Thursday, February 14, 2008

Hey Mambo

It's fun having two blogs run alongside my own that are trawling through 2000 AD in order of publication. The ProgSlog is up to the late 300s, while the Hipster Dad is in the throes of the Men in Black era (early-mid 1000s). It's going to happen occasionally that I overlap with one or other of these fine fellows, and today is such a day, as my pile hits 1014-1033. I'll be interested to see what the Hipster Dad chooses to write about. I'm going with Mambo: Fleshworks...

Mambo never gets much play in 2000 AD fandom, and frankly, that's rightly so. David Hine has gone on to bigger and better things as a writer for Marvel Comics (mostly doing X-Men related stuff). Back in 1994-6, he was writing and drawing for 2000 AD. Mambo is less original than his other epic, Tao de Moto, but it's a lot better. But it's still not that good, I'm afraid. For me, it's another one of those series that seems to push all the right 'future shock' buttons, but never really coalesces into a exciting and engaging whole. Partly this is because the first two Mambo stories were mired in explaining backstory. Honestly, when will people learn? Do the backstory later! Wagner, Grant and Mills know the score - drop people in it, and drip feed the origin stuff only if you've earned the right!

Anyway, in Fleshworks, we actually get a neat little self-contained story which is essentially a case for Mambo the cop to solve. No mucking about on other planets. As the picture of the little boy with the thing on his head suggests, it's about virtual reality: specifically, a hacker who can kill virtual people for real over the internet (NB before the internet was the beast it is today). Hine does a good job of setting up his idea of virtual reality (and handles it all better than Wireheads...). More importantly, he successfully explains enough about who Rachael Verlaine - the Mambo - is, that new readers can get it, and then gets on with the story.

Rachael is a cop who has strange and not fully understood powers, which include telepathy and the ability to grow weird things out of her head and her arm. Occasionally she goes too far, and gets in trouble with her section chief, as is the way with all cop dramas...

In her pursuit of Skinhead, the unidentified murderer who seems to know his way around the virtual world all too well, Rachael gets a cop friend to jack in to the internet to find out more: Hilarious. This little adventure connects to evil corporation Ventris. Of course, Rachael charges straight in to the head office to get answers. This is like trying to arrest Richard Branson or Rupert Murdoch - ain't gonna happen that easily. Again, another staple of the cop drama. Her next port of call is the seedy bar (you can see what kind of films Hine was watching to 'research' this story, can't you). In a great throwaway idea, this is an anime bar. Hine is again being ahead of his time by showing large numbers of people who are so obsessed with Manga and Anime that they have their face and hair changed to look like they come out of a Japanese comic. Love the idea, but I have to say that Hine doesn't quite convince with his ability to mimic the style.

Eventually, Verlaine catches up with the killer, and with a little help from her friends he is defeated. Over the internet. In a rubbish climax. But apart from that, the story has all the elements of the 2000 AD mix of weird ideas, cliches and a strong hero. The story could be a bit better, but it's ok. So why does it feel kind of rubbish? I think it's the art that lets it down. No problems with it as such - great storytelling, easily identifiable characters, good attention to background detail. It's just a bit flat. A different artist, say, a Henry Flint or a Brett Ewins might have been able to inject a bit more weirdness and intensity to it, and helped generate more love for the character. It's a shame as Hine has produced good art before (Tao de Moto, for instance, is better suited to this style). His indie comic 'Strange Embrace' is fantastic, in large part because of the art. But Mambo needs more. To save it from being a total turkey (which without re-reading I suspect Books 1 and 2 were), 'Fleshworks' has one genius saving grace - Skinhead. One of the most revolting and spooky villain designs in 2000 AD history, and Hine knows how to milk it for regular creeptacular effect. This sequence in particular still makes me shudder...

Mambo - more weak than strong, but holds it head up solidly in the lower tiers of 2000 AD creations. I'd buy an Extreme Edition collection (thousands wouldn't).


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