Last month saw the Meg reach its 15th birthday. A birthday that many if not all of its one-time readers, editors, writers and artists would have been forgiven in thinking it would never reach. It has gone through the complete collapse of the British comic book industry, the horrible mess that was the Judge Dredd movie and a Frank Miller cover and yet still remains standing. The fact that the other comics launched to capitalize on the adult comics craze were lucky if they reached their 15th issue let alone their 15th birthday underlines the Meg’s achievement.
For a long time I had a slightly ambivalent view of the Meg; to begin with it was an issue of the Meg that stopped me reading comics in 1996. It was the issue that saw the start of a complete reprint of Necropolis and, even worse, the car crash that was America 2: Fading of the light. What made America 2 so bad was not Wagner’s script nor Colin MacNeil’s art but the horrible computer colouring. Why they thought they could away with computer colouring the sequel to a story famous for its gorgeous painted artwork is beyond me…but to then do it so badly was a disaster. However, it wasn’t these these twin disasters that stop me reading (well America 2 was certainly a disappointment) but the general sense that the Meg was in crisis and was resorting to desperate shock tactics to prove how “adult” it was. I was an 11-year-old boy and I wanted fun comics not ones that seemed to be obsessed with being cool and adult.
It had been so different a year before. The Meg (along with 2000AD) had received a major push and had managed to snare this long time Marvel/Beano/Sonic fan into its lair. In many ways I preferred The Meg to its parent title, there was less of the fantasy stuff that went above my 10year old mind and the “edgier” content of The Meg in terms of violence and sex made it a more exciting read than 2000AD. Plus it didn’t have R.A.M Raiders or “Rogue Trooper”, which was a massive help. It also contained some terrific stories such as Judge Dredd: Three Amigos, Missionary Man, Shimura and Holocaust 13 were fun to read and didn’t take themselves too seriously (well maybe they did, but I didn’t take them seriously). It was a fun comic to read, with fantastic artwork from the likes of Trevor Hairsine, Simon Davis and Jim Murray. Sadly the growing crisis at Fleetway over due to the poorly recieved Dredd movie resulted in this period of excellence being extremely short lived.
Yet five years ago something made me pick 2000AD up once more and out of habit I picked up its baby too. It’d be fair to say it was a shadow of its former self, with a nice slab of reprint offering proving to be the best story with a good if slight Dredd story and then a third offering. Worse, many of the characters that to me WERE the Meg such as Missionary Man had decamped to 2000AD to be left with such gobshite as a very poor Armitage story that must have featured the worst Steve Yeowell artwork ever. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a bad comic with stuff like Mean Machine Angel by Rennie/Walker and Lenny Zero by Diggle/Jock being damn good but there was the sense that none of it meant anything. That in the eyes of 2000AD Group, this was a very distant second banana and that the big stories would always go to daddy Tharg. Contrast that with The Meg’s heyday when it was the exclusive home of Wagner’s Dredd stories and so the “continuity effecting” stories concerning Mechanismo and the breakdown between Dredd and Chief Judge Mcgruder would only appear in The Meg. You also had classic stories coming from Alan Grant about PSI Judge Anderson’s fall from grace and the likes of Gordon Rennie (Missionary Man-Western) and Robbie Morrison (Shimura-Samurai) exploring genres that were wildly different from the usual 2000AD fare.
And then came Volume 4.
Actually that’s a myth. You see Volume 4, whilst a step in the right direction, was definitely not the move that re-established the Meg as a first class comic. Basically, this saw the Meg expand to 100pages, with a magazine format and a more eclectic reprint selection. However, it suffered from a number of flaws, the main one being the extremely poor quality of some of the non-Dredd stories. In particular Wardog which stunk up the joint for nearly a year. Worse the Dredd’s, whilst always good, never seemed to be as important or memorable as the ones in 2000AD. The state of the new material was summed up in the fact that the reprint be it Ellis/D’Israeli’s Lazarus Churchyard, Mills/Gibbons Ro-Busters or Wagner/Ranson’s Button Man would always blew the new material out of the water.
Now you may think that such a negative appraisal of the Meg is a very strange way of celebrating its birthday. But you see, what you have read so far shows have far The Meg has came in recent years. The milestone in the Meg’s journey to unabashed awesomeness was the start of “volume 5″ when it reverted to its full numbering, the legendary Issue 201. This issue and the ones afterwards heralded a bumper crop of terrific stories including Black Siddha, Family, the wonderfully demented XTINCT and a classic run of Middenface McNulty. Recently we have also seen the return of Meg legends such as Shimura, Devlin Waugh and PSI Anderson to a largely positive response. What’s more we finally saw the emergence of new iconic characters such as The Simping Detective and Cursed Earth Koburn to replace the likes of Armitage and Missionary Man that had been retired. Finally we have seen the emergence of genuinely important and significant Dredd stories such as the return of Pat Mills to the character in Blood of Satanus II, Judge Death: The Wilderness Years and the return of PJ Maybe and a number of stories concerning the relationship between Mega City One and The Cursed Earth.
The Meg has established its own voice compared to 2000AD with its text features on 2000AD and other classic British comics and wider pop culture giving it a proper magazine feel. In many ways, after so many years threatened with closure and many years walking with a chip on its shoulder as it desperately tried to escape its parent’s shadow and so prove itself relevant by being “adult” and “cool” The Meg seems to finally be at ease with itself. For nearly three years now it has been 2000AD’s superior producing terrific stories and characters and rarely putting a foot wrong. According to rumours in 2000adonline.com’s message board and the pubs at Dreddcon its current editor Alan Barnes has recently resigned. If that’s true it’s a terrible shame as no one has done more to revive The Meg than he has. His editorship has put the comic back on the map and his record of supporting new strips and ideas is one he should be proud of. If he has gone, then his successor will have a hard act to follow.
Happy Birthday Judge Dredd Megazine*
*Spooky note-Judge Dredd Megazine and myself, share the same birthday-September 15th.
Judge Dredd Megazine is available from all good British newsagents and comic shops every four weeks and world through airmail subscription. Check Previews for American Direct Market listing.