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!

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