Luke hasn’t had a rant for quite a while, he’s had a bit to drink and his ill informed opinions and hasty assumptions will enthrall and entertain.
Hey! Let’s debate!
2000AD : Running On The Spot?
By Luke Williams
Latterly, there has been talk on Facebook of 2000AD stagnating, running on the spot, or “eating itself” (thanks Stephen Reid). Is that a fair assessment?
I’ve ranted about this before (see here), but it seems like a good time to revisit the subject.
In this balanced and in no way biased article I hope to explore that hypothesis. The recent developments in the Prog’ its’ intake of fresh blood and its’ recycling of old properties.
In the early days, up until the 90s at any rate, the Prog’ was always striving for something new. Yeah, they had their “backbone” characters that had been established like “Judge Dredd”, “Strontium Dog”, “Sam Slade : Robo Hunter” etc, but you never had the feeling that these characters would go on and on and on and on. Once their stories were told, they would be “retired”. But that isn’t the case. Dredd has become a multi media character, or as I memorably saw him described as “Corporate Dredd”, and Johnny Alpha was dispatched, but later resurrected and, in my eyes anyway, cheapened.
The 90s saw a number of older properties rebooted and / or renewed, these included the risible resurrection of Sam Slade, and the debut of “Bad Company” in prog 500 showed how laboured and staid ” Rogue Trooper” had become.
But instead of ending the strip, it was rebooted, and confusingly combined conflicting continuities. And the least said about that decade’s “Harlem Heroes” the better.
Resurrections of older characters accelerated throughout the 2000s. Abnett, Flint and Williams’s “The VCs” was unnecessary but fun. “Rogue Trooper” (2000ADs ” Hawkman”) reappeared in his original incarnation, with stories set in the past. “Flesh” has returned for the third time, “Invasion” has been reincarnated as “Savage”, but only some of those have worked. The aforementioned “Strontium Dog ” hasn’t the “bite” of the original run. Flesh has gone all Roger Corman (which isn’t a criticism), and just rambles on. Equally, “Slaine” came to a natural conclusion at the end of “The Horned God”, “Savage” on the other hand offers satisfying plot development.
This “recycling” of old properties seems to have accelerated of late. The specials, FCBDs and end of year progs are seeing an increase in the number of one shot resurrections of well loved, older characters, who have had their time, whose story is done. Doesn’t that harm a character and its’ legacy?
There have been some excellent new strips in the ‘Prog since the turn of the century. Stand outs are “Lawless”, “Helium”, “Brink”, and “Absalom” – but even the latter has its’ origins in an older strip, Caballistics Inc.
I have less of a problem with spin offs, or stuff set in the same universe as pre existing characters. Hell, the Meg’ is created for that purpose, “Anderson”, “Devlin Waugh” “Low Life”, all set in Dredd’s world, “Jaegir” , “the 86ers”, “Hunted (I really can’t see how long they can spin that one on for), all set in “Rogue Trooper’s”, at least they are a different perspective.
Obviously it is easier and cheaper to recycle existing properties than develop new ones, but isn’t this just a short term saving? Long term, hasn’t the comic got to grow, haven’t they got to invest in the future? But that’s what we are talking about now isn’t it? Rebellion isn’t in the business of entertaining us for our benefit, that’s secondary, they want our money. Of course it wouldn’t work if the stuff they published was crap, it isn’t really bad, just disappointing at the moment. The Prog’ has lost its’ vigour and hasn’t been right for a while (with the occasional standout strip).
I was quite excited by the Rebellion’s purchase of the Egmont/IPC/Fleetway back archive, it has some great concepts and characters. I ordered the “Scream & Misty Special“, and it was great, not familiar with a lot of the stuff in it, but it was well written and well drawn. But then I thought, “hang on a minute, they’ve got really good creators on these strips, why not commission them to come up with some new stories to go alongside them”, longer lead in times, harder to sell, but more balance and investing in the future.
I’ve heard in a few interviews characters and stories referred and reduced to IP – intellectual property – and not just 2000AD admittedly. I know publishing companies are in business to make money, but doesn’t that designation remove the warmth and affection for characters. Established “IP” is an easier sell, but as “Uncle” Pat Mills has explained (regularly and at length) you aren’t going to attract or keep creators on a lower page rate and/or with poorer creator rights, and of course you are only really appealing to an audience that is already familiar with the characters. Where is the entry point for new readers?
Endlessly repackaging old stories isn’t ideal either. I subscribe to the “Judge Dredd Mega Collection” and its’ lack of quality filter and, yes I’m ponying up the dough for “2000AD : The Ultimate Collection”. But almost everything found in these series has been reprinted before, or if they haven’t, then there is a reason for that. There are new editions of “Halo Jones” to be printed, this time in colour presumably for the American market. But, continually repackaging old stories will make money, especially with spendthrift loons like me around, and should generate the funds for the publisher to invest in new projects, rather than reboot old.
I really thought that 2000AD wouldn’t go down the route of DC / Marvel endless restarts and recycling. I still spend far too much on comics, but I’ve given up on the DC and Marvel universes and their 5 yearly reboots / character shake-ups that last around 12 months before everything returns to the status quo. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated? Up until perhaps the “Necropolis” that was the great thing with Dredd, I genuinely thought that everything was going to change. Even “Day of Chaos” brought some changes, but since then, there is no way anything is going to happen to Dredd – they’ve even sorted out the ageing problem (“The Carousel” by Michael Carroll and Ben Willsher, JD Megazine #375).
I love this comic, and I’ve stuck with it since 1986, but I can see that it is beginning to stagnate with its’ over reliance on old properties. Recently we’ve seen “Rogue Trooper” (again) “Ace Trucking Company”, “Sam Slade : Robo Hunter”, “Harry Twenty On The High Rock”, and “Zenith” being resurrected for specials and one offs, I was pleased to see the return of “Indigo Prime”, but, for me the reintroduction of “Revere” and his Mum was a step too far. And don’t get me started on the new “Bad Company” strips.
What I am clearly struggling to argue is that the ‘Prog needs a balance of the old and new, they can’t continue to rely on established characters. It has great new talent coming through- particularly artists. To keep these creators, avoid the brain drain and for them to create all new strips for the Prog’ it needs better incentives – improved rights on their creations and better royalties.