Thursday, June 18, 2009

103. End of a Short Era

Prog 1261, published in September '01, sees the end of two of the current major storylines. Both the Dredd epic "Helter Skelter" and the second Durham Red serial, "The Vermin Stars," reach their final episodes. They're both completely overshadowed by the eye-popping events in Nikolai Dante, discussed last time, but the Durham Red story, with a spotlight cover by Ben Willsher, is memorable for the interesting way it seems to turn its back completely on the character. When Durham was resurrected by Dan Abnett and Mark Harrison a couple of years previously, it looked like she was set to be a regularly-featured character. Yet after that initial serial, there was a one-off episode, and then this lengthy layoff before this storyline, which ends with her supposed death and a poetic narrative epilogue which seals her fate, that even if she had survived the explosive events thousands of years in Earth's future, she was never heard from again. That was certainly a surprise to readers.

For many readers, Andy Diggle's resignation as editor came as a very big surprise, too. Particularly the way he announced it.

In earlier installments of this blog, I had mentioned that Diggle was a regular poster on the newsgroup alt.comics.2000ad. There, he and several of the other freelancers held court and the vibe was pretty relaxed and laid-back. But there was an ongoing frustration: regular complaints from a well-read, albeit unhappy, reader in Eastern Europe. Now it's pretty clear that Diggle's displeasure in the editor's seat had a lot more to do with going rounds with contributors, and the new owners desiring to relocate from London to Oxford, than a disgruntled fan. But it was to her that Diggle made the following announcement:

"If the editor can't re-write without causing a diplomatic incident, is shackled with a restrictive budget, and the editorial department is spread so thin that there is no time for re-writing anyway, what is he to do?

Employ the best people available. Or quit and become a writer.

So that's what I'm going to do. I have resigned as editor of 2000 AD, and from Christmas will be devoting my time to writing comics full-time - starting with "Judge Dredd Versus Aliens", which John Wagner has asked me to co-write with him. I guess he has a higher regard for my editorial skills than you do.

Since 2000 AD requires that its editors commission far in advance, there were several Diggle-ordered scripts in the pipeline which would appear throughout the year 2002, including two major new stories which would debut in December's year-end prog, and the next Strontium Dog story, which will begin in prog 1300 and, unusually, would run alongside a series called Bison which Diggle had rejected.

But that's down the line. The reaction that September was one of considerable shock and surprise that the much-liked editor was leaving after such a short tenure. Professionals and fans alike offered lots of praise for his time in the job. True, there were some misfires and disappointments, and he never found time to launch a major ongoing series, but he discovered several major new talents, and modern 2000 AD would certainly be poorer without the contributions of Boo Cook, D'Israeli, Frazer Irving, Si Spurious and others who got early work in 2000 AD's pages during his two-year run. His assistant editor, Matt Smith, would take over starting with Prog 2002, but that's getting ahead of things.

Speaking of getting ahead of things, the eighth Nikolai Dante collection was released a few months ago. This compiles all of the episodes that originally appeared in 2000 AD # 1518-1580 - 31 in total, all written by Robbie Morrison, with art by Simon Fraser and John Burns.

Maybe the old reviewing circuits are needing a little juice, because I can't come up with much better of a reason for anyone to own this other than "it's freaking Nikolai Dante, people, come on!" By this stage of the series, Dante is working as Tsar Vladimir's principal envoy and blunt instrument. We catch up with several cast members from previous installments, seeing what terrorism Dante's half-sister Lulu has been committing in the name of the Romanovs, crossing paths with his old criminal sparring partner the Countessa de Winter, and making a swath of new enemies while quietly working out some scheme of his own to get back at the tsar.

This set of episodes from what I term the fourth phase of the Dante epic (it is entering its fifth and probably final stage in current installments) is completely terrific. I think there are a few episodes where John Burns' painting is not as detailed as would be preferred, but his work on "The Tsar's Daughter," which looks into the strange death of Jena Makarov's mother many years previously, is truly remarkable. Simon Fraser is as fantastic as ever. He's teamed with colorist Gary Caldwell and the "Thieves' World" story, in particular, is vibrant and exciting. With the expected excellent reproduction from Rebellion, nice binding, gorgeous paper and matte cover, it's a far better-looking collection than practically anybody else in the industry. One of the best comics of the last decade in a package this gorgeous? Surely everybody is reading this, right?

Next week, ah, well, it looks to be something of a hiccup. Just to show we don't always spend every blog gushing about how brilliant 2000 AD is, Judge Anderson misfires, Steve Moore offers some Filler and, despite what I said above, the first Rebellion collected edition which I really think should be left on the shelf. You won't want to miss this... or maybe you do. See you in seven!

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