Friday, December 29, 2006

20 years ago today

Over on the 2000 AD review site, you'll be able to find extensive opinions on the year just gone. Including mine, natch. In honour of that fine tradition, I thought I'd pick an as-yet-unreviewed year at random (i.e. all of them up to 2003) and have a go.

So, 1986. Progs 451-502.

I assure you it was meant to be a random choice, but it seems to have been an awesome year for 2000 AD. I should add that it was sort of my first year of exposure to the comic. Sort of, in the sense that my older brother (and my father who paid for them) were actually reading each Prog. I merely marvelled at the covers, read the occasional episode that wasn't too off-putting to my 7/8-year-old eyes, and looked forward to the days when I'd be old enough to get all the jokes.

I've used the current 2000 AD review categories, but I might embellish some to be a bit fairer, since the circumstances were different in those days. And I'm afraid I don't yet have scans of the period to share with you, instead I'll make use of some covers appropriated from the main 2000 AD site.

Best Dredd continuing story or one-off:

No mega-epics in 1986; instead, Dredd was in the Wagner/Grant heyday of short comic one-off wonders. My favourite - It pays to be Mental, which shows Mega-City 1 through the eyes of a card-carrying moron. If I was in continuity mode, I'd be inclined to list 'The Warlord' (of racistish covers fame), which was a fun story that ultimately saw the resignation of Chief-Judge-for-the-first-time McGruder. And a few months after that we were treated to 'Letter from a democrat', which was an early effort in the long-running saga about Dredd's qualms about the Judge system. Thought-provoking stuff. And I suppose the introduction of recurring villain Stan Lee aka Deathfist was kinda fun, too.

Best Series: ("Judge Dredd" is excluded from this category)
Well, really, it has to be Halo Jones. 1986 kicked off with Book 3, the best of the Jones outings, and widely held to be the best story ever published in the comic. And it is quite brilliant. Moving, scathing, clever, funny. Also, I'm a sucker for Ian Gibson's art. No point even trying to argue that another series in 1986 was better, but that seems criminal when strips like Strontium Dog: Rage and Anderson: the Possessed have to be overlooked.

Best one-off: (again excluding Dredd one-offs)
Plenty of Future Shocks to choose from. Truth be told, I can't remember a lot of them. I also haven't gone so far as to re-read the relevant Progs, so excuse the half-formed opinions particularly in this category. I've plumped for Candy and the Catchman, which has a great title and a story that I can remember, so it must be pretty good. Had it been published a few years later it would have been a 'terror tale' rather than a future shock. Children being scared by a sinister boogeyman - generic but well-defined horror.

Best moment from any strip:
(spoilers ahoy, God damn you)
Well now, the toilet suicide in Halo Jones was pretty dramatic I can tell you. The moment when young Hammy Blish shows his possessed Gargarax face for the first time (admittedly spoiled by the cover and teaser pages...) was classic 80s horror stuff. You remember, when horror was all about showing gory stuff and nasty monsters, not just people getting knifed. And then that 70s ending where Anderson has to shoot Hammy. Whoo boy. Psi Judge Omar's triumphant defeat of Shojo. And let's not forget the intro to Bad Company, especially that final page pin-up of the whole crew. You just knew from that these were characters who had something to get excited about. And on the opposite end of the scale, I remember giggling at the time Feek the Freek got stuck up robot King Kong's nose and was hiding away from a poking fingernail. A serious contender, even if it is less dramatic.

Enough teasing. Everyone who is anyone knows that the best moment of 1986 (indeed, one of the best ever) was when Johnny Alpha finally caught up with Max Bubba. Then shot him. Then waited for him to recover. Then caught up to him again. And shot him again. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Best non-regular publication:
The only official contender for this would be the 1986 Sci-Fi special, which was nothing special. OK as specials go, but not great. Far more interesting to me were the reprints in the then-new Best of 2000 AD monthly. Yes, I know this was a regular publication, but I have no idea which Titan reprints came out in '86. As I said earlier, I was too young to really enjoy most of the adult looking and feeling strips that hit their stride in 1986 (I could just about cope with Ezquerra, Belardinelli and Pat Mills writing; Brendan McCarthy was right out). But the monthlies were my gateway into a love of all things Thargian. Best of the best ofs 1986? I'd have to go with issue 12 - featuring Dredd getting up to some monkey business, Sam Slade infiltrating robot cults, and some Alan Moore + Alan Davis future shock treats.

Best artist:
OOooooh tricky. If I was being trendy it might be easy to reward McCarthy for his re-invention of the Judicial helmet, and his psychedelic satire in the Sooner or Later back page nonsense pieces. But frankly I associate these Progs with my childhood too much, so no reward for the mighty McCarthy. Instead I have fond memories of Ezquerra and Belardinelli, who were in virtually every Prog of 1986. And some cracking work from Gibson and Talbot. David Pugh delivered beautifully on Slaine. But I think I'll give the award to Brett Ewins - not a flashy artist, but his work on the Possessed was spectacular, and his vision of the various weirdies in Bad Company is still my benchmark for how to build a team roster. More than Bisley or Walker on the ABC Warriors, even.

Best writer:
Let's be honest, Wagner and Grant wrote practically the whole comic in 1986 (Dredd, Strontium Dog, Anderson, Ace Trucking, Bad City Blue), so it would be asinine to reward anyone else. Even if Alan Moore is one of the contenders, and Mills was on good form with Slaine and Nemesis.

Best cover:
Plenty of fun covers, including two standouts from O'Neill on Metalzoic. But I won't count those since they're reprints. Instead, Prog 473 from Brendan McCarthy wins partly because it scared me as a child, but mostly because weird-looking punk chicks with sci-fi guns is the reason we all read 2000 AD, right?

Best newcomer:
Without doing too much research, it seems obvious that Peter Milligan was the bright young thing of 1986. Sooner or Later has its detractors, but the opening episode was great, and many of the jokes are still funny now, even if the anti-marketing political cynicism bit is all too old hat. Plus of course he contributed a number of decent future shocks, and of course 1986 saw the first three episodes of Bad Company, one of my (and your) favourite series of all time.

Most under-rated:
I did glance through the votes on the 2000 AD site for series in 1986, and found that pretty much every series was very highly rated, and deservedly so (except Sooner or Later, which wasn't that good). I may also have mentioned before that I've never really had friends to discuss 2000 AD with except my brother, so I have no great concept of which series of yesteryear were loved or hated beyond what I can glean from in-jokes on the Nerve Centre and comments on the forums I've browsed over the last year or so. With that in mind, I'm nominating Ace Trucking Co. I believe that many squaxx prefer the earlier outings of the anarchic series. I can see why they would, but I thought the Doppelgarp and the Garpetbaggers worked by virtue of having two Ace Garps. A series that tried and succeeded to be funny, and that deserves recognition as a series that held itself well.

Other series that I've never heard anyone talk about but which for me came up trumps were Strontium Dog: Incident on Mayjer Minor, and Slaine: the Spoils of Annwyn. Both stories capture exactly the spirit of the basic story set-up, as well as delivering some classic moments and one-liners.

Most over-rated:

Also tricky, since pretty much everything in 1986 was really good. Maybe Judge Dredd: Atlantis? I have some strange idea that this is fondly remembered no doubt because it introduced Brit Cit Judges for the first time. Sadly the mystery in the story itself was a little weak, and arguably the story opened the floodgates for endless and usually not great stories about Judges of the world...

Best 2000AD related thing this year

Prog 500.
Best anniversary prog ever. At the time, 500 seemed like an excitingly large number for one thing, and it was celebrated in style, not least with the excellent 'Tharg's head revisited', which gave free-ish rein to certain notorious writers and artists of the past. Not unlike the cover, which features ace renditions of many favourites. Plus, the first episode of Bad Company, one of the best series ever (if I haven't already said that).

Worst 2000AD related thing this year
Errr... nothing? I suppose 1986 was the year in which 2000 AD started really being for adults and not so much for children any more. In retrospect this is a good thing as it lead to some excellent stories seeing print, but at the time it meant I barely read the comic except for the monthlies. Sure, Ace Trucking was fun (except for all the film references I missed), and Strontium Dog was easy to read (but full of torture). If one really has to pick a worst thing, perhaps it was Rogue Trooper: the Hitman. I liked Hit 1, but the series was clearly uncomfortable in this role despite some keen Steve Dillon art. Rogue Trooper should never have had any aliens in it, I say.

What you want to see in 1987:

H'mmm. How about a tenth anniversary celebration to match the joy of Prog 500? Oh well.
The return of the Mean Team? Hey - I wanted it, and I loved it at the time.
Kev O'Neill drawing Torquemada again - everyone wins!
A back cover montage giving a rhyming history of MC1? Check
A back cover montage showing off the best covers of the past? Check - and I want this again, please Tharg!
A new epic for Judge Dredd? Even if it's really an epic about Chopper with Dredd a bit player...
Halo Jones Book IV? damn. I guess I'd settle for more DR & Quinch...

I don't know what I really wanted, but 1987 wasn't short of delights.


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