Monday 23 October 2017

If you want it to blink, I'm gonna need another weasel

There's really only 2000ad left to fly the banner for straight-faced comic tales in the UK, though how successful it is remains a bit of a grey area as publishers Rebellion don't give out sales figures - we don't know if the book turns a profit, much as we don't know if it's popular outside an aging readership, or if it's just being published as an IP farm by a relatively small media company that seems to have filled its IP catalogue in the last few years via fire sales of redundant UK comics properties.  Whatever the case may be, 2000ad is essentially "it" in the UK.
The House Of Tharg is a prolific publishing endevour overseen by a totalitarian extraterrestrial sociopath, but it's also one with a "house style", which I say with no value judgement attached: it is neither good nor bad that all which flows from the House is clearly identifiable as the output of one publisher in particular, this simply is what it is.
And so we come to 2000ad Presents, or to give it its full, unwieldy and admirably optimistic title,  2000ad Presents Scream! and Misty, or to give it a more accurate title 2000ad Presents some IP from Scream! and puts the Misty logo on there too because sure why not?
They needn't have bothered sticking the Misty brand on this at all is what I am implying, as there's only one story from that title and it's not terribly similar to the source anyway.  The whole thing feels like a 2000ad special more than a Scream! or Misty outing, which obviously it would do given the creative talent draws from The Only Show In Town, but also because it actually is a 2000ad special and even has the 2000ad logo on the front and everything, so... you know, there's that.
Anyway, I don't know why I bothered with a lengthy intro to what is essentially a bullet-point review of this comic, but the general thrust of the above was that this comic feels very 2000ad-y more than anything.  I got there in the end.

Of the strips themselves, John Stokes draws the living shit out of the 13th Floor, and while you can't go wrong with Frazier Irving, I would have preferred John Stokes do the whole strip for the sake of consistency as much for the simple pleasure of seeing him further channel Ortiz for the nightmarish 13th Floor sequences.  Guy Adams does a good job and further distances himself from That Deadpool Type Thing In 2000ad That I Hate - though that hate has more to do with my fiery dislike for Deadpool and anything remotely like it than Mr Adams' writing.  I mean, Alan Moore did an issue of Spawn once, you guys - sometimes you just have to play the hand fate deals you, and you can't blame a man for selling his ass to pay them bills.

I maybe would have tried to play down mentions of high rise fires, but the script does a good job of hitting the necessary beats even if the eventual fates of the antagonists lacked any ironic satisfaction like - for example - happy-slapping bullies perpetually chasing "more views" by uploading footage of the brutalising of their victims perhaps becoming viral video stars when footage of them crying like babies at imagined demons is uploaded onto their video channel, though there's an admirable simplicity to characters experiencing brutal and uncomplicated fates such as being rendered comatose after being terrorised like they terrorised others.  Apart from the inclusion of social media bullying, this story is remarkably similar to an existing 13th Floor storyline, though I have noticed one glaring omission from this homage to the original, in that the strip doesn't acknowledge the finest era of The 13th Floor: when Max ran a supermarket and was also a spy for HMG.  Just me, then?  FINE.

The Dracula File - Dracula was an entirely different character from what he was in the original strip and the story had nothing to do with the original strip and was not like it in any way, but apart from that, this was exactly the same as the old Dracula File.  I really liked the use of thought bubbles, a technique mostly maligned by comics purists who insist that Spider-Man feels much more mature when his thought bubbles are turned into rectangles, and the look of Bat-Dracula on the last page also reminds me of Mike Mignola's work on the adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula, but this whole setup and backstory is clearly a shameless steal of Dr Acula from SCRUBS.  The diversity in the cast of characters is also welcome, what with Britain being a multicultural society and all, but mainly it's welcome because it annoys arseholes.  Annoyed that a comic has a South Asian female lead?  Sorry to break it to you, buddy, but you are most likely an arsehole.  I mean, you'd probably need a second opinion to be sure, but in 99 percent of cases, hating a story because one of the characters is brown and/or a woman strongly indicates arseholedom.
The good news is that it's curable and rarely terminal - you just have to stop being an arsehole.

Death Man - This is a bizarre strip for all the wrong reasons, but mostly for its similarities to the plot of Zenith, and the plot of Albion, and the plot of Secret Wars 3, and the plot of the Dark Tower novels.  Maybe I'm being harsh and the world needs more superheros coming out of comics limbo to fight reality-threatening menaces, though - like Dan Abnett's Guardians of the Galaxy did, or the third season of Ultimate Spider-Man did, or the fourth season of the 90s Spider-Man did, or the fourth season of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles did.  Okay I'll stop now.
Despite a 2-page infodump on the characters, none of them seemed interesting in their own right within the 6 pages of actual comic story, not to mention changing them from what they were originally into stock superhero team archetypes just seems like it would negate the one selling point this strip had: nostalgia.  I mean, Blake Edwards alone, you'd have half of America's comics writers under 40 take your bloody arm off to write a comic about a billionaire extreme sports star with a face like Eddy out of Iron Maiden who disguises himself as a mummy to fight werewolves, so why didn't they just give him his own strip instead of having him show up at the end and just stand there like a lemon?  Even the main character doesn't seem to do anything in this.  I guess because this story started in a different 2000ad special from last year (no, really) and nothing is resolved here, it means we're definitely getting more of this strip whether we want it or not, so I suppose my opinion of it is irrelevant.  Oh well.

Black Max - Me likey.  A lot to work with here, especially liking the quips building up the main character's false bravado, punctuated by the wailing self-doubt into the mirror in the closing panel that seems like it could be an ending right out of a 1980s girls' comic, though Simon Coleby's renderings of kids are incredibly creepy-looking, which is more in keeping with the sensibilities of boys' comics by the likes of Eric Bradbury.  I personally liked the sense of a shared universe off in the background that the appearance of the Sentinels brought to things a lot more than the in-your-face League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen sensibility of Death Man, and that instead of the logic and storytelling of a teen drama from The CW that seems to be a common thread through the other strips, Black Max just goes full-on with its batshit-crazy premise of a tween girl wearing her grandad's WW1 trophies to go skateboarding during a blood moon and getting chased through Limbo by the ghosts of bat-people.  It's the most willfully outrageous of the strips, but also the only one that seems to fully work on its own terms, and as an addition to the canon of the comics whose logos adorn the cover.

Return Of The Sentinels - This one felt like it was the most 2000ad-ish of all the properties featured, and the one with the most obvious potential to be developed in other media, but the current ubiquitousness of an alternate Britain where the Nazis won has diminished the novelty of the central premise, and given the Man In The High Castle trope has been done to death in comics and tv lately, this should ideally have been more than a retread of the Black Max story with a generic teen lead - though I appreciate that the similarities with Black Max weren't intentional and these creators probably worked with minimal or zero interaction.  Given I just complained about similarities to Black Max, I probably sound like a bigger tit than usual for suggesting that Return of the Sentinels should have taken more from BM's playbook and skewed its lead characters much younger in keeping with the original strip, as the teen girl protagonist that looks like she's in her twenties is kind of old hat now. Some of the lettering placement is pretty confusing, and the protagonist is one of those typical YA heroines who's just an average girl until they have to be a master of all forms of combat (to beat up Nazi stormtroopers with her bare hands, of course), but it's not like this is actually terrible or anything, it just doesn't seem to stand out and I have no strong feelings about the material.

Fate of the Fairy Hunter - would have preferred more JK Rowling bashing, but that's just in general.  Feels like it blows its story load a page before the end, but the main gripe is that for something that's supposed to be channeling Misty, it has far too happy an ending for its unlikable characters - maybe I am imagining that they would have gotten a comeuppance in older UK comics and it's a creation of the modern era that awful characters tend to escape karmic slapdowns.  This, more than anything else in the special, feels more like a one-off from 2000ad - not bad, just out of place.

All in all, some high points, but not much of a return to the glory days of Scream! or Misty.  It's a serviceable 2000ad special, though possibly suffers from almost all the stories feeling like pilot episodes.  Would have preferred it skewed a little younger, but it's hard to say if that's because I'd have liked younger readers to pick it up, or just because that would have made it more like the source material.  Probably a bit of both.

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