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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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.

Why Dredd (3D) Is One Of My Favourite Films Of All Time

When a friend told me of this film’s existence I recoiled in horror. It’s true. A complete contradiction of the title of course, so I think I should probably explain how little my hopes were for this film before I pile a ridiculous amount of praise upon it.

My friend isn’t a Judge Dredd fan like I am – not a fan of any comic for that matter – and I don’t believe had ever heard of 2000AD, where that character has appeared in almost every single Prog. He did know that the character was based on that in a comic because he’d seen the Stallone film like I had, the difference between us on the mention of that movie being that he enjoyed it. At the time I believe I ranted at him about this, a bit unfair of me seeing as he wouldn’t have had any idea what the fuck I was talking about when I said things like, “Bah! They tried to squeeze in characters from the Judge Child Saga for no good reason!” or “What the hell is Dredd doing taking his helmet off?!?” The latter complaint is one of those small things that peeved me off about the film – something that sounds really daft to anyone who isn’t at all familiar with the character – but, in general, it’s the multitude of big things that annoyed me. Ironically, though, these elements of the film that I whinged about the most probably made it sound very faithful to the source material with all of its references to actual stories. The problem is that it tries to do all of these things, make this complex story out of it all, but ends up doing very little.

So as soon as I heard there was a reboot on the way I did indeed flinch at the thought. When my friend told me that it would be in 3D and have all these slow motion sequences too, my anticipation plummeted further, being cynical about the former and not even bothering to imagine what the latter might be like. When I saw the short trailers on TV when the film was close to being released I was even less impressed. What had they done with the eagle? Where was all the hovering vehicles? Why were they showing off the ending in a goddamn trailer? And so, I never saw it in cinemas, instead seeing the amazingly crap The Dark Knight Rises as my comic book film that year, and never found out that it received a lot of praise from fans of the comic. It was, in my mind, probably very crap.

Last year my dad got hold of a copy from someone at his work. For some reason, even though I now own it on blu-ray, he still hasn’t seen it. But I reluctantly decided to check it out when he brought it home, all pessimistic and promising to give him a good moan about it. Instead, I loved it. It’s not only my favourite comic book adaptation of all time, but one of my favourite films of all time too, full stop. Here is why.

 

IT’S CLEVER

It seems to me that a lot of comic book films aren’t very smart. They like to really raise the stakes, but often do so too high, shooting themselves in the foot at some point or other by creating a plot hole or two, or following inane logic for the sake of some fancy sequence or other, etc. Logic is the key word of that sentence because, no, I don’t mean that these types of films should be more realistic, if that’s what you’re thinking. In fact, that’s very often the thing that gets them in trouble. But all fiction (that isn’t a parody, I guess) does need a good reason for why the character’s find themselves in a certain situation or do certain things, otherwise our suspension of disbelief suddenly snaps and we’re no longer as engrossed in what we’re watching like we were before, if at all. Not so in Dredd. There is a logical reason for everything that happens in this film, and I’ll try to explain why that’s so brilliant.

Back when I was still playing my Playstation 3 a sequel was released to a game called Uncharted 2, and I was very much looking forward to it after all the time I’d spent playing the first two games. This third game, however, was crap and I think the reason why it was so poor could best be explained by the writing process. How they built this third entry into the series was by thinking of these massive set pieces first, and only then building a story that ties them together afterwards. As you can imagine, this did not work, with characters making irrational choices and doing a lot of stupid things, the pace also losing its momentum along the way, all for the excuse of dumping them in this silly situation or other.

The reason I bring this up is that Dredd has a lot of action sequences of its own, but it doesn’t feel like the script was written around them or anything like that. What’s actually very admirable about the film is that it feels like we follow our two lead characters and, based on their actions, they land in a situation, and then respond to it appropriately. The whole film is about these two Judges pushing their way through to the top of this city block, Peach Trees, but along the way they’re forced to retreat and hide in addition to simply fighting back, quite naturally even running low on ammo by the end, and it all just makes sense, including the reason why they’re stuck in this block in the first place, which brings me to my next point.

 

IT’S NOT YOUR TYPICAL FILM

This is a really interesting thing about Dredd in comparison to the version Stallone starred in. The biggest mistake in that film, as I say, is that they tried to do way too much, basically messing everything up instead of creating the exciting story that they thought they were. This isn’t just a trapping a bunch of comic book adaptations fall into, but films in general, particularly action-heavy ones that feel like they must prove that they’re not just about all the explosions or something. Not so with Dredd again. I mean, it does prove itself amazing, but it doesn’t try to reach for the stars and then grab all the fucking stars greedily, shoving them in your face. This is an action film set almost entirely within a city block, for god’s sake. Just think about that for a moment, and then think of the last action film that you saw and how it most likely had this convoluted story and the type of characters that are spelled out to you in the kind of setting built for impressive looking set pieces. Not Dredd.

Early on we do find Anderson staring at a picture of her family, and we do see her read Dredd’s mind, for example, but at no point do either of them deliver a monologue about their life as violins play in the background. Hell, the titular character, promoted on most posters of the films, the guy who we’re arguably meant to know the most, never takes off his helmet once. How weird is that? Not strange enough? Well, the set-up for the story itself is simple too. It’s thickly layered, which I’ll talk about in a moment, but the concept itself is this: Dredd takes rookie psychic Anderson out on assignment; she decides they should investigate a triple homicide; shortly after arriving at the scene they’re sealed in the block by drug lord Ma Ma and must fight for their lives. That’s it. Seriously. It’s practically unheard of, especially for an action film. For one that had a smaller budget than most, it’s pretty brave of them as well.

Yet, although a few critics have found what they believe is fault with this simplistic approach – somewhat missing the point of Dredd’s line, “The perps were…uncooperative”, at the end, I might add – it’s actually something that makes it really unique. Not only is it a lot more fun action movie than most with this bare-bones mindset – more original, I’d go as far as to argue – it also gives them the breathing space to explore all manner of interesting things, but they do so in quite the fascinating way.

 

IT’S SUBTLE

And here we are at my favourite thing about the film. So many fucking movies treat the audience like they’re idiots, injecting themselves with heavy doses of exposition in case you’re too stupid to get it. You will find no such bullshit here, and I love the people who made this film for it. True, it’s not got as complicated a plot when compared to something like Inception, a film in which the characters explain everything that’s going on through dialogue whenever they can, but neither does it make it blatantly obvious how characters are feeling at a particular moment, nor does it tell you how you should feel about them, the latter of which I think is key for a Judge Dredd film. A brief monologue delivered by Karl Urban at the start of the film, for example, explains who the Judges are and what they do for those who aren’t fans of the comics, but at no point does a character confront Dredd or Anderson and rhetorically ask them if they think they’re doing what’s best for the people or anything silly like that in the obvious interest of making you ponder on that thought too.

The clearest example of this film’s alternate approach is when Anderson is forced to execute a dying man because “the sentence is death” for “the attempted murder of a Judge”, a quite shocking act in and of itself, but made more murky when she shortly thereafter learns that this man was a husband and father to the woman who lets them hide in her apartment. Where the subtlety enters is as she’s riding in an elevator with Dredd after this scene, and I would point out that this is for less than thirty seconds. Clearly Anderson’s having a difficult time coping with this and perhaps we in the audience are wondering what we should be thinking of her too. But it’s the fact that she turns to Dredd in this seconds-long scene and finds him staring at her that’s really amazing. The guy’s constantly wearing his helmet so you can’t see his eyes – just that bloody big frown – but we know from Anderson’s expression that he was sizing her up, judging her poorly. So when he contrasts an early scene of the film by telling her “You look ready” near the end of the film, in addition to hesitating in following her after she more or less tells him to fuck off when she lets a “perp” go free to his protests, we find that the two characters have gradually developed over the course of the film and in the end is why Dredd gives her a pass, despite the fact that she was disarmed at one point, which should have made her a fail. Amazing or what?

But I digress. There is so much subtlety in this film, and I haven’t even mentioned the things you can learn about the world. Some details about the city is communicated through dialogue – though not in an inappropriate way like a school teacher explaining something to you very delicately – but you do need to pay attention to see the bulk of it. The best perspective to take in order to understand what I’m talking about is by looking at what we see of the Judges in the film – their weapons, their technology, their bikes, etc. – and comparing this with the citizen’s. We know a lot of them are unemployed but it’s only through really looking at the small touches that we can see the true economic gap between the two, like most of the vehicles we see them using being very similar to one another, suggesting they’re the most affordable, whilst the block itself is covered in graffiti and has elevators that don’t work properly. The two youngest children we see even join in on the fray against the Judges in a desperate attempt to make something of themselves or their families, though end up stunned by Dredd to serve time in Iso Cubes. This is a world so constantly moving that food courts are only shut for a brief period of time after a shootout, no care paid to the people who were killed, the bodies of whom aren’t even moved before someone comes along to clean up their blood, just so they can reopen the place. Again: it’s amazing stuff and I could frankly talk about all these tiny little things all day.

 

That’s my three big reasons why the film is so glorious, but there’s a lot of smaller ones too, some of which weren’t exactly necessary but do make it even more memorable, and I’ll go through these very quickly.

 

IT’S A FILM FANS OF THE COMICS WILL LOVE

The original version borrowed a lot of ideas from the comics which someone like my friend who I ranted about it at might take to mean that it was a faithful adaptation. Though I did like some of what they threw in – the block war that opens the film and the Chief Judge taking the Long Walk for instance – this is better. The line that I suggested those critics who called the story too simplistic missed – “The perps were…uncooperative” – sums up the trials Dredd and Anderson face in a nutshell: it is just a typical day in the life of of a Judge. Of course, god knows there’s that temptation of wanting the Apocalypse War or another of the big epics on screen, but I think it’s much better that they chose a pretty standard idea for at least this first film yet, if I’m being perfectly honest, I wouldn’t mind if they did so again because, small in scope or not, it felt like I was watching a film set in Mega City One, and the characters felt like they ought to, which is all that matters to me.

Being written so well despite the rather uncomplicated set-up, it should come as no surprise that the humour is very much what you would expect too, either satirical, quite dark or using the violence itself as humour, a homeless man being crushed by the closing blast doors of the block. Yep, it’s as violent as you’d hope for it to be, unapologetically so with a head being literally blown into pulp by Anderson near the end as an example. Hell, I was surprised when Dredd didn’t kill the kids who tail him and Anderson since, when I was collecting the comic, the guy shot down an unarmed, very young skysurfer, who was less than fourteen years of age if I recall correctly. But believe me – though he lets them live, everyone else who is in path is shot down. Fuck knows what his body count is by the end.

It’s always nice when things are said from the comics in a casual manner too – “bodies for Resyk” as an example – or we familiar with it notice things like the curse, “Drokk!”, written on the back of a jacket, a Fattie lying dead by his belliwheel and or Chopper’s scrawl, things that aren’t easter eggs but simply part of the world that our attention doesn’t have to be drawn to. Truly a film that fans can cherish.

 

IT PORTRAYS WOMEN REALLY WELL

This may not have bothered everyone if it weren’t the case but it would’ve annoyed me. Not just Judge Dredd, but the whole of 2000AD is guest to many amazing writers, and one of the great things I can’t help to have noticed in my collection of it is that it’s very rare of a writer to come along and treat the sexes unequally. Thankfully, that isn’t the case here either. That the film has a female lead in Anderson, played by Olivia Thirlby, and doesn’t try to differentiate her in appearance – well, she doesn’t wear her helmet like Dredd, but there’s a perfectly logical reason for that – from the other lead character, who is a man, is quite surprising itself. When I was told of the film I pictured them hiring some blonde beauty to play as Anderson and playing her up as pure sex appeal instead of as the Anderson we all love and know. But they did not and, even though a perp who’s dragged around for most of the film pictures the two of them in a sexually violent manner, it’s neither for very long or exploitative, Anderson in fact turning the tables on him, making him piss himself.

The third main character would be Ma Ma, played by Lena Headey, famous for her role as Cersei in Game of Thrones. Uh, yeah, her role could not possibly be more different here, though it’s still incredibly performed and is an excellent character. Put it this way though: where Cersei does use her looks as a means of getting her way, Ma Ma bites off a guy’s cock in the flashback sequence that introduces her and from that point onwards is depicted as a downright psychopath. In another contrast between the two, where Cersei is always keeping up physical appearances by having her handmaids wash her, do her hair and help her select dresses, Ma Ma has a nasty scar on the side of her face and has the look of a total drug addict, her bath scene not sexual in nature but oddly beautiful as she takes some of her own drug, Slo Mo. Hopefully they have as brilliant and genuinely original female characters in a sequel.

 

IT LOOKS AND SOUNDS BEAUTIFUL

Okay, so I’m partly guessing on this one since I haven’t seen it in 3D, having foolishly skipped the film when it came out. However, even on blu-ray, it’s pretty obvious where the 3D would have kicked in: during those breathtaking slow motion sequences. Oh yes, the slow motion isn’t the horror I imagined it to be at all – it is stunning. Never has a guy getting shot through the side of the mouth, exposing his teeth, looked so amazing, a sentence I never expected to say. Christ, don’t even get me started on how gorgeous Ma Ma’s fall that ends the film is or I will never end this post. Yet even when it’s not in slow motion, there’s just sheer beauty to this urban wasteland as we either take some time to breathe as Dredd and Anderson make their way through the well-designed and thought of block unmolested, or we’re caught in another explosive gunfight, which incidentally are more varied than you’d think.

That the soundtrack fits well in all situations makes it all the easier to find yourself totally engrossed in the film, the track for Anderson realising that she killed the husband of the woman who helps her and Dredd being as regretfully sad as you’d expect; the track for the slow motion sequences being these beautiful things where voices sing in the background; and the tracks for all the action sequences being these loud, pulse pounding beasts that would fit really well in some video games that I can think of. All of that, with some changing of words, could be said about the excellent sound design too, if you were wondering. But the soundtrack itself is one you’re going to want on the musical device of your choice, that’s for sure.

 

And that is why I bought the limited edition hardcover of the forthcoming screenplay for fifty quid…I think. Maybe I’m just crazy, splashing out that much money for a signed book, I dunno. It is the first limited edition book that I’ve bought on purpose though (I own two Daredevil books that have an exclusive variant cover you don’t find on regular copies, but I didn’t know that when I picked them up) so it’s kind of neat that I did so for a film I love dearly. There is a remaining 200 copies that will be available for purchase from other retailers, only those on 2000AD’s website having sold out already (in three days, I believe, so I was lucky I paid for mine fairly quickly) if you were looking to pick it up, and I highly recommend doing so if you love this film as much as I do because the artist who signs it, Jock, actually drew a whole comic to match the script, which I’m betting will look rather amazing indeed. Obviously I’ll be reviewing it once I get my grubby mitts on it, with pictures most likely seeing as it’s a numbered copy too. Sadly, that’s three months off. Boooo!

In the meantime, the reprint of Dredd: Underbelly, the comic book sequel to the film – though let’s all hope an actual film sequel will be happening sooner or later – arrived on my doorstep earlier this week, so I’ll have a review up for that soon, especially since a sequel to that, uh, sequel is coming to the Megazine again shortly. Until then.