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Author Topic: Anderson: Half-Life  (Read 1751 times)

I, Cosh

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Anderson: Half-Life
« on: 05 July, 2011, 11:43:25 PM »
[NB According to the time on the file, this was originally jotted down about a year ago, before the change of direction became more definite, and is probably incomplete.]

After an absence from the Meg while Wagner put her in a coma in the Prog, Half-Life marks the beginning of a lengthy run for Anderson which builds into an enjoyable and satisfying self-contained storyline. A common criticism of Anderson is that she is involved in massive, city-wide crises which are never mentioned again in any other context. While there is an thread of that in these stories, the bulk of the action takes place in the mind. Anyway, I generally just assume Dredd was out of the city on a Hotdog Run or something that week and don't let it bother me.

One of the more interesting character developments in this run is Anderson taking a leaf out of Dredd's book to reflect on her age (pushing fifty) and get a rather conservative new haircut to reflect this. Dave Taylor stuck to this for his brief stint on the character but it seems like this has been quietly shelved to allow the current Boo Cook iteration to return to the classic look. It's not the only thing that makes these recent stories, which are fun, seem a bit inconsequential in comparison.

Arthur Ranson provides the art throughout. Something which adds to the sense of a cohesive storyline and looks marvellous to boot. As always, Grant's scripts are generally structured to allow Ranson one or two opportunities in a story to really cut loose with wild monsters, cavalcades of the damned, fantastical dream architecture and the like. However, the page that impressed me most contained none of these things. In the first episode of City of Dead, Anderson is back on the streets and, in what could be a callback to Dredd's return from Luna-1, Ranson produces a dazzling, dizzying Mega-Cityscape. The image is framed by an indeterminate big concrete thing and the eye is pulled vertiginously down through this to the streets below. Honestly, I'm not entirely certain what way up it's supposed to be viewed, but that bewilderment just adds to the effect. If anyone has time and a scanner, Meg 231 is the issue in question.

It seems to me that knowing the story was going to run for a significant amount of time allowed Grant freedom to develop some more supporting characters and let them have a proper role in the unfolding drama. I think it's pretty fair to say that the end of this saga also marks the last noteworthy thing Alan Grant produced for the Prog. There's a clear suggestion that the character and the writer may both have changed but they are refreshed and ready for action again. It's a shame that this opportunity has slipped away and now all we get is an occasional nice looking, but predictable tale of Anderson having to make her way into some phantasmagoric mindspace to afford the artist of the day the chance to go off on one.
We never really die.

Colin YNWA

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Re: Anderson: Half-Life
« Reply #1 on: 26 January, 2020, 04:50:39 PM »
Knew there was a thread about this and glad its by that fine ol' fella Cosh, I Cosh. So please excuss the necropost.

In the grand tradition of Eammon I'll do some version control here, not sure what format I, Cosh read this story, I'm assuming the proginal Megs. I've read this extended story for the first time In Psi-File volume 4. That volume also includes a couple of fine shorter stories with art by Steve Sampson and the excellent R*Evolution with art by Arthur Ranson as well and I've discussed relatively recently over in my self-absorbed thread. The volume is topped of with some filler from Judge Dredd Specials. Everything , except that fillwe is written by Alan Grant, once again disproving the nonsense that only the original creators of a character can truly write that character.

Anyway to the subject at hand. The Half-life ... epic... arch... Tetraology ... I guess it'd be called a franchise these days... whatever consists of four stories:

Half-life - in which a comatosed Cass lives a life on Death world at school with Syndey and onwards as the takes control.

WMD - in which a squad of Psi's and significently a witch enter Anderson's mind to try to free here from the viral 'half-life' trap Death has left in there.

Lock-in - Reveals that misson was not as successful as first though as a group of Judges locked into a sector house (or similar) fall victim to those infected by a mechanised version of the virus.

City of Dead - wraps the whole thing up as the virus escapes into the city with revels in death.

Those four stories pretty much stand on their own, but each clearly plays into a wider whole. That whole, over almost 180 pages I thnk, is well served by being broken down onto compact units. It strangely gives the story a sense of greater scale and tension as things build up and develop in four distinct units, each with its own tensions and story archs. Each building in scale and impact. Its a wonderfully constructed story it really is. It never lets up the tension and the four sub-stories mean it never overstays its welcome as its constantly refreshed and renewed.

Its just magnificent.

And all the more so as Arthur Ranson draws ever glorious page of it. From the grim and gritty pre-Deathworld, high octane, large scale gun battles in the Big Meg, via mindscapes of infinite variety and imagination. The always astonishing thing is it all looks photoreferentially precise and drafted, as if he's capable of taking a camera to capture the dark twisting madness of the entrance to an insane immortal's mind as he is a Watford council estate. He makes things world and feel bound and grounded as it is otherworldly.

I said before , in more self absorbed places, its possible Anderson in the Prog was for a long time the most consistently brilliant series the Prog had seen, certainly up to Dante I'd suggest. This epic just holds up that idea. I'll go as far to suggest its as strong as almost any Dredd Mega-epic. If like me you've never read this ... well clearly I have now, but I hadn't, rush out, push over small children and old folks until you reach your nearest thrill merchant and buy this story.

Richard

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Re: Anderson: Half-Life
« Reply #2 on: 26 January, 2020, 07:20:38 PM »
I agree with all of that. I would add that Ranson is my favourite Anderson artist.

AlexF

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Re: Anderson: Half-Life
« Reply #3 on: 27 January, 2020, 04:25:59 PM »
Yeah, it's a truly terrific Anderson epic, this, that kinda went quietly unnoticed in the Meg at the time. I think it didn't help that in those days the Meg was a massive 100 page whopper with reprint material packaged as part of the main magazine, so all the new strip pages kinda lost their place. These days in the Meg, we notice when there's a new series of Lawless, it gets its proper due.

It's also, I think, worth reading the opening story 'Half-Life' as part of the story of Judge Death. It very actively picks up on threads from Young Death but also sews some of the seeds of decay that appear in Fall of Deadworld. Even if it is all taking place in Cass's mind.

I confess I tend to think of Alan Grant as the 'funny one' from the Wagner/Grant days, but when it comes to their solo work it's Grant's more serious stories (like Half-Life) that are the best, while his comedies often aren't.

TordelBack

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Re: Anderson: Half-Life
« Reply #4 on: 27 January, 2020, 04:43:36 PM »
The Half-Life sequence is my favourite Anderson stuff since Shamballa.  In fact with the exception of the parts of the Beeby run it's about the last Anderson I really enjoyed*.



*Caveat: there's quite a lot of later Meg Anderson I haven't read yet.

Richard

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Re: Anderson: Half-Life
« Reply #5 on: 27 January, 2020, 05:38:35 PM »
Alan Grant's humour in his Anderson stories just isn't funny; ditto Samantha Slade. His humour in some other stories, however, is hilarious, and Lobo: The Last Czarnian is brilliant. I don't know why this is.

His serious Anderson stories, on the other hand, are some of the best stories I've read in comics. The storyline discussed above is certainly one of them. My favourite of all is Triad, which is a masterclass in storytelling, and also marks the increasingly mature tone of the comic around that time (1989).

Colin YNWA

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Re: Anderson: Half-Life
« Reply #6 on: 27 January, 2020, 08:27:12 PM »
His serious Anderson stories, on the other hand, are some of the best stories I've read in comics. The storyline discussed above is certainly one of them. My favourite of all is Triad, which is a masterclass in storytelling, and also marks the increasingly mature tone of the comic around that time (1989).

Yeah the run between the first Anderson story and Shamballa is almost untouched. And this ranks alongside it. Its like these story just click with Alan Grant, in the way he did with Batman.

repoman

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Re: Anderson: Half-Life
« Reply #7 on: 01 February, 2020, 09:06:19 AM »
Colin, thanks for listing out the stories in this arc.

As part of my efforts to catalogue all of the Judge Death stories, this is the next one I'll be mentioning on my site.  I've finally gotten past the 90s (which was the most prolific era but also the least good in my opinion)!

I entirely missed Half-Life until now.  This was the point of me doing the site, I want to read (and own) everything Judge Death related but had to maintain my own bibliography to do it.

Half-Life is a great story but because I'm not a fan of the wider 2000 AD universe as much, I would never have known where the Half-Life story goes but I think I'll check it out as I like the concept of it.  Hopefully they are all in the same Psi Files volume but I probably won't be that lucky!


repoman

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Re: Anderson: Half-Life
« Reply #8 on: 01 February, 2020, 09:14:05 AM »
Sorry about the double post.  No edit button.


They're all right here in Vol 04.  I hardly ever check out the non-Death stories.   Result!

Gary James

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Re: Anderson: Half-Life
« Reply #9 on: 01 February, 2020, 10:56:03 AM »
Half-Life is a great story but because I'm not a fan of the wider 2000 AD universe as much...

I'm guessing you mean Dredd universe (or MC1 universe, or... whatever is meant to be in-continuity with his strips), and to that I say Tempest. Or Lawless, which is simply made of awesome.

Half Life feels sorta, kinda, almost like it is playing with prior Anderson appearances - giving us what we need rather than what we might want - and does it with exceptional panache. It isn't playful, which is wonderful (there needs to be a hard edge in Anderson's tales to sell her age, experiences, and position), and the twists and turns in plot are beautifully deployed.

The heart of Anderson's stories, unlike Dredd, are character moments, and her interactions with Shakta are the highlight for me.

Colin YNWA

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Re: Anderson: Half-Life
« Reply #10 on: 12 March, 2020, 08:46:57 PM »
I'll drop this here rather than start a new thread with something a bit negative. Just finished Psi File 5 and have to be honest I didn't enjoy it anywhere near as much as previous Anderson stuff. I've not read any of this before and its all Alan Grant, who has barely put a foot wrong with these strips to this point. Alas here it reads a little like he's running out of steam and the strip after a decent start - Arthur Ranson drawing 'Lucid' as the Dark Sister try to find a bridge back to MC1, it start to slowly go down hill.

'Big Robots' a strip I've long wanted to read for the lush art and curious concept does indeed have lush art and a curious concept. One that if I'm honest doesn't really work. Boo Cook takes over on art and while his bristling colours are certainly appopriate for the series, particularly on his fourth story 'The Trip' the art just isn't for me. I can see why folks like it but art is so subjective it really jars with me. I'm not sure how much the influences my view of the stories but the get increasingly chaotic and lacking the emotion structure and tension of previous stories. Its not that Grant doesn't try and he has some really fun ideas I just don't feel the execution of the telling has the dramatic plotting and glorious structural drive of his previous tales.

So for me, and certainly in relation to the previous tales these feel really weak.

Richard

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Re: Anderson: Half-Life
« Reply #11 on: 12 March, 2020, 11:53:26 PM »
It's not just you, I feel the same about the story and the art. I didn't even buy volume 5.