Thursday, June 11, 2009

102. Pests!

Welcome back to a slightly revived and very happily married Thrillpowered Thursday! Unfortunately, during my short break from the blog, I suffered from some computer unpleasantness and am currently working without a copy of a decent version of Photoshop, so for now, there's just going to be the single image with each entry, borrowed from the Barney fan site, which hosts the old thrill data-base and cover images. And we'll only be back for a short time: just four entries and then there will be a lengthy break while my co-reading children take one vacation and my new wife and I take one in another direction. But that's later on. For now, let's pick up about where we left off.

In August 2001, we come to prog 1257 and the welcome return of Ian Gibson to cover art duties. After their last appearance more than a year previously (covered here back in January), the pint-sized pest control droids of Banzai Battalion are back in action in a new six-part story drawn by Gibson from a script by John Wagner. The resulting story is a very silly, over-the-top homage to old war comics, with the blustery, true-blue Captain Bug Stomper leading his troops on an expedition through Mega-City One that leads them to a wonderful new garden in which to fight insects. The garden, introduced more than fifteen years previously in a Sci-Fi Special as the home of citizen Martha Fitzenheimer, becomes the battleground for rival teams of robots. Wagner never quite sends the story into a messy, ridiculous spiral like he'd done in such gems as Al's Baby and Robo-Hunter, but it's still a pretty fun and goofy six week story.

You can't really use "fun" or "goofy" to describe the final storyline in Nikolai Dante's ongoing "Tsar Wars" epic, by Robbie Morrison and John Burns. After so many months of high-stakes drama and bloody war, the Romanovs looked like they were about to win and wipe out the Makarov tsar, but he's got a pretty amazing ace up his sleeve, and suddenly there's a strange, armored form on the battlefield. In one of the most stunning cliffhangers in a series known for pretty stunning cliffhangers, four of the crest-bearing Romanov siblings confront the armored man, who shrugs off their superpowered attacks and brutally kills Nastasia in front of them.

If you're on the Romanov side, then the 13-part epic goes downhill fast from there. The armored guardian, who calls himself the Lord Protector and who reveals his identity a few weeks later, sends the rest of the siblings packing just as Makarov reinforcements arrive. It's a complete rout, and the series ends with not just Nastasia, but brothers Andreas and Viktor and father Dmitri all dead, along with half of the Rudinshtein Irregulars, the Romanovs completely destroyed, and Nikolai Dante on the run again, only now in an imperial Russia dozens of times more deadly than it was when the series began, since Tsar Vladimir Makarov has a phenomenal price on Dante' head.

There are many reasons to love Nikolai Dante, as it's one of the very best ongoing comics of the last several years. One of those reasons: the creators have been completely fearless about upending the status quo and killing off the supporting cast. This was a tremendous shock to readers at the time, and co-creator Simon Fraser played along, memorably posting "MY BABIES!!!" when asked how he felt about the bloodletting among the wonderful Romanov family.

There has been much more Dante in the years since "The Romanov Empire." If you're following along in the collected editions, and you certainly should, this actually only takes us to the end of the fifth volume. The eighth was released earlier in the year, and will be reviewed next week, and the ninth is due in September. The Banzai Battalion six-parter was collected in a Rebellion hardback, along with seven other episodes which featured the characters.

Next week, Durham Red finishes up "The Vermin Stars." See you in seven!

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