Thursday, October 05, 2006

Soft bodies - well 'ard

Hey, that was the cover copy for Prog 594, don't blame me. 2000 AD always did have a fondness for this kind of pun, or whatever it is. I suppose it's a general rule of magazines that their covers and headlines should attempt to be some kind of a play on words.

Anyway, what I'm here to do today is to explore the most confusing series ever to see print in the comic: Tyranny Rex's third outing, titled 'Soft Bodies'.

This is Tyranny Rex:

You can't see it here, but she is part lizard, with a tail and everything. If you really closely at Will Simpson's picture, you can see some scales on her high cheekbones. First drawn and presumably designed by Steve Dillon, king of clear storytelling, she is in fact the creation of writer John Smith, king of obscure storytelling. Thus ensues a character who is likeable and interesting, appears only sporadically, and has adventures that are generally weird.

Before launching into 'Soft Bodies', it's worth attempting to describe Tyranny's world, at least, as far as is known, even today - 15 years and about 10 longer adventures on.

I think Tyranny is mainly an artist, although she's clearly also some kind of mercenary. The big thin in art in whatever far future time we're in is cloning, or at least, body-building (other people's, that is, not your own!). These creations are clearly not fully human, don't have the same life experiences or rights, but appear to be sentient beings. Sadly, this is all pure speculation, as this aspect was never much drawn out in the strip. Mostly it was an excuse to have a rather well rendered clone of Prince wandering around using text speak.

So, on to 'soft bodies' - a title that surely refers to the artistic creations of Tyranny and a bunch of others. It might also turn out to have a meta-meaning as well, you never know. For this 5-parter, John Smith was joined by Chris Standley on scripting, which apparently made for an even more obscure story than usual. New artist Will Simpson was a radical change from Dillon, but he turns out to have a great way with the clones, and a nicely realist touch. I get the impression that Smith wanted T. Rex to be realist in the same vein as Halo Jones, but was more interested in what the weirdos of future worlds got up to. Indeed, this may have been a succesful concept if the 2000 AD remit hadn't required both Rex and Jones to end up toting massive guns.

Anyway, the realistic angle is, I think, already clear from the dialogue in the panel above; Smith/Standley are attempting to script genuine conversation, with all it's half-finished sentences and non-sequitors. Of course, you have to read carefully to follow this kind of dialogue. Sure, sometimes there are things left unsaid in real life, but it gets confusing in a comic strip that only has five poages a week to play with.

Look, I've read this story about 4 times, and it's evident that the art is clear and occasionally beautiful. Simpson surely drew each panel as asked, so the problem lies with the script. Except, annoyingly, it's not a problem, it's deliberate.

So, what happens after Tyranny pours a glass of milk for her companions?

Clone attack!

(The two beshaded dudes are Fervent and Lobe, operatives for 'Indigo Prime', another innovative John Smith concept. Like all members of Indigo Prime, the pair are dead. This is referred to in 'Soft bodies', but not in a way that makes any sense until Indigo Prime got their own series about 2 years later...)

Next, Fervent upsets an art dignitary by assuming her dog is evil. Everyone is forced to escape by helicopter.

Oblique references are soon made regarding Fervent and Lobe's relationship. (Hey, it was way oblique to me when I was 11). Possibly the only acknowledged gay couple in 2000 AD? Also, first in a long line of gay characters created by Smith, although Milligan and Morrison were keen to get a few of their own in, too. All with a delightful lack of fanfare from Tharg, who is always keen to let his droids just get on with telling good stories.

So far, the story makes sense, even if we don't really know who the characters are or what their motivation is... Tyranny, I think, has been hired to find out why a bunch of clones are breaking down, including a few of her own. She rounds up Fervent and Lobe to help her (they're kind of psychic or something). They break into some compound and get harrased by some rampant clones, then find themselves at a posh art ball. So far, so bizarre, but the narrative just about holds up.

Then, an unherladed evil John Smith villain (refined, distinctive haircut, likes torture - see every Smith story ever) turns up from nowhere. Not clear what his agenda is. Tyranny, Fervent and Lobe are safely hidden away inside a clone's body (hence the darkness)...

At this point the story pauses for about 6 weeks. Now, this may have been due to a slow artist or a printing problem, but I don't know; Will Simpson managed to squeeze in a couple of Dredds while the readers were waiting for part 5 of 'soft bodies'. The conspiracy theorist in me suspects it was a deliberate request by the writers. I mean, how typical is it to have four episodes in a row, then a long wait for just the final bang? Of course, now I'm going to make you wait, too.


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