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.


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