Monday, November 10, 2008

New 2000 AD Books

Here's how this works: I finish reading something, and I tell you about it, and I try not to bore you to death. This time, reviews, of sorts, of Button Man: The Confession of Harry Exton, Nikolai Dante: Sword of the Tsar and Stickleback: England's Glory (all Rebellion, 2008).

Rebellion's been continuing a program of about two reprint collections a month. I buy almost all of them, and these are some of the latest ones. The second Button Man book reprints the second lengthy story of this sporadically-published tale by John Wagner and Arthur Ranson. It first appeared over four months in 1994, and the third wouldn't appear until 2001. In it, the mercenary Harry Exton, whom we thought dead at the end of his first adventure, wakes up in upstate New York, having been rescued and conscripted by a wealthy benefactor to serve as his new hired gun. Genuinely thrilling and full of sharp, unexpected plot twists, I still think the first two Button Man stories will make one hell of a great movie one day.

The seventh Nikolai Dante book features several shorter adventures, 26 episodes in all, published sporadically over an eighteen month run from 2005-06. It wraps up the long run which had Dante, the most wanted man on Earth, hiding out with his mother, the most notorious pirate queen of the Pacific, but there, as always, working both sides of a con. The downside to this book is that almost all of it features John Burns on art chores. Burns is a superb artist, but I simply don't enjoy his work on Dante. The character's co-creator Simon Fraser returns for the final storyline, which sees Dante pulled out of what looks certain to be the worst scrape he's ever been in and dumped in one that's even worse - a new job in the tsar's employ - and sets up a pile of new subplots and problems that are driving the strip in its current run in 2000 AD. It's very good, but Dante is at his best when he's dealing with ugly politics in the Russian court, and there's not quite as much of that in this book as I'd prefer.

I think most American readers have not yet heard of Stickleback, and, good Lord, are you ever missing out. The brainchild of Ian Edginton and D'Israeli, this misshapen, vulgar gentleman with the hunchback, hideously deformed and visible spine and long nose is the Pope of Crime in Victorian London, a place beset by Lovecraftian nightmares, secret societies, ancient evils, Chinese dragons and undead cowboys. He's appeared so far in two series, starting in 2007. These are compiled here along with supplemental material from D'Israeli's sketchbook, and if there was any justice in the world, I could take myself an apple to work in a Stickleback lunchbox. To be fair, I was pleased but not blown away by the first series when it initially ran; the creators made the unusual decision to frame Stickleback and his world through the eyes of his antagonist, Detective Inspector Valentine Bey, and several episodes passed with only the briefest glimpse of the villain. But it gels perfectly in the end, and the second series is just thunderously weird and wonderful, with a new, left-field jawdropper every five pages or so, as Stickleback and his crew match wits with Wild Bill Hickock and his travelling freakshow. Absolutely essential stuff - now when the heck do we get a third series, Tharg?

(Originally posted November 10, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

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