Thursday, October 22, 2009

115. Blasts from the Past

August 2002: Prog 1306 sports a cover by David Millgate for the new serial Bison. Charitably, it's not one of Tharg's better offerings. The kickboxing lady on the cover is a pretty radically redesigned version of the hero, who starts the serial as an aging, hugely-muscled detective in a near-future scenario, but thanks to some bodyswapping technology that's all the rage in the story, he's wearing the body of an untouchable crime lord's junkie daughter and she's got his. But at no point does either character look like the tough kickboxing lady that Millgate has drawn. See, when Detective Jack Bison realized that Esposito's daughter had an account on this bodychanging service, he realized he was going to have to go outside the law to take Esposito down, and planned to use his own daughter as the shooter, but didn't figure she was going to set up whomever was going to take over her body. She was strung out on heroin and such and just didn't want to deal with a weekend's withdrawal and detox. So Bison first has to kick the habit and then go kill Esposito, except he also has to deal with the daughter, who's using his body to go on a shooting rampage of her own, and...

Well, it's obviously not just the bodyswap technology that nobody thought quite all the way through; this plot is an amazingly convoluted mess. This is a nine-part story written by Colin Clayton and Chris Dows, and illustrated by Laurence Campbell and Len Townsend. I don't think any of them would disagree when I say that all four creators would do better in the future. Bison was met with howls of derision from the fan base. Looking at it now, it's perhaps a degree or two better than I remembered it, but it's still a pretty stupid comic. Yet the real disappointment is the art. Laurence Campbell would go on to much better things, particularly a 2005 serial called Breathing Space, but what we have here is just lazy, sloppy work that should have gone straight back to the artist for reworking. Check out the way he gets around drawing exit wounds here by just having people erupt in so much blood that it really looks like the men are being shot with guns that magically turn them into candles:

So is this the shock of the new in our weekly look at the future from the Galaxy's Greatest Comic? Well, believe it or not, Bison really is the most forward-looking strip in a very nostalgic run of 2000 AD this particular summer. Over in Judge Dredd, John Wagner and Colin MacNeil - now there's a man who knows how to draw exit wounds - have brought back the one-off character of Vienna Dredd, an improbable niece conceived by Pat Mills and Ian Gibson in a 1979 episode and never referred to again, as a young actress who would like her Uncle Joe to give her some trace of a family connection. Vienna becomes a very welcome addition to Dredd's supporting cast. Actually, to be honest, I'm tweaking events to make a point; Vienna's return is chronicled in progs 1300-1301. 1306 sees the end to the recurring menace of bent cop Judge Manners in a story by Wagner and Paul Marshall.

In the last blog, we looked at how Rogue Trooper, first seen in 1981, had returned. He's joined by Strontium Dog, introduced in 1978, in an eight-parter called "Roadhouse" by Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra. Finally there's the return of The VCs, a 1979-80 serial brought back after a 22-year break by Dan Abnett and Henry Flint.

Now the original run of The VCs (the collected edition of which I reviewed back in April) was not quite the classic that some of us squaxx consider it, but it was a solid enough tale of future war. It was a little jingoistic and repetitive, but I think it had a sense of excitement and danger lacking from many kids' comics, and the art was always fantastic. This new take? Well, there's nothing at all wrong with it, and Flint's artwork is as terrific as always, but the story never completely captivates me. There's nothing at all wrong with it, and it's a darn sight better than plenty of other comics, but it's just not one of my favorites. Anyway, this initial run lasts for just seven weeks and is the only one that Flint illustrates. The VCs will return for four more annual outings of about ten weeks each, with art by Anthony Williams.

Surprisingly, every story in prog 1306 has been reprinted. All of the Judge Manners episodes were collected in one of the free "graphic novels" bagged with an issue of the Megazine this summer. Bison was compiled in a hardcover "European-album-styled" edition by Rebellion in 2004. The VCs, Rogue Trooper and Strontium Dog stories are all available in Rebellion's wonderful line of 2000 AD reprints. We'll come back to that VCs book in a month or so.

Next time, Simon Spurrier gets his second series, The Scrap, Steve Parkhouse caricatures Inspector Morse, and we look at the new hardback edition of The ABC Warriors. See you in seven!

No comments: