Thursday, March 7, 2013

195. Catching up with the Meg

July 2009: It has been several chapters since I popped by to check on the mighty Megazine and tell readers how it was doing. The answer is "not too shabby." It's been a little more than a year since Tank Girl took up residency, and, as yet, the majority of readers are not too sick of it yet. The Tank Girl experience is going to provide ample evidence that the readers really prefer a regular turnover for the Meg, with lots of different stories from the gigantic bank of recurring series available to the editor. Unfortunately, with only thirteen issues a year, and consequently just 26 slots for new stories in the Dreddworld, we've reached the point where giant gaps between stories in a series is just the natural state of affairs.

Issue 287 comes just after a really risky experiment, where the two slots were given over, for five months, to two brand new series instead of bringing back Devlin Waugh or Anderson or one of the big names, or even a known quantity like one of the once-in-a-long-time series such as Bato Loco or Johnny Woo. Fortunately, it worked out all right, because one of those slots was for Insurrection by Dan Abnett and Colin MacNeil. The other was, unfortunately, Citi-Def by Tony Lee and an artist who goes by the name Jackademus, which wasn't very good at all, but at least it had dinosaurs in it. Insurrection was extremely popular with readers, particularly ones familiar with a strategy game called "Warhammer 40k," because it's allegedly a lot like a Warhammer campaign set in the outer space fringes of Dredd's universe. I don't know what the heck Warhammer is, but I liked this comic just fine. A second story will run in 2011, and a third and final run is expected later this year.

As these stories wrapped up, it was back to the well for a pair that were more recognizable, even if the first was only just so. Meet Darren Dead by Rob Williams and John Higgins had been introduced more than three years previously, in a one-off episode published in Meg 240. In the days before any of the atomic wars that shaped Dredd's world, Darren had been a British celebrity, apparently something akin to Russell Brand (about whom I know nothing other than what Wikipedia can tell me), only known for stage magic and escape artistry instead of being outlandish and marrying Katy Perry. He had been buried alive in a stage stunt when the bombs went off, and he remained locked up for many decades, radiation both keeping him alive and unkillable, and giving him the power to talk to the dead. This high concept is not mined for drama, but ridiculous and fun comedy. Darren Dead is a very reluctant hero. He's a rich, easily offended, pretentious idiot.

Sadly, Darren Dead seems to have been retired after this three-part adventure. Admittedly, the concept is a tiny bit limiting, and the character is just a little bit obnoxious, but this story is huge fun. He's blackmailed into solving a series of murders involving a villain in a robot panda suit, and leaves the story alive but decapitated, and relying on his assistant to carry his head around. Not too many protagonists in any comic are bodiless heads. Well, there was the melted fellow in a bucket in the Wagner/Grant/Kennedy Outcasts series for DC Comics, and that's about it.

Armitage has had a much more frequent run than anything that's been in the Meg for some time. This is the second of Dave Stone's stories to be illustrated by John Cooper. Cooper will draw one more story, in 2010, before Patrick Goddard steps in for the terrific "Underground" in 2012.

"The Mancunian Candidate" sees the writer doing his usual trick of juggling more dense plots than anybody else in the business. This time, we've got dark revelations about Armitage's partner's childhood coming at the same time when our hero could really use her assistance. Instead, she's been institutionalized for her incredibly violent behavior, and he's been saddled with some upper-class twit who carries around an antique firearm for some fool reason.

While Tank Girl is kind of entertaining, there are signs that it's wearing out its welcome. The ten-part "Skidmarks" story ended with a very aggravating cop-out ending, the sort of thing that might have been okay had we been following the story for two or three issues, but dumping an "it was all a dream" variant after ten was a guaranteed way to start some ill-will. Online and in the letters pages, we're starting to see some resentment seep through. It's evident that Tank Girl has run too long already, but there's still much more to come. On one hand, there's the question of why this series should proceed uninterrupted for so long, but on the other, if Armitage or Devlin Waugh were to get this sort of residency, would readers eventually turn on it as well?

Well, they might, but I'd love to see a ten-month run of both of 'em.

Next time, Judge Dredd is exiled to the Cursed Earth, and Lulu takes off her clothes again. See you in seven!

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