Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Complete Ace Trucking Company Volume One

I'm a firm fan of the "satisfying chunk" school of bookshelf collections. I'll take a slight downtick in paper quality if it means more bang for my buck. And that is certainly the case with the recent Ace Trucking Company collection. Rebellion's great big trade, the first of two, covers a whopping sixty episodes of the early '80s comedy series, plus a text story from an old annual.

Almost all of Ace Trucking was drawn by the late Massimo Belardinelli, and I think it's his finest work. Completely full of bizarre aliens, mechanical marvels and weird landscapes, he always found new ways to pace the action by way of strange angles and dramatic positioning of his characters. And they're a downright weird bunch, too. The grapevine says that the editorial team was rarely satisfied with Belardinelli's ability to draw tough guys at the time, so John Wagner and Alan Grant developed a strip with exactly one human being in it, and he was one of the loudmouthed bad guys. The hero was an absurdly skinny alien with a pointy head and enormous feet, and the supporting cast included an eight-foot tall dude with blank eyes and a mane of hair, and a half-naked midget with a skull for a head. Constantly screaming at each other in a parody of the palare used by CB radio nuts, it was one hairbrained get-rich-quick scheme after another for years, until the series was finally felt to have run its course in 1986.

Time's been kind to Ace Trucking. It's clearly a period piece - anything with "Breaker, breaker!" in a word balloon will be - but its comedy is timeless thanks to the likeable characters and escalating disasters of its situations. Belardinelli's work would eventually lose a little luster and he'd fall out of favor with subsequent editors, so it's likely you might not have seen very much of it before now. Also, his work, like Jesus Redondo's and Carlos Ezquerra's, was not favored by the editors at Titan Books, who originally compiled much of the 2000 AD reprints in the 1980s, and in many ways set the stage for what had been considered "classic" or not. Many of these episodes are only now seeing their first reprint, and it's great to see so much of this lovely art under one set of covers. This comes highly recommended, and I hope you check it out.

(Excerpted from Thrillpowered Thursday, December 18, 2008.)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The ABC Warriors: The Third Element

In other news, Rebellion recently released the fifth in a series of slim ABC Warriors collections, this one reprinting the 15-part "Return to Mars" serials under the title The Third Element. We haven't made it to this point in the Thrillpowered Thursday reread, and so I'll save the really juicy-but-sad behind-the-scenes drama that fueled this unhappy storyline until then, and just focus on the book itself.

To be honest, the previous two ABC Warriors books were a little underwhelming for one reason or another, and this one really gives off a glow of failed promise and expectations. When it works, it works incredibly well: the return of Mike McMahon to these characters after twenty-odd years and heaven-only-knows how many style changes is an absolutely fascinating curiosity, and Henry Flint, currently illustrating a Haunted Tank miniseries for Vertigo, turns in some terrific artwork. But Boo Cook's first pro job is frankly a mess, miles removed from what he'd later prove capable of creating, and Liam Sharp apparently abandoned all of his professional tools in favor of two Sharpies and a Bic ballpoint.

Pat Mills' script is almost enough to hold it together, because he's once again running with lunatic ideas and throwing lots of them at the wall in furious sequence. But everything that does catch your imagination here is abandoned too quickly, and each three-episode storyline would have greatly benefitted from an extra week to breathe. On the other hand, three episodes for each piece is somewhat appropriate for a story about three-legged tripod critters on Mars, I suppose.

(Excerpted from Thrillpowered Thursday, Dec. 11 2008)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Anderson Psi Division: Shamballa

In other news, I decided to take a break from the What I Just Read feature/tag in my LiveJournal, mainly because I've grown tired of finding new things to say about my reading pile. But I did want to continue spotlighting the 2000 AD books, because many occasional readers miss the announcements elsewhere, and they are, as ever, very poorly promoted in the comic news-blog-world.

Back in '05, DC released a collection of Anderson: Psi Division which compiled the three 12-part adventures that originally appeared in 1985-87. Rebellion did not follow up on this book until recently, and they've made the curious decision to make this book an artist-focussed trade. Shamballa is a nicely satisfying chunk of a book, and it contains something like forty episodes, originally published throughout the nineties, all featuring fantastic color artwork by Arthur Ranson. It is not a complete Ranson collection; his first story, the black and white "Triad" serial, is not here, and neither is some of the more recent material from the Megazine, the stuff with the strange demon Half-Life, and Psi-Judge Shakta and Juliet November. But what is here makes for some pretty good reading. Ranson is a wonderful artist and some of these stories are very good. Well, apart from the brow-furrowing, disappointing damp squib of an ending to "Satan," a story which was very promising for many pages before petering out.

However, I can't completely get behind this book because while an incomplete Ranson collection is understandable, an incomplete Anderson collection is completely baffling. Alan Grant navigated the character through a fascinating series of stories, with character growth you certainly do not see with Judge Dredd, and there are, as a natural effect of the character-based continuity storytelling, several maddening references to the things skipped by this reprint. For example, between the incidents of "The Jesus Syndrome" and "Satan," there were three lengthy Anderson stories in the Megazine, all of which are missed in this collection but are nevertheless referenced in the stories that Ranson illustrated. The result is very piecemeal and felt very frustrating to me. Honestly, it's less of a spotlight for Ranson than it is a missed opportunity, regardless of how gorgeous the artwork is.

(Excerpted from Thrillpowered Thursday December 04, 2008.)