Archive | December, 2011

GIVE THE GIFT OF THARG THIS XMAS

13 Dec

2000AD is an institution, and all too often one that is overlooked in online comics reporting. Clearly Futureshockd has a bit of a love for it, but while working through all the one-off stories has so far only brought us up to the mid-100s Prog wise, the thing that might not be reflected so often is just how good the current run of 2000AD is. Every year more and more old readers return to it remarking how it has recaptured its bite and is in a second ‘golden age’. Now with the excuse of a lovely new Future Shocks book being exclusive with a subscription to the Prog & Meg, and with a mere handful of shopping days left till Xmas, this edition of Futureshockd is going to  tell you why you should forget the bad Boot’s box set perfumes, the BBC tie-in book, and the ubiquitous M&S scarves and  give the gift of Tharg for Xmas.

Thargs Future Shocks – Subscriber Exclusive

The first reason for any tempted comics fan to subscribe this winter is the current ‘subscriber exclusive’ gift – a unique ‘B-Format’ (19.5 x 12.5 cm) Future Shocked graphic novel which comes wrapped in a glorious wrap-around cover from the talents of Grant Perkins & Jamie Roberts. A hefty 128 pages of Future Shocks and contains a great many formerly un-reprinted works by the likes of Brian Bolland, Massimo Belardinelli and Kevin O’Neil.

Happily the book contains a good many of the Future Shocks already discussed on the blog -

  • FS 4Wings (Kev O’Neill),
  • FS 5Just Like Home (Peter Harris, Ron Turner)
  • FS 7A Promised Land (unknown / Horacio Lalia)
  • FS 9Fangs (Chris Lowder, Carlos Ezquerra)
  • FS 11Play Pool (Kelvin Gosnell, Kevin O’Neill)
  • FS 13Space Prospector (Martin Lock, Trevor Goring)
  • FS 14The Runts (Steve Moore, Pat Wright),
  • FS 15Time Past (Martin Lock, Jose Luis Ferrer),
  • FS 17Time Was (Martin Lock, Ramon Sola)
  • FS 18Enemy Agent (Nick Tufnell, John Cooper)
  • FS 19Substitute (Robert Flynn, Giorgi)
  • FS 21The Guardian (Mike Cruden, John Cooper),
  • FS 23Solo Flip (Chris Lowder, Brian Bolland),
  • FS 25Stasis (Charles Swift, Brendan McCarthy, Brett Ewins),
  • FS 26Space Bug (V Wernham, Jose Luis Ferrer),
  • FS 27Monkey (Alan Hebden, Mugallanes),
  • FS 29Tin Can (Mike Cruden, Jose Luis Ferrer),
  • FS 30Timeless Secret (SJ Grimes, Ramon Sola),
  • FS 33Dead Hit (Robert Flynn, Pierre Frisano),
  • FS 34The Illusion Man (Martin Lock, Pierre Frisano),
  • FS 36Nothing On Earth (Chris Lowder, Pierre Frisano),
  • FS 37Breaking Out (Jan Garczynski, Carlos Pino),
  • FS 41The Fourth Wall (Mike Cruden, John Cooper),
  • FS 43Date With Destiny (Mike Curden, Massimo Belardinelli),
  • FS 47Cold Kill (Mike Cruden, Garry Leach),
  • FS 50Dear Mum (John Richardson),
  • FS 55Colin’s Dream (Chris Stevens, Massimo Belardinelli),
  • FS 56Hand of Friendship (John Richardson)

A hearty 28 of the 57 Future Shocks that constituted the first swath of Future Shocks are included, with Tharg doing his best to plunder the gems of the early strips. It’s hard to argue with the choice of strips for inclusion – 7 of the 9 ‘best’ strips selected in the periodic Futureshockd summaries are chosen and the exclusion of one of the remaining 2 (FS 2First Contact) is likely down to it being a colour strip. It is however a great shame that FS 48Brain Drain (Steve Moore, Ron Tiner) isn’t included as it stands as one of the best early stories and much more indicative of the black humour of 2000AD than other stories. The other notable absence is ‘Many Hands‘ (FS 32) which features some beautiful Jose Casanovas art that certainly deserved a reprint. Also absent is the famed Alec Trench tale, but perhaps Tharg has other plans for the work of his best-worst ever writer. Aside from those three Future Shocks the selection well-considered with some of the best stories and much of the best art. Both early Massimo Belardinelli strips appear as well as great art from Pierre Frisano, Garry Leech, Trevor Goring and Carlos Ezquerra. It is particularly nice to see both the stories of Mike Cruden and the art of Pierre Frisano well represented as these are two names who have largely been forgotten about in 2000AD lore but whose contributions to Future Shocks early days was particularly strong. The same is also true of Martin Lock and Jose Luis Ferrer who are likewise well represented in the selection.

The remaining stories in the book come from the second wave of Future Shocks and contains work by the likes of Ian Kennedy, Jose Casanovas, Garry Leech, Mike Collins, Mark Farmer, John Ridgway, Grant Morrison, Alan Davis and Will Simpson. The collection concludes with a fantastic six-page strip by Massimo Belardinelli (Resentment, Prog 537) which is chock full of future cityscapes, weird aliens and, yes, dead bodies. In the hands of the departed Italian master that combination is as strong a conclusion as any omnibus could hope for. The three Belardinelli entries alone make this book a must-have for a 2000AD reader.

Belardinelli-in-a-Box sneaks into Thargs Future Shocks 2011 Collection (Subscribers exclusive)

The stories have been reproduced beautifully, despite the smaller size, and the reproduction team deserve great credit for the crisp look of the lovely B&W artwork. The only small shame is that some of the tales which work best by hiding the reveal behind a page-turn have their ‘shock’ image printed on a facing page, robbing the impact of the reveal. However that doesn’t detract from the overall fun of the collection. It’s a lovely book, a real incentive to take out a subscription, and a nice companion piece to anyone who has been enjoying this blog.  And yes, it does contain that wonderfully weird drawing of Neil Armstrong (FS 19).

However the real reason for getting a subscription to 2000AD is the strength of the modern comic. Probably the easiest way to show just why any comic reader should be subscribing is to show you just what you missed in 2011. In pure numbers thats 50 progs:

2000AD 2011 Progs – click to enlarge

A year of Judge Dredd Megazines

2000AD 2011 Megazines

A year of  Megazine Reprint Comics

All of which weighs in at a whopping 1862 pages of new comics and a generous 766 pages of reprints. Which, for the statistically minded, works out at 8.5p per new page or 6p a page if you throw in the lovely shiny reprints. Plus the famed ‘Star Scans’, old cover art reprinted, interviews with creators and the odd free-gift from the House of Tharg.

But cost per page is an odd way to judge a comic, tempting new readers to 2000AD very much stands or falls on the stories and art, which in 2011, as every year, consisted of a whole heap of Judge Dredd.

2011 in Dredd

In 2011 Dredd included the massive new on-going epic ‘The Day of Chaos‘ (Wagner, MacNeil, Willsher, Flint, Gallagher) which kicked off with a prologue that saw PJ Maybe break out of captivity (The Further Dasterdly Deeds of PJ Maybe- Prog 1740-43) before kicking off proper with ‘Nadia‘ (Prog 1744 – onwards) in July. Returning old droids saw the psychotropic madness of Brendan McCarthy in The Walking Dredd (Rob Williams, Brendan McCarthy(Meg 311)), the return of Bryan Talbot in Caterpillars (Mike Carroll, Bryan Talbot & Alwyn Talbot (Prog 1730) and Mike Collins team up with Dredd stalwart Cliff Robinson (In the Absence of the Sacred (Meg 315)). King of the returnees this year was undoubtably Liam Sharp with two astounding graphical turns in Blaze of Glory (Al Ewing, Liam Sharp (Meg 305)) and  Dredd Set (John Tomlinson, Liam Sharp (Meg 309)). Prior to Wagner’s embarking on The Day of Chaos his only other strip was the atmospheric 30 page ‘Hot Night in 95‘ (Meg 307, 308 & 310) which saw Dredd and the returning Hershey team up to crack some skulls. Dredd’s other elder-statesman writer, Alan Grant, chipped in with several short tales including the wonderful dark ‘In the Absence of the Sacred‘ (Meg 315) and the sweet crazy-citizen tale of ‘The Pusher’ (Prog 1736). Relative newcomer Michael Carroll scripted a flawless one-off in Downtime (Prog 1752) and returning champion Gordon Rennie gave laughs in Persistent Vegetative State (Prog 1726-27) and a procedural meets PSI with vintage Dredd dialogue in Scream (Prog 1737-39). Taking the ‘best non-Wagner’ crown for the year was undoubtedly the 48 page Parker-esque noir classic from Al Ewing (Served Cold – Al Ewing, John Higgins, Prog 1718-25) which showed the young tyro can do gripping procedural drama every bit as well as the sick humour he is more associated with.

Given you can fill several posts with what happened in Dredd in 2011 Futureshockd will limit itself to a top 10 of Dredd moments (be they art or script) that made up the best of Dredd 2011

10) Scream – Gordon Rennie & Lee Carter – Prog 1737-39:  Dredd & PSI Judge Hamida investigate an illegal Brainbloom operation. Immersive art, classic Dredd qips and antagonism towards indulgences of PSI Judges from Dredd.

9) The Family Man – Al Ewing & Leigh Gallagher – Meg 312-13: Al Ewing installs his first major long-term opponent for Judge Dredd in the sinister whiter-than-white black-op’s fronting administration Judge Bachmann after a meaty two-part ‘someones killing mutants’ tale set in the under resourced townships.

8 ) The Pusher – Alan Grant & Peter Doherty – Prog 1736 – Classic 6 page ‘citizens are crazy then Dredd shoots them’ from veteran Alan Grant as a perp pushes citizens to their death to measure their reactions. Doherty’s understated european realism is the perfect foil

7) The Return of Liam Sharp – Blaze of Glory (Meg 305, Al Ewing & Liam Sharp) & Dredd Set (Meg 309, John Tomlinson & Liam Sharp) saw the return to Dredd, after a near 20 year hiatus, of the co-creator of PJ Maybe. After Brendan McCarthy’s return in 2010 the trend of returning droids shows how much love there is for old stoney face amongst the very finest of industry talents. Sharp’s art encompassed a mass of different styles and techniques and excitement bleed off each panel.

6) Persistent Vegetative State – Gordon Rennie & Cliff Robinson – Prog 1726-27: Corporate Politics, The Wally Squad, Dredd itching as he has to act as security for an unworthy subject and the return of the MC-1 fad ‘couch potatoes’ make for a fun two-parter beautifully drawn by Cliff Robinson

5) Hot Night in 95 – John Wagner & Staz Johnson – Meg 307, 308 & 310:  John Wagner slides former Chief-Judge Hershey back into MC-1 with a  low-key night on the streets along side Dredd, with ruminations on the events in the past and unsaid lessons on their ages. Majestic.

4) Served Cold – Al Ewing & John Higgins – Prog 1718-1725: Al Ewing goes for the noir police procedural in this tale of an escaped perp seeking revenge on those that double-crossed him as the Judges close in on his re-capture. Riffing on Parker and echoing the best of John Wagner this tale confirms Ewing as not just a great fun Dredd writer but a heavy hitter likely able to carry the strip for years to come.

3) Brendan McCarthy is (still) back – The Walking Dredd, Rob Williams & Brendan McCarthy – Meg 311: Following on from his acclaimed return to 2000AD last year Brendan McCarthy indulged the Meg with more unique Dredd art in a fun tale that exists only to show off his art and make the pun in the title. The even better news is that McCarthy returns to the Prog in 2012 with his own series.

2) It’s Maybe Time – The Day of Chaos – Elusive Pt 5 – John Wagner & Henry Flint Prog 1757: Three months into the Mega-epic and the absconded PJ Maybe makes his move against the Presidential candidates seeking to replace him. Henry Flint brings a touch of the Zombo and Shakara gore-fest madness to the Presidential-debates-gone-wrong. It’s very likely he enjoyed drawing it every inch as much as you enjoyed reading it.

1) The Day of Chaos – Nadie Pt 7 – John Wagner, Ben Willsher – Prog 1749: There could be no other moment from 2011 at the top of the heap. The always excellent ECBT 2000AD podcast has a reading of the script, by artist Willsher, of the day they blew Old Stoney Face’s head off. John Wagner told Willsher to make sure Dredd’s head is a thing of the past and boy did he excel at the task.

(continued in post below)

THE REST IN 2011

13 Dec

The Rest in 2011

However the days when Dredd had to carry the comic are long since gone, nor is 2000AD living on past characters – with the exception of brief appearances by Slaine and Rogue Trooper in the festive Prog 2011 none of the ‘key’ characters associated with classic era 2000AD was called upon to fill the pages of Meg or Prog. 2000AD has cultivated a new slew of key strips – some revived classics, some spin-offs of Dredd, some unique stand-alone tales of the best of Sci-Fi comics. From the bowls of hell to the insanity of driving planets into an alien Armada, the contents of 2000AD in 2011 was, by turns, funny, sad, exciting, eye-opening, daring, imaginative and always mercilessly violent. Every reader will have their favourite strips, and no doubt one or two they don’t like so much, but the strength of the prog in 2012 is assured. If you are tempted to return to the comic then the simplest most enticing thing is to show you the eye-candy you missed in 2011:

Shakara – Robbie Morrison & Henry Flint

Necrophim – Tony Lee & Lee Carter

Kingdom – Dan Abnett & Richard Elson

Ampney Crucis Investigates – Ian Edginton & Simon Davis

Flesh – Pat Mills & James Mackay

Dandridge – Alec Worley & Jon Hunt-Davis

The Red Seas – Ian Edginton & Steve Yeowell

Bob Byrnes Twisted Tales – Bob Byrne

Nikolai Dante – Robbie Morrison & Simon Fraser

Absalom – Gordon Rennie & Tiernan Trevallion

Cadet Anderson – Alan Grant, Carlos Ezquerra & Hector Ezquerra
Sinister Dexter – Dan Abnett, Anthony Williams & Rob Taylor  
Savage – Pat Mills & Patrick Goddard 
Zombo – Al Ewing & Henry Flint 
Indigo Prime – John Smith & Edmund Bagwell
Low Life – Rob Williams & D’Israeli 
 Angel Zero – Kek-W & John Burns 
Samizdat Squad – Arthur Wyatt & Paul Marshall 
Lilly McKenzie – Simon Fraser 
Insurrection – Dan Abnett & Colin MacNeil  
Numbercruncher – Si Spurrier & PJ Holden  
Judge Anderson – Alan Grant & Boo Cook 
Cursed Earth Coburn – Gordon Rennie, Carlos Ezquerra & Hector Ezquerra 
American Reaper – Pat Mills & Clint Langley  
That was the Prog & Meg in 2011 – not including several Future Shocks and the wonderful short story series Tharg’s 3hrillers. For FutureShockd there were innumerable highs: the astounding script and art on NumberCruncher, the pathos of Dirty Frank in Low Life, the retro-thrills of Samizdat Squad, the twists and beauty of Nikolai Dante, Boo Cook’s art, Edmund Bagwell’s art, Colin MacNeil’s art the astounding debuts of Flesh‘s James Mackay and Absalom‘s Tiernan Trevallion, the madness of Henry Flint and the greatness of Pat Mills. 
Prog 2012 and beyond
Already some of what is to come in 2012 is known – the new end-of-year bumper ‘jump-on’ Prog 2012 hits the shelves this Wednesday (14th December 2011) and contains Dredd, Dante, Dandridge, Strontium Dog, Sinister Dexter and Absalom as well as new strips Aquila (Gordon Rennie & Leigh Gallagher) and Grey Area (Dan Abnett & Karl Richardson). 2012 sees Brendan McCarthy team up with Al Ewing for The Zaucer of Zilk, the second series of the astounding ‘The Grievous Journey of Ichabod Azrael (and the Dead Left in his Wake)‘  by Rob Williams & Dom Reardon and the return of Low Life‘s Dirty Frank, Stickleback, The Red Seas and half of Mega-City One set to die in the next twist of The Day of Chaos
The Zaucer of Zilk by Al Ewing & Brendan McCarthy starts prog 1775 (March 2012)

Subscibe!

2000AD do subscription packages in three varieties – Prog alone Meg alone and a combination of Meg & Prog. The latter has a saving of over 26 pounds on the shop-price as well as insulating against any cover price rise. Plus the exclusive Future Shocks book reviewed at the start of this post for subscribers to both comics. All this and the 35th Anniversary of 2000AD comes up in 2012 so no doubt there will be some special plans to mark the occasion. North American readers can find The Judge Dredd Megazine on the shelves of their local Barnes & Noble and digital editions of both comics are available directly from the Rebellion website.

2000AD is the finest in contemporary comics, pick up Prog 2012 over the New Year period and see for yourself.

RT 6: MYTH TAKES

7 Dec

PROG: 166 – YE FIRST ROBOT

Script: Gary Rice

Art: Brendan McCarthy

Letters: Tom Frame

Plot: In 1820 an unnamed man mourns the loss of his only child. Whilst brooding over how fate has robbed him of his wife, in labour, and their only child, he decides to create a replacement son from steel and steam. Eventually he emerges from his workshop with a large lumbering humanoid device he calls ‘Robert’, named after his son. Taking the machine to his friend Herr Wilhem he is pleased with its’ reception, even though the elderly gentleman mispronounces its name as ‘Robot’. However, on his return home he finds the local peasants take the machine’s coal fire engine and smokey emissions as a sign that it is the devil’s work. They begin to rally against the defenseless ‘Robert’…

Ending: The locals destroy ‘Robert’, leaving the inventor, once more, all alone. However the whole event has been overseen by two observers, one a dignified aristocrat, the other his man-servant. They ponder re-creating the ‘Robert’ experiment but with flesh and blood instead of steel and steam. As they leave the aristocrat is assured of success by the servant, after all he is Baron Frankenstein!

Thoughts: A very curious Robo-Tale, surrealistically introduced by Ro-Jaws in a Judge’s wig, is written in a most unusual style as a ‘lost journal’ with extensive textual exposition of the images contained beneath each passage. It looks very similar to the ‘illustrated prose’ technique that would be used by Ian Edginton’s Twas The Fight Before Christmas (Prog 2009), or even the word/picture juxtaposition in Alan Moore’s The English / Philondrutian Phrasebook (Prog 214), also illustrated by McCarthy. However by the middle of the second page the separation of text and image has broken down and word-balloons creep increasingly into the story. Adding to the unusual visual effect is the fact that none of the images have a panel boarder and the sides of the pages are made to look like the inside of a ring-binder journal. Why a ring-binder is being used for something seemingly written in 1820 is unclear. By Prog 166 McCarthy had contributed to several substantial stories in the Prog (ABC Warriors, Judge Dredd) but his art here isn’t terribly impressive, certainly a long way from the style that would firmly establish him as a reader favourite. The story itself suffers from having Ro-Jaws act as interlocutor as this limits the narrative’s ability to link the un-named protagonist and the observing Baron Frankenstein. Had not Ro-Jaws told the story it would have made more sense to have had either the Baron or the robot’s builder relate the tale and then explain their link to each other. Certainly it would have been cleverer to have had Frankenstein be a descendant or associate of ‘Robert’s’ creator than just ‘passing by’ as it would have allowed his voice to link into the tale earlier than simply as observing the final act. As a causal character thrown in on the last three panels his presence does strike as an after-thought in a story that was already clearly riffing on Mary Shelley’s classic yarn.  The story also loses points for managing to posit Baron Frankenstein being inspired some two years after his own tale had been published in 1818. Basic research from the writer could have set the story in 1810 without altering any key elements. Future Shocks had already re-grounded the Dracula myth (FS 50) so Frankenstein’s turn was always on the cards, sadly this wasn’t the greatest attempt at having fun with the well-trodden source material.

Thrill Power: Pretty minimal. The strange story-telling device makes for a plodding technique which is constantly interrupting the flow of the tale and neither the prose nor the art is compelling enough to compensate. It deserves credit for attempting to play with the form but with the story so obviously echoing  The Modern Prometheus and the tacked-on appearance of the Baron constituting the twist it is all quite uninteresting and dull. Easily the best thing about the tale is the unexplained appearance of Ro-Jaws in a Judge’s wig.

RT 5: THE BIG (OR SMALL) EZ1

4 Dec

PROG: 161 – DROIDS ARE DISPOSABLE

click to enlarge

Script: Gary Rice

Art: Brett Ewins

Letters: Tony Jacob

Plot: The spaceship Freya has crashed hundreds of miles from the nearest base and the robot EZ1 combs the wreckage to see if it is the only survivor. Finally it finds the badly injured Lieutenant Nash, the sole human left alive, and, picking up his broken body in its arms, EZ1  begins the long trek to get Nash to safety. Nash is disgusted at being aided by a robot, making clear that he hates machines like EZ1; but, as EZ1 fends off predators and fierce weather conditions to protect the Lieutenant, gradually he comes to respect his metallic guardian. WIth its power supplies nearly depleted, EZ1 finally arrives at the base. It’s circuits breakdown as it enters the safe-haven having successfully saved the life of Nash.

Ending: Lieutenant Nash comes to in the camp’s hospital and enquires into how EZ1 is doing after their arduous trek. After being told he was ‘put to good use‘ the Lieutenant looks down at his first meal and see’s EZ1’s serial number stamped on the plate. EZ1 has been scrapped because ‘droids are disposable‘. 

Thoughts: Gary Rice’s second Robo-Tale is a nicely executed story which returns to a theme of early Future Shocks – that humans are utter bastards – in a tale that echo’s much of the humanism Sci-Fi of the 1970s. The story of Nash and EZ1 bonding through survival is not so much traditional buddy movie material, as Nash is incapacitated throughout, as A Boy and His Dog or Silent Running. It’s a well executed tale with the antagonism to EZ1, despite his heroics, foreshadowed by Nash’s own initial reactions. The script throws in a fight with a  winged beast to keep the tension high as well as reinforce why Nash learns the lesson the people at the base then neglect. In terms of story the use of a robot talking to itself is a tad clunky but this expository device is thankfully curtailed by the discovery of Nash. Ewins’ art is more problematic than the script, there is a major issue with the relative scales of Nash and EZ1, sometimes they look 1:1, sometimes EZ1 seems twice the size of the human. There also seems a complete inconsistency in the inking, sometimes faces are over-inked and at other there is a very clean line deployed. EZ1’s face also seems some peculiar mix of malleable human and Hammerstein, an unfortunate case of neither fish nor fowl. Ewins does appear to have drawn a USB connector and slot some 20 years before their ubiquity which at least draws a smile. One very effective panel is of EZ1 clutching the limp Nash to its chest. Filled with powerful symbolism of the robot as guardian this panel centers the emotional lesson of the story and, whether it was the choice of the artist or in script, the decision to focus page two around this image makes a very strong impact right at the half-way point of the tale. As ever with Brett Ewins any criticism of his early art comes attached with the acknowledgement that he would go on to be an excellent artist for the Prog.

Thrill Power?: Sadly the art rather dates this otherwise nice if functional tale. It’s a solid script and one an aspiring art-droid should maybe have a bash at re-drawing for a trial submission to Tharg.

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