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 Great Judge Dredd Megazine Catch Up, Part 3: The Long Series’

If you’re looking at the list after the break and wondering where Insurrection is, I point you to my review of the entire series here. My thoughts on every other significant long-running series is in this post, so do enjoy, and please note once more that all images used are the property of their respective owners.

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

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

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The Great Judge Dredd Megazine Catch Up, Part 1: Introduction and Favourite Covers

Hello, hello.

The last time I had the Megazine in the title of an entry on this blog, it was a very long review of no. 332, an issue released all the way back in February of last year. My intentions had been to go through each and every issue following that until I caught up with the recently released Megazine 347. But as I was writing my review of no. 333, the latest that I only just finished as I write these first several paragraphs, I realised that that might be a little boring, not to mention time consuming as all hell. [Also: issue 348 arrived on my doorstep as I was catching up (this message not brought to you from the past, but the day I finally upload this first post, May 22nd).] So I thought that I might do something that will take far less of my time, and would also be a little more interesting to read instead.

Here then is the new plan: keeping this first post brief, like an introduction, I’m just going to list my favourite covers in catching up to Megazine 347 348 with short reasons why. In the next of these posts I’ll then be picking my favourite one-off / two or three part stories; and in the one after that my thoughts on the more longer series’, such as the second book of American Reaper and Ordinary (the latter of which I’ll be covering twice on the blog when I get back from holiday to find the Titan comics edition, along with a signed print, awaiting me). To finish things off, a whole post – the longest by far – will be reserved for the floppies, including those I bought separately from the Megazine’s. Unfortunately I won’t be covering any of the interviews or articles, as I see very little point in doing so, although I may mention them here and there.

The single exception to all of this is the third and last book of Dan Abnett and Colin MacNeil’s Insurrection, a story which I’ll be giving I’ve given its own post alongside the first two series’. My trade paperback collecting the first two books recently arrived, so I need to read and review those first, but once that’s done, I figure that it’s best to give the finale its own post, being the highly praised series that it is. Worry not about me ruining it for myself though, as I’m not so stupid as to spoil it for myself by attempting to read everything else as I go along but it. No, before I read Megazine 334 in which the third book begins, I’ll be reading the first two beforehand. In fact, the review of those will probably be uploaded before you see this post and the rest of the series. As very few of the prose fiction was any good, I’ve left it out too, seeing little point in the one or two stories I may have picked as good ‘un’s taking up space.

Indeed, I am writing to you from the past, this blog entry having been started on the 3rd of May after I’d finished reading issue 333, it and the entries listed above saved as drafts, the intention being to add more to them as a I go along. That’s another thing that should be handy about these entries, despite the different approach: they’ll all still be in order, which should make for easy reading. On that note, I’ll see you in the future!

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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.

Judge Dredd Megazine 332 Review

Alright, we have a long road ahead of us to catch up with the recently released Megazine 347, so we’re starting the first of these new reviews today in the hope that I can get a bunch of them read before I go on holiday at the end of next month. Just as a reminder, though, I will be reading the floppies that come with each issue of the Megazine, doubling my length of time between write ups, I guess, seeing as I’ll also be discussing the articles, interviews and whatnot too. Plus, in purchasing these back issues, I managed to get my hands on additional floppies by themselves, which I suppose will get separate reviews of their own at some point, maybe all in one post. In other words, I have a lot of things to keep me busy, so don’t be expecting any reviews of a recently read book any time soon.

Got another piece of news too, which I’ll probably mention in the body of all this text at some, but I’ll save it til the end of the post to really talk about – for now, let’s get this first Megazine out the way.

 

We have a cover by one Jon Davis-Hunt to start us off, the man also behind the art of our first story. It’s pretty alright, though unimpressive – a standard pose of Dredd and Anderson with nothing to it. Though I actually have two complaints with the cover, I’ll save one for the strip inside, and focus on Anderson here instead. Having skipped through two of the most recent Megazine’s that feature an Anderson story called Dead End, I have to say that I loved the look of her there, drawn by Michael Dowling. Quite appropriately, she looks as old as Dredd under his pen, as should be the case, both of whom being past their fifties. Yet for some inexplicable reason Davis-Hunt’s Anderson looks like she’s in her twenties or thirties, which is quite bizarre since Dredd does look as old as he should.

This wouldn’t be a problem if the story inside were just a piece of filler material but it isn’t at all. For one thing, it’s set apart from, say, the Mega City Confidential story that’s just finishing in the Prog by focusing a lot more on the aftermath of Day of Chaos. This story, The Pits, opens with Anderson discovering a new fashion craze that’s hit the streets: dressing in the theme of death, in celebration of the destruction caused by the Chaos Bug, with skeleton masks, teeth necklaces, and so on. But we also get a good look at the state of the city itself more clearly. There’s whole buildings missing top halves, visible evidence of a gunfight having taken place at the Sector House our two characters meet at, rubble everywhere and workers clearing it all up. Most noticeable, and alarming, of all is that Dredd and Anderson leave the city through a massive hole in the West Wall. What they’re venturing out into the Cursed Earth is also a cruel reminder of the casualties the city’s faced – the pieces of clothing being sold, if the title doesn’t give it away, are actually remains stolen from some of the toxic pits which the city was forced to cart bodies off to.

The other plot thread going on is to do with Anderson herself. This is an Alan Grant written strip, so it’s no surprise since she’s his baby (though odd because it’s a Dredd title), but he has some particularly interesting developments taking place here. It’s a good thing I mentioned Dead End, a story currently still running in recent issues of the Meg, because this story – and, as I’m to understand, several more that I may have missed or are yet to come – lead into that. Something rather shocking happens in Dead End, you see, actually appearing on several news outlets similarly to a Dredd story called Closet from which speculation arose that Dredd was gay (a mistake, as it happens – it’s not actually Dredd kissing another man, but someone dressed as him). It’s actually one of the reasons I decided to start a joint subscription this time, so high was my curiosity. What happens is: Anderson tries to hang herself. Yep. The issue of the Megazine I bought in fact has a cover reminiscent of Dredd holding his dead brother, Rico.

Thankfully she does not die, but something presumably led her to that dark place, and it’s implied here to be the guilt of being one of the Psi Judges who failed to accurately predict the Day of Chaos. Indeed, this one-off begins with a rather depressing quote and ends with it too, though in a much more understandable context. It’s about how shit the world is basically, and seems quite appropriate on the last page – paired with an image of Anderson looking very horrified indeed – after having been dragged into the same pit that the grave robbers were using.  It’s an excellent piece of writing that, earlier in the story, she warned Dredd not to blame himself for what happened to the city (though for obvious reasons, he does), telling him that she doesn’t blame herself. Yet it would appear that’s her just putting on a brave face for a friend. There’s nothing quite like falling into a pit full of the bodies you could have saved to make you feel bad for yourself.

So yes, very interesting stuff taking place with Anderson. It’ll be really exciting to get round to Dead End, though it’d be nice if we have one or two more tales before then to prepare us. Although Grant does get his fair bit of criticism, particularly when it comes to this character, I haven’t actually read enough Anderson to be one of those critics. With only the Eagle Comics collection of Dredd and several Annuals, I haven’t seen much from the character at all unfortunately – particularly since all of her series’ appear here in the Meg instead of 2000AD – something I should really rectify one of these days, if only for Arthur Ranson being the most popular artist of the character. But anyway, what I’ve read, I’ve liked. It’s been talked to death so I won’t go off on a long analysis, but she’s a great foil to Dredd and hasn’t lost her sense of humour here from what I can tell, except of course at the end. Bring on more, I say!

Now, on the other hand, I mentioned an additional problem that I had with the cover art and, well, to be honest, that also goes for the strip, I’m sad to say, as do additional grievances I have. The last I saw of Jon Davis-Hunt – and this is very unfortunate because I’m to understand that he did some great art on a series called Age of the Wolf – was shortly before I stopped collecting 2000AD in a painfully long story of fifteen parts called Stalag 666, which was destroyed by the community like no other strip I’ve seen, and for good reason. Whether it was a fault of little direction in Tony Lee’s script, too much work on his hand, or something else, his artwork for this long series was dreadful.

It was a story that was basically The Great Escape in space but wasn’t visually interesting in the slightest. If brown weren’t the dominant colour of an episode to annoy you – it is, to this day, the most brown story I’ve ever read in a comic – then the problem was that there was blank backgrounds in too many panels, the characters lacking any sense of place in the world, even after their escape from the prison complex. At the time a lot of people even pointed out that the figures of the characters looked off, specifically with body parts out of proportion to the rest of their body that I believe was indeed the case. Some of that is obviously his own fault but it’s difficult to tell what the deal is with the choice of colour, and lack of any places in the prison. Either way, it was honestly a huge mess.

[And here’s an interesting piece of history you don’t see every day: the author left a long post on the 2000AD forums in response to all of the criticism, talking about how the backlash had surprised him so much that he had approached Matt Smith (the editor / Tharg) early on, wondering if they should take it out rather than let it run its full course, which should give you some idea of how poorly the series was received. Or maybe this will: someone sent him a letter (to and old address if I remember correctly) telling him to get out of comics, that he was a terrible writer, blah blah blah, but get this – with their own shit in the envelope too. It was nice to see the community equally disgusted, despite their misgivings for the then ongoing story, but it truly is the only instance I can think of when a creator’s came to the community to announce their displeasure at the people amongst them as vocal as that. It was a dreadful series, Stalag 666 – certainly the worst of 2000AD that I’ve ever read – but you just don’t send your own shit to someone to make your anger known. Though Lee stressed repeatedly that he “got it”, that people didn’t like the story, and urged people to let the story die forgotten, I consider criticism, as harsh as it may get, something that you just have to deal with as a creator whether you like it or not, but getting shit sent your way is nothing anyone should have to deal with over a comic story of all things.]

It’s possible that it may have left a bitter taste in my mouth like the last I saw of Slaine in the Prog (though those doubts seem to have have been put to rest), being one of the worst things I’ve read and seen, but I did not like the art here either. It’s much more colourful, thank fuck, and has a lot more going on in the backgrounds, but it wasn’t great, mainly when it comes to the characters. The other problem I had with the cover is that I don’t really like Davis-Hunt’s interpretation of part of the Judges uniform, namely their shoulder pads and helmet. The latter is a subjective little thing, I guess, and it doesn’t look as poor in the story as on the cover, but I do think there’s something noticeably wrong about the shoulder pads, which are rather small things. But credit where its due – they look very functional, which not all artists get right.

When I say I took issue with the characters, however, I’m mostly referring to the odd way that whole faces can change, expressions look terribly off, characters look similar, or parts of bodies look out of size. It sounds like nitpicking but, looking through the ten pages with these things in mind, I think it should be an easy task to find what I’m talking about. Throughout these pages Anderson’s face seemingly changes at will (the last panel would be more effective if she didn’t look so suddenly long in the face); she has a clone in the form of a girl she lets leave the Sector House without clothes; the expressions don’t only just look off naturally, but don’t look like they fit the scene either (when Anderson confronts two girls wearing the skeletal clothes, for instance, she looks pissed at them for no good reason); et cetera.

Despite all that, I will fairly say that this guy’s artwork may just not be for me (could you tell?). If I didn’t think this post was looking too long already, I’d probably go through all ten pages bit by bit, noting problems I have as I find them. Meh, I suppose. Hopefully I’ll be picking up a job lot of the Prog’s I’ve missed fairly soon, in which I’ll be able to read Age of the Wolf before it’s released in trade paperback. It’ll be interesting to see if the artwork really is as good there as I’ve heard if I do manage to buy it. On that 2000 words note – this is gonna be a long one! -let’s move on.

 

Next up we have an Interrogation, the Meg’s name for an interview – frightening stuff! The interviewee of this issue (I don’t know if they do more than one or not, or if it’s always the one person – I seem to recall there being two in the one copy of the Meg that I bought years ago) is artist, David Roach, and what an artist this guy is. At the end of this issue he’s our artist on the last story – one that he incidentally lists as some of his favourite artwork personally – so I’ll use this space here to talk about what I’ve seen of him in the past. To tell you the truth, it’s not a lot, but it was pretty damn good. There’s a preview here of a story called Witch’s Promise, which should appear in one of the Meg’s going forward, and the teasing image is quite the thing indeed, packed with just the right amount of detail. Being clearly set in Mega City One, it reminded me of a single story I read sometime in my collection of the comic, I presume following the very same witch. As I recall, she and Dredd fought some kind of weird looking alien, and she may have had a weird looking bike. Ach, I dunno – I really need to read through all my copies some time.

Anyway, the art was pretty good there from what I can recall, but it’s two other stories that really stick. First there was another Dredd one-off, A Whole New Dredd (scripted by Al Ewing) in which our lead character tested out a new uniform, which we see here in this interview. It was a pretty wacky looking thing and, having a voice of its own as well as A.I., went off on a violent rampage. The artwork was solid stuff there, but it’s another tale entirely that I remember Roach from most clearly. Although it didn’t appear to be a very popular series, he was the artist for one that either finished sometime after I stopped collecting the comic or has been lost to time, and it was called Synnamon. Only a few brief episodes of that tale following a redhead bounty hunter were there, but I distinctly recall that Roach’s figure work was a-fucking-mazing, as this interview talks about and indeed proves with images of his work outside 2000Ad and the Meg. And seeing as Inversion, our last story in this issue, is brilliant looking stuff with quite the change in style going on, I’d love to see more from this guy as my subscription continues.

The interview itself offers quite the insight into this guy’s life. Though I couldn’t tell you what I was expecting to find out, that the guy has been cataloguing British comics for years, creating a comprehensive list of every artist who has worked on every damn thing, was not quite what I had in mind, nor was the fact that he’s well known for books that he’s written too. Quite interesting stuff, to say the least. But perhaps more than anything, what I really liked about this interview is that the man just sounds awfully humble, grateful to be in the position he is, having never thought that he might not only be a fan of these comics that he loves so much, but an illustrator too. Going through his history on 2000AD’s cast of characters, it was a bit of an educational article for me too, mentioning certain things about characters that I didn’t know (Anderson, for example, was abused as a child), which was kinda handy. There was also talk about how when he joined the comic, artist of our next story, Mike Collins did too, the two sharing a studio. It was also they who pushed another artist by the name of Dylan Teague (a name I know but can’t clearly recall any stories on which he worked) into working for the strip.

A fantastic read in other words.

 

Fuck me, this post is long… *sigh*

 

Moving on, we have Hondo City Justice, and I quite enjoyed this first part. It has a trade paperback coming out later this year, using the Henry Flint cover of next issue, and I think I might pick it up for stories earlier than this. We follow one Inspector Inaba, a character created by the rather magnificent Robbie Morrison, and though not every story seems to have been drawn by these two (in fact, the contents page informed me that the co-creator artist is none other than Frank Quietly!), the art for this particular story arc, Revenge of the 47 Ronin, is brought to us by Mike Collins’ pencils and the ever-amazing Cliff Robinson on inks. To make it look even more wonderful, we have Len O’Grady, currently kicking arse over on the Prog in Jaegir, doing the colouring. Quite the line up, I must say, though I must say that when I glanced at the art without reading the credits, I honestly thought it was just Cliff Robinson doing the work – even inking over pencils, his style shines through.

Back on the contents page where I found that Quietly was involved in the creation of this particular character, there was mention of her being trained and passed by a mentor named Shimura. Sure enough, this Hondo City Justice isn’t the only series set in this city, an earlier one following this Shimura guy instead. Maybe I’ll check that out too because this one episode gave me good vibes. Maybe that’s just because it’s not very often that we see the wider universe that Dredd inhabits. It’s certainly the first time that I’ve seen a story set in any of Japan’s mega structures of the future. Opening with a tale about the 47 Ronin of the title (who come back as zombies by the way, but more on that in a minute), the artwork’s less colourful and the panels bordered differently, made to look like we’re reading an old parchment. Quite beautifully, it ends with a shot of a temple as it once looked before cutting to how it looks now in the far future, the trees that once surrounded it now replaced with Mega Blocks, blocking out the sun.

The story itself, perhaps unsurprisingly, is focused quite strongly on the no longer present honour that the people of Japan were once famous for, apparently the reason for these Ronin’s who committed seppuku – an honourable suicide – to have risen from their graves. Not sure why they killing those who have done wrong – in this case, a group of thugs and adulterers at a graveyard –  means that they also turn into zombies though. Perhaps as servants also seeking dishonour? Alas, compared to the story we have next, this is quite a short first episode, so it’s hard to get a sense of the characters and themes quite yet. Hopefully we’ll be following Inaba a bit more closely next time. A good start though.

 

After this we have a whopping eighteen pages of American Reaper 2. Good lord. To be honest, when I get my hands on these back issues and saw this second series, I was tempted to go further back to pick up the first one too, the idea interesting me so. Ended up not doing so as I spend enough money as it is, but it might’ve helped me get a better grasp on the world of this series and particularly the characters who have backstory told to us here, but not specifically spelled out (the main character, for example, had a son who’s now dead, but I couldn’t tell if it was something to do with his job as a Reaper or not).

This is brought to us by Pat Mills and is about the identity theft of the future, where what now happens is “victims have their minds and personalities erased and their bodies stolen”. As you might expect then, this is pretty dark stuff, our main character, John, being a Reaper whose job it is hunt and eliminate those who go through with these transplants through illegal venues. It’s not quite an idea totally new to me, in fact reminding me quite a bit of Blade Runner, where the lead character of that film, Deckard, had to hunt a group replicants, organic robots that break the line between what’s human and what’s not. What we see in this opening chapter is an old woman take the body of a young girl, telling the people who made her transfer possible to “bin” her old one.

It’s quite horrifying stuff to be reading, and I’m curious to see how exactly these Reaper’s work out if someone’s life has been replaced by another. We do see John violently interrogate a man about the missing girl, but it’d be nice to see a more difficult case and his approach there, particularly since an advertisement before the episode itself, aimed at old folk, is reassurance about their possibly future body exchange being undetected by the Reaper’s “scanners” (and I couldn’t help but notice that John have the power button symbol by their eyes, so I guess it’s something to do with their vision). Either way, I hope it will prove to be Mills at some of his best, despite the fact that some of the dialogue was a bit on the nose (“If you knew how to save a loved one, would you just let them die?”), as it would make quite the reflection of the light hearted new Slaine series over in the Prog. Oh, and apparently this is being made into a film, the screenplay already written by Mills, so I’ll be keeping an eye out for that even if I don’t enjoy this series.

Now, the art…well, to be quite frank, I imagine that a lot of people may not even care for the story itself because of the art, which is brought to us mostly by Clint Langley, a chap who has used a rather polarizing hyper-realistic sort of digital art since I first saw him in a Slaine and A.B.C. Warriors series (though I believe he recently did some non-Photoshop art for the first time in years fairly recently). The former was indeed not to my tastes – I didn’t really like seeing real models’ faces used in a strip like that where I think a style of art like Simon Davis’ is far better suited. But in the science fiction world of A.B.C. Warriors, which in this case was several books of the Volgan War (I believe I missed the last one or two when my collection stopped), I loved this realistic style, which created some gorgeous two page spreads and made the robots look rather fantastic indeed.

There isn’t any robots in this world, nor anything too outlandishly sci-fi looking quite yet, meaning we get page after page of models’ faces staring back at us, but I didn’t really mind it like I did with Slaine. It’s probably something to do with how dark it is and that the actors don’t pull any stupid faces that I could see, but I suppose it’s best that I reserve judgement for another time, particularly since there isn’t any big jaw dropping spreads in this opening episode – just a lot of people doing a lot of talking. If the art does turn out to have some astonishing spectacles in store for us, though, one cool little thing that we can look grateful for, and that I now actually wish Langley’s A.B.C. Warriors series had had in the past, is that Annie Parkhouse makes the lettering white on black transparent speech bubbles, which should hopefully let us appreciate some crazy looking pages in the future.

Before we wrap this one up, however, there is another artist to mention, a woman by the name of Fay Dalton who does the art for the two page advertisement that I mentioned, but will also do a few one or two page stories in future instalments too. Like Langley, her stuff’s digital – though, according to her blog, she starts off with pencils and pens before moving to Photoshop – but where he polarizes fans of 2000AD, I’d be surprised if anyone thought that the two pages we get here weren’t stunning. That’s what I call some damn good character design. A bloody crime that this is Dalton’s only work in comics! So, yeah, if you couldn’t tell, I’m looking forward to see a short strip or two from her in one or more of our future episodes, just because this one in-world advertisement is so great looking. More, please.

 

There is no end to this post in sight as we come next to a short story written by Alec Worley called Apology Accepted. Outside of the four novels that I read in a Judge Dredd Omnibus years ago (it’s still kicking about somewhere in this room, probably hidden beneath other books), only two of which I enjoyed (a Gordon Rennie book based on the passable video game, Dredd V.S. Death, or vice versa; and a David Bishop book that I think was about riots breaking out across the city), I’ve never read any other Dredd prose fiction before, so this is a somewhat new experience and kind of weird to be reading after so long. But it’s really good despite the short length, being set in the aftermath of Chaos Day, and told from the perspective of a prisoner who, along with others clearing the city of rubble, has no idea what happened during their time in the Cubes. It’s got some cracking lines like, “Nash song another hymn to the glory of Grud” that elicited a chuckle, but this is overall quite a dark story, ending sadly. Great stuff though.

In the future I’ll talk about these short stories in more length but, for now, we’ll use this space for something I desperately want to talk about because it’s really bloody awesome. This writer’s name stirred my memory slightly. Like Arthur Wyatt, writer of our last story, I associated him with someone that I probably saw do a Future Shock or two. That would, as it turns out, be the case – he in fact wrote three that I would’ve read, and I believe enjoyed at the time – but it also happens that it’s this man who is the author behind Age of the Wolf, that seemingly well received series drawn by Jon Davis-Hunt. However, the guy has no Wikipedia page from where I found this information, and I didn’t check out his 2000AD profile. Oh no, I found the fucking amazing website that this guy has.

As well as collecting all that he’s written in one place to serve as his portfolio, his interviews can be found there too, as can what he profiles as “extras”, such as this article he wrote about, um, writing Age of the Wolf, which proved to be very insightful and interesting, not to mention got me quite excited about giving it a read in the future (particularly as, lo and behold, I find some Jon Davis-Hunt artwork on the page that I think actually looks pretty good). If great little behind the scenes stuff like that isn’t enough, his own blog can be found on the site too, which has some quite educational posts, such as this one on theme in fiction and this other on his approach to formatting comic scripts. Bookmarking that site for the future, so I am, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for more from him in the Prog, though I certainly wouldn’t mind another excellent short story.

 

Our last story – oh my god, we’re here at last – of the Meg is Inversion, written by Wyatt and drawn by Roach, and what the beautiful looking thing it is. It’s another Judge Dredd tale, and quite a wacky one at that. It wasn’t anything I found particularly well written but the mad idea, all to do with wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff did mean that, visually speaking, it’s the best thing to be found in the issue, and after reading the interview with Roach, easy to see why it’s one of the strips he’s most proud of. At one point our three main characters enter an abandoned block affected by time distortions or other such nonsense and, sure enough, the next several pages after this look insane, all these roads that the Judges are on criss-crossing and going through buildings, looping over one another and so on. But even if it that lunacy weren’t present, the strip would still look amazing. Although in a black and white style like the upcoming third book of Insurrection drawn by Colin MacNeil, this looks amazing, Roach absolutely nailing the design of the Judges and city, packing each and every page with detail. Like I said as I read his interview, I really hope we’ll see more from Roach at some point as the guy is quite the artist.

 

Finally, thousands and thousands of words later, we arrive at the end of this issue. It’s all over. At last… Don’t worry, I’m kidding – we’re not out the woods quite yet because I still have the fucking floppy to talk about! Thankfully I’ll be keeping this somewhat brief as this reprint is Volume 2 of Disaster 1990, the first not being amongst the additional reprints I managed to pick up separately. Not that I’m sure I would after reading this. One of 2000AD’s longest enduring characters, Bill Savage, is the main character of this series, this apparently meant to act as a prequel to Invasion!, and Savage after that. Only Pat Mills hasn’t treated this as canon, which makes me wonder if, even though it was Gerry who wrote most of Invasion! (this from Wikipedia), he was unhappy with the result of Gerry Finley-Day’s efforts here. Alas, I can’t say I was very happy reading this myself, much preferring the episodes of Invasion! that I’ve read in 2000AD’s old Annuals and the several books of Savage that I read during my collection years ago. The saving grace is twofold: for one thing, the art by Carlos Pino and Mike White is pretty great – very old school stuff that made me want to read through several of the Annuals.

The other piece of good news is that this floppy isn’t all Disaster 1990 – we have some tales told to us by Ro-Jaws, the lead member of the Ro-Busters whom I loved so dearly in the Annuals. Alas, ’tis written by someone called Gary Rice, who I’m pretty sure didn’t write any of the Ro-Busters’ actual stories (indeed, he’s credited at the end of the floppy only for Future Shocks and Walter The Wobot stories, god help us all), but fuck it – the guy writes in the spirit of Ro-Jaws (“Wotcher!”) and for these three stories we’re treated to art from Brendan McCarthy, Dave Gibbons and Ian Gibson, so who’s complaining?

These floppies are a little smaller than the Megazine itself – though still bigger in width than an American-sized comic – but they’re as good quality, and I’m looking forward to reading more. In fact, I really have to commend those behind publishing the Megazine for making these happen as it really boosts your value for money, especially as some of the reprints that we’ve got coming up are of trade paperback quality, and not just forgotten or abandoned series’ like Disaster 1990.

 

On that note, we are – I mean it this time – done at last, ending with a ridiculous 5000+ words. Yeah, I’ll try to refrain from going so crazy again next time, though if anyone dares to read through all this, I hope they’ll appreciate the fact that I’m just a big fan of the comic and felt the need to talk in length about the return of some familiar faces and whatnot. That will be something I’ll probably keep doing.

Before we go, way back at the beginning of this post and indeed somewhere in all this body of text, I mentioned that I was hoping to buy a job lot of back issues of 2000AD. Those I’m looking at are fairly recent ones I’ve missed and if I managed to get them, I’ll probably write a post about the most noteworthy series’. If I don’t get it, however, I’ll still be kept busy as I’ve actually won two auctions for two lots of fairly old Progs, actually hoping to pick up a few more from the same seller. What I’ll probably do with those, stealing this idea from someone’s reviews on the ECBT2000AD blog, is title them “Retro Review” and talk about my general impressions of certain ones, such as those I’ve won that mark the first appearance of a character. Could be interesting. Got my eyes on other lots too, so I’ll say if I win any.

 

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.