Friday, July 15, 2011

Mean Machine: Real Mean

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Mean Machine: Real Mean (Rebellion / Simon & Schuster, 2011).

I have previously noted that Rebellion, the British-based publishers of 2000 AD, have teamed up with Simon & Schuster for a line of comic collections aimed at the American market. A small majority of these are revamps of their existing line, but some of the titles are exclusive to the US. Real Mean, an introduction to the immortal, villainous Mean Machine, is one of these. Mean is one of Judge Dredd's recurring antagonists, an incredibly bad-tempered, foul-mouthed and small-minded petty criminal who can take one heck of a lot of abuse before he goes down.

I wrote this about Mean some time back: "One of Dredd's most popular returning foes, Mean Machine Angel was one of the nasty Angel Gang - a crowd of outlaws in the Cursed Earth who made life hell for muties and anyone fool enough t' venture too far afield from Texas City. Pa Angel and his sons Junior, Mean and Link were introduced in a 1980 serial called "The Judge Child," wherein Dredd killed them all. Mean, a giant man with a huge metal claw and a dial on his head which regulates both his temper and the power of his head-butting, was later resurrected by the Judge Child. Despite spending the bulk of the last twenty years in psycho-cubes and undergoing various lobotomies, hypnotherapies and surgical implants to curb his psychotic anti-social ways, Mean Machine remains an ornery, upitty cuss with an intense hatred of Dredd."

Over the years, writer John Wagner has gone back to this well, principally to exploit the character's huge comedic possibilities. More than once, some big-dreaming psychiatrist schemes to build his reputation on curing Mean. Since the character is as volatile as an atomic bomb, extremely wacky hijinks usually ensue.

This collection reprints seven stories of varying length, and is built around the ridiculous and wonderful "Son of Mean," a pretty long story from 1994-95 wherein Mean's previously unmentioned son, a sweet and good-natured boy who loves his dollies, is sent by his criminal mother into the city for some proper learning in the art of being rotten. Mean has no real idea how to go about doing this - he had no real idea how it was that he came up with a son in the first place - but it's a hilarious story which asks the immortal question: Can love triumph over stupidity and extreme violence? The story is painted by Carl Critchlow and the reproduction is a little dark - as seen in the story illustrated by Richard Dolan that opens the book, many of 2000 AD's artists in the early 90s had taken to painting with mud in a misguided effort to hitch a ride on Simon Bisley's coattails - but it's a story that still has me giggling after several rereads.

This is not a complete collection of Mean's adventures - such a beast would be phonebook-sized - but it's a very fun introduction. You get four stories written by Wagner and two, shorter tales by Gordon Rennie. The artists featured are Critchlow and Dolan, along with David Millgate, Steve Dillon, Kev Walker and Paul Marshall. The Rennie and Walker episode, wherein a captive Mean finds himself at the mercy of some even smaller-minded environmentalists, is an absolute treasure. Mean might have actually received some closure and been retired in the pages of Judge Dredd a few years ago. Time will tell, I suppose, but until he's seen again one day, this is a great book to celebrate his over-the-top silliness. Recommended.

Hey, readers! I have reactivated my long-dormant Thrillpowered Thursday blog for a short trial run. This will be the last 2000 AD-related review here while that's going on, and also, content will only appear here once a week during this experiment. I certainly appreciate your reading!

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