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!

1 comment:

Tordelback said...

Another great post, but I can't agree with you about Ramone's 'death'. The whole point of Tracy shooting him was to try for a non-lethal-but-serious wound that would prevent the rest of the DCPD from riddling him with bullets. That's even cooler than just mah-woman-done-shot-me-down. Better yet was the horror of Ramone's subsequent fate, a quadriplegic rotting in the basement of a maximum security prison. I'll agree to some extent that the (retitled) War of the Moses has been a bit of a mess, largely due to scheduling, but the Malone/Prison sequence that followed on from Dumb Minions was as good a run as the strip has ever had. Oh, and the bad thing about Holy Moses 2 is that he isn't just another gang boss, he's hell-bent on interdimensional conquest, with no interest in anything other than total control of Downlode - not just the kind of equilibrium of competing criminal powers that form the original setting.