The Great Judge Dredd Megazine Catch Up, Part 2: Favourite One-Off’s & Short Stories

Since this is a post that could get easily complicated, I’ve divided my choice of these shorter stories under different headings to make for easier reading. What qualifies for a short story, in my made up book because this is my blog, are those that are one to three episodes long. Those any longer than that can be found in the next post. See you then, and do note that all images are property of their respective owners, and not I.

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JUDGE DREDD ONE-OFF’S

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Tough Love by John Wagner and Ben Willsher (Megazine 334)

This was a comedy and one of the very rare few that had me laugh aloud throughout. Usually it’s a punchline or joke that gets me at the end of a more comical strip, or something particularly funny can elicit a snort of laughter at some point; but I usually just read them with a smile on my face. So imagine my surprise when I found myself chuckling at almost every page of this.

The story’s about a gay man Rojer Golightly’s (*snort*) infatuation with Judge Dredd, an unrequited love that sees him sent to a rehabilitation camp out in the Cursed Earth to be “fixed”. On the second page there’s a reference to an old Brian Bolland illustrated strip about a guy who catches the eye of a Judge and lands himself in trouble, ending with another citizen keeping his head down and telling himself to keep walking past the imposing figures, but this has a very different message in mind.

It was published in April of last year, which means that Rob William’s Closet, similarly focusing on a homosexual character, was released a few months before. Though I’m to understand that Williams’ story is also quite funny (there was some stupid controversy-seeking headlines over what appeared to be Dredd kissing Williams’ gay character, but I believe that it’s one of many people dressed like Dredd in a Judge-themed nightclub, which is simply brilliant), I believe it was also quite serious in tone too, whereas this is just an outright laugh, light-hearted at first, but ultimately ending in a typically dark fashion of Wagner’s with poor Golightly being thrown in a special kind of Iso-Cube, one where he’s electrocuted every time he tells a hologram of Dredd that he loves him. Ah, but the Judges truly are bastards. There’s a message there too I suppose (this article on the ways in which 2000AD has predicted the future in the past is worth a frightening read), but none as serious as William’s honest take on a young teenager realising he’s gay.

Easily one of my favourite Dredd one-off’s of all time either way, both for the humour and dark point in the end. My number one funniest Dredd one-off for a long time has been PF, a story also written by Wagner (in Prog 1476, illustrated by Arthur Ranson), but I think this  may have overthrown that strip for the amount of laughs. And bless Ben Willsher’s artwork on this (he gets an insightful interrogation in issue 336 if you’re interested) – I don’t think I’ll ever forget the hallucination that Golightly sees of Dredd throwing his head back to the sky and yelling, “Damn it, why can’t I quit you?” Simply brilliant.

Shotgun by Michael Carroll and John Burns (Megazine 335)

Heard some great things about Carroll prior to reading this (he is indeed quite the prolific writer, boasting a large bibliography in comics alone, although I would only have read his one Time Twister in the Prog as I was collecting it) and though I had my doubts for several pages, I have to say that the twist in the end of this one-off – which appeared to be a simple case of a woman robbing a bank to make up for money lost during the Day of Chaos – was absolutely brilliant and a real surprise. With the back issues of 2000AD in 2013 to be read when I’m back from holiday and the most recent Progs themselves, where he has a story start in no. 1883, I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for this guy, who does appear to be fairly popular with fans on the forums.

The art, on the other hand, was an odd choice. Don’t get me wrong, John Burns is an incredibly talented artist and I probably prefer his style of painting to that of Simon Davis’ overall; but, although I’ve never read this interview myself, he did talk with David Bishop in issue 224 of the Megazine about how much he hated drawing science fiction stories, with this snippet (which I’m taking from an entry in Douglas Wolk’s Dredd Reckoning blog) on Judge Dredd strips in particular: “I hate drawing Judge Dredd, I really do!… It’s just his outfit. If you were to wear something like that in real life, you wouldn’t be able to move!” It’s true – the uniform and bikes of the Judges (though this does somewhat depend on the artist) aren’t theoretically possible to use in the real world, hence the changes made to both in the recent film – and it really shows that he doesn’t enjoy trying to make it look functional, especially when compared to his work on Nikolai Dante where his artwork has constantly shined.

So, yeah, perhaps a bit of a poor choice there, although I’d really need to see more of his work on the character to make a fairer judgement.

 Downside by T.C. Eglington and Boo Cook (Megazine 338)

This is a story that starts out with a curious splash page of Dredd falling to his doom alongside a bunch of perps (see it in all its glory below), an attention grabbing opener to say the least. What follows is told in a non-linear structure, gradually explaining what’s going on. There’s no twist to what’s happening but it makes for a brilliant, fun tale with some of the best artwork from Boo Cook that I’ve ever seen. At the best of times, such as in the prologue to Harry Kipling (Deceased) his artwork is jaw dropping, yet other times I find that it looks quite rushed, lacking in detail. This is one of the better times, and what I particularly loved about it – besides the dynamic movement of everyone as they plummet to the ground below –  was the bright colour palette, which is lovely on the eyes.

Best of all, however, is that Boing! makes an appearance. Haven’t seen that used in quite a long time, making it an old school-like tale (one may even get a flashback to Fergie tumbling with Judge Cal and his cohorts to their deaths in The Day The Law Died’s final episode come to think of it). Actually, as far as I’m concerned, this and at least Tough Love above could well be modern classic Dredd one-off’s – they’re simply that good. And that’s really funny because running in the Meg straight after this is an Interrogation with Eglington in which I found out how recent an addition he was to the 2000AD team at the time, this tale being his second published Dredd story, amazingly enough. A very fun tale, though judging from the poor quality of Outlier and his sequel to a one-off story called Gamma Tan (which you can briefly read about below) that’s to be concluded in the Megazine in issue 349 (having started in 347) in June, he’s fairly inconsistent at the moment. So long as he can push out more stories like this in the future, however, those can be forgotten.

Welp, Dredd’s screwed!

 Duty Calls by Alec Worley, Ben Willsher and Gary Caldwell (Megazine 342)

A bit of an unexpected one, this. The art and colouring is perfect – I’ll get that out the way now. Not everyone’s a fan of Willsher’s rough style but I love it, and I believe this is the first I’ve seen of Caldwell’s colouring, which was also great. No, it’s Worley’s script that’s perhaps a little unusual. Although these past few one-offs I’ve selected have had nasty parts to them, none are quite as unflinchingly brutal as this. It starts with Dredd sneaking up on the wrong sniper, a Judge by the name of Garrick who, after Dredd’s interruption, is too slow to stop the real sniper both men are hunting from blowing the head off of a Judge on the street below. The violence is generally calmer from that point onwards, being a dangerous hunting game between the sniper – a former Judge of Texas City – and Dredd and Garrick, but in the end Garrick forces Dredd to use a hi-ex round on him to take out the sniper that’s taken him hostage, sacrificing his life.

Add the terrible heat of the day this story’s set on and you’ve got a rather harsh tale on your hands, the setting of a whole ruined Sector roaming with cannibals also being a constant, cruel reminder of Chaos Day. It’s excellent, gratuitous though it may be. Simply one of many sad, violent days in Dredd’s long career, which I thought served as a nice reminder of the unhappy realities of his world.

Donner & Blitzin’ by Michael Carroll, Duane Leslie and Eva De La Cruz (Megazine 343)

This is a fun Christmas special (even though the issue was released in January of this year, that’s when it would appear to have been completed since its the next issue, according to Matt Smith, that’s the first of 2014) about Dredd, another Judge, and two Cadets going on a crime blitz through a former Judge Florence Donner’s apartment in the hope of finding reason to evict her so that they can demolish her block, she being the one resident standing in the way. Meanwhile, some thugs are planning to break into a nearby prison to release a guy who knows the whereabouts of six million credits, but panic when they realise they’re sharing the block with Judges, and go to the old woman’s apartment of all the faithful places to take her hostage, thus causing utter mayhem, the two Cadets dying in the line of duty, and Donner having to save Dredd’s life, an act which he repays by arresting her for possession and unauthorised use of a weapon, thereby safely scheduling her building for demolishment. Merry Christmas!

Yeah, I really liked this chaotic tale and the ending, as you can tell, was very true to the spirit of the character. The art’s by a chap making his debut and it’s pretty great for the most part, only the expressions and builds of characters a little poor in places. Hopefully we’ll see more from him in the future anyway – the more talented writers and artists, the better!

The Man Comes Around by Rob Williams, R.M. Guera and Giulia Brusco (Megazine 344)

This is a brilliant one off – my favourite of them all actually – in which Dredd’s inner monologue features rather heavily, insisting that, old or not, he won’t be beaten by the state of his own body; scarred, battered, ravaged by cancer and with a bionic pair of eyes in place of real ones though it may be. Yet he comes close in this tale, he and all the other Judges that attempt to surround a perp holding people hostage succumbing to the gas he releases in the air, which makes them obey his every command. Only Dredd – a man who once smashed his fist into the face of a Dark Judge, a sight which should have brought him death – could and does fight back, strangling this fucker with bombs strapped to his chest before throwing him out a window, telling the Justice Department’s satellite cover operatives to “atomise him”. Old man or not, he’s still a bad ass.

But there is one moment where, amongst all the gas, he finds himself facing a dark horse, its body scarred like his. It’s a hallucination of course (the strip ends on a comedic note with Dredd, unconvinced, asking control to search all animal ownership records for the block), though interestingly enough not one made because of the gas, the paramedics assuring him that he shouldn’t have any with his bionic eyes. But it’s real to him. It’s an obvious reference to the four horses of the apocalypse, the title practically the same as that of a Johnny Cash song (just with a “When” as the first word) about “the man”, that is God, coming to earth to judge people for their sins on the day of our reckoning, so it’s a nice comparison being made to Dredd’s city having collapsed around him recently in wake of Chaos Day, an event apocalyptic in both physical devastation and his usually untouchable conscience, although the focus that Williams drew from the song would mainly appear to be mortality.

Indeed, this is another script by Williams putting the poor old guy through the grinder, something he appears to have been in the habit of doing around this time, with another story called Titan – that I’ll be catching up with after my holiday – seeing him getting the shit beaten out of him I believe. Yet in this story its his inner Dredd voice I really have to commend, reading quite like Frank Miller’s interpretation of an old Batman in The Dark Knight Returns, all commanding the body to work properly and contemplating the soul. If you’re not planning on getting these issues of the Megazine, then you should at least read the script for this on Williams’ site, giving you a good idea of his thought process behind the one-off and a good look at his edgy dialogue.

Anyway, the other thing this story has going for it really strongly is the art, which I’ve selected the first page of to break up this entry below. It’s by a European artist named R.M. Guera and it’s utterly amazing. Okay, so he doesn’t quite capture the outdoor setting that we see, lots of tall, thin spires taking up the skyline instead of thick, cylinder-like shaped buildings; but he gets the uniform, Lawgiver, and so on down really well, and Dredd in particular just looks great, like a properly old man should, visibly tired and sweaty from exhaustion throughout the story. There is one oddity I’d like to point out however, which I can honestly not recall seeing in any other tale, and that’s the fact that you can clearly see Dredd’s eyes through his visor at one point (possibly twice, but I think the first time is actually just a reflection of the horse’s eyes against his visor). Comparing it with the script, you can see that it’s not something Williams was specific about at all, meaning this was all Guera, which is certainly quite interesting, particularly since I’m sure Williams must have explained to him when discussing the story that you never get a good like behind that helmet when it comes to the lead character. And if it were another tale I may complained about it, but it actually seemed quite appropriate in this instance, seeing as the captions were very personal from Dredd’s perspective.

Overall, it’s a perfect tale, and I would love to see Williams convince Guera to do several more one-off’s with him at the very least, though obviously something longer would be even nicer. The writer’s certainly a big fan of this artist, having written this tale “specifically for [him]” according to his blog, so here’s hoping, eh?

Old man Dredd getting ready for another day of the job

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THE OTHER ONE-OFF’S

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Bob Byrne’s Twisted Tales (Megazine’s 335 and 338)

Absolutely adore these silent strips, having been there when they first appeared in the Prog and had the pleasure to read the first seven if several websites are to be trusted with Prog numbers. Those were surprisingly difficult to wrap one’s head around on a first read as I recall, but neither of these are quite the same, although they still absolutely excel at storytelling. Since I’m not sure what’s to be said of them without spoiling anything, here’s a link to a page from the first, which Byrne calls The Teddy on his blog, where you can compare the finished page to his sketches. The rest of his website’s got some good stuff there too worth checking out.

Anyway, though these are still very few in number when taken as a whole with their six pages each, I really hope that when these accumulate to a large enough number they’ll be collected in the one book, because they’re astonishingly good every damn time and a very fun read. How anyone could not love these is simply beyond all my understanding.

 Tales From The Black Museum: Mom V.S. Food by Alec Worley and Joel Carpenter (Megazine 339)

Ah, the last I read one of these was in Megazine 245, the second of them to be published, the series having started the issue before. They’re dark little tales set within Mega City One, the museum itself found somewhere within the Grand Hall of Justice, where the curator, Henry Dubble (who I’m sure was human in the one-off I read, but now appears to be possessed), tells us the story behind a relic of an old crime. The one I read was about a malfunctioning Heatseeker round responsible for unsolved murders – a clever little story but not terribly dark. This? Oh, yeah, this is nasty alright. According to his website, it’s the third of these that Worley’s written and hopefully not the last if he can maintain such balance between comedy and horror.

It’s about a mother who finds herself disgusted by the chemicals that go into the Big Meg’s food and takes a fattie who’s releasing a particularly unhealthy burger hostage for the sake of her son and other children’s health, the plot twist at the end being that, though the boy appeared to be alive early on, she’s actually starved him to death in his bedroom, having had so much trouble finding food that’d be good for him that she actually found none that was suitable. Also: that hostage she takes is fed to a munce grinder that connects to a cannon firing samples of burgers for the hungry queues outside, which they happily and obliviously devour. Nasty stuff – particularly that twist with the child – but I loved it and it’s the perfect example of how I’d expect all these tales to be, especially with an artist like Joel Carpenter to perfectly capture the mood of the strip. Excellent stuff.

Future Shock: Multiplicity by Guy Adams and Henry Flint (Megazine 339)

Huh, I had no idea that Adams – colourist of the Tharg 3riller Colony in recent Progs, wrote stuff as well. Not only has he wrote this, but it would appear he’s also the chap responsible for the reboot of Ulysses Sweet fairly recently too. God knows where he finds the time to colour other people’s artwork on top of his writing – he’s a novelist by the way – but there ya go.

Well, first things first: I see they’ve shortened the Future Shock’s to four pages from the five as I collected the strip. Probably even better that way to be honest. This was a belter, starting off with a fantastic line about our lead character making a fortune off his work of traversing the multiverse for clients, making changes to it for people at a high price; but then ending with the twist that, because he’s done this, he’s opened a hole where there are an infinite number of him, many of whom have caused problems instead of fixing them, meaning there’s money to be made in people getting revenge on him, a mountain of his bodies being found at the end of the strip where countless variations have been brought for assassination. Not so much a twist that you don’t see coming as it is a good example of how to execute the twist, which is sometimes more important. Great stuff. Really hoping to see some of these in the Prog itself soon, as I’ve admittedly missed them dearly.

Evangelyne by Rob Williams, Rey Maculay and Matthew Wilson (Megazine 346)

Bit of a weird one this; a tale about a gun getting passed through history after its owner and creator used it to kill himself once the love of his life left him. It had some very interesting historical events taking place in it (well, minus the titular gun’s presence) that were clearly well researched, but the point of it all is beyond me. Although part of a western stories anthology called Outlaw Territory (this being part of the third volume), it’s not really your typical western either, so who knows? Well, maybe it’s a simple attempt at trying one’s hand at a new writing style – that’s all Williams seems to suggest on his blog – in which case I suppose that is something positive about the tale.

But that art. Oh my, that art is something else. Reading that entry for this story on his blog, I have to say that I was very surprised to find that Williams had no idea who Rey Maculay was before passing the script on to him after a friend suggested he do. You can’t possibly know how it’s going to turn out, so you’re in a sense flipping a coin by doing so, leaving the fate of your short number of pages to a stranger like that. But, as he confesses, he got extremely lucky – this strip’s bloody beautiful looking. Between this and his work with R.M. Guera, I long for the day that we see more of his collaborations with random artists, because the man has good taste in them and seems to know friends who can pass on his scripts to others just as good. Check out the unlettered page below to see what I mean in this case.

Note how the gun, quite appropriately, seems to be the focal point of the panels, as if it were the killer instead of the man pulling its trigger

Tales From MC-1 – The Irrational Lottery by T.C. Eglington and Jon Davis-Hunt (Megazine 347)

This is the first in a new spin-off series, the other that recently started in the Megazine being a Tales From the Cursed Earth story called Gamma Tan by the same author (with Boo Cook like another story collected there, Downside up above) in issue 338. Both have huge potential as recurring series’, but this one better illustrated just how much there is once you break ties with the Dredd serial, focusing on the lifestyle a young juve develops based on the rules of the titular television show, which is to say that she begins simping. The irony is that it reads very much like an old school sort of Dredd tale from back in the day despite breaking ties with the lawman because of this, but what the hell – it’s great fun nonetheless with a typically hilarious ending.

It also has some great artwork from Jon Davis-Hunt who indeed appears to have improved a great deal since I last saw him. Not yet perfect, but this was very close, the wacky character designs seeming to play to his strengths as an artist, and as this was the focus, perhaps that was what was missing from the Dredd tale he did with Alan Grant in issue 332 that attempted to focus more on the environment, looking less good. Looking forward to getting my hands on the collection edition of Age of the Wolf that he did with Alec Worley as I’ve heard greater things about his art there.

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SHORT SERIES’

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Hondo-City Justice: Revenge of the 47 Ronin by Robbie Morrison, Mike Collins, Cliff Robinson and Len O’Grady (Megazine 332 – 334)

This was unexpectedly short-lived and though I did like it, prior reading of the series would probably have made me appreciate it a bit more, especially since this particular story ends on a cliffhanger involving the lead character’s sister, which meant sod all to me. It was fun while it lasted though, and I really loved Morrison’s take on the technology of Japan used by the Inspectors compared to that used by the Judges of the Big Meg – they have laser swords and shields, anti-grav installed in their uniforms and everything! If only to see more of that sort of lunacy, I wouldn’t half mind seeing some more of this.

It’s all brought to life by the entourage listed above; writer, penciller, inker and colourist respectively. Hope to see more from Mike and Cliff in the future as they make one hell of a team together, the artwork fantastic throughout.

 Judge Dredd: Nurture by Rob Williams, P.J. Holden and Eva De La Cruz (Megazine 339 and 340)

This was an interesting little two parter. It deals with clones that a Judge on patrol discovers and, as the title suggests, the Justice Department decide to attempt helping them, particularly Hershey who one of the clones is a copy of. Alas, having been programmed to be extremely violent, several commit suicide and Hershey’s escapes, killing a total of four Judges in its brief run through the city – Hershey wanted to see if it would return to the person responsible for creating it – before the story abruptly ends with Hershey deactivating it via killswitch.

As you might expect, Dredd was against letting these clones live from the moment they were found, but it’s not so much that he’s always right that’s the message here. No, I think Hershey’s cold attitude is the real focus, the relationship between her and Dredd having become quite strained recently, a highlight under Williams’ pen being the conclusion to Trifecta, where Hershey was more than a little unhappy with Dredd for keeping her in the dark about Smiley’s involvement in their plan to stop Bachmann. Still, by abrupt, I mean it does end suddenly, whether the cloner is still alive or not being left unresolved. Perhaps Williams has a sequel in mind for the future, I dunno.

It’s a great two episodes though and Holden’s art…wow. In the issue after this there’s a full prologue to a series he recently completed with Gordon Rennie called Dept. of Monsterology that looks absolutely stunning. Gonna have to keep my eye out for a collection of that because, man, his artwork has gone through the roof since I last saw any of him. Brilliant looking stuff. Check out his process for a page of Nurture on his blog, from rough to finished inks, and a page as it appears in the comic below. What an incredible improvement to some of his earlier work, which had a tendency to be inconsistent in quality.

It may not be flashy, but it sure ticks all the right boxes in my book

Dredd: Underbelly by Arthur Wyatt, Henry Flint and Chris Blythe (Megazine 340 – 342)

Still feel much the same way about the story as I did in my review of this, but I appreciated the artwork a lot more in the frankly proper size instead of that much smaller US format. The artwork does still have a few of the problems I mentioned at the time obviously. For instance, I still can’t get over how poorly communicated it is that Dredd, Anderson and the Chief Judge are viewing a large monitor at the end of part one; but I liked it more in its “higher definition” all the same. Can’t say I’m looking that much forward to the sequel also penned by Wyatt, but hopefully a longer series will mean he has a better story to tell, at least one that isn’t crammed with too much for its own good.

 

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