Thursday, April 30, 2009

98. Twisting the Knife

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.

A downside to part-time blogging is that my occasional plans for what I'd like to talk about will sometimes smack into real-world time crunching. I had intended to write a couple of paragraphs last week about Mike Carey's short-lived series Carver Hale, but time got away from me. So I'm writing about it today, when the series isn't actually in the issue pictured on the left. Carey, who is best known as the writer of the long-running DC/Vertigo series Lucifer, only worked for 2000 AD for a short while before signing an exclusive deal with the DC people. Carver Hale was one of two series that he created, and yet another in the long list of stories I've mentioned over the last couple of years of blogging that shoulda-coulda-woulda come back as a semi-regular series. (Readers might have gotten the impression that if I was editing 2000 AD with limitless resources, then the comic would be about as thick as Shonen Jump every week. I wouldn't say that was inaccurate.) Hale was a Sarf London gunman for some criminal in the import/export business, if you take my meaning, who is gunned down by rivals. It's only after he's brought back to life that he learns that the players in this complicated game have all been making deals with various demons and squabbling beasts from other realms. Hale winds up sharing his body with one of their number, who offers to keep him alive to get vengeance on the bulletproof thugs who took him out.

Carver Hale only appeared in a single eight-part story, "Twisting the Knife," which appeared over a 14-week run. The artist Mike Perkins ran into some difficulties completing the strip, and after episode five in prog 1240, it took a six-week break before the final three parts ran. I was under the impression that the series could have returned, had Carey not found other commitments. Andy Diggle's time as editor was marked more by finding new talent, and creating more one-off serials, than developing new regular characters. "Twisting the Knife" was one of the few new storylines from the 2000-02 period which looked like it might have warranted a return visit. What we got wasn't bad, and it was later collected in a thin hardcover album for the European market, but it's truly a shame we didn't see the character again.

Well, that's what didn't appear in May 2001's prog 1242, because it was taking that six-week break I mentioned. The actual contents of the prog included a one-off Judge Dredd episode by Robbie Morrison and Colin Wilson, part two of a six-part adventure called Satanus Unchained! by Gordon Rennie and Colin MacNeil, about which more in the next installment of this blog, a Future Shock by Nigel "Kek-W" Long and Jim McCarthy, part three of a short Tale from Telguuth by Steve Moore and Carl Critchlow, and, most thrillingly, The ABC Warriors, written by Pat Mills and featuring the return of both artist Mike McMahon and the character of Steelhorn.

McMahon's wild work, which my son still does not enjoy at all, is welcome by me any time, and it's fun to see him take on some characters that he designed more than twenty years previously. I've spent ages looking over McMahon's three fantastic episodes, marvelling at how he's constructed them. Steelhorn's return, however, is a little more problematic. The character only appeared in a single episode as a near-indestructible, jewel-encrusted robot who was melted down into a burbling, liquid being called "The Mess." Since even Pat Mills couldn't do much with a character that limited, the Mess was left behind on Mars at the end of the original ABC Warriors adventure and never used again.

The current, fifteen-part "Return to Mars" arc suggests that the planet has a consciousness (called "Medusa") which has become sick and tired of all these human colonists on it, and has begun waging war against these unwelcome Earthmen. In order to give itself a voice, the Martian consciousness resurrects Steelhorn, restores him to his original form, and, possessing the robotic shell, pits him against the Warriors. It's a terrific high-concept idea, but Mills never really gives it the space it needs. Steelhorn only appears in this, the third of five stories within this arc, and the conclusion in a few weeks' time, before Medusa/Steelhorn agrees to a lasting peace with Earth and the character rejoins the team for future adventures.

Two installments ago, I explained how "Return to Mars" was handicapped by the behind-the-scenes disagreements between Mills and Diggle, but there's a secondary problem with it: it's far too short. Over the next few months of installments, I'll talk about a few other cases where Diggle's "rocket fuel" approach will result in unsatisfying short-run serials that feel like they've been chopped down from much longer epics. "Return to Mars" is the first time this happens. While it's evident that Mills was not interested in his assignment, and very unhappy with what he perceived as editorial interference, and was probably pleased just to get the dratted thing over and done with as quickly as possible, this ABC Warriors story was crying out for at least another nine or twelve episodes to explore the conflict and develop Steelhorn as a villain before concluding.

Moving on to current releases for your bookshelf, readers of this blog are certainly aware of Rebellion's wonderful series of Judge Dredd Complete Case Files, which are reprinting every episode that appeared in the weekly. With the twelfth collection, released in February, the publishers have chosen to follow the strip's lead and reprint the color episodes, which began in 1988, as they originally appeared. This does mean that the books have to be a little smaller than previously - what had been 400-page collections are now 320-page volumes on better paper - but given the choice of seeing Will Simpson's beautiful painted art or Chris Weston's earliest professional pages reproduced as muddy grayscale, Rebellion has certainly made the right choice.

Writers John Wagner and Alan Grant elected to end their successful partnership following the epic "Oz," which was reprinted in the eleventh Case File. This collection contains a final handful of their co-written stories, but from there it is mostly Wagner flying solo. Grant contributes some fine one-offs, including one that sets up a later Anderson: Psi Division storyline, along with the expected pop culture parodies. Wagner has the bulk of the action, including some wonderful, moving stories which focus on the citizens caught up in the Mega-City madness. The installments concerning the mutating Eleanor Groth, painted by Simpson, and some John Ridgway-illustrated episodes set in a nursing home where a resident suspects the staff of euthanasia, are truly fantastic. Here, again, is a book that belongs on every comic-lovers' bookshelf.

Next time, it's more Cursed Earth craziness from Gordon Rennie when Satanus the tyrannosaur returns. See you in seven!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

97. Nikolai Dante and the Strange Case of the Extra Word Balloons

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'm afraid it's an abbreviated entry this week, but I did want to share a little about the run of Nikolai Dante that appeared in April 2001. Here's the cover of prog 1238 by Simon Fraser, who was mostly unavailable at the time to work on the series. (This is, in part, because he was living in Tanzania at the time. Fraser is profiled this week at Graphic NYC, which you should check out.) Management had already juggled the second and third storylines in the planned five-volume "Tsar Wars" storyline to accomodate his schedule, but it was evident that he would not be free to draw the fourth when it was desired. So the plans were revised, and what were the fourth and fifth books were revised into a single, 13-part storyline, painted by John Burns, which would be coming later in the year. Bridging the third book and the one forthcoming is this short run of six episodes, illustrated by the wonderful Steve Yeowell and Chris Blythe, comprising two stories.

In a break from the heavy and melodramatic storyline of "Tsar Wars," these two stories are much lighter. "The Beguiling," inspired by the 1971 Don Siegel film The Beguiled, sees a wounded Dante recovering behind the lines at the family estate of the jealous, feuding Arbatov sisters. "Fiends" shows that present-day Romania has become a haven for vampires in the far future. These lighter tales are certainly a refreshing break from the larger war story, which is about to get unbearably messy, and feature a return of the devil-may-care Dante, silly quips and rejoinders in the face of trouble, like in the strip's earlier days.

Except Robbie Morrison apparently didn't write all those quips and rejoinders.

I think the best way to describe what happened with "The Beguiling" as an unfortunate misunderstanding. Reading David Bishop's Thrill-Power Overload, you'll find a reference to Morrison taking objection to some additional dialogue added by then-assistant editor Matt Smith. I compared the original progs to the reprint in the collected edition and noted that five word balloons were left out of the book. This was not, apparently, a problem of incomplete films being used for the graphic novel, as would happen with the 2005 release of Devlin Waugh: Red Tide (a story, coincidentally, also drawn by Yeowell), but a deliberate decision to omit the dialogue added by Smith. There's also a minor art change: the coloring of the Arbatovs' uniforms is a noticeably different shade of blue.

"Fiends" is perhaps not as wonderful as "Beguiling," but it introduces the spinoff character that never was, vampire hunter Emmanuelle Chekhov. She didn't seem to really make any impact on the fan base, but in a book as short on lead female characters as 2000 AD can be, an Emmanuelle series might have been an interesting idea, and one which might have avoided many of the cliches and stereotypes of the genre.

In other news from the period, it was announced that April that Titan Books had the license to print collected editions of 2000 AD properties again. For most of the previous decade, Hamlyn had been releasing graphic novels, typically in batches of six, twice a year. Eventually, their interest seemed to fade and fewer books were released. Before Hamlyn moved on, they did issue an extra-sized collection of the 1994 Dredd serial "Wilderlands" and its several prequel stories which remains awesomely impressive. The "Win Judge Dredd graphic novels" blurb on the cover shown above is for a competition to win their final two compilations, reprinting the 1999 "Doomsday" epic across two books.

Titan was, of course, the original home for 2000 AD collected editions. The line started in the summer of 1981 with that first, wonderful collection of Wagner and Bolland Judge Dredd stories, and eventually grew to encompass many more stories and lines from several comics, always with those distinctive black spines with the white text. I was never sure why, but Titan seemed to lose interest in all of their properties by the late eighties, not just the 2000 AD stuff. Charley's War and Jeff Hawke were phased out after only a pair of slim volumes apiece. James Bond and Modesty Blaise made it to four before they were all shelved in 1991 or so.

Regular readers of my Bookshelf and Reprint This! blogs know that most of these have since roared back to life. Frank Bellamy's Garth hasn't made it to a new edition, but otherwise, those old 48- or 64-page slimline albums have been replaced by a great range of large, beautifully-designed books. They're actually on target to finish the James Bond newspaper strip later this year with the seventeenth and final volume. But 2001 was effectively ground zero for the modern Titan, and Judge Dredd and company were integral to the company's plans. It would only last a few years before Rebellion took it over to do it in collaboration with DC, and while Titan would hit a pretty rough pothole early on, for several months, the company did issue attractive, oversized collections of classic 2000 AD storylines. The first two, released in July, were Alan Moore's Ballad of Halo Jones and the Dredd serial "Emerald Isle." These would later be complemented with some very nice hardback editions.

Next time, It's hell on earth in Mike Carey's short-lived Carver Hale. Plus a look at the latest of the Judge Dredd Complete Case Files. See you in seven, fellow Earthlets!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

96. War in the Command Module

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.

March 2001: For those of you who enjoyed the cover of 1988's prog 555, here it is again, sort of, on prog 1234. John Higgins, who had not really done much work for the House of Tharg in the last couple of years, has revisited his earlier design for this launch issue which features the long-overdue return of this classic logo. Higgins had principally been working for American publishers in the late '90s before contributing the Judge Dredd one-off "Generation Killer" to prog 1212. Over the next few years, he will illustrate several very good Dredd adventures for the Megazine, and is presently the artist for the current series Greysuit. He was the subject of a feature-length interview which appeared in March's Meg # 281. Inside the issue, we've got the start of a new Judge Dredd storyline by John Wagner and Cam Kennedy, along with a Sinister Dexter one-off by Dan Abnett and Steve Roberts, Nikolai Dante by Robbie Morrison and Steve Yeowell, about which more next week, and, in the ultimate example of "here comes trouble," the double-length opening episode of the long-awaited new series of The ABC Warriors by Pat Mills and Henry Flint.

It certainly looks like the intent with this storyline is to evoke the original run of the series from back in 1979. It's a 15-part black-and-white epic divided into five three-part adventures with a different artist on each block. Mills' most frequent collaborator of the period, the awesome Henry Flint, handles the first and fifth stories, and the ones between them are drawn by Boo Cook, Mike McMahon and Liam Sharpe. The story sees the Warriors stomping around the planet Mars again, apparently, thanks to the vagaries of all the time travelling they'd done earlier in their history, not very long after the original adventure. It's never really made clear whether Deadlock, last seen four months previously fighting Purity Brown in the sequel to Nemesis the Warlock in the far, far future, had that adventure prior to the three generally-linked Warriors storylines that have appeared in this decade, but since Mills operates by more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-yer-pants approach than the continuity-ticking of mainstream American books, it never really matters much.

What does matter is that this series is a well-intended, and occasionally beautifully drawn, disaster. Flint's episodes look great enough to paper over what a mess the story is, and McMahon's are wild and weird enough to distract from the confusing tale, about the resurrection of Steelhorn, he's been asked to draw, but it doesn't always work. Sharpe, who had illustrated so many excellent Dredd episodes in the years before this, tries experimenting with an unflattering style and some downright sloppy inking, and while Cook has emerged as one of the most important artistic discoveries of Andy Diggle's time as editor, he flatly was not yet ready for the big time when he penned his oddly-paced, hard-to-follow pages.

But the real problem is that "Return to Mars" (later issued by Rebellion in book form under the title "The Third Element") simply wouldn't have been anything other than one of the weaker Warriors' tales and a huge disappointment no matter who was on art duties, because the story is an abject failure. Both the writer and the editor have gone on the record about what went wrong. The two versions of David Bishop's Thrill-Power Overload are quite explicit in the ugly details. Incidentally, one reason of many not to rely solely on the wonderful bookshelf edition is that a very lengthy quote from Mills on the subject appears only in the earlier magazine serialization of the articles*.

In a nutshell, and putting it very, very lightly, Mills was not very happy with the assignment to put together what we might term an "old school" take on his characters, and Diggle wasn't very happy with the resulting scripts. Diggle also wasn't very happy to be in a position of performing rewrites on the scripts, and Mills wasn't very happy about pretty much anything that Diggle did after he uncapped the red pen. Actually, the whole sorry business is like the memorable ending of that John Ridgway-illustrated Dredd story "The Raggedy Man," which is told in storybook style and concludes by saying "They all lived happily after," except for the villain, who was killed, and except all the innocents he was terrorizing, who'd all end up dead of some Cursed Earth ailment within a week, and except for Dredd, who's seldom happy about anything.

The war of words was mostly kept from fandom's view at the time, but it certainly seems to have left very bad blood between these two for quite some time, and Diggle was sadly not quite finished inadvertantly offending Mills. More would be forthcoming, and we'll pick that up in a short while when a big, mean tyrannosaur makes his return to the comic.

In other news, in January, Rebellion released the long-awaited collection of the 1995-96 Dredd epic "The Pit." This 30-part epic, written by Wagner and illustrated by Carlos Ezquerra, Colin MacNeil, Lee Sullivan and Alex Ronald, was the subject of a Thrillpowered Thursday entry back in 2007, where I explained it as a "change in the status quo that sees Dredd assigned to new duties in one of the Meg's remote regions, where rather than doing the job of a senior street judge, he's assigned to the task of sector chief. It turns out that the Dredd formula works incredibly well as an ensemble police procedural, which was a huge surprise to everybody, including the writer."

"The Pit" is remembered, not because of an outrageous, high-concept plot like many of the big epics of the series, but because Judge Dredd lends itself astonishingly well to overlapping subplots and unique, individual judges with their own perspectives on the proceedings. It's an important story which introduced two of the more interesting recurring characters of Dredd's modern cast, Judges DeMarco and Guthrie, as well as providing further details about the criminal Frendz organization which would be an ongoing menace for the next few years. The entire cast is made up of interesting, sympathetic characters, and as events wind their way from a search for a rogue undercover "Wally Squad" judge to an all-out war with a powerful mob kingpin's forces, through a sector house full of flawed cops trying to do their jobs, it's easy to get completely caught up in events. It's a terrific story, with fabulous contributions from some great artists.

Long overdue for this new edition, "The Pit" has been unavailable for quite some time, since Hamlyn's old version went out of print, and Titan, the next company to issue collected editions, never put their own together. This is one that Rebellion should definitely keep around, and promote to new readers as a fine introduction to Judge Dredd. Whether you're new to the character or an old fan, "The Pit" is certainly a story that every bookshelf should have.

Next time, Nikolai Dante goes after babes and bloodsuckers and his writer goes after some extraneous dialogue balloons, and Mike Carey's criminally short Tharg-world career gets going. See you in seven!

*edit: I'm totally mistaken; the quote just appears a little later on in the narrative than I was expecting to find it.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

95. Molly Eyre Makes the Scene

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.

In March 2001, we're coming to the end of this year's first batch of series launches. On the cover of prog 1231, Kevin Walker offers a not-entirely satisfying cover (does his head look malformed to you, too?) for the third book of John Wagner and Arthur Ranson's Button Man. I've sort of put off writing about this, hoping for a little more inspiration, and I'm afraid I can't really find the enthusiasm to do it justice. It's another terrific story, and shouldn't be discounted. In the previous storyline, our hero Harry Exton had extorted his freedom from the senator who had been sponsoring his activity in the Killing Game, but a few years later, the senator has passed away and the remaining operatives controlling the game have decided to take out the loose end that is Harry. They're at least a little bit aware that Harry is among the most dangerous killers on the planet, but even he can't evade thirteen trained assassins closing in on him, can he? Especially when, as he zig-zags from Montana to Chicago and back, he doesn't realize he's being tracked?

About two-thirds of the way through the story, Harry figures out how he is being tracked. Now, this story will be available in a nice collected edition this coming June, and telling you how he realizes what's happening, and how he disposes of the tracer, will spoil a really wonderful scene. Take my word for it, though: anybody who claims they read that scene without wincing is pulling your leg. It's made worse by Ranson deciding to show the sequence by cramming about twenty panels onto the page, so there's an awful lot which you can't look away from.

Now usually, if there's a Future Shock one-off in any given prog, it's rarely going to be the most interesting thing in the issue. There are exceptions, sure, and lately there have been a pair of pleasant surprises for readers. Over the last year or so, Matt Brooker, under the pen name D'Israeli, had contributed coloring to a few stories. Back in January, when I turned the spotlight on the first series of Pussyfoot 5, I mentioned "...the coloring, by the usually reliable D'Israeli, does not flatter Raynor's work at all. Events in every location seem balanced by exactly the same lighting, a harsh wash of reds and yellows, like the characters are all at a '70s disco." About a week after I wrote that, the collected edition of Pussyfoot 5's eleven episodes was released as the freebie bagged with Judge Dredd Megazine # 282, and D'Israeli also had some unflattering thoughts about his coloring. As he detailed on his blog, he was pretty unhappy with the work and the results himself, and it led to editor Andy Diggle letting him know that he wouldn't be sending any more coloring jobs his way, but offering him the chance to pitch some Future Shocks instead.

The first of these came in 2000's prog 1207, and two more one-offs followed in 2001, with the scripts credited to "Molly Eyre" (say it aloud), a psuedonym that fooled at least one American reader into thinking that it was nice to see female talent at the Command Module again for the first time in ages. The first one was okay, but the two that appear in progs 1229 and 1231 are just wonderfully fun. D'Israeli gave himself the opportunity to draw a menagerie of silly aliens and situations in a pair of very fast-paced farces. The first one takes place in a single room with a cast that keeps growing, and the second spans decades and galaxies in a high-concept story about a man's future self giving him the keys to universal domination. These are incredibly fun comics! Sadly, these Future Shocks have not yet been collected anywhere, so you'll need to track down these progs to see them.

Next time, it's all-out war, in more ways than one, as the ABC Warriors return. Plus a look at the new collected edition of the Judge Dredd epic "The Pit." See you in seven, fellow Earthlets!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

94. The Empire of Sleep

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.

January 2001: Prog 1226 features this terrific Frazer Irving cover of Charles Fort and Arthur Conan Doyle beating the daylights out a horde of twisted zombies controlled by cultists who worship some tentacled deity on the other side of life, and who have decided Harry Houdini's explorations into the realm of unconsciousness have brought him too close to the terrible truth of their dark and evil plans. So they send H.P. Lovecraft to earn the others' trust and lead them all into a trap which will result in the end of life on earth. Yeah, you read that right. Necronauts, a nine-part serial illustrated by Irving and written by Gordon Rennie, is a shotgun blast of wild, high concept coolness. Fort carries a cricket bat to smack around the baddies, and Doyle carries around a medical kit full of lethal brews.

Necronauts is Irving's first series after only a couple of one-offs in the past few months. He's made a huge impact on the readership and the fandom, where he's been participating for some time. Irving once joked that he'd stalked and killed a certain "Gaze into the fist of Dredd"-illustrating art droid in order to prove his loyalty to 2000 AD. The joke is duly hung around his neck, worn well into the ground, and by the time of the first Dreddcon in December, people are threatening to wear "Irving Killed Bolland" T-shirts.

Fandom has become very entertaining at this time, with a number of creators, including Rennie, Irving, John Smith and Simon Fraser, as well as present and previous editors Andy Diggle and David Bishop, regularly contributing to the alt.comics.2000ad newsgroup. Of course, by this time, spam is beginning to overwhelm all the newsgroups, and some professionals will conclude in time that there are certain segments of "fandom" that make this kind of casual interaction untenable.

Diggle in particular will have an ongoing dispute with a Ukranian reader living in Germany who seems to read Judge Dredd just to complain about the series' moral philosophy, and what she sees as John Wagner's skewed "view of good and evil," particularly in light of the recent eight-part "Sector House" story which centered on Judge Rico. Diggle is not many weeks away from a huge disagreement with one of his chief contributors, compared to which his newsgroup debates with this reader are probably not that important, but it's worth noting, as the argument of "everybody else vs. this one reader in Germany" raged for months, it was within a susequent thread of her complaints that Diggle would eventually announce his resigning the post of editor.

Apart from Necronauts, there's some really good stuff in the prog. Robbie Morrison and Simon Fraser have teamed up on a Judge Dredd one-off that celebrates the work of Bill Watterson's Calvin & Hobbes, and Dan Abnett and Simon Davis are wrapping up a four-part Sinister Dexter adventure called "The Man in the Ion Mask." In a spin-off from the earlier Mercy Heights, John Tomlinson and Kevin Walker are wrapping up the first four-part story of Tor Cyan, the genetically-engineered, blue-skinned, mohawked fellow who's a bit like Rogue Trooper. This is notable for showing off, for the first time, the style Walker has been using for the last several years, with lots of heavy colors, solid lines and minimal fussiness in the inking. Compared to his detail-heavy work on The Balls Brothers and his earlier, painted work on ABC Warriors, this latest style is quite surprising, although that shouldn't be taken to mean it looks anything other than fantastic.

Also this issue, John Wagner and Arthur Ranson bring us the third book of Button Man. More on this fantastic story in next week's installment.

Necronauts was released by Rebellion as a collected edition in one of their earlier formats in 1993. I've said before that everybody should sell their home for a copy, and I stand by that assessment. This third book of Button Man is due for a collected edition in June. Entitled "Killer Killer," there's a listing on Amazon, although it was not solicited by Diamond in their April catalog. The Sinister Dexter story should find a new home in the forthcoming collection "Magic Bullets," due in the autumn. The Dredd and Tor Cyan stories have not been collected.

Sinister Dexter Bullet Count: Ramone took his fourth bullet in the previous prog's third episode of "The Man in the Ion Mask." It was a hit to the right shoulder. Finnigan still has a commanding lead with ten confirmed hits.

In other news, while Rebellion tends to focus on releasing collections from more recent properties or big name characters, every so often they do head back to the comic's early days and surprise everybody with a great book full of thrillpower from the past. Such is the case with this new edition of The VCs. This is the original run of 32 episodes from 1979-1980. Most of the installments are written by Gerry Finley-Day, with a couple of fill-ins by Steve MacManus. The art is principally by Cam Kennedy, who contributed the cover, and Garry Leach. Mike McMahon drew the first episode and John Richardson the last five, but everything between them is by Kennedy or Leach. Probably nobody finds that as interesting as I do.

Anyway, The VCs is a pretty standard war story, just dressed up with aliens and spaceships in it. There's the green rookie, disliked by his new crew, and ugly enemies you can neither understand nor sympathize with, and trapped-behind-enemy-lines stories, and callous officers who probably interact with our heroes more than any other company in the military. That's not to say it's at all bad, but I reread this while continuing a once-a-week reread of Battle Picture Weekly produced during the same 1979-80 period and darned if this series couldn't have been flawlessly slotted into that comic. If you enjoy this style of comic storytelling, then The VCs will certainly please you, even if it's only rarely eye-opening.

Actually, I should probably qualify that: if you're coming to this from an American background, there's a lot more to this than simply "another war comic." I grew up reading DC's Sgt. Rock and The Haunted Tank, and later Marvel's G.I. Joe, with their casts of unkillable regular characters. Compared to these, British war comics are a complete revelation, with surprising fatalities among the cast. Any new reader coming to this collection will probably be pretty surprised by this story as it progresses.

There were 32 episodes of The VCs, but this is a pretty slim book, since the episodes were an unusually short 3-4 pages a week. It runs a little light on extras, since there were so few from the period. The strip was spotlighted on 2000 AD's cover only once, and there was a single star scan of the lead cast a few weeks after it finished, and those are included, but there are no other contributions from the period from any of the creators. In lieu of blank pages filling up too much of the back, the first episode of Finley-Day's better-known future war series, Rogue Trooper is included, but honestly, I'm hard pressed to imagine anybody buying this collection who hasn't already read the first Rogue episode plenty of times already. That's not to say that I don't think potential readers are out there, and I hope you'll give it a read, just that I'm not really sure this was the best use of the pages in the back when a new interview would have been very nice.

Next time, Button Man makes everybody in the audience wince, and D'Israeli shocks the future. See you in seven!