Prog 1874 Review

Welcome to the start of an all new series of reviews in this here blog of mine. Before we dive on in, I suppose some background on my relationship with 2000AD would be good as well as what my plans for the future are in regards to it. This is a comic I collected for three and a half years as a teenager, and I would say they were three pretty good years for the comic. In regards to Dredd, I suppose the most noticeable story would be Origins, being one of the last “epics” to take place, but it’s the stories after that in which Wagner took the lead character and had him try to make changes to the way the mutants of the Cursed Earth were treated, even getting them into the city, that I thought were really good. Sadly, my subscription came to an end shortly before I could see that through into Mega City Justice. Even more sadly, I was absent from the strip when the Day of Chaos story took place, and afterwards as Trifecta, a genius crossover, blew everyone’s minds. But, as well as Judge Dredd, I’d like to say that I was collecting the comic when other great stuff was afoot.

Though I came into the middle of it, Nikolai Dante was being taken in very interesting directions, one particular scene with the Tsar at the end of Amerika sticking out in my mind. There was the end of Caballistics Inc. going on, though I sadly jumped ship before I could read Absalom. Though its second story wasn’t as good, particularly with the frequent changes of artist, I did enjoy The Ten Seconders. A story called Stickleback came out of nowhere to blow everyone away. Alas, I’ve missed the third long story in that series, and there’s no trade paperback for it, but hopefully I’ll be seeing him and the gang again soon. A guy called Bob Byrne came out with all these “twisted tales”, usually silent strips that could take multiple readings to decipher. Oh, Al Ewing released quite a few short stories. They were kind of like expanded Future Shocks and the one I most clearly remember is Dead Signal with art from P.J. Holden, in my opinion his best at the time.

Now that I think about it, there were also a lot of sneaky strips taking place, by which I mean the kind that looked to be a new story by a new writer when, suddenly, it turned out that it was a cover up for this or that. Probably most memorable for me was a story called Dead Eyes which ended with the revelation that it was actually Indigo Prime. This didn’t really mean anything to me, but the reason I do remember it quite well is that my dad collected the comic when he was younger and literally dropped the Prog when he read the final episode. Me, though? Well, Simon Spurrier introduced me to Lobster Random, but then pulled a fast one on us all when he turned out to be the author of what we thought was an amazing  new story – with beautiful art by D’Israeli, easily some of his best – called The Vort, actually Lobster Random in the guise of an amnesiac guy who just happens to be good at torturing folk. Oh, and Malone turned out to be Sinister Dexter, which was actually incredibly obvious in hindsight but really bloody good.

So, yeah, there was a lot of cool stuff going on when I was collecting this here comic. Having been stalking their site for some time, I noticed that this one would be featuring all new stories throughout, and with a new monthly subscription added to the site, I thus find myself collecting it again. Along with the Megazine though. DUN DUN DUUUUN. Though I only ever bought one terrible issue of that in the past, it seems to be doing pretty well for itself right now actually, so I’m jumping on board with that too, and you’ll be seeing reviews of it as well. But mostly this, for it is out every week whereas the Megazine is every four. If you’re curious at all as to how much I really love the comic, let me put it this way: it’s the only comic or magazine I’ve ever submitted a letter to (and gotten published in one Prog…somewhere), expressing thy love; I contributed to a website, now shut down, called 2000AD Reviews (I now follow a blog here on WordPress doing the same thing, and will probably send this their way), even though I was kinda terrible at writing at the time, just to talk about it; and I even helped out on Wikipedia’s various entries for the comic, such is how sad I am. On that note, let’s get started, and do note that they’ll probably be more traditional reviews in way of briefly mentioning the cover, then the writing and art of the various stories.

 

Cover by Edmund Bagwell

Pretty smashing stuff, I must say. Though all the characters look great, Bagwell’s Slaine in particular looks fantastic. This guy was the artist on a strip I missed, but bought in trade paperback, called Cradlegrave, indeed one of the very best stories I’ve read from the comic, so I really hope we’ll be seeing him as the artist on a future story, preferably one with dark subject matter so he can present us with horrible looking images.

 

Judge Dredd: Mega City Confidential (Part 1)

Gee, John Wagner and Colin MacNeil? It’s like someone knew that these two are a favourite combination of mine, Wagner being the writer when it comes to Dredd of course, and MacNeil having illustrated some of my favourite strips for the character. Maybe it’s been a while but his art work looks a lot darker here than I think it usually is. Perhaps that’s just me though, or is down to this being set up as a slow, unravelling mystery rather than a comedy, even a slightly dark one. Either way, it’s as amazing as ever and certainly matches the ominous mood of this opening chapter. Just look at how scary Dredd is when he’s up in Guff’s face.

The story itself does appear mighty mysterious in this opening chapter, but I can’t imagine that it’ll remain that way for very long. What the secret of Section 7 could be has me intrigued though, and I’m sure there’s a great story in store for us. It looks like we could be following it quite closely from the perspective of the girl, Erika, too, judging by the way that Wagner depicts Dredd in one of his more monstrous states, and the two citizens as the innocent couple with whom we sympathise. It’s always very interesting when that’s the case, and it’d be quite the treat for me if that were the story I returned to Dredd for. Oh, but one more thing. Though I haven’t collected the strip for years, I have kept up to date with the Dredd trade paperbacks, most recently the two Day of Chaos books. The first page of the Prog has been updated since I last collected the strip to point out that the city is still recovering from the events that took place in those books, so it’s pretty cool to see even small details like the cranes and rubble on the bottom of the second page to reflect this. Great stuff.

 

Slaine: A Simple Killing (Part 1)

Hmm. I’m not, I must say, a particularly big Slaine fan and I know that I most certainly wasn’t when I collected the comic years ago, the only story that I can actually recall seeing of the character being Carnival which was…well, crap. The writing did very little for me and, though I loved Clint Langley’s artwork on the A.B.C .Warriors, I really didn’t like it on Slaine, I’m sad to say. But this? You know, I might actually enjoy this. No, the writing isn’t Mills at his most perfect but it’s certainly a lot better than I remember reading in both Carnival and the A.B.C. Warriors stories on which Langley did the art, but maybe that’s because the latter series, at the time, was filled with lines referencing this and that that I found to be pretty distracting. This seems like it could be pure fun – it’s got the silly dialogue that I can sometimes love about Mills, like “Kiss my axe!” and the quite literally eyebrow-raising final panel, surely aware of how overly dramatic its being – but I’ll be reserving any true verdict for future episodes. Perhaps Carnival has left too bitter a taste in my mouth, making me unfairly suspicious, especially since I haven’t read any Slaine since, but I do recall how that got off to a decent enough start before going down Cliche Alley. Hopefully this won’t do the same.

The definite positive here, however, is Simon Davis’ artwork. An interesting choice, but a very welcome one. Though I did like his art for the most part, it wasn’t always amazing in every strip I read, sometimes quite unsuitable for the story being told (Ampney Crucis is a story that I distinctly recall looking quite horrible). But this looks great, my own highlight of the art in this Prog, and I expect it will only get better in future episodes. I love the map before the start of the story; I love that Slaine actually looks old; I love the expressions of the characters; and I love that fifth page, with the darkness Slaine’s silhouetted against in the first panel being used as the shield he peeks out from in the next. Incidentally, I forgot that Davis does such interesting things with panel composition, so more of that, please.

 

Outlier (Part 1)

To be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about this one at all, both in terms of its plot and art. T.C. Eglington isn’t a name that rings any bells from when I collected the strip, though if he is a recent addition to Tharg’s writing droids then I did maybe see him do a Future Shock or two that I simply can’t remember. Whatever the case, depending on which direction the story heads, this may or may not be a terrifically great opener for a brand new series. My first impressions told me it would be a mystery thriller when I read the first four pages, but that Eglington shows the killer to belong to a race that’s bad news, seeking revenge on some old friends it seems, and fits in some backstory for the lead character, who knows? There is the titular ship, I would assume the centre of the crime and any following ones, but it’s hard to tell if Eglington’s intention is to wrap it up in some great mystery or if the plan is that this murder and any more could spark hostilities between the Alliance of this world and these aliens. We’ll just have to wait until next time, I suppose.

That sort of goes for the art too. The only strip in which I’ve seen Karl Richardson’s artwork before, that I can recall, was the first episode of the The 86er’s before P.J. Holden took over, so I’m certainly not someone who can fairly compare his work. It looks good in this opening part of the story, but nothing about it really wow-ed me, except maybe the attention to detail of Raol’s broken wrist when we first see him and the rest of the crime scene. It all flows from panel to panel very well too. It’s just that the character and interior design of the world in this first episode isn’t very exciting, quite surprising for a new sci-fi tale in the comic. But, like the story, we’ll wait and see what direction it heads in.

 

Sinister Dexter: Gun Shy (Part 1)

Oh, for fuck’s sake. When I was purchasing this Prog online, I honestly stared in disbelief to find that this would be part of the contents. Why is this still in the Prog, and how the hell are the titular characters still contending with Moses? There’s no nice way for me to say this, but thankfully I don’t care: I hate this bloody strip. The first 2000AD I bought was Prog 2006 and inside I met skeletal versions of these characters in a story that I believe was called Festive Spirits, only it wasn’t so festive, seemingly set in the afterlife, one of the characters having escaped Downlode at the end of the Prog before, their fate murky, and the other having been gunned down, seemingly killed. Reviews I read at the time, written by people who didn’t like the strip very much, all seemed to agree that it was a perfect ending for the story of two gunsharks. But Dan Abnett was not done. Then he seemed close to being done. Only he wasn’t. And it went on…and on…and on.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll give this story its fair chance, because Abnett is absolutely not some utterly crap writer; far from it, in fact, Kingdom sticking out as a particularly memorable series (with a novel coming out that I may pick up). There have been Sinister Dexter stories I’ve enjoyed, yes. Though it varied in quality over the course of its different, separate titles, for example, the stories in which Ray was quadriplegic and Finny busted him out of prison and then tried to get him fixed had their moments. Of course, there was also Malone, easily the best that I read, though that could well be because it felt nothing like a Sinister Dexter story. The trouble I found with this series is that for every good story that Abnett produces for these characters, there’s about a dozen terrible ones that feel like generic “filler” material, paving the way for the next good storyline, or are simply not as funny as he thinks they are. For now, this seems like it could be the latter, but I’ll be fair and see what happens next week, even though this really did little to impress me.

The somewhat good news is that Smudge is on art duties. All I’ve saw of him is his work in Chiaruscuro, a story he illustrated for Simon Spurrier, and the little he’s done on Low Life by Rob Williams, but he’s fairly good. When he was doing Chiaruscuro, his art seemed more focused on looking particularly detailed and realistic (the main character gradually grew more stubble over the course of the story, which was a small but nice little touch), but I quite like this style too. The only thing it really needs is colour – something tells me it would look way better with Chris Blythe or Len O’Grady working their magic.

 

Jaegir: Strigoi (Part 1)

Speaking of, O’Grady acts as colourist for Simon Coleby here, doing a damn fine job indeed, as does Coleby himself. After Slaine, I’d say this was the best artwork of the week but, then again, I’m completely biased when it comes to Coleby, believing him to be a very consistent artist. And speaking of consistent, the writer of this new series is Gordon Rennie, a continuously terrific writer as it happens. This is probably the most interesting story in the Prog, a new series but one set in the familiar world of Rogue Trooper. Sadly, it’s been a very long time since I last read any Rogue Trooper, so my memory of the particular details about the war of the series are a little hazy. In fact, I think that in all the time I collected 2000AD, there was only the one actual story told from the titular character’s perspective, and it wasn’t very good. But it wasn’t very surprising that it’s the only one I ever saw – as far as my understanding goes, the strip has never been a hugely popular success, quite interesting for one told in a world raved by war that you’d think has the potential to be great. There was, however, a strip that I mentioned earlier in this review called The 86er’s, also written by Rennie. The interesting thing about that was that it was all set in space, almost a space opera in fact with the way that it focused on the conflicts between the characters and not necessarily the ongoing war. It didn’t receive overwhelming praise as far as I remember, but I enjoyed it quite a bit myself.

But this sounds even better, and should be fantastic if the quality of this opening can be maintained. It is a bit of a wordy start but I do like the direction that Rennie’s heading in. Hell, just the concept alone, of telling the story from the “bad guys” point of view had me sold when I read the contents page, particularly since our lead character is a woman who investigates the potential war crimes of her own people, which is of course very interesting because all we typically see them as is a bunch of murderous bastards. Highlight of the Prog? Yeah, I think so. Certainly the other strip besides Dredd that I have high hopes for.

 

Looking at the Prog overall, it’s interesting to note how I feel three of the five stories – SinDex, Outlier and Slaine – could go either way in terms of quality, which technically makes it a lacklustre start of sorts. But screw it – I’m excited to be subscribed again. It’s hard to believe that I forgot how good this comic is. There truly is always something for everyone, one of the things that make it special. Though I only hold two stories up to high expectations, there’s probably others who chuckled their way through Slaine’s silliness with no niggling doubts gnawing at them, and there were probably those who have a better grasp on where Outlier may head than I do. God forbid, there may even be Sinister Dexter fans out there, somewhere. See you next time.

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