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.

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One thought on “Dredd: Underbelly Review

  1. Pingback: The Great Judge Dredd Megazine Catch Up, Part 1: Introduction and Favourite Covers | Jordan Smith

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