Prog 1878 Review

A bit later than I expected with this one, but I’m back with this week’s Prog now that 1879 has been delivered to me from the future. The consistency of the Saturday delivery has actually been quite surprising, for I recall usually waiting until Monday when I was last subscribed. That’s nice, and always lovely to see sitting on the floor below your letterbox as you go downstairs for breakfast because if you’re anything like me, try as you might not to, you accidentally spoil the week’s cover via the comic’s Twitter account before it actually arrives. Blasted social media!

Ach well, at least it wasn’t the case here. The cover’s exactly what I’ve been waiting for: of my favourite ongoing strip, Jaegir, and brought to us by Simon Coleby, Len O’Grady colouring it like the strip itself (I can’t actually remember if Coleby colours any of his own work, come to think of it). It’s quite the piece of brilliance, and I dearly hope we’ll see a post detailing the process behind it over on 2000AD Covers Uncovered as I’d be very interested to know whether there were other ideas before this or not. The reason for my curiosity is that this is a fairly packed image that could have very easily failed. We have Jaegir and Klaur take up the foreground; their air shuttle take up the distant centre along with the forest; Grigoru looming over all in the background; and, further behind him, the castle itself, a full moon behind it. Of course, some of the last is partly obscured by the brand logo, but that’s still a lot going on.

It’s great to see that it really works then. Although Coleby does a perfect job positioning everything and I really love the dramatic poses of the characters, especially Grigoru’s Frankenstein’s monster-like howl, it’s O’Grady’s colouring that really swoops in to save the day in my opinion. The two characters at the bottom are given a sand colour not unpleasing to the eyes and a red tint to their left hand sides, apparently from a fire. The forest behind them is a very light, washed out shade of green, which perfectly leads our eye to the figure of Grigoru, who is given a ghostly blue-grey shade of colour (note the subtle white highlight around him too) from which, alongside the anguished expression, he’s painted as both a terrifying monster and man racked by an illness out of his control. Finally, the castle and its surrounding hills are a dark grey, giving it an appropriately menacing look indeed. A bloody well done cover – someone add a little something extra to these droid’s oil rations fer cryin’ out loud!

Inside Tharg tells us about the forthcoming Free Comic Book Day, previewing what we can expect to see in the Prog. No doubt I’ll give it a pass on the day itself, so small is my patience with long queues (plus, if I enter the nearest comic book store in Glasgow just for the free Prog, guilt shall overcome me and I’d probably go on a spending splurge), but I’ll be keeping an eye out for it on eBay, if only for a Dredd tale illustrated by Chris Burnham, a chap whom I praised to no end for his work on Grant Morrison’s last story arc of Batman. In my mind there is simply no way that can’t look amazing, and I hope that those who pick up the Prog and have never seen his work before will be as impressed with him as I was.

 

We see the end of Mega City Confidential this week, and it concludes as I suppose all these darker Dredd tales do: with no one coming out unscathed, including the Judges. The big revelation of Section 7, as speculated on the forums, though really quite obvious from the art in hindsight (all those visor reflections, though certainly depicting several characters as demonic, was also highly suggestive of camera lenses staring back), is that the Judges have been spying on citizens through hidden devices recently planted in their homes after Day of Chaos. It wouldn’t be a move I’d make following such devastation to people’s everyday lives and, sure enough, the citizens take up arms against their lovely enforcers of the law, resulting in “over a thousand deaths” according to Dredd, of which very few are the Judges themselves. Arrests are large in size too – so big that Hershey suggests they may soon run out of room in the Iso-Blocks – and amongst those characters we’ve seen imprisoned joins Blixen’s partner, Max himself being suspiciously found dead. (That final page with his replacement on the show is great by the way, as it could be interpreted as the Judges actually sending a warning to the citizens of what the price for being a whistleblower is.) Wonder who could’ve possibly been behind that? Ah, the Judges never change…

Of course, as we saw last time, Dredd himself wasn’t particularly pleased with Hershey’s decision – we’re actually given a nice insightful line into how he appreciates his own privacy – so it’ll be interesting to see the ramifications of this latest chapter in his life on the world. It is, as I said last week, one of those short stories that I feel like Wagner writes every so often with the intention of building towards some great event, so that’s what I’d like to see anyway. On the other hand, it could just be that it’s another Dredd tale doing social commentary, quite obviously being based on Edward Snowden’s ongoing leaks about the U.S. government’s snoopiness. In fact, it’s one of those stories that I expect we’ll all look back on years from now as a perfect example of the strip’s excellent commentary on social issues, the message in this case being that no good can come from the breach of people’s personal lives.

Though short, it’s been excellent stuff and I look forward to much more from Wagner in the future no matter what he does next. Really, what a great way to find myself reading the comic again. Hopefully we’ll see more from MacNeil again soon too, especially if it means more of this darker style.

 

The first thing that sprung to mind after reading this week’s instalment of Outlier was, quite appropriately, how bored I am of it. Last week I was pretty harsh on it, and I’m afraid my mood towards it hasn’t changed, Caul’s little flashback to what the Hurde did being another terrible attempt at making us give a shit about him. The funny thing is, the flashback ends with a shot that the next is a mirror of, something which Jaegir also does this week (they really are quite similar, huh?), the difference being that the latter story does it a lot better, actually serving a greater purpose than telling us something we already know – the Hurde torture people? Really?!? – in addition to not being cheap in its delivery of character development. That’s what I suspect Outlier’s all about here anyway in its depiction of Caul’s girlfriend being skinned alive. It didn’t make me feel any sympathy though – just mild sadness that this is all Eglington seems capable of.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel, however. Not only does Carcer actually, you know, get involved a little more in the story this week by confronting Caul at last (though he does get stabbed, which also made me mentally face palm), but we find that he has a good reason not to trust his employer, who is indeed up to no good. We already know this – Carcer spelled it out to us before that she’s hiding something, and it didn’t take a genius to work out that she’s interested in taking Caul alive if possible, to be sold and his Hurde technology analysed. What could be somewhat interesting is a “psychological link” between Caul and Carcer that she mentions, suggestive that all these mirroring words and panels of the two characters is indeed to emphasise a greater bond they share besides being Hurde survivors. I’m still not enjoying this, but maybe, just maybe, Eglington does have some surprise there.

As for Richardson’s art – it’s still not doing it for me, and I think never will. A thought that occurred to me this week is that someone else could do the colouring for him in the future, but that still leaves the excess amount of detail he tries to throw on everything that I noticed a great deal more in this episode, putting me in mind of Tony S. Daniels, an artist I bashed to no end during my read of Grant Morrison’s Batman run. It’s a sort of realistic style, most noticeable when it comes to defining every little thing about a characters appearance (look at how much detail he pours into the structure of Mr. Hain’s face), but I really need find it to be too much, leaving little room for the imagination and more for mistakes.

 

This week’s Slaine wraps up the fight with the gloops from last week, quite hilariously beginning with a our hero narrowly dodging the tail of one that last week’s episode dramatically ended on. Although week to week instalments are reading quite well in the comic’s weekly format, I think it’ll be a lot easier to appreciate this particular series, A Simple Killing, once all of The Brutania Chronicles are collected in trade as again, not much happens here in way of significant plot developments. After the fight, Slaine and Sinead chat for a bit (the former curiously mentions having to go to a party “to say goodbye to someone” – does that mean the Green Man celebration we saw a couple of weeks ago was actually a flash forward or how he was picturing it in his head?), the main highlight of their conversation being Slaine’s refusal to help, as unusual as him choosing not to kill Kark in the second episode.

But that probably won’t last as Sinead looks like she’s either turning into some human-serpent hybrid or, more likely, seeing as the gloops are “sea devils”, some mermaid creature. Indeed, I’d come across a preview of this strip quite recently, with concept art of Slaine fighting a group of mermaid-like creatures (they were much taller), so I suspect that he’ll either be forced to kill Sinead or lose her to these creatures in Prog 1879, giving him the motivation to go to Monadh and face the Drunes there, which I suppose will be the final legs of this particular story arc. Sinead even mentions that they’re intending to raise a powerful new monster, so it could be that it’s that who becomes the villain of the next story arc, should Slaine be too late, something which might make for a good little twist.

The art, as always, is gorgeous. Not as incredible looking as last week, but still very consistent in terms of quality, Davis continuing to position everything in a unique fashion and nailing every panel, from the level of detail (when we first see Sinead’s legs changing you can tell that her veins have become noticeably thicker) to the choice of colour. It’s such bloody good stuff that it pains me to know that it must end sooner or later.

 

On the contrary, what I can’t wait to see end is Sinister Dexter. After last week’s decent episode, the focus is brought back on to the two shitty lead characters again as they shoot stuff, how exciting, blah blah blah. Please, for the love of god, wrap up soon. Please. The art from Smudge is alright, though I still contend that it’d look much better in colour rather than black and white. Although could someone tell me what the hell’s up with the last couple of panels on the first page, where we find Finny being cut loose then smoking in the next, but on the panel at the top of page just after this not smoking at all? Oh, fuck it, who cares? Be done already, I implore you.

 

Thankfully, Jaegir is here to never let the Prog end on a downer with that shite. Although not my favourite of this week’s episodes for a change – that would be the conclusion of Mega City Confidential – this series continues to impress. Like Outlier, it opens with a flashback, but does so with the purpose of making our heroine realise that the strigoi she’s hunting is smarter than she’s given it credit for – a lot better than the other’s strip poor attempt at characterisation. That is to be found here too, but it’s also done to greater effect: the flashback shows a side of Atalia’s father that was proud of her (in contrast to him beating her last week, no less), creepily marking her forehead with the blood of a bear that she didn’t flinch against as apparent symbolism of the future blood of Nordland’s enemies that he expects she’ll drench herself in as a soldier. What’s great is that he says this, and the next panel contrasts the young girl with a scarred woman, the “Madam Kapiten” of a team who investigates the crimes of their own people. Brilliant.

Sadly, it looks like this shall be ending soon, Grigoru launching his attack against Atalia and co. to end this week’s episode, probably meaning they’ll kill him next time, at which point I guess we’ll meet with the crippled old guy again to set us up for the start of another series. And hopefully whenever that series comes along Simon Coleby will still be artist, and Len O’Grady his colourist. Their cover is terrific this week and the art inside as good as always, perfectly suited for such a dark series as this.

 

Overall, another solid Prog. Whatever’s next for Judge Dredd, I hope it can live up to the brilliant Mega City Confidential. The next Prog arrived on Saturday so I’ve seen the fantastic cover, but I highly doubt its old school appearance has anything to do with whatever may be inside. Guess we’ll find out next time. Until then.

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Judge Dredd Megazine 332 Review

Alright, we have a long road ahead of us to catch up with the recently released Megazine 347, so we’re starting the first of these new reviews today in the hope that I can get a bunch of them read before I go on holiday at the end of next month. Just as a reminder, though, I will be reading the floppies that come with each issue of the Megazine, doubling my length of time between write ups, I guess, seeing as I’ll also be discussing the articles, interviews and whatnot too. Plus, in purchasing these back issues, I managed to get my hands on additional floppies by themselves, which I suppose will get separate reviews of their own at some point, maybe all in one post. In other words, I have a lot of things to keep me busy, so don’t be expecting any reviews of a recently read book any time soon.

Got another piece of news too, which I’ll probably mention in the body of all this text at some, but I’ll save it til the end of the post to really talk about – for now, let’s get this first Megazine out the way.

 

We have a cover by one Jon Davis-Hunt to start us off, the man also behind the art of our first story. It’s pretty alright, though unimpressive – a standard pose of Dredd and Anderson with nothing to it. Though I actually have two complaints with the cover, I’ll save one for the strip inside, and focus on Anderson here instead. Having skipped through two of the most recent Megazine’s that feature an Anderson story called Dead End, I have to say that I loved the look of her there, drawn by Michael Dowling. Quite appropriately, she looks as old as Dredd under his pen, as should be the case, both of whom being past their fifties. Yet for some inexplicable reason Davis-Hunt’s Anderson looks like she’s in her twenties or thirties, which is quite bizarre since Dredd does look as old as he should.

This wouldn’t be a problem if the story inside were just a piece of filler material but it isn’t at all. For one thing, it’s set apart from, say, the Mega City Confidential story that’s just finishing in the Prog by focusing a lot more on the aftermath of Day of Chaos. This story, The Pits, opens with Anderson discovering a new fashion craze that’s hit the streets: dressing in the theme of death, in celebration of the destruction caused by the Chaos Bug, with skeleton masks, teeth necklaces, and so on. But we also get a good look at the state of the city itself more clearly. There’s whole buildings missing top halves, visible evidence of a gunfight having taken place at the Sector House our two characters meet at, rubble everywhere and workers clearing it all up. Most noticeable, and alarming, of all is that Dredd and Anderson leave the city through a massive hole in the West Wall. What they’re venturing out into the Cursed Earth is also a cruel reminder of the casualties the city’s faced – the pieces of clothing being sold, if the title doesn’t give it away, are actually remains stolen from some of the toxic pits which the city was forced to cart bodies off to.

The other plot thread going on is to do with Anderson herself. This is an Alan Grant written strip, so it’s no surprise since she’s his baby (though odd because it’s a Dredd title), but he has some particularly interesting developments taking place here. It’s a good thing I mentioned Dead End, a story currently still running in recent issues of the Meg, because this story – and, as I’m to understand, several more that I may have missed or are yet to come – lead into that. Something rather shocking happens in Dead End, you see, actually appearing on several news outlets similarly to a Dredd story called Closet from which speculation arose that Dredd was gay (a mistake, as it happens – it’s not actually Dredd kissing another man, but someone dressed as him). It’s actually one of the reasons I decided to start a joint subscription this time, so high was my curiosity. What happens is: Anderson tries to hang herself. Yep. The issue of the Megazine I bought in fact has a cover reminiscent of Dredd holding his dead brother, Rico.

Thankfully she does not die, but something presumably led her to that dark place, and it’s implied here to be the guilt of being one of the Psi Judges who failed to accurately predict the Day of Chaos. Indeed, this one-off begins with a rather depressing quote and ends with it too, though in a much more understandable context. It’s about how shit the world is basically, and seems quite appropriate on the last page – paired with an image of Anderson looking very horrified indeed – after having been dragged into the same pit that the grave robbers were using.  It’s an excellent piece of writing that, earlier in the story, she warned Dredd not to blame himself for what happened to the city (though for obvious reasons, he does), telling him that she doesn’t blame herself. Yet it would appear that’s her just putting on a brave face for a friend. There’s nothing quite like falling into a pit full of the bodies you could have saved to make you feel bad for yourself.

So yes, very interesting stuff taking place with Anderson. It’ll be really exciting to get round to Dead End, though it’d be nice if we have one or two more tales before then to prepare us. Although Grant does get his fair bit of criticism, particularly when it comes to this character, I haven’t actually read enough Anderson to be one of those critics. With only the Eagle Comics collection of Dredd and several Annuals, I haven’t seen much from the character at all unfortunately – particularly since all of her series’ appear here in the Meg instead of 2000AD – something I should really rectify one of these days, if only for Arthur Ranson being the most popular artist of the character. But anyway, what I’ve read, I’ve liked. It’s been talked to death so I won’t go off on a long analysis, but she’s a great foil to Dredd and hasn’t lost her sense of humour here from what I can tell, except of course at the end. Bring on more, I say!

Now, on the other hand, I mentioned an additional problem that I had with the cover art and, well, to be honest, that also goes for the strip, I’m sad to say, as do additional grievances I have. The last I saw of Jon Davis-Hunt – and this is very unfortunate because I’m to understand that he did some great art on a series called Age of the Wolf – was shortly before I stopped collecting 2000AD in a painfully long story of fifteen parts called Stalag 666, which was destroyed by the community like no other strip I’ve seen, and for good reason. Whether it was a fault of little direction in Tony Lee’s script, too much work on his hand, or something else, his artwork for this long series was dreadful.

It was a story that was basically The Great Escape in space but wasn’t visually interesting in the slightest. If brown weren’t the dominant colour of an episode to annoy you – it is, to this day, the most brown story I’ve ever read in a comic – then the problem was that there was blank backgrounds in too many panels, the characters lacking any sense of place in the world, even after their escape from the prison complex. At the time a lot of people even pointed out that the figures of the characters looked off, specifically with body parts out of proportion to the rest of their body that I believe was indeed the case. Some of that is obviously his own fault but it’s difficult to tell what the deal is with the choice of colour, and lack of any places in the prison. Either way, it was honestly a huge mess.

[And here’s an interesting piece of history you don’t see every day: the author left a long post on the 2000AD forums in response to all of the criticism, talking about how the backlash had surprised him so much that he had approached Matt Smith (the editor / Tharg) early on, wondering if they should take it out rather than let it run its full course, which should give you some idea of how poorly the series was received. Or maybe this will: someone sent him a letter (to and old address if I remember correctly) telling him to get out of comics, that he was a terrible writer, blah blah blah, but get this – with their own shit in the envelope too. It was nice to see the community equally disgusted, despite their misgivings for the then ongoing story, but it truly is the only instance I can think of when a creator’s came to the community to announce their displeasure at the people amongst them as vocal as that. It was a dreadful series, Stalag 666 – certainly the worst of 2000AD that I’ve ever read – but you just don’t send your own shit to someone to make your anger known. Though Lee stressed repeatedly that he “got it”, that people didn’t like the story, and urged people to let the story die forgotten, I consider criticism, as harsh as it may get, something that you just have to deal with as a creator whether you like it or not, but getting shit sent your way is nothing anyone should have to deal with over a comic story of all things.]

It’s possible that it may have left a bitter taste in my mouth like the last I saw of Slaine in the Prog (though those doubts seem to have have been put to rest), being one of the worst things I’ve read and seen, but I did not like the art here either. It’s much more colourful, thank fuck, and has a lot more going on in the backgrounds, but it wasn’t great, mainly when it comes to the characters. The other problem I had with the cover is that I don’t really like Davis-Hunt’s interpretation of part of the Judges uniform, namely their shoulder pads and helmet. The latter is a subjective little thing, I guess, and it doesn’t look as poor in the story as on the cover, but I do think there’s something noticeably wrong about the shoulder pads, which are rather small things. But credit where its due – they look very functional, which not all artists get right.

When I say I took issue with the characters, however, I’m mostly referring to the odd way that whole faces can change, expressions look terribly off, characters look similar, or parts of bodies look out of size. It sounds like nitpicking but, looking through the ten pages with these things in mind, I think it should be an easy task to find what I’m talking about. Throughout these pages Anderson’s face seemingly changes at will (the last panel would be more effective if she didn’t look so suddenly long in the face); she has a clone in the form of a girl she lets leave the Sector House without clothes; the expressions don’t only just look off naturally, but don’t look like they fit the scene either (when Anderson confronts two girls wearing the skeletal clothes, for instance, she looks pissed at them for no good reason); et cetera.

Despite all that, I will fairly say that this guy’s artwork may just not be for me (could you tell?). If I didn’t think this post was looking too long already, I’d probably go through all ten pages bit by bit, noting problems I have as I find them. Meh, I suppose. Hopefully I’ll be picking up a job lot of the Prog’s I’ve missed fairly soon, in which I’ll be able to read Age of the Wolf before it’s released in trade paperback. It’ll be interesting to see if the artwork really is as good there as I’ve heard if I do manage to buy it. On that 2000 words note – this is gonna be a long one! -let’s move on.

 

Next up we have an Interrogation, the Meg’s name for an interview – frightening stuff! The interviewee of this issue (I don’t know if they do more than one or not, or if it’s always the one person – I seem to recall there being two in the one copy of the Meg that I bought years ago) is artist, David Roach, and what an artist this guy is. At the end of this issue he’s our artist on the last story – one that he incidentally lists as some of his favourite artwork personally – so I’ll use this space here to talk about what I’ve seen of him in the past. To tell you the truth, it’s not a lot, but it was pretty damn good. There’s a preview here of a story called Witch’s Promise, which should appear in one of the Meg’s going forward, and the teasing image is quite the thing indeed, packed with just the right amount of detail. Being clearly set in Mega City One, it reminded me of a single story I read sometime in my collection of the comic, I presume following the very same witch. As I recall, she and Dredd fought some kind of weird looking alien, and she may have had a weird looking bike. Ach, I dunno – I really need to read through all my copies some time.

Anyway, the art was pretty good there from what I can recall, but it’s two other stories that really stick. First there was another Dredd one-off, A Whole New Dredd (scripted by Al Ewing) in which our lead character tested out a new uniform, which we see here in this interview. It was a pretty wacky looking thing and, having a voice of its own as well as A.I., went off on a violent rampage. The artwork was solid stuff there, but it’s another tale entirely that I remember Roach from most clearly. Although it didn’t appear to be a very popular series, he was the artist for one that either finished sometime after I stopped collecting the comic or has been lost to time, and it was called Synnamon. Only a few brief episodes of that tale following a redhead bounty hunter were there, but I distinctly recall that Roach’s figure work was a-fucking-mazing, as this interview talks about and indeed proves with images of his work outside 2000Ad and the Meg. And seeing as Inversion, our last story in this issue, is brilliant looking stuff with quite the change in style going on, I’d love to see more from this guy as my subscription continues.

The interview itself offers quite the insight into this guy’s life. Though I couldn’t tell you what I was expecting to find out, that the guy has been cataloguing British comics for years, creating a comprehensive list of every artist who has worked on every damn thing, was not quite what I had in mind, nor was the fact that he’s well known for books that he’s written too. Quite interesting stuff, to say the least. But perhaps more than anything, what I really liked about this interview is that the man just sounds awfully humble, grateful to be in the position he is, having never thought that he might not only be a fan of these comics that he loves so much, but an illustrator too. Going through his history on 2000AD’s cast of characters, it was a bit of an educational article for me too, mentioning certain things about characters that I didn’t know (Anderson, for example, was abused as a child), which was kinda handy. There was also talk about how when he joined the comic, artist of our next story, Mike Collins did too, the two sharing a studio. It was also they who pushed another artist by the name of Dylan Teague (a name I know but can’t clearly recall any stories on which he worked) into working for the strip.

A fantastic read in other words.

 

Fuck me, this post is long… *sigh*

 

Moving on, we have Hondo City Justice, and I quite enjoyed this first part. It has a trade paperback coming out later this year, using the Henry Flint cover of next issue, and I think I might pick it up for stories earlier than this. We follow one Inspector Inaba, a character created by the rather magnificent Robbie Morrison, and though not every story seems to have been drawn by these two (in fact, the contents page informed me that the co-creator artist is none other than Frank Quietly!), the art for this particular story arc, Revenge of the 47 Ronin, is brought to us by Mike Collins’ pencils and the ever-amazing Cliff Robinson on inks. To make it look even more wonderful, we have Len O’Grady, currently kicking arse over on the Prog in Jaegir, doing the colouring. Quite the line up, I must say, though I must say that when I glanced at the art without reading the credits, I honestly thought it was just Cliff Robinson doing the work – even inking over pencils, his style shines through.

Back on the contents page where I found that Quietly was involved in the creation of this particular character, there was mention of her being trained and passed by a mentor named Shimura. Sure enough, this Hondo City Justice isn’t the only series set in this city, an earlier one following this Shimura guy instead. Maybe I’ll check that out too because this one episode gave me good vibes. Maybe that’s just because it’s not very often that we see the wider universe that Dredd inhabits. It’s certainly the first time that I’ve seen a story set in any of Japan’s mega structures of the future. Opening with a tale about the 47 Ronin of the title (who come back as zombies by the way, but more on that in a minute), the artwork’s less colourful and the panels bordered differently, made to look like we’re reading an old parchment. Quite beautifully, it ends with a shot of a temple as it once looked before cutting to how it looks now in the far future, the trees that once surrounded it now replaced with Mega Blocks, blocking out the sun.

The story itself, perhaps unsurprisingly, is focused quite strongly on the no longer present honour that the people of Japan were once famous for, apparently the reason for these Ronin’s who committed seppuku – an honourable suicide – to have risen from their graves. Not sure why they killing those who have done wrong – in this case, a group of thugs and adulterers at a graveyard –  means that they also turn into zombies though. Perhaps as servants also seeking dishonour? Alas, compared to the story we have next, this is quite a short first episode, so it’s hard to get a sense of the characters and themes quite yet. Hopefully we’ll be following Inaba a bit more closely next time. A good start though.

 

After this we have a whopping eighteen pages of American Reaper 2. Good lord. To be honest, when I get my hands on these back issues and saw this second series, I was tempted to go further back to pick up the first one too, the idea interesting me so. Ended up not doing so as I spend enough money as it is, but it might’ve helped me get a better grasp on the world of this series and particularly the characters who have backstory told to us here, but not specifically spelled out (the main character, for example, had a son who’s now dead, but I couldn’t tell if it was something to do with his job as a Reaper or not).

This is brought to us by Pat Mills and is about the identity theft of the future, where what now happens is “victims have their minds and personalities erased and their bodies stolen”. As you might expect then, this is pretty dark stuff, our main character, John, being a Reaper whose job it is hunt and eliminate those who go through with these transplants through illegal venues. It’s not quite an idea totally new to me, in fact reminding me quite a bit of Blade Runner, where the lead character of that film, Deckard, had to hunt a group replicants, organic robots that break the line between what’s human and what’s not. What we see in this opening chapter is an old woman take the body of a young girl, telling the people who made her transfer possible to “bin” her old one.

It’s quite horrifying stuff to be reading, and I’m curious to see how exactly these Reaper’s work out if someone’s life has been replaced by another. We do see John violently interrogate a man about the missing girl, but it’d be nice to see a more difficult case and his approach there, particularly since an advertisement before the episode itself, aimed at old folk, is reassurance about their possibly future body exchange being undetected by the Reaper’s “scanners” (and I couldn’t help but notice that John have the power button symbol by their eyes, so I guess it’s something to do with their vision). Either way, I hope it will prove to be Mills at some of his best, despite the fact that some of the dialogue was a bit on the nose (“If you knew how to save a loved one, would you just let them die?”), as it would make quite the reflection of the light hearted new Slaine series over in the Prog. Oh, and apparently this is being made into a film, the screenplay already written by Mills, so I’ll be keeping an eye out for that even if I don’t enjoy this series.

Now, the art…well, to be quite frank, I imagine that a lot of people may not even care for the story itself because of the art, which is brought to us mostly by Clint Langley, a chap who has used a rather polarizing hyper-realistic sort of digital art since I first saw him in a Slaine and A.B.C. Warriors series (though I believe he recently did some non-Photoshop art for the first time in years fairly recently). The former was indeed not to my tastes – I didn’t really like seeing real models’ faces used in a strip like that where I think a style of art like Simon Davis’ is far better suited. But in the science fiction world of A.B.C. Warriors, which in this case was several books of the Volgan War (I believe I missed the last one or two when my collection stopped), I loved this realistic style, which created some gorgeous two page spreads and made the robots look rather fantastic indeed.

There isn’t any robots in this world, nor anything too outlandishly sci-fi looking quite yet, meaning we get page after page of models’ faces staring back at us, but I didn’t really mind it like I did with Slaine. It’s probably something to do with how dark it is and that the actors don’t pull any stupid faces that I could see, but I suppose it’s best that I reserve judgement for another time, particularly since there isn’t any big jaw dropping spreads in this opening episode – just a lot of people doing a lot of talking. If the art does turn out to have some astonishing spectacles in store for us, though, one cool little thing that we can look grateful for, and that I now actually wish Langley’s A.B.C. Warriors series had had in the past, is that Annie Parkhouse makes the lettering white on black transparent speech bubbles, which should hopefully let us appreciate some crazy looking pages in the future.

Before we wrap this one up, however, there is another artist to mention, a woman by the name of Fay Dalton who does the art for the two page advertisement that I mentioned, but will also do a few one or two page stories in future instalments too. Like Langley, her stuff’s digital – though, according to her blog, she starts off with pencils and pens before moving to Photoshop – but where he polarizes fans of 2000AD, I’d be surprised if anyone thought that the two pages we get here weren’t stunning. That’s what I call some damn good character design. A bloody crime that this is Dalton’s only work in comics! So, yeah, if you couldn’t tell, I’m looking forward to see a short strip or two from her in one or more of our future episodes, just because this one in-world advertisement is so great looking. More, please.

 

There is no end to this post in sight as we come next to a short story written by Alec Worley called Apology Accepted. Outside of the four novels that I read in a Judge Dredd Omnibus years ago (it’s still kicking about somewhere in this room, probably hidden beneath other books), only two of which I enjoyed (a Gordon Rennie book based on the passable video game, Dredd V.S. Death, or vice versa; and a David Bishop book that I think was about riots breaking out across the city), I’ve never read any other Dredd prose fiction before, so this is a somewhat new experience and kind of weird to be reading after so long. But it’s really good despite the short length, being set in the aftermath of Chaos Day, and told from the perspective of a prisoner who, along with others clearing the city of rubble, has no idea what happened during their time in the Cubes. It’s got some cracking lines like, “Nash song another hymn to the glory of Grud” that elicited a chuckle, but this is overall quite a dark story, ending sadly. Great stuff though.

In the future I’ll talk about these short stories in more length but, for now, we’ll use this space for something I desperately want to talk about because it’s really bloody awesome. This writer’s name stirred my memory slightly. Like Arthur Wyatt, writer of our last story, I associated him with someone that I probably saw do a Future Shock or two. That would, as it turns out, be the case – he in fact wrote three that I would’ve read, and I believe enjoyed at the time – but it also happens that it’s this man who is the author behind Age of the Wolf, that seemingly well received series drawn by Jon Davis-Hunt. However, the guy has no Wikipedia page from where I found this information, and I didn’t check out his 2000AD profile. Oh no, I found the fucking amazing website that this guy has.

As well as collecting all that he’s written in one place to serve as his portfolio, his interviews can be found there too, as can what he profiles as “extras”, such as this article he wrote about, um, writing Age of the Wolf, which proved to be very insightful and interesting, not to mention got me quite excited about giving it a read in the future (particularly as, lo and behold, I find some Jon Davis-Hunt artwork on the page that I think actually looks pretty good). If great little behind the scenes stuff like that isn’t enough, his own blog can be found on the site too, which has some quite educational posts, such as this one on theme in fiction and this other on his approach to formatting comic scripts. Bookmarking that site for the future, so I am, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for more from him in the Prog, though I certainly wouldn’t mind another excellent short story.

 

Our last story – oh my god, we’re here at last – of the Meg is Inversion, written by Wyatt and drawn by Roach, and what the beautiful looking thing it is. It’s another Judge Dredd tale, and quite a wacky one at that. It wasn’t anything I found particularly well written but the mad idea, all to do with wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff did mean that, visually speaking, it’s the best thing to be found in the issue, and after reading the interview with Roach, easy to see why it’s one of the strips he’s most proud of. At one point our three main characters enter an abandoned block affected by time distortions or other such nonsense and, sure enough, the next several pages after this look insane, all these roads that the Judges are on criss-crossing and going through buildings, looping over one another and so on. But even if it that lunacy weren’t present, the strip would still look amazing. Although in a black and white style like the upcoming third book of Insurrection drawn by Colin MacNeil, this looks amazing, Roach absolutely nailing the design of the Judges and city, packing each and every page with detail. Like I said as I read his interview, I really hope we’ll see more from Roach at some point as the guy is quite the artist.

 

Finally, thousands and thousands of words later, we arrive at the end of this issue. It’s all over. At last… Don’t worry, I’m kidding – we’re not out the woods quite yet because I still have the fucking floppy to talk about! Thankfully I’ll be keeping this somewhat brief as this reprint is Volume 2 of Disaster 1990, the first not being amongst the additional reprints I managed to pick up separately. Not that I’m sure I would after reading this. One of 2000AD’s longest enduring characters, Bill Savage, is the main character of this series, this apparently meant to act as a prequel to Invasion!, and Savage after that. Only Pat Mills hasn’t treated this as canon, which makes me wonder if, even though it was Gerry who wrote most of Invasion! (this from Wikipedia), he was unhappy with the result of Gerry Finley-Day’s efforts here. Alas, I can’t say I was very happy reading this myself, much preferring the episodes of Invasion! that I’ve read in 2000AD’s old Annuals and the several books of Savage that I read during my collection years ago. The saving grace is twofold: for one thing, the art by Carlos Pino and Mike White is pretty great – very old school stuff that made me want to read through several of the Annuals.

The other piece of good news is that this floppy isn’t all Disaster 1990 – we have some tales told to us by Ro-Jaws, the lead member of the Ro-Busters whom I loved so dearly in the Annuals. Alas, ’tis written by someone called Gary Rice, who I’m pretty sure didn’t write any of the Ro-Busters’ actual stories (indeed, he’s credited at the end of the floppy only for Future Shocks and Walter The Wobot stories, god help us all), but fuck it – the guy writes in the spirit of Ro-Jaws (“Wotcher!”) and for these three stories we’re treated to art from Brendan McCarthy, Dave Gibbons and Ian Gibson, so who’s complaining?

These floppies are a little smaller than the Megazine itself – though still bigger in width than an American-sized comic – but they’re as good quality, and I’m looking forward to reading more. In fact, I really have to commend those behind publishing the Megazine for making these happen as it really boosts your value for money, especially as some of the reprints that we’ve got coming up are of trade paperback quality, and not just forgotten or abandoned series’ like Disaster 1990.

 

On that note, we are – I mean it this time – done at last, ending with a ridiculous 5000+ words. Yeah, I’ll try to refrain from going so crazy again next time, though if anyone dares to read through all this, I hope they’ll appreciate the fact that I’m just a big fan of the comic and felt the need to talk in length about the return of some familiar faces and whatnot. That will be something I’ll probably keep doing.

Before we go, way back at the beginning of this post and indeed somewhere in all this body of text, I mentioned that I was hoping to buy a job lot of back issues of 2000AD. Those I’m looking at are fairly recent ones I’ve missed and if I managed to get them, I’ll probably write a post about the most noteworthy series’. If I don’t get it, however, I’ll still be kept busy as I’ve actually won two auctions for two lots of fairly old Progs, actually hoping to pick up a few more from the same seller. What I’ll probably do with those, stealing this idea from someone’s reviews on the ECBT2000AD blog, is title them “Retro Review” and talk about my general impressions of certain ones, such as those I’ve won that mark the first appearance of a character. Could be interesting. Got my eyes on other lots too, so I’ll say if I win any.

 

Until next time.

Headlights in the darkness – a personal blog on my depression

Just after we’d dropped our dad off at work and were pulling away, my sister said, “I’m thinking of getting anti-depressants”.  No build-up or anything – she simply said it. That’s not unusual of my sister though. We’ve always been close siblings, and we’ve always been there to help one another with anything that’s been bothering us. Unlike my sister, however, I don’t say what’s on my mind or come to her with my problems. In fact, she probably doesn’t even realise that she’s there to help me day to day, such is how subtle I am with my problems, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

The point is, when my sister said that a few nights ago, I didn’t slam my foot on the brakes in shock or anything, but just drove on. It took a few minutes to get her talking but she did, as she always does. Though in this case I stressed that she needed to tell a friend of hers that she missed her in order to get through this, despite how difficult it would be, the truth I didn’t tell her – and I never do because if she were to find out this secret to my success, she would never come to me again for help – was that she was already on her way to getting past this by admitting it aloud to me.

It’s true, or in my experience it is. If it isn’t blindingly clear, I’m no psychologist and I haven’t a scoobie about the “technical” aspect to all this – this is all a personal account of my ongoing depression in light of my sister letting everything off her chest. Though it will sound terrible to say, she isn’t as badly depressed as she thinks, if at all. From everything she told me, the two common denominators that I could see were her manager and our mother, both of whom are stressing her out. But coming clean like she did and having listened to my advice to confront her manager at least means that she’ll pull through, as she always does. Last year the big dilemma of her life was coming to accept that she’s gay, but she did, despite all her doubts. Our parents may not ever accept it, but she’s stronger in not caring what they think, just as she’ll be stronger once she leaves her current issues behind too.

It probably isn’t very obvious from this blog of mine, but I get quite angry about sexism whenever I see it, particularly in artistic mediums. The friends I talk to over Facebook quite often know this about me. Quite recently, I think, I explained why this is, which I accounted to having been taught about the Suffragettes in History, a similar subject in Social Policy when I was in University, and a few other things, but concluding overall that equality is just common sense to me, which it certainly is. But I don’t think I quite put my finger on the real reason that sexism and gender discrimination pisses me off. That, of course, is all due to my sister’s role in my life.

If she were a brother instead, I think there’s a pretty high chance that I could be a completely different person today. Two old friends from high school (one of which I met several weeks ago and found out was a father – holy shit indeed) used to live a minute or two away from me, and another friend and I would walk to school with them most days. They’re twin brothers, right down to appearance, but very different from me, despite having grown up with another sibling. An entirely different friend who I’ve been long out of contact with, however, did have a younger sister like me. As you might expect, we were more similar in some respects, but not wholly, this time because of a larger age gap in his case, meaning he was in high school while his sister was only halfway through primary, whereas my sister and I are only two years apart in age.

Although I wasn’t obviously in a position unique only to me, I was as far as my life with a sibling was compared to others I knew, just as theirs were when placed against mine. Different perspectives, different people. As we grow older we all, at various stages in our lives, look back on everything we’ve done so far and desperately wish we could change past mistakes, wish we’d made another decision at this point, wish we could’ve been brought up differently, et cetera. It’s certainly something I’ve thought about it, that’s for sure. If I were writing a letter to my past self still in primary school, I’d probably say, “Look, kid, you might think you’re everything just now, but you better start treating people with more respect before you lose them all”, and god knows, there’s things about me I would change today if it were as simple as a flick of a wand.

But I wouldn’t change Lauren for anyone else if the whole world were at stake.

As I drove on and she was talking about all the stuff that was bothering her, she inevitably steered the conversation towards me, as she always does. One of the more ridiculous notions my sister gets in her head from time to time – less now that my mother constantly berates me about having no job or no useful qualifications from my several years of University – is that because I’m the sibling who has better grades, has been to University, does a lot of reading and writing, is smarter when it comes to what she perceives as more difficult subjects, etc., I’m the one who’s going to go far in life. It doesn’t really help that one of our Uncle’s pays me far more attention than he does her, not only because he’s been quite a sexist man for the whole of his life, but because he takes greater interest in my creative subjects than hers, having gone out of his way to encourage my similar interests in writing, history and art and design, but rarely her own love for music.

The guy probably sounds like a massive dick, but he’s actually someone who has greatly inspired me, despite his flaws. In the second or third year of English in high school we were asked to write a memoir of sorts about a family member, preferably a grandfather, to be read aloud as a solo talk. Though my grandad would undoubtedly have made for an interesting talk, I did write about my Uncle, a man who still fascinates me to this day, at the time spending several hours on the phone with him to learn about his life. How does a man go from being a politician to a doctor, and from a doctor to a priest? It’s a rather incredible life he’s led, to say the least, and what I admire about it is that, though he often talks to me about how different it may have been if he’d stuck with politics, he doesn’t regret his choices, being very content with everything he’s done, which is all that I suppose any of us want.

So, with his own problems or not, it’s nice to have someone in your life that you can look up to and have they in return see this, and treat your ambitions with respect. But I don’t think enough people have done the same with my sister. What she doesn’t realise is not only that she possesses these great qualities of her own – she can play guitar, she can sing, she can imaginatively create things, she’s good with computers, etc. – but that none of those things matter if they can’t make you happy.

Sure, I’ve been in University but – as I told her, still driving on – though our mum’s on my back about me passing my current out-of-school resit (I don’t have to attend classes – just resubmit the coursework), I’ve actually already failed because I haven’t handed in a single piece of the work I was supposed to – hell, I didn’t even take a look at it – for the simple reason that I do not care about it. How I’ve ended up doing that in the first place is through failing the first time, which was caused by the little effort I put in to the subjects that weren’t as interesting as those I got A’s for. In my experience then, University has been dreadful – I’ve done a year of one course and two of another, but enjoyed neither overall. Besides meeting my friends in the second course, it’s been completely meaningless. It hasn’t bought me a free ticket to a great future – you actually have to earn that through your actions, something I think she barely realises is a difference of ours, though I’ll get to that in a moment.

But what she also doesn’t know is that the very things that she gets in trouble for are actually worse in my case, yet serve a greater purpose for her as an individual. For instance, she’s constantly called a liar, and that’s true – she does a lot of lying. But it would amaze those around me if they had half a clue as to how much lying I do on a daily basis, and how smart I am about it. If my sister were lying about handing in CV’s to this shopping centre or that like I do, she would get caught easily because there wouldn’t be any proof that she’d left the house or printed off any CV’s whereas I will announce that I’m leaving to someone, have a bag which I say contains CV’s as physical evidence and actually leave for a spell. Another example where my sister gets in trouble is in that she’s apparently too blunt and forthright, yet I get off scot-free by being as sarcastic as I am day to day. Or where she stubbornly refuses to report in to our overlords on a night out, I’ll send either of my parents a text or two, yet get away with it whenever I don’t, which is as often as her. My point is, none of those things I do exactly make me feel good whereas my sister should be proud to be as honest as she is to herself and in all respects, despite how angry people may get at her.

Why I create elaborate schemes and hide my true feelings is not that difficult to explain. The hardest thing I find about continuing with depression is telling other people about it. It feels literally impossible. Every time I meet my friends at the bar we go to on a night out I just want to tell them how shit I feel, explain why they’re right in proclaiming me as the dark horse of the group, but I never do. The words are there but they aren’t caught in my throat – I just look at how happy we all are, how happy I’m feeling, and keep that shit-eating grin on my face, enjoying this night I spend with them. The only person that I love who actually knows about my long time depression – the fact that it’s never ended, I mean – is, of course, my little sister, she having brought it up a few nights and got me talking about it for a brief while, like she always does.

There isn’t a single moment I can pin down as the root of all my problems, but the one that’s planted its roots in my head most of all is something that happened in my last year of high school. Oh, I was depressed as all hell leading into that sixth year, running from a best friend in the first year after becoming unhappy with the direction our group was heading in, being slowly and painfully kicked out of the next circle a few years later, an act which resulted in me losing the friends of those friends too, which meant I then spent the remainder of my time in the school alone after that. But it was ultimately one thing in my last year of high school that brought me to my first University course, possibly the darkest moment of my life in which I was truly and utterly alone.

That final year is a very confusing time compared to the rest of the crazy shit you go through in high school because suddenly you’re faced with the very real and very frightening future, something which you’re pushed into making a decision about. It’s this moment that I imagine hits a lot of other people unexpectedly too. But I had my parents to seemingly help, my mother suggesting that I write a list of the things I’d like to do, from which we could then work out the next steps. And I did. It didn’t take a lot of thinking either, truth be told. My list included the likes of novelist, graphic novelist, comics artist, English teacher, Art teacher, History teacher, primary school teacher and a few other things. It was quite exciting to hand the list over to my mum actually. In my head I pictured her smiling, and then sitting down to talk with me about why I wanted to be any of those things, and then giving me a hand looking at University courses and whatnot.

What happened instead was she took one look at my hopes and dreams that she held in her hand and told me that we could talk about teaching, especially in primary where there was a lack of male teachers, but not the rest, which were neither “realistic” or the sort of jobs that would pay the bills. This isn’t a thing I think any parent should do to their child when their dreams are actually achievable things. It’s all well and good to say, “Sorry, kid, you’re too dumb to be an astronaut”, because that’s most certainly something only a rare amount of people can actually do; but telling me – one of six people in my year of high school that sat and passed the Advanced Higher stage of English that year, someone who once filled two notebooks with two long stories as a young boy, someone who has been all about creativity their whole life, from attending drama classes to sitting here writing entries for this blog – that I wasn’t being realistic about writing or art, ignoring my personal happiness in favour of future income, hurt me more than any time I was bullied, mocked or physically hit.

It ruptured a hole in me so huge that it threatened to swallow who I am, and all the while I sat in lectures, alone in a course that I’d somehow found myself in, no longer writing anything other than coursework, and no longer drawing anything except angry scribbles, just waiting for an intervention or the end to come. It did, in a way. One day I found myself telling my parents that I was done with the course, leaving as soon as I was able. They resisted at first, as parents do, but quickly changed their minds after their disbelief was the final straw I needed to fall apart, which I did in an atomic explosion of all the emotions I had been keeping buried. My family was there for me then. It might sound like they’re terrible parents from the last few paragraphs but they’re absolutely not, and besides, the one thing depressed people are good at is keeping the truth hidden in plain sight.

Indeed, mental breakdown or not, you don’t ever really tell those who get caught in the radius every reason that led you to such devastation. It never ends so easily. A song called Sorrow by my favourite band, The National, has the line, “Sorrow’s my body on the waves”, an image I’ve had in my dreams believe it or not, and very true about the impact even one major bout of depression can have upon you, creating what feels like a cycle where it’s like your negative emotions have assumed all control over you.

But on the other hand, there’s a Bruce Springsteen song called Jungleland, which you could interpret the meaning of which to be about the pursuit of our greatest hopes, the chase for true happiness. In the last verse there’s a series of lines, kind of depressing, that go like this:

“And the poets down here
Don’t write nothing at all
They just stand back and let it all be
And in the quick of the night
They reach for their moment
And try to make an honest stand
But they wind up wounded
Not even dead
Tonight in Jungleland”

What it’s essentially saying is that these people who try to make a difference in their lives end up failing; and hurt, fall back into their everyday routines. But I think the very fact that “they wind up wounded, not even dead” is a reason for hope, however small. It felt that way in my case, after my whole world fell apart. It still hurts all these years later – the hole is still there, looming, waiting – but it’s not over yet: there’s still a chance. Like an anchor or a chain, depression keeps me from straying too far, but I can break free, through either small, baby steps that lead me out of its sight, or through daring to act, a feat that requires courage I’ve sadly yet to muster.

Please don’t mistake everything I’ve written so far as my way of comparing Lauren and I’s problems, brushing hers under my dusty carpet. If I were to continue this post much longer I could go on to show that a lot of the bad things that have happened to me, like losing friends, are things that she’s been through as well, actually moreso in some cases if you can believe it. The reason I’m sitting here writing all this is not because of my sister’s big reveal that began this post. That and her explanation got me thinking about how much I love the little bugger, but it’s not what got me moving from her story to mine, and it’s not the selfishness that depression can bring either. It was instead a question she asked after getting me to ramble about myself for a short while: “How do you deal with it?”

At a juncture I decide to take the long route home, this heavy question dropped on me. My answer was a mess, though my memory’s a little fuzzy on what exactly I attempted to say. Whatever it was, and if I had gotten it out clearly, it wouldn’t have been true. It’s funny that she of all people asked me it because my answer, if I’d said it, would have been, “It’s not a question of how I deal with it – but how you deal with it”. If there truly were a secret ingredient that makes me cope each and every day it would indeed be her. Not because she’s someone I’m so close with that, if I were to ever commit suicide (as my mother and an old friend of mine mistakenly thought I’d been thinking of after my first nervous breakdown), I couldn’t do it, knowing that it would break her heart, but because she is quite honestly the most incredible person I know and someone I aspire to be like.

Where I sit on my problems, suffocating them and myself, she stands up and does something about them, no matter how drastic. Where I sit here with my blog that no one I personally know knows exists, trying to improve my writing with no feedback, she always brings the latest song she’s written to me and asks me to help edit it. Where I often lie mentally exhausted on my bed, tired and nihilistic, she’s up and about, doing anything and everything, spiralling out of control sometimes perhaps, but living in the moment. Where I sit quietly in a corner, she engages everyone, strangers or not, in conversation. Where my hopes and dreams are but a light at the end of a dark tunnel, hers are out there for the whole world to see and though she hasn’t accomplished them, she dances happily, free, around the outskirts.

It’s my sincere hope that she gives herself a clap on the back for all of these things because, when it comes to smarts, I know she doesn’t give herself the full credit she deserves. Though she could easily tell either of our parents about me right this very instant, for example, she never does, because she knows that telling them or just doing something is an action I must take myself one day instead of continuing through a cycle where those closest to me find that there a bunch of fucked up feelings beneath my exterior only after another nervous breakdown of mine.

My sister will be fine and I will be too. Every punch to the gut makes her stronger and, though I might react more emotionally, they truthfully make me stronger as well – it’s just harder to see that this is the case when I let the hole widen, almost give it the permission it needs to consume me. Yet here I am, writing here nearly every day, doing something that makes me happy, despite the pressure threatening to cage me in from all sides – stitching this hole that’s been left in me. Tiny steps they may be, but they’re something, and keep me on the straight and narrow, intact, the same boy I’ve always been and always will be.

I could stop – there’s no traffic out here in the dark, and no one watching from a light in a window – but I instead keep driving, because it’s what she would do, this remarkable girl in the passenger seat beside me, my best of friends, this light guiding my way.

Prog 1877 Review

Another week, another smashing Prog, and yes, I’m using that corny line to open this review with your usual chat about the cover, which in this case is of Dredd smashing through glass on his bike like an utter badass.

It’s brought to us from Ben Willsher, a terrific artist, but not someone that I believe I ever encountered during my collecting of the comic. No, where I discovered him was in the trade paperback collections of Day of Chaos, though I’m to understand that he’s worked on other strips too. The cover itself isn’t one I would have had a lot to say about to tell you the truth, but don’t let that make you think it’s bad. Although it’s not a particularly unusual shot to find Dredd in, the two things that make it more interesting than most are the reflections of whoever Dredd’s shooting at and that the Lawmaster takes up a lot of space instead of the man riding it. Indeed, in my lurking’s of 2000AD’s forums, I’ve noticed quite a number of people associating Willsher with Dredd’s bike and rightfully so because he draws those things like no other.

Over on 2000AD Covers Uncovered, in fact, the author of that blog refers to him as “king of Lawmaster porn”, which is hilarious but also very true. From now on I think I’ll always be leaving a link to the relevant post of that blog each week because the thought process behind these covers makes for interesting reading. In this case, for example, the shot was inspired by Dredd’s first ever appearance and the idea of adding the reflections of a perp that Dredd’s attacking was to give the shot a greater sense of purpose. Excellent stuff in other words. Hopefully we’ll see some interior artwork from Willsher in the near future.

Alright, moving on.

On the contrary to my suggestion last time that this week’s episode of Dredd would give us a good indication of which direction it would be heading in, Tharg announces in his usual column that this week’s instalment of Mega City Confidential is actually the penultimate one, something that came as a bit of a surprise. Being such a slow burner these past three weeks, I expected that now would be the time that something happens to force the pace into a quicker second half, but with only one more episode to go, that isn’t the case at all. Though he makes it safely out of Dredd and Styler’s clutches just before they find out that he has evidence against Section 7, Blixen’s escape isn’t what I would call comparable to Erika’s tense time on the run.

In fact, we see some humour again this week, which I noticed has led some people into believing – this in addition to Dredd’s comment to Styler that he was “never going to keep this under wraps forever” – that the mystery of what Erika found out in the first place may turn out to be quite anti-climatic, possibly quite trivial in nature. Personally I don’t see it that way at all, especially since Dredd’s refusal to do anything else to keep the secret contained suggests to me that it’s something he disapproves of. But that this has only been five parts and is ending with the reveal next week actually leads me into thinking that Wagner has future plans in mind with whatever this may turn out to be, not something that I would say is unusual of him – it’s the sort of build-up that I associate with him being the head writer of Dredd, typically acting as a prologue to a greater, bigger story. Whether I’m right or wrong is something that I suppose we’ll find out next week, or tomorrow in my and other subscriber’s case presuming my Prog reaches me then.

Next up we have Outlier and I’m afraid I’m going to be quite harsh here – or harsher than last time I should say – having read a post on 2000AD’s forum that quite rightly compared the strip to the superior Jaegir, a subject I was also wanting to talk about. Both stories are, as he says, very alike in plot, being centred around the hunt for a former human / semi-human, semi-monster who is the cause of several deaths, but where they differ is in their approach, the former story of which – apparently not a series that’ll continue judging by the fact that it has no subtitle like Jaegir – has been doing a terrible job.

Last week I said that I wouldn’t be getting my hopes up for the story to surprise me, not giving two hoots about the weak attempt at character development through flashback at the time, but now I’m saying that I don’t really care what happens anymore. Unless whatever Caul is about to reveal about the Hurde is completely game changing, I cannot see their being any chance of this redeeming itself. None at all. And that’s having noticed that, like the first episode, there are two panels in which Carcer and Caul’s expressions are mirrored, again suggesting a stronger connection between the two. But who cares if there is when the former character might as well not exist for someone who’s apparently the protagonist, such is how little we see and actually give a shit about him; and the latter, though with the potential of being more interesting, isn’t really, the little we know of him being quite the cliche, this episode seeing him being berated for his past by the people who still bully him, boohoo, etc.?

Cementing its failure, I’m somewhat sad to say, is Karl Richardson’s artwork, which I’ve now grown bored of. If there was an episode for him to shine, this would have been it, but I really didn’t like what I saw. There’s actually an extra page for the strip this week to fit in a double page spread, indicative of this supposedly having meant to be a better looking episode than the last three, but I can’t call myself a fan of it too unfortunately, Caul’s figure looking a bit too stiff for someone running from a stampede, the pages being a little too cluttered such that two of the monkey-like aliens don’t look like they’re correctly in perspective, and the amount of green – and not an easy-on-the-eye shade of it either – is horrible. In general his artwork for the story has just been awfully generic, and though I’m sure that’s partly a fault of Eglington’s script too, couldn’t he have angled the shots of Carcer in his cockpit in this issue and last from another perspective, say from above so that we can see the planet below us, subtly making the world looking a little more lively and interesting?

That’s not been a problem of Jaegir, which continues to flesh out its world and characters week to week, still my favourite of the Prog’s selection thus far. By the time this current series, Strigoi, is over and the next begins, Rennie will have us invested enough in the world for him to do something bigger in scale. Indeed, this is another slow paced episode, but I’ll be damned if I don’t fucking love it.

Unlike this week’s Outlier, which sees Caul trapped purely by cocky chance, we get a full episode devoted to Jaegir and co. setting up their ambush for Grigoru at her family castle, learning additional snippets of information about everyone, including the fact that Jaegir and her target once slept together. Though it was already quite easy to feel sorry for the guy before, through the simple display of his physical transformation and the effect this had on him mentally, I like that Rennie poses Jaegir’s ultimate task of eliminating him as something more personal, and thus more difficult to do.

In another short scene – though it’s alluded to through the idea of the castle formerly belonging to an “evil wizard”, something she tells Grigoru’s son (and doesn’t that story itself, made at her own expense when the boy is frightened by her scar, say a lot about her character?) – we learn what exactly her father was like (he was a dick) through a flashback, but not one that felt like the ham-fisted exposition seen in Outlier last week. Instead, the memory that we see of her father through a ghostly apparition-like way is only bluntly brought to the surface like that after the afore-mentioned “evil wizard” dialogue, finding a portrait of him as she wanders the halls with Klaur, and then changing the idea of the castle having been occupied by a bad wizard to that of ghosts unforgotten instead. Absolutely brilliant writing, and terribly atmospheric art and colouring from Simon Coleby and Len O’Grady once again.

The only negative criticism that I have is that it appears to be ending soon! Say it isn’t so, I know. At the end of this fourth part we do find the strigoi making his way to Jaegir’s castle, meaning that its attack will probably be beginning next issue. It’s difficult to tell how long it may be drawn out, especially since I’m quite sure that Rennie will continue to flesh out his characters where he can, but as killing this poor guy is the whole point of this first series, it seems likely that it’ll draw to an end an episode or two after his death. Not sure that it’s going to be a happy ending though.

What will most likely see a happy ending is Sinister Dexter, if only so it can dump more crappy filler stories upon us. As much as I hate this fucking series (is it obvious?), however, I would like to think that I’m fair to one and all, including this, which actually sees a pretty decent episode for a change. Maybe it’s because the two annoying lead characters are missing for most of the five full pages and only get a single line of dialogue each, or maybe it’s because I’ve just started watching Sons of Anarchy with its nasty biker gang recently, but I did enjoy this week’s episode, particularly the focus paid to the two female characters who come to Ray and Finny’s rescue after exposing the traitor we saw last week at the biker’s bar. With the fifth part looking to be the big gunfight that the main characters are caught between, this might go out with a bang after three fairly crap episodes. That’s a thing you have to keep in mind about 2000AD – opinions can quite quickly change if a story is steered in a particular direction or other.

Slaine is the story I’ve saved for last for the simple reason that nothing worth talking about actually happens when it comes to its story. Following last week’s ending and my doubts about Mills’ direction with future instalments, we instead immediately follow that with a fight, as we find that Sinead was followed from Minadh – which she would seem to have genuinely escaped from – by gloops, the lizard-like creatures we’ve seen before. It ends on a dreadful cliffhanger of Slaine turning to find one of their tails indeed flying towards him, which I just find silly, but that’s about it, and no, I’m not complaining. For the reason I saved this for last is that this is easily the best damn art that I’ve ever seen from Simon Davis.

I mean, holy shit.

Yeah, if you thought that the look of this new story arc couldn’t get any better, think again. Honestly, I no longer know what to expect from the guy after seeing these past four episodes because this is bloody ridiculously good looking. The thing is, as I was collecting the comic, I had a bit of an on-off appreciation of his art style, one moment dropping my jaw but the next thinking it looked awfully lazy with its long distance silhouette shots where characters looked like stick men, or its at times awkward colouring of characters.

But this has been incredible each and every week, though I now wonder if it’s possible for him to top these six pages because, seriously, if it weren’t for the lettering and the fact that it isn’t actually the two centre pages of the Prog, I would take that two page spread and frame the damn thing. Stunning artwork and speaking of lettering, I think we should all be very grateful that, for those two pages, we find Slaine’s thought bubbles running along the bottom of the page, underneath their respective panels instead of inside them, letting us enjoy the art all the more, so thank god for Elle De Ville using common sense where others may not have done so. Can’t wait to see what this strip looks like next week.

Or tomorrow morning if my Prog arrives as early as it should. As usual, though, I won’t be writing up a review until it’s actually on sale this Wednesday but, until then, I do intend to begin my catching up of the Megazine, starting at issue 332 and making my way up to the recently arrived 347. Should take me quite a while since I intend to talk about the floppy bagged with each, but more so because I actually have additional copies of those mini-trades that I guess I’ll have to review separately.

There’s other posts coming too. It hasn’t arrived yet but I’ll be writing a review for Insurrection, a Dan Abnett and Colin MacNeil series set in the Dredd universe, once I’ve read it. It recently finished with book three in the Megazine so I wanted to buy this trade paperback collecting the first two in order to really enjoy it. Having blitzed my way through all three volumes of Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Saga series recently, I’ll be doing a write up of my thoughts on that as well. Spoilers: it is fucking amazing and everyone should be reading it. Should also see a more personal post up too quite soon. Alas, I’ll be going on holiday at the end of May so how I intend to do all this, I do not know, but oh well.

Until next time.

Prog 1876 Review

Hello, hello.

Though I won’t be starting with this today, I think that in my next review of 2000AD I’m going to try my hand structuring the post differently. Instead of reviewing everything under different headings, I’ll try creating a better flow from paragraph to paragraph. It would be less noticeable that I have more to say about certain stories than I do others that way, I think, in which case it would probably be the better option in the long run, seeing as 2000AD is an anthology comic and you never quite know how much you’ll have to say about a continuing story each week. The other thing is that there’s simply those series’ that you care for more than others, and will thus have more to talk about. Right now, for instance, I could gush over Simon Davis’ artwork on Slaine for several paragraphs, but would be content with writing “Fuck these guys” and moving on when it comes to Sinister Dexter. So, yeah, I’ll give this approach a shot next time. But for now, let’s just do this traditionally, incidentally starting with a cover depicting the two characters I hate so damn much.

 

Cover by Alex Ronald

One of the many fascinating things about 2000AD is that they don’t often do variant covers like other comics. Where DC use these variants to let another artist have a stab at a cover for one of their characters whilst the artist of the strip inside does the standard one, here we almost always have the single cover, and what’s interesting is that they very often have little to do with the story inside, are by a completely different artist to anyone found inside, or are outright unrelated to what’s inside. In this case we have a Sinister Dexter cover from an artist I’ve never heard of, portraying the duo in an action-movie like shot that you won’t find awaiting you in Abnett’s third part of Gun Shy, and the funniest thing is that Finny looks totally different than he does at the moment – as I’ve ever seen him in my collection of the comic actually – with long hair and in a suit, the polar opposite of the punk rock vibe he has going on just now.

But don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s a bad cover or anything – it’s a belter as far as I’m concerned, all digital like Clint Langley or not. Like I said though, the artist’s name rings no bells with me, and for good reason. A search of the name on Google and I came back with his blog in which the latest post of his is about this very cover, specifically saying that it’s his second for 2000AD (he would appear to have done more for the Megazine and would seem to have featured within there at least), having last done one only several weeks before I jumped on board with the comic again. That was Prog 1869, for which he drew a cover of a character called Ulysses Sweet, apparently quite an old character that has now recently been revived. Over on the blog 2000AD Covers Uncovered there’s a post about that one in which he steps us through the process of creating it for those of you that may be interested. Thankfully there’s one for this too, though not quite as revealing about his approach unfortunately. But whether you like this more obvious type of digital art or not in your comics, it’s just as complicated as doing it the old fashioned way, and I should know as someone who very briefly did some digital art as part of his games development course.

If I do have one complaint, however, it’s that it would appear to me that there’s quite a lot of aliasing going on here, most noticeably around all the shards of glass, although you can just make it out on Ray’s two guns as well. Can’t imagine what the deal is here because in all of Clint Langley’s art that I’ve seen, jaggies has never been something I’ve noticed, yet it immediately stood out here. Alas, having studied games development in which aliasing is a problem or not (sort of why you have anti-aliasing methods in the options menu of most PC games), I’m no expert on the cause of it and have no idea why we could be seeing it so clearly here. Oh well. Otherwise, it’s a brilliant cover and we’ll hopefully be seeing much more from Mr. Ronald in the future.

 

Droid Life

Wasn’t going to include this as part of the review but what the hell. We’re already at almost 800 words, so why pretend that this will be short? But, yeah, Droid Life’s still kicking around. Never really cared much for this, though I guess it’s nice that it’s there. Plus, it has its own short collection, so I guess some people find it funny. But I never do, so I can live without it in my life. Then again, I can’t imagine it’s easy creating a joke in such a small amount of space. Whatever, I don’t know why I’m still talking about this. In his usual spot of the Prog, Tharg mentions a Sci-Fi Special at the end of May. Not really sure if this is also the Summer Special but he promises to talk about it again soon, and I’m sure I’ll see someone refer to it as the same Special Prog if that’s what it is.

 

Judge Dredd: Mega City Confidential (Part 3)

Quite unsurprisingly, following on from last episode’s ending, we find Erika walking into a trap in which Max Blixen is involved. It could have been a little unnecessary of Wagner to show us Dredd intimidating Blixen into co-operating via flashback, but it works in conjunction with the final page where we get a shot of an awfully sad looking Blixen taking off his glasses. That’s a panel I do love because on the second page it was his turn to get a close up where we can’t see the eyes behind the glasses, already used to paint Dredd and Styler in a non-human light, so it works in contrast to this, making Blixen another victim of the Judges in a way. Indeed, only he, Erika and the now-dead Ramage have been characters we’ve seen below the surface of. Though not exactly a choice when it comes to Dredd, Wagner and MacNeil could easily have decided that Styler should be without glasses if there weren’t a purpose behind it, so I am seeing the distinction between those characters looking so constantly ominous and the others as having eyes and more expressions than a frown on their faces as an intentional choice, and it’s bloody good stuff with that being the case.

Still no word on what this big conspiracy could be and although Blixen now has a data slug containing Erika’s evidence, I don’t think we’ll be finding any answers next time either, which I’m sure will annoy some people. Though there is the possibility that Wagner could pull a fast one on us by having Blixen killed and the secret remaining so, I do believe that we’ll find out what’s worth all this quite soon. But in the next Prog I expect that we’ll see Blixen make a run for it (the Judges will most likely interrogate Erika into revealing that she made copies of whatever the data slug contains) and who knows where we could go then. Maybe Ramage’s senseless death is supposed to be an indication that the Judges are going to rack up a body count in keeping their mysterious secret contained? That could make for a bit of a tragic tale, especially if the secret doesn’t reach the public. Whatever happens next will probably give us a better idea of the story’s direction. Another good episode this week.

 

Outlier (Part 3)

A bit of an unusual week for this story. Taking up the middle three pages this time, we get two featuring a flashback and one of Carcer and his client talking to each other. The latter’s a little silly since there’s no room at all to make it even slightly interesting, with both characters talking via hologram. It is your typically boring full page of exposition, right down to Carcer telling us that she’s lying. Meanwhile, the actual flashback scene would appear to simply be a set up for another one in the future, one in which I expect we’ll see exactly what happened to Caul and the other characters who were left to the mercy of the Hurde. If you care.

This is looking more and more like a straightforward revenge tale, and that’s quite a shame. Even the titular ship that I thought might be of some importance wouldn’t appear to be of any at all, little more than that which Caul was part of the crew of, now only a representation of the people that betrayed him, boohoo, etc. It would be nice if I’m wrong about this strip and it can still surprise me, though I won’t be getting my hopes up, particularly as Karl Richardson’s artwork, I’m afraid to say, continues to be unimpressive. Here we are at a game reserve on another planet and out in space, yet neither have any memorable qualities. Since we’ll still be on the planet in the next Prog, hopefully that means we’ll see a bit more of the jungle and finally something about this world will actually look kinda interesting. At least Caul had gorilla-like arms on the last pages, I suppose.

 

Slaine: A Simple Killing (Part 3)

Well, that was an unexpected two page spread to open this part of our story, wasn’t it? The first three pages of this week’s Prog are pretty good – rather odd certainly, but it’s quite interesting to see Slaine apparently having moved on from his dead wife in such a simple manner some time in the past, the memory perhaps being another indication of Pat Mills taking the character in a new direction, forgetting these things. Or is he? Though last week’s Prog had Slaine choosing not to kill the man who stole from the Goddess’ temple in the opening episode and he again considers leaving his pursuit of that man’s daughter or the sea devils who kidnapped her behind here in this chapter, she turns up anyway, apparently having escaped.

The thing is, last week took quite an unconventional turn by having Slaine meet Kark yet do nothing in the end, changing our perception of this series’ title, which seemed to suggest it’d be a run of the mill “To kill this guy, our hero must first jump through this hoop, and then another, and another after that – irony, folks!” kind of tale. So to see Slaine either being lured into a trap or finding himself in the position of having to help Sinead anyway, might suggest that things are to be on the straight and narrow from next week’s episode onwards. It’s hard to tell at this point obviously, but I do hope that Mills won’t have Slaine caught up in another supposedly epic tale that we’ve seen before and stick to what he’s been doing for these first three episodes because, for me at least, this bare bones approach to the character has been really fun so far and, missing some complicated plot or other, I’m not sure what to be expecting.

Artistically, I don’t know if I need bother for it speaks for itself. Yet again Simon Davis is acing the look of this series and I sincerely hope that he’ll be kept around for future story arcs. This week we get a mixture of lovely colour, starting with a very green opening spread, finding a page full of orange after that, and then some darker pages after that which have a lot of blues and purples. A treat for the eyes, I call it. The only particularly unusual thing about the art this week – and by “unusual”, I don’t mean in a bad way – is on the fourth page, where we see the moon behind Sinead’s head, which two separate panels are cut off with a crescent arc to either side of. There’s no lacking in the imagination of Davis, that’s for sure. Looking forward to more of this next week.

 

Sinister Dexter: Gun Shy (Part 3)

Apart from the slightly humorous Pastor, I pretty much have the same feelings about this as the last few weeks, which is to say I do not care and hope it ends swiftly. Just complete filler until we reach the next big story, and I shudder to think what that may be. It’s funny that this week’s cover of the duo is so exciting, yet the story inside so bland and uninteresting. However, we’re gearing up for the big fight soon (though it would not surprise me if next week’s episode is five pages more of stretching this out) so hopefully that will make it somewhat worthwhile in the end.

The art continues to be alright, but I really do believe that it’d look so much better in colour. Earlier this week I was actually going through some of my collection and came across a Judge Dredd story drawn by Smudge that was coloured and I think a similar look would suit this strip a lot more. Wouldn’t save the story itself from being total crap of course, but I probably wouldn’t let my eyes skim over the artwork compared to the rest of the current line-up.

 

Jaegir: Strigoi (Part 3)

Yep, still my favourite, which is quite strange because very little of importance happens this week, except that we’re given some subtle insight into Jaegir and her team members. What the point of this episode basically is is that, even when she’s given a new task, Jaegir doesn’t put the assignments she was previously working on on hold. Though many of her own people may hate her for it, this is her job and she’s fully committed to it. Where I can honestly say this week surprised me was in the way that she personally only brings her targets in alive, and only then because she needs to interrogate them in order to chase up another lead, but the other three that we see are rather brutally killed by the members of her team. For some reason I expected her to be taking everyone in alive to stand trial but it’s very suitable to see that she neither has the time for this or the means to do so because of their political standing, so has her team members dispatch of them through more discreet means.

Absolutely loving this strip, as dark as it may be. It’s taking its time, which I’m sure is bugging people as much as Dredd may be as well, but it has something to talk about week to week and I can’t wait to read what happens next, and probably after that too. All the while, Simon Coleby and Len O’Grady are still being a brilliant combination. To be honest, I’m actually so comfortable with how well these two are depicting this grim world that I’m having a difficult time imagining who else could possibly be doing the art and colouring for it, drawing a complete blank. When this is over and the second series begins I think it would be great if these two were still on board because they’re doing a great job at bringing Rennie’s story to life.

 

So that’s another fantastic Prog overall, though I am a little concerned that Outlier may not have any tricks up its sleeves after all, and that Slaine could be succumbing to a familiar storytelling pattern next week after these first three surprising episodes. Let’s hope not. Otherwise, Jaegir’s still on top for me, and Dredd is just behind.

Dredd: Underbelly Review

Hello again.

This is a bit of an interesting one we have today. Shortly before I renewed my subscription to 2000AD I saw that they were doing a limited reprint of this story, the first having sold out. It’s a one-shot unofficial sequel to the Dredd movie, written by Arthur Wyatt, whom I’m unfamiliar with (I think that he may have done a Future Shock or two as I collected the strip – either way, he’s a fairly recent addition), and drawn by Henry Flint, who changes the look of the uniforms and city we’re used to to match the film. The thing is, I bought it thinking that the reason the first print run sold out completely was because that was the only format in which it was collected, it being a special kind of one-off story to promote the petition for a sequel to the film. The fact that it was printed in your American-sized comic format instead of 2000AD or the Megazine’s only strengthened this notion, it being printed that way to reach a wider audience.

But that isn’t the case at all, for this story actually started life in Megazine 340 and ended in 342. Indeed, I have these Megazine’s, having purchased a lot of back issues over the past two weeks (starting all the way back at 332, meaning I have a lot of posts that I’ll be writing before I actually catch up with this week’s Megazine 347), so I accidentally wasted my money on this reprint in a way. The only real difference, in fact, is its exclusive cover by Jock, which you can see below, though the printing itself is also of a higher quality, more glossy in feel than 2000AD’s and the Megazine’s, and when compared to my copies of Sandman Overture, there’s far less adverts, only two separate pages breaking up the story from beginning to end.

IMG_0766

To be honest, I do actually like this version of the cover a bit more than Henry Flint’s for the Megazine and first print of the story as a one-shot (below), though it is quite great too with its effect of having shot the fourth wall. Either way, both almost fully silhouette Dredd, making him look quite menacing indeed and, of course, the film’s uniform looks quite wonderful.

Megazine 340

If you’re unfamiliar with either 2000AD or the Megazine, I’ve got a comparison in size between the two formats, if you’re curious about how much bigger these British comics are.

Megazine / American-sized comic comparison

As you can see, although they’re only a little taller, they are significantly wider. Though you might think it to be the case, the art is thankfully unaffected in the smaller-sized reprint. There’s absolutely nothing missing – it’s all just condensed along with the word balloons to fit the page, as you can see below, with the reprint being on the left and the original format on the right. Note that the reprint has a black border at the bottom of the page unlike the original printing of the story.

In-comic size comparison

Interestingly enough, 2000AD seem to be really pushing these American-sized comics out the door (this was the first, by the way), with Brass Sun and Ordinary both seeing monthly issues in the same format quite soon. Though I do have Ordinary (you can see it starts in Megazine 340 on the cover) I may pre-order at least the first issue for a signed copy by Rob Williams and D’Israeli, two of 2000AD’s better writers and artists, but also because these will apparently be special editions of sorts according to William’s blog, with scripts, character designs and pin-ups from other artists. Incidentally, Ordinary is one of the Meg’s creator-owned strips and this American-sized format that’s on its way is not advertised on 2000AD’s official website like Brass Sun, being published by a company called Titan Comics, so it may just be Williams and D’Israeli pushing this to a wider audience themselves. Whatever the case, if Brass Sun either has a signed pre-order or nice extras like that, I may buy it too instead of waiting until the end of the year for the hardcover edition of the series to be released. Damn my impatience and sudden need for signed stuff!

But, yeah, 2000AD did make an announcement over Twitter only yesterday that their comic would be getting sold in newsagents –  *ahem* – I mean, news stands over in New York, so it does seem that these attempts to broaden their audience are working in their favour. Who knows? If a Dredd sequel finally happens, I can imagine the comic becoming even more popular, something which I’m sure would benefit everyone. Right now I am certainly noticing that they’re not only pushing out these monthly editions of stories, but are bringing back things like the Summer Special to 2000AD, and have a lot more hardcover graphic novels lined up for release in the future than usual, some of which are even oversized. Not to mention the fact that the American publisher, IDW, have been releasing new interpretations of 2000AD characters, Judge Dredd and Rogue Trooper most notably. Although I haven’t read what the consensus is on these from long time fans of the comic, I am looking to pick up the trade paperback of Mega City Two, as it’s written by Douglas Wolk, a man who knows his shit about the Dredd universe.

But I digress. My point is that the comic is quite clearly doing very well for itself, those in charge having upped their game considerably. Hell, when I bought my one copy of the Megazine years ago, they didn’t throw in supplementary graphic novels with each copy then, yet they do now. They certainly seem more confident, if nothing else. Alright, with all that nonsense out the way, we can finally get to the review.

 

Well, after all this build up – really just an excuse for testing what future reviews may look like using my own images – I have bad news: it’s not actually that good. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t have ridiculously high expectations for it or anything, but I do feel that it suffers immensely from such a short length. The problem is very clear. In the first two episodes the story is pretty standard stuff, but you’re enjoying it because it does feel like its set in the Mega City One of the film, taking some cues from there with some nods to the comics themselves too (Anderson, for instance, cracks a sarcastic line in response to Dredd’s simple acknowledgement of her presence), and there’s some interesting little developments taking place. “This could be pretty good”, you’re thinking. And then it ends abruptly on the third episode, trying to squeeze the remaining plot threads in at once, though failing very much to impress.

If I’m being perfectly honest, however, then I must say that, even if it were a little longer, I’m still not sure that it’d be any good, and this is mostly due to Arthur Wyatt’s writing. Though I imagine his script was quite specific about the feel of the city that Henry Flint was to convey, and though he gets that much right, he does unfortunately rely far too heavily on the film in my opinion. By the end of the first episode it’s revealed that mutants from the Cursed Earth are being killed within the walls of the city, having been smuggled in, and that seems like it could make for an interesting story, especially with Anderson being quite naturally involved. But in the last two episodes we find out that they’re being brought in to the city as cheap slave labour to produce a new drug called Psych, which has filled in the gap left by Slo Mo – which, by the way, he tries to show the effect of one page, which works as well as you think in a comic: it’s terrible – and all I could think was: really? Throw in a psychotic woman as one of two villains for the sake of it – Dredd even kills her spouting a similar badass line as he does Ma Ma – and a dreadful final page of Anderson making Dredd question his perception of justice – something vaguely hinted at in the film – and it feels like this was a bit of a waste in the story department, nabbing ideas from the film but doing very little of its own.

In fact, doing the complete opposite would have been my preference. Break all ties with the film’s story and simply make it a Dredd tale based on the world we saw in the film, that’s what I say. As the world we saw there is much closer to our own, I think it would be quite interesting to see some satirical Dredd tales we find in the comic so very often re-told in this world, creating a different spin on them. Take the mutants. Like in the film, we see some graffiti here that’s none-too-friendly towards them. That goes for the comic too, but only to a certain extent when compared with the film. For example, Dredd doesn’t curl his nose in disgust at news of Anderson being psychic like he does in the film because no Psi Judge in the comics – to my knowledge anyway – have ever been called muties or anything, their powers having been seen as incredibly useful, at least until the recent events in Day of Chaos. Yet the film has the world take a stance against them not unlike racial prejudice, which opens a whole number of possibilities, none of which are sadly bothered with here except in the final page, where those mutants that were smuggled in to the city are sent back out into the Cursed Earth.

So with a sequel to this strip on its way (which I’ll briefly mention at the end), I really do hope that Wyatt can come up with something a little better, something that takes the film’s world and builds a story around it, taking advantage of its differences. Either take an existing idea that’s been explored before and tell it in this new light, or do something different entirely, like focusing on the poverty of the world’s citizens. But for god’s sake, don’t go to such extremes at tying your strip to the film that you retread some of what we saw there.

Now, Henry Flint. It pains me to say this, but I thought he was quite inconsistent here, which surprised me with him being one of the best artists that 2000AD has. In fact, if I may go so far, I would say that there isn’t a single strip drawn by him that I can think of as being quite poor – the guy’s just amazing like that. Though this isn’t downright awful or anything, it is quite easily the poorest work of his that I’ve personally seen. For all that’s really good in every page or so, there’s something that sticks out as being quite horrible. For example, there’s a beautiful shot of the Hall of Justice that we saw in the film taking up half a page but to the right of this several panels, the last of which has Dredd, Anderson and the Chief Judge looking at photography of a mass grave that’s been found. However, it’s hard to tell this is the case because there’s no good indication in either the art or colouring that we’re looking at photographs, the image seemingly taking up an entire wall in the Chief Judge’s office. A black border that indicates we’re looking at a monitor, or even some static lines would have sufficed. You’ll notice some weird things like that and some poor looking characters throughout this short tale, making it imperfect as far as art goes.

That said, Flint’s shots of anything to do with the city itself look amazing. It really does look like what little we saw of the city in the film, my favourite image being that of the last page. Here we find Dredd and Anderson watching from one of the walls surrounding the city as the smuggled mutants are led back out into the Cursed Earth. However, unlike how we see these gates in the comics, there’s a settlement of much smaller buildings, shacks possibly, sitting just outside these gates, really reminding me of racial segregation of olde which I think would look great in the film. There’s even barbed wire fencing to either side of this poor district that forces the homes into following a linear path to apparently dissuade anyone from attempting to find a weak spot in the walls of Mega City One, a very nice touch indeed. Add Chris Blythe’s rather bleak colouring for this story and you’ve got the look of the film here on the pages of the comic. Great stuff.

Overall though, not quite the story I was hoping for when I pre-ordered this. However, it has been announced that Wyatt will be back with another of these. It will again be published in the Megazine before getting a US-sized edition, and will be called Uprise, featuring art from one Paul Davidson, who I believe I’m unfamiliar with, instead of Henry Flint. It will apparently be slightly longer than Underbelly so hopefully that means there’s a bigger plan in mind this time. Whatever it may be, all I really wish is for it to be a more original take on the film’s version of the world because that really is what this should have been.

Coming up next, I’ll have a review of this week’s Prog up now that this Wednesday’s arrived earlier this morning (I’m trying not to review them as soon as I get them because then I’ll be waiting until next Saturday, though maybe later), and hopefully I’ll have chosen some graphic novel to read fairly soon after. Alternatively, I might start reviewing the Megazine to catch up with the one coming out this week, I dunno. Ach, I’ll come up with something. Until then.

Why Dredd (3D) Is One Of My Favourite Films Of All Time

When a friend told me of this film’s existence I recoiled in horror. It’s true. A complete contradiction of the title of course, so I think I should probably explain how little my hopes were for this film before I pile a ridiculous amount of praise upon it.

My friend isn’t a Judge Dredd fan like I am – not a fan of any comic for that matter – and I don’t believe had ever heard of 2000AD, where that character has appeared in almost every single Prog. He did know that the character was based on that in a comic because he’d seen the Stallone film like I had, the difference between us on the mention of that movie being that he enjoyed it. At the time I believe I ranted at him about this, a bit unfair of me seeing as he wouldn’t have had any idea what the fuck I was talking about when I said things like, “Bah! They tried to squeeze in characters from the Judge Child Saga for no good reason!” or “What the hell is Dredd doing taking his helmet off?!?” The latter complaint is one of those small things that peeved me off about the film – something that sounds really daft to anyone who isn’t at all familiar with the character – but, in general, it’s the multitude of big things that annoyed me. Ironically, though, these elements of the film that I whinged about the most probably made it sound very faithful to the source material with all of its references to actual stories. The problem is that it tries to do all of these things, make this complex story out of it all, but ends up doing very little.

So as soon as I heard there was a reboot on the way I did indeed flinch at the thought. When my friend told me that it would be in 3D and have all these slow motion sequences too, my anticipation plummeted further, being cynical about the former and not even bothering to imagine what the latter might be like. When I saw the short trailers on TV when the film was close to being released I was even less impressed. What had they done with the eagle? Where was all the hovering vehicles? Why were they showing off the ending in a goddamn trailer? And so, I never saw it in cinemas, instead seeing the amazingly crap The Dark Knight Rises as my comic book film that year, and never found out that it received a lot of praise from fans of the comic. It was, in my mind, probably very crap.

Last year my dad got hold of a copy from someone at his work. For some reason, even though I now own it on blu-ray, he still hasn’t seen it. But I reluctantly decided to check it out when he brought it home, all pessimistic and promising to give him a good moan about it. Instead, I loved it. It’s not only my favourite comic book adaptation of all time, but one of my favourite films of all time too, full stop. Here is why.

 

IT’S CLEVER

It seems to me that a lot of comic book films aren’t very smart. They like to really raise the stakes, but often do so too high, shooting themselves in the foot at some point or other by creating a plot hole or two, or following inane logic for the sake of some fancy sequence or other, etc. Logic is the key word of that sentence because, no, I don’t mean that these types of films should be more realistic, if that’s what you’re thinking. In fact, that’s very often the thing that gets them in trouble. But all fiction (that isn’t a parody, I guess) does need a good reason for why the character’s find themselves in a certain situation or do certain things, otherwise our suspension of disbelief suddenly snaps and we’re no longer as engrossed in what we’re watching like we were before, if at all. Not so in Dredd. There is a logical reason for everything that happens in this film, and I’ll try to explain why that’s so brilliant.

Back when I was still playing my Playstation 3 a sequel was released to a game called Uncharted 2, and I was very much looking forward to it after all the time I’d spent playing the first two games. This third game, however, was crap and I think the reason why it was so poor could best be explained by the writing process. How they built this third entry into the series was by thinking of these massive set pieces first, and only then building a story that ties them together afterwards. As you can imagine, this did not work, with characters making irrational choices and doing a lot of stupid things, the pace also losing its momentum along the way, all for the excuse of dumping them in this silly situation or other.

The reason I bring this up is that Dredd has a lot of action sequences of its own, but it doesn’t feel like the script was written around them or anything like that. What’s actually very admirable about the film is that it feels like we follow our two lead characters and, based on their actions, they land in a situation, and then respond to it appropriately. The whole film is about these two Judges pushing their way through to the top of this city block, Peach Trees, but along the way they’re forced to retreat and hide in addition to simply fighting back, quite naturally even running low on ammo by the end, and it all just makes sense, including the reason why they’re stuck in this block in the first place, which brings me to my next point.

 

IT’S NOT YOUR TYPICAL FILM

This is a really interesting thing about Dredd in comparison to the version Stallone starred in. The biggest mistake in that film, as I say, is that they tried to do way too much, basically messing everything up instead of creating the exciting story that they thought they were. This isn’t just a trapping a bunch of comic book adaptations fall into, but films in general, particularly action-heavy ones that feel like they must prove that they’re not just about all the explosions or something. Not so with Dredd again. I mean, it does prove itself amazing, but it doesn’t try to reach for the stars and then grab all the fucking stars greedily, shoving them in your face. This is an action film set almost entirely within a city block, for god’s sake. Just think about that for a moment, and then think of the last action film that you saw and how it most likely had this convoluted story and the type of characters that are spelled out to you in the kind of setting built for impressive looking set pieces. Not Dredd.

Early on we do find Anderson staring at a picture of her family, and we do see her read Dredd’s mind, for example, but at no point do either of them deliver a monologue about their life as violins play in the background. Hell, the titular character, promoted on most posters of the films, the guy who we’re arguably meant to know the most, never takes off his helmet once. How weird is that? Not strange enough? Well, the set-up for the story itself is simple too. It’s thickly layered, which I’ll talk about in a moment, but the concept itself is this: Dredd takes rookie psychic Anderson out on assignment; she decides they should investigate a triple homicide; shortly after arriving at the scene they’re sealed in the block by drug lord Ma Ma and must fight for their lives. That’s it. Seriously. It’s practically unheard of, especially for an action film. For one that had a smaller budget than most, it’s pretty brave of them as well.

Yet, although a few critics have found what they believe is fault with this simplistic approach – somewhat missing the point of Dredd’s line, “The perps were…uncooperative”, at the end, I might add – it’s actually something that makes it really unique. Not only is it a lot more fun action movie than most with this bare-bones mindset – more original, I’d go as far as to argue – it also gives them the breathing space to explore all manner of interesting things, but they do so in quite the fascinating way.

 

IT’S SUBTLE

And here we are at my favourite thing about the film. So many fucking movies treat the audience like they’re idiots, injecting themselves with heavy doses of exposition in case you’re too stupid to get it. You will find no such bullshit here, and I love the people who made this film for it. True, it’s not got as complicated a plot when compared to something like Inception, a film in which the characters explain everything that’s going on through dialogue whenever they can, but neither does it make it blatantly obvious how characters are feeling at a particular moment, nor does it tell you how you should feel about them, the latter of which I think is key for a Judge Dredd film. A brief monologue delivered by Karl Urban at the start of the film, for example, explains who the Judges are and what they do for those who aren’t fans of the comics, but at no point does a character confront Dredd or Anderson and rhetorically ask them if they think they’re doing what’s best for the people or anything silly like that in the obvious interest of making you ponder on that thought too.

The clearest example of this film’s alternate approach is when Anderson is forced to execute a dying man because “the sentence is death” for “the attempted murder of a Judge”, a quite shocking act in and of itself, but made more murky when she shortly thereafter learns that this man was a husband and father to the woman who lets them hide in her apartment. Where the subtlety enters is as she’s riding in an elevator with Dredd after this scene, and I would point out that this is for less than thirty seconds. Clearly Anderson’s having a difficult time coping with this and perhaps we in the audience are wondering what we should be thinking of her too. But it’s the fact that she turns to Dredd in this seconds-long scene and finds him staring at her that’s really amazing. The guy’s constantly wearing his helmet so you can’t see his eyes – just that bloody big frown – but we know from Anderson’s expression that he was sizing her up, judging her poorly. So when he contrasts an early scene of the film by telling her “You look ready” near the end of the film, in addition to hesitating in following her after she more or less tells him to fuck off when she lets a “perp” go free to his protests, we find that the two characters have gradually developed over the course of the film and in the end is why Dredd gives her a pass, despite the fact that she was disarmed at one point, which should have made her a fail. Amazing or what?

But I digress. There is so much subtlety in this film, and I haven’t even mentioned the things you can learn about the world. Some details about the city is communicated through dialogue – though not in an inappropriate way like a school teacher explaining something to you very delicately – but you do need to pay attention to see the bulk of it. The best perspective to take in order to understand what I’m talking about is by looking at what we see of the Judges in the film – their weapons, their technology, their bikes, etc. – and comparing this with the citizen’s. We know a lot of them are unemployed but it’s only through really looking at the small touches that we can see the true economic gap between the two, like most of the vehicles we see them using being very similar to one another, suggesting they’re the most affordable, whilst the block itself is covered in graffiti and has elevators that don’t work properly. The two youngest children we see even join in on the fray against the Judges in a desperate attempt to make something of themselves or their families, though end up stunned by Dredd to serve time in Iso Cubes. This is a world so constantly moving that food courts are only shut for a brief period of time after a shootout, no care paid to the people who were killed, the bodies of whom aren’t even moved before someone comes along to clean up their blood, just so they can reopen the place. Again: it’s amazing stuff and I could frankly talk about all these tiny little things all day.

 

That’s my three big reasons why the film is so glorious, but there’s a lot of smaller ones too, some of which weren’t exactly necessary but do make it even more memorable, and I’ll go through these very quickly.

 

IT’S A FILM FANS OF THE COMICS WILL LOVE

The original version borrowed a lot of ideas from the comics which someone like my friend who I ranted about it at might take to mean that it was a faithful adaptation. Though I did like some of what they threw in – the block war that opens the film and the Chief Judge taking the Long Walk for instance – this is better. The line that I suggested those critics who called the story too simplistic missed – “The perps were…uncooperative” – sums up the trials Dredd and Anderson face in a nutshell: it is just a typical day in the life of of a Judge. Of course, god knows there’s that temptation of wanting the Apocalypse War or another of the big epics on screen, but I think it’s much better that they chose a pretty standard idea for at least this first film yet, if I’m being perfectly honest, I wouldn’t mind if they did so again because, small in scope or not, it felt like I was watching a film set in Mega City One, and the characters felt like they ought to, which is all that matters to me.

Being written so well despite the rather uncomplicated set-up, it should come as no surprise that the humour is very much what you would expect too, either satirical, quite dark or using the violence itself as humour, a homeless man being crushed by the closing blast doors of the block. Yep, it’s as violent as you’d hope for it to be, unapologetically so with a head being literally blown into pulp by Anderson near the end as an example. Hell, I was surprised when Dredd didn’t kill the kids who tail him and Anderson since, when I was collecting the comic, the guy shot down an unarmed, very young skysurfer, who was less than fourteen years of age if I recall correctly. But believe me – though he lets them live, everyone else who is in path is shot down. Fuck knows what his body count is by the end.

It’s always nice when things are said from the comics in a casual manner too – “bodies for Resyk” as an example – or we familiar with it notice things like the curse, “Drokk!”, written on the back of a jacket, a Fattie lying dead by his belliwheel and or Chopper’s scrawl, things that aren’t easter eggs but simply part of the world that our attention doesn’t have to be drawn to. Truly a film that fans can cherish.

 

IT PORTRAYS WOMEN REALLY WELL

This may not have bothered everyone if it weren’t the case but it would’ve annoyed me. Not just Judge Dredd, but the whole of 2000AD is guest to many amazing writers, and one of the great things I can’t help to have noticed in my collection of it is that it’s very rare of a writer to come along and treat the sexes unequally. Thankfully, that isn’t the case here either. That the film has a female lead in Anderson, played by Olivia Thirlby, and doesn’t try to differentiate her in appearance – well, she doesn’t wear her helmet like Dredd, but there’s a perfectly logical reason for that – from the other lead character, who is a man, is quite surprising itself. When I was told of the film I pictured them hiring some blonde beauty to play as Anderson and playing her up as pure sex appeal instead of as the Anderson we all love and know. But they did not and, even though a perp who’s dragged around for most of the film pictures the two of them in a sexually violent manner, it’s neither for very long or exploitative, Anderson in fact turning the tables on him, making him piss himself.

The third main character would be Ma Ma, played by Lena Headey, famous for her role as Cersei in Game of Thrones. Uh, yeah, her role could not possibly be more different here, though it’s still incredibly performed and is an excellent character. Put it this way though: where Cersei does use her looks as a means of getting her way, Ma Ma bites off a guy’s cock in the flashback sequence that introduces her and from that point onwards is depicted as a downright psychopath. In another contrast between the two, where Cersei is always keeping up physical appearances by having her handmaids wash her, do her hair and help her select dresses, Ma Ma has a nasty scar on the side of her face and has the look of a total drug addict, her bath scene not sexual in nature but oddly beautiful as she takes some of her own drug, Slo Mo. Hopefully they have as brilliant and genuinely original female characters in a sequel.

 

IT LOOKS AND SOUNDS BEAUTIFUL

Okay, so I’m partly guessing on this one since I haven’t seen it in 3D, having foolishly skipped the film when it came out. However, even on blu-ray, it’s pretty obvious where the 3D would have kicked in: during those breathtaking slow motion sequences. Oh yes, the slow motion isn’t the horror I imagined it to be at all – it is stunning. Never has a guy getting shot through the side of the mouth, exposing his teeth, looked so amazing, a sentence I never expected to say. Christ, don’t even get me started on how gorgeous Ma Ma’s fall that ends the film is or I will never end this post. Yet even when it’s not in slow motion, there’s just sheer beauty to this urban wasteland as we either take some time to breathe as Dredd and Anderson make their way through the well-designed and thought of block unmolested, or we’re caught in another explosive gunfight, which incidentally are more varied than you’d think.

That the soundtrack fits well in all situations makes it all the easier to find yourself totally engrossed in the film, the track for Anderson realising that she killed the husband of the woman who helps her and Dredd being as regretfully sad as you’d expect; the track for the slow motion sequences being these beautiful things where voices sing in the background; and the tracks for all the action sequences being these loud, pulse pounding beasts that would fit really well in some video games that I can think of. All of that, with some changing of words, could be said about the excellent sound design too, if you were wondering. But the soundtrack itself is one you’re going to want on the musical device of your choice, that’s for sure.

 

And that is why I bought the limited edition hardcover of the forthcoming screenplay for fifty quid…I think. Maybe I’m just crazy, splashing out that much money for a signed book, I dunno. It is the first limited edition book that I’ve bought on purpose though (I own two Daredevil books that have an exclusive variant cover you don’t find on regular copies, but I didn’t know that when I picked them up) so it’s kind of neat that I did so for a film I love dearly. There is a remaining 200 copies that will be available for purchase from other retailers, only those on 2000AD’s website having sold out already (in three days, I believe, so I was lucky I paid for mine fairly quickly) if you were looking to pick it up, and I highly recommend doing so if you love this film as much as I do because the artist who signs it, Jock, actually drew a whole comic to match the script, which I’m betting will look rather amazing indeed. Obviously I’ll be reviewing it once I get my grubby mitts on it, with pictures most likely seeing as it’s a numbered copy too. Sadly, that’s three months off. Boooo!

In the meantime, the reprint of Dredd: Underbelly, the comic book sequel to the film – though let’s all hope an actual film sequel will be happening sooner or later – arrived on my doorstep earlier this week, so I’ll have a review up for that soon, especially since a sequel to that, uh, sequel is coming to the Megazine again shortly. Until then.