Thursday, January 26, 2012

162. 86ed!

March 2006: In the run-up to the release of the long-awaited Rogue Trooper video game, Tharg does one of the strangest things this comic has ever done. He cancels Rogue Trooper and replaces it with a spinoff. Seriously. Oh, there's some ancillary merchandise, sure. Between October and March, Rebellion issues three graphic novels which, in conjunction with the two previously released during the DC deal, completely reprint the entire 1981-85 run written by Gerry Finley-Day. This month also sees the release of an Extreme Edition that compiles just about every annual and special episode by other writers, along with John Smith's celebrated 1989 story "Cinnabar." But precisely when you'd expect a run of new, color episodes with Rogue himself on the front cover about every other week, the character has been retired. Gordon Rennie had been in charge for a pretty good 25-episode run that was released in chunks from 2002-04. In 2005, he wrote a follow-up three-part adventure and a one-off in a very curious Winter Special full of pilot ideas for new series that don't make it to a proper commission. And finally, in the three issues prior to this one, Ian Edginton and Steve Pugh collaborated on a final three-part adventure. Until Finley-Day returned from retirement for a one-shot in December 2010, that has been the last we've seen of Rogue. Right at the point where we should have seen Mister Blue Bare Chest and his bio-chipped buddies on the cover almost every week, he's shelved in favor of a very dense, subplot-heavy, continuity-heavy series set in the same universe and featuring a similarly genetically-engineered pilot named, strangely, Rafe.

The 86ers is an outer space war adventure, set on an asteroid-based supply station called The Citadel. Its crew is a bunch of bitter jockeys and flyboys, aliens, and disgraced officers from the enemy side who've come to fight with the "Southers," historically the "good guys" in the Rogue Trooper universe. Karl Richardson is assigned to draw Gordon Rennie's scripts, but, strangely, he only does the first two episodes before PJ Holden steps in.

The series will struggle to find an audience. Tharg publishes 10 episodes across three outings in 2006, six more in 2007 and a final six in 2009, with Arthur Wyatt coming aboard as writer for the end after Rennie moves on from the medium of comics for a few years to do work with the video game industry. I'm not sure why it never gelled for me. It's possibly because I've never been all that interested in anything from Rogue's world, including Rafe's kind-of-ancestor Venus Bluegenes, but the story is too complex, and too rich with political machinations, for its own good. It is never as grandiose or engaging as Rennie's Caballistics Inc., and consequently, the same sort of character-based subplotting across similarly-scheduled irregular adventures fails completely. Each time The 86ers resurfaces, readers have to ask "Who's this guy again?"

The double-length episode in Prog 2007, for example, ends with the surprise revelation that one of Rogue's old enemies from his classic series, Colonel Kovert, is behind some of the machinations and goings-on. Even for Rennie, whose most recent Cabs story has, quite reasonably, assumed an awful lot of his audience, this is going way out on a limb. Admittedly, that 1982 story with Kovert has been reprinted something like nine times, and so longtime readers might remember the character, but for anybody who barely remembers, or doesn't at all, what is really just a minor blip in some very old continuity, this really is asking a lot. Then it would be six months before the next story, when we see what the heck the villain is doing on the Citadel.

Back in August, in chapter 141, I wrote about how disagreeable it is to have stories stopping and starting in little fits and coughs of new episodes, and The 86ers is one of the all-time worst examples of that. Read in the collected edition, this is a pretty good series, with some fun moments and very good artwork throughout, but serialized the way it was, with those deeply unhelpful gaps between stories, it really was a pain in the rear.

Speaking of pains in the rear, oh, that game. Well, it certainly looked good. I'm not much of a gamer, and was unfamiliar with what's termed "third-person shooters," in which the "camera" is behind the character on the screen. This appears to be the dominant style of adventure games over the last ten years or so, but, speaking as a potential player who's enjoyed maybe two games, period, since the release of the original Perfect Dark for the N64, this was not a game for me.

I bought a PlayStation 2 to play Katamari Damacy, and then pretty much left it to my children to enjoy. I bought the Rogue Trooper game new, found it absurdly difficult to control or move around, and finally gave up somewhere on the fourth level or something. Every so often, I'd buy a used James Bond game for the system and find them similarly next-to-impossible to maneuver, get riddled with holes while trying to remember which button did what, assuming that I realized that I was getting shot in the first place, and eventually concluded that these games were not being made for me.

While the game's introductory animation was showing off the Quartz Zone Massacre, however, I was the biggest fan of the game in the world. It really did look good, and even though Rogue is not my favorite character, there's that frisson of excitement of seeing anything from the comic adapted with such love and fervor. It looks good, and it looks right. Maybe one of these days, Rebellion will finally make that Strontium Dog first-person shooter that they should have made a million years ago, and it won't be impossible for slow old losers like me to play.

Ideally, this entry should have featured some screen shots from the video game as illustrations, but I'm of the opinion that screen shots always look pointless and unappealing. The above Henry Flint illustration from the current ABC Warriors adventure is, on the other hand, all kinds of appealing.

Stories from this prog have been reprinted in the following collected editions:
The ABC Warriors: The Shadow Warriors (2000 AD's Online Shop)
The 86ers: The Complete 86ers (2000 AD's Online Shop)

Next time, it's the last Thrillpowered Thursday before a short break, and undercover judge Aimee Nixon is guest of honor at a very unusual convention in Mega-City One. See you in seven days!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

161. Synnamon and Frag

February 2006: Here's a very rare example of Tharg programming a variant cover for his mighty comic. For prog 1476, there were two available: this one, with the red background, featuring the heroic ABC Warriors, and a second, with a blue background, featuring the villainous Shadow Warriors who are opposing them. For a very, very brief time, I owned both covers. See, in 2006, I was ordering two copies of each issue of 2000 AD, because the grexnix non-scrots at Diamond Distribution would so often miss an issue if a shop only ordered a single copy. If a shop ordered two, then the shop was certain to get one copy of every prog, and miss about two of the second copy every year. So I was ordering two copies and giving the extras to a friend. I thought, briefly, about keeping both versions of prog 1476, but I figured my collection wasn't as important as giving my friend the thrillpower, and so the blue copy went to him and I completely forgot about it. About five years later, he returned a big box of these extra copies, as he was moving house and didn't have the room. I sold a few on eBay, and got frustrated with some batches that did not move, and got a message from a buyer looking for a particular run, and who would pay a very handsome and welcome price for them. I sorted out his order, and realized that, for the second time, the blue-covered 1476 would be finding a new home. I suppose I'm just not meant to own it.

More than a decade before prog 1476, the nearly endless Strontium Dog story "The Final Solution" was coming under fire for taking for-freaking-ever to be told. Truthfully, it sort of had that reputation coming, as it began in prog 600 and didn't finish until a year and a half later. It ran in five separate batches of between three and seven episodes, at one point ducking out for a break of nine months. "The Shadow Warriors" sensibly avoided that sort of reputation despite taking, literally, twice as long to tell. For one thing, "The Final Solution" had every fan and reader desperate to learn what would happen next in this clearly game-changing and wild adventure, and "The Shadow Warriors" is just another long and weird ABC Warriors tale. But more importantly, writer Pat Mills had, by this point, firmly structured his stories as being told across "books." Readers understood and accepted that when we last saw this story back in prog 1405, it was the conclusion of "Book Two" of this story, and we were not going to just get little drip-feeds of episodes whenever the artist could get some pages back to the Command Module.

Back around the era of progs 600 to 700, it seemed like darn near everything was taking little breaks of a few weeks between episodes - Moon Runners, "Cinnabar," "Soft Bodies," various Rogue Trooper "Hit" stories, that second Zero story, the one on the blimp - and "The Final Solution," the one that everybody actually wanted to read, just became the poster boy for deadline-blowing artist failings. A more ordered Nerve Centre, a more structured system for telling the story with planned breaks, and greater general satisfaction with the state of play means that really, nobody at all seemed to complain about the - grief! - SEVENTY-ONE issue break before Book Three got started.

So was it worth the wait? Well, "The Shadow Warriors" is very much an over-the-top and glorious mess, full of insane ideas and loopy logic, with crazy weapons and a staccato delivery. I think it's the best ABC Warriors story since "The Black Hole" back in 1988. What might you think? Well, have a look at this image below.

See that weird pixelation on Deadlock? That's a bullet wound. He's been hit by bullets that phase in and out of alternate realities and do damage across multiple dimensions. I figure, either you think that doesn't make any sense whatever, in which case the excess of this story probably will not appeal to you, or you treat it like I do, and want Mills and Henry Flint to keep blowing your mind with downright weird and crazy stuff like this in every episode. Soon, Blackblood will be throwing banned grenades called holocusts that corrode all metal and get himself turned inside-out, and Hammerstein will have some "eggs" implanted in him that birth robot snakes that stick out holes that they eat through the sides of his head. Glorious.

1476 also sees the final episode of Synnamon as her third story, "Arc of Light" concludes. I've said my peace about this misfire previously, but "Arc of Light" really is notable for being a huge mess. To its credit, prog 1473 had given the character a magnificent cover by Dylan Teague. Should this series ever end up as one of those "graphic floppy" reprints bagged with the Megazine, that will have to be the cover. But oh, this story is such a disaster. I don't think it had a point at all other than to demonstrate, again, how nasty and unscrupulous Synnamon's big mean bosses are. The final page was so incredibly confusing that one of the writers actually waded into the cesspool that the official message board can be just to explain what in the hell David Roach drew. Basically, it looks like Missing-His-Back Boss Guy shot the poor innocent trapped-in-space dude, and then Synnamon looked all sad and teary, and then made a loud, funny noise and climbed some fancy decoration on the wall or some furniture or something, and then left a lot of broken bits over trapped-in-space dude's body and walked away. Evidently, that was her way of quitting.

I hate to say anything critical about David Roach, who's a super artist and a friend to anybody interested in the history of British comics, but when the strip's writer has to step in and explain what it is that the artist was drawing - see, the fancy decoration was the Super Secret Synnamon Space Spy Agency's insignia - then the artist has really not done the job well. It makes you wish that 2000 AD had the budget for an art editor like they did back in the IPC days, because there's no way in heck that Robin Smith would've let that get through. The evident moral from these paragraphs: It is okay if your script doesn't make much sense, just so long as the art does.

And so with Synnamon concluded after three stories over two and a half years, the doors are open for a new series. Debutting this week in a one-off prologue is one of Si Spurrier's masterpieces, Harry Kipling (Deceased).

When it comes to designing lead characters, Spurrier gets what Synnamon's writers, Colin Clayton and Chris Dows, seem to have missed. 2000 AD should be the home of very weird heroes. I can read about practically perfect space action babes with big boobs in tight leather in any number of comics, but cod-Victorian zombies with monocles, big moustaches and elephant guns and an addiction to Earl Grey can only be found in the Galaxy's Greatest. I might have gone a little overboard with my love of Spurrier's Lobster Random - wait, no, I didn't, that series is amazing - but 2006 was the year of Harry Kipling. Literally. He was only in fourteen episodes, criminally, all published in this calendar year. I don't know why I'm so nice about Spurrier's comics when he stops writing the damn things just as they're getting spectacular like he does. Then he goes and writes Silver Surfer for Marvel.

So this prologue starts with a mother telling her family the horrible story about how the father died, putting a little backstory together about how a space-faring Britannia started ruling the stars. It's a scenario not entirely unlike the Gothic Empire from Nemesis the Warlock Book Four. You've got pith helmets and aliens and steampunk all bearing down on some aggressive aliens that take advantage of the faith of the weak and feeble to pose as gods. All the time this backstory is developing, suggesting that the Neo-Britannians have come and gone, there's a violent force slowly making his way along their trail.

That's when artist Boo Cook plays a masterstroke and reveals that this is not some innocent mother and children, but rather a hideous mythological whale-god from some belief system or other, and all the various demigods beneath her. Harry Kipling is very much alive and very much of the opinion that nobody needs to believe in decrepit things like her when there's a Union Jack to be unfurled and fisticuffs to be delivered under Queensbury rules. Man alive! And we had to wait five weeks to see the next story?!

There were only six Harry Kipling stories, totalling 75 pages, and spread across 2006's issues. Rather than giving the character a consistent run of 14 weeks, Tharg tried the experiment of dropping the short adventures in throughout the year, usually following some other character's longer story. Maybe it didn't work in terms of building momentum, but it really kept everybody excited to see such a frequently recurring series. Sadly, criminally, Kipling was retired after 2006. There was one story that I remember feeling a disappointment, but there was a developing subplot about a very addictive drug being used by these false gods that showed a lot of promise. Perhaps one day, Tharg will reprint these stories in one of those "graphic floppies" as a lead-in to Kipling's long-overdue return. Particularly with Boo Cook's art looking better than ever these days, I bet a new series of Harry Kipling (Deceased) would look completely wonderful.

Stories from this prog have been reprinted in the following collected editions:
Only The ABC Warriors has been dusted off, in The Shadow Warriors (2000 AD's Online Shop)

Next time, after there was Rogue Trooper, there was... The 86ers! See you in seven days, friends!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

160. It's not dark yet, but it's getting there.

January 2006: The year begins with a pretty strong lineup of four popular returning series and one new thrill, a fairly typical breakdown of stories for a relaunch period. Judge Dredd is investigating a serial killer in a six-part story by John Wagner and Patrick Goddard, and Slaine is at work in a carnival-set storyline only notable for the appropriation of a Bob Dylan lyric as the cliffhanger to the penultimate episode. The Dredd story is reliable and engaging, but it's the other three stories that catch my eye this time out.

The Ten-Seconders is written by Rob Williams and illustrated by Mark Harrison. It's set in a grim future, where pockets of surviving humans manage a meager existence in the wake of the planet's devastation. Some years before, a "family" of powerful aliens arrived, affecting the appearance of angelic superheroes. They were hailed as saviors, but turned on the world and left it a wreck. The series, therefore, explores a possible future in the wake of the sort of carnage depicted in previous iterations of this kind of story, such as Alan Moore's Marvelman or Grant Morrison's Zenith. The color, the fighting and the mayhem is all in the past, and the gray, miserable present is all that small outposts of survivors have left to them.

The series, for one crafted to avoid the "hook" of watching the superbeings betray the planet and destroy it, is nevertheless written very effectively. It is one of the most promising series to emerge in the mid-2000s, and that's despite some surprisingly ineffective art by Mark Harrison which threatens to sink the whole thing. Normally a very reliable and engaging artist, Harrison's work here doesn't move me at all. Perhaps he's guilty of overthinking things, but while it's certain that a world this devastated would exist in a permanent state of clouds and darkness, it's no fun looking at page after page of battleship gray backgrounds. Men no longer able to reliably find disposable razors probably would have trouble shaving, but it doesn't help readers determine who is who, when, in a main cast of four, three of them are older fellows in fatigues with full facial hair. So it's the story of Beardie, Beardie, Welsh Beardie and Teenage Girl in Ball Cap.

Occasionally, we cut to see what the aliens are up to, and Harrison's panel compositions are bizarre, to say the least. Throughout the story, nobody is posed in a conventional way, and the "camera" is never at the same point that any other comic artist would consider placing it. It is a huge challenge to follow, and things will get much more difficult when the second story, in 2008, sees three separate artists assigned to it.

Still, despite all the many problems with the art, readers who persevered found something exciting and different within. Given an artist more inclined to follow expectations and play this safe, this might be better remembered, and not quite so much the near-miss that it's considered.

Running alongside it is an extremely interesting six-part Caballistics Inc. adventure. "Changelings," by the regular team of Gordon Rennie and Dom Reardon, sees the writer feeling very confident that his readers are ready to follow along without question, and he quite safely throws the expectations of narrative right out the window. For fans who have been around since the beginning, knowing the characters and the subplots, this is business as usual, if more frenetic than some earlier adventures. I accepted all the goings-on without question, and it was not until I sat down and looked at it before I realized just how weird the structure of the story is.

Take this week's episode. It moves through four separate scenes with different sets of characters with just a single caption. Not a "Meanwhile, back in London..." and not even a "Meanwhile," just abrupt transitions from one place to another, expecting the readers have read the previous episodes carefully. Anybody coming to this as their first episode of Cabs would be hopelessly lost. And that's an overused cliche, but I mean that on a slightly different level than usual. This week's episode, as it jumps from scene to scene, does not even have a single narrative clue or establishing shot to allow readers to understand that the incidents are happening in different places.

Over the course of the story's 30 pages - and I use "story" pretty darn loosely, as it's really more "a chunk of narrative time where various subplots are recounted and expanded somewhat" - we catch flashbacks to 4000 BC, 1672 and 1922, and see members of the team kill a rakshasa. Chapter and Verse meet a little girl who sends them on a quest into the underworld kingdom of fairies, Ravne shows Jenny "his etchings" and we see that he's got the supporting player, Mr. Slater, in a tank of some kind, Dr. Brand finds clues that their benefactor Ethan Kostabi is many hundreds of years old, and then, in one of the comic's all-time classic cliffhangers, he gets pushed to his death in the London Underground, brutally murdered by his teammate Ness for as-yet-undisclosed reasons. Over the last two pages, the long-imprisoned Magister, a character introduced a year and a bit previously, is seen to have escaped his island prison. Now, the first of these two pages is pretty striking and the last is absolutely glorious, but at no point does the script pause even a breath to explain who this character is. Strangely enough, this will be the last appearance of the series for more than a year, as it takes a very disagreeable hiatus until late 2007.

The Ten-Seconders, with its unconventional artwork and after-the-fall premise, is challenging to anybody who tries it. Caballistics Inc. , with its unconventional script, is challenging to anybody who comes to it fresh. From the perspective of knowing the characters, the Cabs "story," despite giving no quarter at all to its audience, is certainly terrific, and only has one flaw: the plots do not appear to proceed across the same length of time. There is, for example, a necessarily large gap in time between the death of Dr. Brand and the questioning, by Inspector Absolam, of Ravne and Jennifer about his death. This gap is not matched at all by the concurrent plotline with Chapter and Verse and the fairies, which continues as though everything else in the story was happening at the same time. This is a common danger to comics that I don't think writers ever even notice while they're constructing them. David Anthony Kraft, writing Marvel's Defenders, did this once in the 1970s, where a single fifteen minute chase-and-fight scene between Valkyrie and Lunatik in New York City was taking place just one "meanwhile" caption away from the B-plot in Russia, which stretched over the course of several days. Suffice it to say that once a reader notices this, it's not possible to ignore.

So these are two stories that I enjoy in spite of the obstacles thrown up by the creators. On the other hand, there is Strontium Dog, which is lovely, conventional and the great gag this time is that the characters don't look quite right. Working on a planet where the natives don't have hair, Johnny Alpha and Wulf have to go bald to fit in.

Their previous adventure, "Traitor to His Kind," was a mean, downbeat and serious political thriller. This, however, is one of the lighter Strontium Dog adventures. Assisted by a big fellow bounty hunter whose mutation is thick, white, Womble-like all-over body hair - he's one of the occasionally-appearing Fuzz family - they've tracked a criminal with the trademark-tweaking nickname of The Plastic Man to a planet where he's waiting out a statute of limitations, and where Fuzzy is wanted on multiple counts of bigamy. His hair has had the native girls swooning, but the local police take monogamy very, very seriously on this world, particularly when hirsute fellows come to town and woo princesses.

While the death of Dr. Brand proved to be among the most stunning dramatic cliffhangers in 2000 AD's history, Johnny and Wulf losing their hair, and Wulf's trademark bushy beard, is certainly one of the funniest. Prog 2006 had run the first two (produced) episodes as a single, double-part installment, and that's how that chunk of the story ended, with our heroes shorn and shaven and ready for action. I'd like to think that Carlos Ezquerra had to pause for a few moments and spend a little more time with his sketchbook than usual figuring out what Wulf actually looked like under the beard. It's terrific.

Stories from this prog have been reprinted in the following collected editions:
Caballistics Inc.: Creepshow (2000 AD's Online Shop)
Slaine: The Books of Invasions Vol. 3 (2000 AD's Online Shop)
Strontium Dog: Traitor to His Kind (2000 AD's Online Shop)

Next time, before there was Zombo, there was... Harry Kipling (Deceased)! See you in seven days, friends!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

159. Where Things Should Have Ended

December 2005: We've reached an interesting little mark here at Thrillpowered Thursday, where we're exactly six years behind the comic, but this is not the happiest of birthdays, because while the present-day Prog 2012 is all kinds of great, its antecedent is most emphatically not. It has elements of greatness in it - for the second year running, a truly awesome Caballistics Inc. more than makes up for some other, subpar offerings - and a few good stories that get off to fun starts, but even this uninspired cover by Kev Walker feels a little tired. It's meant to play with the imagery of old Soviet propaganda posters, but it just seems very static and dull to me. With a comic as dynamic as 2000 AD at its best, this isn't successful in selling anything to potential new readers.

Inside, there's an incredibly downbeat and glum John Wagner-scripted Judge Dredd episode, most notable for the very cheeky cameo that artist Greg Staples drew of himself, and a silly second outing for the lawman, this time in a Robbie Morrison script that parodies the popular TV series Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. There's the debut of The Ten-Seconders, a new series that I'll discuss in more detail next week, and a fantastic new Strontium Dog story by Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, but also a lot of stories that just mark time. The most obvious of these is a six-page Nikolai Dante installment, "Devil's Deal," that very overtly just recaps the most recent plot developments.

Oh, Slaine is back, in the first story since the darn strip should have ended earlier in 2005. So is Sinister Dexter, also in the first story since the darn strip should have ended earlier in 2005. Actually, the previous week. I had not really noticed before that the two series that I'm most down on for continuing past their sell-by date both resumed with new stories in the same issue. No wonder I don't much like Prog 2006.

In "Festive Spirits," a six-page story by Dan Abnett and Simon Davis, the same team that managed the triumphant epic "And death shall have no dumb minions," Finnigan and Ramone figure out that they are dead. Oblivious to the fact that their friend Rocky is ignoring them, and that the late Nervous Rex and their dead boss Demi are interacting with them, and, you know, that they don't have any skin anymore, they try to celebrate their last night in town, only to get sadly frustrated that nobody living will pay any attention to them.

This epilogue's incredibly interesting, but good lord, it's really frustrating. I think that, back when it ran, I was equally torn between the amazing climax of "dumb minions," with Ramone dead and Finnigan minutes away from joining him, and the suggestion that somehow, the last two panels of "Festive Spirits" promised the series' greatest moment ever. The ghosts turn away from the cab driver Charon, come to ferry them to the afterlife, with the grim resolve that they have unfinished business. The caption, thunderously, read, COMING SOON: THE MOSES WARS.

That was six years ago. SIX! YEARS! In the present day, in Prog 2012 (it just arrived in American comic shops yesterday), they finally catch up to Miss Deeds, the second-in-command to their enemy Holy Moses Tanenbaum. Six years, and the Moses Wars don't seem to be anywhere near conclusion.

Let me also point out that I sincerely doubt that, when the time comes, Abnett will ever be able to give Ramone a better send-off than his death scene in the final part of "dumb minions." It is completely beautiful. Tracy begs him to surrender to her, and he stubbornly refuses, although he won't raise his pistols to meet her. She shoots him in the chest and he drops against the side of the car, still clutching his handguns, blood everywhere. It is a completely amazing and thunderous gut-punch. It's so beautiful that it really, really should have been the end of the character, with Finnigan's inevitable demise left off-screen, the readers knowing that there was no way out for him. The impact is lessened considerably by the knowledge that Finnigan did get away, and that Ramone got better.

Since Sin Dex subsequently got bogged down with parallel worlds and doppelgangers from other dimensions, I feel justified in looking at it this way: There's an alternate universe where 2000 AD concluded their adventures with two different panels at the end of "Festive Spirits," where they got in Charon's cab and drove away, leaving the city in the hands of the kingpin Holy Moses Tanenbaum. On that note, I'm still unclear why this is a bad thing. Holy Moses was their boss in the beginning of the series, which emphatically states that some level of organized crime will always exist, outside of the police's power to control. Demi was no less of a criminal than Tanenbaum. I resist the moral argument espoused by two hired killers with a shockingly high bodycount that one is in some way worse than another, when they were on each's payroll.

And so Sin Dex joins Slaine, where this blog is concerned, as a series that will only be acknowledged, going forward, as a passing mention among the issue-under-discussion's content. I would be remiss, however, in not noting Malone, a seven-part story that will begin in prog 1500, about eight months down the line. Malone was written by "Cal Hamilton" and drawn by Simon Coleby, and ends, as The Dead Man did eighteen years previously, with the very stunning surprise that the lead character Malone was Finnigan, and writer Hamilton a pseudonym for Abnett. It's safe to say that nobody saw this coming, and it would prove to be the first of three completely left-field Dead Man-styled twists that surprised and thrilled readers in various series over the course of about eighteen months. The practice was, sensibly, then retired as fans started looking suspiciously at every new strip that began, wondering when Johnny Alpha or Rogue Trooper or Abelard Snazz would show up, but only the grouchiest of fans would deny the great double-take fun of Rocky Rhodes showing up at Malone's door.

That said, Prog 2006's standouts are the Strontium Dog story and a very good Caballistics Inc. one-off. This episode tugs at a variety of plot strands, principally attempting to show us why Hannah Chapter is such an unlikeable, motormouthed bundle of mood in a great jacket, but the really impressive part comes with Ethan Kostabi showing up from his mostly offscreen setting to get the Vatican to leave his employees alone. He does this by blackmailing the Catholic Church with some faith-shattering revelations of Jesus's time, the sort of thing that would fuel the next two or three Dan Brown thrillers, and allows them to continue suppressing the documents' existence in return for their backing off. Boy, I love this.

But actually, the really, really impressive part is the artwork by Dom Reardon. I believe that it's fair to note that Reardon can sometimes be slighted for taking shortcuts, and occasionally, his action scenes are a little stilted and posed. There was a scene a couple of years previously where Hannah punches through a mirror to reveal a camera behind it that comes to mind. But when Reardon is on fire, he really pulls out some amazing work. Take a moment and drink in this amazing panel that I've provided for you, and just look at how much work went into that composition, from its construction to the beautiful, solid inking. This is terrific artwork, and everybody should get the reprint of the story in the second Cabs volume, "Creepshow," to see more.

Stories from this prog have been reprinted in the following collected editions:
Caballistics Inc.: Creepshow (2000 AD's Online Shop)
Low Life: Mega-City One Undercover Vol. 1 (2000 AD's Online Shop)
Nikolai Dante: Sword of the Tsar (Amazon UK)
Slaine: The Books of Invasions Vol. 3 (2000 AD's Online Shop)
Strontium Dog: Traitor to His Kind (2000 AD's Online Shop)

Next time, a look back at The Ten-Seconders and Johnny Alpha's trip to the planet of the baldies. See you next week!