2000 AD in Stages

Stage 22 - Full Colour Potential

Progs 723-749: 1991

Prog 723 launches as the first full colour prog, with a series of three Megascans (fold-out posters with reprinted stories in them). There's a sense now that the reserves are being brought on as several established properties are given over to new creative teams. Now, if Novak Djokovic is having a bad day, it's just not going to work out the same if he hands me his tennis racket and asks me to give it my best shot. The same is true when Robo-Hunter and Rogue Trooper get passed around as if strong creative teams aren't a vitally important part of the equation.

Cinnabar (see stage #18) worked because the character and the setting were honoured, even if the writing style was different. On the other hand, The Golden Fox Rebellion writes the trooper as just another action hero. As if you can swap Rogue/Friday out for Action Man, or Rambo (post First Blood), or G.I. Joe: there's simply no character there anymore. The setting has become a generic war zone, rather than the understandable binary conflict and poisonous atmosphere of Nu Earth.

Robo-Hunter suffers from the same issues: the character has become action-hero cheese with Arnie-like muscles (rather than hard-boiled detective, or the later comedic, put-upon, hard-boiled detective), the setting is just urban Generica and the writing style has gone from hi-jinks to troubled PCP-fueled delusions. The 1991 Sci-Fi Special has an article that talks about the intention of getting back to the more serious version of Sam presented in Verdus, but aims and results don't seem to match up well (and Gibson's amazing robot designs are sorely missed).

Holding our head above the water are often known quantities: Wagner gives us a sorry tale where Mean Machine becomes the victim in Travels with Muh Shrink. John Smith treats us to Killing Time and Revere. Steve Dillon raises Emerald Isle up to a classic status that belies it's haphazard tone. Simon Coleby manages a similar trick with the otherwise gung-ho and forgettable Saharan Ice-Belt War and then Myra Hancock's Tao de Moto manages to hold interest with a shorter format mini-epic tale of alien surrogacy.

Sister comic Crisis spins, trailing smoke, towards an unforgiving earth in a lazy, uncontrolled spiral of art-house death, as the Judge Dredd Megazine continues its strong first volume.

Judge Dredd
In Bill Bailey, Won't You Please Come Home, a hold-out Citi-Def unit from the Apocalypse War wage hit and run attacks against what they imagine to be a Sov occupation. Emerald Isle is an odd mix of drama (an armed insurrection) and Looney Toons (the spud gun) as Dredd visits Murphyville and we first meet Judge Joyce. Return Of The King also strikes an odd tone as Chief Judge Silver (usually portrayed as gritty but flawed) comes back as a whimpering zombie: a precursor of the writer's obsession with the undead (as we'll see in a later epic).
In the next stage: democracy!

Nemesis and Deadlock: The Enigmass Variations
It's a comedy whodunnit (or, rather, who's-doing-it) as Nemesis hosts a party of all the most powerful warlocks in the galaxy (sci-fi and fantasy tropes, one and all) only to find that one of them has brought along a demonic entity that is murdering the others one-by-one. Nemesis dresses up as Sherlock Holmes (masterfully shaking us free of our willing suspension of disbelief) to solve the mystery.
Nemesis next shows up in Bride of the Warlock, in the 1992 Winter Special, whereas Deadlock returns next stage in the classic Khronicles Of Khaos...

Robo-Hunter(*) [*HARSH REBOOT]
Hoagy's all muscly and evil, Cutie (a tiny robot that's basically metal breasts and orifices) magically reforms herself (after having died in 1979, on another planet) because she feels like it (that's the literal explanation) and then Sam and her snog, but his voiceover mysoginistically complains about ugly girls being easy. The writer casts himself as a second Robo-Hunter (that, far in the future, watches MTV and listens to music from 1991), and he and Pseudo-Sam buddy up and go on the run from murderous robots - the main antagonist being a Terminator knock-off.

The 1991 Sci-Fi Special continues the travesty in Return Of The Puppet Master, in which Pseudo-Sam deliberately gives his nephew a killer robot toy as a birthday present because he hates him. The 1992 Yearbook has Killer Grannies, which is an extended rip-off of the Hell's Grannies Monty Python sketch.

Continues (inexorably) in the next stage...

Bix Barton
It's Carry On Marmite as Bix tracks down the murderous cast of the Carry On movies with the copyright-baiting and aptly titled, erm, Carry On Barton. Next up a love plague descends on England and people start doing a mass lemming impersonation off the cliffs at Dover in Love Sick World.
Continues to divide the audience in the next stage...

Rogue Trooper [Fr1day]
We get the final episode of The Golden Fox Rebellion, which is highly entertaining: Mandroid is defeated by making him bump his head. Then, when the suddenly resurrected Golden Fox (Gaia) and Friday are flirting, Mandroid sneaks up on them and steals her molecular disassambler. As he attempts to escape through the floor, smugly boasting of his future evil machinations, Gaia snatches it back, causing an amusingly deadly floor::villain interface.

The Saharan Ice-Belt War ditches Gaia and moves continents (pausing on the way to rip off Jaws) and rinses and repeats the idea of Friday being with one gang against another gang, whilst continuing to dangle the carrot of shadowy villains pulling strings (which is pretty much the plot of The Hit). Hollow Town (in the 1991 Sci-Fi Special) sees Rogue and a random new aquaintance fall under the spell of a psychic vampire whilst The Arena Of Long Knives (in the 1992 Yearbook) sees Rogue and a random new aquaintance get forced to battle to the death in a millenia-old alien arena (on Earth) but with no explanation of how the aliens got there.

Returns in prog 780...

Tao de Moto: Forbidden Fruit *NEW THRILL*
Tao (a dancer fallen on hard times) gets offered tons of cash to be surrogate mother to an alien baby. When she tries to back out the Mysterons force the issue. This is interesting, but seems like it doesn't get anywhere in the time it has.
The 1993 Winter Special provides a coda....

Second half contains: princess, jewel (that causes plot-handy malfunctions), space pirates (yay!), grenade-tossing sidekick, grumpy Junker, reveal of cunning battle skills, sexist Junker, reveal of hidden secret agenda justifying Junker's hatred of women, sudden multiple genocide, BOOM: the end.
Irresistably, it's junked.

The Mean Machine: Travels with Muh Shrink
Mean's first solo series in the prog sees him hypnotized and regressing to his peaceful younger self. Like that bit where people start taking photos of Kong (or the monster in Young Frankenstein), we can hazard a guess at what's going to happen next.
Mean had his first solo story in the 1982 Annual with Mean Machine Goes to Town, and has his next in the 1994 Judge Dredd Yearbook with Judgement on Gosham...

Below Zero [after Beyond Zero, after Night Zero]
Tanner starts behaving a bit like Deadpool, referring to flashbacks as if he knows he's in a comic. The story is Zero crossed with Total Recall, as punters in their hired alternate realities are somehow being murdered (killing both their electronic and real selves). It has a tricky third-act as Tanner spends several episodes being invincible whilst the antagonists stand around in a small room shouting at each other and watching his progress on monitor screens (like an inverse Big Brother).
For Tanner and Zero City, the fat lady has now completed her song.

Indigo Prime: Winwood and Cord - Killing Time
Murder on the Orient Express meets Jack the Ripper by way of Cthulhu, as Winwood and Cord take a steam train ride through time in an attempt to stop an occult entity from leaking out of its cage and destroying reality. More than any prior Indigo Prime tale, this one stands up as having a clear beginning, middle and end.
Indigo Prime next shows up (in mufti) in 2008's Dead Eyes...

Dead Meat *NEW THRILL*
A militant vegan's wet dream, in which Inspector Raam (an anthropomorphic ram) is part of a totalitarian police force (in a future flooded England) that has outlawed meat eating (it's considered murder) - even for animals. Which is pretty fucked up, because if you follow that logic then most of the animal kingdom needs to be locked up and starved to death. We're all just sunlight anyway, man!
A second series goads us into submission in 1992...

Revere: Finder's Edge *NEW THRILL*
In a future London, global warming has turned England into a baking desert, and Revere stalks the ruins: a boy with mystical powers and a floating-head zombie mum. Then it gets weirder.
The second book comes out in 1992...

[The] Harlem Heroes featuring Slice: Death-Sport
Because you demanded it, sports fans, we get another slice of the Heroes in the next stage...


Special Mentions:

Brigand Doom: Scary Monsters
The 1991 Sci-Fi Special has this Ghost of Christmas Doom tale as the Brigand's spirit shows the possessed inspector the reality for many of the downtrodden citizens.
Returns to the prog in the next stage...

Sláine: The High King
In the 1992 Yearbook Slaine beats the crap out of a good-looking guy and then gets told by a zombie that instead of being ritually killed at the end of his kingship, he'll be sent through time to do the bidding of the Goddess. This is the set-up for what will be a series of Quantum Salmon Leap adventures (or Conan Does Time Tunnel) that dictate the direction of the strip for years to come.
Returns to the prog in 1993...