Sunday, 24 March 2013

2000 AD prog 1824

It’s become all the rage for comics to provide jumping on points for new readers. Every couple of years DC produces a summer crossover rejigging their fictional universe(s), pushing one character to the fore and shunting others out of the spotlight. Marvel has taken to printing issues with point one attached to their number to denote that it’s a particularly new reader friendly issue, not just the beginning of a new story but a story that explains the cast and their relations with one another to ease in the uninitiated.

Outside of the big two guys like Mark Millar and Mike Mignola tend to write in miniseries. They pipe out an above average number of issues with a number one printed on the front, ideal places for casual or new readers to start out.

This sort of approach is not unfamiliar to 2000 AD. Being an anthology book new tales have always started regularly, providing a good place for new or lapsed readers to get stuck in. They’re rarely marketed as such though. They’re just part of the way the book’s always worked.

Until recently that is. By accident or design (probably the latter) prog 1824 is an ideal buy for anyone who’s never picked up an issue or not read one in a while. It’s been touted as such by the company too. This, coupled with the title’s recent inaugural foray into inter-strip crossovers, could indicate that 2000 AD is changing tacks with regard to how it’s perceived alongside comic producers who put out numerous titles each week instead of just one.

Prog 1824 is comprised of four strips. It opens with a Judge Dredd tale. This is a logical choice as the character is easily 2000 AD’s most famous creation. I’ve never been a huge fan of Dredd so I was never going to be wildly into this story. It did what it needed to do and seemed to be a fine example of what Dredd’s known for.

The plot? Someone tries to assassinate a high ranking Judge but Dredd saves them in the nick of time. There’s a bike chase which ends with the would-be-assassin escaping and Dredd barking that he (or she or it) must be brought in at any cost.

That’s followed with the return of Dandridge, a character first introduced in 2009. We don’t see him until the final panel, but the build-up to his appearance makes it clear that he’s a playboy adventurer type in the vein of James Bond and various British TV spies from the 70s. That’s backed up by him clearly being patterned after Jason King. The tone of the title is very much in the spirit of King’s show, as well as The Avengers.

The world of Dandridge (another character I’m not overly familiar with but one I have more time for than Dredd) is interesting, based on these five pages. Ghosts seem to be a standard part of life while the secret service has access to cyborgs with golden cannons in place of stomachs. There’s a golem too. And some pub patrons that look like they’ve just stepped out of the 1970s.

There’s no real plot to speak of. It’s essentially one long setup for Dandridge’s intro. It was still enjoyable though, a testament to the writing ability of Alec Worley and Warren Pleece’s artwork. Pleece’s work in particular is excellent. His panels are detailed but never overly busy, and he does a fine job of nudging the story along without rushing things.

Tucked away before the final entry in the prog is Tharg’s 3rillers: Survival Geeks. This opening instalment is a pleasing read, despite its Americanised (by which I mean overly produced, I think) art style it’s a very British strip. References to the BBC, bus stops and Topshop are all well and good, but what really makes it clear that this is proud to be British is a reference to Paul McGann being in Doctor Who. Yeah it’s a bit Russell T Davies and Queer as Folk, but it’s a joke a creative team from outside the UK would be unlikely to make, even if they were fans.

A girl wakes from a one night stand to find that she’s spent the evening with one of three members of a household that jumps between realities. It’s a delightful (if somewhat unoriginal) premise that could easily run for years. It’s currently got three issues to prove itself and the mettle of its creators. Sadly the ending, which sees a Dark Lord turn up riding a cross between a xenomorph and a dragon, didn’t quite match the tone of the preceding pages.

The issue closes with the return of Stickleback. I’ve reviewed the first collected volume of this character’s exploits before (read that here). In short I enjoyed it. While D’Israeli’s artwork is as rich as ever the writing is not as welcoming and inclusive as the jumping on point hype would suggest. With no prior knowledge of the character I imagine the opening part of Number of the Beast is an alienating mystery. Even being familiar with the character didn’t help me to fathom what was going on.

Hopefully things will become clear as the story unfolds. Assuming that’s the case Number of the Beast part one seems to work well enough as the opening part of an ongoing tale. It certainly ends on a high note: a single page splash that sees three giant mechanoids towering over a backstreet with sees dinosaurs and lizardmen weaving between to Victorian gentlemen and a billboard advertisement for the London Overground. It’s the future mixed with the past, a fitting image for an introductory issue of 2000 AD to end on.

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