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!

1 comment:

charles-rb said...

The twist in the tale for Alzheimer Block, which would otherwise be a slightly dark Agatha Christie-esque thing, is bloody excellent and a real gutpunch.