My Glowing Journeys

*Odd Reads Dept: I recently had a nice run of bargains at stores around the place. There’s a certain sweet spot in time for collecting semi-recent discontinued series at low prices - I’d say about two or so years after a series concludes is when a lot of shops throw up their hands at having the stuff clogging up their bins and discount them down to nothing. Hence, I managed to pick up every issue of the Peter Milligan-written Human Target ongoing series, save for the first five issues, for roughly $12 total (specifically, I got 15 of those 16 issues for fifty cents each - I had to bite the bullet and pick up the other one for $3.50 out of a face price bin). Vertigo has never collected any of this beyond issue #10, and there’s no revival in sight, so I guess now was the time to dump it all. Oh, thanks to Ken Lowery for putting the book in my head - these little windows of time don’t last forever.

I also found a few odd ducks warming up discount boxes.

- Judge Dredd’s Crime File Vol. 4 (of 4): Ah, completely random Judge Dredd compilations from the ’80s! America loves them. This little book -- a 1989 release from Fleetway/Quality, complete with a big black NOT FOR SALE IN GREAT BRITAIN! warning on the back cover -- is a great lesson in being sure to look at the table of contents of a collection of miscellany before you brush it away. Otherwise, I’d have missed all the lovely Brendan McCarthy art waiting inside! And in color too - all four of the stories in this book were culled from 2000 AD’s hardcover Annuals (always, confusingly, dated one year ahead of actual publication), which were partially color inside, so I don’t believe any of the art was colorized for reprint publication.

Actually, both of the McCarthy stories in here are visual collaborations: there’s a story from the 2000 AD Annual 1987 (thus making it a 1986 release) where he teams with Tony Wright (aka ‘Riot,’ and named in the reprint credits as ‘Tony Riot’), and a story from the 2000 AD Annual 1988 (so, actually 1987 - what fun!) where McCarthy and Riot are joined by Brett Ewins for a little Strange Days reunion. No Peter Milligan though, as all the stories within are written by John Wagner under a variety of pseudonyms, save for the Annual 1988 piece, co-written by Alan Grant. The Brian Bolland cover is particularly noteworthy as a recreation of one of the McCarthy/Riot interior panels, so Bolland is sort of ‘covering’ McCarthy, and the effect is… kind of awkward, since melty psychedelia has never struck me as Bolland’s strong suit.

And the Annual 1987 story is a melty one indeed! Judge Dredd is hot on the trail of a bunch of drug-thieving punks, until he’s exposed to a monster dose of psychotropic chemicals on page 2. He then spends the next 13 pages absolutely tripping balls, allowing for McCarthy and Riot to slather on many sickly colors, ferocious mutations, eyes hidden in explosions - obviously an excuse to show off, but why not? The 16 page saga ends on what might have been a solemn note, as we discover that Dredd has killed an innocent man in the midst of his drug rampage, except Dredd obviously couldn’t fucking care less.

Which I guess is the appeal of Judge Dredd for many - not a story passes in this book where the Judge doesn’t do something completely terrible, all of it happily brushed away as being for the greater good of our future’s society. The McCarthy/Riot/Ewins piece sees Our Hero yanking some drug dealer out of prison, threatening her with an augmented sentence of 400 years if she doesn’t aid him, forcing her to sell out her beloved uncle to his death, then tossing her back in the can for an extra half decade for nearly screwing up his plans. “You rat!” she bellows. “He sure is… one of the best!” remarks a worshipful fellow Judge.

The book also contains a color Bolland short from 2000 AD Annual 1982 (published 1981), which I’m told (by the 2000 AD homepage) is the only color Dredd story Bolland ever did. It involves a wicked punk releasing all the alien animals from a zoo, so we’ve got several pages of Judge Dredd kicking beautifully-rendered animals in the face, until he literally chases the perp down a dinosaur-thing’s throat and into its belly. “GIVE IT THE BIGGEST DOSE OF SALTS YOU CAN FIND!” Plus, an Ian Gibson tale from Annual 1985 (you guessed it, 1984). Good times.

- Shion: Another manga artifact from VIZ’s short-lived early ’90s VIZ Spectrum Editions experiment, presenting visually resplendent titles in trade paperback-sized volumes of under 100 pages, with ribbed vinyl dustcovers and fancy endpapers and all that. The only other entry in the series that I can find is the excellent Hotel Harbour View. Honestly, I have no idea of the series extended anywhere past these two books. Also: I had never, ever heard of this title until I held it in my hands.

It’s no Hotel Harbour View, but it is exactly the sort of thing that would only see an even halfway easy road to English-language publication in 1990, still one of those early years where the manga-in-America business hadn’t quite latched onto a format/content identity. The work of writer/artist Yu Kinutani, Shion (subtitled Blade of the Minstrel) features some utterly boggling renderings of massive trees and natural outgrowths, not to mention some fine monster designs, all in the service of a typical quasi-mythical tale about a wandering warrior who kills evil things on the road to destiny. Here’s the only art samples I can readily find. There’s plenty of heavy European influence at work, as filtered through the gaze of Hayao Miyazaki, although there’s some strong bishōnen stylings at work (not to mention a heroic costume design that seems, shall we say, heavily inspired by Yoshitaka Amano’s illustrations for Vampire Hunter D). So yes, lovely to look at.

But, it’s basically a bunch of combat sequences, accompanied by little bursts of just enough exposition to propel Kinutani past the niceties of characterization and toward things he obviously feels like drawing. It’s pretty inert, even slapdash as a story, despite vivid details like the Minstrel’s father ripping out his eye as a child and eating it at the behest of a Devil, in exchange for wicked powers supreme - no problem is too complex for Our Hero to resolve with anything more thoughtful than stabbing it in a soft spot. Still, if this were released today in Japan, I could see it picking up a certain English-language following in the scanlation scene, just for its visuals. Oh! And look - Kinutani also provided art for a series titled Leviathan, written by Eiji Otsuka of MPD Psycho and Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, and Omanga has you covered on that front.

Perhaps also noteworthy is Kinutani’s only other licensed English-language release (as far as I know), a short piece in Vol. 1 of Range Murata’s Robot, which was perhaps the absolute worst goddamned thing printed in that very mixed bag of an anthology. And no more shall be said of that.

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