Thursday, February 19, 2009

88. That Table

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.

August 2000: With prog 1205, the Andy Diggle era of 2000 AD is well under way, and he's got Steve Moore as his secret weapon. Moore's principal contribution at this time is the new character Red Fang, and to be honest, it is among one of the comic's greatest missed opportunities. The pieces are all here for what could have been a 2000 AD classic. Fang is a strategist for a criminal empire in Earth's future, locked in an underworld war with other organizations, the police, and a strange alien race that looks like squids. The artwork is by Steve Yeowell, one of this blog's favorite illustrators. The characters and situations are engaging, but it all somehow fails. Hugely. Looking back on it, I think that the problem was that Moore decided to write a twelve-part serial, dumping far too many characters and a great big situation on readers' heads in one swoop. The result is incredibly convoluted and confusing, and nobody is surprised when the series is quietly retired after it wraps up in prog 1211.

If only the twelve weeks had been spent on four or five shorter stories, organically introducing supporting players and letting Red Fang deal with smaller scenarios, slowly building up to this tale of, ummm, stolen... interstellar... technological weapons stuff, then readers might have understood who the characters were, and why they should care about the major plot.

Red Fang is notable for one thing, however. Yeowell and colorist Chris Blythe conspired to decorate these crimelords' offices with some downright amazing furniture. It was a running joke in fandom for months after the series concluded that nobody wanted to see Red Fang return for a second series, but his table was welcome back anytime.

The other draws in the comic at this time are Judge Dredd (here in a one-off by John Wagner and Siku), Sinister Dexter (Dan Abnett and Nigel Raynor) and Nikolai Dante (Robbie Morrison and John Burns). But perhaps overshadowing all of them is the surprising, welcome return of Tharg's Future Shocks after an absence of several years. Previously, the format for one-offs had been used by umbrella series like Vector 13 and Pulp Sci-Fi. These accomplished many of the same goals as the Shocks - to fill space and mark time between series, to give work to aspiring creators, and to tell a good story with a twist ending - but their format imposed restrictions on the sort of stories that could be told. Certainly, a Future Shock in 2000 can be every bit as hit or miss as it was in 1980, but there's a nostalgic glee in seeing it dusted off. First up is a five-pager by Steve Moore, with art by Frazer Irving, who'd go on to become one of the comic's regular droids for the next several years. In fact, he impresses editorial so much with his debut that he's almost immediately given a Dredd episode to draw; it will run in the very next issue.

At this time, most of the stories in this prog have gone unreprinted. The Dante story was collected in the fourth book, Tsar Wars, Volume One, but none of the others have seen a second outing.

Speaking of Tharg's Future Shocks, in a nice bit of timing, we hit their return in this reread just as I finished Rebellion's new collection of several dozen classic ones. The title stretches the truth ever so slightly: rather than somebody's subjective take on the actual best one-offs from the comic, excepting the ones by Alan Moore which have already been compiled, this is a collection of episodes from four of 2000 AD's best-known writers. So it contains a pile of John Smith Shocks, a majority of Peter Milligan episodes, all but one of Grant Morrison's offerings ("Candy and the Catchman" is omitted), and everything that Neil Gaiman ever wrote for the comic.

Certainly the resulting book is uneven and choppy, but there are some real gems to be found in its pages. Grant Morrison's early attempts at channelling Alan Moore are pretty revealing, and not just from an archaeological standpoint. "The Shop That Sold Everything" is really funny, even if the end isn't so much a twist as it is an inevitability. I've also always enjoyed John Smith's "A Change of Scenery," which was the first appearance of some of his Indigo Prime characters, among many other strips in this book.

Seeing characters like Indigo Prime and Ulysses Sweet here actually makes me think that the book's only real flaw is that it didn't collect the five or six one-off adventures of Joe Black by Kelvin Gosnell from the early eighties. That's just quibbling, of course, those are outside the perview of the book, but one of the many things that did make 2000 AD interesting in the early 80s was the existence of characters who only showed up in one-offs or very short series.

Dr. Dibworthy and Abelard Snazz were compiled in the big Moore book from a couple of years ago, and it's a real shame Tharg doesn't have any characters like that today. Harry Kipling (Deceased) was kind of like that, but he hasn't shown up in two years, for some mad reason. Lately it's seemed that one-offs only ever show up to fill space after a ten-part story runs in a twelve-week slot. Maybe one day soon, Tharg will try two or three months mixing one-offs and two-parters, trying out more new creators and ideas, or maybe giving some of the supporting cast of the major series five pages of their own to shine. It seemed to work all right in the 1980s, didn't it?

Next week, there's a hole in the collection! Whatever happened to prog 1208?!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

just want to let you know that i love your blog, and i hope you keep it up. as an american, it helps to have someone reviewing old thrills for the newbie like me... as it is, i am usually more excited about rebellion's output now than most american publishers (INCLUDING marvel and dc).

thanks! victor