Thursday, July 21, 2011

139. War on Terror

Now the other reason that I decided to start writing about 2000 AD again is that I figure I sort of owe it to them. I've been saying for, I don't know, ever that the main barrier to the comic's success in the American marketplace is that nobody involved with the comic has done the sort of protracted screaming at the potential audience necessary to make a hit. Ours is a culture that rewards constant advertising - surely every single person in America over the age of two knows what Coca-Cola is, but that corporation still spends more on ads every year than most of us will ever earn in our lifetime - and when you're a niche product in a world where, even for comic fans, "comic news" equals little more than "who will draw Marvel's top trademark protection comic this year," you've got to do a lot of screaming. Little blogs like mine or David Page's or Douglas Wolk's fun new Dredd Reckoning are not enough.

Fortunately, Rebellion has hired a PR man, Mike Molcher, and he's been doing a great job placing stories and getting press. There's been more talk about 2000 AD in the geek media over the last six months than in the last six years. And there certainly should be: there have been some really excellent stories in 2000 AD over the last six months. Between the conclusions of Shakara and Necrophim, the return of Pat Mills' Flesh, Mike Carroll's debut as a rotating scriptwriter on Judge Dredd and the premiere of Gordon Rennie and Tiernan Trevallion's Absalom, there has been a lot to talk about, even before we get to the "new readers start here!" fun of issue 1740. Add in the new American editions of The Horned God (in a lovely hardback, promoted extensively by Mills), Low Life (promoted through several interviews with writer Rob Williams) and Kingdom (promoted, irresistably by a doggie dish!!) and there have been many opportunities for promotion, all of them seized.

At the time this chapter is published (July 21), many of the editorial and PR droids are at San Diego Comic-Con, focal point for most of that promotional screaming. If you see them there, tell 'em that Thrillpowered Thursday sends its regards and best of luck for a successful show.

But that's the present. Back in prog 1396, there was still a lot to talk about. It's June 2004 and Andy Clarke's cover promotes a Judge Dredd thriller called "Terror," now in its second episode. America's occupation of Iraq is about a year old at this point. If you think contemporary events might be influencing the series, you're very right. It's remarkable stuff.

More than a decade earlier, writer John Wagner had introduced a terrorist organization to the world of Judge Dredd. Called "Total War," this group was one of many in the city devoted to the cause of democracy, and was willing to cause a lot of death and collateral damage in pursuit of it. Total War was introduced in the classic 1990 serial "America," but I don't believe they were mentioned again, unless perhaps in passing, since that story.

In "Terror," we follow a university lecturer named Zondra Smith who is totally in the wrong place at the wrong time. She's on the prowl and looking to meet a young man, only to get caught up in a Total War bombing. Making matters worse for herself after the carnage is over and the death toll is being counted, she's "political," and therefore trouble as far as the judges are concerned.

Painted by Colin MacNeil, "Terror" is an example of Wagner's remarkable ability to use long, multi-part serials to better effect than anybody else in the business. There's a heck of a lot going on in this eight-part story, but it's every bit as important as a building block in the ongoing Dredd saga as an adventure of its own. It will reach a conclusion, but it will also feed into a major epic that will begin in just a few months' time.

It's a good example of a Dredd story that covers most of the series' dramatic beats - action, criminal investigation using future technology, a look at the often bleak existence of citizens in the future metropolis - and rereading it, I'm reminded of how fun it is to watch Wagner unfold multi-part stories. It's a completely unpredictable adventure, and the judges' seemingly impossible task - keeping Zondra Smith alive and able to work as an informant while still protecting her from Total War - is really thrilling. There's no way to know what will happen next.

"Terror" was reprinted along with its longer follow-up epic in one nice volume from Rebellion, which you may order by following the link below. I highly recommend it.

Continuing in this issue are the same ongoing stories discussed last time, A.H.A.B. by Nigel Kitching and Richard Elson, Chopper by Wagner, Patrick Goddard and Dylan Teague, Low Life by Rob Williams and Henry Flint, and Savage by Pat Mills and Charlie Adlard.

Stories from this prog are reprinted in the following editions:

Chopper: Surf's Up (2000 AD's Online Shop).
Judge Dredd: Total War (2000 AD Online Shop).
Low Life: Paranoia (Amazon US)
Savage: Taking Liberties (2000 AD Online Shop).

Next time, over to the Megazine, as Cursed Earth Koburn kicks ass, and one of Dredd's most cunning enemies starts a new body count. See you in seven!

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