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!

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