Shameless? will be moving on in the new year to discuss Mark Millar’s post-1993 career with a host of American publishers. But before setting out in the direction of Swamp Thing, Skrull Kill Krew and Vampirella, I thought I might suggest something of a reader’s guide to this distinct stage in Millar’s career. Next week I’ll be celebrating what I’m convinced are the ten best scripts – including one miniature masterpiece – that he had published by Trident and Fleetway between 1989 and 1997. But first, here’s a list of what I believe are the ten worst scripts that Millar produced for 2000AD, The Shadowmen, Sonic The Comic, Crisis, The Saviour, Revolver and Judge Dredd Megazine.
Where I’ve discussed a story at length before, I’ve tried not to repeat myself, while the choices themselves haven’t been posted in any particular order. There is, I fear, a particular degree of awfulness beyond which it’s impossible to differentiate one example of questionable craftsmanship from another.
1. Rogue Trooper: Give War A Chance, with artist David Hill, from the 2000AD Yearbook 94
At one point in writing Shameless?, I felt so uncomfortable with how critical I was being that I decided to put away Give War A Chance for some undetermined point in the future. That was a mistake that I’ll rectify when reworking the first part of the book, for this one-off tale of future war really is astonishingly crass and insensitive. Though I hesitated for fear of over-egging my criticism, I really shouldn’t have. A ghoulish paean to psychopathic rage, it sets up what artist Chris Weston would label the “war is fun” approach that marked his and Millar’s short-lived reboot of the character in 1994. In addition, Give War A Chance contains another of Millar’s sexually transgressive and supposedly despicable antagonists, the camp and brutal killer Slaughterhouse. A man of colour as well as of an uncomforming gender identity, Slaughterhouse is viciously and quite deliberately killed off by Rogue Trooper at the tale’s end. It all produces a sub-text so pernicious that it’s easy to overlook how slapdash Millar’s panel-to-panel storytelling is, but it’s every bit as careless as its meaning is offensive.
2. Robo-Hunter, with artists Casanovas + Jr, Andrew Hope, Anthony Williams et al from a disappointingly large number of issues between 2000AD #732 and 884, in the Sci-Fi Special ’91, and in the 92 & 93 Yearbooks .
Though not a superhero, there’s been plenty of reason to discuss Millar’s woeful run on Robo-Hunter over the last few months; it’s “homages” to Alan Moore’s DC work and Viz’s Fat Slags; its ham-fisted, sloppy writing; it’s casual sexism, racism, homophobia and ageism. (Try here. ) Best I say nothing further here, beyond to emphasise that the likes of Robo-Hunter co-creator John Wagner had every justification for lobbying for Millar’s removal from the strip. There really are very good reasons for why 2000AD hasn’t reprinted this material …
3. The Shadowmen, Trident, 1990, with Andrew Hope
In terms of being in any way comprehensible, The Shadowmen is the very worst of Millar’s projects. An attempt to mix Millar’s love of Forteana with the kind of “mature horror” approach that would soon become associated with Vertigo, it is quite simply unreadable.
4. Babe Race 2000, with Anthony Williams, in 1994’s 2000AD #883-888.
Another strip that’s been discussed before in Shameless – (here) Babe Race 2000 is an early example of Millar producing a deeply reactionary comic while offering a fig-leaf’s worth of liberal satire to cover his conscience with. The one-off sequel that followed the serial in the 2000AD Yearbook ’95 was a slight improvement on the original’s in-your-face-fanboy misogyny, and in places showed what Millar could have done had he chosen too. The line in which a child is told that her Dad is “hard at work at the animal laboratories, making cosmetics safer and more affordable for everyone” would have been hilarious, had it not been set in the context of such pre-pubescent trash.
5. The Grudge-Father, with artist Jim McCarthy, who developed the original idea, from 1994’s 2000AD 878-94
It’s shocking to realise that there was an issue of 2000AD which featured both Babe Race 2000 & The Grudge-Father in it. If the latter isn’t as incomprehensible as The Shadowmen, it’s far too close to being so for a writer with 5 year’s professional experience. A hackneyed mixture of pulp heroics, Universal horror films, splatter movies and Millar’s over-mined riffs on Catholic beliefs, it sidesteps easy definition by – once again – making little sense at all. A section on this astonishingly shambolic series will be included in the printed version of Shameless, although it’s not appeared here at Sequart.
6. Red Razors: The Secret Origin Of Comrade Ed, with Steve Yeowell, in 1992’s Judge Dredd Mega-Special #5
For all the characteristic skill of Steve Yeowell’s art, the Secret Origin Of Comrade Ed is nothing but an expression of the purest misogyny, as discussed here.
7. Big Dave: Monarchy In The UK, with co-writer Grant Morrison and artist Steve Parkhouse, from 1993’s 2000ad 846-849.
Previously discussed in Shameless here.
8. Insiders, with Paul Grist, from 1991’s Crisis #54-59
I’ve discussed very little of Insiders, but that’s because it’s in many way the direct ancestor of Wanted. In addition to a great deal more, Insiders even ends with pretty much the same designed-to-be-shocking conclusion as Wanted did. As such, I’ll be covering it when its time to discuss the criminal career of Wesley Gibson. A laughably crass attempt at social realism, the strip featured the trials of a young inmate condemned to a prison that’s as exploitation-movie absurd as it’s entirely unconvincing. When the cover to the final issue of Crisis to feature an episode of the strip had “The end of a long stretch” on it, it’s hard not to suspect a degree of editorial playfulness. Even Paul Grist’s fundamentally humane artwork can’t redeem Insiders.
9. Judge Dredd: The Great Brain Robbery, with Ron Smith, from 1993’s 2000AD 835/6
It’s almost impossible to choose one of Millar’s shorter Dredd tales as an example of wretchedness when they’re nearly all as poor as each other. The two-part The Great Brain Robbery ill-distinguishes itself through a typically senseless conclusion in which memories stolen from Dredd fry the minds of those who experience them. The explanation given is that all of Joe Dredd’s memories are “bad”, which beggars belief. How is that Dredd has never even experienced a moment of satisfaction from his career, given that such pragmatic if brief-lived bursts of pride have been frequently recorded by his writers? How is it that his recollections are so very “bad” that they destroy anyone else who encounters them? How is it that his memories – all of his memories – are so catastrophically different from anyone else’s? These, and many other questions, aren’t answered. Instead, Millar closes his story through insisting that his protagonist is simply tougher than everyone else. Even Dredd’s memories are harder than yours will ever be.
10. Tales From Beyond Science: The Secret Month Under the Stairs, with Rian Hughes, in the Winter Special ’92)
Another thoroughly uncomfortable expression of sexism, as well as another story which doesn’t make sense, in addition to be another tale that’s superbly illustrated, it was discussed here.
To be concluded next week, with 10 of the younger Millar’s very best, including several chosen from some of the very same strips which appear in the above.