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!


Anonymous passerby said...

I just stumbled on this by accident and it's SUCH a great blog. Thanks for the scans and the very
smart and readable essays.

(The only thing I've found to violently disagree with so far - I bloody loved Moon Runners. The birds were saucy, the aliens and spaceships were cool, Flynn had a great look.)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very nice Blog.
May i ask from which story you took image 2 and 3 from your shocking futures Article?

Blogger alexf said...

Tough question! It's been a while since I scanned those panels. They're definitely both from Future Shocks, though.

Image 2, the guy turning into a worm, I think is from the late 500s / early 600s - just possibly the story 'Accident' from Prog 608? But foolishly I didn't name my scans with prog references, and I don't have my original Progs to hand...

Image 3, the guy seeing his reflection in the mirror as an alien bug, is definitely drawn by Casanovas, and might be from the Future Shock 'Hen-pecked Henry', from Prog 220.


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