Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Shocking futures

I'm off on holiday, so I'm afraid there won't be any updates for a while (yes, I know I've been slacking off lately...). As a small treat, I thought I'd forego the ill-thought ramblings and leave you with some classic panels that to me invoke the spirit of future shock that is the heart of 2000 AD.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The art of characterisation

So what we have today is a small showcase of a few artists, who have all scored highly on that noblest of 2000 AD scores, attention to detail. For as long as I've been reading 2000 AD, I've also been reading American comics, mostly Marvel with the odd Batman thrown in. I think in the last few years the artwork in superhero books has finally caught up with 2000 AD, although the stories are still a little way behind. Certainly the general atmosphere of subversiveness is that much stronger in Tharg's mighty organ. But for many years, even during the dark late 90s, I always found that 2000 AD had far superior art to its US rivals, in the most part because the artists bothered to actually fill each panel. Sometimes this meant lots of background, sometimes it meant strong characterisation, and sometimes it meant Belardinelli or O'Neill just ramming in incidental weirdness, in a tradition that I can certainly trace back through reading the Beano.

For an introductory paragraph, there's a lot of digression there! What I'm really talking about today is the joy of seeing an artist who is prepared to fully flesh out even the most menial side character in a story. Partly it's the deftness of their touch in bringing to life a face, and partly it's the design of clothes, or hair, or what have you. The whole thing serves to immerse the reader in the situation.

First up, Carlos Ezquerra:
(from 'Portrait of a Mutant')
In the foreground, you've got two fairly random humes, who're looking for Johnny Alpha. They're as minor as can be. But from this picture alone, you can tell that they're a)lackeys, but b) competent lackeys. There's an air to them of wanting to complete their mission, an enough nous to see through a few lies - but not enough menace to make them full-on villains.
And then in the background you've got a couple of random mutants. Ezquerra drew some awesome mutants, some seen once and never again.

Jumping to the modern era, here's some Clint Langley Slaine-y goodness:

Now, this is a panel designed to introduce new characters, so you'd expect a good level of detail, but really this goes a step above, especially when you consider that several of these characters won't feature all that often. But what gets me is how seamlessly Langley blends his photo work with his artwork. Obviously he's been much praised for this before and since, but I think Carnival was perhaps his best go around on this. I should perhaps talk through the two panels here, but I'd rather just let you click on them, enlarge them, and drink them in...

Now back to mid-period 2000 AD, and another two stalwarts of the comic:
Cam Kennedy, with three Mega-City juves, each oozing their won special delinquencies.

And finally Ian Gibson, with two rows of soldiers (including one rather disgusted Halo Jones), each with their own attitude:

Attention to detail - it's what elevates a great comic from the rest.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Savage Amusement*

Bill Savage is a complete nutter. This has never been in doubt, in any of his various incarnations. In Prog 1, we learn that his wife and child were brutally murdered by the evil Volgan invaders, which certainly explains his desire to kill Volgs by the truckload - but it doesn't quite explain his lunacy, and the smiling abandon with which he pursues his goal of total Volg eradication.

At this time, I'm not going to talk about Disaster 1990 (in which Savage fights gangs in a flooded London), although that has its moments. I'm also not yet ready to discuss 'Savage' - Pat Mills and Charlie Adlard's rather chilling take on what it would be like to be an occupied country in light of certain other occupations taking place in the real world.

But I am interested in a little backstory behind that new series. Apparently, Bill Savage has topped Tharg's polls as an old character readers would most like to see revived. (I think this comes up somewhere in TPO, or possibly in various Pat Mills interviews). Rumours were twofold: 1) a film script has been written for 'Invasion', starring Ray Winstone 2) Garth Ennis was down to write new adventures of the Volg-basher, with a brief to go for decidedly over-the-top hyper-violence and comic nuttery from our hero Bill.

In the end, it doesn't really matter if either rumour is true. Winstone would be the perfect Savage, assuming the film gets made in the next 10 years (I'm not holding my breath on that, though). And Ennis sort of actually HAS written Bill Savage, in the disguise of Marvel's 'The Punisher' - a story about a soldier who goes nuts after his wife and children are brutally murdered by drug dealers.

What really interests me, though, is the idea that Ennis was briefed by Tharg to UP the levels of violence, nastiness and lunacy of Bill Savage. You see, this just isn't possible, because the man came out that way right from the start. At least, when he was being drawn by Mike Dorey...

Oh my God. Look at that man's face. In the last panel in particular, he's just dying to unleash medieval fury on some poor volg. Sure, Ennis could think up some new and inventive methods of despatch for Bill, but he surely couldn't make him any more mental, and in relation to that, any funnier.

Of course, it's not all laughs, as we're reminded here and there how cruel the volgs are. The interesting thing about parts of Invasion (and most of 'Savage') is how easy it is to get behind Bill, and to even feel his pain. Dorey again, showing how Bill suffers as he deals out wrecking ball death:

*do you see what I did there? This post is about Bill Savage being funny, right, but it's also the title of the first Virgin Judge Dredd novel by David Bishop. Which I have actually read. It was ok. Not worth its own post, though.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Random Prog Review: Prog 18

25th June 1977 - my -1th birthday week. Also the last Prog to feature a strip on the cover before the 'Supercover' experiment kicked in. Apparently it's an early Ezquerra Dredd on the front there, but the main scene is clearly by another artist.

Before I continue, let's be upfront that I can only judge this prog on today's merits. I think I first read it in about 1993, at which point it was already massively dated. There's no nostalgia involved here. Which makes it all the more surprising (to me) that it's a surprisingly good read. Of course, virtually the whole prog has been reprinted fairly recently - via Extreme Editions, Case Files and the mighty Megazine which ran Flesh a few years ago. Dan Dare is the only one to remain hidden, and as we'll see, that's probably no bad thing...

First up, Invasion! by Gerry Finley-Day and Carlos Pino
Bill Savage and crew take on a bunch of tanks by running them over with an articulated lorry, before escaping in a sports car that was stowed in the back. Classic Finley-Day nonsense, but a ton of fun. Pino was one of a team of rotating artists on this and MACH1, who managed to last the distance. I always like his art 'cos it's easy to see what's going on, but it's often a bit A-Team, as in lots of violence but no real blood or pain.

Verdict: good but not great

Flesh by Pat Mills and Felix Carrion
Yes, Mills himself is back at the helm for this penultimate outing. It's a bleak monster of an episode, in which hero Earl Regan is arrested, slimy anti-villain Claw Carver is trapped in time, and the true heroes, the dinosaurs, finally stand triumphant over the evil Trans-Time base. I don't know if this is 'punk', as comics history is desperate to label early 2000 AD, but it's certainly startling and pleasing to see the humans lose. Pat Mills on top form, although it's a little clumsy in the storytelling. Carrion is ok, but he's no Ramon Sola, who for me is the ultimate man vs monster artist, based on his work in Flesh and Shako. He'd surely have wrung even more contorted bathos out of this classic injection of future shock:
Verdict: mental

And now, someone dies!
Yes, it's Chico, one of the Harlem Heroes (by Tom Tully and Dave Gibbons).
Now, by this point in the comic readers had seen a lot of people die. Really a lot. But I'm wondering if this is the first time a major character - that readers have grown to actually care about - dies, and dies for good. No brain in a jar solution for this hero! So it's a memorable scene. Otherwise, this episode of Harlem Heroes involves an aeroball match. I think this is still the best of the future sports serials to feature in 2000 AD, mostly because of the art. Gibbons really knows how to draw someone scoring a satisfying air-strike.

Verdict: game on

And now, the main event. The colour centre-spread, featuring
Dan Dare: space hyper hero by Steve Moore and Massimo Belardinelli.

Well, the art's good. Surprisingly good, in fact, given that this was one of Belardinelli's first solo gigs (according to TPO, anyway). His humans are more effectively dynamic in this than they would ever be again, and the lush backgrounds are already in evidence. He also draws a mean Mekon. The story, on the other hand, is pure drivel. Moore has a hard in marrying hard fantasy SF with 2000 AD nastiness, and I don't think he quite succeeds. There's plenty of action, weird ideas and double-crossing, but it all feels a bit by the numbers. In this episode, Dare and his weirdly homoerotic canine sidekick Rok jump down a hole and get chased by the Two of Verath (admittedly a great villain design). The Mekon mostly gets angry in pantomime fashion, before whipping out his hpyno-ray.
Verdict: I'm sorry, but this strip has not stood the test of time. It's time to bring out THE PAIN. How can we stop this rotten story?

MACH One by Nick Allen and Marzal Canos
John Probe went through some pretty hoary adventures in the teen progs (which I suspect is why they weren't reprinted in either of the MACH 1 Extreme Editions), but he escapes ok in this outing. He's on a diplomatic mission in South America, when out of the blue some guerrillas attack the president. Probe takes them all out. That's it. It's stirring, exciting, and because I've never seen any of the Six Million Dollar Man, quite original to my eyes. Canos is a bit like a lsightly grittier version of Pino. It's passable. Luckily for the readers, lots of people die. Go, MACH 1!
Verdict: silly fun

Now get this! There was room for six, that's 6, strips in the early Progs. Skill. Rounding up the fun, it's this week's cover star, Judge Dredd in 'Brainblooms', by the classic team of John Wagner and Mike McMahon
It's a story in which an old lady grows evil plants that she uses to commit deadly crimes. She even manages to use them to hypnotize Judge Dredd into attempting suicide. Hmm - won't see that happening in today's Dredd. Actually this feels a lot like a Batman story from the 50s or 60s, with an archvillain of the week and a hero who is all too easily defeated and then rescued in short order. Still, it's fun, has some fine art, and it's classic Dredd who is both hero - in that he's fighting crime, but also villain, in that he's bullying a little old lady.
Verdict: survives by the skin of its teeth, thanks to a light touch of dark humour.

Before I finish, here's the back cover with that 'exciting t-shirt offer' as advertised on the front cover:
I want one!