It's a Fleetway special with lots of vintage British comics characters. Kelly's Eye even got his own weekly strip in 2000 AD, which then had to get cancelled when Fleetway realised that DC Comics now owned all these characters. Whoops. Rebellion's since got them back, though, and last year published lots of specials that unfortunately I don't (yet) own.
What I'm discussing here, though, is this 1992 one-off. One thing that disappoints me, incidentally, is that they didn't use any of the original artists. People like Eric Bradbury and Geoff Campion are no longer with us, but they still were in 1992 and could easily have been given one last chance to draw their old characters. Jim Baikie and John Burns are from that older generation, though.
- Steel Claw: Practice
- Writer: Peter Hogan
- Artist: Sean Philips
- 10 pages
I like Sean Philips, even if his painted art again looks murky in reproduction. As for the script, it's okay, but a bit "Look How Dark I Am" and dull. It's not even trying to take advantage of all the stranger aspects of Crandell's personality, which would surely be the main reason for writing him. Here he's working for the government as a secret agent, i.e. an assassin. "And why HM Government should want him dead is none of our business."
- Cursitor Doom: The Man Who Died Every Day
- Writer: John Tomlinson
- Artist: Jim Baikie
- 8 pages
This, on the other hand, is a satisfyingly nasty, well-constructed piece and my favourite story in the collection. Baikie does his usual excellent job and Doom himself looks exactly right.
- Kelly's Eye: His Majesty's Service
- Writer: Alan McKenzie
- Artist: Brett Ewins
- 10 pages
Kelly's had his immortality jewel embedded in his chest, which completely misses the point of what makes the character fun to write. It also ends unsatisfyingly, since it's not a complete story. It was the first episode of a new weekly series in 2000 AD (and that was nothing special either, to be honest).
- Mytek the Mighty: Mytek Lives
- Writer: Si Spencer
- Artist: Shaky Kane
- 8 pages
Shaky Kane. Good grief. He's very odd. (If you haven't seen his work, imagine someone heavily influenced by Silver Age comics and Jack Kirby, with no concessions made to modern reader expectations.) This story tries to do environmental issues, Africa, dictators, species going extinct due to poaching, etc... but it's a story drawn by Shaky Kane. The weirdest reading experience by far in the special.
- Feature: Tales Before Dredd-Time
- Writer: Lew Stringer
This is a four-page comics history article about all these characters and more. It's interesting. Apparently, there are a few 1960s UK comics that borrowed from Doctor Who, some more directly than others, and discovered a hitherto unsuspected fashion for time-travelling. This era's Kelly's Eye, Robot Archie and to a lesser extent The Legend Testers are now all on my list to check out one day.
- The Spider: Vicious Games
- Writer: Mark Millar
- Artist: John Higgins, David Hine
- 16 pages
I've read almost none of Millar's US work, except for a bit of Kick-Ass (which I disliked). The only thing I can say about him is that he was 2000 AD's worst writer in the 1990s and I found his work achingly, echoingly empty. (Except for Big Dave, which doesn't count since that was co-written with Morrison.)
This, though, is surprisingly good. Utterly predictable, admittedly, and basically the same thing the Moores did better in Albion. It's going hard for cheap shock effect, but it's still the special's most memorable story. What it's not is in any way recognisable as the Spider, except visually. (Higgins gets him right.) Where's his intelligence? Where's his mega-ego? Suddenly, he's a cannibalistic serial killer. You could just as easily claim that this was an evil counterpart of Spider-Man, especially given those wall-crawling abilities.
Note the homeless bum cameos. Janus Stark, Kid Chameleon, Captain Hurricane, etc.
- Doctor Sin: The Strange Case of the Wyndham Demon
- Writer: John Smith
- Artist: John Burns
- 10 pages
The great John Burns, in painted colour! John Smith is an excellent writer, but he's spinning his wheels a bit here. I was amused by Doctor Sin condemning the indecency and filth of St Judith's Bellringers' Coffee Evening, though. For what it's worth, Doctor Sin is the odd one out in this collection of vintage characters, since his only previous appearance had been in the 2000 AD annual 1979 and that one had looked more like Cursitor Doom anyway.
Overall, it's a mixed bag. No one's trying to recreate the scripting style of those old strips, thankfully. Cursitor Doom and the Spider are the most successful, but the former is almost a horror anthology format and the latter is Mark Millar being thuddingly obvious. I'd have still liked to see both continue, though. Not all these writers seem to understand how you'd make the original characters work, but there's enough good here that I'm glad the experiment took place.