By disguising the points in these collected stories at which each individual chapter gives way to the next, the editorial staff at 2000 ad have consistently created awkward and often quite dead moments on the pages concerned. This must surely be judged a serious problem if the editor's intention was indeed to create the impression of a less-compartmentalised reading experience through the excising of the evidence of the original structure of these stories. And yet, where the unknowing reader of the edited product might well expect each story to progress in a fashion which both serves the plot and the meaning of the piece, as the audience for any fiction would surely hope for, the dislocations which still mark the transitions from what was once one distinct chapter to another often result in;
- the effectiveness and attractiveness of artwork being diminished
- the content of dialogue and captions becoming marred in redundancies
- the pacing of the story being disrupted as chapters designed to work both independently of and in sequence with each other are suddenly run together without respect for their original form
Sometimes even the most slight of changes can create a dysfunctional effect. If you were to compare the original final page of the first chapter of "Mutopia", as shown above, with that from the collected version, presented below, all that's different is the removal of the "coming next" line which had originally been placed at the bottom right-hand corner of the side. Yet even the removal of that changes how we perceive the cliffhanger of the piece. With the "next prog" tag removed, our eye is drawn to the middle of the panel and the threateningly toothy scowl on Clavier's face and it's held there too; indeed, there's no obvious direction to exit that panel from unless the text at the bottom of the page remains. With that closing line intact, our gaze is pulled down from the Professor's face and then carried along to the far right of the panel, which creates a far more intense sense of a cliffhanger looming over us. Pushed to the exit point at the edge of the page, we can't dwell for too long on the scene of Clavier without wondering what's coming next, meaning that the enigma of "what's coming?" hits with far greater force than otherwise. The presence of that text tells us that there's no solution to the problem to be found in that panel, and it shoves us off the page with the sense that we need to make sure we find out what happens next in the coming chapter. (Without the "next prog" line, I assume the Professor's face would have needed to have been placed far closer to the extreme right of that final frame, allowing our gaze to exit the panel there rather than linger on Clavier's facial tentacles.)
But remove the closing line of text and it's actually astonishing how much more passive and less engaging that last panel is. Yet, having created a less compulsive page-turner from Mr Fraser's work through their removal of that tag, the editors then do the same, and to a far greater and less helpful degree, to the first panel of the following page too, the original of which you can see below. As you'll note, in its weekly context, the intital frame serves as both establishing shot and recap panel;
Yet a version of "Mutopia" which is pretending that the story was never published in two separate parts, or indeed created specifically to be so, has no need for any such any panel. What's there to establish and what's there to recap if the story has never paused between one chapter and the next in the first place? And as a result of this, the panel stands in "Tour Of Duty: The Backlash" with its text removed and its reason to be quite absent too;
Instead of leaving the material as it was, or of asking the creators to help make the panel fit more comfortably into the context of its new purpose, nothing has done at all to it to compensate for the removal of its original text. As a result of that negligence, the initial panel on what's now page 7 of one apparently continuous 12 page story becomes not only unhelpfully purposeless and silent, but awkwardly composed too, since removing the captions exposes a previously productive composition now standing somewhat empty and unbalanced in their absence. And as a consequence of those edits, the frame now just kills the progression of the tale stone dead, whereas in its original form it served the purpose of a two-chapter "Mutopia" very well indeed, containing as it did the caption which helped to immediately create rather than diffuse tension with the chilling declaration that; "In less than thirty minutes the next hostage will die...".
The enigma inspired by the revelation concerning Clavier on the preceding page, therefore, is now followed in "Tour Of Duty: The Backlash" with an establishing shot with no reason to be and a frame designed to accommodate expositionary text that's been excised from it. It's as if the point at which at a roller coaster pauses before starting its sheer drop towards the ground has been blocked by a blank brick wall, with all that expectation and gathering momentum crashing into one great solid disappointment.
I'd confidently invest a substantial amount in a bet based on the premise that Mr Ewing and Mr Fraser would never have produced such a dramatically unhelpful and story-slowing panel as that which now opens page 7 of the edited "Mutopia", although this trade paperback makes it appear as if that was their very intention.
You'll also note, of course, the same problems caused to the structure and effect of the above page following the removal of the titles and credits panel as those we discussed in part one of "Close To The Edit", where we considered the similar fate that had befallen the story's opening side. And so, for the second time in 12 pages, the reader of the collected version of "Mutopia" is faced with a page which is of quite different dimensions to those around it, and once again there's no explanation for that being so. What sense this makes to the reader unfamiliar with the story, and/or unaware of the editor's designs, escapes me, although at best I'd suggest that the effect of the changes is to compound one storytelling problem with another, leaving a sense of dissatisfaction and confusion to be generated as a result.
If you or I were to buy the DVD of a contemporary TV show which had been edited so counter-productively, we'd be both annoyed and mystified, and that would be especially true if there'd been no warning that the changes had been made to the product on the packaging at the point of purchase. I suspect we'd also be concerned about the degree of respect that the producers were showing to the original product, to its creators and to the audience too. And I very much doubt that we'd want to keep our misguided purchase either once we grasped the difference between what we'd expected and what we'd been sold.
Perhaps worse yet for Rebellion Publishing and 2000 ad, any newcomers to the edited product may well be inspired to wonder what all the fuss is about where this much lauded "Tour Of Duty" cycle of stories is concerned. The very idea of investing in another collection from 2000 ad, whether it stars Joe Dredd or not, could so easily be deterred. After all, a neophyte might be forgiven for concluding that in places these "Tour Of Duty" stories aren't very well written or effectively illustrated, while even the pace of some of the more successful of these tales feels distinctly odd, somehow ....
To discuss the other stories in "Tour Of Duty: The Backlash" would be to debate the degree to which this editing process can be judged to work or not, and, my preference for the original form notwithstanding, it can't be denied that there are stories where the collected version feels quite seamless, such as in Mr Wagner and Mr MacNeil's "The Secret Of Mutant Camp". Yet even where the progression from (obscured) chapter to (obscured) chapter is considerably less jarring, the sense of an oddly structured story tends to remain, as with the otherwise smooth-reading "The Edgar Case" by Mr Wagner and Mr Goddard. (*1) In the edited version of the opening page of the second chapter of John Wagner and Nick Dyer's " ... Regrets", for example, as reproduced above, the logo, title and an expositionary caption have been removed in order to destroy any impression that anything other than one continuous story is underway. And yet Mr Wagner is left looking like an amateur or careless scriptwriter by the process, since much of the catch-up information that he's so carefully and effectively seeded into the page for the benefit of the weekly reader still remains unremoved in the edited version. The dialogue in the very first panel of this page, for example, is often word-for-word the same as that presented on the facing page of the collected edition, as you can see by comparing the panels I've placed above sections 9 and 10 below. (Even the newsreader at the end of what was originally page 1 of chapter 2 - above - is repeating in part information given to the reader just one-and-a-half pages before in the trade paperback.)
*1: - It's hard not to believe that Mr Wagner is writing both for the weekly and collected format at the same time, which is as admirable as it's surely almost impossible. Surely both formats tend to inevitably suffer somewhat in such an endeavour even with Mr Wagner at the helm?
panel 5, page 6 of TPB: "We demand freedom for all Total War operatives.They will be flown to the Mongolian Free State and released unharmed. You have forty eight hours."
panel 1, page 6 of TPB: "We demand freedom for all Total War Operatives. You have forty eight hours. Fail to comply and the boy will die."
It takes a considerable editorial misjudgement to make John Wagner look even the slightest bit less than marvellously competent, but that's what's happened here. Information that once needed to be restated is now no longer required, and yet it's still there, on the printed page. And even where Mr Wagner's work flows in a less juddering and repetitive fashion between one once-was chapter and another in both "The Backlash" and "Origins", there's still often a sense of a story that's not being told as it would be if the creators had had the freedom to structure the tale they're telling in something other than short sections. Simply obscuring the original chapters doesn't change much of the experience of reading them one after the other, after all. At the very least, the original chapter breaks gave the reader the chance to pace themselves as they worked through each long tale. What's more, it's so much easier to enjoy and admire the discipline and achievement of a team of creators, and to understand the presence of what might otherwise be read as excesses and redundancies, when the form that that writer and artist are working to is evident on the page.
That "Origins" is still such a fascinating and exciting read in its edited and chapterless form is testament to the brilliance of Mr Wagner and Mr Equerra. But in its "final" and published form, "Origins" provides nowhere near the quality of the more controlled and enjoyable experience to be gained from reading the epic in its original chapter-based existence.
I'd love to see the market research that Rebellion Publishing has financed in order to inspire their decisions as regards the composition of these collections. In particular, I'd love to know how they're tracking their respondents after they were first questioned. Whether they surveyed established and/or potential readers, or even relied on anecdotal evidence from sources such as comic shop owners, I'd be fascinated by whether those surveyed actually ever did read such an edited volume, and, if so, whether that inspired them to buy more collections, and of what kind?
What evidence was the decision to publish these collections in this way based upon, and is there proof that this experiment has worked?
The only way that folks can buy a collected edition of these "Tour Of Duty" and "Origin" stories is in this bowdlerised form. I'd suggest that there really does need to be a pressing reason for that to be so, because I suspect that it'll be a decade and more before these tales appear in one of the Complete Case Studies collections, resplendent in their original form. (I simply can't imagine that 2000 ad is going to issue an "uncut" collection of these tales in the coming months, although I for one would certainly buy such a publication.)
And that's more than a shame. Given the excellence and importance of some of these stories, it's actually something of a comic-book scale tragedy.
The more time I spend looking at the consequences of the editorial changes that've been made to these strips, the more disappointed I am at myself for not checking that 2000 ad was reprinting its stories intact before buying several of the imprint's recent collections.
And the more disappointed I am too in the attitude to the work expressed by the folks who made the decision to edit this material. At the very least, they might have warned the reader that what was being collected and published was very much not what was originally published.
I hope the programme has resulted in a significant and lasting increase in sales, although I won't be touching any future collections which don't faithfully and respectfully reproduce the work as originally published unless there's a really good reason for doing so. For if I'd've wanted a version of the work that'd been created from a process of hacking away at the published pages of gifted creators, well, I could have done a poor job of that for myself with Photoshop and half-an-hour in front of the family computer, and saved myself the money which, in all honesty, I really don't have to spend on comic book collections anyway.
But I really do enjoy and admire the work of many of these creators, and I've always been beguiled by the character and world of Dredd too. And that means, in the strange and often futile way of the comic book fan, that I trusted Rebellion Publishing and 2000 ad to feel the same way, and to do the right thing as a consequence of that.
Next up; the second part of a look at the madness of Scorpio, from Marvel's "The Defenders" of 1977.