Thursday, March 12, 2009

91. Mutiny!

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.

Hurm, as the guy in that movie might say. I'm writing today with a small degree of consternation, as Diamond, the distributor who services North American comic shops, is apparently having one of its periodic hiccups, and several US readers are reporting that they've not received the prog or the Meg in well over a month. Nor have we received the collected editions of Kingdom or Shakara that should have arrived by now. Is this just a temporary delay, to be sorted any week now, or is this evidence of Diamond shaking down the Galaxy's Greatest as they streamline their operations and cut back? Stay tuned...

Anyway, back in November 2000, we come to prog 1218. It features a memorable cover by John Charles, an artist who did very little work for the 2000 AD titles. This was his last of five covers. It features the chaos-driven robot called Deadlock, best known as one of the ABC Warriors, who's currently starring in an eleven-week series. This bridges the final series of Nemesis the Warlock, which had concluded the previous year, and the next run of the Warriors, which would begin in a few months' time. In this story, Deadlock heads back to the planet Termight, left rudderless by the end of Torquemada's regime. Now, Nemesis and Deadlock have had a very confusing history, but what's going on here is that Deadlock is acting as the warlock's squire, ensuring that the planet descends into chaos per Nem's last wishes. His schemes are delayed, because Purity Brown, Nem's former associate and now the planet's president, has decided that a little caution in letting a universe of bizarre alien critters run rampant is a good idea, and she's slow to roll back all of Torquemada's policies. In a galaxy full of foot-eating aliens, and face-munching bananas, is that really such a bad idea?

At any rate, the script is of course by Pat Mills, and the art by Henry Flint. The two of them worked very well together in that last run of Nemesis, and this story is every bit as entertaining as that had been. It's full of twisted tunnels and wild perspective shots, strange-lookin' monsters and weirdos, alien pregnancies, soldiers wearing armor covered with words, serial-killing accountants and dimensionally-unstable gunmen. If you're looking for a shot glass of rocket fuel, this is definitely one of the best examples from the period. This story is not presently available in a collected edition, but one is planned as a bonus magazine to be bagged with a future edition of the Judge Dredd Megazine.

As wild as Deadlock is, it's not actually the most entertaining of the current crop of thrills. That award goes to the current Judge Dredd storyline, "Sector House," which is continuing an eight-week run. Written by John Wagner and drawn by Carlos Ezquerra, it puts the spotlight on Judge Rico, Dredd's young clone who had been introduced earlier in the year. This is his first spotlight story since serving as Dredd's rookie.

"Sector House" is certainly a spiritual successor to late '90s stories such as "The Pit" and "Beyond the Call of Duty," in which Wagner and Ezquerra focus on a department rather than using Dredd as the lone hero. It finds drama in the tensions and underpinnings of a close-knit group of judges, chronically overworked and with very little downtime, who don't appreciate some punk from the Academy sticking his nose in where he is not welcome. "Sector House" is a terrific story, and a reprint is included in the Dredd collection Brothers of the Blood.

Also in this prog are the continuing stories of Nikolai Dante and Rain Dogs that were mentioned in last week's installment, along with a great eight-part serial by Robbie Morrison and Colin MacNeil called Vanguard. This is a wonderful space opera which rises above its familiar premise - the cruel commander of a space battleship, obsessed with tracking down an enemy ship, overworks and brutalizes his crew to mutiny. He's cautioned about the crew's growing unrest several times along the way by his new second-in-command, Lt. Elizabeth Vanguard, but ignores her until it is too late.

Beth Vanguard is a very engaging character, and while there's nothing incredibly original about her backstory, watching events unfold is great fun, thanks to an intricately-plotted story and Colin MacNeil's wonderful artwork. In the end, the ship's commander goes too far, and after his own men are fired upon indiscriminately as they are fighting off a raiding party, the crew rebels, with Lt. Vanguard joining them. The strip has a cliffhanger ending, and the promising endnote: "End of Book One." Sadly, there was never a second run for the series, which never returned after this entertaining start.

In April of 2002, Andy Diggle responded to an inquiry I'd made on the alt.comics.2000ad newsgroup about Vanguard, wondering why so many of the recent strips had been one-off serials rather than ongoing series. He stated that Vanguard had been commissioned by the previous editor, David Bishop, and "although I didn't hate it, I thought the premise was bit stale, and it wasn't really popular enough to divert Robbie and Colin away from Dante and Dredd respectively in order to produce Book 2." This is certainly a shame, as a second series would have given the story enough pages for a very nice collected edition. It has been rumored that some kind of reprint was made for someplace in Europe - it is mentioned in Bishop's Thrill-Power Overload - but the book apparently ranks among the scarcest of recent merchandise, and does not appear in the listings at the fan site Barney.

Next time, both Zenith and Bad Company return in glorious monochrome for "Prog 2001," and I'll look at last year's Mega-City Undercover collection. See you in seven, fellow Earthlets.

(March 12 2009)

No comments: