Thursday, August 23, 2012

179. Won't Somebody Please Think of the Children

September 2007: We're just going to have to do something about this Betelgeusian menace, friends. Not content with fanning the flames of lustful women and corrupting children's minds with the first story of Stone Island in the summer of 2006, the pornographer from Quaxxan is back with even more pulchritude and full-frontal male nudity in the second. Twice. The first time, it's on a dead fellow, again. Boys, you don't want to star in Stone Island, because the odds are pretty good that you're either going to suffer the body horror nastiness of having your outsides elongated and turned into some long-beaked killing machine, or you're going to die and be stripped naked, all your secrets revealed by Simon Davis's elegant painting. Well, as elegant as you can be with your entrails ripped out. This is a nasty, ugly, visceral comic book, and, five episodes into story two, following up the pair of murdered-and-stripped fellahs in the first tale, we're at our first dead and flaccid cast member. (Intentional.)

At that point, we've already seen off this beautiful cover by Frazer Irving, who, last I checked, was still enjoying the nice paychecks from doing trademark protection work for DC and Marvel. He is notable for being one of the artists to contribute to the last Marvel Comic that I bought, a black and white one-off anthology called The Mystic Hands of Dr. Strange in 2010. Inside, it's his final-to-date job for the House of Tharg, pinch-hitting for Arthur Ranson on the fourth adventure for John Wagner's Button Man. Sadly, the cover art here is the best thing about the story, which is by far the weakest of the series, and totally unnecessary.

"The Hitman's Daughter" makes the baffling decision to reduce Harry Exton to a supporting character in his own strip. It's about the very skilled and highly-trained Adele Cotter, who's in her late teens or early twenties. About fifteen years previously, her father, one of the gun-toting fighters in The Game, had been killed by a few other players while Adele hid silently in a closet. Harry Ex was apparently one of the four men who came to murder her old man.

Irving's work is, sad to say, far below his usual standard, the beauty of that front cover notwithstanding. Apparently, he was invited to contribute as Ranson's health and eyesight had been fading, leading the much-loved creator to retirement. That fantastic series of interconnected Anderson: Psi-Division stories from 2004-2006 ("Half-Life" / "WMD" / "Lock-In" / "City of Dead" / "Lucid") seems to be Ranson's final major work. There are certainly elements of greatness in Irving's artwork, and, if anybody had to step in for Ranson, then Irving was a good choice, but much of his work here feels quite rushed. Episode twelve, in particular, is full of very heavy black lines and "mushy" faces, as though the dreaded deadline doom was looming. The big, climactic gunfight in an abandoned shopping mall is confused and disorienting. It honestly doesn't feel like Irving mapped out his environment before dumping his characters into it. Worst of all, the previous three stories had such incredibly memorable, thrilling endings, and this one is completely forgettable. I had honestly forgotten how it concludes until rereading it.

There's still a lot to like about 2000 AD during this summer run. There's a series of very good Judge Dredd episodes, and, as mentioned last time, Caballistics Inc. and The ABC Warriors, which are both huge fun. This second story of Stone Island, on the other hand, seems pretty pointless and forgettable, despite the presence of another dead naked man, and then we get to the final episode in prog 1559 and... oh, my.

The other dead men in the story were so dead and so ravaged that their nudity was incidental. Something's sort of different when the dead man is a reanimated corpse, walking around all blue and purple and striding around in the altogther. And unlike another blue-purple reanimated corpse with incredible powers in an old comic by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Simon Davis puts considerably more detail into this fellow's altogether than the two little squiggles that Gibbons drew. Kind of a mixed message when we all want to see more kids reading 2000 AD and the audience to grow, and at the same time the comic provides parents with a reason to, as some British newspapers say, "ban this sick filth."

Good God, man, cover yourself with some word balloons or something. Why, Tharg, why, indeed.

Stories from this issue have been reprinted in the following collected editions:

The ABC Warriors: The Volgan War Vol. 2 (2000 AD's Online Shop)

Button Man: The Hitman's Daughter (Volume Four, from 2000 AD's Online Shop)

Stone Island: The Complete Stone Island (2000 AD's Online Shop)

That's all from Thrillpowered Thursday for now! I'll be back in October for more, and in the meantime, pop over to the Hipster Dad's Bookshelf for the next few Tuesdays for reviews of more recent 2000 AD stories and collected editions for your shelves.

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