Thursday, February 14, 2013

192. After the Flood

April 2009: The cover of prog 1631 is one of 2000 AD's modern classics. That is a beautiful piece of artwork in its own right, never mind all the cute in-jokes hidden within it. It is spotlighting the climax to an eight-part Low Life adventure by Rob Williams and the latest artist, D'Israeli. The story itself is among the weirdest and most high-concept escapades to ever play out in Mega-City One, which is saying something, but it's such a brilliant set of visuals. Inside, we've got a major Judge Dredd story by John Wagner and Carl Critchlow, Nikolai Dante by Robbie Morrison and Simon Fraser, a new series called Necrophim by Tony Lee and Lee Carter, along with the two stories I'm including today. I'm definitely going to have to find time to go back and just spend one of these chapters talking about "Backlash" and its follow-ups; this storyline is going to continue until the summer of 2010.

Low Life is a series that everybody enjoys because everybody loves Dirty Frank, and because the criminal schemes that play out in this sector of the city are grandiose and bizarre. This one, honestly, barely hangs together. I mean, this latest play by the Big Man to control the sector involves shakedowns and blackmail via billboards that use nanotech to replicate Biblical imagery and disasters, everything from rains of frogs to burning bushes to leviathans and floods. If you stare at the story too hard, it cracks and falls completely apart, but nobody wants to do that because it's more fun just to follow Dirty Frank being himself and look beyond the actual plot, at the characterization and the artwork.

The story begins with Dirty Frank learning that a Long Walk is in his future. Frank's handler, Thora, calls him back in to tell him that despite his successes, the department considers him a liability. He's just too unhinged, he is not reliable anymore, and he smells terrible.

But after he saves the day - a costumed, and awesome, alter-ego is credited with an assist - there's a clue that there might be more to this story than we were told. Throughout "Creation," we get flashbacks to what appears to be one of Frank's last uniformed missions, perhaps somewhere in Asia, that goes horribly wrong and leaves him stranded on a mountainside in a blizzard. A single, gigantic snowflake keeps appearing, looming huge in his memory. We're shown at the end how he managed to survive until a rescue party arrives. Freezing to death and seconds away from his end, he's put that out of his mind and is seeing the world as a tropical paradise instead. It's how Frank survives anywhere; he creates his own reality. Perhaps this criminal adventure was not as ridiculous as we're told. Our hero is, after all, the very definition of an unreliable narrator.

Meanwhile, prog 1631 also sees the first appearance of a new character, Spartacus Dandridge. Like Jack Point and D.R. & Quinch before him, he makes his debut as in a one-off adventure, a Past Imperfect, some time before he gets a series. "Antiquus Phantasma" is set in 1905, but it's not quite our 1905. It's full of spirits and ghosts and poltergeists and very flashy clothes.

Dandridge - what a perfect name for this character - is a flashy, well-dressed bon vivant who occasionally does a little bit of ghost-hunting. In one of the most densely packed, and perfectly paced, five page stories that 2000 AD has ever assembled, we get a grip on this crazy world and this dandy of a protagonist, who changes outfits three times, and also get an exciting plot, a twist revelation about the identity of the ghost - spirits and their corpses being collectible status symbols in this world - and then a whacking huge twist ending after that: Dandridge is abruptly shot dead by gunmen in the employ of his creditors, who figure that he's much more valuable as a ghost than alive. Shooting him and selling him is the most sensible way to settle his tailoring bills! I hate that circumstances require that the ending be spoiled, because had a series never developed, this would have stood alone as one of the very best one-offs in 2000 AD's history. So darn much happens in this episode that it really demands to be immediately reread.

The character was created by new writer Alec Worley and artist Warren Pleece, and, happily, this wasn't the last we've seen of him. He'll return for three more short stories and one-offs in 2010 and 2011. A fifth story will be arriving pretty soon now - April, I think - and I'm looking forward to it. These stories are set 76 years after "Antiquus Phantasma," and are very fun and charming.

Next time, two very popular series make triumphant debuts. See you in seven! In the meantime, if you enjoy this blog, please tell a friend or something. Share on Facebook or Twitter, or send the link to somebody who should read it. Or everybody who should read it for that matter! Even Google Plus would be a help.

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