¦ Reviews ¦ 2000AD
Extreme Edition 8
Extreme Edition 8
by Paul Marshall
John Smith, Paul Marshall,
Gerry Finley-Day, Ian Kennedy, Carlos Pino, Mike Dorey
What to Expect:
Beautifully realised tale of an anthropologist on a beautiful yet dangerous
world... plus some Bill Savage.
various appearances between progs 8 and 23
Review by James
Life was hard in
the early 1990's. John Major had been re-elected, the economy was swirling down
the plughole, and the girl I fancied really wasn't interested. 2000AD was swirling
down the plughole marked "Let's give Mark Millar's Robohunter a second series!",
every other artist was painting in faeces, and the editorship appeared confused
about the meaning of "zarjaz" - apparently it was to be redefined as
"nasty, stupid and violent".
has been paid to the prodigal sons who abandoned the comic during this Ragnarok
of the Thrills, and how they are slowly finding their way back now that the cloud
has passed. But what on earth motivated those, like me, who stayed behind? Why
slog through something like Prog 827?
Let's have a look
at the line-up, shall we? "Keith the Killer Robot" - a Millar Robohunter,
which condones the death of women for the heinous crime of, um, being ugly, with
appalling and virtually indecipherable Ron Smith art. "Bradley's Bedtime
Stories" - Ok, I quite enjoyed some of these, but the repro really isn't
up to the challenges of Simon Harrison's art, with the result that you have to
quint as you read. Judge Dredd fights, um, Barfur the deadly kangaroo. A poor
Future Shock with the bonus of, er, a second helping of Ron Smith's perspective-free
black and white art. And let's round it all off with the payoff to "Kelly
the Indestructible Man" - oh look, after 10 weeks of not being killed in
any of the cliffhangers, he isn't killed again. Because he's still indestructible.
Gosh. Brett Ewins clearly can't be bothered to draw this mush and it's difficult
to think of any good reason to read it.
For me, this was
the low point, the moment that I seriously considered giving up 2000AD, and with
it reading comics altogether (superheroes be damned, and I never really got that
Deadline/Toxic/Crisis stuff). Luckily, the very next issue brought what remains
one of the best 2000AD stories I've ever read - Firekind.
The strip is, in
a sense, a gigantic shaggy dog story, with an excellent McGuffin. The reader was
lead by the pre-publicity, by the covers, by the name, and by the very title,
to expect a tale of dragons, warring dragons, breathing fire and causing destruction,
Anne McCaffery in comic-book form. Instead what you get is a meditation on otherness,
cultural difference, the ethics of anthropology... oh, and, for anyone about to
nod off, intergalactic drug-traffickers, torture experts, poachers, hunter/killer
drones and some John Smith trademark extreme ultraviolence. Just about the only
things NOT in the mix are dragons. The Kesheen may be big flying lizards, but
they don't breathe fire, and do little more than serve as transport.
Henrik Larsen is
an anthropologist, on a mission to the mysterious and largely uncharted planet.
His job is to live with the Gennyans, observe their folkways and catalogue plants
and animals. The tribe among whom he arrives (teleporting from his ship in a first
episode that must count as one of the best-written six pages in any 2000AD series)
grudgingly accept him into their lives. They allow him to attend mating rituals
and story tellings, and he begins his work of taxonomising the beautiful, deadly
world of Gennyo-Leil.
Here is where the
true strength of Firekind lies. 2000AD series are often set on alien worlds, but
in general they're extremely sloppily imagined ones. It's not difficult to see
why, of course - the pressure of fitting all your story into 5- or 6-page episodes,
usually over a period of no more than ten weeks, means that the first thing to
go is the background detail. The script droid may have lovingly crafted a huge
backstory, created flora and fauna and entire societies, he may even have written
a lot of this down (Pat Mills apparently has a gigantic file detailing every aspect
of the future Mars we see in current episodes of the ABC Warriors). But there's
never room in the script, and artists have this pesky habit of ignoring the witterings
of writerly instruction. John Smith, via the masterstroke of making the hero a
naturalist-cum-anthropologist, gives himself room to really go into detail. So
much so, in fact, that by the end we're not so much conscious of how much we know
about Gennyan society, as we are how much we still haven't been told.
In this work, Smith
has been hugely aided by the work of Paul Marshall - clean, crisp, and with a
gorgeously balanced colour palette that really brings the world alive. Two stand-out
panels illustrate this, one set deep in the jungle with a carnivorous plant and
the other in a rockpool on the beach, with a queen ant attacking a wheelfish (ďShe
spits out a thin lasso of silk and sidles forwards, assassin-softĒ). Completely
alien life-forms, but created with an in-depth attention to detail that wouldn't,
for my money, be seen again until Henry Flint's Shakara. Among the many comic
dystopias we've seen over the years, this work examines the idea of "unspoilt
paradise" with depth and maturity Ė ďDeath is everywhere on Gennyo-LeilĒ.
Of course, the
grexnixes at Egmont Fleetway, who then owned 2000AD, couldnít let this perfect,
beautiful piece of writing just slip past the censors. No, in one of the worst
blunders in the comicís history, they managed to omit Episode 7. Not just any
chapter, this was the one that explained everything that came after. Larsen ended
episode 6 slipping into death and started the next oneÖ in a somewhat different
As youíll have
gathered by now, Iím urging you to have the good sense and taste to go out and
buy the 2000AD Extreme Edition 8, which collects Firekind for the first time in
the correct order. The reproduction seems to me to be flawless, and youíll have
noticed by now that Iím deliberately not giving away any plot details, so you
can come to it just as fresh as I did, way back in 1993. The collection is bulked
out with some fairly throwaway Bill Savage tales, which make particularly little
sense following the subtleties of Firekind, but heck, Billís always good value
in his own right.
And there you go.
Between Firekind, Slaughterbowl and the unmatchable Revere, John Smithís scripts
kept me going through those dark times. I canít pay a higher compliment to this
series than to say that reading it actually made paying money to read Babe Race
2000 bearable. Re-reading it entire, without the dross surrounding it, Iím pleased
to be able to say that itís still one of the best stories Iíve ever read.
Oh, and the girl
I fancied? Well, we had a long chat, and it turned out she still wasnít interested.