Thursday, April 29, 2010

132. Character reference

November 2003: In the last installment, I talked about three serials which appeared in the late summer and fall of 2000 AD and its sister comic, Judge Dredd Megazine. Just so we're all on the same page, I think of a serial as a one-off storyline with a definite beginning and end, as opposed to a series, in which a recurring character like Johnny Alpha or a group like the ABC Warriors returns every so often for a new story. It's a bit tricky to schedule these, because it's the characters who get fandom excited and keep our interest - we all want to see our favorites return for another go-around, whereas a one-off serial has to convince us it's worth it every week. In 2003, Tharg's bank of recurring series was really quite low compared to almost any other period, so that left the editors and creators two tasks: develop new characters to hook contemporary audiences, and create some really stunning, memorable serials while the new cast of regulars gets settled in. As we saw in the previous installment, they were mostly very successful indeed. Leviathan, From Grace and XTNCT were all quite popular with readers. There were exceptions - nobody liked Dead Men Walking, a serial written by former editor David Bishop with art by Boo Cook - but overall the work was very solid.

As for new series, Lobster Random, the revived V.C.s, Bec & Kawl, Caballistics Inc and The Red Seas had all been launched to varying degrees of success, with Strontium Dog, Slaine, Sinister Dexter, Nikolai Dante and Durham Red representing the older days of the comic, but 2000 AD is just not in a position to stop there. The Mighty One needs a constant barrage of pitches from the creator droids, particularly at this time, with Dante on hiatus while Robbie Morrison is working for Wildstorm and Durham Red's story finally coming to a conclusion. So that's where Synnamon comes in.

The first image in this entry shows the character as drawn by the great Ian Gibson. It's the latest in a long, very fun tradition of letting other artists tackle the character on the comic's cover. I've always liked this; it lets you see neat things like Strontium Dog drawn by Cliff Robinson or Hannah from Caballistics Inc. painted by Clint Langley. The actual Synnamon strip is drawn by Laurence Campbell and Lee Townsend, and written by Colin Clayton and Chris Dows. This still baffles me. In 2002, these four put together a serial called Bison which ranks as one of the comic's all-time turkeys, and somehow the entire team got the chance to contribute something new? Tharg was being very, very generous and saw some promise there that we never did. Synnamon never fulfills it. It's certainly miles better than Bison, but it's still very weak and unmemorable.

It has to be said that Campbell and Townsend's art has improved tremendously since we last saw it. Either by intention or the result of rushing, the last few shortcut-packed episodes of Bison were laughably poor, but Synnamon mostly crackles with interesting panel layouts and a sleek, minimal futuristic design. It's not completely consistent; in fact, there is a panel on page two of episode eight which is absolutely gobsmacking in its poor anatomy. For the most part, however, this has to rate as an improvement over the earlier effort.

I'm also very impressed by the way the artists choose to approach Synnamon herself. Now gents, and let's be honest here, most of you reading are guys, none of us can claim total immunity to a strip starring a fit redhead in a tight black catsuit. Much to my surprise, however, Synnamon's sex appeal is incredibly underplayed in the strip. The panel here might show an ooh-la-la revealing of her shoulder, but I included it because it's just about the only one in the first six episodes which shows Synnamon actually sitting down long enough so we can see what she looks like. Campbell and Townsend seem to deliberately fight against what could have been an exploitative T&A strip by regularly showing her in long-shot, facial close-up or leaping from one improbably high place to another. Two thoughts strike me: the impression we get of Synnamon being a sexpot T&A strip is due more to her cover appearances drawn by Ian Gibson and Ben Oliver, and most notably a really fantastic piece drawn by Dylan Teague in 2006, than anything that appears in the strip. Also, that if somebody like Greg Land drew it, she wouldn't have been drawn with long shots or improbably high places, and I'd still have a hard time finding a suitable sample image, because I'd be embarrassed.

Besides, Durham Red's running around half-naked again during this run, so the prog's got the T&A business covered.

Oh, one other thing strikes me: Synnamon would be a much more interesting strip if she was some insectoid beast with eight eyes, or, if she must be human, a deskbound grandma. I don't care who draws her and how; if I wanted to look at the Black Widow, I think Marvel still publishes comics with her in them.

You'll notice I didn't mention the story. Well, it isn't awful, what there is of it. She's a secret agent of some kind, she has a sentient computer sort of like Dante's weapons crest, and I think Earth's being invaded by nanobots or something. As we saw in the '90s strip Mambo, the narrative is burdened by an over-convoluted backstory that all gets dumped on the readers very clumsily. Clayton and Dows' most critical mistake, however, was assuming that 2000 AD needed a strip about somebody supremely confident and super-awesome to the point of being flawless. All of 2000 AD's best heroes are flawed, sometimes extremely so. That's what makes them fascinating. Think about it. There's just no reason for a series about a glamorous, sexy, practically perfect super-agent to have been commissioned for this comic in the first place.

Synnamon will return for two further short stories, in 2004 and 2006, before being retired. 2000 AD does need female leads, and in the next installment, the comic gets one of its very best ones ever: Samantha Slade. I'm really looking forward to it. See you in seven!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

131. Three Stories

October 2003: This completely excellent cover by D'Israeli is well-timed to appear here at the blog because it's a potent reminder that Leviathan, a wonderful serial that he drew, scripted by Ian Edginton, is coming back into print in Rebellion's paperback line. A hardback was released in 2006, but it's been out of print for a while. In fact, the new edition is solicited to retailers this very month in the pages of that Previews catalog that they all get. If you've never heard of Leviathan, it's set on the world's largest ocean liner some twenty years after it vanished at sea. It mixes a murder mystery with a tale of society breaking down after two decades in isolation, a population still trying to enforce the class codes of Britain in the 1920s unable to understand where they are and what happened to them. If it sounds intriguing, then you should get on the horn to your local funnybook emporium and tell 'em to order you a copy. (I should probably swing by a comic shop and get the page number, just to make it easier for you, but it's out of my way.)

At this time, 2000 AD and its sister Judge Dredd Megazine were running three particularly interesting serials. None of them were anything like any story the comics had ever seen previously, but each of them seemed to fit so well that you couldn't imagine any other comic presenting them. Leviathan was terrific, a slow-burn change of pace with an aging detective who's spent years quite justifiably raging about a life full of unfair losses. But it wasn't the only wild tale that took an incredible premise and used it for some very effective world-building.

From Grace, a five-part serial by Si Spurrier and Frazer Irving, looked at the deterioration of Kaith, leader of a tribe of winged people who share an uneasy existence with a much larger population that is wingless. The setting of the serial is never really defined; it's a low-technology, hunter-gatherer type of society. From Grace deserves more commentary than I have room for it here; it's a really fascinating look at how we define evil, and what drives people to become villains. Unlike Gregory Maguire's 1995 novel Wicked, however, Kaith is never really seen to be a sympathetic character. The actions of the wingless towards his people are about as noxious as Kaith's to them. It's a spiralling mess where any leader was certain to become a monster.

That's not to dismiss the strength of the narrative, but where it really shines is in the experimental way that it unfolds. Frazer Irving really knocks this one out of the park, using different color schemes for the various times in which the story is set, and Spurrier's narration - there's a lot more of it here than in most stories - drives the memoir by moving back and forth. He also includes a pair of amazing, shocking cliffhangers to end the second and fourth installments. Nobody, nowhere, is still rooting for Kaith at the start of episode five.

On the other hand, everybody, everywhere, roots for Rptr, the star of XTNCT, a six-part serial written by Paul Cornell that was running in the Megazine at this time. Already a big-name fan made good, Cornell would later script three very good episodes of Doctor Who for TV and later still write a celebrated run of Captain Britain for Marvel Comics. It's illustrated, again, by D'Israeli and it concerns six intelligent dinosaur-esque creatures in a bizarre genetically-engineered world who have agreed to exterminate the last two hundred humans. Given the high-concept craziness, no compelling reason is given why they shouldn't.

Cornell and D'Israeli's characters are incredibly compelling, but none more so than Rptr, a small-witted psychopath who runs around at super speed tearing mammals to pieces and screaming at such volume and speed that his vowels are lost to the wind. The story is structured beautifully, with each of the six episodes focusing on one member of the cast. It remains the only comic serial I've ever seen to feature a gay triceratops in a leather vest, as well as the only comic to ever use the immortal phrase, "Kiss my scaly dinosaur arse!"

Sadly, Paul Cornell's footprint in the House of Tharg has been very small. He scripted a few series in the early '90s which weren't bad, but the weight of "worthiness" sort of hung over them, and then he worked on other projects for years before contributing XTNCT. Television soon beckoned, and while he's since returned to comics, they've been for Marvel and DC. He was announced as Superman's newest writer just last week. I'm sure those are all fine books, but I can't help but think his talents would be better served in 2000 AD than with superheroes.

All three of these stories are available as collected editions. As noted above, the new paperback version of Leviathan is in the catalog now. From Grace was reprinted in Storming Heaven: The Frazer Irving Collection and XTNCT made it into a Rebellion hardback volume. Each of them is worth looking into!

Next time, Tharg attempts to add a little spice to the comic as Synnamon debuts. See you in seven!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

130. Heroclix, part two

September 2003: Last week, I was telling you about Heroclix, the internationally-popular beat combo, errrr, that is, well-known collectible miniatures game which, in its sixth set, featured a handful of 2000 AD characters. I was also telling you about how the expansion in question was not as popular with Heroclix's players as WizKids had hoped, and that overconfident retailers had overordered the set. I also left a dangling hint that prog 1356, pictured here, is inexorably linked with Heroclix in my mind. All this tantalizing foreshadowing; you're going to be so disappointed if this turns out to be really mundane, aren't you?

Indyclix, as players called the expansion, represented an incredible missed opportunity for comic shops. Honestly, very few players could swear to be intricately familiar with all the lines represented in the game. Apart from 2000 AD, and its characters from three different series, there were pieces from Top Cow's Witchblade, Cyberforce, The Darkness and Aphrodite IX, the Crossgen series Sojourn, Sigil, The Way of the Rat and The Path, Wildstorm's Danger Girl, Dark Horse's Hellboy, Caliber/Image's Kabuki and Crusade's Shi. I think that's everybody.

Can you guess what all these series have in common that 2000 AD didn't have in 2003? That's right, a comprehensive trade program to keep their stories in print.

I was pretty active on the hcrealms site in 2003, and I was saying that any retailer worth his salt, one who actually wanted to use the interest from the game to prop up sales of his comics, would be nuts not to put together a display of all those titles and to use the captive audience of players who've arrived to compete in a tournament to talk about them. This was around the time that the phrase "team comics" was making a small murmur among the online crowds who wanted to expand the medium, and I was personally very frustrated that a good 2000 AD trade program didn't exist.

At the time, Titan had the license to most of 2000 AD's serials, and while I've normally got nothing but love for the good fellows at Titan, their 2001-03 line of reprints was really disappointing. There were a few exceptions, but most of what they released were either "Hey kids, Garth Ennis!" attempts to sell that writer's subpar Judge Dredd stories, or repackagings of the earlier 1980s Titan books. Some of the hardback collections of things like Nemesis the Warlock and "The Judge Child Quest" admittedly looked fantastic, and set the stage for their subsequent hardback lines of Dan Dare and Charley's War, but overall the line felt flimsy and halfhearted, and it was a long, long way from "comprehensive." Rebellion also had a small line of its own self-contained books, typically European-styled hardcover collections of shorter stories. They were interesting in their own right - Jamie Boardman smacking himself in the head with a Hewligan's Haircut book at a convention to demonstrate its indestructibility instantly became the stuff of legend - but didn't spotlight 2000 AD's long-running characters and ongoing serials.

So I had a neat idea. It would cost me a little bit, but I would order a small stack of 2000 ADs for the players at one store. On Monday evenings, I played with a group of people at a store in Marietta which was really not terrible, but still not quite as wonderful as a comic store should be. This place had a pretty good crowd of regulars, and so I decided, back in June, to preorder eight copies of a forthcoming prog to serve as participation prizes for the first Indy-themed game. It was impossible to tell with preorders from Diamond, but it looked like issues 1356-57 might have been scheduled to ship either the week of or the week after Indy's release, so I picked 1356 and paid for eight copies, hoping that whatever was in that prog would blow at least one person's mind enough to want to follow up.

Oh, 1356, what a disappointment you were. If you were any reader's first prog, they wouldn't knock down anybody's door to find a second.

The first problem was that horrible cover. I like Charlie Adlard a lot, and his interior work in this issue wasn't at all bad, but what to make of that cover, with a jowly Dredd on his back, uniform opened - he doesn't wear a shirt under that motorcycle leather? - and helpless?

Inside, new readers might have enjoyed two terrific ongoing stories, Leviathan by Ian Edginton and D'Israeli, about which more next week, and the hilarious Strontium Dog yarn "The Tax Dodge" by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, but both stories were several weeks into their run, and a little unfriendly to new readers. The Judge Dredd episode was the last part of the very underwhelming "The Satanist" by Wagner and Adlard, and it's a complete mess, easily one of Wagner's weakest multi-part stories. Dredd spends about the entire episode helplessly chained to a rock, about to be sacrificed in the Brit-Cit countryside to some demon, only to literally be saved by a bolt from the blue, as though God - or Grud - put a stop to the Devil-Rides-Out wannabe.

Sinister Dexter started a new storyline by Dan Abnett and Simon Davis in this prog, and that might have worked for new readers. Everybody likes to jump on with a first episode, right? Unfortunately, this particular first episode was not an action-packed gunfight with our heroes, but instead a lighthearted, jokey, subplot-heavy installment as everyone prepared for two of the supporting characters to get married. That left a Past Imperfect one-shot by Nigel Long, writing as "Kek-W," and Leigh Gallagher, in a very early professional job for him. The one-shot is not bad, per se, but it's about as unfriendly to American readers as can be possible. It's about Dick Barton, who maybe one in a million of us have ever heard of. That's certainly no fault of anybody's (this is a British comic), but for somebody trying to convince a room of American gamers to try this comic, it sure did add up to a colossal disappointment.

But even if it had worked with one of the eight, and people did want to see what happened next in the ongoing stories, there was still a flaw in my plan. The shop in question didn't order 2000 AD for any but its subscribers - the manager told me that he had two - so anyone hoping to see prog 1357 would not, because of Diamond not holding any overstock for reorders, be able to buy a copy easily.

At least my intentions were good, but what I really needed was the opportunity to point people to some pretty zarjaz collected editions. It would be about nine months before I got the chance, and that's a story for another day.

Speaking of collected editions, in more recent news, over at my Bookshelf blog, I reviewed last year's Anderson: Psi Division phonebook collection earlier this week. Go have a read, link to it and tell your friends!

Next week, three serials knock the readership on their backsides. Come back to hear about Leviathan, From Grace and XTNCT. See you in seven!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

129. Heroclix, part one

September 2003: Oh, boy, do I ever remember this prog. Unfairly, it serves as a completely terrific example of the comic's long-standing problem with cashing in on publicity. I say "unfairly" for a reason I'll come back to next week, and why this specific issue was a mess for that purpose. This week, I'm going to look back at Heroclix, and 2000 AD's all-too-brief moment in the sun with the game.

Heroclix is a tabletop miniatures combat game created by WizKids, at one time a subsidiary of Topps and now owned by NECA. Basically it's chess with dice and a thousand pieces, sold in "expansions" every quarter or so. It has a community of fun-loving fans who get together for company-sponsored tournaments with special limited edition pieces offered as prizes. I was introduced to the game by my buddy Randy, who correctly sussed that I'd enjoy it, and gave me a DC starter set for Christmas 2002. We had a great time playing, and I was looking forward to the inclusion of some Legion of Super-Heroes pieces, and some 2000 AD characters, the license for which had been announced a couple of months previously.

In March of '03, I became a single dad and Heroclix seemed like a perfectly sensible distraction to follow, what with boozing up not being a very good idea for a fellow with two younguns to raise by himself. Several of the area comic shops were carrying the game and sponsoring tournaments, so I enjoyed making new friends and acquaintances and having occasional breaks from my crazy kids. At that time, there were two Marvel sets out, and one DC. The third Marvel set, X-Plosion, was released just as I moved to my current digs in Marietta, with the second DC set, Cosmic Justice, coming in the summer. The stage was set for the release of Indyclix in the early fall.

Indy was the sixth Heroclix set. To give you some idea how madly and wildly this game has spun out of control in the six and a half years since, there have been a stunning thirty-six sets released after Indy. Now, some of those were small collectors' sets of four or seven characters, but that's still an astonishing number of things to keep up with, especially when the company decided that it didn't have enough rules and started adding idiotic cards of various types to the mix, which is why I finally abandoned it, gasping for air and space, in early 2008.

Indy was the first set to institute some overdue rule changes to the game. Players who started with the first Marvel set, Infinity Challenge, found an exceptionally "cheesy" loophole to the rules, using the tactic of having an 18-point Wasp carry around a very expensive Firelord for an obnoxious first-strike strategy. Indy leveled the field somewhat, first by ruling that flying characters could not carry other flying characters, and that characters could not act immediately after landing. That's one reason that many people, used to those tactics and who'd been playing the game for the last eighteen months, didn't like the new set.

That the set wasn't made up of superheroes also caused some grief. Indy was a mix of characters from seven properties: 2000 AD (Judge Dredd, Strontium Dog and Nemesis), CrossGen (characters like Arwyn, Boon and Samandahl Rey), Crusade (Shi), Danger Girl, Dark Horse (Hellboy and the BPRD), Kabuki and Top Cow (Aphrodite IX, Witchblade, etc). This was a solution that didn't satisfy anybody. If you were a Witchblade fan, you might get that piece and possibly a supporting character in a box, but also plenty you didn't care about.

It seemed that, across the board, retailers ordered Indy in the same quantities as the previous Marvel and DC sets, despite the obvious fact that none of these comic books, no matter what their popularity was, sold what the X-Men did. Retailers were stuck with extra Indy boosters for years, especially after players turned on the set and stopped buying boosters like they would for the Marvel and DC sets.

Fans didn't like the set for a whole pile of extra reasons: it was the first obvious example in Heroclix of "power creep," a problem that impacts any collectible game like this, with a host of characters that did a bafflingly high base 3 damage. There were only two fliers. There were an unusual number of female characters with the blades-claws-fangs power. Really, whoever decided to put Witchblade, Shi, at least four Kabuki girls and Sister Magdalena in the same expansion and give 'em all identical power sets was out to lunch. The sculptors and the dial designers seemed to be in different worlds; one of the Kabuki characters was seen holding two submachine guns, but she couldn't make ranged attacks and had the same boring BCF power as the others on her team.

Judge Dredd, the same guy who took out Batman with a single blow, in a comic co-published with DC and had their seal of approval, was grossly underpowered and probably couldn't win a game against two Paramedics and a Skrull. Stix had neither Toughness nor Super Strength. The 2000 AD team ability, which gave those pieces a higher attack against a specific target, was overcosted so badly that it made most pieces useless in mixed games against the superheroes. One of maybe two exceptions to that was Johnny Alpha, who did have the handy Telekinesis power, even if the character somehow didn't have either Energy Explosion ("Number four cartridge!") or Willpower. And so on, and so on.

But what drove everybody mad locally was this: there were twenty-four pieces you couldn't get in the US, all of 'em 2000 AD pieces. To understand how this happened, I need to explain how the figures were distributed. They were sold in booster packs of four for $6.99. These days, I think you get five for $13 or something equally criminal. Anyway, in a booster, you'd get:

two of 36 "common" pieces numbered 1-36
one of 24 "uncommon" pieces numbered 37-60
and either:
one of 24 "rare" pieces numbered 61-94, or:
one of 12 "Unique" pieces numbered 95-106.

Uniques replaced rares in one of six boosters and were more valuable on the secondary market.

In the North American boosters, there were two 2000 AD common characters (Johnny Alpha and Judge Hershey), one rare (Dredd) and two Uniques (Judge Death and Judge Anderson). But in the rest of the world, players had a totally different set of 24 uncommons, each of which was a 2000 AD character (Judges Fear, Fire and Mortis, a Brit-Cit Judge, Wulf Sternhammer, Stix, Nemesis and Torquemada). So in Britain, an Indy booster (visibly different from ours with its grey background instead of red) was guaranteed to have at least one 2000 AD piece. (I suppose I should clarify that each character appeared on three pieces, representing "rookie," "experienced" and "veteran" versions, with slightly different power sets; that's how eight characters become 24 pieces.)

There were a few other 2000 AD pieces for fans to try and collect; Hershey and Alpha also appeared on fourth dial versions, as Limited Edition tournament prizes, and there were Promotional pieces issued for Alpha and Dredd, but it was those 24 pieces ("UK only," they were called, erroneously) that most players with collecting interest wanted, particularly Nemesis, with his very powerful dial. Nem was certainly the most useful of the 2000 AD pieces, but few American players ever saw him.

The whole business of different boosters for different territories left a bad taste in many players' mouths. It also gave rise to some absurd urban legends. One tale, debunked instantly but lingering for years, was that Rebellion had ordered the split. (It was, of course, WizKids' idea, hoping to attract British gamers by assuring one home-grown character in every box.) Then again, Heroclix and stupid urban legends went hand-in-hand. The story going around at the time insisted, with no proof whatsoever, that Todd MacFarlane would not license Spawn for the game without WizKids agreeing to provide chains and a cloth cape for every piece.

I don't know whether it's fair to label Indy a flop - it did win Game of the Year at the 2003 Origins con - but it certainly underperformed, and really aggravated retailers, especially once they'd placed their orders and afterward learned from some players that they'd be sitting out this release and catching up with all the rarities from the previous superhero expansions that they'd missed. Now, this may be just as much of an urban legend as the stories in the previous paragraph, but apparently WizKids moved up the release of the fourth Marvel set, Critical Mass, from January 2004 to November '03 to assuage retailer anger that they wouldn't have the Christmas season sales that they were expecting. What's certain is that Critical Mass was released early, and the quality of the sculpts and the paint was notably lower than any previous release. Frankly, they looked like a completely horrible rush job, but, in the proud Heroclix tradition, we just complained and bought 'em anyway.

At the time, I couldn't have cared less. There used to be a game store in Doraville called Batty's Best, and I periodically stopped in on my way back from Athens to dig through their Clix singles. One Saturday, a full week and a half before they were supposed to be released, the store sprung a surprise on customers and broke open a case of Indy. I grabbed a starter and two boosters and was thrilled to pull, among others, a Unique Judge Death. That certainly bode well. A buddy of mine named Steve Thrasher probably only bought ten boosters and got a Unique in at least eight. I played well in the marquees and scored both of the rarest prizes, and I got to talk about thrillpower to a crowd otherwise concerned with how to make a comic-accurate version of Ultimate Universe Iceman, with four arrows and an Incap attack of 15 or something.

But how to turn this into sales for 2000 AD? Well, that's where prog 1356 comes in, and I'll tell you all about that next week!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

128. Meg in America

June 2003: One of the strangest little bits of 2000 AD lore came around this time, when some distributor made a halfhearted and half-baked effort to sell the Judge Dredd Megazine on newsstands. It was never broadcast or announced on any blog and if anybody ever found out about it, it was totally by accident, but I remember the incident clearly, and the lovely way my eyes popped out of their head.

So that summer of '03 was the first after my first wife and I split up, and the kids and I moved into our stately manor in Marietta. One day that summer, I got word that the Georgia Music Hall of Fame had a small display at Discover Mills, the Atlanta-area site of the Mills chain of mega-malls. It was on the other side of town, but a lot closer than the actual Georgia Music Hall of Fame in Macon, so the kids and I drove out there on a Sunday.

Talk about small! This display was just teeny - four little kiosks! And there was a sign for this on the interstate? I felt fairly ripped off, but it's not like it cost anything other than gas. So while we were out that way, we decided to walk the mall and see what there was to see. It turned out one of the anchors was a big Books-a-Million. If you've never been to one of these, it's sort of like a downmarket Borders with three or four extra shelves of Bibles. And there, knock my socks off, was the latest issue of the Judge Dredd Megazine, a comic which I had never seen on a newsstand in America. But the really impressive thing was the price: $4.99.

For years, the Megazine wasn't available in the US at all. Diamond finally started soliciting it to comic shops in early 1997, and they did their customary half-assed job, routinely skipping it and losing issues. I had actually dropped it for a while myself, because I didn't like paying six bucks for a comic that had a few pages of Dredd and many more pages of Frank Miller and of Preacher, but resumed reading in 2000. A glance over my collection suggests that I only (only!) had to replace about three of the next eighteen issues, but when the Meg went to its modern, 100-page format, the distributor finally got their act together.

They just charged $10.99 a copy.

Now, for a hundred pages, that's actually a pretty reasonable deal. American superhero books are about twenty pages long and cost $2.99 at the time, so the price-per-page was pretty good, especially considering the high quality of the strips in the Meg. Under Alan Barnes' aegis, the Meg's quality skyrocketed, with a super lineup of strips. In this issue, you've got Judge Dredd, featuring the return of the recurring serial killers Homer and Oola Bint, by John Wagner and Graham Manley, Middenface McNulty by Alan Grant and John Ridgway, Devlin Waugh by John Smith and Colin MacNeil, Family by Rob Williams and Simon Fraser, Black Siddha by Pat Mills and Simon Davis and the one-page comedy strip Apocalypse Soon by Alan Grant and Shaun Thomas. Plus you've got reprinted Slaine by Mills and David Pugh and the classic Darkie's Mob, from the pages of Battle Picture Weekly, by Wagner and the late Mike Western. It's certainly not a package I object to spending eleven bucks on. Especially, he said with a mercenary glee, since it really only cost me eight with my store discount. But suddenly here the damn thing was on the magazine rack, next to Shonen Jump and the American books, for five!

Sadly, it didn't last very long. I started hunting down the Megazine at every place that looked like it might have a newsstand, taking a copy to the register and thanking the manager for carrying it. I'd usually say "I picked this up earlier, and I just wanted to say I'm so glad that you carry it." I did that ten or eleven times.

But I never canceled my existing order for it, figuring, rightly, that the experiment would not last and, indeed, by the end of 2003, the Megazine was gone again, with no indication it was ever there. I sometimes wonder whether anybody found their way to thrillpower through it. I went to the real Georgia Music Hall of Fame the following summer. Everybody should.

In recent news, I reviewed the 14th in the series of Dredd Case Files over at my Bookshelf blog. Did you catch it? Link to it? Tell your friends and neighbors?

But it's funny that we should be talking about a previous attempt to break into North America right now, as the news about the Simon & Schuster-distributed 2000 AD collections continues to swirl. Here's the news from Publisher's Weekly as appeared there Monday, and on the website yesterday. The first two books are solicited in the current issue of Previews. Spread the word!!

Next time, 2000 AD in plastic! Get ready for this blog's first two-part entry, as 2000 AD invades the tabletop miniature game called Heroclix!