Thursday, October 29, 2009

116. Spurrier's Scrap

October 2002: A common tool in every 2000 AD editor's arsenal - nobody cares about this but me - is the use of double-length episodes to either start or finish a serial in order to clear the decks before the next launch issue of all-new stories. In prog 1312, Richard Elson gets cover duties for the double-length final part of The Scrap, a five-week serial written by Si Spurrier. It's quite a departure from the still-new script droid. Spurrier's Future Shocks had been marked by a streak of piss-taking humor in wild, SF scenarios, and the first four-week run of his first ongoing series, Bec & Kawl, had been nothing but gags in search of a scenario, but The Scrap is anything but funny. It's a dark, unaccountably heavy and very derivative "ugly future" story. Dystopia, garbage in the streets, all-business police, an artificial intelligence running things that has a hidden agenda... yes, this is derivative of a great many things, and could safely be skipped if it weren't for a couple of things in its favor. Elson's' art is terrific, and the lead character, a police officer named Maliss, is an entertaining, sympathetic hero. Outside of Marge in Fargo, she's also one of the few comic characters that I can recall who we meet when she's heavily pregnant.

While The Scrap is pretty dark and heavy, the same can't be said for Dan Abnett's Sinister Dexter, which is going through a pretty silly phase during this period. In a four-parter called "Deaky Poobar, We Hardly Knew Ye," drawn by Steve Parkhouse, our heroes return the body of a fellow gunshark to his native England and run afoul of the locals, getting in the middle of a war between the mob and the police, represented here by Inspector "Terse" and DS "Thewlis."

Things get even sillier after this. There's a one-off drawn by Mike Collins in which Finnigan falls for a ridiculous sting operation the cops have come up with, using a TV quiz show to get criminals to fess up to their deeds, and a one-off drawn by Steve Roberts in which our now on-the-lam heroes meet an old-timer who's been hiding out for thirty years. This prompts them to really get way out of town, and the next several episodes will see them going off-planet. It's been shown a time or two that the future world of Sin Dex incorporates aliens and interplanetary travel, but this will be the first time Abnett really depicts it, and it's played completely for laughs as well. Suffice it to say that when the series finally starts taking itself seriously again with the introduction of Kal Cutter in 2003, everybody will appreciate it.

So that's this run of the prog: Heavy stories that take themselves too seriously, and serious stories which are playing things for laughs. And Judge Dredd and Rogue Trooper as well. Happily, better things are right around the corner.

In other news, Rebellion has released the first in a planned four-volume collection of the ongoing ABC Warriors saga "The Volgan War" by Pat Mills and Clint Langley. It's part of the company's periodic hardback line, and it is completely wild and wonderful.

Over time, the story of the Warriors has gotten a little continuity-heavy, but this volume goes out of its way to be friendly to new readers. It follows on from the 2003-06 series "The Shadow Warriors" with the decision to put their small-minded, demented member Mek-Quake into a sanitorium for some long-overdue rest, and this prompts our centuries-old robot heroes to reminisce about their earliest adventures, predating our introductions to them. It turns out there was a lot more to their backstory than we were ever told, and they're each surprised to learn that each of them crossed paths with a mysterious, flamethrowing "special forces" robot called Zippo...

"The Volgan War" really completes the long overdue resurgence of this once-classic title, which spent the 1990s a shadow of its former self. Mills has rarely been weirder or more inventive in throwing completely bizarre concepts at his readers, and while he's writing for a more mature audience than the ten year-olds who gobbled up the original series, with its bazooka-totin' robots on dinosaurs, he's still able to balance an intricate plot with high-wire ideas. So we get armies of multi-armed Hammersteins locked in combat with giant Mecha-Stalins, and taxicabs which can be converted into weapons.

But it's the artwork that drives this one out of the park. I've certainly admired all the great artists who've contributed to the series over the years, from Mike McMahon to Simon Bisley to Henry Flint, but in Clint Langley, the definitive Warriors visuals have at last been found. Langley's computer-created world is unlike anything we've seen in 2000 AD before, fully-realized, three-dimensional depictions of decaying future war battlefields populated by hundreds of rusting mechanical soldiers. In the comic, it looked pretty amazing. On the better paper in this book, the results are eye-popping.

This edition reprints the story that originally appeared in "Prog 2007" and issues 1518-1525 of the weekly, beefing it up with some extra pages - nothing too extravagant, usually just some double-page spreads - along with a long-overdue Warriors' Timeline, explaining things for new readers and clarifying some of the points that have caused some confusion in the past, along with the now-standard introduction and commentary by Mills. It's truly an amazing collection, and on the short list for the year's best book; yes, it's as good as that.

Next time, set sail on the Red Seas! See you in seven!

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