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Author Topic: Thoughts on a year of being a returning squaxx  (Read 191 times)

MumboJimbo

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Thoughts on a year of being a returning squaxx
« on: 15 July, 2019, 01:05:31 pm »
Hi all,

I've been a returning reader now for more-or-less a year now, having been regular reader in my youth from 1983 to 1991. Last July I moved house, and ended up finding my old stash of progs in the move, so I ended up taking a trip to Forbidden Planet and coming back with prog 2088, and last year's Sci-Fi Special. Since, I've bought and read every prog, so that's a whole years of Thrill Power! I thought it might be interesting* to give my thoughts on the current state of the prog from the perspective of somebody who hasn't read it for 37 years! (Although I did by the occasional issue in the 90s). During this year, I also re-read my old progs in tandem with the new ones - I've done a post HERE https://forums.2000ad.com/index.php?topic=45876.0 about this.

Obviously these are just my opinions; I know creators do interact with the forum and although my thoughts are mostly very positive there's one or two things that didn't do it for me, and I wouldn't want to disparage anybody's hard work. I've missed decades of thrills, and know little of what went on between progs 730 to 2087, which is a huge chunk! But that's why I thought this might be interesting, as I'd have different perspective from those who've been reading the prog continuously since then.

So anyway, let's get down to it. I do remember getting home with prog 2088 and giving it a leaf through before a proper read (as you do). The first thing I noticed was that it felt recognisably 2000 AD, but it also didn't seem just a re-tread of past glories. So, so far, so good! The two stories to immediately grab me with their art were The Order and Fall of Deadworld. I immediately loved the chiselled stylings of The Order and the art seemed an interesting blend of old and new. I only found out a few months later that John Burns is a comic veteran, and once I knew I immediately remembered the strips in Look-In that he used to do. How great that he's still in the industry and doing such great work! And the protagonist was a not-particularly-attractive middle age woman - how refreshing, I thought (as a non-particularly attractive middle age man). Now I didn't understand everything that was going on, but that was OK as I was new, and I was getting the gist anyway.

And then The Order proceeded to get a right royal kicking in the letters page, week after week. To be fair, there were problems with it: it seemed as though it struggled to fit all the plot into its allocated pages towards the end, and at times it felt as if the art wasn't telegraphing the important plot points very well. So scope for improvement, I think, but I, for one, would be gutted if that's the end of The Order due to the reception it got.

The other strip that immediately grabbed me, The Fall of Deadworld, couldn't be more different in terms of tone and artwork, but interestingly written by the same script droid, Kek-W (who sounds like some futuristic form of Y-fronts for doubly-endowed aliens). Coming into this one so late in its run was an obvious hindrance to understanding what was going on, but the premise of a proper origin story for Death et al. seemed to me to be a great idea, and I like that the campness of the Dark Judges has been dialled down and the horror ramped up. I think this is returning to the prog quite soon, and I'm very much looking forward to more dispatches from Deadworld.

Durham Red and Skip Tracer both finished in the next prog, so certainly didn't read enough of those to make any judgement, although I was rather taken aback of how different Durham Red looks these days! (To be fair that hairdo she had in the 80s did her no favours). In prog 2090, Grey Area starts (well, returns, to be more accurate) and this is the first encounter I had with Dan Abnett's work - a creator who, for me, would come to dominate the year ahead in both quantity and quality of this work. There's been a lot of Grey Area in recent months, and it has consistently been an excellent strip. The artwork is dazzlingly busy, almost to the extent that it can be hard to read - you don't know where to land your pupils first! This, for me, though is perfectly in keeping with the chaotic world of a migration centre teaming with all sorts of life. Grey Area also succeeds in saying something important about the way our present world is going, without bludgeoning you with its moralising. More of this!

The other new story is Mechastopheles which follows on from a recent Tharg's 3riller. Even though 3rillers are only 3 episodes long, I always felt throughout this run, that I never really got a handle as to what was going on and who these people were. I really, really wanted to like this, as I love high-concept weirdness, it but it felt like because I'd missed the 3riller I was never going to be able to catch up. Both The Order and Mechastopheles ended their runs in prog 2099, and at the time I'd made up my mind this would be my last prog. I'd done what I'd set out to do - have a quick look at the current state of the prog. Both stories seemed to fizzle a bit at the end, and another story debuted called Survival Geeks, that really wasn't doing it for me (I'll talk more on this later). Overall I was left with the impression that the current prog was in a generally healthy state, but I wasn't invested enough to become once more a regular reader.

But...oooh!...might as well get the bumper-sized prog 2100 as my last one, eh? So I went into WH Smiths one last time on the way back from work, and, well - this one made me keep with the prog and I've been buying it ever since. Of course, prog 2100 starts two new stories that are likely to be future classics - the Judge Dredd story The Small House and Brink High Society. Although the story that wowed me the most in that bumper issue was Fiends of Eastern Front. Now the original run of Fiends back in prog 200odd was before my time, so this wasn't a nostalgia kind of deal for me, just the artwork work and the opening episode just seemed to press my buttons in the right way, and (like Thistlebone at the moment) I ended up having super-high expectations for this story, and I was a little crestfallen when it only lasted for 6 episodes or so, as for some reason I'd got it into my head that this would be a 20+ episode epic. Maybe because it was set in Napoleonic Wars I was expecting War and Peace!


Judge Dredd The Small House was a story that I very much enjoyed, but possibly not the huge extent that other squaxxes did, and I think that's most due to the fact that this story was the culmination of a lot of content created by Rob Williams over the years, in strips like Low Life as well as Judge Dredd, but of course I hadn't read all that, so had no idea about characters like Judge Frank etc. So for me it was never going to have the resonance that it would have for long term readers, although I am very keen on going back and checking out all that comprehensive story arc. I'm very pleased that although Wagner still contributes to Dredd that other script droids are allowed to curate their own meaty story arcs in the Dreddverse. It seems the right decision to me, and Rob Williams seems a great Dredd writer.

One thing that I've found surprisingly hard to get my head around about current Dredd, compared to the old stuff I'm used to, is the change of lettering style. The late, great Tom Frame's letters were all bold, authoritative triptychs, standing there with a Dredd-like immovability. Annie Parkhouse's, on the other hand, are a swarm of spiky acute angles on which you feel as though you might snag a fingernail as you turn the page. Nothing wrong with that, but just so, so different! It's like Dredd has got a new voice actor who speaks in a harsh tenor where  the previous one had a deeper, more resonant baritone! I guess it's a good thing they didn't try to get someone to copy Frame's style and went with something new. I'll get used to it eventually.

I'm a bit of philistine when it comes to art, in that I often make a rush judgement on its quality based on how much detail there is in the work (e.g. love Fabry's work on Slaine, or Weston's work on Indigo Prime). But that sometimes makes it harder for me to appreciate the subtleties of simpler, plainer work and their own way of conveying the story. A case in point is Inj Culbard's work on Brink, and its stark use of dominant colours to differentiate place or emotion. So because of that bias of mine, I wasn't too on board the new Brink story High Society when it first appeared. But that changed a great deal when the plot tendrils reeled me in, and for its long run, was definitely the story I looked forward to reading most each week. It had a wonderful sense of an increasingly suffocating sense of intensity as Bridget Kurtis slowly got closer to the conspiracy, but also maybe above her neck and deep in a situation it would be hard to extricate herself from. Often the ending to comic stories can feel a little rushed, but this one took its time and was all the better for it. In fact I would say that this was the highlight of my year of reading the current prog and it could stand up to any golden period classic.

Skip Tracer returns with Legion, and this story is the best of the 3 Skip Tracer stories I have read because it has some supporting characters who have an emotional connection to Nolan Blake. Sadly this was not the case though with the following story, Louder Than Bombs, where supporting characters are relegated to mere mcguffins to support the plot, and usually ended up dying in a hail of bullets when their narrative purpose has been served. I have to say Skip Tracer, together with Survival Geeks, were the two disappointments for me of getting back into 2000 AD. I liked the artwork of both, and wanted them to grow on me, but it wasn't happening. Nolan Blake has very little about him going on other than being a rather typical hard boiled detective fellow (a genre that the prog has arguably mined to death with such fayre as Robo Hunter and Night Zero in any case), and I get that these types are generally loners, but my god, give me something to hang my hat on with the fellow. He had a brother who he has a difficult relationship with (who might now be dead, I can't remember) but that's all I've got - he's too much of a blank slate.

Survival Geeks on the other hand...well firstly I'm a man in my mid-forties, and this is clearly pitched at folks in their 20s and that's a very good thing. Even though I imagine a lot of readers are people like me who first picked up the prog decades ago, Tharg does need to make sure he's attracting a younger readership too (the recent Regened special did some great work in that regard). The reason I mention all this, is you might want to take my opinions on Survival Geeks with a large pinch of salt. The strip is an unapologetic celebration of geek culture, and I guess I come from an age where this idea of a geek culture as a separate and unified counter culture wasn't really a thing yet, and I'm not sure I massively like some aspects of it. For starters, it doesn't necessarily follow that because I like 2000 AD I necessary like, say Doctor Who (I don't, well not the recent stuff), but this whole geek culture thing kind of makes you feel obliged to treat it all as an amorphous blob that you should support, and not mention too much that you find much of it a bit ropey. Now I know a whole lot of that is a huge extrapolation on my part, and probably says more about my state of mind rather than anything real going on in geek culture, but bringing it back to Survival Geeks, it reminds me of Big Bang Theory in that you feel it has a check list of "Geek Culture Things" (Comicon, D&D, etc) and that the characters have to check a new one off each story. That doesn't interest me. And it's weirdly not funny. The art is fantastic, and would be great at bringing out any humour in the script, and I was expecting many Spaced-esque running jokes, pastiches etc. but they didn't seem to be there. What instead passes as humour is usually, the 3 male characters making some sexist assumption about "Tank Girl"-eque female character, at which point she acts all bad-ass, and the boys get some kind of comeuppance; rinse and repeat. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for strong female leads, characters acting outside of gender norms and so forth - only that alone does not make for a compelling story. Maybe I just didn't get it.

Well, that all got a bit ranty. And I don't want this to be ranty, because overall I'm a happy reader of the prog, but thrill levels have always been variable, and you can't like everything. So anyway, back to something I did like: Kingdom. But one moan about Kingdom (while I'm in the mood): if you're going to use a pronoun like "them" to refer to a particular group of people, then for chrissake capitalise it, or italicise it to differentiate it from when you're just using them to mean, you know, "them". How many times have I had to re-read each bloody speech bubble in this strip just to make sure I've understood it? With that final rant over, Kingdom was great, although it did kind of merge in my head with Blunt which was running at the same time in the Megazine. That's not Kingdom's fault though. Kingdom is another one I must go back to and read from the beginning, as I gather there's a been many stories before this one, and lots of events under the bridge. Having said that though, I did get up to speed rather quickly - Dan Abnett really is excellent at making his stories accessible to new readers, as well as building on what has gone on before.

The Jaegir series was short but certainly packed a punch. The whole "seeing the war from the Norts' side" is all new to me, and what a way to start a story in a base that's being bombed to oblivion by the Southers. I was very surprised to see Simon Coleby on art duties, as his style these days is unrecognisably different from his work on Rogue Trooper back in the early 90s. I have to admit not being a big fan of his style back then, but on Jaegir it's absolutely gorgeous work. The only problem was there wasn't enough Jaegir in the prog - more of this! I even liked the Jaegir prog cover which seemed not to go down well in the forum (yes, I've been lurking for a while!)

One thing that reminded me of the 600-era of progs (and not in a good way, I'm afraid) is that some stories would go on a hiatus just as they had got all their story pieces together and the epic, story-defining confrontation was about to begin. I'm thinking here of Scarlet Traces and Kingmaker in particular, although the current Absalom appears to be a resumption of an all-mother of a cliff hanger that had been hanging (so Barney tells me) since all the way back in December 2017! When Scarlet Traces eventually resumes, will I remember what Fay Alexander was doing in the Pebble Mill studios, or how that old lady with the young man with the CCTVs are up to? I imagine not (as you can probably tell, it's all rather hazy even now). All of which can make the prog a hard thing to keep up, as you often have to consult back issues to work out what the hell's going on. Of course, I'm not saying stories shouldn't come and go, only that those disappearances should tie up with the beginnings and ends of story arcs, so the reader isn't expected to remember in great detail things they read 18 months ago. At least the recent resumption of Indigo Prime had a little catch-up in the Nerve Centre, but, being Indigo Prime, it made as much sense as a wool piano.

There's a lot of other stuff I was planning on discussing to like the Tharg's 3thrillers,  Max Normal, the Dredd Machine Law etc., but I'm mindful that this post has really gone on for ages! Anyway, still buying and very much enjoying the prog - a bit of uh-huh but a whole lot of oh-yeah!

*Your mileage may vary
« Last Edit: 15 July, 2019, 01:13:40 pm by MumboJimbo »

Dandontdare

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Re: Thoughts on a year of being a returning squaxx
« Reply #1 on: 15 July, 2019, 02:49:15 pm »
Thanks for sharing. A lot of people express similar frustration at the way a story gets a short run and then disappears for months, but sadly, the creators often have other projects on the go and it becomes inevitable. You like Skip Tracer more than I did, and Survival Geeks less, but all in all I think it's a very fair summation of the year.

Glad you're back on board full time - you won't be allowed to escape Tharg's clutches again!

IndigoPrime

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Re: Thoughts on a year of being a returning squaxx
« Reply #2 on: 15 July, 2019, 04:48:30 pm »
The other strip that immediately grabbed me, The Fall of Deadworld
Buy the hardback. Seriously. It’s a stunning volume.

Quote
Kingdom is another one I must go back to and read from the beginning, as I gather there's a been many stories before this one, and lots of events under the bridge. Having said that though, I did get up to speed rather quickly - Dan Abnett really is excellent at making his stories accessible to new readers, as well as building on what has gone on before.
Two things there. 1) Yes, buy the trades. They are uniformly excellent. 2) DA really is good at making individual blocks of stories coherent in and of themselves. Other writers could learn at lot from his approach.

Also: welcome back!

TordelBack

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Re: Thoughts on a year of being a returning squaxx
« Reply #3 on: 15 July, 2019, 08:11:38 pm »
Great post MumboJimbo! Your thoughts are largely on the button for my money.

The Order is a crazy helter-skelter that always seems to be heading in one direction but then kicks off in another, so don't feel you need to understand it at any one moment!  And as you say, mmmm Burnstastic.  Expand that concept to 50 lots of 26 pages and you have the Prog itself.

MumboJimbo

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Re: Thoughts on a year of being a returning squaxx
« Reply #4 on: 16 July, 2019, 02:12:07 pm »

Buy the hardback. Seriously. It’s a stunning volume.

Hmmm - that does look rather good. I might just do that!

MumboJimbo

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Re: Thoughts on a year of being a returning squaxx
« Reply #5 on: 16 July, 2019, 02:17:40 pm »
DA really is good at making individual blocks of stories coherent in and of themselves. Other writers could learn at lot from his approach.

Yes, I've noticed that. He has a way of subtly filling in the backstory in for new readers, or at least enough of it so you can get the gist. Most other writers don't seem to do that a great deal. Still, I'm amazed anyone can tell a coherent but rich story with a few dozen picture panels. I've never tried it myself, but I imagine it take a lot of practise to keep the panels down to manageable length that kept the story intelligible while maintaining pace. Keeping new readers keyed in must be hard with all that going on as well.