Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The End

No, I haven't run out of things to say about 2000 AD. I just felt like putting a few pictures of the last panels from stories here and there. There's an art to writing a good ending. In comics in particular, it needs to be one that is satisfying in itself, but that could easily lead into more stories as the readership demands. Also, it's be good to get a bit of sci-fi goodness in there, too. Now, 2000 AD is of course famous for its actual 'Tharg's Future Shocks' strips, which often end with a mind-blowing twist in the last panel (in theory; true blowing of one's mind has been achieved a scant few times). I won't be using any of those today - that's an entirely different discipline of ending. No, here's what I'm all about:

Flying cars heading off into the distance above a beautifully painted future cityscape. Aaaaah.

On the other hand, there's also the more personal touch of seeing off a main character.

Walking into the foreground can give even more closure than walking into the distance. But, of course, it allows for the reader to demand to know what happens next. I wonder how many letters Tharg received asking after MACH Zero's cousin Tommy? I really enjoyed MACH Zero, for all its retro feel alongside more obviously exciting stories like the VCs and Judge Dredd.

And of course there's comedy. We don't see the main character's face in this one, bit rather his hapless chief commissioner - an indication that the series is very likely to make a comeback. One which will involve more mis-matched police shenanigans.

It almost doesn't matter what the story is (Calhab Justice, by the way) - you just need a certain kind of protagonist and you could tranpose this panel onto the end. Strangely, this doesn't bother me.

In a similar fashion, here's another everyman ending, only this one is filled with hate.

I believe this story (Vanguard) was very much meant to be followed up, but to be honest it doesn't need it. You can see what's going to happen just from this ending, really. In many ways, the image of the spaceship peeling away into the background gives a suggestion that deep space during war is full of vengeance and hate - we don't need to read the individual stories to understand this 2000 AD concept.

And now, the group ending. How do you do justice to a whole cast of characters?

Isn't that sweet. No, really. A lot of Second City Blues was disappointing to me, but the camaraderie of the team was not part of that. Nor indeed Pleece's simple but touching artwork, especially in this final scene. It's extremely reminiscent of a certain kind of children's cartoon, and all the better for that.

And what of Dredd? Well, there are infinite endings showing a perp being led away ito the catch wagon, usually with Dredd making some appropriately dark remark. But here's one you don;t see every week...

Lovely tears from Higgins, there.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Back to the Crusade

Where was I? Oh yes, cheap ethnic stereotyping in Judge Dredd: Crusade. A story so bad, I'm posting about it twice. With a shockingly long delay in between. Anyway, the Irish Judge turns out to be a traitor. You see, Ireland is a Catholic country, and is therefore in league with the Vatican. That's dead clever, that is. RRRRgghh.

Needless to say Dredd kills him. But before that shock twist, Dredd had to defeat two other bad guys. Vatican Inquisitor Judge and uber-tool Cesare:

OOOOoooh bullet-proof clothing. However will Dredd cope? I suppose there is some mild amusement to be found in the moustache. And, strangely, in a robotic mine-wagon, which provides several panels worth of incidental and generally endearing dialogue. Smart work from Mick Austin on the face as well. Millar's idea, Morrison's scripting? Who knows or cares.

I guess they were more interested in this than in showing Dredd punching people again. They really didn't think much of the character, did they? Millar in particular seemed to delight in only bothering to think up ways in which to make Dredd be mean to people or be extremely hard. As I may have said, sometimes this works a treat, but you've gotta give more to the man - as I believe Gordon Rennie said in an interview somewhere lately. For example, the gloves line here is actually funny, but given that the fight goes on for about two episodes with little rhyme or reason to the victor, it's never going to challenge 'gaze into the fist of Dredd' for all-time classic Dredd wit.

And what of Judge Eckhart, the God-struck Judge who is so sought after by these mostly atheist Judges? Well, Dredd finds him too. First, we have a rare good panel:

in which we see what effect meeting God might have on a man both physically and mentally. But then, Eckhart turns into the Swamp/Man thing, for no obvious reson.

Something to do with being inhabited by a God / demon? Certainly he speaks exactly like you'd expect a B-movie version of god-demons to speak. Frankly, I'd expect more from Millar, who is obviously interested in God in an intelligent way (see Canon Fodder and Chosen, for example), and Morrison, who is usually so good at being pretentious in an original way (see the Lloigor in Zenith, creators in Animal Man, most of the Invisibles and the Filth etc etc). Why can't they bring this stuff to Judge Dredd, one of Britain's greatest comic strips? Bad writers. Bad. And once again we get the patented Millar/Morrison Dredd joke. He's up against a super-beast who is really hard to kill. But Dredd is hard and has common sense, so he kills it with a knife/punch/bullet. Funny, clever, but not if over-used. And it's not as if Wagner and Grant haven't used the same trick themselves plenty of times of the years. It's practically a defining feature of the 2000 AD hero.

And with that it just remains for the whole story to be rendered even more pointless by locking away the evidence, and never exploring the God question that was the whole point of the crusade in the first place (again, fair enough, but it's a bit of a blatant Judge Child rip-off, no?)

Enough. Millar and Morrison never wrote another Dredd story, as far as I know. Go jump out of a plane, bad Dredd. As the foolish Irishman says, see you in Hell...

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The very worst of Judge Dredd?

Yes, I'm afraid it did happen again - Mark Millar and Grant Morrison teamed up to script the Dredd mini-epic 'Crusade' in Progs 928-937. And boy was it worse than their last kick in the head, the woeful 'Book of the Dead' (in which Egyptian Judge Rameses, as pictured above, first appeared). Mick Austin's art, competent and fluid as it is, is not up to the level of Dermot Power, so there's not much solace in the pictures either. Oh well.

Now let me make myself clear. Crusade is bad. It's not so bad it's funny (like, say Harlem Heroes: Cyborg Death Trip, which ran alongside this very tale). It's so bad it's just annoying. I struggled to even find individual panels to scan that were either informative or amusing. So, what's the problem? Let's start at the beginning:

This to me smacks of a Mark Millar premise. I actually have quite a lot of time for Millar. I don't think he's a great writer, but he knows what people want, and he knows some ways to deliver it, which are two great things in any writer. You see, when I first read Crusade, I was really excited about it. Over the previous few years a whole load of International Judges had been introduced to readers of 2000 AD and the Megazine. Often by teaming up with Dredd in order to be shown up by him. There's never been much sense of how well these Judges and Judge systems connect together, except that they'll happily 'sacrifice' each other if need be, as seen in Garth Ennis's 'Judgement Day' epic.

So anyway, along comes Millar with the suggestion 'wouldn't it be well fun if the toughest Judges from all the Mega-Cities had a team up and tried to kill each other?', and dammit if my 15 year old self didn't think 'Hell yes that would be fun.' Actually my 28 year old self still does think it would be fun, but now that I've seen it done so badly, perhaps that means it's not possible to do it well?

So, where does it go wrong? I'd say it goes wrong with Vatican Inquisitor Judge Cesare: who is a complete tool. This one smacks a bit more of Morrison than Millar to me, but I'll let both take the blame. There's just no way this kind of character fits in to any part of Dredd's world, especially given that we've got a glimpse of the Vatican as the sort of place that employs folk like Devlin Waugh. Cesare is just there to poke a stick at religiosity and to be built up as super-tough without ever doing anything in the story to justify this reputation. God, I hate that.

But then, the whole story is full of examples of this. Let's just re-iterate the premise here: A Mega-City Judge Eckhart has been into Deep Space and done an 'Event Horizon' (admittedly before that film came out). It's possible that he's met God, essentially. Now he's crashed onto neutral territory in earth - Antarctica - and Judges from each big City want to find him and hear his story. This is an interesting idea, but I'd sooner deploy a Psi Judge like Anderson than a meathead like the Millar/Morrison version of Dredd to tell it.

The rest of the story follows various Judges as they make their ways through a very poorly described abandoned mine setting, not really explaining how they're making any progress. Occasionally they bump into each other and fight a bit, with victors being decided by random writer fiat than any plot or character driven likelihood. I hate that, too. In the background, Cesare is not doing any searching himself, he's busy being Dick Dastardly and footling around with the transport system and other larks. Which could be funny if Cesare wasn't presented as a hulking bully with a pea brain.

After various Judges have killed / maimed each other, Dredd often arrives to get beaten a bit, and then hit back, again with the help of poorly scripted and even worse thought out fight scenes. Since all the Judges are portrayed as equally hard, it's all a bit pointless trying to wonder what will happen. Beyond a bit of cheap ethnic stereotyping...

Again, this sort of thing could be funny, seeing as the whole concept of Judges around the world is all about ethnic stereotyping, but this gag would need to be the main point of such a story, and it isn't. Here, it's just a 'light-hearted' backdrop to some ultraviolence.

In an attempt to get some characterisation going, M&M dredge up a rivalry between Dredd and East-Meg 2 Judge Spassky. Their banter is kind of old. Didn't Ennis already do this? And better?

The pain is immense.
Take that, Morrison and Millar. Shame on you!
More next time...

(No, this 'next' caption isn't from 'Crusade'. Even those weren't funny or clever enough. Gah.)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Need a montage?

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

10 years of Nikolai Dante

It's been pointed out over on the 2000AD Review website that Nikolai Dante is now in his 10th year of appearing in 2000 AD. That's a major achievement for any comics character, all the more so in this case because he's been a steady feature in the Prog for all of those 10 years, unlike some other long-running series like the ABC Warriors or the VCs, say.

So let's give Dante his due.
Yes, the best thing about Dante is that he gets bested by women all the time (and why do I feel sexist just for commenting on that?)

Anyway, Dante arrived on the scene with Prog 1035 in 1997. A time when the Prog had been struggling for a while. Well, I say struggling, but I have no way to prove that. As a reader at the time, I certainly felt that whilst each week's Prog was still pretty good, there was a lack of something special of late. I think mainly it was the lack of any major new characters and series since maybe Finn in the mid-700s. Various others had come and gone, never to be seen again. Folk like Slaine and Friday kept on turning up but weren't doing it for me the way they had years ago.

Sinister Dexter had started appearing, but still seemed like they could vanish at any point. In many ways it's a wonder they didn't, but I'm glad for the shot of pure humour they provide, even in their vaguely serious epic storylines. However, they're not a patch on Dante, although he's a completely different beast. He could have appeared just for his initial 15 Prog run, disappeared, and been like so many other new efforts from Tharg's droids. Luckily, we got more, and a new great in the 2000 AD pantheon appeared. And since then, it's felt like more and more new characters have been able to make the jump from 1 or 2 trial series to regular fixtures. And frankly that's what a want - worthy characters who can reappear almost endlessly, although leaving room for new efforts as well, of course.

Dante is I think unique in 2000 AD for it's attention to emotion and sex. It's as if Morrison has a mission to make people laugh (he's ok at that but not great) and to make people cry (he's very good at that). Dante is the best kind of anti-hero, in that he's not evil or hard or amoral, but he does routinely do unheroic things because he can sense that he has to, and all too often because he's a selfish coward. Anti-heroes such as Dredd, Alpha or even Slaine aren't like that. Sure, they can be ruthless, but never cowards.

But let's get back to the sex.

There's a large undercurrent of carry-on humour in Dante, more often than not better than the film series that inspired it. Partly because Morrison and Fraser never resort to the Brit staple of Dante thinking he's going to get some and then being thwarted (quite the opposite), and partly because the art of Fraser and Burns is so delightful. I can't help but view the above shooter as providing winking innuendo, rather than being there just to forward the action narrative.

Various other great things about Dante:
The series always feels like it's going somewhere. Sure, there have been several throwaway plots, but then that's a good thing, right? A successful character should be able to enjoy some standalone adventures. (I recommend Bishop's novels for example)
Undoubtedly a big part of the success of the ongoing thing is that Tharg knows how to maintain interest. Since the strip began, it's been in the Prog often enough to keep interest without getting irritating. There was a long break between the first sea-story and the next, and it's no coincidence that this period is generally not so well liked. I predict that by the time the Burns-only era is collected, these stories will be re-appreciated.
The artwork. As I've already said, it's delightful. Fraser always impresses me with his dynamism and child-friendly gore. He's drawn some pretty vicious stuff in his run, but it doesn't make me sick like a Hicklenton might. He's especially good at depicting the various Romanov weapons crest capabilities. They're really Cronenbergian, and I love that. Burns isn't so adept at that, but he paints a mean scene, keeps up the lovely facial expression work that Fraser started, and he draws some superb vehicles. Both make me visualise a working world with a mixture of high-tec equipment, but ever-present politics and personalities.

It's all about the dialogue, and the roguish charm of Dante which is so roguish and charming it's virtually impossible to find any other adjectives to describe him with.
I salute the genius behind it all - Robbie Morrison. I have to admit that I've never much cared for any of his other stories. Shimura is ok in places, but that really stands or falls on the art (with which he's been lucky). Dante, I think works with every artist who's had a go. It's all about the main character. Morrison knows when to make him cheeky, when cocky, when self-deprecating, and above all, keeps him human. Giving him a super-gun was a bit rubbish, but as long as Dante keeps having to run away, it doesn't make him invincible.

Ten more years? Probably not, as the story seems destined for a genuine and quite possibly glorious climax. There's pletny more to say, but until I have the scans to say it, let's leave Dante doing what he does (second) best - getting in over his head...

Monday, April 02, 2007

Jigsaw Comics 7

For anyone who doesn't know, my avatar features HOagy, hapless assistant to Sam Slade: RoboHunter. Built from a kit, there can't be many Droids who are quite so bereft of hap as he is. And in last week's installment of Sam(antha) Slade, he died. And not for the first time, but one wonders if this could be the last. Time (and hopefully today's Prog) will tell. Anyway, here's another comics mishmash featuring another ode to ultra-violence, and showing what happens to those unlucky enough to stand in the way. Poor Hoagy.