It's almost the last gasp. This was The Dandy's brief rebranding (aka. "dying spasm") as Dandy Xtreme. To quote its editor:
"Following extensive research, we discovered The Dandy readers were struggling to schedule a weekly comic into their hectic lives. They just didn't have enough time. They're too busy gaming, surfing the net or watching TV, movies and DVDs. They still enjoyed The Dandy, but if they were going to buy it themselves they expected more than just 'a comic my dad used to read'."
The schedule halved, becoming fortnightly instead of weekly. It had fewer comics pages, with more about video game cheats and articles on "gross stuff". The internet went a bit berserk, but more importantly it didn't work. Dandy stopped being Xtreme in 2010 and printed its last issue in 2012. Looking only at this annual, though... I loved the art! Really bold work, abandoning realism to go in all kinds of directions. So many stylistic experiments that it's like reading a portfolio. What they've done with Desperate Dan is amazing. It's genuinely living up to the title of "Xtreme".
As for the stories, they're an interesting mix. Some are inspired, most are pretty good and a small minority will make you want to burn those responsible at the stake. The "gross stuff" gets a bit tiresome, though. Occasionally, it's as if the magazine's trying to be Viz for children. Poo, toilets, bum, butt, tush, wet his pants, farts, parp, eggy hummers, smelly socks, more farts, more butts, fat butts, bottoms, stinky nappies, zip-popping, bogey-eating... yeah, yeah. You're trying to be juvenile. We get it. Just give us some jokes, okay?
There's also a "SK8 dice game" that's trying way too hard. "SKiiiiiLS! W..W..WIPEOUT! HIGH FIVE THE PERSON ON UR LEFT! Serious air! Dude?!" Oh, and they can't even write limericks properly.
DESPERATE DAN (Jamie Smart, 16 pages) = flat-out brilliant. Jamie Smart is awesome. Reading this, I've decided that my reaction to Desperate Dan depends unusually heavily on the artist. Drawn by Dudley D. Watkins, he works. With most of his successors... no, not really. My default image of him is too jolly, cartoonish and easy-going. He's not too fussed about anything, while his world's too kiddified for his misadventures to matter.
Here, though, he's a crudely dumb lunk in a world that looks as if it was drawn by a five-year-old. His stories are looking for humour in his personality, not his physical strength. I laughed when they tried to make him fall in love with a bear in a dress.
"The Cowboy's Guide to Communicating" is interesting because it's getting comic mileage out of his historical era. Smart's take on Dan in itself justifies the existence of Dandy Xtreme.
LUCY GRIMM (looks a lot like Jamie Smart's work, 2 pages) = an evil schoolgirl who wants to take over the world. The plot's basically a cut-down version of TV Comic's first Pertwee story, The Arkwood Experiments, except that it ends in Lucy getting buried in rhino poo. (I liked it.)
BANANAMAN (Chris McGhie, 12 pages) = great because of the art. The scripts are normal Bananaman, i.e. goofball superhero comedy.
KORKY THE CAT (Chris McGhie, 1 page) = it's nice to see Korky again, just for old time's sake, but again, the art's the most noteworthy thing about this one-pager.
JAK AND TODD, "Fighting for your right to party!" (Wayne Thompson, 7 pages) = CAN FUCK RIGHT OFF. Shockingly, Jak was the Dandy's cover star from 2004-07. The art's great, although very obviously drawn on a computer. The characters, though, are obnoxious little turds. Jak is a shit when his teacher's trying to teach him maths. I think we're meant to think he's cool. Todd gets him out of trouble by lying to the headmaster and they run away, with no suggestion that there might be consequences when the headmaster eventually finds out.
In another story, Jak is ambushed by his sister and takes disasteful revenge.
I loathed these brats. They're my least favourite thing in the book, despite a 2010 Beryl the Peril. Bring back capital punishment in schools.
JUMBO OF THE JUNGLE (Wayne Thompson, 2 pages) = uh, it's there.
BERYL THE PERIL (Steve Bright, 8 pages) = I see a David Law influence in how Bright's drawing Beryl herself. That I liked. Also, in fairness, I hate all Beryl the Peril strips from about 1977 onwards... but, even so, these strips are an abomination. Beryl's not a peril. She's not even a pallid shadow of one, even if her granny does beat up a burglar in a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. (The original Beryl, perhaps?) These strips make me ill.
CUDDLES AND DIMPLES (Nigel Parkinson, 18 pages) = kind of rub me up the wrong way. Firstly, these modern versions aren't evil any more. They're kind of lame. Secondly, their mother has been subjected to the comics equivalent of Strong Female Character Syndrome, i.e. the strip as a whole is dumb and cartoonish, but she's a hot, brave, tough superwoman who's been realistically drawn. Her husband's barely the same species.
PUSS 'N' BOOTS (Nigel Parkinson, 12 pages) = ultra-violent enemies, like Tom and Jerry. Theoretically it's the heir to a long tradition, e.g. Bully Beef and Chips or the Jocks and the Geordies, but I didn't enjoy it. There's something sadistic and mean-spirited about the characters.
MARVO THE WONDER CHICKEN (Nigel Parkinson, 6 pages) = dialogue-free one-page strips with an animal star, like a modern take on something like Big Eggo or Korky the Cat. First appeared in 1990. It's a bit of a throwback, but I quite liked it.
BLINKY (Nick Brennan, 5 pages) = this, on the other hand, is a full-blown revival. Blinky is a younger version of Colonel Blink, the Beezer character from 1958. The stories feel that old, too. They're running on an old-fashioned style of humour, but in this book that makes them quite refreshing.
OLLIE FLIPTRIK (Karl Dixon, 7 pages) = incredibly loose art, sometimes to the point of being hard to follow. I admire the energy. The stories, though, are variable. One's okay. One portrays a child that needs slapping.
HYDE AND SHRIEK (Tom Paterson, 4 pages) = yet another strip that's completely different from anything else in the book. Erbert Hyde is an ordinary boy who's inherited a castle in Transylvania. This week, Shriek takes him to the horrific, poisonous, fiend-ridden, radioactive beach.
Overall, I liked this book. It's great, except for the bits that are annoying, vile or infuriating. I'm saying that mostly because of the art, admittedly, but I really was blown away by what I saw. It'll also be a better way to experience Dandy Xtreme than the actual magazine, because it doesn't have any articles about computer games and so on. Keep your expectations extremely low when it comes to classic characters, though.