Thursday, December 1, 2011

154. Mission: Avengers

June 2005: Now, man alive, that is a fantastic front cover. Frazer Irving is certainly among my favorite artists who were working with 2000 AD and Judge Dredd Megazine during this period, and this is my favorite of all of his covers. It spotlights the return of Jack Point, the Simping Detective. At the time I'm writing this entry (November 2011), Tharg has hinted that Point might be returning in 2012, although it's questionable whether he will be drawn by Irving, who has spent years making better money drawing inferior material for American publishers.

Also at the time of writing, it's just been announced that an American company, Boom!, best known for its comics based on licensed properties, has landed the reprint rights to Steed & Mrs. Peel, the early-nineties Eclipse/Acme miniseries by Grant Morrison, Anne Caufield and Ian Gibson, and that we can expect to see this cute little adventure again in 2012. I mention this because, as you see on the front cover of this Megazine, there's an article about The Avengers this month. It is part of an occasional series of really entertaining articles called British Icons and it features writeups on the likes of Sapphire & Steel, The Tomorrow People, Desperate Dan, Sexton Blake and other such fun creations. Each installment looks at the ancillary merchandising and exploitations of the property as well as the "primary source." In the case of Sapphire & Steel, that meant a pretty in-depth look at the comic by Angus Allan and Arthur Ranson that appeared in Look-In.

The Avengers had a much more sporadic publication history as a comic strip, with short runs in several different hardback annuals and weekly papers. A part of me is incredibly curious to see these old comics - who wouldn't be, as the original show is one of the four or five best TV series of the 1960s - but I have to wonder whether the article's writer and editor didn't go out of their way to find some of the most ridiculous and uninspiring artwork, by John Canning, to illustrate the feature. Or maybe it really was an awful comic and best forgotten? Whatever the case, one thing we can all agree on is that, in a perfect and just world, The New Avengers would have generated a weekly comic by Allan and John Bolton for Look-In. Wouldn't that have been terrific?

As for Jack Point, his current adventure is called "Playing Futsie" and it is one of the wildest and most unpredictable of all of his cases. This thing runs through left turns, misdirections and plot twists at breakneck speed, and is probably my favorite Point story. "Futsie" is Mega-City slang for somebody suffering from "future shock," and it begins with Point being thrown in jail, under orders from his corrupt sector chief to find out what has caused a happily employed citizen to crack. Point was not told in advance that, by "crack," Chief Davees meant "murdered a room full of citizens with a machine gun after convincing himself they were robots."

It's another day in the studio for American radio talk show host Neal Boortz...

So this story gets going and it doesn't let up at all. It's one thing to go from zero to a hundred in a comic, but this one does it on one of those crazy curvy Italian mountain roads. By the time Point figures out that somebody is deliberately targeting citizens with jobs and doing something to drive them crazy, it's got gang fights, Point's pet raptaur, the debut of a mysterious new supporting character with her own agenda, the surprising return of Elmort DeVries' old Hunter's Club from way back in 1984, and Point totally pulling one over on Judge Dredd to wrap up this three-part case.

Incidentally, most of us thought that writer Si Spurrier was being dead clever coming up with a terrific, terrible name like Miss Anne Thropé for his new addition to the cast. One reason that I enjoy looking back at 2000 AD from a little distance is that it affords us the time to see small connections here and there that we might have missed before. I bet Spurrier had no idea that his Miss Anne Thropé wasn't the first occasionally-appearing supporting player in a comic by that name. As Mr. Kitty's Stupid Comics, a site that every one of you should be reading, pointed out just a couple of weeks ago, Dell's idiotic superhero take on Frankenstein had the same bad joke almost forty years previously. At least Spurrier acknowledges the awfulness of the joke. When Point figures it out during his ongoing first-person narration, it's a really funny and clever moment. Not many writers even try to use narrative captions to mean anything anymore, let alone use them to help define the lead character the way that Spurrier does in this series and in his other strips like Lobster Random and Numbercruncher. It's one of the reasons that I really enjoy his work so much.

Speaking of pulling one over on Dredd, holy anna, does PJ Maybe ever play our hero like a fiddle this month in the final episode of "Monsterus Mashinashuns."

So, over the course of the previous three months, we've seen Maybe, disguised as Barranquilla billionaire Pedro Montez, put several apparently-unrelated schemes and pieces into place, ranging from allowing Dredd to get a sample of his blood to sending his sexbot companion to the Cal-Hab wastes to kidnap an aging philanthropist do-gooder to attacking the Mega-City delegation with a giant robot to arranging a huge bonfire on his property for his migrant workers to burn.

What writer John Wagner and artist Carlos Ezquerra come up with to tie all this together is just completely stunning. Have you ever seen the classic Mission: Impossible episode "The Mind of Stefan Miklos," written by Paul Playdon? Speaking, as I was, of the best things on TV in the 1960s, well, I wouldn't count this series among them, but this one episode stands out as one of the densest and most amazing scripts I've ever enjoyed. See, Phelps's IM team, in that episode, has to convince an agent from "the other side" (like The Avengers, Mission: Impossible was never so common or vulgar as to actually call Russians Russians) of a certain fact by allowing that agent to think that he has spotted one teeny error in their grand deception, when the teeny error is, of course, deliberate.

In this fantastic twist, Dredd is actually back in Mega-City One when he remembers that the bandaged finger that Pedro Montez waggled in front of him, illustrated in the panel above, was not the same finger that was cut when Montez broke a glass and allowed Dredd the chance at a small blood sample, wiped away with a napkin. Dredd, convinced that Maybe has finally slipped up and this time he's got him, storms back down to the estates outside of Ciudad Barranquilla with a team of Mega-City judges.

It doesn't go as planned for him, but this time he leaves absolutely convinced that Maybe has died in a bonfire, while Maybe, now using the disguise of the well-known, selfless, Byron Ambrose, heir to a mammoth fortune, makes his way back home. His story will resume about two years down the line, in 2007's "The Gingerbread Man," where it really picks up. It's absolutely delicious.

Stories from this issue are available in the following reprint editions:
The Bendatti Vendetta: The Complete Bendatti Vendetta (2000 AD's Online Shop)
Judge Dredd:The Complete PJ Maybe (out of print, link to Amazon UK sellers)
The Simping Detective: The Complete Simping Detective (2000 AD's Online Shop)

Next time, back to 2000 AD for the debut of Leatherjack and the stunning second book of Savage. See you in seven!

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