Thursday, February 5, 2009

86. Fungus Fever

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 2000: Prog 1196's deliciously ugly cover by Cliff Robinson features the final fate of Brit-Cit Judge Stark. Stark had appeared as a supporting character in two earlier Judge Dredd storylines and was brought in as an undercover agent in the four-part "Judge Dredd and the Shirley Temple of Doom" to bust a protection racket. Unfortunately, he and his partner are contaminated with Grubb's Disease, an incurable fungus which drives you mad and leaves mushrooms growing out of your body. Grubb's was initially depicted, with gleeful, black humor, by Carlos Ezquerra back in the early 80s, as one of a number of fantastic maladies which future citizens could find infection from in any given prog. Compared to jigsaw disease or the one that turns you into a spider, Grubb's is at least over quickly.

On this story, writer John Wagner is paired with newcomer Jock on art chores. He had drawn part two of the epic "Dead Ringer" story for the Megazine just a couple of months previously and was quickly drafted for work on the weekly. Jock takes Dredd's nickname "Old Stoney Face" literally, and draws the lawman as though he was carved from rock. His work is just exceptional, with wild camera angles and amazing perspective shots. Jock relishes the challenge of drawing huge expanses of the future city, with bizarre, giant buildings crammed in as far as you can see. His time as a regular in the Dredd art rotation will only be a couple of years long, but he makes an enormous impact.

Other than Jock, there is another new name in this prog's credits worth mentioning. Almost new, anyway: for 2000 AD, Steve Moore had only contributed a handful of Future Shocks and a Dan Dare story about twenty years previously before assistant editor Andy Diggle had tracked him down. Most of Moore's comic work had been for Marvel UK, where he'd scripted the adventures of Doctor Who for a memorable run, and for the anthology Warrior, where he'd written all kinds of things. He'd created the memorable characters of Axel Pressbutton and Abslom Daak before devoting his attention to his work at Fortean Times.

I don't recall specifically whether Diggle ever said outright that he was hoping he could persuade Moore to write more Pressbutton stories for 2000 AD, or whether that was just fan speculation on the old newsgroup. Alas, we were not so lucky. Moore remained with 2000 AD for about five years, creating some one-off serials and a variety of single episode shorts. Many of these were grouped under a very weird anthology called Tales of Telguuth. This was quite unlike any other 2000 AD anthology in that they were all scripted by Moore with art from a number of other creators, and they were all set on the same planet. Telguuth was a strange, medieval planet where dozens of sorcerors were conspiring with dozens of powerful demons and were invariably hoist on their own petard after five or fifteen pages.

One or two Telguuth installments were pretty amusing, once you could get your eyes and tongue around all the names of people and places that were five consonant-filled syllables long anyway. But the repetitive plots and lack of recurring characters dragged it down, and Moore certainly missed a trick in never allowing readers any reason to think that the stories were actually set on the same planet. We only ever had Tharg's word that was the case.

Apart from Dredd and Telguuth, the prog features more from Sinister Dexter, still fighting things out in Mangapore, by Dan Abnett and Andy Clarke, along with the continuing Slaine epic by Pat Mills and David Bircham. Rounding things out is Strontium Dog by Wagner and Ezquerra. This last one is the only story in the prog to have been reprinted in a bookshelf format, although "...the Shirley Temple of Doom" was collected in the "free graphic novel" reprint comic called Judge Dredd: The Jock Collection that was bagged with the Megazine about six months back.

Speaking of reprints, in other news, I finally tracked down a copy of the third Slaine collection a few months ago. This, The King, was one that Diamond never saw fit to deliver to my local comic shop, along with Mega-City Undercover, which was released the same week. Fortunately, I found a copy at The Great Escape in Nashville in November. This is a really spectacular shop, worth driving a hundred miles out of your way to visit. The book reprints close to forty episodes which originally saw print between 1985 and 1988.

Much as Pat Mills has a story to tell, the star of the book is Glenn Fabry, who illustrated about half the episodes. When these episodes originally ran, it felt like there was one delay after another pushing back new Slaine stories. Fabry drew just a handful of the pages in the "Tomb of Terror" storyline, a 15-part diversion from Mills' ongoing goal of reuniting the warrior with his tribe. The bulk of "Tomb" was illustrated by David Pugh, and was accompanied by a pencil-and-dice role-playing supplement with each new episode. The RPG pages, with artwork by Garry Leach, are included as a bonus feature in the back, making this one of the cutest little extras that Rebellion has presented.

After "Tomb," there was a break of about nine months before Mike Collins and Mark Farmer took on art chores for a seven week, Zodiac-related serial. Then Fabry got the reins for the twelve-part "Slaine the King," which originally ran in two chunks over five months. Ever behind on his deadlines, and probably deep in debt with his local Dick Blick for all the ink he was using, Fabry's amazing work was worth the wait at the time and just looks better on these pages. The definitive Slaine artist is probably McMahon to me, but Fabry's a very close second.

It was originally thought that Fabry would be illustrating the classic "Horned God," to appear in the standard black-and-white with a color centerspread, shortly after the completion of the Judge Dredd epic "Oz" wrapped up in 1988. As 2000 AD changed paper size and increased its color pages, it was eventually decided that Simon Bisley would paint the epic instead. A little more than a year after the conclusion of "Slaine the King," four last black and white Fabry episodes appeared as a teaser strip and a three-part miniseries. These served as a taster prelude for the forthcoming "Horned God."

Around the same time, Mills and Fabry collaborated on a color newspaper strip called Scatha which was truncated by The News on Sunday's imminent failure. You can read more about that and see some sample episodes over at Bear Alley. Fabry also contributed a color pin-up of Slaine's enemy Megrim as a taster for his unproduced color epic which ran on the back cover of prog 524. It might have been frustrating twenty years ago waiting for each new storyline to get going, but it really resulted in some great comics. Even if you don't like the character of Slaine, this book is certainly recommended for Fabry's glorious artwork. Hopefully Diamond will treat your store better than mine and get you a copy quickly!

Next week, the weekly gets a new size and Dig-L becomes the Man from Quaxxan.

(Originally posted 2/5/09 at Hipsterdad's LJ.)

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