Thursday, September 17, 2009

112. Death's Sweet Embrace

June 2002: On the cover of prog 1294, we've got the great Henry Flint illustrating the climactic scene from a six-part Judge Death adventure which concludes this week. The story, by John Wagner and Frazer Irving, features longtime hero Cassandra Anderson trying to rush back from an assignment on the international moon station of Luna-One when she gets a psychic flash that Judge Death has somehow broken free again and has been murdering children in the Big Meg's orphanages.

It's a pretty grisly premise, and comes across amazingly well thanks to Irving's moody, black-and-white penwork. Everyone involved had decided beforehand that Judge Death had really been spoiled by the lighthearted, black comedy appearances of the 1990s, especially those Batman / Judge Dredd crossovers, and so they've decided to play this story straight and emphasize Death's genuinely evil side in a story full of atmospheric horror.

It has a remarkable conclusion in this issue: Death puts Anderson in a coma and gets away. The whole thing was a trap to put his arch-enemy in the hospital, brain-dead while he starts a new life in the Cursed Earth. He even has a new host body waiting for him, and he's last seen in a memorably terrifying conclusion, wandering around the desert that used to be Middle America in a long coat and hat, bringing his brand of final judgement to the pathetic souls eking out subsistence-level life in the small villages and communities in that lawless world. Wagner and Irving would reunite for a memorable sequel to this story in a couple of years, but if it had ended here, nobody would have begrudged Wagner for calling this the conclusion. "My Name is Death" and the follow-up, "The Wilderness Years," were released in a collected edition by Rebellion in 2007.

Also in this issue, Wagner and Kevin Walker continue the Judge Dredd epic "Sin City" that was mentioned last time, and there's a Sinister Dexter one-off by Dan Abnett and David Bircham. Simon Spurrier and Shaun Bryan contribute an excellent Future Shock with a really memorable twist ending, but the big, crashing highlight of this comic, even better than the two Wagner stories, is 13 by Mike Carey and Andy Clarke.

13 is a twist-filled adventure about Joe Bulmer, a layabout and small-time crook with minor psychic abilities. After he snatches some girl's purse, he finds a small white bead which amplifies his powers to incredible, destructive levels.

Bulmer was already on the radar of an institute which purports to study paranormal events, but they take a new interest in him when his use of the bead starts causing death and mayhem. But their motives aren't all they seem, and Joe finds himself in the odd position of being the unlikely hero of the piece.

I can't mention this series without telling you about one of the coolest moments in the comic's history. When Joe was first at the research center, he briefly met a girl called Daksha. Back home, he's attacked by a strange alien "skin" which he kills by strangling it to death. Almost immediately, the police start pounding on his door, find the dead thing and haul Joe off in handcuffs.

As they're putting Joe in the back of the car, Daksha arrives, screaming some odd story about how Joe promised he'd go straight this time and how she'll wait for him, a ruse to get the police to let her past for a farewell kiss. But Joe's confusion is compounded when Daksha instead quietly tells him: "They aren't real policemen. And they're going to kill you." I love that so much!

Sadly, 13 would prove to be Mike Carey's last serial for 2000 AD, as he signed an exclusive deal with DC Comics. This had him scripting the celebrated Lucifer for Vertigo, a book I've been telling myself for years I need to read, along with a three-and-a-half year run on Hellblazer. This year, he began a new Vertigo series, The Unwritten. Clarke would draw a few more 2000 AD stories, including some Sinister Dexter adventures and the 2004 serial Snow/Tiger before also moving to DC. At the time of writing, he's currently doing a superhero series called R.E.B.E.L.S.. 13, under the amusing title Th1rt3en, was one of the last of the graphic novels to appear in the short-lived DC/Rebellion line. It's still available from DC, and absolutely worth getting a copy.

Next time, back to the Megazine, with a very neat anthology series for Durham Red, the debut of The Bendatti Vendetta and the mysterious murder of Otto Sump. See you in seven!

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