Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Moonrunners wasn't very good, was it?

Over on Bish-Op's entertaining and informative blog, he's been sharing extracts of conversations with various 2000 AD editors. I've learned a couple of things from the three segments so far devoted to Steve MacManus (who, after all, probably was the best Tharg).
1) Ace Trucking Co was commissioned and designed to give Massimo Belardinelli something to draw
2) No one has much that's very nice to say about Alan McKenzie

Of course I don't know much about McKenzie, but I do have a soft spot for his various creations. I genuinely believe that he had a Mills-like eye for seeing a gap in 2000 AD's list of stories. A gap which he filled admirably, albeit unsuccessfully. Of course McKenzie is no Mills when it comes to writing, and I guess that didn't help. Sure, he can knock out a coherent plot, but his characters were just not quite as memorable, his situations not quite so suffused with that elusive future shock factor. Nonetheless, let us not forget:
Universal Soldier, Brigand Doom, Luke Kirby (apparently created for Eagle but used by 2000 AD in the end, clever), Bradley, RAM Raiders, Soul Gun Warrior, and, of course MoonRunners.

I'll talk more about McKenzie when I've got the scans to back up the beauty of some of his work. For now, MoonRunners. Now, this series was probably more the result of poor old Steve Parkhouse, another 2000 AD creator who just hasn't had much luck. (Or hasn't been very good, depending on your point of view. Actually I recently re-read Tiger Sun Dragon Moon. It was a lot better than I remembered)

Now, you can see that MoonRunners was one of those series that came from seeing a gap in the schedule. 2000 AD is a sci-fi comic. So it ought to have room for space and spaceships. It's also kinda trendy, so it should have more strong female characters - after all, by this point (Prog 580ish) it was clear that Halo Jones wasn't coming back. Also, 2000 AD has never really had a soap opera in it. Wouldn't it be good to try one out? Steal the basic template of Dallas/Dynasty, put it in space, and you're away!

Only they forgot the MacManus golden rule - Belardinelli doesn't draw humans very well. Gosh no. Sure, he's an awesome artist and the readers have loved every strip he'd worked on before (except maybe the really early Dan Dare), but that's no guarantee of success. I reckon if it had been drawn by one of the Dealine artists - Dillon, maybe, or certainly Jamie Hewlett could have made magic with the scenario (I guess he's used to writing that doesn't add up to much anyway...) Still, MoonRunners was launched as a major new series, complete with character profiles on the back covers, and the feeling that the crew could return for endless adventures if the readers demanded it. Which of course they would, wouldn't they?

Not if it's rubbish, they wouldn't. MoonRunners has too much set up, not enough delivery, and frankly, a bit of a silly plot to sustain an opening 15 episode run. Also, it's not as funny as it tries to be - even Belardinelli's slapstick asides are annoying rather than endearing this time around - and it doesn't provide much action. Here's a brief round-up of what it was all about: Cara Nash owns a fleet of haulage ships. She is in competition with the evil Ogilvy-Nash company. She is on the verge of having to sell her fleet to them, so she hatches a plan to make them look foolish and earn lots of money in the bargain. Only it's not that great a plan, and it doesn't really make sense by the end of the story. A bit like a Pat Mills fight scene.

Flynn is the captain of the ship. Sure, the series makes a point of having the women be in charge. But really the more interesting characters are on the ships themselves, and are all male. (not quite fair, as Cara and Carroll could make for decent central characters, but they don't really have much do do except prance around and plot from behind desks. And that's not the 2000 AD way.) There's some respite from the dreck in that the ship's crew and cargo get to be aliens, so Belardinelli can do a good job here. Shame that most of them are written to be unlikeable buffoons. And Flynn himself is far too wet to be a true 2000 AD anti-hero. I guess his look is ok, and he gets to have a fight with a psychic manifestation later on in which he sustains a minor injury to his left arm. But, he's scared of girls and can't get much done without his trusty mate Kempo, and he can't even fly his own ship, which makes me wonder why the humans in this strip are in charge of anything. More imagination, please!

At least he gets a dressing-down soon -

Believe it or not, this is the good stuff. (No, not my feeble pun, although that is on a par with the humour in Moonrunners). Cara's daughter Carroll gets all the good lines. It is refreshing to see 2000 AD do this sort of thing... isn't it..?

But if it's pure soap and not cheap sitcom you want, look no further than this little clinch: Again, this is a little gem sparkling in the mire of the series. Genuine emotion and a smadge of romance, not seen in the comic outside of, well, anything? (I guess maybe Durham Red has had her moments in Bitch and much later in The Vermin Stars; Dante obviously). Belardinelli does himself proud, for once using his stiff figures to good, repressed-emotion portraying effect, rather than being a bit cringeworthy.

Of course, this tension doesn't translate to the rest of the strip, where even the main players start to get bored...


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