Thursday, December 22, 2011

157. Caught Short

September 2005: At last, the good times come coasting down for Judge Dredd Megazine. After spending the last three years going from strength to strength, diminishing sales finally force a change to the comic, and, without warning and on the eve of its fifteenth birthday, the approximately 100-page comic drops to nearer eighty a month. It's still terrific fun and good value, but, in probably the only miscalculation that Alan Barnes made during his tenure as editor, the change comes during a month where the regular lineup feels oddly thin anyway. The book has usually been featuring at least five new strips an issue along with reprints and features, but this time out, more than half of the strip content goes to a much longer than normal episode of Judge Dredd, and it's backed up by with a celebratory Simping Detective chapter by Si Spurrier and Frazer Irving, and the last part of the ongoing Devlin Waugh story, "All Hell," by John Smith and Colin MacNeil. Typically, 2000 AD's editors have used anniversary, or 100th issues, for relaunches and the first episodes of ongoing stories, and so the tone of this issue is an unexpectedly understated one. Even though nobody should logically complain about a big, 36-page Dredd story, the "only three strips" feeling is an emotional one, and, weirdly, it draws attention to the reality that the comic has lost pages to the budget.

Another reason that nobody should complain about this Judge Dredd strip is that it is completely wonderful. Written by John Wagner and with art by Henry Flint and Chris Blythe, it's called "Flood's Thirteen" and it is a fantastic caper story, an expansive 36-page look at a spectacular heist that does not go as planned, but, oh, it gets so close. Even with using a couple of splash pages, it feels so dense and detailed that a reader taking in the episode on its own might be surprised to learn that it's only 36 pages long. With the current style in American comics to write as little as possible in any given single issue, you could easily imagine the contemporary architects of superhero books needing a six-issue miniseries to tell this story.

I'm really impressed by how well Wagner structures this as a single entity on its own. I went into it expecting it to feel, as so many extra-length 2000 AD episodes do, like several smaller episodes crammed together, with cliffhanger endings every so many pages, which jars the flow when a reader knows they'll be there. (It's why removing the "NEXT PROG" and the credits from reprints never, ever actually benefits the story when read in a collected edition.) "Flood's Thirteen" doesn't feel like that at all. It flows much more naturally than even Wagner's recent multi-part triumphs in the comics, such as the recent "Terror" and "Total War," or the excellent "Mandroid," which was running in 2000 AD at the same time this was published, and, about which, more in next week's blog.

The story concerns a criminal who's released after his fifteen-year sentence is concluded, plus another three for being a probable repeat offender. He assembles some of his old gang and a host of thieves and gunmen with a grandiose plan to heist a spaceship. It's just come back from its multi-year tour of Mega-City One's colonies, full of taxes to be paid to the city, and it will be in lockdown for three or four days while Justice Department accountants audit its hold. The gang plans to replace the accountants and use a stolen teleporter to move the merchandise.

I really love reading stories like this, where the high concept is treated very seriously, and the writer looks into how such a scheme might work, where it could fail, and how the intelligent criminals would adapt to setbacks and detours. I suspect that many people who don't really know Dredd very well know that he's foremost an action hero, and also often used to make insightful political points, but the character also appeals to me as a reader because he's a superb detective with a fascinating arsenal of surveillance and gadgets at his disposal. He's flawed, certainly - PJ Maybe's triumph over Dredd just three issues prior to this is proof of that - but he's a force to be reckoned with both physically and mentally. I love how the gang's unavoidable slip-up brings Dredd to suspect something is amiss, and Dredd forces Flood into improvisation and quick thinking, but that's all before Wagner plays his master stroke. He brings in his occasional characters from the Branch Moronian cult to completely turn this thing into a disaster. Neither the judges nor the criminals could have predicted the arrival of self-lobotomized cultists with heavy artillery. It's terrific fun.

The text features in the Megazine have been essential reading for many years by this point, and probably the best of them have been David Bishop's histories of 2000 AD ("Thrill Power Overload," later expanded into an equally essential book) and Battle Picture Weekly (the much shorter, but just as fascinating "Blazing Battle Action!"). This issue sees the debut of Bishop's latest ongoing piece, a similar look at the history of the Megazine called "15 Years, Creep!" and, if I may be allowed another intrusion of my personal experience into the narrative, this sparked a wonderful memory that I have of my late father. In this issue of the comic, there are actually two chapters of this feature, which will run through Meg # 242 the following March, and the second features a look at the creation of John Smith's terrific and popular character Devlin Waugh.

I had picked up this issue from my regular thrill-merchant in Athens, probably also spending a little time with that girl whom I was dating at the time, who made her own intrusive presence felt in a chapter posted four weeks ago, and stopped by my parents' house to visit and watch a little football. Probably during halftime, or between games or something, I turned on the lamp behind my dad's recliner and decided to read the articles while my father played with his grandkids. He came back into the den some time later, by which point I was grinning ear to ear because I'd found the bit where Bishop cited that gushing, fanboy interview that I'd had with John Smith in 1999. (You can read about how foolish I felt about that right here in a Thrillpowered Thursday chapter from three years ago.)

So I explained to my dad that I had interviewed some writer he'd never heard of, for some website that he'd never heard of, either. ("You're talking about the internet, right?" he asked.) And now the writer of this magazine article had cited the interview and namechecked me to accompany a quote from Smith. "So you're in a magazine?" Dad asked. I showed him the page.

"Can you make me a copy of this?" Dad asked.

"Well, sure," I said. "I can give you a printout of the interview as well."

"And that's on the internet?" Dad said. I told him that it was, that it was for the Class of '79 site.

"No, I don't want that," he said, honestly. "Anybody can put anything on the internet. I just like seeing your name in a magazine. That means something."

So, thanks again for that, Mr. Bishop. You made my old man proud.

Stories from this prog have been reprinted in the following collected editions:
Judge Dredd: The Henry Flint Collection (2000 AD's Online Shop)
The Simping Detective: The Complete Simping Detective (2000 AD's Online Shop)

Next time, Judge Dredd tries to stop Nate Slaughterhouse, and Sinister Dexter have a problem similar to the one addressed in the recent chapter about Slaine, in that they reach a grand finale... and keep going. See you next week!

1 comment:


"So, thanks again for that, Mr. Bishop. You made my old man proud."

You're welcome!