Across The Pond: Crisis

Weren’t the 90s grand? This is my theme for this week’s column. It’s also a fairly bizarre question for me. To hide any possible embarassment about my age, I’ll make it a general topic. My theory is that people have a decade of maximum thrill and that that decade is the one to which they refer when they’re thinking of the past, a decade in which they were young, foolish and into popular culture. Before that decade, they didn’t have the opportunity to really try things out; afterwards they are too busy with adult stuff. For a lot of people, that decade is from the mid teens to mid-twenties. For me it’s pretty much my twenties. In my teens I was too shy and nerdy and my thirties on were preoccupied with an effort to make up for and recover from the excesses of my twenties. From about 1980 to 1990 onwards, my life was sheer hedonism and a fanatical devotion to movies and certain sorts of pop music. Since 1990, it’s been recovering from the 80s and paying attention to things like work and kids.

So for me, asking ‘Weren’t the 90s grand?’ feels like waxing nostalgic about 10am this morning. It’s just too recent. I hardly noticed the music. The 1980s me would have been horrified to miss ten years worth of music…I think I had the very teenage idea that listening to something was the same as participating in it. I stopped feeling obliged to keep up with every form of pop music imaginable when I read somewhere trendy (probably The Face) that trip-hop was dead. “terrific” I thought, “I’ve missed an entire trend”. Then it occurred to me that trip-hop was probably rubbish and that I was almost certainly lucky to have missed out on it. Fellow 80’s dinosaurs will imagine missing out on the Bay City Rollers boom of our youth. I’m not completely over the compulsion to keep up mind you. Even now I have a craving to nip over to wikipedia and research trip-hop just in case it wasn’t rubbish.

While I’m prepared to leave pretty much all of the 90s music I missed unlistened to, I’m getting into the comics a bit. A few years back, I read an account by Gordon Rennie of the 2000 AD spin-off Crisis. Gordon said that Crisis strained too hard after relevance and was like your mum and dad going to a demonstration in grey cardigans – a bit embarrassing sort of thing. I bow to no one in my respect for Mr Rennie’s opinions, but the word ‘Crisis’ stuck in my mind. 90s comics were the beginnings of my second wave of comic reading, and I wondered, yet again, if there was something I missed (I’m not looking up trip-hop. I am stronger than wikipedia, really I am). You can see all the covers for Crisis on the 2000AD website, and I’d recommend doing just that. They’re very good.

One of the coolest Crisis covers

Earlier this year, I snapped and started buying copies of Crisis. This comic ran from 1988 to 1991. It was a fortnightly, which means that in Australia it would coincide with pay days, thus securing the vital Australian office worker market. I was curious to see just how boring and ‘right-on’ Crisis could be. I already knew a couple of things about Crisis. These were as follows: Pat Mills did a series called World War Three which kind of continued on into 2000 AD as Finn, Garth Ennis’ series ‘Troubled Souls’ which was pretty much the first thing he did, was in Crisis and there was a series about Hitler having a holiday in England.

Finn was enjoyable but very preachy, the gist of the sermon being that pagans are really good and Christians really bad. I was curious as to whether WW3 would measure up. As I’ve said before, I like Ennis more than Ennis himself does, to judge by the number of his stories he’s rubbished in interviews, of which I’ve thought ‘cool’, ‘interesting’ or ‘terrific’. The Hitler thing sounded like a bit of fun. So I checked it out.

Crisis kicks off with WW3, drawn by Ezquerra, which is always a good thing. It’s a fun read although it is indeed mighty right-on. The story reminds me of a game the 2000 AD message board once played, in which each successive post had to add another cliché to a movie title, like this:

Ghost Ninjas
Ghost Nazi Ninjas
Ghost Nazi Ninja Sharks
…and so on up to “Beyond the return of the Ghost Nazi Ninja Lesbian Sharks in 3D, Digitally Remastered….”
WW3 is like that about worthwhile leftie stuff.

Bad Corporations
Bad Corporations mistreating peasants
Bad corporations mistreating peasants and irradiating food
Bad Corporations mistreating black peasants and irradiating genetically modified food…….

Keep going for another fifteen steps, adding terms such as ‘Christian Fundamentalist’ and ‘South African’ and you’ll eventually wind up with a synopsis of WW3. The story rips along and at least the baddies vary a bit, although they’re all ultimately connected to the big capitalist/Christian/Masonic conspiracy. Mills gets into black culture, writing about Jamaica and using black slang. As ever he’s done his best with the research for this, going so far as to get an actual black co-writer. Go Mills! Despite the unrelenting nature of this strip and the quaintly dated aspects, it’s well worth a look.

Go on: guess how well multi-nationals come out of this issue.
The art is great – a distinctive feature of Crisis is art that seems to be straining to be quality. Ezquerra is his usual genius self and there’s a lot of work by John Hinckleton. If you’re not a 2000AD fiend you won’t have heard of him, which is a shame because his work is great, especially for dark negative stories and, in WW3, deranged white South African policemen.

Other stories in Crisis include:

New Statesmen

What if superheroes were real people and lived in our imperfect world? People have been asking this question for at least twenty years now, you’d think they’d have found the answer and moved on. About a year after Watchmen came out John Smith and Jim Baikie ask this question. John Smith being John Smith, there’s a gay superhero, who wipes out some homophobic Christians and a bit of Gerard Manley Hopkins-ish writing (i.e. running words together to seem more poetic and producing things like “the screamshake of my painsoul”). New Statesmen tells the story of a bunch of super people who were all genetically engineered and then doled out to the separate American states, now independent of one another. The story starts years after this happened, which is a nice idea but never really comes together. You know that confused unsatisfied feeling you get from only having a few issues of something? That’s how I feel after reading all of New Statesmen several times.

Oh and there’s Garth Ennis’ first work the wonderful understated ‘Troubled Souls’. Only his ear for Irish speech is familiar, otherwise there are no angels, lesbians or improbable plot twists. There are also the deeply pretentious ‘artoons’, which make me un-nostalgic for the 90s. And the annoyingly ‘right on’ editorials. And more! Alas, I’m out of time for this, so will take you back to the 90s later on.