Thursday, November 5, 2009

117. Yo ho ho!

November 2002: Veteran art droid Cliff Robinson is back on front cover duties for issue 1316, and isn't this a terrific image to sell a funnybook? Dredd standing side-by-side with a werewolf judge doling out the harshness. If this doesn't want to make you want to buy comic books, your blood's stopped pumping. The werewolf is Judge Prager, introduced in a story twentyish years ago bringing law to the lawless in the Undercity. Now, he's been infected, but is still fighting the good fight and, in this four-part story by John Wagner and Carl Critchlow, has made an enemy out of a mutie villain called Mr. Bones, who's operating out of the old White House. Bones gets away in the story's climax, but we will see him again in another story very soon.

Apart from Judge Prager, this run of 2000 AD feels much more up-to-date than the recent run full of old thrills from the early 1980s. Dredd and Sinister Dexter, who are enjoying a lighthearted outer space romp courtesy of Dan Abnett and Simon Davis, are the only older series in this run. They're sharing space with three brand new series. First, and most important of these, is The Red Seas by Ian Edginton and Steve Yeowell.

Edginton is a new droid for Tharg, but he'd actually done a great deal of work in the 1990s for companies like Crossgen. He had written a webcomic called Scarlet Traces, illustrated by D'Israeli, which had been running on a site called CoolBeansWorld, but the site's failure left the strip unfinished.

Captain Jack DANCER in the house! Damn right!

Scarlet Traces found a new home in the Megazine, which evidently got Edginton talking with editor Matt Smith about some new work. The Red Seas was the first of what will be quite a few series and serials over the last decade. With hundreds of popular, well-received episodes to his credit over the past seven years, Edginton has arguably been the most important find of Smith's era, and The Red Seas, with 74 episodes published to date, the longest-running of any of the stories that Smith has commissioned thus far.

Surprisingly, though, I'm often disappointed by The Red Seas, and wouldn't call it one of the comic's greats. Yeowell's artwork is of course lovely, with a double-page spread in the opening episode among of the most thrilling and eye-popping pieces to ever appear in 2000 AD. The series is a pirate adventure starring the devil-may-care Captain Jack Dancer and his crew. There are effectively five of them, plus a small supporting cast and, in the opening story, a fantastic villain called Dr. Orlando Doyle. Yet while the series lurches from one high-concept set piece to another, everything that should be thrilling feels somehow perfunctory. Dancer rarely has to rely on his wits to get out of bizarre scrapes and dangers, but rather luck and magical artifacts that he'd obtained a few episodes previously.

Perhaps worse is that the main cast, after all this time, remains stubbornly anonymous to me, and I had to visit Wikipedia to remember their names. It's fascinating watching Edginton come up with one wild scenario after another, from a kraken battling the Colossus of Rhodes to lizard men prowling the hollow earth, but I'm reminded of how, after just six pages of The ABC Warriors, I remembered the names Joe Pineapples and Happy Shrapnel forever, but I'm still trying to remember Billy, Tom, Jim and Julius. It's still a million times better than most any recent superhero comic, but frustratingly one or two steps away from greatness in my book.

Also in this prog, there's another new story called Asylum written by new droid Rob Williams, with Boo Cook on art duties. Cook really knocks this one right out of the park; it looks amazing. Williams will become a very important addition to the comic's lineup in a couple of years' time, but Asylum's not a particular favorite. There's also a one-off under the new umbrella of Past Imperfect, a series of alternate history one-offs (mostly) which start with the twist of something going wrong with history and try to tell what happens next in just five pages. This week's installment, in which the Japanese navy sics an atomic monster on Pearl Harbor is by Gordon Rennie, Mike Collins and Lee Townsend. Other contributors to the series include David Bishop, Si Spurrier and Adrian Bamforth.

As far as reprints, only The Red Seas and Asylum are available from this issue, in those really nice paperbacks from Rebellion. The Asylum book contains both of the nine-part stories that appeared in 2002 and 2004; the Red Seas collection, "Under the Banner of King Death," contains the series' first 24 episodes. We're overdue for a second collection, now that I think about it.

Next time, the Megazine photoshoot that I liked better'n anybody. See you in seven!

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