Thursday, August 18, 2011

143. Something About a Man Who Likes Metal

October 2004: As the year comes to an end, Tharg begins programming the last batch of series that will see us to the Prog 2005 relaunch issue. This week, the remarkably fun Lobster Random, by Si Spurrier and Carl Critchlow, returns for his second story. Lobster is drawn on the cover by Boo Cook, who is the artist of Asylum. I sort of talked myself out with the previous two weeks, so please don't let this comparatively shorter entry imply that these thrills are anything less than terrific.

Asylum, written by Rob Williams, is also working through its second story, but it's really more like the second half of one long adventure, and reads very well in collected form. The lead character is an alien tracker named Holt, a half-breed fellow without a nose who loses an eyeball partway through the first story. This might make him an uglier lead than Synnamon, but, as far as 2000 AD characters go, a more attractive one, if you take my meaning.

Asylum isn't one of my favorite strips, in part because Cook's artwork is still at a rough, early stage and, when printed, is as muddy as 2000 AD at its post-Bisley early-1990s worst. On the other hand, Holt's story is a very compelling one, as he desperately tries to negotiate peace between a tense future government and the very violent alien asylum-seekers whom he represents. It's a good story, and one worth reading in the collected edition.

It's one of the weirdest little quirks of recent 2000 AD that only the first Lobster Random adventure has been collected. The second story, "The Agony and the Ecstacy," is every bit as wild and ridiculous as the first. The Mighty One needs to put Lob's first three adventures in a book in 2012, and get a fifth story in the prog immediately.

If you've not met Lobster Random before, he's a torturer-for-hire, an incredibly grouchy ex-soldier who, thanks to genetic modification, can't feel pain and can't sleep. He's also got two extra appendages with freakishly big lobster claws growing out of his back. He's kind of got a weakness for the ladies, provided the ladies are androids. Somebody calls him a mech-fag in his first story and he puts the guy's head into a wall. Don't you judge him.

Random's stories take place in an incredibly weird and wonderful future, dense with bizarre aliens and broken laws of physics. Remember when you were nine and the creatures from that cantina in Star Wars promised a universe of incredibly diverse, dangerous and outre alien life forms? Lobster Random is like that on every page. Rereading it, I'm falling in love with it all over again. It's ridiculously engaging and addictive.

Earlier, I mentioned how Asylum reads better as a collected story. Perhaps one reason that Lobster Random has not been properly collected is that it works amazingly well as an episodic adventure. Spurrier does a great job tailoring each individual installment to work as a fine read on its own. The cliffhangers are excellent, and in some cases he masterfully moves the story forward to open episodes a little later in the overall narrative with a blast of excitement before stepping back to show readers how things got into such a mess.

And the mess of the plot... well, it's wonderful. Lobster Random is very much in the same vein as classic Robo-Hunter, where the stakes keep getting higher as the situation spirals ever more out of control, usually driven by the hero's overconfidence. He's a really competent character, but his universe is just so ridiculously chaotic that he can't predict what thunderously weird thing is around the next corner. It's an absolutely terrific series, and it needs continuing and collecting, and pronto.

Stories from this issue are available for purchase in the following collected editions:

Asylum: The Complete Asylum (2000 AD's Online Shop)
Judge Dredd: Total War (2000 AD's Online Shop)
Robo-Hunter: The Furzt Case (free "graphic novel" collection bagged with Megazine # 307, from 2000 AD's Online Shop)
Strontium Dog: Traitor To His Kind (2000 AD's Online Shop)

Next time, Nuclear armageddon in Mega-City One! Again! It's Total War for Judge Dredd, while Strontium Dog hunts down a king. See you in seven!

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