Insurrection Review

Published in Judge Dredd Megazine’s #279 – 284, 305 – 310 and 334 – 342, Dan Abnett and Colin MacNeil’s Insurrection trilogy has the reputation of being quite the fan favourite, one of the more consistently well received series’ since its first publication.

It has an interesting premise. A distant mining colony in space, led by Senior Judge Marshall Karel Luther, comes under attack from an alien race called the Zhind prior to the beginning of the story and, though he repeatedly asks for help from Mega City One, none is given, leaving him and the few other Judges to fend for themselves. But they’re small in number – not enough to hold off such a large attack – so what they do is grant full citizenship to the mutants, droids and uplifts (genetically altered gorillas that can speak) sharing the colony with them, giving them this in exchange for their part in helping fight back. United like this, they win;  but upon doing so find themselves being told to revoke the citizenship they granted immediately, which is the final straw it takes for Luther to tell the Big Meg to go fuck themselves, declaring that Mining Colony K-Alpha 61 is now called Liberty and will henceforth be independent. Needless to say, the fascists Judges back home disagree and a fleet of the SJS is sent to wipe the colony out, in turn declaring them to be rebels.

What a brilliant idea.

The great thing is that Abnett really explores Luther and co.’s reasons for disobeying orders in-depth. Not only do you immediately get a very real sense of the friendship between all the inhabitants of the colony, that would be broken if they were to suddenly turn on them as the Justice Department commands, but the characters actually take the time to justify their actions among themselves, one of the biggest themes of the whole series being to stand up for your principles, which is a particularly interesting thing coming from the perspective of Luther and the other colonial marshals, people who have gone through the same exhaustive training that makes the Judges they find themselves defending Liberty against brutally fight them without question to their superiors.

But Abnett surprisingly has even that covered, for when we get to the third story arc, we actually find ourselves reading the first several episodes from the perspective of a colonial marshal on a completely different colony, who has a strong hatred for Luther and the other so-called rebels for the war they’ve ignited. This shift in perspective was one that I actually greatly appreciated, having read the reproduced copy of Abnett’s original proposal for the series that he sent to Matt Smith – this being found at the end of the trade paperback collecting the first two story arcs – in which he specifically said that he wanted the series to be murky when it came to the morals of the insurrectionists and Judges alike, the reader not easily picking a side. This isn’t honestly the case in the first two books – you’re on the side of the rebels all along. Their whole cause is certainly questionable, don’t get me wrong; but the Judges press their foot down so hard on Liberty that they end up killing a significant part of its citizen population at one point and know it, the kind of thing that makes them impossible to sympathise with.

So, though it may have only been for a brief amount of time before returning to pointing pitchforks at the Judges, I did like that Abnett managed to show another side to them within the series, evening our favour as readers. Whether he could have pulled off the idea of a morally grey series or not, I did actually find myself enjoying that he went the way of, what he calls in his proposal, a “true to Wagner” depiction of the Judges, even if it means making their two main leaders, Kulotte and Laud, a couple of cliche’s.

In fact, the series as a whole has a few things about it that you’d think would mean you’d direct harsh criticism towards it. In the second story arc (which is cleverly, and logically, moved to a new colony by the way) for instance, there’s a plot point that comes around about a computer chip that, if activated by Luther (the abrupt ending of the second book as he has a moment of doubt is genius, I might add), will cripple all those back home in Mega City One somehow. And you know, that’s something you really ought to be at least raising an eyebrow at, which I’m sure many readers did, but I certainly didn’t to an extent that I felt I wasn’t enjoying the story any more, nor did I frown as harshly as I might otherwise would at these two long sections of the first two books where a character explains a plan of attack, something which almost reads as telling instead of showing, a usually unforgivable literary mistake.

Why I think Abnett gets away with it is because every other idea in the entire series, from droids that have found faith in God to the recurring nightmares of a mind-controlled character in the third book, are really solid. Perhaps not wholly original – Abnett’s actually quite well known for his work on the Warhammer 40K series to which this draws some hefty comparisons, from the large, bulky character design of the SJS troops to the inclusion of religion (though the droid’s aren’t seen speaking of God by the last story arc, perhaps because in the Dredd-verse it should be “Grud”? Bit strange how that seemed to disappear) – but they make a great deal of sense within the story, and are just as fantastic as the premise itself, extra layers on top of an already interesting story, one which comes to a rather brilliant end.

A perfect end? That I’m not so sure of, as it ends the way uprisings of any sort against the Judges always do, and I felt particularly dismayed when the penultimate episode ended with a plot twist that I feared would happen, though then again – perhaps that’s proof of how invested I found myself in this series, and true testament to how great it is.

Of course, with this being the comics medium, it takes good art to make a series such as this really successful, but with Colin MacNeil as your artist, this should be no worry at all and isn’t. The art of the first two story arcs is some of his best that I’ve ever seen, easily fitting in alongside the fully painted artwork of Judge Dredd: America and Chopper: Song of the Surfer, despite the fact that it’s in black and white with gray toning. It is very often jaw droppingly beautiful, one of the staples of all three books being to end each episode with a full splash page. Incredibly gorgeous stuff with a ridiculous amount of attention to detail. The biggest compliment I can pay it is to point out that it was so amazing that I spent ages pouring over it all, meaning the short trade paperback took me a while to read through.

Unfortunately, something tragic happens when the second episode of the third book comes around: the art style changes. Fuck, I almost died. Yelled a Darth Vader “Nooooo!” dramatically and everything. The artwork’s still very much solid thankfully (it actually reminds me quite a great deal of his recent work on Mega City Confidential in the Prog, using very heavy blacks to create a much darker atmosphere) and I imagine that the contents of each panel are roughly how they would have appeared anyway – just with much less detail and beauty to them.

However, MacNeil was at least very honest about the change, stating his reasons on the 2000AD forums. Kind of funny how we never take that sort of thing into consideration, isn’t it? He’s a little vague on why he found himself “incapable” of continuing with the same style, but I presume that it’s too much hard work – it certainly looks that way, that’s for sure. Of interest there too is that he’ll be re-drawing the first episode of the third book for its reprint, or a collected edition of all three books, in trade paperback. Obviously the option of changing every episode after the first back to the original style would have been even better, but I really like that he’s making the change less jarring. The difference certainly came as a shock to me after the beautiful looking first episode. But ah well, it gets the job done and still looks great, though now that I think of it, I can’t remember seeing MacNeil artwork that I wasn’t fond of.

Overall then: read this. Wait for it all to be collected if you like, but read it when you can. It may not be total perfection – and I’m sure some people will be less kind on its plot contrivances than I – but it’s bloody good stuff. Action packed – something I neglected to mention in this review entirely – but filled with character, the latter of which is what I believe makes it special and worth your time. Keep an eye out for a new series set in another space colony under Mega City One jurisdiction by Dan Abnett in the near future, Lawless, a western-style story to be illustrated by Phil Winslade in the Megazine. Check out a short preview of it (and some other thrills of the future) here.

Until next time.

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Prog 1877 Review

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

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

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

Alright, moving on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I mean, holy shit.

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

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

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

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

Until next time.

Dredd: Underbelly Review

Hello again.

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

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

IMG_0766

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

Megazine 340

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

Megazine / American-sized comic comparison

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

In-comic size comparison

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prog 1875 Review

Cover by Karl Richardson

Quite a disappointing cover compared to last week’s for me. There’s nothing that I would say is wrong about it in way of potential mistakes or anything – it’s just a very generic pose and image from my perspective. That said, for readers who only joined the comic with the jump on Prog, I suppose it’s quite eye-catching, especially if you were just passing it in a store. A cover for any of the other strips this week would have been my preference though.

 

Judge Dredd: Mega City Confidential (Part 2)

Excellent once again, and I’m sure will be for a third time in a row too. On the contrary to what I said in my last review, it turns out that there is a bit of humour after all. Partly of the dark variety in fitting with the mood of the story – Erika expressing relief that the Judges won’t be able to arrest Guff being juxtaposed against him being put in an Isolation cube for three years – but I liked the smiling hot dog stand, Max Blixen’s talk show and “Through the door, sir” made me chuckle. Anyway, I’m still very curious about what the big secret of Section 7 could be. If it actually lives up to all this mystery I’ll be very impressed because, honestly, we’ve seen the Judges do a lot of none-too-pleasant things in the past, so it’s hard to imagine what could be so terrible this time. Either way, I’m continuing to love the chilling atmosphere of it all, and this is truly Dredd in Full Bastard Mode.

Colin MacNeil continues to compliment the tone wonderfully of course. I absolutely adore that panel of Dredd being reflected in Styler’s glasses, reinforcing how much of a creep that guy is but depicting Dredd in a blue gray tone that makes him look robotic at the same time. In fact, I’m not sure which of these two characters we should be more frightened of. Directly opposite the page we find this panel on we get another look at the ruined state of the city since Day of Chaos, a highway in the background abruptly ending. Loving these little details, and hope we’ll be seeing more.

 

Outlier (Part 2)

Still getting mixed signals about this one. There isn’t anything particularly wrong with the writing or art – neither just seem very interesting. Though I want to say that the former has all the makings of a cliche revenge story, I’m still waiting to see what the deal with the ship is. I mean, I presume there’s something about it, seeing as its the title of the series. And, to be fair, there was something I didn’t notice when I reviewed the opening of the story last week – Carcer and Caul share some very similar poses, and even a line of dialogue at the end. It would only appear to be emphasising the sort-of connection between the two and nothing more (unless I’m missing the possibility of some other suggestion?), but it’s interesting all the same. There’s nothing quite like that in this second episode unfortunately, it being a more straightforward affair, but we could be getting some answers next time. Third time lucky, maybe?

That will hopefully go for Karl Richardson’s art as well. Like I said, there’s nothing noticeably off about it – it’s just that for a new sci-fi story in the Prog, I guess I was hoping for original character and world design, which I feel this is lacking. Plus, I’ve decided that I simply can’t take Carcer seriously whenever he appears on panel, since he either looks ridiculously pissed off for some reason or like he’s trying to hold back a massive shit.

 

Slaine: A Simple Killing (Part 2)

There are no such weird things about Simon Davis’ art in this strip to make me raise my eyebrows, except of course…another eyebrow-raising final panel! To be honest, I feel like I might love this story, small Slaine fan or not. The last I read was Carnival and it took itself way too seriously for the crap that it was. But this is neither trying to tell a complicated tale or take itself seriously, and that’s actually fine with me. The title of this first book in The Brutania Chronicles implied that it’d be spent going after this Kark mentioned in the last Prog, only things would get more difficult along the way, and thus the title would be ironic. Instead, in this episode Slaine finds Kark and, after listening to his tale (barely, which was really funny), decides to go after the Sea Devils – who look amazing by the way – that are now in possession of the Goddess’ treasure that Kark stole, sparing him and apparently intending to rescue his daughter. It’s a much more interesting choice to make, yet I presume will still make the title ironic in the end. Hopefully it won’t get too comfortable with the idea of introducing a new plot point in each Prog that leads Slaine from chapter to chapter.

Meanwhile, Simon Davis continues to kick ass. It’s so good, in fact, that unlike last week, I find it difficult to decide what’s the best thing he does. The opening spread? Page 3’s changing expressions of the characters? Page 5’s panels being framed by Sinead spitting on Quagslime? Slaine himself taking up the background of the last page? Man, I just do not know. I really do hope that this level of quality is maintained for as long as the story lasts because it’s simply stunning.

 

Sinister Dexter: Gun Shy (Part 2)

Weakest instalment of the Prog this time, both in story and art. The former speaks for itself, so I won’t even bother, but the latter was a bit of a surprise as I thought it looked fine last time. The difference would appear to be that Smudge had a lot of exterior shots to draw last time as the duo went across the countryside, whereas this time we’re stuck indoors for the most part, meaning we get a lot more close ups and the like with little to no background detail. But, to tell you the truth, I wouldn’t be caring even if the art was good. The sooner this is over, the better as far as I’m concerned.

 

Jaegir: Strigoi (Part 2)

Another slow episode with lots of dialogue, but quite revealing. There’s certainly no mystery here, but it is turning out to be a quite horrifying tale. That very first page alone says it all. Bloody dreadful, though in a good way. But, yeah, I’m really liking the direction that this is headed in, grim, dark and slightly depressing or not. The addition of a team at the end is a good thing. The lead character having the unpopular job that she has makes me wonder if we’ll maybe dig under the surface of those characters and find that they’ve done terrible things of their own. That could certainly make for some interesting developments. Either way, brilliant stuff. The art is typically good stuff from Coleby, though I’m thinking quite perfect for this series actually, especially when combined with Len O’Grady’s colouring. The second to last page on which we see the development of the Strigoi virus just goes to show how perfect the two fit together. Great stuff.

 

Overall, it’s another solid Prog, though interestingly enough, one filled with stories setting up their next episodes. Indeed, I wonder if that annoys the less patient of us, especially since I believe that Dredd and Jaegir will at least be two of these to continue at a slow pace, though it wouldn’t surprise me if Slaine were to do so as well. But I’m loving it. It’s truly great to be back collecting this, I must say. Highlight of the week for me is again Jaegir, with Dredd being very close behind. Hopefully Prog 1876 will be another excellent one.

The End Is Never The End: A Conclusive Post On Grant Morrison’s Batman Run

When I started this run I didn’t expect to enjoy it from the first book all the way to the last. In some of earliest posts I consistently spoke of my plans to take breaks at this point or that so I didn’t get so used to reading books by the one author that I’d get bored of him. In hindsight, I maybe should have taken these breaks, only because that when I look back now, I feel like readers can see where I was burnt out on writing up posts for each or several issues. There’s certainly quite a few posts that I’m proud of – in fact,  I’m very surprised to find that I was on the ball so very often – but I do wish I took more time to write a few instead of blasting my way through them, mentally exhausted or not. Yet I never did tire of Grant Morrison’s writing.

Of course, what probably helped it from going stale at some subconscious level was the variety of artistic talent on display. Yes, so many artists being swapped for one another caused a few bumps along the road, but the only issue that looked completely terrible, inexcusably so, in my eyes was Ryan Benjamin’s at the end of The Black Glove. The only other stuff that came remotely close to being bad – though not, I should say, anywhere near as bad as whatever the fuck Ryan Benjamin was doing – was Philip Tan’s three issues in Batman and Robin, which was far too dark in my opinion, and Tony S. Daniel’s inconsistency before the amazing job he did in Time and Batman. Otherwise, I honestly believe that everyone else was doing somewhere between a good to outstanding job.

You could level some criticism at the artists who fell into the former category for “playing it safe”, I suppose, but what you have to keep in mind, I think, is that all of these people, good or amazing, had deadlines to meet and what I can only imagine are some demanding scripts to match, so I think it’s no small feat that you can look at the run as a whole and I either like what you see quite happily, or be completely blown away by it. Though J.H. Williams III, Frazer Irving, Frank Quietly and Andy Kubert were some of those who blew my mind, I think it’s Chris Burnham paired with Nathan Fairburn, the colourist, that made my jaw drop the most. It’s no wonder those guys are creating all new pages for the Absolute edition of Batman Incorporated because it’s a fucking miracle that they managed to keep up and draw every one of their issues together so damn well. But hell, let’s not play the favouritism game – at the end of the day, every one of these books has good art in it, and that is bloody amazing.

Still, whether the different artists can keep things looking fresh or not, you’d think that I’d get bored reading the words of man sooner or later. But I truthfully did not. The only other Batman books I have, most of which are my father’s, can be read alone, technically possible here but probably not a good idea. This is the only time I’ve read a particularly lengthy run by an author on a character who’s shared with others. In all the time I collected 2000AD there was never a point where one writer exclusively worked on Judge Dredd, you know? Yet Grant Morrison spent seven years writing this epic tale, longer if you take Seven Soldiers and 52 into consideration, so you might also think that, even if I never grew tired at all, he would, the brightness that it starts on fizzling out.

This is, in fact, a point of debate when it comes to the ending. Shortly after I wrote my post on that final issue, I decided to do some looking around for what other people’s thoughts were on the ending of the run and it didn’t surprise me to find that a lot of folk see the finale as too negative in contrast to how it all began. Personally I don’t see how else it could have ended but on its bittersweet note, and I think that the darker contrast itself is actually part of what makes the ending so powerful. Like the last line of my post on issue twelve suggested, I think that the hard thing is actually letting go after all this time and looking to the future. Maybe Morrison didn’t make that point clear enough, ending Gordon’s monologue as he does with the cynical sounding, “It never ends. It probably never will.” How he should have actually ended it, in my opinion, is with some other lines before this that I think mark off the greatest theme in this run. There’s been a lot of those, some subtle, like class warfare, simply adding depth to the world; and then there have been those like family, there from the start but having developed over time.

But there is one concept of the Batman mythos, indeed its very fiction, that has reigned supreme over all: the hole in things.

It wasn’t until the end of Batman R.I.P. that Doctor Hurt spoke that immortal line about himself, but the hole has actually been there from the very start of the run, a single gunshot leaving a hole in the middle of the Joker’s forehead. Even if we didn’t see that at the time Hurt made his speech by looking back, Morrison expanded the theme in a way that was obvious. First there was a hole in Bruce’s memory concerning the Thogal ritual and whatever Hurt had done to him. Shortly thereafter there were the holes Darkseid created in his manipulation of time. And eventually, when we found ourselves reading Batman Incorporated, the holes where everywhere we looked, staring back at us. It was Talia’s dark “Gorgon eye”; it was the absence of parental guidance that she and Bruce shared; it was the bloody wound left in Damian’s chest after being driven through by a sword; it was the rupture this left between the boy’s already feuding parents; it was the clean mark left in Talia’s head where Kathy’s bullet sped through; it was their empty graves that Bruce found himself looking into after being released by GCPD; and, of course, it was the unseeable centre of Oroboros. Only…

We could see it the whole time. It’s the most obvious one of all, really: the hole left in Bruce’s heart on the night his parents were killed. “Two shots killed my father”, he tells Gordon. “The third bullet left a smoking hole in my mother’s new fur coat. It left a hole in me. A hole in everything.” Indeed, it’s this very hole that Bruce has spent his entire life trying to fill. But he can’t and won’t, not only because it wouldn’t be fitting as a character, but because the moment he does so, there’s no more to tell – it would be at that point that Doctor Hurt would finally get his wish of seeing Batman retire, and we as readers would never have another Batman story to read ever again. It’s not what I would call a limitation of the character but an actual necessity instead. By killing Talia, Kathy Kane emphasises one of these herself: “Batman doesn’t kill”. It’s one of the things that defines him, seen here alongside the emptiness the death of his parents left in his soul: “The pain was so terrible”, he tells Gordon, “I decided I could never love anyone ever again”. That won’t be a thing that ever happens either.

Which is why, getting back to point, I feel like Morrison may have ended the run sourly with Gordon’s last piece of dialogue, that comes across as being quite bleak right enough, when he perhaps should have done so with a follow up to this idea of a hole being left in Bruce. Continuing off-panel but being read back to use, Bruce told Gordon, “I looked into that hole in things over and over again until it hurt, Jim…and you know what I found in there? Nothing…A space big enough to hold everything.”

How beautiful is that? Not only is it an astonishing thing to say about the character himself, but it also represents why we love him so damn much too. As I’ve said in the past, I don’t really embrace other super heroes in the way I do Batman. Though they might be symbols of something else, the thing that makes Batman so unique is that we can empathise with him somewhat. No, I don’t mean we all have parents who were shot dead in front of us or anything like that. But I do believe that many of us, perhaps most of us for all I know, are trying to do good by ourselves – to realise that we have our own holes in our lives, our own things that make us vulnerable in some way or make us unhappy, and spend our lives fighting against them.

Which is why I think Morrison’s right – this from the afterword – that, “long after all of us have come and gone, there will be Batman” because the fact of the matter is that he, and numerous other invented characters, will still be significant then, and they always will be. Life goes on, with or without us, and as long as we all live, the possibilities of the imagination are endless; forever. A snake eating its own tail.

 

“Batman Incorporated”, Volume 3, Chapter 6, The End: The Dark Knight and the Devil’s Daughter (Batman Incorporated #12)

And so we come to the end of the tracks. It’s been a long ride but here we are at the final issue – and fuck knows what number it is overall – in the twelfth book in a row that I’ve read from the one author.

Starting this post isn’t as tricky when compared to that in which Damian was killed because, well, let me get one thing out of the way: for all the praise that I’m about to heap onto this ending, it’s not the perfect finale that I had pictured in my head, surprisingly small in scope for Morrison. The ending I had conjured up was grand in scale but this most certainly isn’t. It’s actually quite sad too, though that doesn’t completely surprise me. In one of my more recent posts for this particular series I did note that the humour had piped down considerably, and it shows here when the last gag didn’t even make me smile, but just feel tremendously sorry for Bruce. As a matter of fact, I was curious to see what Morrison thought of this ending himself and found this particular quote, which I agree with to a certain extent: “I really think a lot of people will hate it, because it’s super bleak.” Well, I didn’t hate it or think it was that bleak, but I definitely left feeling that it ended on a bittersweet note, which is how I would describe it.

This finale is technically told to us from the perspective of Commissioner Gordon, who is interrogating Bruce Wayne after his arrest, that which we’d already seen at the start of Volume 2. It proves to be a captivating narration this way, we skipping back and forth between the interview and the showdown between Talia and Bruce, but more interesting than the similarly structured issue that followed Damian’s death because Morrison steps into the shoes of Gordon to explain his actions in this run and why he’s ending it the way he is. And to be fair, when I think about it really hard, I’m not sure how else such an epic story could have ended but by acknowledging the fact that Batman is Oroboros, the serpent eating its own tail forever. In an earlier post, somewhere but god knows which one exactly, I actually left a link to Morrison answering an audience member’s question about the ages of his characters in this run, to which he replied that it didn’t matter, going on to talk about realism in comics and why it was a load of bullshit. But he also pointed out that Batman would be around long after he was dead. Yes, much like that post of mine that followed  Batman R.I.P., what Morrison suggests is that another writer will come along after him (in fact, he references Scott Synder’s currently ongoing Zero Year storyline, which is a new origin story of Batman), and after that person another, and another after whoever they may be, and it will continue that way forever.

Which is why that, though Talia and Bruce’s fight ends abruptly with a gunshot killing the former character, in the end we find that both Damian and Talia’s coffins have been cleanly stolen from their graves, and it’s why in the story’s epilogue we find Ra’s preparing a new army made up of Damian’s remaining clones. The story of Batman will never end. Sure, Morrison’s run has, these two cliffhangers and the deus ex machina of Kathy Kane entering to murder Talia then disappearing just as fast forever remaining unresolved, but it doesn’t matter – there’s other stories to tell, and they will be told. That’s why it’s a bittersweet ending, I think. On the one hand, it concludes in the only possible way, Morrison saying these words through Gordon’s ending monologue: “All I need to know is this: Batman always comes back, bigger and better, shiny and new. Batman never dies. It never ends. It probably never will.” That’s nice in a way, knowing there’s so much other creativity out there to be discovered.

But, on the other hand, looking back at all these posts I’ve written for all of these books, made up of so many issues, some of which I read additional material for because they were so layered, it’s sad to think that the story ends here. Quite like Bruce describes the impact that watching his parents being killed before his eyes left on him – it left a hole, of course – it’s hard, I think, to let go.

“Batman Incorporated”, Volume 3, Chapter 5: Fatherless (Batman Incorporated #11)

An extremely short post before we reach the last issue of the run. Really, there’s not a lot you can say about this one seeing as the bulk of it is made up of Batman’s fight with Damian’s clone, the “fatherless” of the title, who is referred to on the book’s jacket as “the heretic” as well. It’s an exciting fight, not only for being action packed, but because Bruce is fucking furious with this guy for killing his son – just look at all the guy’s expressions that Burnham draws. Crazy.

It ends quite abruptly, however, with a reveal that I hadn’t paid any thought to: what this guy looks like under his mask. Quite strange that it never occurred to me, seeing as I acknowledged quite early on that he was probably an accelerated-aged Damian. Still, even if I had considered it carefully, what would probably have never crossed my mind is the the idea that he actually has a baby face for a grown man’s body, particularly hideous in this scene because when Beryl – who wants to kill him for what he did to Cyril – used her sling shot on him a while ago, she actually took out one of his eyes. Seriously, Bruce lets the man-baby go free when he finally looks upon him face to face, actually going, “Urr. God. No.” in disgust, and no bloody wonder.

Still, the killer of what I think was probably a lot of people’s favourite character by that point doesn’t get off scot-free, which is somewhat of a…comfort. I don’t know – once I saw his face, I was as revolted as Bruce, so when Talia decapitates him for failing her at the end of the chapter I didn’t exactly give off a massive cheer or anything. It came as a surprise to see Talia casually murder him, though it’s actually fairly obvious in hindsight. One of the things I hadn’t mentioned about previous posts was that, since the guy killed Damian, she’s been pretty pissed off, not letting him call her “mother” anymore, and having the people who made the fight against Damian unfair killed via apparent skull crashing. Lovely.

Incidentally, seeing as I have nothing else to say about this penultimate chapter of our run, I suppose I should also mention another thing I forgot to bring up in my last few posts. Somehow Talia has time to go see her father in his little prison shortly after Damian’s killed and there we find Ra’s playing chess, and paying his daughter, um, compliments: “Bravo. You have become a monster at last. […] I salute you.” Yet he also implies that she’s forgetting “one vital detail”, which I now believe is Kathy Kane’s involvement in all of this. As is revealed near the end of this, apparently to prepare us for the last, Spyral is some kind of “international intelligence community” who has been closely monitoring Bruce, and supposedly Talia, ever since the former created Batman Incorporated. What has this to do with Ra’s’ scene?

Well, the thing I noticed in his scene, that I meant to mention, was that he’s using red and black chess pieces, a familiar pairing of colours in this run, black representing chaos, and red the power of good. The really important thing about this game he’s playing is that he uses a black horse to take the red’s queen. When you get to the end of this issue then, take careful note of how Talia refers to herself after killing Damian’s brother: “I’m the wire mommy. The red queen.” Then look back at Spyral’s latest, possibly last, scene: their logo is red and black too. Though it’s inconsistent with what these colours have typically represented, as Kathy Kane wouldn’t appear to be a villain, it does look like pretty heavy foreshadowing that Talia will indeed be filling that second grave of Bruce’s vision, and that the one killing her will be Kathy.

That we’ll find out in the next post. It’ll probably be quite a long one as I want to cover every little thing that I can so that my follow up post, to end my write-ups of the run, will be focused on it all as a whole, not tying up loose ends that I may have missed in the last ever issue. See you then.