Monday, June 3, 2013

Dandridge: The Copper Conspiracy

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 Dandridge: The Copper Conspiracy (Rebellion, 2013).

As the spring "season" of new stories in the pages of 2000 AD comes to a close, it appears as though the latest adventure for Alec Worley's Dandridge, his longest outing so far, generated the least excitement, although I enjoyed it even more than everything else lately. The series is a perfectly balanced blend of over-the-top melodrama and humor, with its inspirations way out on its immaculately-stitched sleeve.

The hero of this series is Dr. Spartacus Dandridge, “an egomaniac who’ll say anything to get himself on the cover of a magazine,” who looks a good deal like the actor Peter Wyngarde - or, more accurately, like the lead character of the old adventure TV series Jason King - and who, in the far-flung past of the early 1980s, is having a fabulous time living large and saving the Empire from sci-fi criminals.

But there's another layer to this that requires a step or two more concentration to understand it. In much the same way that the "steampunk" genre is built around alternative histories where the Victorians built clockwork robots and everybody wore big goggles, this is "ghostpunk," where the Victorians harnessed the limitless energy of ectoplasm to power everything. Dandridge is a ghost, killed in the early 1900s and kept imprisoned for eighty years. So there's a touch of Adam Adamant Lives! in the premise, and the story tips its bowler to all sorts of influences, including, as is obvious in the picture above, The Avengers.

So in this story, Dandridge is wanted by both the authorities and by a strange organization that's employed some shape-changing robots, made from copper, to track him down. The MacGuffin of the moment is an enchanted blade that can terminally end the existence of ghosts, and our inebriated hero has crashed Roger Moore's Bentley. It takes more than just a note of moxie to start with a concept so high and keep batting to the fences with every swing.

Two different artists have worked on Dandridge since the character's debut in 2009. This time, his co-creator Warren Pleece is back, with the other artist Jon Davis-Hunt presumably busy on Worley's other 2000 AD series, Age of the Wolf. Pleece simply doesn't have the dynamic edge to his work that I enjoy the most, but I love his facial expressions and his designs. That said, either malaise or deadlines seem to have caught up with him before the end. The final two parts, which appeared in issues 1830 and 1831, were certainly less engaging than everything that came before. That's a shame, because the script is huge fun throughout, with Worley correctly noting that all of the adventure TV shows that inform this comic are full of sidetracks and clues and investigations and as many locations as can be managed.

The series is very fun and, now that it has hit 20 episodes, it's time to start thinking about whether we'll get a collected edition anytime soon. Hopefully, the editors will wait until they've commissioned one more story, to give any book the extra pages and heft that we'd enjoy the most, and hopefully that story will be commissioned very soon. Recommended.

(Clicking the image will take you to 2000 AD's online shop, where you can order issue 1824, either hard copy or digital, which features the first episode, of eight, of "The Copper Conspiracy.")

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