Sunday, November 25, 2007

3000 AD

Anyone remember 3000 AD? It began life as the oft-joked answer to the question 'what's 2000 AD going to be called in the Year 2000'? And, a few years before said date, Tharg decided to publish a teaser for this very comic. (a bit of geeky research reveals it to have been attached to Prog 1034 in March 1997 - I think around the 20th anniversary or somesuch)

I'd sum it up by saying it was an interesting and ultimately worthwhile experiment, but at the same time it's something of a dud. I have no idea what the editorial debate behind the scenes was, but the supplement ended up being a rehash of Prog 1 of 2000 AD - an issue that has been reprinted and much discussed many time in 2000 AD's history, so was probably familiar to the majority of readers even if they didn't start from the beginning. Frankly, I think this was a mistake - or should I say, a missed opportunity.

Personally, I'd have loved to see Tharg's idea of what a British boys' sci-fi comic might be like if it was published in 2977. A tall order, I grant you, but surely no taller than many of 2000 AD's mighty accomplishments? As it is, we're treated to some superb artwork, some lacklustre satire, but no stories to speak of, and I'd say nothing truly futuristic. I suppose what I was really hoping for was all-new characters and some bold design style that would be out of this world. i.e. an entirely new comic. i.e. never going to be affordable.

The only thing that approaches the far-future idea was Steve Cook's female Judge Dredd redesign, complete with actual tailored costume and weird photo distortion thing. It kind of predicts Clint Langley's work in some ways. Many points deducted for the future daystick, though, which appears to be a hockey stick with a slightly melted bit on the end...

Anyway, let's take a little look at what we actually got in 3000 AD.
First, the good: BLAIR 1

I say good, because I happen to think that the idea was good, and SB Davis was an excellent choice of artist. At the time, Blair was poised to win a landslide victory (although he hadn't actually won yet*). The idea that Tony Blair was engineered to be some kind of superhero who could solve all of England's problems was funny, clever and zeitgeisty. Also, any extra publicity for the comic is to be supported. There was even a fortuitous bit of depth to the strip. MACH 1 was forever arguing with his hyper-computer about obeying his moral code versus his mission parameters. Likewise, BLAIR 1 wrestles with his instructions. It's pretty clear that Blair, as all Prime Ministers, had to make some nasty choices after winning the power he wanted to use for good. Solid, thought-provoking stuff. Sadly, any actual story disappeared beneath a panel-for-panel redoing of the first episode of the original MACH 1.
Verdict: worth a look, sadly didn't go on to produce a worthwhile series.

Next, sports satire with the Hike (pronounce it 'Hi-Key' and it makes sense...) Harlem Heroes:

Again, awesome art from Jason Brashill. The kind of thing that in my head is every schoolboy's dream - doodles scribbled onto homework files but brought to life, cartoony fun without the pretension of, say, McCarthy and Hewlett (if I may be so bold). Still no room for a story - it's pretty much a condensed re-telling of the first episode again, at least this time with mostly new panel layout and content. But this time, the idea is weak. It's a future sports story in which the thrust is not the on-court action, but the behind-the-scenes sponsorship deals. Fair enough, this was big news at the time. Sky Sports had recently bought the rights to the Premiership, football players' salaries were through the roof and the best were making more money from adverts. But a) this has been true for decades, and, worse, b) every single sports story ever in 2000 AD (and for all I know in Roy of the Rovers, too) has ultimately been all about the shady managers, owners and money-making deals. So it's an old story featuring old satire.
Verdict: rubbish. But at least Brashill went on to deliver a cracking cover for 'Second City Blues'

The centrepiece: Dan Dare

Well, Kevin Waker draws a splendid Mekon. His Dare was ok, although more as a parody of Belardinelli's Dare than an updating of Frank Hampson's. The story (well, all two pages of it) is nothing that a million Star Trek homage/parodies hadn't done before. I guess that's the point?
Verdict: nope, can't see a point beyond letting an artist have a good time.


...yup, that's definitely an episode of Flesh right there. Beefy idiots being eaten by a T Rex. Can't think that it's saying anything that any other series of Flesh hasn't said before. Although it does display why Flesh is simply a fantastic comic strip - you can have the same thing happen every episode - Man thinks he has tamed the dinosaurs, then a dinosaur eats a man - and it's always cool. Strangely, they even got the same artist to draw this 'update'. At least Carl Critchlow gets to show off that he'd improved a lot from his 'Legend of Shamanna' days. But c'mon, couldn't Tharg find a modern hook to satirise somewhere? Some joke about the rise of vegetarianism or something? Some joke about animal welfare / wildlife preservation / eco-friendly nuts who are staple 2000 AD targets?
Verdict: Flesh still has some mileage in it. But why is it in 3000AD?

And that leaves us with Henry Flint on Invasion!: another strip that features a panel-for-panel redrawing from the original episode. But arguably better than the rest of the strips for the little tweaks here and there - Elizabeth II instead of Charles III, Savage being friends with a muslim, the enemy being the EU instead of the Volgans (God, if they re-did it today, it's have to be the other way around, wouldn't it). Obviously this twist on the original is cheap satire, but there's something to a story about an eurosceptic Daily Mail reading nut who shotguns invading Brusselsocrats - not unlike Big Dave, I suppose.
Verdict: more lovely drawings, and at least this one felt topical. Points also for by far the best 'next prog' tag.

*Astute readers might have noticed that Tharg hedged his election prediction bets a little by showing John Major being Prime Minister in 1999 in the Invasion rehash...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Dinner for Four

Hats off to John Wagner and Ian Gibson once again. I've just been re-reading a classic from Judge Dredd the Megazine Volume 2: Return of the Taxidermist. I think it might be the best ever 'future sports' story. It doesn't have the action of your Harlem Heroes, or the wish fulfillment angle of Mean Arena, and certainly not the violence of Inferno - but it does have comedy, in buckets. Wagner wisely choses the tack of presenting the sports not from the players point of view, but that of the stay-at-home spectator, happily watching the commentary on TV.

There's plenty to pick out from this series, notably the hilarious staring, but I'm going with the main event today - Olympic Taxidermy. Stuffing seems to be as much about art as it is about technical ability, and it's a great tribute to Wagner and Gibson that they execute such convincing ideas. On balance, I'm giving a bit more credit to Gibson, even though it was quite possibly Wagner who thought up the basic idea behind the arrangements.

So, here for your delight are the five top entries in the 'Compulsory Stuffing' round. Each contender was asked to select four bodies and arrange them as 'dinner for four'...
Sardini's is the tamest entry, a rather straightforward celebration.
Things get a little more exciting with the addition of a small argument, some crafty stuff with noodles, and then the slightly too clever by half 'famine' arrangement.
A panicked picnic scene goes down well, but the winner is the somewhat over the top but nevertheless showstopping vampire feast...

Top marks all round. Also credit to Gibson who is a master of dynamism in his work, but here manages to make the stuffed people really look static, and yet posed in a dynamic way. Or maybe I'm just reading into it what I want to see. In any event, masterful penmanship.