2000ad: prog 1535

21 05 2007

After a slightly nondescript Simon Davis cover, prog 1535 opens with the climax of the Judge Dredd: Origins mega-epic. This last installment is a fairly breathless sprint to the end, and having not read the preceding twenty-three episodes I can’t help feeling that this part zips by too fast. There’s some nice details though: I like the arc followed by Logan, who started the story with a bad hip and ends up by this point with just about everything else wrong with him, the payoff being that his hip is fixed along with the rest of his wounds when he returns to Mega-City One. I really like the evocative future-medical concept of a ‘paper lung’ (or do they already have those?).

There’s a lovely gnomic Dredd moment on page two. Joe asks the newly-arrived rescue party how they found him, and gets the reply: “Just followed the smoke.”

I have to admit at this point a certain blasphemy, a dirty little secret I have borne with secret shame for most of my life: I don’t really like CarlosEzquerra’s style. While I acknowledge his incredible body of work, his important place in comics lore, I just don’t like his lumpy shapes or scratchy hatching. And his women look awful (what is going on with Hershey’s fringe?). But his Judges in full gear do look wicked.

Heresy I know. Don’t mention Ron Smith or Mike McMahon either.

If the first few pages race by, the last three screech to a halt with the shattering meeting between Dredd and Fargo on the old man’s long-deferred deathbed. There’s a double revelation of Fargo’s regret, and Dredd’s concealing Fargo’s dying wish. It’s a Pyrrhic victory to say the least, and definitely the sort of moral and narrative ambiguity I want to see in action comics. The last three panels are a moment of stillness but possess a real punch that resonates forward and backwards through theDredd mythos: Was it all a lie? And what will Dredd do now?

More hard-hitting ambiguity in the climax to Savage: Double Yellow. Charlie Adlard’s wetter, high contrast black and white art has a real feel of solidity. It’s richly contemporary stuff from Pat Mills, with insurgent groups threatening to behead hostages, popular demos turning into armed revolution, and talk of ‘blood for oil’. Only the oil comes from the North Sea, not the Middle East. The oppressive armed forces are overthrown in the West End, not the West Bank. There’s a message of hope in the realisation by fanatical revolutionaries that popular uprising (“This really is ‘our finest hour’!”) is better than extremism (“For an eye – both eyes. For a tooth – the whole jaw.”) Then there’s the great little moment of unreconstructed ‘ard man Bill Savage delivering a message to the US president that “nobody like armed missionaries.”

After all that breathless social comment Detonator X seems a bit vanilla. Alright, there’s an environmental message in there, but aren’t warsuits vs intradimensional monster invaders a bit old hat? I haven’t read the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic regularly for years, and even I’ve seen it before. Yowell’s art is a bit insubstantial and the colours are too pastel. And the warsuits look lame. We’ll see if it gets better.

You can, of course, always rely on Sinister Dexter. Not sure about Finnigan’s new look (I liked it when he looked like Ginger Wildheart) but I do like Simon Coleby’s chunky, dynamic art that keeps things ticking even when not much is actually happening. I actually prefer this kind of flowing, subtle narrative development to the choppier, tie-things-up-quick bang-bang-bang-the-end of the Savage andDredd stories.

The Nikolai Dante strip is a bit like that. Another final part, it’s not much more than a scrap with a werewolf, and as such doesn’t really have a huge amount of storyline to draw together, so you can forgive the simplicity. There is a touch of depth in the Christian iconography and John Woo-esque church setting which could have been teased out more. Still, I love John Burns’ work, especially his mad-eyed loonie priest here, but I wish he’d put borders on his panels. The speech bubbles are too incongruous without similarly weighted frame borders.

I zipped through this prog faster than I wanted to. But I’ll be coming back to the last three frames of Origins again, I suspect.


“it’s way past time you learnt — what it means to be a man”

23 04 2007

“This would be a good death…”

A common theme of Frank Miller’s work is a man’s mission to ‘die right’. 300 is an extended last stand, full of talk of dying with honour and glory. Sin City is full of flawed heroes going unwaveringly to their seemingly inevitable doom. In The Dark Knight Returns, Batman chooses the time and place of his death – to the second (although he claims his timing is a bit off, but I like to think that’s a deliberate mistake – Bruce letting Clark know that he trusts him, always trusted him to come through in the end… but also getting one up on the Kryptonian yet again. A wink, and a reminder.)

Miller’s heroes represent absolute moral justice made flesh – yet more than flesh, their rock-hard moral convictions reflected in the hyperreal, granite-like physicality of Marv, the Dark Knight, or Leonidas. Maybe this explains Miller’s attraction to Robocop, the male body rendered literally impenetrable, metallic.

For Robocop, doing the right thing is programmed into him, even overriding the
programming imposed upon him by society. It’s the same with Bruce Wayne scorning the committee that bans superheroes, Leonidas killing the messenger. They’re not interested in what lesser men might do.

Doing the right thing despite the cost means that death is near-inevitable. So while conviction means death, life means compromise. Society compromises; so the uncompromising hero is a loner. We see this in 300, when Leonidas questions the Arcadians’ professions. Be a part of society, but lack agency, or be in control of one’s own destiny and conviction but be apart from society.

This is why there’s such a clear separation between the warrior class of Sparta and the others, the chattering classes of Gotham and the Dark Knight (“Batman? I’m plain tired of hearing about him. Him and how he doesn’t let things stop him or just let things go the way us humans do.). It’s the same as the distinction between the normal folk of the American West and the gunfighter who rides into town to commit righteous violence on behalf of society, yet can never be part of that society and must always ride on into the sunset.

To attempt to be part of society is irreconcilable with the way of the warrior. Love always means trouble in Sin City. This construction of hypermasculinity precludes relationships. Relationships lead to death. And it’s not always the man that’s punished.

“The world only makes sense when you force it to…”

six shots from unfolded earth

7 04 2007

Sixgun is mindbending and also awesome. I think we’ve all been on the night out in Chapter Four.

concrete: fragile creature

5 04 2007

Paul Chadwick (1994)

Concrete is an intelligent, literate and human take on the comic book staple of the indestructible, made-out-of-rock dude. It’s ponderin’ time…

In this collection, crunchy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside travel writer Concrete gets involved with a trashy fantasy film to earn some cash. Chadwick clearly has a lot of fun with the film-within-the-comic, a toy franchise not a million galaxies away from Castle Greyskull. But the real joy of the story is in the relations and interaction between the well-realized ensemble cast of characters.

There’s a stunning opening, a double-page spread of beautifully rendered perspective as our hero lumbers down a monochrome street, colour spilling into the second page like a pot of Technicolor washing across the page.

Unfortunately, from hereonin the composition is often a bit muddy and unclear when things are actually happening, as opposed to when we are just looking at panels of people sitting and standing round talking. It’s hard to tell what’s actually happened in the action beats, rare as they are.

A poor editorial decision in this collected edition also causes some confusion, as a separate short story, ‘Fire At Twilight’ which takes place in the Fragile Creature continuity, is placed at the end of the book rather than in the correct chronological place. This led to some head-scratchin’ and page-flippin’ as one of the major characters suddenly acquires a bandaged head.

‘Fire At Twilight’ apparently received criticism at the time for being racist. To be fair, as Chadwick points out, the antagonists are never seen, so perhaps the story serves to expose prejudices in those who assume the characters are ethnic minorities. We don’t see them, so for all we know they could be white or black or any combination of the racial rainbow.

But I doubt it’s that clever. The events of ‘Fire At Twilight’ just aren’t that interesting even taken as part of the main Fragile Creatures story; the decision to make a whole standalone story out of them is just mystifying.

But if the ‘action’ in Fragile Creature is a bit clunky, the human drama is spot-on. There are plenty of nice character details, with a wealth of characters that avoid stereotyping. We get a nice insight into low-budget (almost amateurish) film production and the slightly desperate camaraderie involved.

In one great scene, Concrete meets the filmmakers for the first time and we read their thoughts throughout the conversation. Both sides are internally nervous, awkward, intimidated by the other, and both mistake the other’s awkwardness for command of the situation.

The standout moment is when we think something is going to happen, and it just… doesn’t. A musing Concrete spots a car running someone over in the distance, and pounds to the scene, only to find no evidence that it ever occurred. It’s a lovely, contemplative, and slightly weird moment that adds nothing to the narrative but everything to the character of the story.

Mini comix and pocketfulls of beer

16 03 2006

Went to the UK Web and Mini Comix Thing at the weekend. Cash machine said no, which was a bit of a shadow over the whole day, but never mind. Was really good to see all the different stuff people are creating, very inspirational.

Went with Lily, White Lightning DJ and expert mingler, who made lots of friends.

I’ll be following up some of the links and comics I looked at over coming weeks, and writing about them here.

I’ll also be revealing which ideas I plan to shamelessly steal.

Went to the Metro Saturday night to see the Bikini Beach Band among others. I’ll write up the review in a bit. Was great apart from the gall of the place to charge £3.20 for a can of lager! I stood there with my £12.00 in my pocket (enough for four drinks, so I thought) getting all angry and thinking I could buy that for 90p in an off license.

Then I thought, I could buy that for 90p in an off license!

So between each band I nipped out and came back with pockets full of Grolsch. Being Oxford Street it cost considerably more than 90p, but still, I felt like I’d put one over on the man.

Not my proudest moment, but it did add a frisson of danger and excitement to the gig. Kicking against the pricks!