Readers of 2000AD already know the writer Gordon Rennie as a go-to guy for comic strips expertly merging the fields of action adventure, the supernatural and horror. He’s the man who brought us “Necronauts,” “Caballistics Inc.” and “Absalom,” all strips that gleefully cross genres, and share something of a Wold Newton-ian outlook. “Necronauts” was the strip that introduced many of us to the work of Frazer Irving, and told the tale of a team-up of sorts between Charles Fort, Harry Houdini, Arthur Conan Doyle and H.P. Lovecraft. The much-missed “Caballistics Inc.” featured a team of supernatural investigators forced to migrate from the civil service to the private sector, and featured casual references suggesting it shared a universe with Doctor Who, Quatermass and 2000AD’s own “Zenith.” “Absalom” was an indirect spinoff of “Caballistics Inc.,” fusing classic cop-show DNA into the mix. At one point, Inspector Harry Absalom lists Jack Regan of The Sweeney as an old colleague.
Rennie worked with artist Paul “PJ” Holden on the 2000AD strip “The 86ers,” which, while set in the world of Rogue Trooper, still managed to have allusions to Lovecraft lurking in its backstory. You may well know Holden’s work from the critically acclaimed Numbercruncher, being published by Titan Comics. Others will know him as one of the men who essentially invented digital comics as we’ve come to know them, working on comics that could be distributed as apps way back in 2008 (as well as being the first to run afoul of Apple’s censorious streak then, too). He also occasionally finds the time to be one of the trio of presenters of that most uproarious and vulgar of all comics webcasts, Sunnyside Comics.
Their upcoming comic together at Renegade Arts, Department of Monsterology, shares a lot of influences with these predecessors, while being notably less dark and cynical than Rennie’s work for 2000AD. There’s a great five-page prequel at USA Today that goes a long way to revealing the tone of the first issue: While the debut features pitched battles against Lovecraftian undersea creatures and Chinese vampires, the more playful emphasis reminds me of the Indiana Jones movies. Like Indy, the cast members of DoM are ostensibly academics who just happen to find themselves in the unlikeliest of high-stakes adventures, all in the name of science. We spoke to Rennie and Holden to ask them about Department of Monsterology, its influences, and their hopes for its future.
One of the best new strips in 2000AD in recent years is Gordon Rennie and Tiernen Trevallion’s “Absalom,” and now they’ve reteamed, alongside co-writer Emma Beeby, to produce the original graphic novel Robbie Burns — Witch Hunter for Renegade Arts, coming in 2013. Tiernen has sent along an exclusive glimpse at the project, including a first look at a completed page, as well as some typically amazing developmental character sketches from the book.
Trevallion is in possession of a great style that should make him a comic book superstar — a little bit Mike Mignola, a little bit Kev Walker, with a pinch of Simon Bisley. And of course Rennie, the comics industry’s equivalent of Private Frazer, is the perfect man to document with a straight face this little-known period in the life of Scotland’s national poet. *Cough*. Excuse me.
Welcome to Food or Comics?, where every week we talk about what comics we’d buy at our local comic shop based on certain spending limits — $15 and $30 — as well as what we’d get if we had extra money or a gift card to spend on a splurge item.
If I had $15, I’d dutifully pick up Dark Horse Presents #17 (Dark Horse, $7.99). With all the stories and the variety of genres, this is a comics haul all under one roof. This month’s issue has a great looking Carla Speed McNeil cover, and inside’s star looks to be Richard Corben adapting an Edgar Allan Poe story. Beat that, comics! After that I’d do an Image two-fer with Multiple Warheads: Alphabet to Infinity #1 (Image, $3.99) and Invincible #96 (Image, $2.99). On the Multiple Warheads front, I’ve been salivating over this ever since it was announced – I bought the premature version of this back when it was published by Oni, and it’s built up in my mind as potentially greater than King City … and I loved King City. In terms of Invincible, I feel this book has the best artists working in superhero comics – and the writing’s not to shabby either. They’re doing a lot of world-building here, and having Cory Walker join with Ryan Ottley on this essentially split book makes it the highpoint of the series so far.
If I had $30, I’d double back to Image and get Prophet #30 (Image, $3.99). Of all the prophets, I love Old Man Prophet the best – and this issue looks like a mind-bender. After that I’d get Ghost #1 (Dark Horse, $2.99). Kelly Sue DeConnick and Phil Noto look like a dream team and Dark Horse really scored a coup by getting them together on this book. I was a big fan of the original series (Adam Hughes!) so I’m excited to see if this new duo can make it work in a modern context. Third up would be Secret Avengers #33 (Marvel, $3.99). Make no mistake, I love that Rick Remender is so popular now that he’s graduated to the upper echelon of books, but I’m remorseful he’s having to leave his great runs on this, Uncanny X-Force and Venom. This Descendents arc is really picking up steam. Lastly, I’d get National Comics: Madame X #1 (DC, $3.99). I’m a fair-to-middling fan of Madame Xanadu, but the creators here – Rob Williams and Trevor Hairsine – mean it’s a Cla$$war reunion! Love that book, love these guys, and love my expectations here.
If I could splurge, I’d splurge all over Shaolin Cowboy Adventure Magazine (Dark Horse, $15.99). Can DH do two excellent anthologies? We’ll see… but fortunately they’ve got Geof Darrow’s Shaolin Cowboy to lead the way in this pulpy throwback. Shine on, you crazy super-detailed diamond, shine on.
In March 1979, 2000AD‘s then-publisher IPC launched a sister title to the science fiction comic whose success so baffled them. Tornado was a traditional British-style boy’s adventure anthology, weekly, printed on the same low-grade newsprint as 2000AD, and featured a mix of genre strips. Easily the best feature in Tornado was Blackhawk, written by the great Gerry Finlay-Day, later to co-create Rogue Trooper with Dave Gibbons. Just as Finlay-Day’s earlier strip Rat Pack in Battle Picture Weekly was heavily inspired by the storytelling engine of The Dirty Dozen, and so was Blackhawk. A Nubian slave leading a Spartacus-like rebellion is noted for his bravery by the Roman military, commissioned as a centurion, and forced to lead a rag-tag unit of other former slaves and gladiators in a series of suicide missions. Tornado was canceled after just a few months, and folded into the more successful 2000AD, as was always the way back then. Blackhawk was one of only two strips that made the jump (well, three if you count Kev O’Neill’s occasional Captain Klep one-page gags, his first satire of the superhero genre, eight years before Marshall Law).
To fit with the sci-fi ethos of 2000AD, Blackhawk had a radical change of direction, with the character abducted by aliens and forced to fight in intergalactic, and interspecies, gladiatorial combat. One noteworthy occurance was the strip was one of the first 2000AD strips to have U.S. talent working on it, with Joe Staton drawing an episode. The series ended in early 1980, and was never revived, bar Joe Staton’s second gig drawing the character, in 1982′s 2000AD Sci-Fi Special.
Until now. Sort of. The series has been reinvented, reminiscent of the job Ronald D. Moore did on Battlestar Galactica — it’s been stripped of all corn and cheese, roughed up, and sexed up. It now has its fantasy elements built in, rather than bolted on at a halfway stage. The strip-down and total rebuild has included a new name, Aquila. It’s one of the best new character launches for 2000AD in recent years, and we spoke to its creators, writer Gordon Rennie and artist Leigh Gallagher about the strip’s birth, and its future. Continue Reading »