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Author Topic: Oh no not another re-read thread (progs 336 to 729)  (Read 2809 times)

MumboJimbo

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Oh no not another re-read thread (progs 336 to 729)
« on: 17 June, 2019, 01:24:37 pm »
Hi all,

So about a year ago I started a re-read postening on a private Facebook group. And I thought I'd reproduce it here, at a one post a day basis (if I remember). As it was originally to people I knew well, it's a bit more opinionated than I would have probably been otherwise. Also, this was started before the sad passing of Carlos Esquerra and Ron Smith.

Anyway, - here we go!

Progs 336-388 (October 83 - October 84)

Well, luckily enough I start in a golden age for the Galaxy's Greatest. The previous prog (335) had been a New Readers Start Here issue, which returned Strontium Dog and Nemesis the Warlock to the comic, while starting new stories off for the continuing strips Judge Dredd (of course), Rogue Trooper and Slaine. Slaine, though, had only debuted very recently - prog 330 to be exact.

And what a line-up! You could argue that they're all variations on a theme: fundamentally a slightly grumpy, taciturn lone-agent warrior-wanderer, grimly fighting a personal war with the odds stacked against him. But what boy on the cusp of adolescence could fail to identify with that? And even if the heroes were the same, the settings certainly differed wildly: from the clean metallic lines of mega-city one, to the choking chem-clouds and swamps of Nu-Earth and in-between the dark Gothic climes of Nemesis and the primitive rural Celtic settlements of Slaine. What a feast for the eyes and food for a young impressionable boy's imagination.

My word it's violent though. The first Dredd story - an 8-parter called The Graveyard Shift - documents a typical night in Mega-City One, replete with senseless violence, serial killers and block wars. The body count each episode is very high, and even though the killing is usually not shown that graphically, there's piles of dead bodies in many frames. Later on there's a dead baby in Dredd and in Strontium Dog, Alpha takes the corpse of 10 year old boy to a zombie planet to re-animate him.

The team working on 2000AD seems quite small in those days. In terms of script writers, John Wagner and/or Alan Grant handle Judge Dredd (under the pseudonym TB Grover), Strontium Dog, and later on Ace Trucking Co., while Pat Mills writes Slaine and Nemesis the Warlock, and Gerry Finlay Day. Apart from them you have Alan Moore coming in at times (more on that later) and the odd standalone strip, such as a Future Shock written by someone else.

In terms of artists, Carlos Esquerra is by far the most prolific - there's hardly a single issue in the whole year without a Strontium Dog strip drawn by him. Belardinelli is second, doing both Slaine (alternating with Mike McMahon) and Ace Trucking Co. There's quite a turnover on Dredd and Rogue Trooper artists though. Ron Smith (my favourite Dredd artist) gets quite a few episodes, but no Brian Bolland as yet (my other fave).

Speaking of Dredd, one great source of comedy is the gormless stupidity of the average citizen of Mega City One. Ron Smith is a master of this, portraying them with an open-mouthed vacancy, usually just before something tragic befalls them. In one story there are dinosaurs running amock, and of course, one citizen leans out of his window to get a closer look and is promptly eaten by a T-Rex. If there's one criticism I have with this run of Dredd though, is that there's no epic story to rival the earlier Judge Child or Apocalypse War stories. Most stories are one-offs, or run to half-a-dozen episodes or so, and nothing momentous really happens that changes life in Mega-City One. Still, I think I'm about to start the City of the Damned storyline which I remember to be pretty epic, so hopefully you'll be getting that in my next installment.

Both Strontium Dog and Rogue Trooper, like Dredd, are present in nearly every issue in this era. Strontium Dog has three stories - The Moses Incident (where he tries to bring that boy to life), The Killing which is a straight-forward Battle Royale tale, and the epic Outlaws! where Alpha and Wulf are framed with a murder and have the rest of the Strontium Dogs trying to kill them. One twist with the Battle Royale story is that they're only in the game as many of the contestants have a bounty on their head - the plan is for them to kill the ones that fetch a good price and then do one. But, of course, (spolier!) they end up winning it, and then even kill the organisers for being arseholes - hooray! I don't quite know how they claim to have the moral highground but it's a lot of fun.

Rogue Trooper is a lot more "military" than the other stories. Of course, in those days, war-based comics like Battle, Valiant and Warload were still very popular, and it's clear that Rogue Trooper is there as an entry point to 2000 AD for that audience. He's always camouflaging himself with a bit of bracken, or hiding in a swamp as a convoy of military vehicles pass by. It's all very crack, elite and military. One thing about Rogue is everybody seems to hate him. Ostensibly he fights on the side of the Southers against the Nazi-like Norts, but he's been framed as a deserter so his own side is trying to get him too. I don't really know why he bothers. He's meant to be on the hunt for the Traitor General who framed him, but always ends up getting tangled up in other events. In one story a local dancer comes onto him, but he's having none of it. I think Rogue is there to teach us impressionable youngsters about the simple spiritual pleasures of an ascetic life. Possibly.

Nemesis Book 3 is not classic Nemesis (the next book certainly is though, which I'll be covering in the next instalment). It's mainly an excuse to set up a massive battle between giant siege robots, which in turn is mainly an excuse to show off Kevin O'Neil's bizarre, but wonderful artwork. In terms of art that was really pushing the boundaries in comics then, it's his work, and Mike McMahon's Slaine which are at the most esoteric. McMahon's Slaine looks scrappy when you first dive into it, but it's actually purposeful and the effect is like a wood carving. At times though it does get too scrappy, for example in the Shoggey Beast story. It would seem he was asked to dial in back a bit, as the next story (Sky Chariots) his work is more careful and measured, and I have to say the first episode of Sky Chariots is simply breathtaking. Massimo Belardinelli's work on Slaine, couldn't be more different to McMahon's, much more conventional and polished, but still very effective at conveying the story.

Nemesis is the first of the continuing stories to come to end, and after a few stop-gap Future Shocks gets replaced by Alan Moore's anarchic DR and Quinch. I've seen an interview by him where he comes across as rather embarrassed by DR Quinch, but he needn't be, as the mindless violence is always perfectly in-keeping with the Young Ones-esque humour of the strip, and artist Alan Davis (no, not that one) does a perfect job of bringing out the humour and sheer ridiculous of it all. Bravo Moore - be proud of it!

After Slaine has a break there's a definite feeling of the comic being a bit in a rut around June, as there's a lot of stop-gap single episode strips which are a bit underwhelming, but then slack is brought up with the appearance of Ace Trucking Co. and then - or lordy yes! - The Ballad of Halo Jones Book One. Ace Trucking Co. (which I could never bother to read back in the day), is light, humorous affair, but doesn't really endure. The Ballad of Halo Jones, though...you do wonder how it ever got commissioned and why they thought if would ever be a hit with a readership, which at the time was predominately 12 year old boys. I'm so glad they did though, as it's excellent and totally unlike anything else in the comic. We don't really burrow down to deeply into Halo's soul in the first book, it's mainly world-building, but what a world! A floating enclosed city (called the Hoop) moored off New York where the unemployed, and alien immigrants are housed. There's a weird cult called drummers who have a continual beat surgically inserted into their brains. There's a lot also that's left unexplained so you feel how strange this world is. Can't wait until Book 2 starts!

More tomorrow, squaxxes.

sheridan

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Re: Oh no not another re-read thread (progs 336 to 729)
« Reply #1 on: 17 June, 2019, 05:28:53 pm »
In one story a local dancer comes onto him, but he's having none of it. I think Rogue is there to teach us impressionable youngsters about the simple spiritual pleasures of an ascetic life. Possibly.

Love it! Sister Sledge, Venus Bluegenes, afore-mentioned dancer - the clues are all there for attentive young boys!

Quote
Nemesis Book 3 is not classic Nemesis (the next book certainly is though, which I'll be covering in the next instalment).

Seeing as this is my favourite book of Nemesis (against some absurdly strong competition) I'd be interested to read your reasoning behind that!

Quote
At times though it does get too scrappy, for example in the Shoggey Beast story. It would seem he was asked to dial in back a bit, as the next story (Sky Chariots) his work is more careful and measured, and I have to say the first episode of Sky Chariots is simply breathtaking.

Between Shoggey Beast and Sky Chariots, Massimo had quite a long run - I think Mike just had more time to work on Sky Chariots than he did on the earlier works...

glassstanley

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Re: Oh no not another re-read thread (progs 336 to 729)
« Reply #2 on: 17 June, 2019, 07:35:25 pm »
He drew Sky Chariots first, then went back to draw the earlier stories.

Leigh S

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Re: Oh no not another re-read thread (progs 336 to 729)
« Reply #3 on: 17 June, 2019, 08:56:32 pm »
He drew Sky Chariots first, then went back to draw the earlier stories.

Am I right in thinking Shoggey Beast was a bit of a last minute thing to fill a gap? May be getting that from Pat Mills "Kiss My Axe" preview, might be making it up!

Colin YNWA

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Re: Oh no not another re-read thread (progs 336 to 729)
« Reply #4 on: 17 June, 2019, 09:05:51 pm »
Great way to annouce yourself.And you don't have a logo for me to get jealous of (see Thrill coma). You cover so much ground as well. But like Sheridan said I'm really interested in your take on Nemesis Book 3. For me its the definition of classic Nemesis so I'm intrigued to hear why you don't get on with it?


Funt Solo

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Re: Oh no not another re-read thread (progs 336 to 729)
« Reply #5 on: 17 June, 2019, 10:39:39 pm »
Wait - is Book III the one where Mek-Quake's brain has been transplanted into a gargantuan robot who battles another giant robot (Torque-Armada) into submission during the siege of Yggdrasil (the world tree)?  I love that book: it got the centre-spread colour pages (back when that was important) and made great use of them.

Still: just because I loved it doesn't mean everyone has to. 

fate amenable to change

sheridan

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Re: Oh no not another re-read thread (progs 336 to 729)
« Reply #6 on: 17 June, 2019, 11:34:36 pm »
Wait - is Book III the one where Mek-Quake's brain has been transplanted into a gargantuan robot who battles another giant robot (Torque-Armada) into submission during the siege of Yggdrasil (the world tree)?  I love that book: it got the centre-spread colour pages (back when that was important) and made great use of them.

Still: just because I loved it doesn't mean everyone has to. 

We'll have none of that getting-on-with-each-other, respecting-one-another's-opinions here - this is supposed to be an internet forum, after all!

glassstanley

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Re: Oh no not another re-read thread (progs 336 to 729)
« Reply #7 on: 18 June, 2019, 07:06:00 am »
He drew Sky Chariots first, then went back to draw the earlier stories.

Am I right in thinking Shoggey Beast was a bit of a last minute thing to fill a gap? May be getting that from Pat Mills "Kiss My Axe" preview, might be making it up!

McMahon drew Sky Chariots. Mills felt that the change in style from Belardinelli was too abrupt so he wrote some prequels for McMahon to illustrate. This backfired as McMahon took his new style to extreme for the prequels, which alienated the general reader and clashed with Mills’ view of Slaine. (From ‘Kiss My Axe’.

Jim_Campbell

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Re: Oh no not another re-read thread (progs 336 to 729)
« Reply #8 on: 18 June, 2019, 08:01:50 am »
One thing that I found interesting (and it’s probably only me) was the discovery that McMahon did the first episodes that were finished, meaning they were almost certainly the first to get lettered. It’s interesting,* because it’s the only time I can think of when Tom Frame noticeably changed his 2000AD lettering style — to those rough-hewn balloons with the straight-line edges. They make perfect sense over McMahon’s scratchy, angular work and, although they sit less comfortably with the slicker inks of Kincaid and Belardinelli, the lettering helped give that first book a distinct, lo-fi aesthetic that separated it from the rest of the strips running in the prog.

*Values of “interesting” may vary. Your statutory rights are not affected. The judges’ decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.
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AlexF

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Re: Oh no not another re-read thread (progs 336 to 729)
« Reply #9 on: 18 June, 2019, 11:32:37 am »
That actually is an astute and interesting observation about lettering! One would almost think you had a personal stake in said artform.
Personally I never got tired of seeing Rogue's Biochip speech balloons with their little semicircle cut-outs, even when the stories were getting less fun those always gave me a smile.

Jim_Campbell

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Re: Oh no not another re-read thread (progs 336 to 729)
« Reply #10 on: 18 June, 2019, 11:56:30 am »
Personally I never got tired of seeing Rogue's Biochip speech balloons with their little semicircle cut-outs, even when the stories were getting less fun those always gave me a smile.

I suspect that every letterer who worked on the strip cursed Dave Gibbons for that balloon style. If you were drawing the balloons directly onto the pencilled art, as Gibbons did when he hand-lettered, there's nothing much to them. However, if you were doing the lettering using the then-standard 2000AD method of drawing the balloons onto adhesive-backed paper and then cutting them out, I can't imagine a more fiddly or frustrating balloon to create.

(My suspicion is that Gibbons only lettered the one episode because of GFD's scripts legendarily needing a lot of work. If editorial had the pages lettered by someone else, they gained the extra time while Dave drew the art to spend re-writing the dialogue…)
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MumboJimbo

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Re: Oh no not another re-read thread (progs 336 to 729)
« Reply #11 on: 18 June, 2019, 12:56:09 pm »
Progs 387-434 (October 84 to September 85)

Like prog 335 a year before it, prog 387 is very much a "new readers start here" issue where two new strips enter the fray, while the continuing series begin new story arcs. The new stories are Helltreckers and Nemesis Book 4 which replace the recently-departed Ballad of Halo Jones Book 1 and - quaequam blag! - the hardy perennial that is Strontium Dog which had been a constant feature of 2000AD for a whole year.

Starting with what is definitely the lesser of these two new arrivals, Helltreckers, which is essentially a Judge Dredd spin-off penned by Wagner and Grant, under yet another pseudonym. It chronicles a convoy of Mega-City One citizens who set of on a high-risk trek across the Cursed Earth to seek a new life. Each prog has a death count of at least five as the hapless travellers are met with increasingly grisly fates such as being eaten by dinosaurs, killed off by a plague or (my fave) dissolved by acid raid. In a strange co-incidence, one of the characters is called Amber Rudd. I enjoyed the simple pleasures of Helltreckers back in the day, and did so too this time around but it's not one that sticks long in the mind. The art is workmanlike and lacks charisma, and none of the characters manage to stand out and linger in the mind.
Nemesis Book 4, on the hand, is simply wonderful stuff; as good as I remember it to be first time around. Although the fourth instalment of Nemesis, its setting of the Gothic Empire was the first to be drawn by Kevin O'Neil, but he and Pat Mills decided to put the setting on-hold while they went back and fleshed out the story of Nemesis and his arch-enemy Torquemada. In fact, the first two episodes of book 4 were drawn by O'Neil years before they were published and by the time they were, he'd gone to America (I think), so they had to draft in a new artist - Bryan Talbot. Luckily though, Talbot is fantastic - I actually prefer his work to O'Neil's and he excels in the Steampunk/Victoriana setting of Book 4 which contrasts with the more medieval tone of the previous books. One thing you have to praise script writer Pat Mills for is that he does manage to come up with settings and scenarios that inspire his artists to produce some beautiful work. I mentioned Slaine's sky chariots in the last entry, but in Nemesis Book 4 we are taken from smoggy London Town where Torquemada is hiding around street corners to swoop on the innocent a la Jack the Ripper, to a high-speed "Equatorial Express" train modelled on Crystal Palace. Bryan Talbot does a fantastic job of bringing these settings to life, and what a backdrop for Nemesis reforming the ABC Warriors!

Progs 390-400 are really something special as Nemesis kicks up a notch while Rogue Trooper finally has his showdown with the Traitor General, and Dredd embarks on his first epic storyline for years in City of the Damned. In fact this just might be peak 2000 AD, at least during the era in which I was a reader. If anything, though, the Traitor General showdown may have been handled a little too perfunctory given how much build-up we'd had to it. It concludes in prog 392, and then there's no Rogue Trooper for nine issues. You can tell how important Rogue was to 2000 AD at this time as during Rogue's absence there's pretty much something in every issue telling you he'd be coming back soon so not to worry.
Rogue Trooper's gap is plugged by The Stainless Steel Rat (oo-er!), drawn by Carlos Esquerra, definitely 2000 AD's hardest working art droid in the era, who had a rare month off after Strontium Dog finished in October. I have to confess, like Ace Trucking Co., this was a strip I could never be arsed to read back in the day. I never even gave it a chance to be honest, just took one look of it and thought, 'nah!' and skipped it every issue. How wrong I was. The plot's nice and tight as its a condensed adaptation of a novel, adapted by former 2000 AD editor Kevin Gosnell. The Stainless Steel Rat is, I guess, a gentleman thief, and in this story he tries do overthrow the vicious dictator of a banana republic by setting himself up as a rival candidate in a rigged election. Unusually for 2000 AD, he's a family man and his wife and two sons are basically his sidekicks. It's thoroughly charming and has a different appeal from other 2000 AD stories of the time.

With City of the Damned finally - finally! - we get a Dredd epic. One of my bugbears with the 2000AD era I was a reader is that before I started Dredd seemed to be jam-packed with epic storylines. I knew this because there were often allusions those past events in the current Dredd stories, and also a company called Titan Books (set-up by the same guy who started Forbidden Planet) compiled rather lovely looking compendiums containing these stories that were advertised most weeks in the prog. I think this was before the term 'Graphic Novel' had even been coined. Anyway, in the six years before I started reading, they'd been The Cursed Earth, Judge Cal, the Judge Child, Block Wars and, most epic of all, Apocalypse Wars. In the 7-and-a-half years I read if for, we got a measly three - 3! - epics: City of the Damned, Oz and Necropolis. And I didn't much care for Oz (maybe I'll change my mind when I re-read it).

In this era you get the feeling that 2000 AD was in a steady state. It was successful, it knew its target audience and it had now established a formula to keep them happy. That formula was to have a Dredd story every issue (usually a standalone story or short serial), and then Rogue Trooper and Strontium Dog in most issues, but unlike Dredd, it was permissible for these strips to take short breaks. The rest of the comic was given to a rotating rostrum consisting of Nemesis the Warlock, Slaine, Ace Trucking Co, Stainless Steel Rat and Robo-Hunter, and of course whatever left-field idea Alan Moore came up with, as Alan Moore was very popular with the readers and it would seem was given carte blanche do as he liked (it probably wasn't really like this). Any gaps between one strip starting and another ending were plugged with Future Shocks and Time Twisters. I think the comic could have continued with this formula for years and its readership would have been perfectly happy. After all, Marvel and DC continue with the same core line-up year after year. But it didn't work out that way. In fact in three years' time it would be almost unrecognisable from what it was like in 1985. I'm getting ahead of myself here, but one thing I'm quite looking forward to in this retrospective is getting to those changes and trying to work out why the Powers That Be decided such drastic measures were necessary.

But anyway, back to the present (well, early 1985) and around the time Nemesis book 4 ended I stopped getting 2000 AD for a few months, which seems in retrospect incredibly unfair given the quality of the prog in this era. I remember being very let down by the reveal of the "Mega-Plan" - a secret new venture for 2000 AD that had been hyped for months. It turned out to be crushingly disappointing - a single called Mutants in Mega-City One by some members of Madness (restyled as the "Fink Brothers"). It seems almost certain now that the Mega-Plan was originally meant to be a Judge Dredd fortnightly comic, but they got cold feet for some reason. In fact Helltreckers was originally commissioned for this aborted venture. Of course, the idea would eventually resurface a few years later as the Judge Dredd Megazine, which is still going today.
So the next three months or so of progs I've had to get from ebay and they're all new to me. Jewel in the crown of this period is Halo Jones Book 2, in fact this had started before I stopped getting it, which meant I actually cancelled during the run of one of 2000's best stories ever - what a grexnix! It is, though, maybe asking a lot for an 11 year old to appreciate the subtleties of Moore and Gibson's feminist opus. One character that really sticks out in Book 2 is - what we would call today - a non-binary gendered character who everyone ignores and forgets exists. He/she ends up sacrificing themselves to save Halo, and of course their heroic act is instantly forgotten about. Appropriately enough I can't remember the name of this characters. I could google it I guess but it seems apt to keep things as they are.

After a brief break Rogue Trooper returns with a new focus - re-gening (i.e. returning to human form) his fallen, bio-chipped comrades. The actions also shifts from Nu-Earth to a new planet called Horst and a new regular artist, Jose Ortiz, takes over the strip, which had previously been drawn by an ever-shifting pool of artists such as Brett Ewins, Steve Dillon, Cam Kennedy etc. It's good enough but maybe lacks the flair of Ewins and co. On Horst there is the same fight between Norts and Southers, but now the Norts are bats, and the Southers are, um, ants. It's better than it sounds. Later on there are rhino, crab and even camel Norts, and dragon-like Southers. It's all a bit mental and as I didn't get the prog at this time seems all the more bizarre to me that this actually happened! Anyway, I'd be surprised if Rogue's trippy Horst jaunt end up in the new Duncan Jones film.

In prog 411, our warp spasming Celtic hero, Slaine finally returns after a surprisingly long break. And if you thought Rogue Trooper had gone in a surprising direction, well it's nothing to the departure Slaine goes on in Time Killers. By about episode 3, he's even firing a laser gun! Sorry, that should "leyser" - powered by energy in the Ley lines. Yes, it would appear that Pat Mills had been frequenting the book shops of Glastonbury as even psychic auras feature in this labyrinthine plot, together with "macrobes" giant versions of microbes that feed off good and evil. And can influence it, as long as they don't upset the cosmic balance. Or something. There's a definite sense that the plot to Time Killers could disappear up its own colonically-irrigated arse at any moment, but I think on balance I actually enjoyed this new Slaine over its original incarnation. There's more plot, more going on. The original Slaine stories were very much just Slaine journeying back to his homeland and having adventures on the way, which was maybe a bit too similar to the Rogue Trooper arc. Time Killers, on the other hand, is high-concept and convoluted and Mills throws everything into the mix, like he did with Nemesis Book 4. It's 22 - 22! - episodes longs. You can really get your teeth into this one. Art duties are shared by newcomers Glenn Fabry and David Pugh. Fabry would for me, ultimately become the quintessential Slaine artist, but his beginning strips are not quite up to the standard of his later work on Slaine the King. But he improves quickly. Pugh's work is strange - very stylised and reminiscent of the ancient drawings or carvings found in pyramids etc., which fits the story well. He tends to overcrowd his frames though and there's no real sense of action about his work. Everyone and everything looks very static like they're posing for a picture!

A few progs later, Judge Anderson finally gets a strip of her own, featuring the 4 Dark Judges. Brett Ewins does the art, and he's an obvious shoe-in for this creepy story after his sterling work in the recent "Haunting of Sector House 9" Dredd story. Death, Mortis, Fire and Fear are the real stars of the show here - we don't delve into Anderson's inner world too much. This is good though, as it plays to Ewins' strengths. His depiction of the Dark Judges is absolutely top-notch. He has them looking incredibly cool and bad-ass in pretty much every frame they're in, with the angle of the flame emanating from Judge Fire's skull just so. Bravo. I'm looking forward to the future Anderson stories, as they had some great artists doing her strips - Barry Kitson, David Roach and Arthur Ranson springing to mind.

Anyway, gunna leave it there, as prog 435 is one of those "jumping on point" progs with all-new stories, including Robo-Hunter and Nemesis Book 5! Zarjaz.

MumboJimbo

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Re: Oh no not another re-read thread (progs 336 to 729)
« Reply #12 on: 18 June, 2019, 01:09:30 pm »


Quote
Nemesis Book 3 is not classic Nemesis (the next book certainly is though, which I'll be covering in the next instalment).

Seeing as this is my favourite book of Nemesis (against some absurdly strong competition) I'd be interested to read your reasoning behind that!

It's been a year now since I last read it, but I think the whole Chira plot got a bit swamped at the end by the whole giant siege monsters stuff. It's still top notch though - it's Nemesis after all  :D

MumboJimbo

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Re: Oh no not another re-read thread (progs 336 to 729)
« Reply #13 on: 18 June, 2019, 01:10:59 pm »
He drew Sky Chariots first, then went back to draw the earlier stories.

Interesting! I haven't done much background reading into a lot of this, so a lot of it is my extrapolation of what I think must've been going on behind the scenes. I must get around to Thrill Power Unleashed at some point...

broodblik

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Re: Oh no not another re-read thread (progs 336 to 729)
« Reply #14 on: 18 June, 2019, 02:05:54 pm »
I was first introduced to the world of Nemesis when Bryan Talbot was on art duty thus my reason why I preferred the later books of Nemesis to the early work of O’Neil (his work is still awesome). For me Talbot is the de facto Nemesis artist. I also felt reading the early books afterwards that Book 3 just did not feel as strong.

Lettering is one of those things I never really appreciated until I start reading this blog and start releasing that it is an art on its own. A strip can be nullified by bad lettering.