Friday, 23 July 2010
Lily Mackenzie & Judge Dredd & A Brief Discussion Of The Everyday Tendernesses In All The Various Stories In 2000 AD prog 1694 & the Megazine # 300
1. "It's Only Fair That Daddy Shares The Duties"
I. So, there's some hope for Mega-City One after all. For in John Wagner and Colin MacNeil's "Judge Dredd: Judgement Call", there's some solid evidence that what a citizen of 21st century Britain might today call common decency still exists on the streets of Mega City One too. "No pushing!" shouts Dredd to the bloke in a top hat barging past the swelled-bellied man before him, adding "You can see that man's pregnant." Good for Dredd, who, whatever his other many and disturbing faults, never lets a popular prejudice get in the way of his own take on the Law.
And it's not just the old Judge who recognises the need for some common courtesy where the eight-month-gone Carly is concerned. A passing woman is appalled by the impatient pedestrian, and sympathises with an empathetic "That horrible man's upset him!" to his father, who tenderly cradles his boy and comforts him with the ageless calming mantra of "There. There."
It's been such a long time since I saw anything of a functioning civil society on the streets of Mega City One that I'd forgotten to consider that any such thing might still exist.
II. That Mr Carly Sagar is a pregnant gay man is obviously by the by where a great many of the citizens of Dredd's future world are concerned. (Even the miserable queue-jumper doesn't refer to the pregnant man's gender as he moans his way away from Dredd's admonition. He's concerned about not being able to brush past anybody he chooses to, but not with any taboo transgressions of gender and sexual roles.) And so, for all its capacity to fuse the authoritarianism of fascism with the banal consumerism of late capitalism, Mega-City One has at least moved past the traditional Western prejudices against men who show their feelings in a compassionate rather than a competitive fashion. And the citizens of the great Meg seem, on the whole, to feel that while their political freedoms can be neutered and their civil liberties emasculated, there ought at least to be some little respect for whoever it may be that's pregnant.
III. More than the heartening sign that some common civic decencies remain in 2132 AD, "Judgement Call" also contains the heartening evidence that even same-sex relationships between Mohawk-bearing, wide-biceped terrorists and the likes of the pregnant Carly ought to be characterised by role-sharing and mutual support. Johnny Orix may be a brute bent on killing a crew of trainee judges, but he's adamant that "...it's only fair that Daddy shares the duty..." of caring for his boy, and he resists the expectations of several of his youthful fellow criminals that the kid be dumped with Carly so they can all engage in planning a massacre. In truth, the love affair between Carly and Johnny is the closest to a caring monogamous relationship that I can recall seeing in 2000 AD for a very long time, and Colin MacNeil's touching portrayal of the weary Carly relaxing with a cuppa and his feet up while Johnny carefully holds their son in his killer's arms is the sweetest thing I've seen in a comic book for a very long time. (That Johnny will soon be quite literally shredded by a wall of bullets delivered from a phalanx of Judges only makes the scene more affecting still, for though it's impossible to care for the man wearing the Mohawk, the bloke with the sideburns and the foetus will, the reader knows, be quite broken by what's to come.)
2. "Can We Not Talk About Vomiting, Please?"
I. An absence of tenderness is certainly not a charge that can be directed against Simon Fraser's "Lilly Mackenzie & The Mines Of Charybdis". Indeed, this is a story that's so remarkably focused on the delicacies of Cosmo Judd's unrequited love for the intimidatingly attractive Lily that more than 30 pages of story has passed with only Cosmo and his beloved having been introduced to the reader as characters of any substance at all. And without those wistful and even disconsolate emotions evoked by the romantic subplot of "Lily Mackenzie", I doubt I'd have persevered at all with paying attention to the strip. For though Simon Fraser's art is as always meticulously designed and beautifully rendered, the plot has progressed at but a glacial pace. More worryingly, much of whatever excitement that has been presented to us has been, as we've discussed here before, in the shape of the youthful bounty of Lily Mackenzie's exceptional beauty, something which of itself isn't ever going to be compelling enough viewing to ensure I'm paying attention. (She's lovely, I agree, but that in itself doesn't make "Lily Mackenzie" a captivating story.)
II. It's not that there aren't considerable problems with the "Cosmo-loves-Lily, but-Lily-probably-doesn't-love Cosmo" sub-plot, for it feels somewhat awkward that the emotional point-of-view of the story is centred on the kind of romantic obsession that a pubescent nerd might bear for the loveliest girl in school. And as it's the closest thing to a romance in anything currently being published in either 2000 AD or the Megazine, it does come across as if there's a sense in a commissioning office somewhere that the readership won't accept any of that lovey-dovey stuff unless it's pegged at the level of one of those impossible adolescent crushes that blights so much of teenage life. (*1)
And yet, for all of that, the simple fact that such a measure of emotion, of compassion and fondness, is present in "Lily Mackenzie" has snared me and still hauls me along as a reader. I'm touched by Cosmo's devotion, just as I wish that a less angst-filled form of romantic relationship was present in the strip as well, but I'm still watching what's going on and wondering what might happen. (In truth, I'm reading with fingers crossed that Cosmo wises up and moves onwards, or that at least Lily herself has a relationship which seems more marked by at least the complexities of Sixth-Form College life than by the first years of secondary school.)
But the fact that there is some emotional depth to the strip, and that it's not at the same time delivered with an excess of soap-operatic tears and passionate melodramatic declarations, means that I'm happy, for example, to read four exceptionally static pages illustrating nothing more human than a spaceship's escape pod yawing around against a background of stars. After all, if there is by design nothing too interesting in that escape pod and that unremarkable journey, the speech balloons that accompany its uninteresting progress down to the planet Charybdis do allow us to eaves-drop on Cosmo and Lily discussing vomiting and mothers and issues of trust.
I may feel a touch troubled by their current relationship, but the combination of tenderness and awkwardness that characterises their time together engages me and interests me.
And so I do read on, when the absence of emotion might make another strip quite impenetrable to me.
*1 - It's not that I believe that "Lily Mackenzie" was produced under commission to contain any particular romantic arc at all. I'm merely saying that in the context of the Megazine and 2000AD, where tenderness and its associated virtues can be at times somewhat thin on the ground, it might seem as if that's what the publisher thinks its readership will bear.