Thursday, December 31, 2009

123. Get Vaped and Stay Vaped!

I'm basking in the warm, circuit-sparking glow of the four latest progs to make their way to American stores and was enjoying them so much that I quite forgot that I had business here to finish, which is a little short-sighted of me. Usually, when I select a topic for this blog, I tend towards the really big events, such as the return of Slaine, the debut of Caballistics Inc. or the crossover epic story of Judge Dredd vs. Aliens. Perhaps I have a habit of overlooking the equally important supporting stories, and the first quarter of 2003 has had quite a few, so I'd like to touch on a few of those before moving on.

Ian Gibson has cover duties for prog 1334 from April of '03, spotlighting the second series of the remade and remodelled The V.C.s. Dan Abnett is still the writer, but Anthony Williams has taken over art duties from Henry Flint. It's surprisingly, stubbornly unengaging, but Williams makes it all look pretty good. There's a collected edition of the first three series of the 2002-05 run of The V.C.s, and in the supplementary material, Abnett explained how enthusiastic he was about writing the strip. Its subsequent refusal to be really entertaining remains completely baffling.

Abnett did such a great job on so many strips in creating memorable, larger-than-life characters, but the cast of the V.C.s are just the most anonymous bunch of nobodies that 2000 AD's ever seen. There's Smith, from the original series, and the alien, who's called Keege, and... Ryx, who I think is the asshole, and the obligatory babe, whose name might be Lin-Fu, and somebody else, and I think the rival pilot might be called Veto. And I can name every member of the ABC Warriors in the order they joined, so I don't think the problem's me. Especially when these guys have their names painted on the front of their spacesuits.

Abnett had much better luck with the second series of Atavar, drawn by Richard Elson. I was very skeptical about this one, because I felt that the original should have been left as a one-off serial with a spectacular twist ending. It was a universe that simply didn't need revisiting, and this colored my view so much that I'm only now reading Atavar for the first time. And you know what? It's incredibly good stuff!

I started to write up a synopsis of what happens in the second series, only to realize that I got way too detailed, and when you're dealing with weird sci-fi concepts and beasties, such a writeup rapidly starts sounding convoluted and silly. Suffice it to say that Atavar's world is one with a dizzying array of new, utterly inhuman races like the Binoid and their sentient machines. Elson's designs for the aliens and all this technology are very interesting and he looks completely at home with whatever Abnett throws at him to draw. I suggest that readers, like me, have done this story a disservice by overlooking it the way we have. It is an interesting and vivid parallel to the similarly far-out, inhuman universe of Shakara, and there's a lot of love for the Abnett/Elson team on their more recent series Kingdom, so Tharg and his team should definitely look into putting all three Atavar stories out in a nice collected edition.

Then on the other end of the quality scale, there's Bec & Kawl by Si Spurrier and Steve Roberts, which is just coughing up blood on the pages. It's another four-week run for the comedy series. It leads with a dopey one-off whose punch line requires you to notice what is written on Kawl's T-shirt at exactly the right moment, and then there's an invasion-by-cyberspace thing guest starring a gang of mean-spirited geek stereotypes. With its third run, Bec & Kawl would develop into something memorable and charming, but at this point, you're left wondering what dirt Spurrier has on Tharg to get this mess commissioned.

What's nice, though, is that Matt Smith, in his guise as Tharg, has a pretty small number of series to pick from, and everything that I've mentioned has come back to the prog after a very short layoff. In fact, the thunderously good Caballistics Inc. by Gordon Rennie and Dom Reardon starts its second series just a month after the first ended. In this one, the team moves into a new headquarters once used by a Crowley-archetype for demonic rituals, and I can remember the names of all the characters in this cast, too.

Caballistics will take another short break - only three weeks - before starting its third story. By my count, Smith is only juggling about eight or nine recurring series at this point, and deciding what to recommission in the future. Obviously, this number's going to skyrocket as a huge pile of new series begin over the next two years, and I'm sure it didn't make for a happy Command Module at the time, filling in the gaps with whatever's handy. Prog 1334, in fact, contains two space-fillers: a Future Shock and yet another of Steve Moore's interminable Tales of Telguuth. Tharg will finally run out of those turkeys at the end of '03. But what I suspect was a real headache for Smith and the droids was really to the readers' advantage: with such short gaps between ongoing series, everything seems very fresh and fun. It's much easier to enjoy a series when you don't have to wait a year between installments!

And speaking of waiting for a new installment, that is where we'll leave the story for now. I'm choosing to take a little break because I am adding another regularly-scheduled blog to my rotation, but I'd sort of like to keep the same number of weekly deadlines. If you're a regular reader, thanks for following me, and if you just have me bookmarked, I'll drop a note on the 2000 AD message board when I resume in eight or nine weeks. So I will see you again in March, when Pat Mills and Andy Diggle go at it again, as The ABC Warriors and Snow / Tiger go head to head. See you then!

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