The future shines brightly on 2000AD

Today I wanted to chat about my favourite comic for a bit, as not only has it been a while since I last did, but the landmark Prog 1900 will be arriving on my doorstep this Saturday, bringing with it the return of two series’ I’ve sorely missed – Kingdom by Dan Abnett and Richard Elson (I recently got my hands on the first novel adaptation of the series too, Fiefdom, written collaboratively between Dan and his wife, Nik-Vincent), and Stickleback by Ian Edginton, a man whose second name I’ve been spelling incorrectly until now on this blog, and D’Israeli. And if the return of these two stellar series’ wasn’t enough, a new Dredd epic by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra will be beginning too. Nice, eh?

This means you can expect a review of that Prog, and maybe when they’re done, some of the series’ (Greysuit is also returning after a fairly lengthy hiatus and should be interesting) too. Definitely the latest epic at least, seeing as I imagine that it’ll either be the last major Dredd arc for the year or the one story leading us straight into the next epic, Dark Justice of Prog 2015, or possibly even both.

Also coming up on the blog, I wanted to talk about comic books themselves and how well I think the various companies publish them. It’s something I’ve wanted to talk about since the moment one of DC’s trade paperbacks pissed me off with its awful binding (I believe it was Batman: Hush), but it was receiving a free copy of Rogue Trooper: Tales of Nu Earth Vol. 4 earlier today for getting my letter published in the most recent issue of the Megazine, #352, that made me want to write about the subject soonish, as it suddenly occurred to me while skimming through the book how comfortable and easy it is to read compared to a DC or Vertigo book. On the subject of those two companies, I may even bemoan advertisements in single issues and how much those two take the piss there too.

But back to the subject at hand – 2000AD’s future.

The comic’s in an interesting position at the moment. In fact, it’s been in an interesting position for quite some time. My first subscription started shortly after I started buying the comic regularly with Prog 2006. It had only one major low in that whole time in my opinion, which was the weeks in which Stalag 666 endlessly dragged on. A horribly generic story with some poor early art by Jon Davis-Hunt that did nothing to help, I really didn’t like it. Not enough to go insane and send its writer, Tony Lee, my shit smeared on an angry letter, but I consider it my major low point with the comic.

Then my subscription ended several weeks into the year 2009 and I didn’t bother to re-new it or buy the comic from a nearby WHSmith again. Those first however-many weeks of 2009’s Prog’s didn’t impress me. As I recall, the series’ running at this time besides Dredd were Strontium Dogs, the second story arc of Greysuit, Marauder and something else. Whatever that last one was, Strontium Dogs was the only thing keeping me happy week to week (even the Dredd tale by Wagner wasn’t doing it for me), and seeing as this was all following closely after Stalag 666, I thought that the comic was maybe losing its steam, which is why I decided that I could always start again years later, which I have done. But as it turns out, the comic wasn’t losing its momentum at all.

Okay, so a second long Tony Lee scripted tale, Necrophim, actually started shortly after I left and seems to have been as well received as the first (so not very well at all), but allow me to list some of what I missed that was utterly incredible.

– If I had remained subscribed for another two fucking weeks I would have saw the start of a new Low Life story arc, possibly still the best in that series to date: Creation, the story in which Rob Williams decided to draw focus away from Aimee Nixon and to Dirty Frank instead, his iconic hairy, smelly and weird undercover Judge who refers to himself in third person in conversation with other characters. Also, D’Israeli became the new leading artist of the series after Simon Coleby and Henry Flint before him and he knocked it out the fucking park. You can probably see where this is going.

– Nikolai Dante picked off from where I left – at what was probably another amazing cliffhanger or plot twist by Robbie Morrison in other words – and continued to be incredible for the next couple of years, before ending as spectacularly as promised in 2012, or so glowing reviews suggest. Fuck.

– Savage returned and you can’t go wrong with that action-packed series. Neither can you with Zombo, an over-the-top, completely mental comedy by Al Ewing and Henry Flint that’s rapidly become a fan favourite and for good reason: it’s genuinely funny and has been raised the crazy stakes with each new story.

– Cradlegrave by John Smith and Edmund Bagwell, one of my personal favourite comics of all time (it really needs a review, come to think of it) and certainly one of the best stories published in 2000AD, not to mention proof that horror can actually work within the medium, started the week after these two and I fucking missed it. Goddamnit.

– Skip forward a few weeks and the latest series of Defoe started where Slaine: The Wanderer ended. Skip to the last stretch of the year and the latest series’ of Kingdom and Shakara came and went as all the while Dredd was continuously excellent and Wagner secretly built towards the Day of Chaos storyline and I missed it all damn me to hell.

Not a weak year at all, is it? And hopefully this little list highlights just how consistent 2000AD can carry itself week to week, which I personally believe it has been doing since at least I started collecting it, though was probably doing so years before I started, especially whenever Matt Smith took over as editor.

Now, where is all this going?

Well, in just these last few years, especially after the success of Dredd 3D, 2000AD’s made a number of small but interesting decisions. When I initially collected the comic, they changed the logo to what we see today with what’s technically two different logos at once, and then while I was not collecting it (it looks like this went on between 2011 and 2012) they changed it again briefly, and I have to say that I actually preferred this version of the main logo they’d been using, where the Prog number was clearly visible underneath in a small rectangle at the top of the front cover instead of down at the bottom now (on either the left or right hand side – so it’s not even consistent, much like the spines of their trade paperbacks, ho ho ho!). Whatever the case, they’re changing it again with Prog 1900.

Well, I say “they”, but it’s the work of Pye Parr, their graphic designer, who’s been fooling around with some of the graphic novel releases and has designed the upcoming and gorgeous looking Zenith collection, which I’ll be talking about again shortly. This new design, he said in a fairly recent podcast, is intended to emphasise the logo they’ve returned to after 2011’s small change – and to be fair, whether I liked the brief replacement or not, they have been using this one for years now – and to really sell this as their brand the way Marvel and DC’s are instantly recognisable, and to really stick to it this time, and put it everywhere: their graphic novels, merchandise, anything media-related – even the Megazine will apparently have it.

This is all in an effort to make the comic appeal to wider audiences, especially overseas in America where they’ve been releasing their Dredd 3D-set stories, as well as Brass Sun, and now Jaegir, all three of which have emphasised the logo very clearly, and with the issue number underneath. Only on Saturday will we be able to tell if this is what will happen to our beloved Progs, but I’d be delighted if it were the case, as I think these look smashing. It would mean this small top left corner of the Prog would block the art, where previously the purpose of the two logos was to let the art run wild, covering one logo but not the other (not always, mind you, much to some people’s dismay), but I wouldn’t mind at all, especially if it ends up serving a greater good. It was pointed out in the podcast I mentioned that, flicking through a collection of these comics, it’s hard to find the Prog you’re looking for since the number’s always moving, so I’d welcome a consistent look for that too.

Anyway, let’s stop talking about the logo and move on to these US-sized comics themselves, shall we? These have been done in the past several times, but I neither know how successful the Eagle books and other stuff were nor care – that was the past and this is now, and right now it’s 2000AD themselves doing the publishing of these three. And my honest opinion of the job they’ve done so far? Well, they’re excellent, the quality of these things being through the roof, and rightly so. What better way to sell these overseas than to use eye-catching, high quality covers and excellent paper stock, and to only interrupt the tale in each with a measly two adverts, letting the story and artwork inside do the talking? Nothing’s better. In fact, the only way these could be any more fantastic is if they followed in Image’s footsteps and included back papers for letters, articles or whatever else they could think of, which may not be a bad idea if they decide to release more stories like Jaegir, where some background on the universe could help new readers settle in.

So what about sales figures? How are these things doing? Well, truthfully, not much has been said about the latter two series’ at all, but the former has been doing well enough with Underbelly alone that that story’s entering a third printing this October, and they’re confident enough with its sequel, Uprise, which is currently running in the Megazine, that they’re releasing limited variant covers for its two issues – the first also released next month by the way – in further efforts to “test the waters”, I suppose (because these things do sell).

The somewhat negative aspect to all this is that the stories being published right now – and potentially others in the near future – are not the monthly comics of the US, but reprints collecting what are actually weekly instalments into one part. This is all fine and well for the Underbelly and Jaegir one-shots, which are very self-contained tales and paced perfectly for that number of pages, but it was never really the intention for Brass Sun to be collected in 32 page instalments, was it? It’s very much a weekly comic – just look back at the third series finished in Prog 1899 with its cliffhangers nearly every week (and while you’re at it, do the same for some of the other series’ that have been running recently too) – and much of what could next be reprinted will only be the same.

Of course, they’re not going to change the Prog to a larger monthly comic for the sake of this, so the next logical step is obviously to attract readers to the weekly comic itself, to bring them over to a style they’re unfamiliar with, perhaps done best by getting them invested in some of the series’ the comic’s ran in the past. But you can’t exactly force on it on them either by continuously releasing stories like Brass Sun not perfectly suited to monthly instalments, can you? No doubt there’s good stuff to be found that could work but then you’re also running risk of dropping new readers in the middle of nowhere like Jaegir. What might actually be an interesting experiment, come to think of it, would be to release 32 page collections of Future Shocks featuring either the writing or art of those people who went on to become hugely successful with American audiences after their work on the comic. Or you could try a different approach, and this is where IDW enters the room.

For those of you not in the know, IDW is a US publisher probably best known for their incredible Artist Editions, books which reprint entire stories with scanned pages of their original artwork in their full, glorious size, and when it comes to series’, Locke and Key and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles seem to be their most popular titles. Although I’m not sure exactly when they started working in unison with 2000AD (I could in fact swear that I’ve read their main series before in digital format years and years ago, although I could just as easily be confusing the artist with a spin-off older than IDW’s that he or she maybe also worked on?), they have a stake in the comic of their own now.

Their main emphasis is on Dredd, releasing their own line of stories that put a new spin on the universe. Frankly speaking, this is what sounds like the worst of what they’re doing, by all accounts some pretty terrible stuff that isn’t doing a good job at selling the universe. However, they’ve also been releasing issues collecting the “classics”, with brand spanking new colouring. They have…pretty…terrible covers, but at least it’s pushing stories like The Apocalypse War out to new audiences, right?

But what really seem to be doing the best job at introducing new audiences to the world – and seemingly are the best that IDW are publishing, according to most fans – are Matt Smith’s scripted takes on the character, a Year One re-imagining of Dredd’s origins, but in keeping with the spirit of the character, and now a similar concept for Anderson in a new Psi-Division series. And then there’s Douglas Wolk’s Mega City Two, the only one I have read, but one that I can tell you is absolutely amazing and well worth checking it out.

What’s great is that it’s not just Dredd getting such nice treatment. Both Rogue Trooper and Sinister Dexter are getting good attention paid to them, the former similar classics reprinted in new colour, but both entirely new series’, which are apparently pretty good. But it’s the fact that both still even exist, aren’t cancelled, that gets my hopes up for other series’ to join them in the future because let’s face it: neither of those are the best we have to offer, are they? Whatever the case, it all helps get 2000AD out to the uninitiated at the end of the day, doesn’t it? Who can complain about that?

Christ, I’ve talked this long about IDW and haven’t even mentioned the bloody fantastic hardcover collections they’ve been releasing for Dredd. For one, the re-coloured Apocalypse War has a rather nice book, and Judge Death will seemingly follow (hopefully with a less horrific cover, mind you). But the real cool ones are the Complete collections focusing on three artists: Brian Bolland, Carlos Ezquerra and Cam Kennedy. Oh yes, these are nice, and the first two even have some lovely signed, limited editions in slipcases and everything. Cor!

Actually, I lied – I didn’t forget these at all. It’s just the perfect segue I needed to talk next about 2000AD’s own selection of hardcovers that they’ve been pushing out the door.

It’s kinda funny, but somewhere in this blog, very early on I think, I complained how 2000AD were strictly all about the trade paperbacks. Those are pretty nice with their sewn binding of course – I wouldn’t have bothered mentioning a potential future blog entry if they weren’t as comfortable to read as I say – but I felt that they were really missing some attractive shelf pieces, especially books with not-shit spines, and yet was completely unaware that they actually did already have a few, with more on the way.

I won’t list them all, but from the Volgan War’s 96 page hardcovers with their overblown Clint Langley artwork with additional pages and no gutter loss whatsoever, to art books like Slaine: The Book of Scars and The Art of Judge Dredd (and it looks like we’ll be getting a Judge Dredd Sketch Book soon too, compiling unseen artwork); from the Mek Files reigning superior over the Complete Case Files and similar books with proper reproduction of the Prog’s whilst actually managing to live up to the promise of being, you know, complete, to consistent spines (I had to mention them!); and from a few signed and limited edition books to the upcoming Zenith, Brass Sun and Daily Dredd collections to decorate your shelves with in similar oversized formats of the above, 2000AD have simply never published books this bloody good before.

And if you can’t tell, I really, really want more like them, especially as many of these put the inconsistently designed paperbacks to great shame.

And, well, I may have gotten my wish. We’ve very recently found out that Hachette Partworks, a company who has been releasing two large Marvel collections for the past couple of years in fairly high quality hardcovers (considering their price), are starting a new series for the world of Judge Dredd, and oh my god, it looks amazing. It’s all well and good to recommend new fans try reading the Complete Case Files Vol. 5 first and see how they like The Apocalypse War, or to instead try America, or Origins, or even the recent Day of Chaos – because the strip is surprisingly easy to jump into at any point – but you know what’s an even better than those options? To be introduced in style, in the form of sexy hardcovers, with back papers discussing the history of the comic and its creators, with recommended further reading to help ease you in elsewhere. That is better.

Not exactly sure when these are coming out, but after some brief debating, I subscribed for the free gifts myself. They’re being given a trial run of the first four books listed on their site and here’s really hoping they take off, because I imagine if they’re successful enough, they stand an even higher chance of reaching an American audience than all of the above I’ve mentioned, simply because of that Marvel series they run.

Does all of the above cover everything?

I think so. No, wait. While I was gone the comics also went digital – the good DRM-free kind no less – and e-novellas are being released with hopefully many more to come.

Okay, I think I’ve discussed everything I set out to now.

The purpose of all I’ve talked about so far – not mine, but 2000AD’s I mean – is to really sell all the amazing and wonderful series’ outside of Judge Dredd that they have, to really attract newcomers to the weird and brilliant stories we’re so fortunate to be used to but that they’re not, and I think this opens up all sorts of exciting possibilities for the future if they can truly draw in this bigger audience. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy about the state the comic’s in now, but I can’t imagine how many more talented creators would jump on board if they suddenly found out about the comic and what excellent stories and artwork these people could bring us. Nor can I imagine how much the production values of both the regular comic and the Megazine could increase by, not to mention the collected books themselves. Wishfully thinking now, if you’re jealous of Marvel and all their great films, just imagine what some of our favourite series’ could look like on the big screen.

At the end of the day, make no mistake: whatever happens – whether their attempts to reel in this different crowd are successful or not – it’s an exciting time to be a 2000AD fan and there’s simply no better time to jump on board if you’re not one already.

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 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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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.