents from those stories briefly revisited in a lunatic romp. The story starts with an assassination attempt on a European diplomat, who is critically wounded. The Mega-City judges will do anything to cover their butts, and when they find that one of their citizens is from the same clone stock as the diplomat, they send Dredd to pick him up to engage in a little subterfuge. Unfortunately, the citizen panics, bolts, ends up on a Helltrek out of town, is picked up by stookie glanders, sold to alien slavers and is last seen on a planet full of umpty addicts, with Dredd all the while in patience-ending pursuit. If you recognize the references in the previous sentence, then John Wagner's script is just for you, readers of classic 1980s Dredd who will recognize the strip's iconography and background. In an interesting experiment, each of the seven episodes is drawn by a different artist, including Duncan Fegredo, Simon Coleby and Wayne Reynolds. The second part provided the first Judge Dredd episode for the Scottish artist Jock, who would go on to contribute several more Dredd stories and some iconic cover images over the next couple of years before decamping with Diggle to work for Vertigo in 2003.

Next week, one of those Jock stories I just mentioned. It's mushroom mania in the Shirley Temple of Doom, plus classic Slaine from back when Glenn Fabry was putting more ink on the page than any twelve other artists.

(Originally posted 1/29/09 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

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