If you’re looking at the list after the break and wondering where Insurrection is, I point you to my review of the entire series here. My thoughts on every other significant long-running series is in this post, so do enjoy, and please note once more that all images used are the property of their respective owners.
American Reaper II by Pat Mills, Clint Langley and Fay Dalton (Megazine’s 332 – 337)
Typically zany writing from Mills here – from concepts such as a bullet literally with your name on it capable of tracking you down, to the creepy effect of the Reaper’s scanners, which mutes everything in black and white and shows coffin cheaters as rotted corpses – but disappointingly shallow by the end. Part four of this sequel – which was told in ridiculously lengthy instalments by the way – showed that, despite being humourous, there’s a lot of detail that’s been made to the world. There’s the ruined and now dome-encased Statue of Liberty, suggestive of a terrorist attack; there’s warning of an incoming hurricane – “the last attack in the god war” – though reassurances that “the conductors will send her safely back out to sea”; but then, when this happens, further warning of air pollution caused by it, with the suggestion that asthma sufferers should consider staying in-doors. Things like that give the reader a good sense of how the world functions, as do details in the background, and it’s a really fascinating world on the surface.
Unfortunately the story itself is a bit…crap. The final episode in particular ends the second series (a third looks very likely) on a sour note after some promising previous instalments, being somewhat of a cliché with a plot twist that there’s no real build up to. But, then again, I did miss the first story arc, and it did become clear as I read this that there was stuff I missed, leaving me at a disadvantage of sorts seeing as Mills didn’t fill in the blanks too often, at least not explicitly. Still, the cast of characters were a bore and there was some really awful dialogue which I doubt a reading of the first series would have changed my mind on.
No, it was the futuristic world and art by Clint Langley that made it worth reading in the end. Since there were no robots or monsters, his Photoshop-heavy art did enter the uncanny valley on several occasions with all the humans abound, but it otherwise looked magnificent whenever the backgrounds were brought into focus. Hell, where do you begin? There’s a chase sequence in issue 334 that’s absolutely stunning, incredibly cinematic, quite like his art on the A.B.C. Warriors, and I was pouring over the pages of that episode. But it’s the amount of detail that Langley pours into this New York of the future setting that’s truly mind blowing, best illustrated by the beautiful opening spread in Megazine 335 – that right there is something I would have torn out and used as a poster if there weren’t strips on either side, which should tell you all you need to know about how the art looks when there aren’t talkative heads of freaky realism taking up the place. The last episode as the lead character chases down a coffin dodger in the rain looked especially terrific too, the art using a black and white colour scheme instead to reflect that the lead character’s using his scanner vision. Nice stuff, and if it were to get a hardcover treatment like Langley’s work with Mills on the A.B.C Warriors and Slaine, with extended pages and all, I’d consider buying it for his artwork.
There’s in-universe adverts by Fay Dalton that look fantastic too, many of which you can check out at her website. However, she also did her first actual comic strip work for this series as well, short “Reaper Files” (an example below) that ran in issues 335 – 337. These act as side stories to the main ongoing one, and drew me to the conclusion that she is the digital art version of John Burns, by which I mean her artwork is likewise full of elegance, the characters and their designs beautiful looking. The stories themselves are alright – just little two to six pagers set in the same universe – but it’s the artwork that steals the show once again. As I said, this is shockingly her first steps into the realm of comics, everything else she’s done before being advertising, but as Pat Mills says on his blog, she’s a star and I can’t wait to see more from her, which I believe he has promised will be the case with this series at least (on a Twitter post I think is where he said this), though her pin-up of Judge Anderson for the recently released Sci-Fi Special Prog is hopefully suggestive of a strip of her own in the future, should another writer step forth and specifically ask Matt Smith to assign her to them.
The Streets of Dan Francisco by Arthur Wyatt and Paul Marshal (Megazine’s 335 – 339)
Ah, I still remember the first we saw of this character in a title with the same name as this series (Prog 1520) illustrated by Rufus Dayglo (the only time I’ve ever seen his art, though he did leave a strong impression, the image of a bullet-ridden Francisco burned in my memory) and written by John Wagner. Who knew that this guy would become a major player in the world of Dredd? All he seemed to be at the time was social commentary on those types of TV shows that follow police officers in the line of duty, obviously ending in bloodshed in the Big Meg. But nope, the dude becomes Chief Judge, overseeing Chaos Day – not something you want on your resume.
This then is an interesting idea, seeing Francisco return to the streets for the first time after stepping down. But I’m not sure I liked it very much, simply because I didn’t find the character written that well under Wyatt’s pen or the story for that matter, which ends with Francisco narrowly escaping with his life after an intervening assassin lets him live on one condition. That’s right – although not forced to, he follows through with some assassin’s demand and doesn’t even bother to try finding the guy, who admits to being a Judge killer, just because he’ll be long gone. Ultimately, as a reader points out in the Dreddlines of issue 337, the story feels like an unnecessary spin-off, something which could have easily been explored in the main Judge Dredd strip and would have probably been the better for it. Will it even be considered canon if Wagner decides to use the character again? Probably not.
Well, at least there was a Breaking Bad reference (a drug called Cranston Blue) and some stellar artwork from Paul Marshal. Like Dayglo, Marshal left a strong impression, though that could be because the first I saw of him was in a Wagner scripted tale called The Ecstasy, actually the last Dredd story I read and never got to finish at the time because it was then that I stopped collecting the comic. Anyway, there’s a long interview with him in the same issue that this story starts, which certainly made for an interesting read. In fact, his development as an artist really fascinated me – he mentions how he used to start drawing a script without any preparation, whereas now he draws out rough sketches beforehand. His artwork is a bit clean, as he himself admits, but it got the job done, and was certainly the saving grace of this series. That opening spread in the first part of our tale (note the two taglines – one of which similarly references Breaking Bad via Ozymandias -that suggest you’re in for something incredible…), of Francisco looking out on the ruined city, is simply magnificent and I really love how he made the title part of the rubble. Great stuff, but not a good tale overall.
Ordinary by Rob Williams and D’Israeli (Megazine’s 340 – 345)
This is a story of a plumber, Michael, who is the only man in the entire world not to develop super powers on the day everyone else suddenly does, hence the title. Sound simple? Well, the premise is, we following Michael as he searches for his son, Joshua, that he hasn’t exactly been there for in the past (he and his wife are separated), but don’t let that fool you – this is the complete opposite of what its title suggests. It has one of the most hilarious scripts in a comic that I’ve ever read for one thing, constantly fresh with new ideas. In the second episode Michael hitches a ride with a taxi driver whose power is now seeing the universe for what it is, prompting him to say stuff like this in the middle of conversations: “We all contain myriad suns and galaxies and I shall try the Roosevelt Island bridge”. Then the fourth episode has a musical opening that is simply glorious. Oh, and Michael’s friend is transformed into a bear, and they have this conversation in a bar in the second episode:
Brilliant, right? Well, what else I really liked about this story was that, by the end, it turned out to be very touching too. For example, that Joshua’s “power” sees him missing one half of his self (it’s subtle, but you know why) when he finds him is beautiful and their reunion and subsequent restoration touching. That’s all I’m going to say because spoiling it for those that have yet to read it would be terrible. It’s Rob Williams’ masterpiece (he seems to think so too), and is what prompted me to write in a letter to Dreddlines about this catch-up of mine. You might not think it immediately but wait until you get to the last episode and then read it through again as a whole. It’s utterly, utterly beautiful and riotous fun to boot.
Now, about the art: this is the best artwork from D’Israeli I’ve seen since his work on The Vort back when I first was collecting the comic. Don’t get me wrong, his artwork’s always a joy to see, but this was constantly pleasing to the eye with its plentiful use of bright colouring that I loved to bits – very well done too, I might add, an overhead explosion in the first episode, for example, getting a great big “BANG!”, the panel itself completely red, signifying the danger – and good use of white space. Throw in a ton of background details not unlike his “easter eggs” to be found throughout Stickleback – in this case, of course, it’s of all the various mental super powers in action, making every scene look interesting, including a bus journey early on – and you have perfect artwork here, folks, D’Israeli’s always excellent storytelling and expressionistic characters also being present.
As this was the creator-owned strip of the Megazine during its run, this means that Williams and D’Israeli (whose real name, by the way, is Matt Brooker if you’re wondering) can have other companies reprint it, in this case Titan, who are doing so, I believe, in four parts (US format) before releasing a hardcover collection later this year, which will have additional pin-up art from persons other than D’Israeli as well as other nice little extras. You may want to see OK Comics about getting your hands on a signed print with the first of these four issues like I have (paid for and presumably awaiting me after holiday) if you’re into that sorta thing. Either way, expect a post on the Titan series should it too have extras included.
Now let us break up this blog entry here with two panels from a page in which Michael finds himself interviewed (and scared to his wits) by a super powered Larry King.
DeMarco, P.I.: The Whisper by Michael Carroll and Steve Yeowell (Megazine’s 343 – 347)
Probably best you read my post after this one to read up on some history of DeMarco as a character – just look for her sub-heading reprint. But basically, she isn’t a creation of Carroll’s, not even Robbie Morrison who started her spin-off series in the past. No, John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra created her for a fan favourite story by the name of The Pit.
Whatever the case, straight from the first episode, Carroll’s writing is excellent. Compared with Morrison’s tenure with the character (I haven’t read any other stories where she’s present as far as I’m aware) I do think he writes the character very well. A character who in the past was once a Judge, her sexual relationships – Judges are supposed to be chaste – landed her in trouble, so she quit; yet the cool thing is that she doesn’t let the past hold her back, nor does she regret her decisions.
The story follows her as she searches for a missing man in the newly established SovSec of Mega City 2, a place that the residents are none too fond of sharing with the people who, well, nuked ’em in the past, and the attacks from mutants don’t help either, nor does a mysterious rumour of someone called “The Whisper” kidnapping people do so on top of all that. In terms of introducing us to SovSec, Carroll does a great job, giving DeMarco and us a tour via another character without feeling too expository. The mystery itself surrounding the titular being is intriguing enough that I was looking forward to each episode and, being perfectly honest, hope that Carroll’s brought back for more, as I thought this was even better than Morrison’s work, the humour more subtle and clever than just having a gorilla for a pal (like I said: go read the next post).
The ending’s a little rushed however, the final episode wrapping things up without any explanation as to what the mysterious Whisper was, and then implying that DeMarco may have a new partner for the future, so an extra page or two could have ended it a little better than that, I feel. As it happens, DeMarco’s told she’s solved her case and to go home – the end. Bit of a let-down that, but this is otherwise a fine tale with a perfectly good grasp on the world. The artwork was great too, though I can almost imagine 2000AD’s forums bickering over Yeowell’s style. Some people like to joke that he runs out of ink sometimes it seems, and I imagine they said so about his work here. But I still love it – if anything, I thought it was more detailed than usual, such as in the lovely example below of the opening page – and don’t believe a strip like this is in desperate need of colour any time soon. Maybe when Morrison was writing her stories, sure, but Carroll focuses a lot more on her job as a Private Investigator and I thought the black and white look, although not moody noir or anything, captured the tone he was going for. More of this please.
Anderson, Psi-Division: Dead End by Alan Grant and Michael Dowling (Megazine’s 343 – 349)
When I think of the modern writings of Alan Grant, I usually think of fun stories with lots of humour and frankly ridiculous happenings. i.e. See Samantha Slade’s adventures as Robo-Hunter in the concluding part of this blog series. But not’s what Dead End is. In my last Megazine review there was a story there that I said foreshadowed this, as others I’ve missed had. You see, Anderson is not doing well. In the very first episode of this series, on the page straight after she makes one of her iconic sarcastic remarks when shooting an overhead sign that reads “Obey the Law” to stop an out of control school bus, she enters it to find dead children and, naturally depressed, goes off to a spot she regularly visits overlooking the now ruined city, a spot where she steps perilously close to an edge, contemplating taking a step forward and ending her life. That’s episode one, but it gets worse from there, she nearly blowing her own head off with a hi-ex round in the next episode and in the one after that – in what is frankly the biggest cliffhanger I’ve seen in either 2000Ad or the Meg for quite some time – hangs herself, Dredd arriving at her apartment in the nick of time.
Of course, as the story develops, we find out that it’s not her doing this, other Psi Judges like her being controlled by a mysterious baddie. But it’s hard hitting stuff all the same, particularly since they only realise this once several Judges have been forced to do bad things, such as lining up civilians and brutally murdering them before turning their guns on themselves. For such a story to effectively show the fragile state of a character’s mind, I think it’s good to acknowledge that person’s past, which this does via callbacks to previous adventures of Anderson, two being made in the very first episode and more made along the way. It’s not as if I have any idea what these tales were, but I think it’s good to take in some history before coming scarily close to knocking off a long-time favourite of fans.
I might also add that Dredd plays an important role in this story – as he should with one of few people we can safely say is a friend of his being in danger – and Grant writes him really well too. His reaction to Anderson’s near death is one of my favourite moments of the character. What does he do after handing her over to paramedics? He calls her “a damned fool” and goes off busting heads furiously. Even when she wakes up and makes a joke about receiving no flowers from him, he stands before her with his arms crossed, really pissed off, which is so him.
But that’s not all – there’s a terrific artist working on this series too. From the opening panel showing a great view of the city, I was in love with Dowling’s artwork, but it keeps getting better as we quickly find that his take on Anderson and Dredd is one of the best we’ve ever seen, both characters really matching their age in appearance, their expressions perfect. Then there’s the surreal sequences that are utterly gorgeous:
And did I mention his colouring is fantastic too? Oh, and the city! A lot of artists have had great takes on the Big Meg, but Dowling’s is a new favourite, as packed with detail as it is and, unlike some strips that I’ve read recently in the Prog and Meg where other artists have avoided this whenever possible, a constant reminder of Chaos Day too. Plus, plus, plus: he actually makes the eagle shoulder pad of all things look functional (as you can see below), which a lot of other artists can’t. Not that I expect them to, but I still like that his works. Really, I could go on and on about this guy. Here’s hoping for more of him in the future, particularly in more Anderson series’.
This is due to end shortly after my return from holiday when Megazine 349 arrives on my doorstep and I cannot wait to see how this story concludes. It is easily the best story running in the Megazine and definitely worth a read. Another classic for Grant’s hefty roster of them, hopefully something he can keep up, which he’s bound to should he keep Dowling around. An excellent tale.