Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Don't do it!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Random Prog Review: Prog 457

Time to step back to the giddy days of my early brushes with 2000 AD, when I'd sneak a glance through my older brother's Progs - yes, it's 1986, and one of my favourite covers of all time:
please to note the little heart shape in the 'prog' box. Hey, it was valentines week, and that's the sort of touch that makes British comics so much more fun than the standard superhero fare across th'atlantic. Keep it subtle, I say.

On with the Prog, boasting an outrageously strong line-up...

Halo Jones Book 3 episode 6, by Alan Moore and Ian Gibson
In which war, particularly of the Vietnam-inspired variety, continues to be Hell. Halo and Toy are the sole survivors of a sniper ambush. Halo spends the episode trying to drag an injured Toy out of the woods and back to base. Toy meanwhile gets progressively more delirious, until she can no longer distinguish reality from the soap operas beamed into her earpiece. It's moving, funny, beautifully drawn, and generally lives up to all expectations. I think the best thing about Alan Moore's 2000 Ad writing is his ability to make each episode feel self-contained, not just part of a longer whole. And you can tell Gibson cared about Halo a lot (hell, she's as much his creation as Moore's) just from the extr effort put into the rendering of his faces.

Here's Halo on finally realising that Toy has, in fact, been dead for several hours already. So sad.

Verdict: Just read it already. It's been reprinted enough times, and rightly so.

Slaine: Tomb of Terror episode 11 by Pat Mills and David Pugh
For me, these were the fun years of Slaine, when he was more like a character on a particularly weird Dungeons and Dragons adventure, and less of a wandering barbarian, or worse still a tribal politician. He had this massive supporting cast who were always preening and bickering, and to some extent that whole thing felt a little pointless, but always fun. At this point, Slaine and co are nearing the Tomb of Grimnismal, who is about to wake up. So near, in fact, that old foes Elfric and the Guledig emerge from behind the scenes to wonder if Slaine has the power to kill a 9-dimensional being. (I'm betting, yes). The Guledig is awesome, and is also one of the things that Pugh can actually draw better than Fabry does. In many ways, Pugh is kinda like Fabry but not as good (no doubt he was asked to mimic the style), but he's also more fluid and his thick blacks suit the story superbly. Best thing about the Guledig, though, is that he adopts a different pose in every panel, as every three-legged being should. Praise be to Him!

Let's not forget that each episode of this Slaine saga were followed by two pages of role-playing goodness, mirroring the adventure. Not that I ever tried playing it through myself, but my brother seemed to enjoy it. Another fun idea from P. Mills.
Verdict: Get Slaine out of Ireland and send him back to the Dungeons!

Judge Dredd: a Chief Judge Resigns by Wagner/Grant and Cliff Robinson
In which, you'll be shocked to hear, a Chief Judge Resigns. It's McGruder (first time around). An odd story in itself, but a vital one for exploring more about how the Judge system actually works. This time the emphasis is clearly on how selfless Judges are / should be, making the system seem that little bit more noble and worthy than a typical Dredd outing. The Council of Five as always comes across as a bit silly, but it's a neat example of future lore I suppose. Robinson continues to be Bolland Lite, as ever with his slightly awkward poses. Nice shading on the uniforms, though.

Verdict: worthy and steeped with continuity, but it's not classic Dredd

Ace Trucking Co: the Doppelgarp
episode 6 by Wagner/Grant and Massimo Belardinelli
What's not to like about Ace Trucking? Well, I guess there's arguably a lot as it's a slight concept by 2000 AD standards (Space-based truckers carry cargo, often illegal, and try to avoid the police a lot), and this tale is in many ways more slight than most. But really it's an excuse to let Belardinelli have fun with the art. Herein, Feek is high on Beezlebugs, Ace (the original and in black) is being duped by some Chicken-cops disguised as musicians, and the scene from the cover never happens. It's a bit more like this in the strip:
And why not? It's hardly a weighty story that needs consistency, so it's fun to see two interpretations of what might happen.

Verdict: fun fun fun

Strontium Dog: Max Bubba aka The Ragnarok Job episode 13 by Wagner/Grant and Carlos Ezquerra
And here's the Wagner/Grant triple-whammy, although it has to be said this one feels a bit more autopilot than the previous two. This Strontium Dog tale is of course the flashback to the time when Johnny and Wulf met back in ancient Scandinavia. The art's a bit wahsed out compared to typical Ezquerra. But I think maybe this is deliberate, in that he's trying to convey a) that this story is told in flashback (while Johnny and Wulf are staked out in the Sun), and b) that both characters were considerably younger at the time. I'm impressed with his ability to de-age Alpha i particular, basically by making his outlines less craggy. That said the story itself is a little bit interminable. Johnny and a bunch of Vikings keep on getting trapped and getting into fights on the way to meeting bad guy Max Bubba. This episode, they're detained by some Trolls. Luckily for us, we get to have some comedy asides while the axeplay and violence holds off for a bit...

Verdict: It may be lesser Strontium Dog, but it's still Strontium Dog.

What, no weak link in the Prog? Indeed not. Although I believe at the time people possibly felt that all the strips except Halo Jones were not at their best, given former glories all round.
Art Droid and longtime Art Editor Robin Smith gets a back cover 'new masters' montage which is the worst of this short series. I say that 'cos I don't really rate his faces. Each character looks the same, only with different accoutrements. Still, it's uncomplicated.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

What became of those Heroes anyway?

Indeed, young Slice, what the hell? It's as if the ominous KLAK behind him revealed not some nefarious booby trap, but a mirror, in which he saw himself as new series painter Siku draws him. I think it's one of the worst panels I've seen in 2000 AD. At least it's bizarre enough to merit a second look. And now, on with the story.

Plotwise, the Heroes get split into two teams. Slice and untrustworthy newcomer Dax (or whatever he's called) go off to find teammate Patrice, who was injured and kidnapped earlier. Deacon, Silver, and other newcomer (can't even begin to remember her name) are mostly hanging around waiting for stuff to happen. The real developments are 1) new artist Siku is now painting over Hopgood's work; 2) Classic villain Artie Gruber is back! Hey, it's a sequel, gotta have a good villain.

Here's Deacon exchanging harsh words not with Gruber, but with one of his minions. See, the villain's grand scheme appears to be his desire to release some kind of chemical weapon that will turn everyone into hideously deformed cyborgs that Gruber can then control. I think. This would actually be an exciting and very 2000 ADish plot if someone like Pete Milligan or John Smith was scripting. They could've had tons of fun talking about how much Gruber hates himself and feels ugly and so on. Fleisher settles for making him demented.

Siku was still settling into his style at that point. Later on, he dispensed with all the detail. Either that or they credited the wrong artist. Here's actual Siku with some more hapless Gruber minions:

By the way, that spaceship behind them might in fact be the crucial McGuffin for the story. It's sometimes hard to tell. Siku I do actually rate as an artist in later years, especially for his moods, landscapes and occasionally his people. Not so sure about his Sci-Fi vehicles. But maybe it's just that he's so deeply incompatible with the straight-laced Hopgood. A curious editorial decision, methinks.

Here's some more classic beefed-up dialogue to advance the plot again:
So, where ARE those heroes? I tell you they're out playing in the snow.

And being concerned for their fallen comrade in a totally heterosexual way:

Quick - better wrap it all up with a button press, the ultimate cyborg warrior, and then shoot the evil bastard behind it all off into space. Bye bye!

Harlem Heroes: Cyborg Death Trip. Please, Tharg, don't put this in an Extreme Edition. Have a special 2000 AD Branch Moronian The Pain award to remind you.

*You know, at this point it's probably too late, but I'd like to apologise for my inability to organise images very well. I have no idea why some come up enormous and others too tiny to read. It's annoying. Ah well.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

This is bad: The new Harlem Heroes

OK, so I've been mean about the Harlem Heroes before, but it's now time to look in more detail at why Cyborg Death Trip, in particular, is really not very good.

I think the problem began before the story was even written, frankly. The cast of players are fun enough. A little 2000 AD-lite, but there was room for improvement. However, apart from Slice's short temper, these Heroes are just a bit too good. Good at their terrorist jobs, and good in their moral centre (on the 2000 AD assumption that being anti corporate government is good, of course). Anyway, what we have is a team of Aeroball playing terrorists, who need some kind of excuse to wreak havok and maybe bring down the corrupt government / evil corporation. Finding this excuse is the first hurdle. This being the second big story, inevitably a greater threat appears and the Heroes are coerced into helping the evil corporation against this threat. So we've already lost a farily big part of their motivation straight up.

How do you coerce an aeroball team into doing anything? Lure them into an abandoned stadium. And then make them fight / play aeroball against some souped up cyborg opponents, being sure to throw in a pun so bad I'm not sure it even counts as a pun:

Sometimes when you're mocking a weak comic series, you don't even have to add in any extra comment...

If I remember from Bishop's old Thrill-Power Overload entries in the Megazine (can't wait to get my hands on the newly-published book), Michael Fleisher wrote the script for this story almost immediately after the first series finished. He then submitted it, largely unsolicited, and it was never edited or touched again. And boy does that show. As it is, the story remains one that is lots of fun for the now small number of 2000 AD readers who are under 10 years old. For anyone older, it's either annoying, unreadable, or most likely so bad it's good.

Look, here's the Heroes enjoying some downtime before the mayhem kicks in:

Kev Hopgood, an artist I love, began the task of drawing the strip. Now, Hopgood is one of the kings of storytelling, but he's also a little childish for 2000 AD - at least, as it was back in the mid 90s. His Heroes work is easy to look at, there are some great grimaces, but really it's very retro but not in a nostalgic way, more in a 'oops I've been left behind' way. Worse, one gets the distinct impression that between the writer and artist, the whole thing was sketched out in rough first with a view to tidying it and jazzing it all up later.

Hence the rather large number of panels showing evil people behind the scenes pressing buttons...
A panel patented by Carlos Ezquerra on the iconic cover to Prog 245

Anyway, in an effort to spice things up, then fledgling art droid Siku was called in to paint over Hopgood's work. It's a pretty weird effect, and one that put me off Siku for a while. When he's on his own it all makes a bit more sense. Next time we'll have a look at that, shall we?