Friday, July 8, 2016

No. 72 Steve Moore RIP

First Prog: 12
Final Prog: 1458

Total appearances: 120
-including a three-parter from Tornado.

Creator Credits:
Future Shocks
Red Fang
Tales of Telguuth

Other writing credits:
Dan Dare; Rick Random; Tale of Benkei (it’s a retelling of a folk tale, so not sure if that counts as a ‘creation’ as such)

2000AD: never to be taken too seriously!
Art by Massimo Belardinelli
Notable character creations:
Agent Rat
Telguuth – a world rather than a person, but no less a character

How to set up new characters in three simple panels. Genius.
Art by Mike White

Notable characteristics:
Tight plotting; coherent themes – often with a slightly cynical bent, e.g. ‘most people are out to get something, and will happily screw other people over to do it’; poetic come-uppances (although this is perhaps more a theme baked into certain strips, rather than something Moore was interested in per se); colourful characters with colourful names; hard man dialogue; bastards.
Telguuth - lush, vibrant, weird and never in want of a back-stabbing traitor.
Art by Siku

On Steve:
It’s not clear if Steve Moore actually invented the idea of ‘Future Shocks’ (likely Kelvin Gosnell and/or Pat Mills had some say in that title, and in commissioning that sort of story), but he was surely the style and trend setter for the series. It remains 2000AD’s second longest running feature after Judge Dredd (even if you don’t include its many spin-offs, such as Time Twisters and Terror Tales), and it’s worth reminding everyone why.

When done well, a Future Shock introduces compelling characters with a clear purpose, shows them going about the business of attaining that purpose, seeing the narrative upend itself in some sort of twist, and then delivering a punchline. Getting all of these elements is nigh on impossible. But when it works, it’s wonderful. Best of all, it means readers get a full hit of story in a single Prog. Steve Moore is one of just a handful of other writers who successfully nailed the whole formula more often than not. 

A rich seam of shocking futures comes from the idea of exploring how things appear from a different perspective.
Art by Jesus Redondo

Everything's gone to hell very quickly on this alien world...
Art by Anthony Williams

If I’m honest, not all of his Future Shocks work. Sometimes, the twist is the punchline, and it can be a little obvious, or fall flat. But he had a great run in the 200s, and by the time he developed Tales of Telguuth, decades later, he’d got the formula nailed down. This series was basically Moore’s personal playground of Future Shock fun, but set on a world of fantasy tropes.

On Telguuth, the outlandish names are tempered by the all-too human motivations.
Art by Clint Langley

Given the strength of this work, including many tales that stretched over 2-3 episodes, it’s odd to me that his longer series never quite hit that high mark.

Now there's a final panel to leave your skin crawling.
Art by Paul Johnson

Way, way back he took on Dan Dare, pitting him against the double threat (triple threat?) of the Mekon and the Two of Verath. No shortage of crazy ideas and treachery, and certainly more coherent than the previous Biogs storyline, but not a stone-cold classic either.

Words and pcitures combine to capture the simple essence of a new character
Art by Massimo Belardinelli

Sometimes, the trick is knowing when to just keep it simple.
Art by Massimo Belardinelli

Rick Random, a curio that doesn’t quite feel like true 2000AD despite being set on a spaceship, was actually a lot of fun. Certainly the first time I read it I was completely taken by surprise by the solution to the murder mystery. Readers who see it coming are probably less forgiving; Random himself, a pulp hero from way back, is not enough of a character to sell the strip as a 2000AD ongoing concern, though. At least, not in this one story which is all I know of the character.

No messing about - Moore gets straight into the murder mystery
Art by Ron Turner

A classic hit of Moorian cynicism
Art by Staz Johnson

And then, after a healthy run of short stories, Moore disappeared from the comic, until the coming of the Diggle, who has openly gushed over his love for the man’s craft.

Cue more Shocks, and two full length series in Red Fang and Killer. There’s plenty to like in both, but it’s also fairly clear why neither one became returning features (as I think Red Fang, at least, was intended to be). Partly it’s that there is just an awful lot of plot in both stories, with twists and reversals almost every episode. But also it’s that the protagonists are perhaps a little too competent.

Harry may be out of his depth in the intrigue-filled world of Red Fang, but he can spit out barbs with the best of them.
Art by Steve Yeowell

You following? Serious plotting going on.
Art by Steve Yeowell

You never really believe Red Fang, an obvious master planner, is going to lose out. And while Madoc Blade (a typically awesome moniker!), the hero of Killer, is beset by plenty of his own problems, it’s sort of baked into his set-up that he’s just amazing at fighting, so you never really worry that he’s going to lose his gladiatorial battles. Which are kind of the main hook of the story. Kind of.

Yes, there are some cliches in this story.
Art by Staz Johnson
It’s a shame, as there is a lot to love in both series. Little character moments. Classic bastard dialogue. An abundance of charmingly weird ideas, both sci-fi and not.

Moore’s final series for Tharg, Valkyries, perhaps deliberately went the other way. The leads are not arch manipulators – they’re impetuous brawlers. Sadly it was another example of a series that had plenty of excellent ingredients that never quite gelled into a compelling narrative. The set-up was fun. The vivid sexuality was boldly different (if occasionally verging too much into titillation rather than frank honesty). The art, too, had an anarchic quality that helped set the tone. In particular, the male characters, uniformly ridiculous and trivial, sold part of the joke well.

In the world of Valkyries, not only are men scum, they're barely articulate.
Art by John Lucas
A true 2000AD writing legend of two eras, Moore is sadly gone but never to be forgotten.*

More on Steve Moore:
Pádraig Ó’Méalóid (hope I’m right with the accents there) posted a 5-part interview with the man.** Here’s part 1.
And, of course, many tributes followed his death:
And, of course, 2000AD’s own Telguuth Tumblr
-to give just a small flavour

Matter of fact dialogue giving way to good, old fashioned, 2000AD fun.
Art by Siku

Personal favourites:
Future Shocks: Fish in a barrel; Slashman, Kowalski and Rat; the Red House + I’m sure plenty of others that I can’t place just now
Rick Random: Riddle of the Astral Assassin. I’ve said it before, we need more whodunits in comics form!
Tales of Telguuth: some are better than others, but pretty much all of them are winners. Just for the character / place names alone, but also the depths of intrigue, and the always delightful comeuppances.

*Because this is a 2000AD-centric blog, I haven’t said anything about Moore’s other, arguably more famous and more influential work both in and around comics. And, if I’m honest, I haven’t read any of it either, which I really must rectify soon. I don’t know Axel Pressbutton beyond the name and the character design, but it looks bloody brilliant!

**Which revealed to me, among many other things, the fact that Steve Moore grew up and lived about a mile up the road from me in South East London.

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