Thursday, April 26, 2012

167. Dredd Rides Into History

September 2006: Scheduling this good just can't be accidental. "Origins," a major Dredd epic that will run for 23 episodes, continuing - with a nine-week break after part 16 - until prog 1535 in May of '07, launches in this issue after nine months of hints and teases. It's got a cover by Brian Bolland, which means you know Tharg's taking this epic seriously. This classic-model droid is only brought back into service for the important things. Bolland's cover pays tribute to two important personal losses, who are given tribute names on the city blocks behind the judges. Longtime letterer Tom Frame, a friend to many who've worked on the Galaxy's Greatest, is given front-and-center treatment on the Mega-City One skyline, with former Pink Floyd vocalist Syd Barrett named on a tower behind him.

There's nothing unsatisfying about the opening episode of "Origins," but it does have that feeling of slow burn about it. Readers can tell that this is an epic that will unfold gradually, and that the hints that there is much more to Dredd's - and the city's - past than we've been told is going to keep everybody hooked while the story shakes out. In other words, this isn't a story that's going to knock anybody out in episode one in prog 1505. No, for that, there's "Cal Hamilton" and Simon Coleby, doing a Dead Man twist in episode six of Malone.

I did vow, some chapters previously, that this blog was done with Sinister Dexter, but Malone deserves a little more comment, because it's just so audacious and so unexpected and so incredibly successful. This is a remarkable fake-out, where it looks like we're following an amnesiac, well-dressed man on some future frontier planet in a noir thriller. The story had seemed a little lost and nondescript among all the wild business around it, especially Dredd, which was probably the plan all along. Amazingly, it is exactly the same twist, told exactly the same way, as The Dead Man. The writer is hiding under a pseudonym, the artist is an established talent not known for or identified with the original subject, and at the end of the penultimate episode, we learn that the protagonist is an established character from another series who has lost his memory. In prog 660, "Keef Ripley" (John Wagner) and John Ridgway showed us that the Dead Man was Judge Dredd, and this time out, "Hamilton" (Dan Abnett) and Coleby revealed that Malone was Finnigan Sinister, who vanished from Downlode one year previously, wiped his memories and had face-change surgery to avoid detection by the police or hitmen working for the crime lord Appelido. The event was hailed from the rooftops as a resounding triumph from every quarter.

Well, I say exactly, but not quite. The big difference between the two twists is that The Dead Man led into one of Dredd's most memorable and amazing adventures, "Necropolis," and Malone led into five years of slow-paced, irregularly-scheduled and incredibly frustrating and unsatisfying stories. And on that note, back to Dredd.

Like "Necropolis," "Origins" was preceded by five weeks of tone-setting episodes. In a story called "The Connection" by Wagner and Kev Walker, Dredd hunts down a pair of mutants - or is it a trio? - who successfully enter the city in order to get a mysterious box into the hands of the judges at a critical moment. Walker illustrates the story with the same moody, dark tone that he had mastered on some earlier Dredd adventures, principally the celebrated "Mandroid." There is some remarkably interesting foreshadowing, as Dredd dreams of conversations with Eustace Fargo. Decades previously, he had been the first chief judge. Dredd and his clone "brothers" had been grown from Fargo's cells, but there had always been confusion as to when this history unfolded. A fan, Robin Low, is given a "special thanks" credit on "Origins" for tracking down all of these very old, throwaway references to the past in such earlier adventures as "The Cursed Earth," "Dredd Angel" and "Oz," and coming up with an actual timeline to put Fargo's life, the emergence and establishment of the judges, and Dredd's rookie days, into an actual, linear sequence for the first time.

"The Connection" ends with the two - or is it three? - mutants dead and that box missing. Dredd, eternally unsatisfied, figures that he'll never know what the heck all this pointless running around and shooting was for and gets back to patrol duty. Unknown to him, a kid, paid fifty creds to deliver the damn box, slowly makes his way to the Grand Hall of Justice. He's silent, the box under his arm. Wagner and Walker have put an awesome, imposing weight around the proceedings. Without a word or a sound effect or a narrative caption, the weight of the final panel is impossibly ominous. This boy is going to change everything. He does. He doesn't even get a name, but all of the astonishing, world-shaking changes that have come to Dredd's world in the last six years all come from this kid.

"Origins" sets up the mutant referendum, which sets up the mutants in Mega-City One stories of 2008, which sets up "Tour of Duty" in 2009-2010, which sets up the currently-running "Day of Chaos" spectacle. I don't even know if "epic" is a big enough word to describe or explain "Day of Chaos." The unimpeachable fact of the matter is that Judge Dredd has spent the last six years being the best comic being published anywhere. It has always been great, well, mostly, but for the last several years, the only comic that I have seen that has been as good as Dredd has been Jaime Hernandez's "Love Bunglers." It's an ongoing, incredibly dense set of game-changing, daring storylines that upend the status quo and destroy reader expectations. I know that I'm preaching to the converted when I say this here at Thrillpowered Thursday, but maybe the word will get out. Nobody, in any genre, is telling continuing adventure drama in the comic medium with half the impact or success of John Wagner in Judge Dredd for the last six years. If you think that you like comics, then the collected edition of "Origins" should be on your shelf, and that's just the start. Period.

So what's in the box? Tissue from Eustace Fargo. Tissue from a living subject. This is hardly the first time that Dredd's gone into the Cursed Earth on a quest for some McGuffin or other, leading him into episodic encounters with strange settlements and ugly situations - see also "The Cursed Earth," "The Judge Child" and "The Hunting Party" - but the stakes have never been so high, nor have readers been so invested. "Origins" begins quite surprisingly slowly, with the first few episodes establishing the ugly reality of life in the wild for mutants, before the second chunk of the story finds a novel way to introduce this never-revealed backstory of Fargo and the introduction of police-with-judging powers to the city streets in the early 21st Century.

The story continues, winding its way through flashbacks and following the demands of the mysterious antagonists who seem to have Fargo's body. Along the way, readers learn a lot more than we ever knew and meet a very, very old enemy again. I'm still not entirely convinced that "Origins" is really the best kind of "new readers start here!" story that some think that it might be - I think that it just relies a little too heavily on continuity that longtime readers take for granted - but it is absolutely a triumph, and it is always a huge pleasure to reread, with a hell of an ending. If you're among the few reading this who have not read "Origins" before, then you definitely need to, and if you already know it, then it is absolutely worth a revisit.

Stories from this prog have been reprinted in the following collected editions:
Judge Dredd: Origins (2000 AD's Online Shop)
Stone Island: The Complete Stone Island (2000 AD's Online Shop)
Nikolai Dante: Sword of the Tsar (Volume Seven, 2000 AD's Online Shop)

Next time, there's an equally important event playing out for Dredd in the Megazine as we meet Cadet Beeny! See you in seven!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

166. Body Horror

August 2006: With, for this issue only, a heavier cardstock used for the cover and four new stories, prog 1500 has the feel of something really important. Everybody likes that terrific front cover by Boo Cook, which is not done justice by the small reproduction of it here. It is a detail-packed little masterpiece, with a gigantic crowd of 2000 AD characters cheering on a Justice Department parade while various recognizable spaceships and things fly overhead. It's like a "Where's Waldo" game - There's Quinch! And Zenith! And the Speedo Ghost from Ace Trucking Company! - and Cook certainly seems to have had a ball with it.

The lineup for this relaunch is Judge Dredd in "The Connection" by John Wagner and Kev Walker, about which more next week, Nikolai Dante by Robbie Morrison and John Burns, Malone by Dan Abnett, writing under the pseudonym Cal Hamilton to preserve the surprise twist in episode six, and Simon Coleby, and Stone Island, a new horror serial by Ian Edginton and Simon Davis. The lineup will be expanded in the next issue with the return of Banzai Battalion by Wagner and Steve Roberts.

Stone Island gets off to one of the best openings that any comic could hope for, but man alive, did this thing ever get bloated and ridiculous before it ended. The double-length first episode really is amazing. It begins with a new arrival at the Long Barrow prison briefly remembering the act that got him incarcerated. Over the first two pages, we see David Sorrel arrive at the cottage that he shares with his wife, look through the window to see her with another fellow. Sorrel brutally kills them both, and stands above their naked, bloodied bodies, his fists clenched in rage. Then he arrives at the prison, making him an extremely curious choice for a protagonist. Gerry Finley-Day, after all, had the sense to make Harry Twenty a political prisoner of a corrupt regime.

There's a lot more to Stone Island than it appears. For a few weeks, it looks like we're following Sorrel and another prisoner as they're fighting for their lives from horrible monsters in the prison. That's the big twist at the end of episode one, which had been played as a straight, real-world drama up to that point: an inmate who got on the losing side of Sorrel in a cafeteria fight and is in the prison infirmary is twisting and mutating into some alien beast. Then it's a desperate race for survival and escape as more inmates turn into monsters. It feels like a terrific movie.

Davis's work on the story is as lush and engaging throughout as we've come to expect from him. He really feels like he's at the top of his game here, and all the characters have that natural realism that defines Davis's best work. A few episodes into the story, we meet a woman who's hiding in the garage along with a warden. We learn in the sequel, where she surprisingly becomes the series' lead, that her name is Sara and she is impossibly beautiful. I think that Davis, in 2005-06, was really fired with imagination and interest. It's not just the beauty that he's bringing to the page - see also the lip-bitingly erotic final night that Ray and Tracy spend together in the Sinister Dexter adventure "...and death shall have no dumb minions" - but he's also engaging in some wilder than normal comedy over in the Megazine and the third Black Siddha story at this time. Then there's the body horror element. Between Stone Island and the more recent Damnation Station and Ampney Crucis Investigates, we've become used in recent years to Davis's depictions of transmogrified people and bizarre, ugly aliens, so it's hard to remember just how unsettling his beasts were at first. These first depictions of Grice, his skin stretched thin to contain his growing skull and lizard-like jaw, really are revolting in the most obscene way. Davis nearly offsets the gruesome imagery with some almost comical eyeballs, and it slightly lessens the impact, but it's still unpleasant and hideous and really works well.

At the time, however, the artwork that caused the most comment was the depiction of the murder in episode one. Unless a cheeky artist hid something they shouldn't have drawn in some detailed art sometime previously, the panel with the two murder victims was the first appearance in 2000 AD of full-frontal male nudity. It's far from erotic - the man's been beaten to death, gruesomely - but it certainly prompted comment, none of it very positive. Later in the story, there's more on display in a bravura anatomy lesson with a man with most of his skin stripped away. Apparently figuring that controversy's a good thing, Edginton and Davis remembered this when they put together the sequel story in 2007. More about that mess down the road.

Meanwhile, on the High Seas, Nikolai Dante is finally moving into the endgame of the long pirate saga which began way back in Prog 2003. By this point, Dante has risked absolutely everything to bring his mother as his captive to her Pacifican rival, Akita Sagawa, hoping for a last-minute inspiration or change of circumstance that will let him come out on top and rescue the two kids he's been working to save. It doesn't work out right for him, and "The Depths" ends with Katarina captured and Dante left for dead. When Lauren and the pirates pull him out of the wreckage, he's got a mess to talk himself out of.

This final run of eight episodes (comprising two stories, "The Depths" and "Dragon's Island") sees the pirate story finally coming to a grand finale, with the Dantes and their allies, including Lauren and that daring duo Flintlock and Spatchcock, in a massive full-scale naval war while Tsar Vladimir's forces wait just outside the battle zone to see how things develop. Inside, there's the usual everything-hitting-the-fan and the revelation that Akita has a secret weapon in reserve. It's swashbuckling business as usual, in other words, by a writer and artist at the top of their games. There's the mild dissatisfaction that this storyline - 40 or so episodes - took nearly four years to tell, as Robbie Morrison took a hiatus in the middle of it to focus on a comic book called The Authority for an American publisher, but it has been a terrific run. What comes next, though, will prove to be even better.

Stories from this prog have been reprinted in the following collected editions:
Judge Dredd: Origins (2000 AD's Online Shop)
Stone Island: The Complete Stone Island (2000 AD's Online Shop)
Nikolai Dante: Sword of the Tsar (Volume Seven, 2000 AD's Online Shop)

Next time, Judge Dredd rides into history. See you in seven!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

165. Dragged Here and Drowned Here

June 2006: While the Judge Dredd Megazine is struggling through its latest set of growing pains, 2000 AD is reliably strong. That terrific cover by Boo Cook heralds the return of Harry Kipling (Deceased) in the third of six stories that will be programmed throughout the year. Isn't that just beautiful and eye-catching? I love it to bits. Other stories this week include The VCs by Dan Abnett and Anthony Williams, Judge Dredd by John Smith and Simon Fraser, and this week's focus stories, The Red Seas by Ian Edginton and Steve Yeowell and London Falling by Si Spurrier and Lee Garbett.

The last time I had the opportunity to write about The Red Seas was back around chapter 158, when the fourth story, "Underworld," was running, but I had other things to talk about. At this point in the series, it feels a lot like Tharg isn't giving it the chance it needs to shine. "Underworld" and this story, "The Hollow Land," form a linked, 22-episode run in which Captain Jack Dancer and his crew, allied with his considerably less immoral half-brother Alexander, have gone into an underworld beneath the earth searching for their father Simeon and a mythical eighth sea, finding a gigantic kingdom of dinosaur men with a knowledge of human warfare tactics. What I mean about "a chance to shine" is this: Tharg seems to want to rush through them. This isn't a case, as I sometimes often nitpick, of how they would read better in a 22-week slot over five months. Rather, "The Hollow Land" is set some weeks after "Underworld," and roars back from its break with a fantastic double-length opener in prog 1691 that really uses the extra pages to its advantage, letting Yeowell loose on some terrific splash pages full of dinosaurs and battle. No, the problem is that Edginton has paced and balanced his episodes quite finely, anticipating a twelve-week run, and Tharg ruins the flow by cramming in two episodes an issue for the second half of the run, so that it can be finished up in eight weeks before the all-new stories in prog 1500.

It's probably a little churlish of me to complain about 2000 AD's occasionally-troubling treatment of female characters when, in recent months, the comic has done so incredibly well with characters like Maggie Roth, Rowan Morrigan and Mariah Kiss, but while "The Hollow Land" has a lot to recommend it, the revelation that the violent dinosaur men are under the control of Jack's former sweetie Isabella really is a mess. We met Isabella in the first "Red Seas" story and she was a little troubling then. A magician, she was more powerful than any of our band of heroes (and, unfairly to Edginton, who really did take the time in "Underworld" to establish the individual characters of Dancer's crew, I still call the pirates who serve with Jack "Davy Dee, Dozy, Mick and Tich," and have no idea which is which), but she served the plot function of "sexy damsel in distress" and nothing more.

Her reappearance here seems desperate and very ill-planned, like Edginton wanted "a face from the past" to surprise Jack as a villain, and then realized that the series hadn't run long enough for anybody but Isabella to function as one. And so in Jack's absence, Isabella "got strong," which, all too often with female characters, means that she turned into a villain. Seriously, it's not like this character was designed with a great deal of nuance in the first place - Jack's first words in the narrative to her were "Get your knickers off," after all - but this feels rote and tired. For a series that's so very full of really surprising and high-concept twists - in this story, Jim gets killed by Isabella and his body revived and inhabited by an alien called Hnau, for instance - this chestnut of a plot device is a real disappointment.

But while The Red Seas may be suffering, at this point, from Edginton being so focused on the structure and the concepts that he's lost sight of original and novel characterization, the artwork is just thunderously good throughout. In "Underworld," the scripts required Yeowell to illustrate some scenes that would have challenged anybody else in the business. Most of the London-based, "above ground" material is what you'd expect for a series set in 1761 that sees "suicide bomber" dinosaur-men assassins hunting some pirates - all right, so perhaps the words "what you'd expect" don't really belong in a sentence like this - but when the plot goes underground, it gets completely wild. Yeowell is given the amazing task of drawing the gang's ship, powered by air sails and balloons, racing through gigantic, cavernous tunnels and pursued by huge, flying monsters that look like luminous jellyfish. There are certainly panels within this sequence where the visuals are so downright strange that any reader must pause to question what the heck they're actually looking at, but Yeowell pulls it off better than almost anybody else could be expected to, honestly. It's every bit as wild, in its way, as Kevin O'Neill's early '80s stories in the Terror Tube.

This continues as "The Hollow Land" reaches its climax, and we meet Hnau, the alien entity responsible for this world. Edginton's debt, one that he has certainly acknowledged, to Wells and to Burroughs, is pretty clear here. Again, Yeowell is tasked with drawing some downright bizarre imagery to illustrate the place that Hnau occupies - I dunno, in a conventional story, you'd call it a "palace" or a "fortress," and Dancer's gang would like to think of it that way, but it doesn't really work the way that they want it to - and part of me thinks that this sequence would have been more consistently comprehensible with a little color to nail down, or ground, the artwork, but Yeowell still knows enough about how to pace a scene to make elements incredibly memorable. The slow pullback to reveal Isabella's final fate, suffocating, trapped on an alien world, and about to be eaten, is a real classic.

While there were bits in The Red Seas where the artwork left me baffled, Si Spurrier's script for London Falling had me utterly lost the first time I came to it. This was a story that had me frustrated and I soon gave up. It's a short little serial, just five episodes, in which a gang of immortal boogeymen, "hiding out" as everyday Londoners, decide to follow an old boss back into the limelight after he gets his panties in a twist because nobody's scared of them anymore.

Now, Spurrier, god bless 'im, has always been a very dense writer who demands close reading from his audience just to follow the action. His work is complicated by an often unreliable first-person narration - not necessarily a bad thing - and lots of slang - again, not necessarily a problem, especially when he's dealing with the often comical "future slang" of Lobster Random - and very abrupt transitions between scenes. I think one small part of my initial problem is that Garbett is young and learning. Perhaps the color is another part of the problem? It's credited to Chris Ollis & Ruby, of whom I don't believe we see much more in 2000 AD, and it's unflatteringly solid and uniform. Whoever's to blame, the artwork doesn't give any sense of location or the passing of time. In episode two, two of the boogeymen characters are dropped off at Buckingham Palace. This is not explained in any way, in dialogue or visuals. When we see the Palace in an establishing shot two pages later, the boogeymen have changed their forms, forcing us to go back and speculate that the action in the episode's final third was carried out by the silent characters seen, briefly, in the first third.

The slang in the captions was a real nightmare for me to follow. Here are some examples from prog 1492: "first thing in the gypsy," "a boot up the aris," "two 'undred donkey," and so on. There's a lyrical bit towards the beginning about how two churches on the banks of a river got their names from giants who shared a hammer, emphasizing the feel that this is a story rooted in language and old traditions, and helps clue readers in by a very different approach than what we might expect in a comic, like establishing shots and captions that describe the location. It's complex, but there's value to it.

When I first read it, I made the mistake of suspecting that I would have an easier time following it if I knew who the characters were. I caught that these were villains from old English folklore, but I only knew of "Black Annis" from a reference in Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol for DC Comics, and "Rawhead and Bloodybones" from a song by Siouxsie and the Banshees, and had never heard of "Jenny Greenteeth" or "Jack Capelthwaite" before. As it turned out, knowledge about them isn't actually necessary. All that you need to know is that they're all boogeymen. This kind of contradicts the gang's leader, Shuck, who gets all bent out of shape because nobody knows anything about them these days, though, doesn't it?

Stories from this prog have been reprinted in the following collected editions:
Harry Kipling (Deceased): The Complete Harry Kipling is scheduled to be republished as a free "graphic novel" bagged with Megazine 323.

Next time, it's full frontal nudity in Stone Island!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

164. Nothing Looks Quite Right

Welcome back to Thrillpowered Thursday, the blog where I reread my collection of 2000 AD, the Galaxy's Greatest Comic, along with its sister titles, and tell you about the wonderfully fun stories that I enjoy. I try to look back at things with a little sense of history and context, and for the next eight weeks, I'll be looking at some issues that were published in the second half of 2006.

In the present day, the comic celebrated its 35th anniversary in February, and perhaps you, dear reader, might be scratching your head wondering why in the world I would schedule some down time to go dark during the festivities, particularly as it was during the 30th anniversary that I started thinking about writing about the comic, its history and fandom. I have not actually been idle, as regular readers of all the Hipster Dad blogs know; over at my Bookshelf blog, I've been featuring a 2000 AD-related review every week - eight of 'em since I last wrote here. Check 'em out, and then tell your friends, share the links and spread the word. It's always good to let your friends who don't read Tharg's Mighty Organ of Thrillpower know that it isn't only you who loves this stuff. It's how we get new readers, I'd say.

But anyway, what I do here is look at the stack of comics-to-reread and schedule issues every fifth or sixth or so along the teetering, toppling tower that might spark a thing or two that I might want to talk about. And so we come to June of 2006 and Judge Dredd Megazine # 246, which is a good point to bring up Matt Smith's editorship of this title and the teething troubles that he appeared to have settling into things. Of course, charting the history of the Meg, as David Bishop did in very great detail over the course of a series of articles that had recently concluded at the time this issue was published, shows just how schizophrenic and unpredictable the comic is. The Meg has changed focus, page count, size, number of reprint pages, you name it, every few years and, under the editorship of Alan Barnes, it had spent about three years being unmissably good. It was a solid, fantastic, hundred-page book with five new stories of about 8-12 pages in each issue, backed up with some choice reprints from the pages of both 2000 AD and Battle Picture Weekly and some excellent text features.

Unfortunately, declining sales have meant that the good times have come to an end by 2006 and, while there is still a lot to love about the Mighty Meg today, the issues of the present just don't have the breadth to compare with the Barnes model. But before we get to the strong uptick in quality that makes today's Meg a very good read, there's this mess to deal with. For starters, there's a four-part Judge Dredd story called "Regime Change." It's got a very good script by Gordon Rennie that sees Mega-City One overthrowing the corrupt leaders of the South American Ciudad Barranquilla as part of an international "peacekeeping force." Unfortunately, there's the art by Inaki Miranda and Eva de la Cruz.

Now, part of what has made Dredd such a memorable strip is the editors' willingness to let artists go off-model. Wild experimentation is what led us to the memorable imagery of, say, Kevin O'Neill and Brendan McCarthy. But that's one thing, and this refugee from muscle beach is another.

To their credit, Miranda and de la Cruz provide some excellent pacing and clean, coherent storytelling, but with wonky anatomy and easy outs-via-stereotyping and caricature, the whole story really does look crass and unpleasant. And while there is certainly a long tradition of the Judge Dredd comic strip indulging in below-the-belt racist comedy in the artwork, that is a tradition that had mostly been tamed for what seems like at least a decade before two Sino-Cit judges show up, all buck-toothed and ready to frighten us with their yellow peril. The artwork was barely floating in the first place before, with one panel, the whole thing gets torpedoed.

It's not just Dredd that looks sloppy and ridiculous, though. In Fiends of the Eastern Front, the almost-always reliable Colin MacNeil elects to letter his own artwork. Not one person on the planet is pleased with his choice of font.

Mercifully, Matt Smith steps up and puts a stop to this after three episodes. The remaining five are lettered by the long-serving Annie Parkhouse, who does not use that font. I think that there's a lesson here for all of us.

"Stalingrad," the first new comic adventure for Fiends since the original in 1980, is further hampered by its bizarre scheduling. It is running alongside the third adventure for Pat Mills and Simon Davis' Black Siddha. Both were commissioned by Barnes, but the budget crunch and loss of pages has left Smith without the space available to run them as they were produced. I believe that both were planned as six episodes of eight pages each, but Smith has only six black and white pages and six color pages for new comics other than Dredd in each issue at the time, so they each get spread over eight months.

The problem, of course, with doing that is that a comic paced as an eight-page episode loses all of its impact when, in its first month, you only get six of the pages and an abrupt ending, and then, in the second, you get two pages where the action rises to a weird climax, resolved over the third and maybe the fourth page, and then moves through the first half of the scripted second episode. A monthly episode needs at least eight pages to "breathe" properly anyway, and this inelegant solution doesn't benefit either story at all.

Having said that, I've argued (most recently over at my Bookshelf blog about ABC Warriors) that, at this point in his career, Mills is writing without concern for cliffhangers anyway. The Black Siddha story, "Return of the Jester," appears to be a single 48-page story and it might not matter how well it is divided, except that it simply doesn't have the impact, carved up the way that it is. "Stalingrad" fares even less well, as its writer, David Bishop, was certainly thinking in terms of individual episodes with specific rises and falls in each installment.

I guess another thing that happened since the last time I wrote in this blog is that Mills gave an absolutely epic three-hour interview for the ECBT2000AD guys and their podcast, and he took another swipe at this Fiends adventure. Bishop had previously been commissioned by the prose publisher Black Flame to write three or four Fiends novels that were pretty well-received, but it certainly didn't please Mills to see anybody else writing Fiends comics other than the strip's creator, Gerry Finley-Day. While the production issues - and, I'm sorry, Colin, the lettering - certainly impacted everybody's enjoyment of Fiends, Mills' comments about anybody other than a strip - any strip's - creator scripting new episodes were appreciated by Smith, who declined to commission any more stories. But he also hasn't commissioned any new Black Siddha either, leaving the story with a reasonably happy ending for its hero.

Stories from this prog have been reprinted in the following collected editions:
Fiends of the Eastern Front: The Complete Fiends of the Eastern Front (2000 AD's Online Shop)

Next time, the Red Seas are underground and Rawhead and Bloodybones are in London Town. See you in seven!