Thursday, March 18, 2010

126. The Cranky Crustacean

May 2003: The disagreeable old cuss on the cover of prog 1342 is named Lobster Random. He's drawn on this introductory issue by Boo Cook, but the character was actually created by Simon Spurrier and Carl Critchlow, who illustrates the story. This nine-part adventure (published as eight episodes with a double-length finale) marks the point where Spurrier ticks over from "promising newcomer with potential" to "one of the best droids in Tharg's lineup." Lobster Random is a genuine pleasure, a wild romp through a bizarre and fully realized universe of scumbag aliens, freaky technology and over-the-top plotting. Frankly, it's a masterpiece.

The first episode is just a perfect little introduction. It starts with our hero, an ornery jerkwad with great big lobster claws on his back, on death row awaiting the switch. We get the backstory needed to ground us in this world by way of a really neat flashback: Lobster Random's life flashes before his eyes as the switch is pulled. We learn that he's one of a small group of similar genetically-engineered sociopaths who, in order to fight in a war against some cosmic baddies who terrified young soldiers to death through nightmares, have been enhanced so that they neither sleep nor feel pain. The claws are barely explained at all, only to mention that scientists in this world are completely bugnuts.

So after the war, Lob found work in the criminal underworld, going from planet to planet as a torturer for hire. He's on death row for a reason, you know. I find this so interesting. There's a segment of 2000 AD fandom which has never liked Dan Abnett's Sinister Dexter because the protagonists are hitmen. Lobster Random seems to get a pass despite the ostensible hero being, and let's be honest here, an awful lot worse. Is it the wacky, alien-filled future setting that makes it okay for us to cheer on this "arsegike" in his lunatic adventure? Or maybe it's because the adventure is so amazingly well plotted, hopscotching wildly from one crazy complication to the next, like some of the finest moments in 2000 AD's past? As a character, Lobster Random reminds me of some obvious influences like Axel Pressbutton and Spider Jerusalem, but the way the storyline careens from one set piece to the next with high-concept complications ready to overwhelm the exasperated lead is vintage John Wagner, reminiscent of classic Ace Trucking Company and Robo-Hunter. Oh, that reminds me, in episode two, Lob, rescued from prison by a gang in need of his unique talents, is reunited with his old girlfriend:

Lob's alternative lifestyle is still not readily accepted in this far-flung future, but it leads to an amazingly funny payoff in part three when somebody calls the happy couple "mek-fags" and Lob puts his head through a wall. It also leads to an ugly and dramatic moment towards the end of the story, when Spurrier shows that he can do a lot more than light comedy.

I don't know what the heck Tharg did to Spurrier to make him so damn awesome, but 2003 was definitely his year. Just nine weeks after this issue, Bec & Kawl will return for its third month-long run, and everybody who had previously groaned over the labored Family Guy-isms of that series will suddenly do a double-take because the darn strip finally breaks through the stupid barrier and tells the first of several eye-poppingly funny stories. And just around the corner, we've got Jack Point and Harry Kipling and... ooooh, so much to look forward to.

Only one Lobster Random collection has been released. No Pain, No Gain, a 48-page hardback album in the European style, was issued in 2005 and reprints this story. There are four more Lob adventures after this one, so the character's quite overdue for a bookshelf treatment in Rebellion's regular line, but it looks like the schedule's pretty well packed until 2011. Come to think of it, we haven't seen Lob in the weekly since October of 2008, so he's certainly overdue for a new story. This is something Tharg really needs to get busy with!

In contemporary news, in case you're not listening to the Everything Comes Back to 2000 AD podcast or reading my Reprint This! blog, Rebellion's Keith Richardson made an appearance to talk about their line of books and the forthcoming, separate American line. You should definitely go read the details and get your wallet ready, because it'll be in business for a good while!

Next time, what the heck is the Megazine doing on American newsstands?! Be here in seven and we'll try to find out!

1 comment:

Drhoz said...

I'm still waiting for Harry Kipling to continue. Altho I suppose I'm better off than the Dan Dare fans....