John C. Kirk (johnckirk) wrote,
John C. Kirk

2000AD: Trifecta

I've been reading comics for a long time. I started out with the Beano when I was very young (maybe 5 years old?) then I moved onto the Eagle when I was about 10, and I moved to American comics when I went off to university at 18. I never really got into 2000AD when I was a kid; I read the odd issue here and there, but I didn't follow it regularly. However, I started buying digital issues a few years ago, and that's worked well. (I'll talk more about the iPad app in a separate post.)

I was particularly impressed by a story 2000AD did a few years ago: they managed to do something that I've never seen before in comics. I'm going to go into spoilers below; if you're willing to trust me, and you want to get the same surprise yourself, you can buy a copy of Trifecta (either paper or digital), and I'd advise you not to read the blurb.

The main difference between UK and US comics is that UK comics favour the anthology format, and that never seems to have caught on in the States. For instance, if you buy a Spider-Man comic then the whole comic (about 20 pages) is a Spider-Man story. By contrast, UK comics split each issue into several different strips, with a few pages for each. The Beano usually had 1 page for each strip, and it was very rare for a story to be continued across 2 issues. In the Eagle, you had 8-9 strips of about 3 pages each, and each story would run for several weeks. In 2000AD, there are normally 5 strips per issue with 5-6 pages each, and each story runs for a few months.

I think one advantage of an anthology is that it can support strips which wouldn't get enough of an audience on their own. For instance, I have zero interest in "Slaine" (however it's pronounced), and I find most of those stories incomprehensible. However, if I like 4 stories out of 5 then that's good enough for me to keep buying the comic (especially since I now have an annual subscription), and I know that it will be replaced by something else in a few months. Meanwhile, there may be other people who love "Slaine" but don't like "Grey Area" (which I enjoy reading), but they implicitly support it. If the strips were published separately (like US comics) then some of them might drop below the cancellation threshold.

Every so often, 2000AD has a jumping on point, where all the individual stories are on episode 1. For instance, they did that with "prog" (issue) #1800 in 2012, and they're doing it again in a few weeks time with prog #1950. However, be aware that these aren't necessarily brand new stories; they may be a new chapter in an existing story. For instance, Nikolai Dante's story was spread across 15 years, but it wasn't published every week during that time.

Looking at Marvel and DC, the vast majority of their comics take place in a shared universe (a bit like "CSI" and its various spin-offs on TV). In 2000AD, that's not really the case. There are some stories which co-exist, e.g. "Judge Dredd" and "PSI-Judge Anderson", but other stories (e.g. "Sinister Dexter" or "Brass Sun") are completely separate. As strips come and go, sometimes "Judge Dredd" is the only story set in Mega-City One. On the other hand, towards the end of 2012 the comic had 3 out of 5 strips set in the same shared world:

  • Judge Dredd

  • The Simping Detective

  • Low Life

"The Simping Detective" and "Low Life" both involve undercover judges from the "Wally Squad". Jack Point pretends to be a "simp", i.e. he goes around dressed as a clown (fake nose, big shoes, etc.), while Dirty Frank looks like the stereotype of a homeless person and refers to himself in the third person.

Each story was independent, although they would reflect any recent major events, e.g. the "Chaos Day" disease which killed about 350 million people in the city. They also had different tones, and I thought that "Low Life" in particular was very funny. For instance, there was an antagonist who was half-man and half-shark; he said things like "Sharkbah™! Your inability to please me displeases me!"

Typically, each story would run for 10-12 weeks, so you'd have a cliff-hanger at the end of each instalment. Here's what happened in prog #1807:
Judge Dredd The Simping Detective

That's the final 2 panels of "Judge Dredd" and the first panel of "The Simping Detective", and we're seeing the same action (Dredd shooting someone in the hand) from 2 different angles. More generally, that means that the separate stories weren't that separate after all: Dredd and Jack Point had unknowingly been working on the same case from different directions, and now their paths collided. This also meant that Dredd's story continued in the same issue, rather than the reader having to wait a week to find out what happened next.

I've seen crossovers before (in US comics) but these are labelled clearly on the cover. For instance, take a look at Amazing Spider-Man #677 and Daredevil (2011) #8. That's partly because the publisher wants to increase sales, and partly because it would be annoying to go to the comic shop then get back home and discover that you're missing half of the story. However, in the case of 2000AD, it came as a complete surprise, and I think that's something you could only do with an anthology comic (where you know for a fact that all the people who read each strip are also reading the other). So, that's impressive: they're taking advantage of the format to do something that's new and clever.

And then they did it again. Here's another panel from "Judge Dredd", and a panel from "Low Life" (later in the same issue):
Judge Dredd Low Life

In other words, the data which someone transmitted in the "Judge Dredd" strip was received by someone else in the "Low Life" strip. This reminded me of a line from Madame Kovarian in Doctor Who: "Fooling you once was a joy. Fooling you twice, with the same trick? It's a privilege." In this case they were surprising me rather than fooling me, but I still had to pause and think "I can't believe they just blindsided me twice the same way!"

After that issue, the stories continued independently again. However, the 2 "non-Judge" strips both finished in prog #1811, and then the whole of prog #1812 was given over to a single story, where the other 3 strips all merged together and brought the overall storyline to a close. It must have been a big job to coordinate and schedule all those different strips so full marks to the editor and writers for that.
Tags: comics

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