Thursday, May 30, 2013

203. Training Wheels

September 2010: The King's Speech is released. Tony Curtis dies, and, with him goes the final remaining living memory of sex with Marilyn Monroe. There's a new launch prog featuring Dredd, Defoe, Nikolai Dante, Low Life, and a new series, Age of the Wolf. So this week, I'm hitting the absolute bottom of the "drawing together connections to spark a point about worth writing a post" barrel. Fair warning. I thought I had something, and I didn't, and all that's left is fairly weak. But would you believe that there are two stories running in the comic this month with very strong female characters and they're both driving motorcycles? No kidding.

As much as we (obviously) love 2000 AD, the one place where it constantly needs improvement is bringing in female creators, writers, and artists, and developing stronger female protagonists. A big part of that development, for me, is building a world around that character and her situation, rather than other, earlier, male characters. That's why spinoffs don't quite count with me. As much as I liked Samantha Slade, she was operating in the shadow of her grandfather, your old pal Sam. Rafe and Venus Bluegenes both have Rogue Trooper's DNA. Judges Anderson, Hershey, Karyn, and even Aimee Nixon are all policing the same streets as Joe Dredd.

Judge Nixon almost qualifies for me because she's so radically different from Dredd, and in the Low Life adventure "Hostile Takeover," she has one humdinger of a character turn. We'll come back to that in the next chapter, but it's worth noting that in the beginning of this story by Rob Williams and D'Israeli, she's the centerpiece of one of the period's very best cliffhangers. Racing down the mean streets of Mega-City One with the indefatigable Judge Dirty Frank in tow, she comes across a biker in a suit of samurai armor. And then another. They're riding very strange bikes, beautifully designed by D'Israeli but which appear really impractical, having just one big tire. Then, ahead of them, there's a single man holding a sword. Dirty Frank seems to take the worst of it, but he's just overreacting to a scratch. Judge Nixon... she doesn't come out well.

Outside of spinoffs such as these, you really have to put your thinking cap on to find a recent series built around a female lead. (This subject came up about a year later on a friend's Facebook page and some guy chimed in "What about Halo Jones?" Yeah. Awesome. That's the default answer to 2000 AD's lack of female leads: a character who last appeared more than a quarter of a century ago.) That's why Age of the Wolf arrived to instant appreciation. It is the first series in 2000 AD by Alec Worley, although his earlier one-off "Antiquus Phantasma" would be developed into the series Dandridge a little later on. It's drawn by Jon Davis-Hunt, who's been improving and impressing more and more with each appearance in the comic, and the lead character, Rowan Morrigan, bears a pleasing enough resemblance to the actress Karen Gillan, who first appeared on Doctor Who about five months previously.

Davis-Hunt does a simply amazing job laying out the action sequences, but he still has one little artistic hiccup that drives me nuts and, at this point, hasn't seen much improvement from his debut with Stalag 666, and that's his depiction of people running. I can't spell out exactly what's wrong, just that the crowd escaping from the London Underground station in episode two seems frozen in place and wearing lead shoes, which is a very strange problem for somebody who also possesses the talent to make a motorcycle appear as though it's about to leap out of the page to have.

Age of the Wolf - I'm so accustomed to writing about the fictional detective Nero Wolfe that I keep typing "wolf" and adding an e - is a modern-day (well, 2016) thriller that sees England beset by werewolves. There has been a full moon for nine days, and a snowy London has almost immediately become a hunting ground for beasts. Rowan can save the world by fulfilling an ancient prophecy and dying, but she isn't willing to go without a fight.

This series really shows off more and more with subsequent rereads. It turns out that all the place-setting dialogue on page one of the story does more than merely tip a hat to Sydney Jordan and Willie Patterson, the creators of the classic, cerebral adventure strip Jeff Hawke, it sets up the whole premise of sacrifice. From the ancient Greeks to the comely lasses of medieval fairy tales being given up for dragons, there's a long history of women being given up to satisfy a monster and save the world. Nobody has ever really asked what the victim has to say about that.

Rowan doesn't get the opportunity to turn matters around and start kicking werewolf ass until the second book of Age of the Wolf in 2012, but she immediately makes an impact as a character who we want to follow. Her fate is cruel and unfair and we want her to strike back against it. This requires her to run, and episodes 2-5 of the first story are a long and mostly brilliant chase scene. People who were not paying attention to the prophecy aspect, and the very heavy undercurrent of Norse mythology, wolves, and endless winter - fair cop, that would totally include me the first time around - would be blindsided by the strange direction the series takes once things calm down for a moment and it looks like Rowan has found a short refuge. We meet some new characters as Rowan's decision to live looks like it's going to damn the world.

I kind of hate myself for missing the very clear telegraphing that this series is about what happens when Midgard is given up to the wolves, but, to be fair and honest, Worley's only real error in laying out this story was introducing it via what looks to be an incredibly skippable and long monologue being read by a radio broadcaster to the silent halls of a museum. Often in the comic medium, a writer's intention can be subverted by the way that readers absorb comics, and the way that the editors and publishers promote them. This is not, despite all evidence, an action story about a girl on a motorbike fighting werewolves in familiar London, but when, for a solid month, that's what we read, it's a little tough to turn over the coin and tell readers that what they've read is just the scene one hook, not without resentment and confusion. So no, I don't think that Book One of Age of the Wolf went over very well with readers in the end; there was lots of grumbling about the witches and the prophecies and how the heck did this urban thriller transform into ponderous Norse mumbo-jumbo, but it reveals more on each reread. Book Two, which appeared in 2012, was more successful - there is a hell of a blind twist in that one - and I believe that the third and final book is due in September of this year. I'm looking forward to it!

We'll take another short break here to accommodate my being behind on another project and then going out of town. Thrillpowered Thursday will resume on the 20th with more about Defoe and what happens to Nixon and Frank next. See you then! 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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