Tuesday, 18 June 2019

A lady doesn't use her fists - that's what cars are for

My quest to consume as little media from this century as possible continues with the collected Black Hawk: The Intergalactic Gladiator, a mixed bag of strips collecting all the appearances of the titular character from the Tornado and 2000ad anthologies and their respective annuals and specials.
The first third - reprinting the strips from Tornado - is the most consistent stretch of material, sticking as it does to the military career of the main character as a Nubian inductee to the ranks of the Roman Empire's military during its Western expansion into the British Isles, and it's fine if you like that kind of breathless historical romp, with some great art by the late Alfonso Azpiri.  Just as it gets into its stride, however, the comic in which it appears collapses and is folded into its distant cousin, 2000ad, where the strip drastically changes direction and becomes a story about a star-hopping gladiatorial arena in which all shapes and sizes of alien - drawn by the late great Massimo Belardinelli -  are pitted against each other in battles to the death.  After that, it retools again, only this time gets really weird, with the main character turning into a zombie Conan on a planet inside a black hole which is ruled by Satan.
I know this isn't well thought-of by 2000ad's "real fans", but this was my first go-round and I liked it a lot and even thought the final stretch where it goes completely off the rails was in keeping with the sensibilities of some of the pulp sci-fi I've read from the 1960s-1970s (though I grant you I have not read a lot), particularly the works of Roger Zelazny and Lester Del Ray that I've come across.
Like most Rebellion reprints of 2000ad material at the Judge Dredd Casefiles size/format, the repro loses some of the finer detail on the art and about 1/5th of each page is blank space.  It'd be nice to see this reproduced at something approximating the original size rather than this squashed-down version, such as has been done with Bella At The Bar,  a collection of the first year or so of episodes of the long-running drama series from the UK's Tammy, a comic aimed at 8 year old girls but apparantly written by communists and illustrated in a photorealistic style rather than looking like a cartoon as almost all comics for children now are.  Ha ha yeah just ignore any work in progress screenshots you might come across in this post.
I didn't think I'd like this tosh at all seeing as it doesn't have robots or lasers in it, but you can't stop reading once you get into it: Bella is a budding gymnast in 1970s Britain, so naturally there are few outlets for her talents and she is treated like dirt by her scumbag guardians who look like Biffa Bacon's parents drawn in a more realistic style than usual, and who hand out wallopings just as much as Biffa's mum and dad do.  First they work her like a dog at their window cleaning business, then try to monetise her gymnastic ability by selling her to a burlesque show - YES REALLY - which utterly disgusts her gymnastics coach who blames here for her own predicament and cuts her loose and trust me, by this stage it hasn't even gotten remotely as bad for the main character as it's going to get, because SPOILERS I poop you not, the book's idea of a happy ending is when Bella is literally head-butted into a wheelchair by her evil Soviet gymnastic nemesis and is then wheeled off in the final panel.  Life conspires to kick Bella in the nuts at every opportunity in the best traditions of British children's comics, and it's compelling stuff.
The book's - rather militant and clearly angry - writer Jenny McDade later went on to film and television work, which makes me happy, as the usual career path for female creators in the UK comics industry was either through DC Thompson where they ended up in humor titles which didn't feature creative credits, or they passed through the only other game in town, 2000ad, where they were dismissed by the readership of aging white men and ended up buggering off out of the business altogether despite contributing genuinely interesting strips like Medivac or Tao De Moto that weren't just yet another go-round on the seemingly endless carousel of stories about Nazis In Space or unshaven anti-heroes uncovering a conspiracy.  Artist John Armstrong is great, too, especially the way he draws Bella as someone who just walks about with one of her legs tucked behind her head now and then as one presumably did in the 1970s, or with her bottom lip permanently jutting out to give her depiction a perpetually confused look in response to the constant stream of setbacks she encounters.
Anyway, God knows what contemporary kids would make of this catalogue of misery if they were expected to read it, but thankfully, they'll never have to be traumatised by it as it seems to be marketed exclusively towards those aging white men I mentioned.  Which is a shame, really, as stuff like this might tempt kids away from the likes of Take A Break, That's Life, and Chat!, which - from what I have observed in passing - seem to be the pulp horror magazines of choice for young female readers these days.

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