Friday, 22 June 2012

“A box with little windows! Terrific!”



Review: JUNK-YARD DEMON
Written by Steve Parkhouse, drawn by Mike McMahon, 1981

The Dragon's Claw comic collection is a bit blah overall - the stories are the sort of light silliness you'd expect of a seventies comic tie-in, rather than the sort of thing actually delivered in The Iron Legion (notably, The Star Beast and the titular story). So I can't really be bothered to review it. It's all stories which amount to 'the Doctor goes to a planet where the inhabitants turn out to be butterfly people,' or, 'he encounters some cannibals and helps some other people get away, but who don't really get away'. Hmm.

Junk-Yard Demon, by contrast, is something else. I know I’m behind the curve here… by thirty-one years (the closest I’ve got to it previously being an Adrian Salmon-drawn sequel in a nineties annual), but - it is perfect. It's a snappy story, yet has an actual plot (albeit a slight one – but which fits the length rather than feeling like a truncated or unfinished vignette). Considering its brevity, the incidental characters - scrap merchants Flotsam and Jetsam and their wind-powered robot, Dutch – just work: they’re effortlessly memorable, with idiosyncrasies that show up the deficiencies of characters elsewhere in the collection, like Prometheus (a mythological figure... in space, for no good reason), whose only defining feature is his lack of clothes and perfect pecs.

Probably the story's most apparent advantage though is Mike McMahon's scratchy, stylised, idiosyncratically proportioned and exaggerated art - which is in revelatory contrast to Dave Gibbons' precise, always-impressive but, at this stage, slightly less fresh art. Thanks to McMahon, something that could have been unassuming is instead – let’s say it – freaking beautiful. Even in terms of layout, the use of numerous small panels is remarkable, and impressively used along with silent panels which create filmic pauses in the action.

The whole thing – art and story – still stands up today; it's funny and cool and a bit offbeat, and feels like a one-off, whereas a lot of the rest of Dragon’s Claw is quite flat and very much of its (slightly na├»ve) time. (I hope future issues of Vworp Vworp! might focus on Junk-Yard Demon…)

And all this is in spite of the slightly odd Tenth Planet-cum-Moonbase design of the Cyberman, the use of exclamation marks for nearly all of its dialogue, and its "Cybernaut" controller, which should make the strip seem horribly apocryphal and unofficial.

The Neutron Knights is the only other story in this collection that really stands up with the best of these earliest strips – strangely, because its King-Arthur-and-Merlin-in-the-future premise should be bollocks – but even that is little more than a scenario rather than a complete story. But with Junk-Yard Demon, the art, the dialogue, everything seems a cut above - one of those depressingly rare occasions of a story being as much of a classic as its reputation - bold and instantly memorable. Love at first sight with this one.

2 comments:

  1. Great story! I hated the quirky artwork when I was a literal-minded kid, but sometime around college I feel deeply in love with it. The Doctor bowing to the robot sticks out in my mind in particular.

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  2. Being a huge Who and 2000AD fan at the time, McMahon drawing Who was a dream come true for me, and it didn't disappoint... one of the best strips ever run by DWM in my opinion, a little classic.

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