Thursday, May 27, 2010

136. Judge Dredd's in a Family Way

March 2004: Judge Dredd's supporting cast grows with another newly introduced clone in prog 1380. Inside is episode three of "Brothers of the Blood" by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, in which we meet Dolman, a rookie who, like Rico before him, is a clone of Old Stony Face. However, Dolman is very much his own man, and, as the story continues, he looks forward to leaving the academy and making his own way. Rico is assigned to spend a day with him on the streets to try to shake some sense into him. He introduces him to Vienna, last seen in progs 1350-1356, who is recovering from her ordeal in Brit-Cit, and who welcomes him to the "family."

Dredd's reaction to meeting another clone is one of stoic resignation. He's known for some time that he's had a few clones working their way up the system, and that he is getting older and can't keep working the streets forever. It's in the city's best interest, after all to take advantage of such good genetic stock. But Dolman proves to be far too loose a cannon for Justice Department and makes good on his threat. Vienna sees him off at the spaceport, and the young man leaves the city. He makes a couple more appearances over the next few years, reinforcing Old Stony Face's awkward acceptance of his "family."

Returning to action in prog 1380 are Sinister Dexter and Rogue Trooper, about which more next time. These step in to replace The V.C.s and The Red Seas, which concluded its second story, "Twilight of the Idols," in prog 1379. This was the one that I found extremely frustrating, and really colors my opinion of the series as a whole. It should have been an incredibly memorable adventure, filled with harpies and djinns, Sinbad's granddaughter and the immortal Aladdin, and an awesome fight between a kraken and the Colossus of Rhodes.

Unfortunately, it's one draft away from being one of 2000 AD's greatest moments, because Captain Jack Dancer and his still incredibly anonymous crew just luck their way out of danger every week. Ian Edginton and Steve Yeowell did a really good job on the story, and it's better than darn near any American superhero book, but if the hero is just handed precisely the magical items he needs to overcome whatever weird new obstacle comes his way, it's awfully hard to root for him. We prefer heroes who have to use their brains, not gadgets specially designed for each incident. Over time, Edginton and Yeowell got past this problem, and I think the series has evolved into one of 2000 AD's most wonderful series. The Red Seas will be returning to 2000 AD for its eleventh story in a couple of weeks, and everybody's really looking forward to it.

The two stories featured here have been reprinted in Rebellion trade paperbacks. Judge Dredd: Brothers of the Blood collects several stories from 1999-2004 which deal with Rico and Vienna, wrapping up with this adventure. The Red Seas: Under the Banner of King Death collects the first three adventures of this series.

Next time, the blog is about to take its summer holiday, but before we go, one last look at Durham Red and a gloriously awesome Rogue Trooper cover by Chris Weston. See you soon!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

135. Whenever I see the word "Valkyrie," I hear Steve Winwood singing "Valerie."

February 2004: I guess that this week's entry really is proof that I'm not the same gleefully malevolent critic that I was in the early '90s, writing for the university newspaper. Once upon a time, the prospect of writing an epic, pages-long takedown of a series as misbegotten and brainless as Valkyries would have been something to look forward to, but now it's just depressing and tedious. Life is too short to waste even reading garbage like this, let alone writing about the experience. The cover art pictured here is by Frazer Irving and it is, by leagues, the best thing about the series, about which the most interesting thing I can impart is that it is the worst 2000 AD series of the past ten years, and the only one about which I can't find a single redeeming thing to say. There have been other great big steaming disappointments in the prog over the last ten years - Bison, Detonator X and the second series of The Ten-Seconders come to mind - but only Valkyries stands up as a complete waste of paper, time and talent. It really does rank down there with the worst of the early '90s misfires. Think Wire Heads bad.

Okay, so it's the last series created for the comic by Steve Moore, and it's illustrated by American artist John Lucas. It reminds me of the old story of how Michael Fleisher was once headhunted by 2000 AD on the strength of his 1970s work on The Spectre and Jonah Hex, thinking him a good fit. I suspect that Lucas, who once did a really good frame story for a special issue of Starman, one of my favorite American comics of the '90s, might have been sought out on the strength of his work on the last three issues of Codename: Knockout, a Vertigo clone of the popular Danger Girl series. He's a really good artist, and based on what Tharg saw in Codename: Knockout, he seemed like a good choice for a series about sexy space babes romping around to save the universe from some humongous new threat. Lucas can draw sexy ladies...

...unfortunately, for this series, he chose to draw incredibly ugly ones.

I don't know what the hell happened here, but basically, in a series that was crying out for Frank Cho or J. Scott Campbell to draw it, we got somebody who wanted to draw characters with all the lumpy sex appeal of cardboard boxes, and half the curves. Not that Cho or Campbell could polish this script very much, as it's basically regurgitated plot beats from the failed Rose O'Rion series and the first run of Synnamon (which had only finished about ten weeks previously!), with comedy anal probes and sex-crazed berserker men thrown in for good measure, but at least they'd have made it easy on the eyes.

That is far more than anybody needs to say about Valkyries. I feel sorry for David Page when he gets to it in his prog slog.

Oh, yeah! David's doing the prog slog now! That's the big news in 2000 AD fandom this week. Paul Rainey, who kickstarted the whole "blog about your collection" deal with his 2000 AD Prog Slog Blog in 2006, inspiring the Thrillpowered Thursday that you've been reading, has finally reached the end of the 1188 issues that he bought from somebody on eBay and has brought his enterprise to an agreeable end. But reg'lar commenter and all-around great guy David "Monarch" Page hasn't wanted the story to end there, so he's carrying on over at his own blog, Dead'll Do. This certainly gives me the impetus to keep writing and not rest on my laurels, despite periodic, necessary recharge breaks - a short one's coming up in June - because the Monarch's fewer than 200 issues behind me, and it simply wouldn't do for him to catch me.

Speaking of which, next time, it's back to the good stuff, as The Red Seas wraps up its second adventure and we meet another member of Dredd's family. See you in seven!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

134. Judge Dredd Should Fight Tyrannosaur Men More Often

January 2004: This week, one of those short entries I promised myself that I would write. Over in the Megazine, editor Alan Barnes has, without question, turned the comic into the best it has ever been, with an exciting, fresh balance of really good new comics and a handful of very good reprints. Of particular interest is a new series called Whatever Happened To, which are one-offs done by a rotating bank of creators following up on old characters from the pages of Judge Dredd. First up is Pat Mills and Chris Weston showing that Dredd is still looking out for Tweak, the snouted alien who helped the lawman way back in the 1978 epic "The Cursed Earth," and this issue, we've got Gordon Rennie and Graham Manley introducing us to Maria, Dredd's housekeeper from the strip's early days, who has passed away with a surprising secret.

I really like Whatever Happened To and wish they still did these. Part of it's personal nostalgia - when I was a kid, there was a similar series that appeared as an eight-page backup in the pages of DC Comics Presents that I always liked - and part of it's the tone that the creators employ. Each episode is thoughtful, but it's never slavishly reverent. There's a terrific one by Si Spurrier and Roger Langridge in a few months' time which that revisits that lunatic cooking droid that made Chopper miserable for a couple of episodes during the 1987-88 "Oz" epic, and it's just one over-the-top laugh after another.

Another really interesting thing about the Meg during this period is that Pat Mills is writing Dredd again.

The guv'nor never really gets Dredd's voice quite right, but "Blood of Satanus II" - a sequel to a three-parter that was drawn by Ron Smith in 1980 - is the first of some occasional Dredd stories that Mills will contribute to both the Meg and, later, the weekly. Some of these will prove to be a little controversial. This time out, the art is provided by Duke Mighten.

Speaking of Pat Mills, did you know that a second hardcover collection of The ABC Warriors was out? In case you missed it, here is my review. Spread the word, as they say!

Next time, there's really no way to get around it, we have to address this Valkyries business. See you in seven!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

133. I'm in love with a Gibson girl

December 2003: Buried in the bubble between Tharg's mighty hands on the cover of this year's annual prog is the announcement that Robo-Hunter returns inside. That's exciting news, even greater than the cover's artwork by the great Duncan Fegredo. Robo-Hunter last appeared in 1995, with writer Peter Hogan and artist Rian Hughes at the helm. Theirs was a terrific series, whimsical, clever, pleasantly surprising at every turn, and only suffers by comparison to the original run by John Wagner, Alan Grant and Ian Gibson because those three created my all-time favorite comic series. And now, Grant and Gibson have reunited to resume this popular series, as though they'd never been away. Although Samuel C. Slade himself is mostly absent from the story. Holy Joe Smith, great god of robo-hunters, what has happened to your old pal?

"Like a Virgin," the four-part opener for this new run, takes place several years after Sam finally threw his two idiot assistants out and was forced to resume his old job in New York City after they spent all his money in the last original story, "Farewell, My Billions." This new outing begins with the hopelessly idiotic Hoagy coming across his old buddy Carlos Robo-Stogie while trying to track down Sam because he's found a new case for him, both just completely, and hilariously, lacking the insight to understand that Sam never wants to see them again.

Hoagy, using a DNA tracker, finds Sam's granddaughter, the bad-tempered Samantha Slade. It takes Hoagy and Stogie most of the next two episodes to comprehend that this isn't a remarkable new disguise, and that it really is a different person. She wouldn't mind tracking the old man down herself, as he stopped sending child support payments to her mother five years previously.

With typical Robo-Hunter ridiculousness, we soon learn that Sam finally met his match five years previously at the hands of the Cockney filmmaker Rich Guy and his wife, pop star Rodonna, who have been replacing movie stars with robots, and Sam's head has been stored in a cryo-tank and stuffed into a locker at a train station. The poor guy's even lost his body now; he just can't catch a break!

All right, so let's be brutally honest and objective, fans: Samantha Slade's tenure as robo-hunter is not the greatest series of the last decade, but it is nevertheless extremely fun and very silly and a winking breath of fresh air in the wake of the much heavier dramas around it. She takes the reins for six stories of varying lengths over a three-and-a-half year run, and only the second was mildly disappointing. Other than that tale, I love this series completely, and I remain optimistic, perhaps insanely so, that Tharg will be making a surprise announcement about its return before we come to the 2007 progs in this blog and I can avoid writing anything that I don't wish to say. But the events of the most recent adventure, "I, Jailbird," are a tale for another time, and I'll be certain to devote other entries to the tremendously fun and ridiculous third and fourth stories, so there's much more gleefully goofy times ahead.

Samantha's just a terrific character. Every so often, 2000 AD's fans make some noise about the comic being too led by male heroes and guns and testosterone and people wish for some more female leads. Samantha's just perfect for what we like to see: a tough protagonist who thinks on her feet and doesn't rely on sex or firepower to solve problems like, let's face it, plenty of other comic book heroines, but who still looks good and dresses well, especially with Ian Gibson to portray her. She's the perfect lead for a 2000 AD series: sassy, flawed, determined, slightly adrift in a bizarre, yet fully-formed universe, depicted with character and gusto in a well-written strip with constant surprise and wit. Bluntly, if you'd rather see Durham Red or anybody like her in 2000 AD over Samantha, you're as wrong as wrong can be.

Anyway, there's more to say about Prog 2004 besides the debut of Samantha. There's a letter from me, for example, a really great John Wagner episode of Judge Dredd with art by Jim Murray, another one of Gordon Rennie and Frazer Irving's silly one-offs, the first new Nikolai Dante episode in ten months (and last for twelve), and the first installments of new storylines for Slaine, The V.C.s and The Red Seas, which will accompany Dredd and Robo-Hunter into January 2004 as the regular lineup. It's perhaps not as amazing as some of the other year-end progs, but it's a great read all around.

Also, it's the first prog with the comic's present size. For the previous two years, it was presented in the same dimensions as an American comic, just a little larger. Now, it's in standard magazine size, an inch shorter and wider than it had been, just like the Meg has been for a little over a year. This is an extremely welcome development since, for the first time ever, both comics are printed in a size that fits in standard magazine bags with the flap closed. Any comic retailer worth its salt can take care of your storage needs for the last six-plus years of thrillpower.

Also this week, I needed to mention that over at my Bookshelf blog, you can catch my review of Defoe: 1666, the first collected edition of this Pat Mills-Leigh Gallagher series. It compiles the first two stories of this series, from 2007 and 2008. Check it out and tell your friends. Links are good. One day they might earn me a penny or two.

Next time, we catch up to the Megazine, where Chris Weston has contributed one of the comic's best covers ever. See you then!