The Great Judge Dredd Megazine Catch Up, Part 4: The Graphic Novel Reprints

Well, we’re here at last. In this final entry for the series – and longest entry in the blog by far – I’ll be going through every damn floppy in my possession that comes bagged with all copies of the Megazine these days. Interestingly enough, I discovered that they’ve included these reprints for quite some time after buying a limited printing copy of Megazine 211 recently. The difference then was that the reprints would be inside the Megazine itself, doubling its length from the 64 pages it comes in today. The advantage of that method was that it would be printed in the same large size, whereas these floppies are slightly smaller, condensed versions of strips. The paper stock’s also thinner, meaning there’s much more noticeable bleeding of inks from the other side of a page.

It’s great that they’re included though, and they’re just a fantastic idea in general I think, giving readers a look at strips that they may have missed, particularly since the majority of these will probably never see the light of day in a proper collection, since there’s not exactly any demand for them.

Before I go, note that I’ve listed all of these in alphabetical order, instead of by their accompanied Megazine number, to make for easier reading. What issue of the Meg they were released with is still there though, as are the respective areas of first publication, hopefully letting those of you looking to pick a particular one up find the copy of the Megazine or 2000AD you’re looking for. Also note that, once again, the pictures aren’t mine, but property of their respective owners whom I’ve always linked.

So enjoy the post, and I’ll see you when I get back from my holiday.

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THE A’S AND B’S

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A.H.A.B. by Nigel Kitching and Richard Elson (Bagged with Megazine 333)

This was a story that ran in the Prog about a year and a half before I joined, between Progs 1387 – 1395. It’s an interesting little thing for its length, “an all-action update of Moby Dick” as the back of the floppy puts it. That famous book isn’t one I’ve ever read, but like many people, I know the basic gist of it. Interestingly enough, by doing some digging around, I found out that Kitching had never read it either, though Elson had, so although it’s got references and follows the same idea, it’s not technically an “update” in his eyes. But I suppose by that all they mean is that it’s set in the far future out in space, instead of out at sea. The titular character, pretty much the exact same obessed lunatic as Ahab of the book, is the villain and probably the most interesting of the cast, but the actual main character, Jane Ishmael (who spouts the funny line, “Don’t call me Ishmael!”, in jest of the novel’s opening line), isn’t particularly memorable, nor is anyone else. Sadly the strip’s last couple of episodes are a bit of a let down too; a shame because, on paper, it’s a sound idea, but not what I’d call well received back in the day.

There’s another piece of writing from Kitching included in the form of a Terror Tale called Krypt, published in Prog 1375, which is alright, but other than these two, I don’t know if he ever wrote anything else for the comic, his Wikipedia page only specifically mentioning his work on Sonic comics (Elson is also popular for this, so I presume this is why Kitching only appeared to work with him). But he didn’t seem that bad and, although it suffered from a short length, I thought A.H.A.B. was okay.

It has fantastic art at least, which is what the remainder of the floppy is used to pack more of, first in a Future Shock written by Simon Spurrier in Prog 1267 called Spare Parts, and in a classic two page one from Prog 608 called Accident, the latter being his second appearance in the comic. The art is still very recognisably him, which surprised me. Hoping to see more from him in the Prog, hopefully in a new series of Dan Abnett’s Kingdom if that wasn’t concluded while I was away.

Beyond Zero by John Brosnan and Kev Hopgood (Bagged with Megazine 340)

This is the sequel to Night Zero, so scroll on down if you’d care to read my thoughts on that first, which I highly recommend you do.

This one’s a nightmare serial, the whole arc taking place in Progs 630 – 634, 645 – 649 and finally, 665 – 666! Yeah, that’s never good, though can be perfectly understandable (e.g. Carlos Ezquerra being given extra time to finish the Judge Dredd epic Origins). Not sure what the deal was in this case, but I don’t suppose it matters when it’s collected like this. This series, like the first, is weird. Not much to say about it that I didn’t have to say about the first in fact. Great artwork from Hopgood again and the story, whilst with similar silly goings-ons, wasn’t bad, being particularly good at unravelling details of the world once more, this time outside the dome surrounding Zero City. There’s a lot more humour too, and it’s actually much funnier. So weird though, just…mad.

The third and last story, Below Zero, remains uncollected in this mini-reprint format, as does a one-off set in the same universe that appeared in 2000AD Annual 1991, though if what opinion I could find on it was of any indication, I’m better off never reading the last series. Might be something to see collected in the future anyway for completion’s sake. Had some fun with this, though it was Hopgood’s art that really held me. Looking forward to The Man From The Ministry that just started in Megazine 348 quite a bit now.

Black Light – Volume 1 by Dan Abnett and Steve White with art by John Burns and Lee Sullivan (Bagged with Megazine 336)

Curiously enough, this has a similar lead character to that of the recently finished Jaegir in the Prog: a woman, one side of her face scarred, whose tasked with rooting out the criminals in her own country. But there the similarities end, Jaegir of course being sci-fi, and this a 90’s-set spy thriller. This first volume collects two story arcs, written by Abnett and White together, from Progs 1001 – 1009, the first five parter with art by John Burns and the four part sequel by Lee Sullivan. There’s also a reprinted Vector 13 story (from Prog 974) written by one Brian Williams, the art again provided by Burns. This is a tie in to Black Light itself, but I’ll talk about it in the next volume.

For now, the story of Black Light. As an espionage thriller, it’s actually pretty great I think, ticking all the right boxes to keep you intrigued. Problem is, the cast of characters also just tick a bunch of boxes to make it a tale of spies, meaning they have no personalities, little more than computer analyst guy; charming boss; etc. – there’s nothing particularly interesting about them, which sadly makes this spy thriller like many others, which is to say kinda crap once the surface has been unearthed. The quality of the writing’s pretty good though, even if it is a little too wordy at times, and the action sequences are well thought out, surprisingly brutal when it comes to violence, what seemed to be a major character getting shot to smithereens…

Black Light – Volume 2 by Dan Abnett and Steve White with art by Steve Yeowell, Chris Weston and Richard Elson (Bagged with Megazine 337)

The trouble is, though interesting as far as espionage stories go, Black Light suddenly ends in a third story arc that ran in Progs 1010 – 1013, the art of this final instalment provided by The Red Seas artist, Steve Yeowell, with colouring provided by one Alan Craddock.  That’s great but the way the story wraps up is incredibly unsatisfying. That Vector 13 I mentioned? There’s another one reprinted here, taken from Prog 1062 and written by Abnett this time, with art by Chris Weston. The story reprinted in the first volume read more like a Future Shock (more on that in a moment) but this one deals with people who have been exposed to an alternate reality (Weston is actually a pretty good choice then, having worked on John Smith’s Indigo Prime that deals with the very same thing), read as a lesson not to meddle in this sort of thing by some mysterious looking guy in a suit, the same man who appears briefly in the second series of Black Light and more noticeably in the last, which does indeed add the twist of reality having once been breached, nearly being so again, though the main characters don’t realise it. Why tie these two stories together, of all things? Good question, and I really don’t know the answer to that as, according to Vector 13’s Wikipedia page, it was a series that was created with making sense of 2000AD’s Future Shocks and whatnot in mind, and indeed saw many contributing writers and artists write these one-off’s. So it beats me why they’d tie it’s universe and a spy thriller together, particularly since this series ends flatly with it is a silly plot twist, which I find to be a great shame. At least Yeowell’s art was as amazing as always, I suppose…

[Bit of a correction here. If I’d paid attention the Wikipedia page more closely I may have noticed that it says the men in black of Vector 13 took over 2000AD whilst Tharg, David Bishop at the time, was off doing other stuff (whatever that may be). There’s two posts on Grant Goggan’s Thrillpowered Thursday that I found worth reading about this. The first explains how Bishop was trying to get rid of the comic’s fictional editor, thinking that it was too childish. Nonsense, I say, but it didn’t stop him – though he confesses to it being a mistake in his recent book Thrill-Power Overload at least – and one day readers of the comic opened up their copies to find that the men in black of Vector 13 had taken over. So there you go. The reason for Black Light becoming part of Vector 13 in the last episode was because, in the next Prog, this would happen. Or maybe since the mysterious guy appeared in the first series briefly it was planned from the start. Either way: stupid stupid stupid. Although when I did a search for a Vector 13 image to use – I couldn’t find any of Black Light except covers sadly – I found the one shortly below instead of Tharg returning to take back his comic, which is hilarious.]

The remainder of this floppy is used to reprint a four part story by Abnett called Roadkill, the art provided by Richard Elson and, amazingly enough, coloured by the wonderful D’Israeli! Originally published in Progs 1208 – 1211, this is a fantastic tale – the like I’d expect to see from Al Ewing actually – about a man, Guy Newman, who takes an automated car of the future to a meeting, only the car hits a deer along the way, which causes it to malfunction, trapping him inside for a while and killing a couple of hitchhikers as he makes his short-lived escape. It’s like Stephen King’s Christine, but kind of comedic in a way, ending with a Future Shock-like twist that I loved. And most brilliantly has to be Elson and D’Israeli. Who’d have honestly thought that those two would look so good combined? The saving grace of this floppy after Black Light’s poor end.

Tharg’s epic return

Black Siddha: Bad Karma by Pat Mills and Simon Davis (Bagged with Megazine 339)

Reprinted from Megazine’s 202 – 208, I’m surprised this isn’t a story, along with its sequels, that’s already been reprinted as a trade paperback. Then again, though I’m not sure what general opinion on the series was, I imagine it didn’t strike quite the same chord as the likes of the A.B.C. Warriors, Savage, Slaine, etc. have with readers. Indeed, this is a surprisingly slow burning story from Mills, not a lot actually happening in this first series if you can believe it, although my description of the plot will make you think I’m very wrong.

We follow Rohan, a young man who one night has a vivid dream of an ancient mythical warrior, only then wakes up to find that this dream was actually his distant past, he actually being an incarnation of the titular Black Siddha, a mass murdering warrior called Mardaka. For his past crimes that he knows nothing about, he’s found guilty by the Lords of Karma, though is offered the opportunity to become the Black Siddha once more, although this time actually fight for justice and honestly kill those who have done wrong, instead of everyone who gets in his way. The age of Kali Yuga is on its way and they need a hero basically (funnily enough, Black Siddha is very similar to a superhero, which Mills of course hates with a passion); and see opportunity in young Rohan, whose police officer father was gunned down for trying to be one, thus making this his chance to carry on his protective role of society. The story’s a lot more complicated than that, yet simple on the surface, believe me. The ancient Black Siddha is an entity that can appear in the present day alongside Rohan, for example, even though he is him, and he’s also the woman who acts as Rohan’s counsellor against the Lords of Karma, and…yeah.It’s some head scratching stuff to say the least.

But it’s good. Not what I would say is Mills at his best necessarily, but it’s an interesting change of pace. What I meant by it being a slow burner earlier is that it takes all seven episodes for Rohan to accept becoming the Black Siddha again, the stuff happening in the background concerning his life as an unmarried Indian disappointing his family; his best friend actually being a bad guy (who his first order of business as Black Siddha in the next story is to kill); etc. A bit unusual of Mills. Incidentally, I have no idea how accurate his depiction of Indian culture and religion is, but I’m assuming he did his research like that of previous projects, especially since he often drops a phrase then has a character explain the meaning briefly. Either way, it’s not at all what I expected from Mills, though I did enjoy it in the end – just not as much as his usual stuff.

Some gorgeous artwork by Simon Davis is what backs up the tale, perhaps actually saving it from mediocrity (because it certainly could have been with the little excitement that happens). Early on there’s the great scene where Rohan is dreaming of the Black Siddha, and the panels of the sequence are presented as ancient engravings in stone, which is frankly beautiful. But it gets better from there, Davis typically going nuts with his layouts of panels, and also nailing the colour used in scenes. It’s just brilliant looking, like the second and third Downlode Tales floppy below – some of his best work that I’ve seen.

Also included is a Dredd tale written by Gordon Rennie, Prodigal, with art from Davis once again, though this time, nowhere close to his best. This is a one-off published in issue 216 of the Megazine, and I did not like it one bit. Something about the writing  felt very off to me, though I can’t quite put my finger on it. It doesn’t matter – it’s the artwork that really let me down. I’ve never seen Davis’ take on the Big Meg and I’m not sure I’d care to again if this is any indication of the quality to be expected. Though there were the usual nice touches, I’m afraid to say that, for the most part, I was very unimpressed, a lack of detail here and poor action choreography there. But thankfully the next outing of Black Siddha more than makes up for it.

Black Siddha: Kali Yuga by Pat Mills and Simon Davis (Bagged with Megazine 346)

The second series is here reprinted from issues 218 – 223 of the Megazine and sadly is not as good as the first, its whole plot being in quite a hurry to finish, jumping from this to that, and not in a good way. It’s really quite strange and I can’t tell if it’s an indication that Mills wrote it in a hurry, or that he could no longer be arsed with the series. It’d be nice to think it’s the latter seeing as the series was abandoned after the third story arc, The Return of the Jester – which actually starts in what had been for a long time the only copy of the Megazine I ever bought, issue 245, but is uncollected in any of these floppies sadly – but I’m not really sure.

Either way, it took effort to read, particularly since it has other problems besides a rushed plot, such as some character’s dialogue entering into the realm of madness, Rohan’s former pal, for instance, calling him “mate” on at least thirty occasions from the point that the two meet halfway through the book – and I would point out that he never refers to him as this once in Bad Karma – all the way until its anti-climatic end (Rohan doesn’t even kill him, and the next series is set up in something like the last three panels), which almost had me tearing out my hair to read.

But like the rest of Mills’ worst writing, there are moments of sheer brilliance, my highlight easily being when Rohan can’t use his siddhi of flight and needs to take a bus home in full Black Siddha costume, which is quite hilarious for other reasons besides that, such as the fact that he’s reading a porn magazine next to a kid in front of a bus conductor who thinks he’s from the mental hospital, all whilst Karma Chameleon plays on the radio. It’s frankly the perfect scene and one of the reasons that, even when Mills is writing complete crap, I still love his work to bits.

Also reprinted in this collection are two Tales From The Doghouse, stories following Strontium Dog agents that aren’t the usual characters we see, these following on from those collected in a floppy far below. They’re both written by Stewart Edwards again, the art from Mick Austin (an artist who did a lot of 2000AD related work in the past but doesn’t appear to have done anything else for comics since the nineties, now a fine art painter), and were published in Progs 625 and 626. You can read my thoughts on these when you get to their own floppy, but I don’t care for them that much, though I must say that the elephant-headed mutant in the second of these stories is simply a glorious reveal. But, yeah, check further below for my thoughts.

Breathing Space by Rob Williams with art by Peter Doherty and Laurence Campbell (Bagged with Megazine 294)

This is a really nice collection. It’s a story set on one of Mega City One’s outer space colonies, in this case Luna-1, and ran in Progs 1451 – 1459, very shortly before I started my own collection (in fact, inside Prog 2006 there’s a cover gallery which includes this Karl Richardson one for the series in its pencil form). A murder mystery, I must admit that it was a little surprising in the end, but even if it weren’t, what makes it really good is the way the story is told. It’s pieced together incredibly well, honestly comparable with the format of a TV show when it comes to storytelling each week. It’s a surprisingly dark tale, I might as well say at this point.

It opens in media res with the lead character, the new Judge Marshall of the colony, barely holding on to his life, checking the contents of a data chip near his own prepared grave (the Judge Marshall’s of Luna-1 have low life expectancy, so their graves are prepared in advance), but seemingly not finding what he’s looking for. We then skip back to his arrival on the colony, and the story doesn’t hit the brakes from there once on the way to its end, either piling on the tension or filling out more of our lead’s background, a man whose sexual liaison with another Judge called Luge is apparently what sent him here. The inevitable twist itself has an obvious clue or two, but like I say, it’s the way Williams presents the conclusion – the last episode in particular with its unusually confusing format – that really means it’s pulled off, and in the end, it’s a surprisingly sad affair. Spoilers: the poor guy has been tormented by his love for this Luge, only to find out that she never existed, a psychic having planted the memories in his head and made him commit the murders. That data chip at the beginning of the story that he wants to see with his dying breath? It was supposed to contain the proof that Luge was real, but it’s blank. How cheery, eh?

It’s great though and, artistically speaking, we have two people bringing the moody thing to life. Interestingly enough, this was a problem that Williams would encounter again in the future in his second series of The Ten Seconders, and was the only other thing needed besides some poor writing to kill that story. However, a change in artists isn’t so bad here. The first ten pages – I guess a double length opening, or two five page episodes – are illustrated by Peter Doherty, who also does his own colouring. After his departure comes Laurence Campbell, who is only a penciller, meaning the inking is done by his partner (at least, I believe this is the one person who does the inking for him), Lee Townsend. This would be good enough because Campbell’s artwork is pretty great, easily matching the storytelling of Doherty. It also just so happens to be heavy with black inking, thus just as moody looking. However, in addition to this, Doherty does the colouring on top of Townsend’s inks, meaning the look of the strip as it first began is left completely intact when the illustrator changes.

God, but I really wish this could be the case all the time. Like I said, a sudden change in scenery can kill a comic story like The Ten Seconders: American Dream, which went through three artists whose styles were nothing alike, not to mention of very poor quality (except perhaps for Dom Reardon). So whoever is responsible for making the replacement choice here deserves a clap on the back because the change, though noticeable, doesn’t hurt the flow of the tale at all, and I really liked the noir-like look of the strip, plus the small colour palette of blacks, blues and greys. Below I’ve picked a really cool looking page where you can see some clever panel arrangements (the first column, read vertically, simply shows two different people at different points in the colony; but the second column, read the same way, shows one of the murders about to take place, and the third has the camera gradually zoom out) as well as get a feel for the mood the strip conveys.

Do check out this entry on Rob Williams’ blog about his fondness for the tale, which he cites as his most personal to date.

Ending this collection, for the sake of showing a different art style of his, is a one off Judge Dredd tale called Mr. Bennet Joins The Judges, from the 1994 Sci-Fi Special, illustrated by Doherty and scripted by Mark Millar (oh, we’ll get to this guy, believe me). The story’s an entertaining little thing about some guy who visits a costume shop for adventures, he selecting a Judges uniform in this case leading him to the future Mega City One, where he’s mistakenly considered a jimp (someone who impersonates a Judge) and executed for nearly getting another Judge killed, whereas the real Judge ends up in his reality. I get the feeling that it’s a parody of something, maybe a children’s TV show going from the first couple of children’s book-like pages, but I’m not really sure, though I did like Doherty’s painted art a lot.

This is from the last episode of the story and is read in a manner that I imagine confused or annoyed some folk

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YE STORIES BEGINNING WITH D

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Deadlock: Return to Termight by Pat Mills and Henry Flint (Bagged with Megazine 284)

Quite insanely, this has only just been reprinted in a proper trade paperback collection earlier this year, even though it’s vital to Nemesis the Warlock and A.B.C. Warriors continuity. Fucking madness, especially since it’s so bloody good. Originally published in Progs 1212 – 1222, it tells the story of, well, Deadlock’s return to Termight long after Torquemada’s reign has ended. However, this is a story I plan to review in the future, particularly once I get round to writing my thoughts on the Nemesis the Warlock series (spoilers: I love it). So enjoy some Henry Flint artwork instead, this page of which some lucky bastard owns. Oh, and for god’s sake, get the Solo Missions book if you do enjoy Nemesis as much as I – bloody insane that this wasn’t included in any of the three Complete books, and I swear to god, it bloody well better be in one of the Mek Files going forward.

I hate the person who owns this…

 DeMarco, P.I. – Volume 1 by Robbie Morrison with art by Steve Yeowell, Laurence Campbell and Dylan Teague (Bagged with Megazine 343)

This reprint was a clever idea as starting this issue was the new DeMarco series, The Whisper, by Michael Carroll, making this a nice way for those of us who have yet to bump into her chronologically to meet her before reading Carrol’s take on her. Yes, that’s right – I haven’t read The Pit by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, even though it’s a beloved fan favourite. The Complete Case Files have very nearly caught up with it though, so I shouldn’t have long to wait (next year, I reckon). But, yeah, that’s where she first appeared, though as the back of this floppy explains, she quit being a Judge after some romantic involvements – she kisses Dredd at one point apparently, which sounds hilarious, let alone would look it (I picture awkward body language and schoolboy-like stuttering) – and found herself working as a Private Investigator instead, which is where Morrison enters with this spin-off series.

The first volume collects two of her first cases as a P.I., the stories Ways to Die and Deep Blue Death, published in Megazine’s 3.70 – 3.71 and 4.03 – 4.05 respectively, the former with the combined artistic skills of Laurence Campbell and Dylan Teague, the latter by Steve Yeowell, also artist of Carroll’s series. The artwork of the former series is even more sparse when it comes to the details than Yeowell’s oft-criticised artwork if you can believe it, though I enjoyed it all the same. In fact, I’d say there’s a case in arguing that it suits the tone of DeMarco better under Morrison’s pen, Yeowell’s more realistic touches certainly looking better for Carrol’s more serious tale. Anyway, both stories are written fairly well, but the plot themselves aren’t amazing – it’s the dialogue of the various characters, DeMarco’s posh sidekick gorilla Travis Perkins in particular, that’s really good, making both stories a lot of fun, although what’s somewhat interesting to note is that the second one had a surprisingly sad ending.

Also included to wrap up this collection is a single story in the Harmony series called Homeward Bound reprinted from Megazine 2.62 for the purpose of showcasing old artwork of Jim Murray’s, an artist who has recently collaborated with Morrison on a graphic novel called Drowntown where you might say his art style has, um, changed…a lot. That’s just complete madness as far as I’m concerned, particularly when compared to the black and white artwork of this story, which don’t get me wrong, looks good – just not that jaw-droppingly good. The change reminds of Clint Langley’s adoption of Photoshop as a tool used for all his artwork compared to his much earlier work. Simply incredible. This story itself scripted by Chris Standley isn’t bad, but I missed the collection of the Harmony series prior to this, which if you’re curious, was bagged with issue 288 of the Megazine.

DeMarco, P.I. – Volume 2 by Robbie Morrison and Steve Yeowell (Bagged with Megazine 343)

Disappointingly, under Morrison’s pen, there’s only one more DeMarco, P.I. tale left to be told and that’s The Fierce & The Furious, published first in Megazine’s 4.06 – 4.08, with art courtesy of Steve Yeowell once more. Apart from her roles in several other Dredd stories and of course The Simping Detective, this has been it for her a series of her own, so it’s quite nice that Carroll’s reviving it, hopefully with enough positive results – if you read the previous part in this series of entries, you’ll see I quite enjoyed it myself – that Matt Smith will let him continue. The writing isn’t that great in this last tale, but Yeowell’s art more than makes up for it, some incredible splash and centre spreads being a real joy to find. A shame that, to my knowledge, Perkins won’t make any reappearances until The Simping Detective under Simon Coleby’s pen, where he’ll die rather undramatically. Ah well, at least Carroll has found Galen a new partner by the end of The Whisper, one who’ll hopefully prove to be just as entertaining.

The other half of this floppy belongs to another Harmony story, Transient 114 of Megazine’s 2.73 – 2.76, by the same author and artist – an excuse really only to show off Jim Murray’s early work as otherwise I’m sure they would have collected this much earlier after Harmony got its own reprint. The artwork’s even better in this longer tale and it’s really no wonder Murray’s been a concept artist of video games – on one of my favourite of all time as I discovered, the brilliant Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and may Grud bless him for his work on that most glorious of games (use the sidebar on the right to see other posts with his amazing concept art for the game) – his massive robot on page three saying it all.

Alas, I would need prior reading of this series to really appreciate it, the setting of a city in the Dredd universe only becoming clear to me a quarter of a way through this second story and a lack of previous character knowledge meaning the conflicts meant very little. It’s good though, and I’ll pick up a copy of issue 288 of the Meg just for the collection of other this series’ other strips.

Detonator X by Ian Edington and Steve Yeowell (Bagged with Megazine 341)

Published in Progs 1534 – 1543, this is one of very few collected stories reprinted in this format that I’ve actually read. It wasn’t incredibly amazing at time nor is now on a reread, and neither was it praised to any large extent, but I am glad to see it collected nonetheless. The idea is a sound one and it has great writing from Edington throughout, but unfortunately it’s over too soon after a pretty dumb plot twist. It’s the art brought to us by Steve Yeowell that’s really worth it. It’s coloured stuff from him for a change but, if I’m being perfectly honest, it’s what Chris Blythe does as the colourist that actually makes it look so good. See, Yeowell is one of those artists that’s very sparse with detail – sometimes only bothering with the most essential of things – which some people really dislike. In this case, if it were only in black and white, I’d probably join those people. As the story is about giant robots fighting giant monsters, I don’t think black and white alone would cut it.

Enter Mr. Blythe, colourist extraordinaire. The splash page reveal of Jared on Detonator X at the end of the first episode is the perfect example of the the way he completes every page. If that were in black and white you wouldn’t really get as great a sense of depth to the background, nor would you tell that the robot is rusted from age (and shit), yet Blythe really distinguishes the colour of the distant background to that in the foreground and adds little bits of brown to indicate the age of the robot (and the shit). It’s easily some of his best work – I mean, he’s always on his game, but without him in this case, the strip would look entirely different and, I think, much worse. Incidentally, the other story included in this floppy is a Future Shock from Prog 1405 not only coloured by Blythe over Yeowell’s artwork, but written by him too. It’s not a bad little story at all, but it’s again the art and colouring that are the real highlight. A smashing reprint overall.

Click on the image of this fantastic old school cover of Karl Richardson’s (it’d make a damn fine poster for a monster flick, wouldn’t it?) for some other rather smashing ones by him

Downlode Tales – Volume 1 by Dan Abnett and various artists (Bagged with Megazine 330)

So, I am about to say something that may cause harm to your brain: I actually quite liked these. Yes, I was surprised too, but hear me out. Though our hateable duo still take up front and centre stage, the thing that makes these collections, apparently the follow up to a story arc called Eurocrash, so good is that the side characters are given a good time in the spotlight. Indeed, these tales don’t even use the title Sinister Dexter at all, all of them being named Downlode Tales. This is the first they’ve been collected too, which is quite strange seeing as they’re fairly important tales.

This first volume collects stories from Progs 1126, 1127, 1144, 1145 – 1148, and 1152 – 1154, and they’re all really solid stuff. It’s remarkable to think that this series was once not shit! The timeline is beyond me but here’s the set up for this particular story arc: in Eurocrash, our duo failed to protect mob boss, Demi Octavo, who had they been working for. Blaming each other for her death, they head their separate ways as seen here, Dexter joining girlfriend Tracy’s police unit to avoid a spell in jail and Sinister joining in on the frays breaking out around the city, hoping to avenge Demi’s killers.

The story itself is nothing amazing but believe me when I say that, when compared to now, Abnett’s writing for the series is a lot better. Not only is there no crappy filler stories in sight, there’s just much higher quality dialogue throughout these books. No “Welcome to…” starting off every fucking episode; no excessive use of “funt” to cover up shoddy writing; no bullshit at all in general. The tales of this volume are a set up for those included in the next, a couple of one-off’s following the characters of Bunkum and Rex Monday, and the two slightly longer stories being from the perspectives of Ray and Finn separately. They ain’t bad at all, and neither is the art, the best of which is from Sean Phillips, Siku, Paul Johnson and Greg Staples, though Trevor Hairsine’s a nice addition too. A pretty impressive line-up there, I have to say, and the great thing is that they really put a huge amount of effort into their episodes, particularly Siku, Johnson and Staples whose artwork is all gloriously painted.

All in all, an unexpectedly great start.

Downlode Tales – Volume 2 by Dan Abnett and various artists (Bagged with Megazine 334)

The second volume reprints stories from Progs 1149 (this one co-scripted by Abnett’s wife – who has a blog here – which I found quite lovely to see), 1155 – 1160, and 1161 – 1165 (actually a story longer in length that concludes in the next collection) and they’re pretty great again, though it’s the third and longest story, Lock and Lode, that’s the real highlight, an explosive tale that sees our two gunsharks facing off against each other. This volume’s as artistically strong as last time too. It’s the first I’ve heard and seen of Calum Watt of the one-off, a capable artist, but not as good as the other two in this volume, who are Chris Weston of Indigo Prime and Simon Davis of Slaine in the Prog just now. The funny thing I noticed about Weston was that he changed the design of Finnigan since the last book, which Davis then carries on. Checking Wikipedia, I realised that, quite like Dredd’s ever changing design, the character design of Sinister Dexter isn’t rooted down either. Alas, Davis is the artist of our entire next book, so we unfortunately don’t get too see anyone else’s take on Abnett’s creation. Though speaking of changing design, one other thing that really stood out is that Dexter’s “Fony” tattoo on his forehead actually used to be “Sony”, I would presume re-written for copyrights sake. By the way, I never understood why Ray’s tattoo was there, or why he had those completely white eyes – turns out he can watch TV using them. Who knew?

Downlode Tales – Volume 3 by Dan Abnett and Simon Davis (Bagged with Megazine 335)

This third and last volume starts by collecting the remaining three parts of Lock and Lode from Progs 1166 – 1168, thus finishing the Downlode Tales collection, a pretty good story arc right enough that ends with a pretty funny final episode of people visiting Finny and Ray in hospital. Those three parts alone aren’t enough to fill this floppy however, so the remainder is a collection of a true Sinister Dexter story, The Off-Lode Experience that ran much later than the Downlode Tales, in Progs 1313 – 1321. Is it as good? Why, yes, yes, it is. Not amazing to an extent that I’ll remember it forever, but great stuff yet again, this time a much more humorous story that sees the gunsharks cross dressing, talking what sounds like complete gibberish to some aliens, dropping hilarious one liners, all as they hunt down a target out in space, and if that doesn’t sound like good fun, then I dunno what does to ya. Oh, and Simon Davis’ artwork is even better in this story – lots of brilliant panel layouts going on and some really nice choices of colour.

Well, now that I’ve read these great tales, I think I’ll go back to hating the shite released today if ya don’t mind…

Durham Red: Island of the Damned by Alan Grant and Carlos Ezquerra (Bagged with Megazine 319)

Well, holy bejeezus, would ya look at this one! Some of these collections are too good to be true! This is the first I’ve read of Durham Red’s solo series in the world of Strontium Dog and I bloody well loved it. The reprint coming out later this year is definitely now on my to-buy list in fact, though I believe the titular story of that collection (bitch isn’t meant as an insult but the opposite to the male dog by the way, though it’s somewhat troubling that characters seem to have a tendency to constantly call her one anyway).

It’s scripted by Alan Grant and he does a fine job. This story – originally published in Progs 762 – 773 – follows Red (whose mutation, by the way, is, um, vampiric in nature, sorta meaning she’s a dangerous foe to cross) on a bounty hunting mission that goes south – the kind of south that has you stranded on the titular island where people go insane due to the conditions they’re put through there. It’s not a particularly amazing adventure, but it is fun, and makes good use of flashbacks to explore Red’s background, which is surprisingly quite sad, and I’d hope is further fleshed out elsewhere.

But you know what really makes this reprint worth searching for? The art of Carlos fucking Ezquerra, that’s what! Remember the glorious water colouring he used to do, his peak with this style (and possibly the last time he used it for Dredd…?) being Necropolis? Well, this is also water coloured, which means it looks fucking incredible. Behold the beauty of his work throughout this tale! God, I love it so much. It makes so sad to think that Ezquerra has gotten so on in years that his son Hector now has to help him, but there is no way this man will ever be forgotten by the fan base he’s established and held for such a long time. But like many other 2000AD artists (and writers for that matter), I think it’s a bloody crime that there’s such a lack of attention given to him outside our corner of the comic world. It honestly shocks me that the American comic market is so huge, all its writers and artists talked about for the world to see, yet those lunatics are missing people like this chap from their lives.

Fools, all of ’em! Anyway, I selected the cover to this floppy as the image breaking up this blog entry here because, well…oh-la-la. See Strontium Dogs: Crossroads for more Durham Red.

One vampire you might not mind getting bit by…

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F FOR FLESH AND H FOR HARRY KIPLING (DECEASED)

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Flesh: Chronocide by Dan Abnett and Steve White with art by Gary Erskine (Bagged with Megazine 312)

Oh dear. Okay, here’s the thing: to my knowledge, Flesh, a series created by Pat Mills, only has one collection, The Dino Files, and in that collection lies mostly early stuff that ran in a number of Progs before no. 100 because those were well loved little things. Yet in the nineties the series was revived, this at least ten years later. Though I’m not sure how the Mills scripted series’ were received, I’m pretty sure all that’s collected here wasn’t (Mills is apparently the reason you see a disclaimer at the start of every episode of these stories stating that Flesh was created by him – he quite dislikes anyone else writing his creations), nor have been other writers take on spin-off series, Satanus, either, I think. It died away again for a while, but has recently been re-revived (in fact, as I was collecting the comic previously it appeared in a special one-off with classic art by Ramon Sola for the comic’s anniversary) and I believe I should get round to the latest series when I read 2013’s Progs, though I think it’s a revival opinions are a bit split on. Either way, I don’t this was well received, and I see why.

Running originally in Progs 973 – 979, the back of this floppy doesn’t quite clearly state that it’s a total re-imaging of the series –  the least they could have called it is another perspective, saving me from picking it up. The big concept of Flesh, if you don’t know, is cowboys from the future farming dinosaurs of the distant past for meat. It’s better than it sounds, I assure you. Yet Chronocide is mainly set out at sea, away from all the fucking awesome dinosaurs; has a lack of cowboys (we instead get characters who say stupid shit like, “Here endeth the lesson” with no sense of irony before killing people); and focuses far too much on the conflicts between the humans, ultimately resulting in them fighting each other instead of the underwater beasties, who should be far more interesting.

Basically, it’s pants. Don’t get me started on the ridiculous scene where a baddie shoots one of the good guys in the chest, even though he’s wearing armour over it, when his head is completely exposed and he has him held at gunpoint at point blank range. My head may explode from ranting if I get into that and some other dumb scenes. Not even Erskine’s artwork has any effort put into it, simply boring and flat the entire time. It’s actually quite aggravating that it looks so terrible when straight after it’s over we get a two page story called Flesh 3000AD (written by David Bishop and Steve MacManus (what’d they do – a page each?) for Prog 1034) with painted art by Carl Critchlow. Teasing bastards.

The remainder of the collection has two more Vector 13 stories scripted by Dan Abnett from Progs 956 and 991, the only good things about this damnable collection, but avoid it at all costs – unless you were a really big fan of the things, it’s really not worth it in any way.

Harry Kipling (Deceased) by Simon Spurrier and Boo Cook (Bagged with Megazine 323)

On the contrary, this was a mini-reprint I simply had to get my hands on, no question about it. Here is a character who made his debut shortly after I began buying the comic with the end-of-the-year Prog 2006. The comic was off to a rather great start as I recall, but nothing new entered the scene until Prog 1476, which just so happened to be a rather great one overall, what with two variant covers and other fun stories beside this. But no, this was the real highlight for me.

The first episode to be published was simply a Prologue, and what a bloody prologue it was. It’s quite frankly, as far as I’m concerned, one of the best debut’s a character has ever seen in the pages of the glorious anthology. What happens is that we meet some alien family sitting down for dinner, the children begging the mother to tell them the story of what happened to their father. This is a clever set up to explain the backstory in an interesting way, culminating in the reveal that the family we’re listening to are Gods, their meal human beings – a brilliant little twist, I’m sure you’ll agree. But this is only one reveal. All the while as the mother has relayed this tale she’s referred to the titular character who killed the father, a mysterious man believed dead. But in the background – kept in silhouettes or out of sight entirely – we’ve seen a figure making his way towards the family’s home, eventually ending the prologue with the amazing character reveal below in all his brilliantly designed glory. It really is a fantastic opening story.

And yet it is one of six tales with this character if you can believe it. Besides the prologue, four more are reprinted here from Progs 1481 – 1483, 1492 – 1493, 1497 – 1499 and Prog 2007, the last tale collected in the Tiger Sun, Dragon Moon collection that I discuss further in this blog entry. As you can see from this lot, the various series’ were short things that appeared on a fairly regular basis, which you would think would mean there were plans in place for the series to continue. Yet after the last story ends it just disappears and I recall people wondering where it went. It went with Spurrier to America as far as I’m aware, along with Lobster Random, Bec and Kawl and The Simping Detective, only the last of which he’d continue upon his return.

It’s a great shame that this was abandoned though because I believe the general consensus on it was quite a positive one, and unlike some other series’ of Spurrier’s stories, this doesn’t have the inner character monologue / “Spurrierisms” that a lot of people aren’t fans of. In fact, the parody of Kipling as an undead patriotic Brit was pretty funny for the most part, what with lines like “Queensbury rules!” before a fight and an obsession with earl grey tea. Even Boo Cook’s artwork was excellent in all but the Prog 2007 one-off, which looked very rushed. In everything besides that he seems to take great delight in creating wondrous designs and being acutely detailed at all times, even nailing the expressions of the characters throughout the series. But it was not meant to be and shall thus be forgotten, which is terrible.

Wrapping up this particular floppy is a Future Shock – Sex Machine from Prog 1264 – from the same creative team, with completely different looking artwork from Cook. Looks quite horrible compared to his stuff now actually, in my opinion anyway. See Tiger Sun, Dragon Moon for more thoughts on Harry Kipling.

Boo Cook delivering a double whammy of brilliant reveals

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LIKE, I WHOLLY HATE JUDGE JANUS

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Janus, Psi-Division – Volume 1 by Grant Morrison, Mark Millar and Maggie Knight with art by Paul Johnson (Bagged with Megazine 347)

Ah. Those two. Listen, here’s the thing: I haven’t actually gotten round to the point in the Complete Case Files of Judge Dredd where Mr. Morrison and Millar enter the scene, but like the early Garth Ennis stuff, I know it has a reputation of being…well, shite. First there was a story called Purgatory by Millar that’s considered pretty terrible, introducing a Judge by the name of Grice who manages to seize control of Titan through ridiculous means; and then there was a follow up to this called Inferno by Morrison, where Janus is introduced, helping Dredd stop Grice from taking over Mega City One. It’s difficult enough making my way through some of Ennis’ poorer stuff, but these sound even worse. It’s not even that they never wrote anything good for 2000AD – Morrison is of course the author of a much loved classic, Zenith, that’s seeing a reprint later this year (unless you were one of the lucky few to get your hands on the signed complete edition) – but that neither writer seemed to simply understand the Dredd universe.

With that lesson out the way, here’s what’s reprinted: by Morrison and Maggie Knight (the only contribution to 2000AD of hers that I could find – and as I can’t find a profile for her anywhere, I have no idea who she is, especially since there’s no authors bio included in this floppy), House of Sighs from Prog 953; by Millar, A New Star of Progs 980 – 984; and by both men, the first half of Faustus is here reprinted from Progs 1024 – 1027, the rest collected in the next volume. According to BARNEY, the only missing comic strip that Janus appeared in under this spin-off title that’s uncollected is one called Will o’ the Wisp, which was part of the Winter Special (something which may be starting again this year if the first Summer Special in years released on the 28th of May is a success) of 1993. Otherwise, these have everything. How are they?

Well, it’s some pretty weird shit to say the least. To be fair, I’ve read very little of Anderson’s Psi-Division stories, so I’m not sure if she ever had such strange encounters with poltergeists and the like in quite the same way, but I have my doubts, particularly since I read somewhere – can’t exactly remember, but perhaps in an interview with one of 2000AD’s editors or on the comic’s official forums – that if Morrison and Millar had continued with Janus’ adventures, they would have eventually introduced a God Judge (there’s Judge-Angels at the end of Faustus, bad enough itself), which should quite frankly say it all. Yeah, I have heard that some of Anderson’s adventures are quite surreal – part of the reason why that Arthur Ranson is considered the artist when it comes to the character – but I guess the difference between Alan Grant and these two writers is that the former cares enough about the world of Dredd to not fool around with it in such a ridiculous manner. He may be criticised for retreading old ground with his Anderson tales, but I’ve never read any complaints from readers that he’d taken the surrealistic nature of Anderson’s powers too far, whereas Janus’ foe in A New Star is a Psi Judge with her badge engraved into her forehead, and there’s implications of some conspiracy going on within Psi-Division the whole time, not to mention a bunch of other crap.

This entry for the Complete Case Files Volume 19, which features Morrison’s Inferno, on Douglas Wolk’s Dredd Reckoning blog is perhaps worth a read, an author of a book on Morrison’s comics, Dr. Marc Singer, joining Wolk for this instalment, arguing that Morrison never wanted to do anything interesting with the Dredd world, having been quoted as saying that he found the character and setting irrelevant, at least at the time (as Singer points out, it’s surely not something Morrison would say today). It doesn’t exactly offer any explanation as to why he then created this spin-off, especially since both authors of this post criticise Janus quite harshly for her apparently pointless role in Inferno, but Morrison seemed to like her for some reason, although…

Well, here’s something funny: if you didn’t skip it, up above I complain that a character in the second Black Siddha storyline annoyingly says the word “mate” so many times in the second half of the story that I was driven to the brink of insanity with it. But Judge Judy Janus is much, much, much worse. Roughly one thousand times in this first volume alone she says the words “like” – in that annoying teenager way, yes – and “wholly” – oh my fucking god, wholly – and it is so fucking irritating. But you know what’s worse than those two words? When you combine them! Oh god, yes, no mercy is given from Morrison and Millar (they even have a Cadet Judge joke about in on the first page of Faustus) – if the two separately weren’t enough for you to tear your eyes out, then try this, you poor bastards! The comic’s been home to many an annoying character to be fair. There’s Walter the fucking Wobot, funtin’ Sinister and Dexter and their goddamn mannerisms, and I recently discovered a companion to Johnny Alpha and Wulf called the Gronk that made me want to kill myself – and now I’ve read my way through this utter madness! Won’t my suffering ever end?

Okay, but seriously speaking, she’s an incredibly annoying character for reasons besides that. In A New Star a pal of hers is killed at the beginning of the second episode where, on the next page, we find Janus saying this as she looks out the shattered window this friend of hers was thrown from: “Wow, that’s like, quite a fall Bryce took. Let’s hope she passed out before hitting the pedwalk, huh?” Two pages later she then says this to another character: “Me and Bryce graduated from the Academy together and now she’s dead. I’m wholly depressed about this”. Right. Sure. But wait – hilariously, there’s more. Here are Janus’ words on the death of her best friend (who, by the way, her boss anonymously describes as having been “barbecued” and when Janus sees who it is, says, “I’m sorry, Janus. Didn’t I say? It was Stryker. She was your best friend, wasn’t she?” – what a nice guy) in part three: “Stryker? Oh wow. This is wholly tragic”. Then: “At this rate all my friends are going to be ghosts by the end of the week”. For fuck’s sake, Millar, what are you even doing?

Janus enters Limbo for the inexplicable conclusion by the way, where she and her dead buddies – who she still makes stupid fucking jokes about – somehow release every soul trapped there. And then she turns up in the real world in front of Dredd, where she literally asks him, of all people, “When did you last see like, so many new stars in heaven?” to end the story. And that’s only the Millar strip. Yeah. Lest this turn into a doubly long rant, I won’t go into Faustus until Volume 2 below – and only then in much shorter length – but needless to say, it’s not very good either.

Thankfully Paul Johnson’s gorgeous painted artwork, the same style used in his contribution to Downlode Tales, is there to save the day. If it weren’t for him I don’t think I could have put myself through this lunacy, but his artwork here is excellent, really quite suitable for the surreal sequences with all the cool little effects he adds, not to mention his great sense of colour for these scenes. There’s also the cover to Prog 984 he did of the Psi Judge foe I mentioned – yes, that one below – that I love very much.

Janus, Psi-Division – Volume 2 by Grant Morrison, Mark Millar with art by Paul Johnson (Bagged with Megazine 348)

Alright, I’ll briefly talk about Faustus now as the second half of its story, reprinted from Progs 1028 – 1031, is only one half of this floppy, the other taken up by the start of Judge Karyn’s solo adventures which I was much more fond of. But first, like Millar’s solo script, this last Janus tale is shite.

Apart from Morrison and Millar making a joke about her annoying dialogue that made me grit my teeth, I didn’t mind the first episode of this story, which seemed promising – although I did raise an eyebrow at Justice Department’s seemingly random choice of escorts for the Brit-Cit Ambassador. That should have been a warning as I knew I was in for more painful reading when, on the very first page of the second part of this terrible tale,  some Judge by the name of Greymaulkin actually points out that his Cadet is on this mission with him: “Chief Judge expects big things from Mookie. I mean, when was the last time you saw a juve his age on a major diplomatic mission?” Indeed, if writers who actually gave a shit about this universe were writing this, you fucking wouldn’t because it would not bloody happen. It’s bad enough that he has to point this out with no objections, but his very next line is even dumber: “They’re already calling him the new Judge Dredd”. Oh, goddamnit.

It only goes downhill from there. This story is complete utter bollocks. The Faustus of the title is an indestructible former Judge altered by the Black Atlantic who picks off all his escorts when their ship crashes into that toxic sea, which would be fine if everyone weren’t such jackasses. The moronic highlight has to be when Janus alters Faustus’ perception, allowing her and fellow Judges to appear invisible as he wanders around in the same room as them, standing rock still even as he uses Heatseeker rounds – from a Lawmaster that he somehow “modified” in less than sixty seconds for…oh never mind, just fucking because – to kill some of them. Why didn’t they just shoot the guy, doing so having at least slowed him down before? ‘Cause this story is dumb, that’s why, a stupid ending, I kid you not, taking Janus to a potential future of Mega City One that she stops from happening.

Oh, and don’t worry if you thought I’d forgotten something. Our dear Janus is still as annoying and insensitive as ever. Behold a snippet of her emergency report to the Big Meg on Greymaulkin being hit by a hi-ex round: “Greymaulkin was lying in like, at least two pieces […]”. How we’re supposed to take a character like this seriously I honestly do not know. There’s also the fact that she repeats this guy’s moronic thought that Mookie could be “the next Judge Dredd” (he in fact, in a future that never happens (not only because it’s avoided in the story itself, but because Wagner thankfully ignored all of this lunacy), becomes the “greatest Judge of all time”, his reign as Chief Judge (yes, really) seemingly the best for some reason), but fuck it – I’m out. If I write any more paragraphs on this nonsense I may just use the paper of the floppies to cut my wrists. The art of Paul Johnson is a saving grace of sorts still – and I feel sorry for the guy for having to bring this mess to life – but it really isn’t something I’d recommend reading for the sake of how lovely it looks.

So onto to Karyn we go, slightly greener pastures. Okay, so she first appeared in a Dredd story called Raptaur, a story collected in a floppy shortly below. That isn’t the only Dredd story she appeared in, although she’s no longer a character who’ll be seeing the light of day, having become a vampire or something in a story called Descent. But for a short while she had her own series, of which Skinner, collected here from Megazine’s 2.56 – 2.61, is the first, the rest seeing a collection a month from now as issue 349’s supplement, which should include the two other long stories of hers (a one off was published in the Judge Dredd Mega Special of 1994, so I’m not sure if that’ll be reprinted), the last of which I’m quite looking forward to, being written by John Smith, author of Devil Waugh whom the character appeared alongside a few times.

This, however, is written by one John Freeman, a name I’m entirely unfamiliar with, as I am with the artist, Adrian Salmon. The former did very little for either comic, though he is more well known as the editor of Marvel UK when it still existed; but the latter had several more contributions to make, though is also more well known for his work on Doctor Who comics, which Freeman also wrote for. Neither are particularly bad, but I wouldn’t call them great either. The story isn’t that good, but at least it makes sense, Freeman clearly showing some interest in the world. Also, on the second page, Karyn’s in pursuit of an organ running chap called Willy Wobbler, so he wins bonus points for that.

It’s Salmon’s art that’s arguably a bit of a let down, being a very unusual style. It’s all in black and white, which would be fine if it weren’t for the fact that certain scenes can often look a little confusing. You really need to take the time to carefully look over some panels because at a glance they can look quite different than what’s actually taking place. In these two panels that I found, for instance, what’s actually happening is that a back wall is being blown out in the first panel as the alien taking the form of a Judge changes in the next. It’s a very interesting art style to say the least, and I suppose I’ll wait to see more of it with Megazine 349 before I come to any final conclusions.

Either way, although the story may not be great, it’s an improvement to Janus and with a John Smith story hopefully being collected next time, I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing more.

Prog 984’s frightening cover

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THANK GOD FOR JUDGE DREDD

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Judge Dredd: Bad Manners by John Wagner with art by John Burns, Wayne Reynolds and Paul Marhsall (Bagged with Megazine 286)

Not got a lot to say about this one as it’s pretty basic stuff. The Manners of the title is a corrupt Judge, one only seen in the three tales collected here (the art done by the artists above in sequential order). The first story, Bad Manners as per the title, was published in Megazine 4.04 and sees the unpleasant chap being caught abusing his authority by a young juve whom he eventually sets up as a drug dealer in order to kill and keep silent, Dredd taking a seat on the bench for the most part, blissfully unaware of Manners’ reputation as he finds the clues the man has even left to set up the kid. Although this is a very interesting perspective, there’s unfortunately not a whole lot you can do with such a character, so the next story, Flippers of Megazine’s 4.07 – 4.08 (set in a Pinboing Stadium – haven’t seen one of those used in a story for ages!), sees Dredd take back centre stage whilst it’s Manners that takes a back seat. Then, to get the inevitable over with, the last story, Rotten Manners of Progs 1306 – 1307, sees the corrupt Judge being shot down by fellow Judges after being caught out as the murderer of a juve at the beginning of the story.

But inevitable end or not, and though it feels like Wagner didn’t see much more use for Manners after the first story, the writing quality isn’t sacrificed, these being the sort of typically well written affairs from the man himself that you’ve come to expect, dark but also quite funny in his usual way (the two Judges that Dredd orders to go undercover as a couple of dirty Judges in a sexual relationship with a child on the way actually are the latter the entire time). The first and last story even cleverly change perspectives – the first is told from the young juve’s point of view as he tries to have Manners caught by Dredd, and the last is fittingly told from Manner’s perspective as his god-like abuse of power sees him justly killed. A brilliant collection, this one.

Judge Dredd: Raptaur by Alan Grant and Dean Ormston (Bagged with Megazine 297)

Not a whole lot to say about this one either, although it’s pretty great too. It ran in some of the earliest issues of the Megazine, 1.11 – 1.17, and is a pretty standard Dredd v.s. evil creature affair. Ain’t nothing wrong with that, however, as it proves to be a blast with some utterly brilliant artwork from Ormston, whose design of the creature, as it first clearly appears in the story, you can see below. It must be a somewhat popular story with the fans, or maybe it’s just the creature itself that’s quite loved (it is also Jack Point’s choice of pet if you didn’t know), as it will be appearing on Brian Bolland’s upcoming cover for issue 350 of the Megazine. Um, yeah, think I’ll have to go with Ormston’s terrifying version myself. His art is actually the highlight of this whole story for me, all beautifully painted with very clear storytelling. The writing on the other hand…well, it’s not Grant at his best, that’s for sure, and there’s some downright weird dialogue from Dredd, the worst of which has to be, “O ye of little faith!”, something Anderson would certainly say, but not Dredd.

Speaking of which, Anderson’s supposedly out of duty at the time of this story thanks to Grant himself, so that means Judge Karyn, who I’ll remind you will be getting her own reprint of solo adventures with issue 349 of the Megazine, makes her debut, although it’s not particularly memorable or anything and she could have honestly been any Psi Judge for the small role that she plays. What’s even stranger is that, according to BARNEY’s database, she would get her own solo series immediately after her appearance here, only a side character again when John Smith would use as part of a story involving Devlin Waugh. Shouldn’t that be the other way around? Bit odd.

In conclusion, this is a fine little collection, although you’ll run into Raptaur itself sooner or later if you buy the Complete Case Files of Judge Dredd, Volume 16 it would appear.

Not a face you want to be running into in a dark alley…

Judge Dredd: The John Higgins Collection by John Wagner and Alan Grant with art by John Higgins (Bagged with Megazine 285)

Here’s a great thing the good folk creating these floppies have used them for several times now: showcasing a single artist’s developed work. The other collections like this, that I unfortunately didn’t get my hands on, have thus far been ones for Ian Gibson, Jock, Colin Wilson and Mike McMahon, which I’m sure were all great. This is too, though the title as I’ve written it isn’t strictly true, as there’s a story here actually written by Higgins as well as illustrated, but we’ll get to that. This chap has a lot of good work under his belt, including here in 2000AD, but I oddly never saw anything from him when I was collecting the comic in the past, besides the amazing looking Greysuit, which is getting a third series later this year. In comparison to that, however, the artwork collected here couldn’t look any more different, except for the one strip at the end.

First is a T.B. Grover (Wagner and Grant together) scripted tale, Last of the Bad Guys from the Judge Dredd Annual of 1988, a beautifully painted little thing. This may have been collected in one of the four Restricted Files books, but I can’t say for sure since I haven’t bought any of those yet. Like most stories from the annuals, it’s silly good fun, but nothing you should read with your Serious Critic goggles on. The idea that Dredd would be chosen to find another Judge out in the Cursed Earth alone doesn’t really hold up, you know? It’s pretty hilarious stuff from them both though. In the second chapter the “Guys” of the title are introduced in a two page spread that’s just brilliant, starting off with some fairly unsurprising names like Tough Guy, Big Guy and so on, but then becoming absurd with names like Little Big Guy and Big Little Guy, though the highlight is Smelly Guy saved for last, who waves from the distant background of this spread, flies visibly surrounding him.

But even if it were meant to be taken seriously, Higgin’s art more than makes up for it with some bloody jaw dropping pages in this story alone (it’s actually the best looking of what’s collected here, although one other is also fully painted), the moment Dredd’s dropped off by himself being particularly breathtaking, the H-Wagon lifting off behind him kicking up a cloud of sand as it departs, although the storm he’s briefly caught in and the ending chapter look amazing too. The same can’t be entirely said for the next story, The Blob of the Judge Dredd Mega Special of the same year by Grant, in which Higgins’ artwork is in black and white with some grey toning. It’s not that his artwork’s bad in black and white, but I just find that it looks better coloured, something he does himself. If you don’t already know, this is the man who coloured The Killing Joke before Bolland re-done it and, more noticeably, Watchmen, although that too was re-coloured.

The next two stories are thankfully a return to his superior coloured work. First there’s a tale scripted by him as well as painted, Scales of Justice of Progs 884 – 885. This time it looks like he may have used watercolours, which is nice, but not quite as good as the annual story. And the script…well, yeah, it’s not very good, and I didn’t honestly find it entirely clear what happened. For instance, we at one point see Dredd arrive too late to save another Judge, but the way the panel focuses closely on him as the guy’s electrocuted makes it look like Dredd did sod all to even try helping. When the camera then pulls back out for the next page Dredd’s suddenly strapped to the same chair, the former Cadets somehow having managed to overpower him. So, yeah, pretty terrible writing.

But ending this collection is a Wagner tale, Generation Killer of Prog 1212, which of course is very well written. It also happens to have an art style much closer to what Higgins does today, though at this point he seems fairly inconsistent with the quality of the colouring that will later look perfect for his contribution to the Mega City Justice story arc. A nice collection overall and I hope we’ll see a few more like it as it’s always nice to see the an artist develop his skills over time, or simply what his different styles have looked like. Might even be nice if, instead of an art showcase, they use the floppies to occasionally collect a writer’s short stories that will likely never be reprinted. I know I would appreciate the hell out of an Al Ewing collection…

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MEN WITH ROBOTIC ARMS: LOBSTER RANDOM AND MEAN MACHINE

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Lobster Random: Tooth and Claw by Simon Spurrier and Carl Critchlow (Bagged with Megazine 342)

Another incredible collection this, reprinting the second story arc of Lob’s adventures from Progs 1411 – 1419 (the first series that I’ve yet to get a hold of can be found in hardback, but the remaining three series’, including The Vort, haven’t been reprinted at all unfortunately). At the time of my initial collection I loved this guy and, though this isn’t as good as its sequels, I did enjoy this a great deal too, only some of Spurrier’s verbosity letting it down. That usually isn’t something that bothers me and didn’t always here with some of his funny metaphors, but there were a few sequences that were packed with too much of his Spurrierisms, some lines getting repetitive quickly. Otherwise: smashing stuff. A shame that this series was dropped like Harry Kipling, but I’ve pleaded in my letter to Dreddlines that the remainder of the series be reprinted.

Also included are two Future Shocks, one from Prog 748 showcasing Carl Critchlow’s artwork (this is his one and only appearance in a Future Shock surprisingly) – his old painted style, though quite poor looking compared to, say, his Judge Dredd / Batman crossover, The Ultimate Riddle – and one from Prog 1232, Simon Spurrier’s first piece of writing for the comic. The former written by one Mark Eyles isn’t that great, but Spurrier’s first published piece of writing for the comic isn’t that bad at all and unlike the obvious change in Critchlow’s style, you can see that even then he loved playing around with ridiculous, wordy dialogue. A great way to end this reprint, these two.

Mean Machine: Travels With Muh Shrink by John Wagner and Gordon Rennie with art by Richard Dolan, John Hicklenton and Wayne Reynolds (Bagged with Megazine 298)

This is a fairly solid collection of three solo Mean Machine stories, the first and longest being the titular one that ran in Progs 730 – 736, scripted by Wagner with art by Dolan. Though I’m not sure what the deal is with him getting a series of his own like this, I’m kinda happy he did and that I get to read them. Introduced in The Judge Child Saga along with the rest of the Angel family, Mean was easily the most eye catching of the bunch – a claw for in place of a right arm and a dial on the forehead with four different settings of meanness will do that. Yet, like the rest of the gang, he died in that story. Buuuut was then revived by the Judge Child (I believe you can find Wagner on the record somewhere stating that he thought killing him off in the first place was a mistake) to aid him in his vengeance against Dredd, though was of course defeated. But Mean survived this time and has been kicking around ever since, coming in and out of prison (that sounds so wrong!).

One story that I’ve read, but don’t know where (an annual perhaps?), shows Mean falling in love with a woman, who in actuality is tricking him into dealing with his family so she can rob them, including him. What I didn’t know is that it was with this woman that Mean has his son with. Oh yes, after time in and out the cubes that I never saw during my collection of the comic, there eventually came a story called Fifty Year Man in which we readers shockingly saw what to my knowledge has been the last sighting of Mean: his claw arm surgically removed along with his dial, he was taken away from the cubes by his son, now at peace. Indeed, one of the interesting things about Mean, and a bit of a gag during the Judge Child Saga, is that out of all the evil people in his family, he’s actually the nicest, his claw and dial made for him by his father who got sick of watching him pick flowers and playing with animals. Kind of nice to see him come to a quiet end like that after all the carnage he causes.

That’s what these stories basically are, though they vary ever so slightly in tone. Mean is one of the characters that Wagner has liked to use for comedy purposes (see the Batman / Judge Dredd crossover, Judgement on Gotham) so this first story is nothing but a silly affair where he gets hold of a time machine and goes back to rescue his family. But the next tale, also by Wagner, Visiting Time of Megazine 2.82, is a focus on Mean’s psychopathic side, quite appropriately with the messy artwork of Hicklenton to back it up. And then to contradict this, the last story, Support Yore Local Bastich of Megazine 3.75 by Rennie, is comedy again with some lovely art by Reynolds (it kinda looks like a weird combination of Kev Walker and Nick Dyer) to match the surprisingly hilarious script that makes good use of some common traits of Mean’s character (he loves teddy bears and the gang that runs him over in the beginning of this story have one impaled to the front of their car) and comics themselves (three panels of the same shot of the saloon where the town’s leaders ask if anyone wants to replace the latest dead sheriff has a tumbleweed blow through it).

Yet I suppose that, though these are fairly fun stories, they highlight the problem with Mean as a character – although he has the potential to be a multi-layered character, he’s really only ever been used for comedy or crazy violence’s sake, unfortunately a little more shallow than he could have been. It’ll sound as I don’t like him by saying this, but I really hope he never returns – that Fifty Year Man remains the perfect send-off for him. Whatever his ultimate fate, this is a nice little collection of easy to read stories.

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MERCY HEIGHTS

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Mercy Heights – Book One by John Tomlinson with art by Kev Walker and Andrew Currie (Bagged with Megazine 313)

We have a total of four of these books if you can believe it, and then two additional spin-offs of the Rogue Trooper universe, in which this is notably set from the first page, where the first character we meet, Tor Cyan, is similarly genetically altered like Rogue with blue skin. This is one character who gets his own series, the other belonging to a female G.I. like Rogue called Venus Bluegenes. Needless to say, for these four and Tor Cyan below, I’ll be trying to be as brief as possible.

The reason I actually bought these separately (this, by the way, is the first of the floppies I’ll have read outside of those bagged with the copies of the Megazine I wrote about in previous entries in this series) was for the art, specifically that of Kev Walker, Jock, Henry Flint and Simon Coleby. We’ll get to them all in their respective time, but yes, John Tomlinson was a name that meant nothing to me prior to purchasing this. The guy was actually an editor of 2000AD briefly, but he’s credited with quite a good number of stories too, this series – co-created with Walker – seemingly being the longest he worked on.

This first book isn’t actually big enough to fit the first series, only collecting the first ten parts from Progs 1033 – 1042. It’s really quite good though. The title is that of a hospital in outer space – although this shares the same universe as Rogue Trooper, I don’t think it’s set anywhere near that series’ endless war – where we find a conspiracy going on behind the scenes, an interesting choice of story because all the while we have a small cast of main characters who work in the same ambulance together, yet can skip to a different narrative thread at any moment. It’s only fair to mention that it’s a little confusing at first, but once you see the different plot pieces tie together, there’s quite  a bit here to enjoy. More on the first series in the next book below.

So the artwork in this first instalment is from Walker and Currie together, with colouring courtesy of Alan Craddock. Since it’s Walker that I’m interested in – and Currie besides has very little credit in the comic – I’ll focus on him. Though it’s impossible to tell who’s responsible for the look of the art, I would honestly never have associated Walker’s name with it if it weren’t for the credits. Though he has done painted artwork for the past, I think readers today would associate his name with the art we saw him do in Judge Dredd: Mandroid and The Connection, prologue to the epic Origins, both of which look heavily inspired by Mike Mignola in that there’s fog shrouding characters in backgrounds, lots and lots of heavy blacks, missing feet of course, a peculiar focus on certain details, a clear distinction between foreground and background, etc. It’s easier to take in than Mignola’s stuff, sure, but you can see the inspiration, though I’m sure he has many more besides.

Yet the artwork here looks nothing like that. It has much finer linework that really goes to pack on quite a bit of detail everywhere. It’s not bad but you will inevitably notice a lot of blank backgrounds a lot of the time, something which meshes well with his future artistic style, but not so much this, where it’s the details that make it good. Even though he’s co-creator, he only does the art for these first ten episodes of this first series, not returning to the strip until we get to the fourth floppy where he’ll adopt his Mignola-lite look. But here’s an example of his artwork at this stage, which you can then compare with the style used by the time we get to the fourth book and part of Tor Cyan’s solo stuff further away.

If the colouring were done by him it’s possible it may looked like his style today, but coloured as it is, you can see that the detail is kept intact

Mercy Heights – Book Two by John Tomlinson, Lee Sullivan, Trevor Hairsine and Neil Googe (Bagged with Megazine 314)

Kicking off this book are the last five episodes of the first long series of Mercy Heights, reprinted from Progs 1043 – 1047, Lee Sullivan taking over from Kev Walker. To be honest, though, if it weren’t for the credits yet again, I’d be hard pressed to tell the difference, as not only are the two styles very alike, but Alan Craddock, continuing his colouring, does a consistently good job, I think the main reason why the change isn’t all that noticeable.

The first story arc ends pretty well, the peace treaty in the background of the story being abandoned and war breaking out, cleverly moving Mercy Heights into the heart of the conflict for the next major story arc. Like I said, the thing I really liked about this first story was how Tomlinson moved from all the various narrative threads. Hell, he wasn’t even afraid to kill off some of these characters, a guy who we saw laying down some smackdown on corrupt security forces in the last floppy being brutally murdered by the mysterious killer – who is also a great twist by the way – in this one. So it’s a great start. However, we don’t immediately jump into the next, slightly lengthier series right away – interestingly enough, these are all very close together when it comes to publication dates – taking a breather with a one-off.

This is Dead of Winter from Prog 1124, the art this time taken over by Neil Googe, who’ll do some more for the series a little later. It’s just a comedic little tale, but what I find interesting about is that it revives the series long after the first series ended, almost two years after it ended. Yet Tomlinson kicks into the second and last lengthy series straight away, the first three parts reprinted to conclude this floppy from Progs 1133 – 1135, art now taken over by Trevor Hairsine (this series sure goes through artists!). With the whole war having kicked off, this is much quicker paced, tensions already high by the end of this collection. It’s in the next, however, that we really see the effect a change of pace has had.

Mercy Heights – Book Three by John Tomlinson with art by Lee Sullivan, Trevor Hairsine and Neil Googe (Bagged with Megazine 315)

This floppy still isn’t enough to finish the story, reprinting parts four to thirteen from Progs 1136 – 1146, the last two episodes collected next time. It’s in these parts that we see the story rush forward on a train without brakes, and unfortunately I don’t think the story’s as good for it. To his credit, Tomlinson does try to switch perspectives a bunch of times like the first series, but it’s not nearly as successful. Where the first series was tight with that idea, this is more spontaneous, jumping between characters at random. Where the first book too cleverly ramped up the tension, eventually exploding in violence and a high stakes finale, this is quickly paced all the time, which I don’t think works very well. In fact, some of the tricks, like ending an episode with what looks like a character dying, is repeated quite often, apparently to add more drama to the rushing story. But when you get to the next episode and the character in question is fine, being treated or whatever, the tension of such a scene is lost. Simply put, the bag of tricks are transparent, and the series not as good as the first.

Even a proper villain this time – the first series having made us guess who the bad guy could be – can’t save it. Although the idea of this guy going insane because of a virus in his body isn’t bad, it’s just unfortunate that nothing unique really comes of it.

Mercy Heights – Book Four by John Tomlinson with art by Neil Googe, Kev Walker and Dave Gibbons (Bagged with Megazine 316)

Alas, the ending that took place in Progs 1147 – 1148 ain’t that good either. Maybe a double length final episode would have helped, but the way it ends is a bit unfortunate, not the satisfying conclusion you may have been looking for after enjoying the first series. Yet as you’re about to see, I get the feeling that Tomlinson didn’t really care – that it was Tor Cyan’s solo series that he really wanted to focus on, having already started it before this last series of Mercy Heights. That starts in this floppy, but before we get there, there is his one and only Rogue Trooper story in the middle, Remembrance Day of Prog 2000, with art by the magnificent Dave Gibbons.

Well, I say it’s a Rogue Trooper, but it’s also the start of Tor Cyan’s solo debut too. The first five pages are a summary of Rogue Trooper – who Bagman, Gunnar and Helm are; who they were fighting; etc. – but then we cut to the present day where Tor Cyan is visiting Nu Earth with girlfriend of Mercy Heights, Lilla. The planet where war was once fought is now a mass graveyard, though a bright, colourful one with flowers growing. Canon? No idea – I’m not that familiar with the Rogue Trooper universe and frankly don’t really care. But like many writers who’ve taken a stab at the world, Tomlinson is, although decides to try a fresh perspective through Cyan.

The first two of his tales are reprinted here – Blue Murder from Progs 1123 – 1126 and Crucible from 1250 – 1251 (notice how soon after Mercy Heights’ ending this latter is). When it comes to writing, I’m afraid to say that neither are particularly good, although the second is marginally more interesting, everything that happens actually a hallucination of Cyan’s hunger and thirst for nine days straight. Indeed, they have a gritty tone to them, as Cyan once again finds himself killing; but there’s nothing special about them except, that is, for Kev Walker’s amazing artwork. Oh yes, if there is one reason to get your hands on this floppy, Tor Cyan’s own one, and Venus Bluegenes, it’s for the artwork, which begins at this point to kick ass. It’s the style that Walker uses today, and I love it. Just compare the image below of his work on the series to the little he did for Mercy Heights above and tell me that this Mignola-lite style isn’t a million times better. If I ever cover Judge Dredd: Mandroid in the future, I’ll probably go on and on about how glorious his stuff is, and complain about how little he appears in the Prog.

Catch up with me in the Tor Cyan collection far below, and Venus Bluegenes’ further past that where the last of those stories is also collected with some more brilliant artwork.

The difference a few years honing your skills makes, eh?

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NIGHT ZERO

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Night Zero by John Brosnan and Kev Hopgood (Bagged with Megazine 338)

Reprinted from Progs 607 – 616, Night Zero is the first series of what I guess should be called the “Zero trilogy”. It’s written by John Brosnan – a name my father recognises from his massive collection of Starburst (he has so many that they’re binded by him in separate books) – with art by Kev Hopgood, but neither of whom I’ve ever come across before. The whole trilogy follows a cab driver by the name of Tanner, who in this first arc is enjoying some peace and quiet (well, after killing a guy who tries to rob him with his finger (he shoots lasers from it, which is simply awesome)) on the job in Zero City, a city constantly at night time, when a woman rushes up to his taxi claiming that people are trying to kill her. It might sound like a familiar set-up, but the story did not progress as I expected it to.

Even though Tanner’s just a cab driver, I thought that this would be hard boiled detective kind of stuff with it’s “future-noir” description, but it’s not like that at all – it’s completely weird. There are some seriously bizarre, sudden plot twists; the main character’s a failure of a hero; and there’s cheesy writing galore, something which doesn’t always mesh well with the rather cheesy tone. But to its credit, I did find some enjoyment to be found. The strongest thing about the writing is the way that the world is slowly unravelled. You don’t, for instance, immediately know that Zero City is inside a massive dome – that’s something that becomes more apparent later on, and is really quite interesting. Likewise, though the plot twists may be sudden, they’re kinda neat in their own way too. The way in which cloning is introduced as part of the world is brilliant, for example. There’s also some things about it that are unconventional for a story from the comic’s older days – especially when you consider that it’s Brosnan’s only contribution – such as a fight Tanner gets in with a tiger taking place entirely off-panel, which I’m sure wouldn’t have been the case in most other writer’s cases at the time. So, yeah, it’s not bad stuff, really.

Also included in this floppy are two Future Shocks showcasing more of Kev Hopgood’s art. The first is a dreadful two pager written by Gary Bell (published in Prog 512), but the second by Westley Smith (from Prog 729) is much better written and shows off some coloured artwork of Hopgood’s. To be honest, his black and white work looks a little better, I think (although I love the three virgin covers for the series that Hopgood did in paint), and he’ll be using that in The Man From The Ministry, a new series that just started at the time of my writing this in Megazine 348. As I liked his art here, and in the second series, quite a bit, I’m really looking forward to that. There’s grey toning on top of the black and white, but it’s still recognisably him, and very old school looking, which should make it quite a treat.

The second series of Zero is Beyond Zero, above.

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SAMANTHA SLADE, ROBO-HUNTER, AND THAT’S S-L-A-Y-E-D TO YOU!

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Samantha Slade, Robo-Hunter: The Furzt Case by Alan Grant and Ian Gibson (Bagged with Megazine 307)

A confession: I’ve never read any of the original Robo-Hunter stories outside of those that appeared in the annuals. There’s the two Droid Files books still in print that I know I really should buy, but I haven’t gotten round to it yet, and it’s not on the agenda. So Samantha Slade, who I first ran into in the second of these collections, is all I’ve really read of the series (though the original may be getting a revival soon based on the success of the story in the Sci-Fi Special). As you’ll see in that collection, it was a good time I arrived at for the series, and then immediately a bad time, both the fault of Ian Gibson that I’ll talk about more in the second reprint. For now there are these early adventures of Sam Slade’s granddaughter, Samantha, which I can only imagine to be responsible for the little praise she got when I was reading. Indeed, I think the writing and art early on is what immediately killed it for some people, who would then not bother giving it a second chance. However, as you’re about to see, I practically loved it all.

We start with the story Like A Virgin, reprinted here from Progs 2004 – 1373, in which we see Hoagy and Stogie running into one another as the former believes himself to have found the location of former owner, Sam Slade, of course finding Samantha instead. Together the three find Sam, or what’s left of him – his body’s been stolen and he’s now a head in a jar. But he’s also very rich and the story ends with Samantha being drawn into partnership with him after some reluctance. It’s a well written start with a few funny moments, and it’ll only get better in time. The art by Gibson’s pretty good for the most part in Samantha’s first outing, but he does take noticeable shortcuts here and there, something which will sadly be much more obvious in the next two stories.

The first, and longest in the collection, The Furzt Case (published in Progs 1406 – 1411) is an inconsistent thing, Gibson’s artwork starting fairly strong with tons of detail heaped into a body parts convention’s floor, then plummeting to the depths of laziness with many a blank background and poorly painted characters, but then rising again with the introduction of a robotic dragon, only to take a small hit again for the concluding chapters. Frustratingly, the story is pretty entertaining the whole time – but Gibson’s own enjoyment is either wavering as he draws each episode, or he simply didn’t have time, though I can’t imagine another project being the explanation for the latter’s case. Still, what we have here is nowhere near as bad as the last story of this floppy, The Davinchy Code of Prog 2005 which has its moments like the previous two, but for the most part instead looks terrible, which is a particular shame in this case because the writing is simply hilarious, a robo-ad at one point bursting into Samantha’s new office to advertise sex.

Thankfully the art is much better in the two stories collected in the next floppy, though there is a terrible tragedy I’d like to talk about there…

Samantha Slade, Robo-Hunter: Casino Royal by Alan Grant and Ian Gibson (Bagged with Megazine 308)

Shall I talk about it first? Oh, okay then. So the two stories collected in this floppy look amazing. The first, Stim! (originally published in Progs 1450 – 1456), is the better of the two, but titular Casino Royal (of Progs 1527 – 1531), obvious shortcuts here and there or not, looks great too. And as the scripts are brilliant fun for both, you’d think the point had been reached where things could only get better from this series. Oh no, not so. So Casino Royal was the first of Samantha’s stories I read, Stim! having taken place very shortly before I jumped on board. Whereas many people, like I said, seemed to have hated prior run-ins with the character and thus this too, I quite liked it. But what came after, a story called I, Jailbird, was a bloody disaster.

At the time I never used the official 2000AD forums, and I’m not sure if I was using the review site’s that much either, so I’m not sure if there was ever an official statement by either Gibson or Grant about what happened. As I recall, Samanatha’s latest adventure behind bars got off to an alright start, but it quickly became apparent that neither Grant or Gibson were putting much effort into this outing. Indeed, the story ended fairly poorly as far as I remember, and certainly was nowhere near as exciting as the last one at any point. In fact, reading the last floppy and this, I’ll probably dislike it even more should I ever get round to re-reading it. But for all the criticism you could pile on Grant, it should be nowhere near as much that should cover Gibson, who apparently could no longer be arsed.

Now, as I said, things got off to an unremarkable start, but it was his art in particular that plummeted over the weeks, the lowest point being the moment that he didn’t bother putting in the stripes on Samantha’s prison uniform like the other characters. Here’s where things take a turn for the shocking: Anthony Williams of The VC’s and Sinister Dexter had to step in to finish the strip, which, let me emphasise, should never fucking happen when the guy doing the artwork is someone as talented as Ian Gibson. But he had to, either because Gibson no longer cared or had other matters to attend to (but unless they were private, I have no idea what they could be). And the tragic part: this would be amongst the last work Ian Gibson ever did for the comic before abandoning ship, I believe a year later. It would be so nice to see him return, but all these years later and we haven’t seen one contribution from him, which I find terribly, terribly sad.

Well, now that we have all the negativity out the way, let’s move on to greener pastures in form of the two brilliant strips collected here. First of all, Stim! has some of the best artwork by Gibson that I’ve ever laid eyes on. The amount of detail that he suddenly throws into Samantha’s figure for this story, on top of the added perfection of the robots, is insane; but what really makes the artwork shine is that the storytelling is simply a lot more interesting than previous stories, practically each and every panel composed incredibly well. What happens in Casino Royal is that detail is lost, but the storytelling remains consistently good. They’re just a pair of beautiful looking stories, and the good news is that they’re funny too.

The first is about an investigation of Samantha’s uncovering drugs being sold for robots, which doesn’t go quite as smoothly planned once she makes the decision to have Hoagy and Stogie go undercover, accidentally as dealers. Then a robot revolution breaks out, which is always a joy. In Casino Royal meanwhile, she’s seemingly hired to investigate a man called Pecks, but finds herself drawn into the Poker World Championship where she makes a new buddy in the form of a robotic five of spades, who hilariously betrays her in the end and gets her put behind bars for I, Jailbird, a story uncollected here (you can find it in the Judge Dredd: Ian Gibson Collection bagged with Megazine 309 if you’re crazy enough to want it).

From the first page of Stim!, Samantha’s finest looking adventure, which this small panel does no justice, I’m afraid

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STRONTIUM DOGS AND NINJAS

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Strontium Dogs: Crossroads by various writers and artists (Bagged with Megazine 320)

Yeah, fuck listing all the writers and artists of this collection in the title of this one. This is a bit of an unusual collection in that it has a variety of stuff in it. I mean, the Crossroads of the title only lasts three parts, so it’s hardly as if it’s the main reprint here. But whatever – it doesn’t stop it from being an alright collection.

We start with a special one-off of Durham Red by Alan Grant and Carlos Ezquerra, Ring My Bell of the 1993 2000AD Yearbook. A fun little tale set in a carnival, but nothing much can be said about it. Thumbs up.

Next is another one-off also from the 1993 Yearbook, a Strontium Dog tale by the name of Dead Man’s Hand, this by Garth Ennis and – cue horror music for the people that really hate him – Simon Harrison. Yeah, the latter guy isn’t well loved for his work in the annals of 2000AD, especially because he was artist for the majority of Alan Grant’s The Final Solution, the Strontium Dog story which would kill off Johnny Alpha. Some people – okay, a lot of people – just hate the guy’s art style, which has a grotesquerie to it like John Hicklenton’s stuff, which people also aren’t completely fond of. Although I’ve yet to read The Final Solution, I do personally quite like Harrison’s art style and what I’ve seen is suggestive that it would actually suit the story in which Alpha’s killed – a long and violent tale in my understanding – quite well; but then again, as you’d have read above when I covered the Mean Machine floppy, I love Hicklenton’s artwork to bits, so it’s no surprise that I should like this too.

That said, I’m not entirely sure it’s the right choice for a story such as this, which sees Feral from The Final Solution (I think…?) gamble against a bounty for his life. There’s a violent sequence on the last couple of pages that looks great but, before that, I wasn’t honestly sure at first that his bounty was a norm, having looked like another mutie when we first saw him. An enjoyable little six pages though. There’s Harrison’s last Future Shock (according to BARNEY), Conquering The Galaxy On $10 A Day by Philip Barber (un-shocking, but a fun little thing), at the end of this floppy too. Reprinted from Prog 568, his artwork is much less confusing looking, a lot more clearly defined and less weird, which makes me wonder what it looked like even earlier than this.

To get back on track, next chronologically is The Cage by Peter Hogan and Nigel Dobbyn published in something I’ve never heard of until now – The Poster Prog issue 1. It has the Gronk in it, god have mercy upon us all (see the short list of annoying characters in a Judge Judy Janus rant above if you haven’t already). When I saw him, I thought to myself, “Okay, give it a fair chance – this is by a writer you’ve never come across before and he may not delight in the thing’s bloody annoying dialogue like the evil men Wagner and Grant are”. But then the very first thing it says is “Nearly readys…” so fuck it. Kind of a space filling one-off, or so it feels like; but the following story, the titular Crossroads by the same team (published in Progs 897 – 899), is better. Well, the Gronk’s still here and Feral rather insanely says the two “have an understanding”, but other than that lunacy, it ain’t bad. One particular highlight is the way Durham Red’s introduced – she’s completely silhouetted as she stalks a bounty against a blood red moon, which is quite the entrance indeed. Can’t exactly say I like Dobbyn’s depiction of her, which loses all sex appeal, but oh well.

The artist of the last story finishing this collection, Mark Harrison, gets it right though, and in an interesting way too. So Dobbyn made Red look kinda ugly, Ezquerra before him really emphasising her sexy side. Although Harrison captures that side of her too, he also really places emphasis on the fact that she’s a vampire, and as of such she can look properly terrifying in some panels, which is really quite good. As I’m to understand, when it comes to Red’s solo adventures, Harrison has did art for her the most, and it’s quite easy to see why. The horror’s a stronger focus in this story, Mirrors (written by Hogan once again, originally published in Progs 901 – 903), than it is in the few others I’ve read, but she can still look very beautiful too, and I think I may like this balance the best.

Like I said though, Ezquerra’s work on Island of the Damned has convinced me to buy the upcoming collection in September, so I’ll try to cover more of her stories if I like that, and maybe come to a definite conclusion between Harrison and him at some point. Either way, Harrison’s painted artwork – the only other I’ve seen this high in quality being when he changed the look of the first series of Rob Williams’ The Ten Seconders halfway through – is gorgeous stuff. A bit of the lettering he does himself, meshing really well with the action that caused the dramatic “Noooo!” or a smash of glass; and there’s a great page where blood is rushing down the centre of the white background behind the panels as Red attacks a murderer, though a mirror image of a tied up Red to that of what the people have captured her see (monstrous in comparison to the human, of course) is a highlight too.

All in all, a good end to a fairly decent floppy.

 Strontium Dogs: Tales From The Doghouse by Alan Grant, Stewart Edwards and Hilary Robinson with art by Colin MacNeil and Simon Jacob (Bagged with Megazine 345)

Not a lot to say about this collection. They don’t follow the usual suspects – Johnny Alpha, Wulf, Durham Red or Middenface McNulty – but other random operatives instead, the stories typically centred around their unique mutation. For example, in the second Alan Grant story collected here, a mutant with non-functioning wings ends up falling to his death in pursuit of a bounty after hovering very briefly. In Stewart Edward’s second tale a mutant by the nickname of Spud ironically hits the ground like a sack of potatoes – that sort of thing. They’re not that good in my opinion, though I did enjoy Hilary Robinson’s – she’s the first female writer of 2000AD and interviewed in issue 346, the same issue that Emma Beeby, the first female Dredd writer, is also interviewed; although neither of them quite rightly give a fuck about their status that’s blown to ridiculous proportions – slightly longer tales, particularly those following Maeve the Many-Armed, a mutie who looks like a valkyrie.

So, yeah, here’s what’s collected for those of you curious: two Alan Grant scripted tales published in Progs 578 and 579 with very different looking art than I’m used to by Colin MacNeil, which is notably inspired by Carlos Ezquerra, those big, thick lines of his outlining some characters; two tales by Stewart Edwards from Progs 612 and 613, art for the remainder of this collection now taken over by Simon Jacob, whose clean style and use of cross hatching reminded me a great deal of Andy Clarke from Grant Morrison’s Batman run (Batman and Robin to be specific); then, finally, three stories by Hilary Robinson reprinted from Progs 617 – 618, 623 – 624 and 636 – 638.

There’s more of these collected in Black Siddha: Kali Yuga above, though I don’t bother talking about them there since my opinion on they too is of the low variety.

Tiger Sun, Dragon Moon by Steve Parkhouse (Bagged with Megazine 324)

Yes, literally Parkhouse alone for this – the guy does the script, art and even lettering for this seven part tale first published in Progs 1426 – 1432. That he was a writer and artist was completely beyond me, who has only ever associated his name rather vaguely with lettering, but he actually has some good titles under his belt as an artist, The Bojeffries Sage most noticeably as the author of that was Alan Moore; but I also found that he was artist of a Grant Morrison / Mark Millar series called Big Dave that I’ve recently seen some people on the 2000AD forums asking for a collection of (and no wonder I say “some people” only – check out Wikipedia’s synopsis of it).

If I were to summarise my thoughts on this briefly, I would simply say this: crap writing, brilliant art. The story doesn’t honestly have anything interesting going on, and what I actually find quite weird about it is the way that it appears to be a story set in a futuristic China with old traditions by the end of the first episode; but when the second starts there’s an immediate reference to Hondo City and you realise this is the Dredd universe. That first page of the second episode’s a funny thing, come to think of it, the Dredd world references, a guy about to explain the threat that moves the plot, and a silly thought bubble used to avoid actually showing depth to the characters all being a warning of sorts.

The art on the other hand is a bit better, but not always, being a wildly inconsistent thing. The best piece of writing I could find about this series was Grant Goggans’ on his blog Thrillpowered Thursday in which he mentions Parkhouse having had to redraw whole pages of this before it was published, which is certainly a good explanation for how weirdly erratic the quality of the art is. It’s a bit of shame because consistently good looking art would have made this somewhat alright, but in the end it’s a very forgettable tale. Even still, I’d recommend it anyway for the pages that do look good because those that are are quite amazing things indeed, the fight sequences playing out almost cinematically, though the page below is a very still, slow thing with some lovely storytelling.

The other half of this collection is the last Harry Kipling tale to be published, The Hitman and the Hermoth that ran in Progs 1509 – 1512. It’s not the best of his outings but it frustratingly ends the entire series on a cliffhanger ending, with Kipling finding out about a mystery figure working behind the scenes, guiding his actions. A few years later and Spurrier will leave Lobster Random, a longer series, in a similar position. Gah! Ach well, it’s nice to see this fully collected, and who knows – maybe Random will be too.

Imagine how this could’ve looked throughout had it not been for re-draws of whole pages due to blasted editors

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A TALE OF TWO ROGUES: TOR CYAN AND VENUS BLUEGENES

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Tor Cyan: World of Hurt by John Tomlinson, Kev Walker, Colin Wilson and Jock (Bagged with Megazine 317)

This floppy, continuing off of some stories collected in Mercy Heights – Book Four starts with the last of Kev Walker’s artwork on the series. Nooooooo! This is what I mean about the guy not having enough strips with his amazing artwork to his name. Anyway, this first story is Refugee, reprinted from Progs 1252 – 1253. As I said up above, Tomlinson is really throwing these things out at a rapid rate at this point, seemingly excited to write about Cyan. But like I also said, they’re not that good, the writing suffering quite a bit. This first one’s okay but the second, World of Hurt from Progs 1154 – 1156, is when things go south.

It begins by jumping forward in time from Refugee’s ending to have Cyan alone again – a big mistake in my opinion. The ending of that opened up the opportunity of Cyan maybe helping a family in return for they saving his life, but although this probably happened, it took place off screen, meaning we join him as he’s by himself with…some goal in mind. The back of the floppy says it’s to seek his heritage, but you’d be hard pressed to tell with him finding himself stranded on some sentient planet in this confusing tale and then fighting some dead body he’s transporting in The Dead Sorcerer’s Coachman (published in Prog 1163) after that. The artwork by Colin Wilson isn’t particularly great here either, but thankfully Jock enters the scene to make these somewhat of a worthwhile read after all in the stories Rahab of Prog 1295 and Phage of 1296. It’s certainly far from his best work that I’ve seen, but it is great and the only redeeming quality to this confusing mess that ends with a cliffhanger I still don’t bloody understand and probably never will.

See Venus Bluegenes below for the conclusion to this strip from a good story – Mercy Heights – to this insanity.

Venus Bluegenes by Dan Abnett, Steve White and John Tomlinson with art by Simon Coleby, Henry Flint and Jock (Bagged with Megazine 318)

Before I talk about the two titular stories collected here – the only two to appear in the Prog outside of two other one-off specials (though the character did appear alongside Friday three times) – we’ll actually go over the latter half of the book first, which collects the last story of Tor Cyan, No Such Place, here reprinted from Progs 1297 – 1299. It’s no wonder people dread seeing anything to do with this universe when the best writers can come up with is crap like this. Yeah, Tor Cyan’s doesn’t end well. At all.  Maybe with some actual Rogue Trooper stories under my belt I would’ve enjoyed it more, but this was quite poor to me. It’s a funny thing though because I greatly enjoyed the first Mercy Heights series, yet from that point onwards watched a slow descent into mediocrity from Tomlinson, ironically just as the art greatly improve. Ah well.

All hope is not lost, however. Well, actually, it sort of is. So there’s two Venus Bluegenes stories collected in this floppy – Venus on the Fragshell by Dan Abnett and Simon Coleby (published in Progs 976 – 979), and Stealth by Steve White and Henry Flint (Progs 980 – 982) – and neither are particularly well written, rounding this off as a pretty crap collection when it comes to writing. But if those two artists ring any bells, then you should know that it’s not all bad. It’s early days for them both, but it’s good stuff nonetheless. Looking at Coleby’s part, you can’t really see how he’ll develop his artwork as a whole into what it looks like today, but you can see hints of it in the characters by looking at the way shadows fall across them as well as they stand. But Flint is another story altogether. His contribution is painted artwork – very lovely looking, but nothing at all like the rough, detailed and colourful style he goes with today. Whereas I could look at Coleby’s part and recognise it as him, I would never guessed this was Flint. Either way, they save the floppy along with Jock.

Otherwise, it’s a sad end to the Mercy Height books through Tor Cyan to this. Let us never speak of it again.

============================================================================

THE END

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And so must end this ridiculously lengthy blog entry of almost twenty fucking thousand words. Hope it was fairly readable with all the editing I did to make paragraphs appear easier on the eyes, and with images to break everything up occasionally. No, I will never submit myself to this lunacy again, though I’m not sure how else I’ll do my similar catch-up of 2013 and early 2014 Progs of 2000AD… Hm, better think that one out a bit more. It’s off on holiday I go when I wake up later this morning, but I’ll be back, doubtless with many a post on the books I read while lounging about like a lazy bastard by the pool.

Until next time.

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2 thoughts on “The Great Judge Dredd Megazine Catch Up, Part 4: The Graphic Novel Reprints

  1. Appreciating the time and energy you put into your blog and in depth information you provide. It’s good to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same unwanted rehashed information. Excellent read! I’ve saved your site and I’m adding your RSS feeds to my Google account. accbegedaeed

    • Wow, some very kind words there! Thanks very much – it’s good to know someone enjoyed this. Although just so you know, I haven’t written reviews or anything like that in quite a while and don’t have any intention to any time soon. Cheers anyway though!

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