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 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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Insurrection Review

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

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

What a brilliant idea.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time.

Prog 1879 Review

Bloody hell, that’s a really nice cover again this week. With the exception of Karl Richardson’s cover for Outlier, I’ve been quite fond of all the covers I’ve seen so far, and this is certainly no exception. The unusual thing is that most, including this, have been stock covers, unrelated to the story inside, and those have a habit of being quite poor in my experience. But so far, so good, I’m happy to report.

This particular one is brought to us by Phil Winslade, an artist only credited with one Dredd story and a Tharg’s Terror Tale on Wikipedia (though he’ll be appearing in the Megazine shortly alongside Dan Abnett), but would appear to have done several covers, most recently before this that of Megazine 345. According to Wikipedia he was supposed to do the art for Ian Edington’s The Red Seas instead of Steve Yeowell, which is quite interesting (and incidentally, that’s another series I missed the conclusion of I’m sad to say) and makes me wonder how that would have looked. Anyway, unlike the Simon Coleby and Len O’Grady cover of last week, there’s an entry over on 2000AD Covers Uncovered for this one. It doesn’t suggest anything about the idea behind it, I guess because the aim was as simple as creating a very old school look, but you get a nice look at the different stages it went through. Before adding the colourful background, I have to say that I actually quite liked the look of the painted Dredd on a plain white background quite a bit. Maybe we can see it like that on the cover of a Case Files book in the distant future?

Either way, it looks terrific, and the psychedelic-like background is what really makes it appear like an old school sort of cover anyway. It’s not something I expect will draw the attention of passer-bys unfamiliar with the comic, but I’m sure long time fans probably cracked a smile when they saw it. Excellent stuff – what a painter this guy is!

 

So, Mega City Confidential ended last week, which means there’s a new Dredd story (which will be four parts long according to artist John McCrea’s blog) starting in this Prog. But imagine my joy when I found that this tale, Shooters Night, is the second in the row written by John Wagner! Oh yes, I can live with that alright. Being of such short length again and similarly dark in tone does make me wonder if I’m right that the man is up to something. But then again, I can’t imagine what, if there’s anything, that he could be leading up to, having recently been reminded of Dark Justice, the next epic due to start at the end of the year. There’s plenty of time before then certainly, but I figure that it’s best not to go making wild speculations and just look at these two tales for what they are.

The last was very much classic Dredd social commentary and it had its usual sense of humour proudly worn on its sleeve. The first episode of this on the other hand shows a teenage boy gunning down classmates at a party he wasn’t invited to. Although it’s a sadly all too familiar sounding shooting spree, it will probably take another episode or two until we see if it’s also social commentary on this real world issue. If it is, then it’s certainly uncannily timed with the very recent stabbing of a schoolteacher by a student in England, though I guess there’s no “good” time to offer a perspective on something as tragic as that. Whatever the case may be, Wagner’s writing is as solid as ever – really liked the inner monologue of Dredd quickly sizing up the situation, so used to these random killings that he is – and the set up for this first episode, with its implication of there being more to the shooting than just another depressed citizen of Mega City One, suggests that next week’s will be just as good.

The artwork comes from the aforementioned John McCrea, an artist who has contributed to 2000AD and the Megazine before, and who I should have come across in my readings of the Complete Case Files unless I haven’t gotten that far. Indeed, his name doesn’t jog my memory, so I’m kind of treating this like it’s the first I’ve seen of him. But the good news is that I like what I see. The only somewhat worthwhile thing I can possibly point out about the artwork besides the usual obvious stuff is his interesting line work. There’s a lot of these really thick, bold lines used for the shadow on one side of a character’s face, part of their clothing or what have you, but an interesting little thing that McCrea does is have much thinner lines come off of these. On the second to last panel of page five you can even see that, on Dredd’s face, he has these really thick lines then a series of thin ones and then more thick ones, as if the thin ones are connecting the two. Couldn’t tell you why he does all these things but it’s something I noticed and, for some reason I can’t find the words to describe, it’s really eye-catching and unique. Looking forward to seeing what McCrea has up his sleeve for the remaining episodes.

 

We see Outlier make preparations for the finale that I expect we’ll see in the next couple of weeks or so, but not a whole lot else. In fact, the only interesting thing of note is that there’s yet more mirroring of Caul and Carcer’s actions, this time in the form of a flashback for our lacklustre protagonist where the words “Close your eyes” are spoken like they were for Caul’s pleasant memory last week. So, yeah, hopefully whatever their “psychological link” might be and mean for the two will be something interesting. Otherwise, we just continue to see Ramona being up to no good as she lures Caul into a trap that she doesn’t mind getting former friends killed to partake in. Hopefully the showdown that we’ll be seeing soon will end the strip on an at least decent note if Carcer and Caul’s connection amounts to nothing, as the rest has been very unimpressive.

As far Richardson’s art, well, I noticed a curious little thing this week, what with all the talking heads and all, and that’s how he really seems to draw men and women in only a handful of ways. Seriously, you have Mr. Muscle that we’ve seen thrice before, a woman who looks like a slightly thicker-necked version of Ramona with a different hair colour, and the guy who’s murdered looks like the guy killed in the second episode but with more hair. Weird. But hey, we’re six episodes into this series and I’m only just noticing this, so whatever. Some people seem to really like Richardson’s artwork for some reason that I can’t understand. I’ll admit that it’s instantly recognisable, but I’m not convinced that it’s any good. What I saw him do in two episodes of The 86er’s so long ago was, from memory, much better than any episode I’ve seen of this. Maybe Eglington’s script is to blame, I don’t know; but I really find myself glancing over the art now, which is quite a shame.

 

Not so with Simon Davis’ continually incredible work on Slaine. To be honest, I think I’m completely out of praise to heap upon it, and that isn’t a bad thing. It’s just so consistently wonderful that there’s really no need to talk at length about how detailed it is, how he gets expressions right every time, and so on. That sort of goes with Pat Mills’ writing too.

The dialogue has been unusually sparse for him but when there is any, it’s been fantastic, such as Slaine splashing about the water in anger when Sinead’s taken by evil mermaids (which are the best kind, don’t cha know) this week. A lot of people have also been pointing out that this marks either the first or one of few times that we see Slaine’s own inner thoughts, the perspective usually brought to us courtesy of Ukko the dwarf. This isn’t something I would really know, but it is interesting and further evidence of Mills taking a much more bare bones approach, for this instalment in the new series at least, stripped of a roster of characters and a ridiculously complex plot. And it really can’t be a coincidence that there’s so little of this, yet so much bloody good art taking up the place. I do wonder what Mills’ script looked like for this story arc; if he specifically told Davis that there wouldn’t be much in way of significant plot developments and that he should just go fucking mental.

Not that I’m complaining, mind – I’m continuing to love this and am still praying that Davis will be kept on for the rest of the series, whether Mills returns to usual tricks or not. It’s been bloody good fun and I appreciate that it hasn’t been taking itself too seriously. Looking forward to the first release of the collected edition of the A.B.C. Warriors later this week to get a good look at Mills’ earliest writing for those characters.

 

“The latest outing of Sinister Dexter sadly draws to an all to early conclusion this week…I just…*sniff*…I just…Noooooooooo!“, cried no one ever.

You know, I wish I could say that when I suddenly find myself reading the words “The End” in another of these fucking stories, I jump up and punch the air in triumph, but I don’t. Because if Tharg doesn’t say it in his usual column before you reach those two typically beautiful words – which I actually prefer, since it’s a much fairer warning, and gets the pain of defeat out the way – you can be damn sure that they’ll be juxtaposed on the final panel of the strip itself with words to the effect of “More soon”, a stark reminder that this shit will never truly end. The scariest thing is that you never know how soon soon is, so you become paranoid, watching as another series ends and wondering what its replacement may be, shuddering at the thought that you’ll open next week’s Prog and find another of these stories facing you. What would be really bad timing for their return in my case is if it were as quickly as June like Jaegir, as that’s when I’ll be returning from a lovely holiday. Please don’t make me come back to this country of dreary weather to find that this duo have made their return. Have mercy, Tharg, I implore you.

Every dark cloud has its silver lining, however, and in this case that would be Smudge’s artwork, which is pretty excellent this week with some fantastic shots and a great amount of detail. But if he’s artist again next time, I really do hope that either he or someone else will add colour on top of his ink work. In fact, if this particular story had had colour from week one then I think it might been a bit of a more worthwhile read than it was, instead of one that I just sped through as quickly as possible like most other Sinister Dexter tales.

 

And yes, you read that right: Jaegir ends this week too. It’s quite surprising actually. Though Mega City Confidential had been a slow burner, it ended perfectly well and reading through it as a whole you can see how well paced it was. This? Well, the pacing has most certainly not been a problem, even slower than Dredd that it was, but it maybe could have done with one additional episode in my opinion. My expectation was that that’s what we’d get in fact, having suggested as much last time – my ideal ending being that in this Prog Grigoru meets his end and in the one after that we see loose ends tied up and Nerria recruiting Jaegir and co. for future missions. Instead, Rennie manages to use the last page of this first story arc for that and Strigoi ends.

A bit of a shame that it’s over so soon, but here’s hoping that its return in June will see with it a much longer story. These past six episodes have all been about the characters and although I’m sure we’ll learn a lot more about them, I think that we need to see an even greater foe next time, though that’s one – as Rennie has made very clear by now with his references to the monsters of old tales – that could come in any number of forms and should make for a very interesting sequel indeed. Truly, I can’t wait to see much more of this series – here’s hoping it remains as well received and doesn’t end up like The 86er’s. Here’s also hoping that Simon Coleby and Len O’Grady will be sticking on as artist and colourist respectively. Now that we’ve seen what they’re capable of and how perfect they are for such dark subject matter, I honestly can’t think of any other two people I’d want to see doing this. Fingers crossed, eh?

 

So Jaegir, despite its surprise ending, was my favourite of the Prog one last time. There’s no mention from Tharg about what could be replacing it and Sinister Dexter next week (though there technically could only be one new story next time with a double length opening – that happens from time to time), but I wouldn’t mind seeing something else new, to me that is. In the past I might have said, “More Nikolai Dante please!”, but alas that story ended as I wasn’t collecting it and I’m not really sure what new stuff I’ve been missing. There’s the Tharg 3hrillers, which I believe are a new three part mini-series by creators (kind of putting me in mind of Al Ewing’s short stories), so the start of one of those might be good, although I’d be perfectly happy to see a Future Shock. Ach, I’ll find out tomorrow morning so long as the post man doesn’t betray me. Until next time!

Prog 1878 Review

A bit later than I expected with this one, but I’m back with this week’s Prog now that 1879 has been delivered to me from the future. The consistency of the Saturday delivery has actually been quite surprising, for I recall usually waiting until Monday when I was last subscribed. That’s nice, and always lovely to see sitting on the floor below your letterbox as you go downstairs for breakfast because if you’re anything like me, try as you might not to, you accidentally spoil the week’s cover via the comic’s Twitter account before it actually arrives. Blasted social media!

Ach well, at least it wasn’t the case here. The cover’s exactly what I’ve been waiting for: of my favourite ongoing strip, Jaegir, and brought to us by Simon Coleby, Len O’Grady colouring it like the strip itself (I can’t actually remember if Coleby colours any of his own work, come to think of it). It’s quite the piece of brilliance, and I dearly hope we’ll see a post detailing the process behind it over on 2000AD Covers Uncovered as I’d be very interested to know whether there were other ideas before this or not. The reason for my curiosity is that this is a fairly packed image that could have very easily failed. We have Jaegir and Klaur take up the foreground; their air shuttle take up the distant centre along with the forest; Grigoru looming over all in the background; and, further behind him, the castle itself, a full moon behind it. Of course, some of the last is partly obscured by the brand logo, but that’s still a lot going on.

It’s great to see that it really works then. Although Coleby does a perfect job positioning everything and I really love the dramatic poses of the characters, especially Grigoru’s Frankenstein’s monster-like howl, it’s O’Grady’s colouring that really swoops in to save the day in my opinion. The two characters at the bottom are given a sand colour not unpleasing to the eyes and a red tint to their left hand sides, apparently from a fire. The forest behind them is a very light, washed out shade of green, which perfectly leads our eye to the figure of Grigoru, who is given a ghostly blue-grey shade of colour (note the subtle white highlight around him too) from which, alongside the anguished expression, he’s painted as both a terrifying monster and man racked by an illness out of his control. Finally, the castle and its surrounding hills are a dark grey, giving it an appropriately menacing look indeed. A bloody well done cover – someone add a little something extra to these droid’s oil rations fer cryin’ out loud!

Inside Tharg tells us about the forthcoming Free Comic Book Day, previewing what we can expect to see in the Prog. No doubt I’ll give it a pass on the day itself, so small is my patience with long queues (plus, if I enter the nearest comic book store in Glasgow just for the free Prog, guilt shall overcome me and I’d probably go on a spending splurge), but I’ll be keeping an eye out for it on eBay, if only for a Dredd tale illustrated by Chris Burnham, a chap whom I praised to no end for his work on Grant Morrison’s last story arc of Batman. In my mind there is simply no way that can’t look amazing, and I hope that those who pick up the Prog and have never seen his work before will be as impressed with him as I was.

 

We see the end of Mega City Confidential this week, and it concludes as I suppose all these darker Dredd tales do: with no one coming out unscathed, including the Judges. The big revelation of Section 7, as speculated on the forums, though really quite obvious from the art in hindsight (all those visor reflections, though certainly depicting several characters as demonic, was also highly suggestive of camera lenses staring back), is that the Judges have been spying on citizens through hidden devices recently planted in their homes after Day of Chaos. It wouldn’t be a move I’d make following such devastation to people’s everyday lives and, sure enough, the citizens take up arms against their lovely enforcers of the law, resulting in “over a thousand deaths” according to Dredd, of which very few are the Judges themselves. Arrests are large in size too – so big that Hershey suggests they may soon run out of room in the Iso-Blocks – and amongst those characters we’ve seen imprisoned joins Blixen’s partner, Max himself being suspiciously found dead. (That final page with his replacement on the show is great by the way, as it could be interpreted as the Judges actually sending a warning to the citizens of what the price for being a whistleblower is.) Wonder who could’ve possibly been behind that? Ah, the Judges never change…

Of course, as we saw last time, Dredd himself wasn’t particularly pleased with Hershey’s decision – we’re actually given a nice insightful line into how he appreciates his own privacy – so it’ll be interesting to see the ramifications of this latest chapter in his life on the world. It is, as I said last week, one of those short stories that I feel like Wagner writes every so often with the intention of building towards some great event, so that’s what I’d like to see anyway. On the other hand, it could just be that it’s another Dredd tale doing social commentary, quite obviously being based on Edward Snowden’s ongoing leaks about the U.S. government’s snoopiness. In fact, it’s one of those stories that I expect we’ll all look back on years from now as a perfect example of the strip’s excellent commentary on social issues, the message in this case being that no good can come from the breach of people’s personal lives.

Though short, it’s been excellent stuff and I look forward to much more from Wagner in the future no matter what he does next. Really, what a great way to find myself reading the comic again. Hopefully we’ll see more from MacNeil again soon too, especially if it means more of this darker style.

 

The first thing that sprung to mind after reading this week’s instalment of Outlier was, quite appropriately, how bored I am of it. Last week I was pretty harsh on it, and I’m afraid my mood towards it hasn’t changed, Caul’s little flashback to what the Hurde did being another terrible attempt at making us give a shit about him. The funny thing is, the flashback ends with a shot that the next is a mirror of, something which Jaegir also does this week (they really are quite similar, huh?), the difference being that the latter story does it a lot better, actually serving a greater purpose than telling us something we already know – the Hurde torture people? Really?!? – in addition to not being cheap in its delivery of character development. That’s what I suspect Outlier’s all about here anyway in its depiction of Caul’s girlfriend being skinned alive. It didn’t make me feel any sympathy though – just mild sadness that this is all Eglington seems capable of.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel, however. Not only does Carcer actually, you know, get involved a little more in the story this week by confronting Caul at last (though he does get stabbed, which also made me mentally face palm), but we find that he has a good reason not to trust his employer, who is indeed up to no good. We already know this – Carcer spelled it out to us before that she’s hiding something, and it didn’t take a genius to work out that she’s interested in taking Caul alive if possible, to be sold and his Hurde technology analysed. What could be somewhat interesting is a “psychological link” between Caul and Carcer that she mentions, suggestive that all these mirroring words and panels of the two characters is indeed to emphasise a greater bond they share besides being Hurde survivors. I’m still not enjoying this, but maybe, just maybe, Eglington does have some surprise there.

As for Richardson’s art – it’s still not doing it for me, and I think never will. A thought that occurred to me this week is that someone else could do the colouring for him in the future, but that still leaves the excess amount of detail he tries to throw on everything that I noticed a great deal more in this episode, putting me in mind of Tony S. Daniels, an artist I bashed to no end during my read of Grant Morrison’s Batman run. It’s a sort of realistic style, most noticeable when it comes to defining every little thing about a characters appearance (look at how much detail he pours into the structure of Mr. Hain’s face), but I really need find it to be too much, leaving little room for the imagination and more for mistakes.

 

This week’s Slaine wraps up the fight with the gloops from last week, quite hilariously beginning with a our hero narrowly dodging the tail of one that last week’s episode dramatically ended on. Although week to week instalments are reading quite well in the comic’s weekly format, I think it’ll be a lot easier to appreciate this particular series, A Simple Killing, once all of The Brutania Chronicles are collected in trade as again, not much happens here in way of significant plot developments. After the fight, Slaine and Sinead chat for a bit (the former curiously mentions having to go to a party “to say goodbye to someone” – does that mean the Green Man celebration we saw a couple of weeks ago was actually a flash forward or how he was picturing it in his head?), the main highlight of their conversation being Slaine’s refusal to help, as unusual as him choosing not to kill Kark in the second episode.

But that probably won’t last as Sinead looks like she’s either turning into some human-serpent hybrid or, more likely, seeing as the gloops are “sea devils”, some mermaid creature. Indeed, I’d come across a preview of this strip quite recently, with concept art of Slaine fighting a group of mermaid-like creatures (they were much taller), so I suspect that he’ll either be forced to kill Sinead or lose her to these creatures in Prog 1879, giving him the motivation to go to Monadh and face the Drunes there, which I suppose will be the final legs of this particular story arc. Sinead even mentions that they’re intending to raise a powerful new monster, so it could be that it’s that who becomes the villain of the next story arc, should Slaine be too late, something which might make for a good little twist.

The art, as always, is gorgeous. Not as incredible looking as last week, but still very consistent in terms of quality, Davis continuing to position everything in a unique fashion and nailing every panel, from the level of detail (when we first see Sinead’s legs changing you can tell that her veins have become noticeably thicker) to the choice of colour. It’s such bloody good stuff that it pains me to know that it must end sooner or later.

 

On the contrary, what I can’t wait to see end is Sinister Dexter. After last week’s decent episode, the focus is brought back on to the two shitty lead characters again as they shoot stuff, how exciting, blah blah blah. Please, for the love of god, wrap up soon. Please. The art from Smudge is alright, though I still contend that it’d look much better in colour rather than black and white. Although could someone tell me what the hell’s up with the last couple of panels on the first page, where we find Finny being cut loose then smoking in the next, but on the panel at the top of page just after this not smoking at all? Oh, fuck it, who cares? Be done already, I implore you.

 

Thankfully, Jaegir is here to never let the Prog end on a downer with that shite. Although not my favourite of this week’s episodes for a change – that would be the conclusion of Mega City Confidential – this series continues to impress. Like Outlier, it opens with a flashback, but does so with the purpose of making our heroine realise that the strigoi she’s hunting is smarter than she’s given it credit for – a lot better than the other’s strip poor attempt at characterisation. That is to be found here too, but it’s also done to greater effect: the flashback shows a side of Atalia’s father that was proud of her (in contrast to him beating her last week, no less), creepily marking her forehead with the blood of a bear that she didn’t flinch against as apparent symbolism of the future blood of Nordland’s enemies that he expects she’ll drench herself in as a soldier. What’s great is that he says this, and the next panel contrasts the young girl with a scarred woman, the “Madam Kapiten” of a team who investigates the crimes of their own people. Brilliant.

Sadly, it looks like this shall be ending soon, Grigoru launching his attack against Atalia and co. to end this week’s episode, probably meaning they’ll kill him next time, at which point I guess we’ll meet with the crippled old guy again to set us up for the start of another series. And hopefully whenever that series comes along Simon Coleby will still be artist, and Len O’Grady his colourist. Their cover is terrific this week and the art inside as good as always, perfectly suited for such a dark series as this.

 

Overall, another solid Prog. Whatever’s next for Judge Dredd, I hope it can live up to the brilliant Mega City Confidential. The next Prog arrived on Saturday so I’ve seen the fantastic cover, but I highly doubt its old school appearance has anything to do with whatever may be inside. Guess we’ll find out next time. Until then.

Prog 1874 Review

Welcome to the start of an all new series of reviews in this here blog of mine. Before we dive on in, I suppose some background on my relationship with 2000AD would be good as well as what my plans for the future are in regards to it. This is a comic I collected for three and a half years as a teenager, and I would say they were three pretty good years for the comic. In regards to Dredd, I suppose the most noticeable story would be Origins, being one of the last “epics” to take place, but it’s the stories after that in which Wagner took the lead character and had him try to make changes to the way the mutants of the Cursed Earth were treated, even getting them into the city, that I thought were really good. Sadly, my subscription came to an end shortly before I could see that through into Mega City Justice. Even more sadly, I was absent from the strip when the Day of Chaos story took place, and afterwards as Trifecta, a genius crossover, blew everyone’s minds. But, as well as Judge Dredd, I’d like to say that I was collecting the comic when other great stuff was afoot.

Though I came into the middle of it, Nikolai Dante was being taken in very interesting directions, one particular scene with the Tsar at the end of Amerika sticking out in my mind. There was the end of Caballistics Inc. going on, though I sadly jumped ship before I could read Absalom. Though its second story wasn’t as good, particularly with the frequent changes of artist, I did enjoy The Ten Seconders. A story called Stickleback came out of nowhere to blow everyone away. Alas, I’ve missed the third long story in that series, and there’s no trade paperback for it, but hopefully I’ll be seeing him and the gang again soon. A guy called Bob Byrne came out with all these “twisted tales”, usually silent strips that could take multiple readings to decipher. Oh, Al Ewing released quite a few short stories. They were kind of like expanded Future Shocks and the one I most clearly remember is Dead Signal with art from P.J. Holden, in my opinion his best at the time.

Now that I think about it, there were also a lot of sneaky strips taking place, by which I mean the kind that looked to be a new story by a new writer when, suddenly, it turned out that it was a cover up for this or that. Probably most memorable for me was a story called Dead Eyes which ended with the revelation that it was actually Indigo Prime. This didn’t really mean anything to me, but the reason I do remember it quite well is that my dad collected the comic when he was younger and literally dropped the Prog when he read the final episode. Me, though? Well, Simon Spurrier introduced me to Lobster Random, but then pulled a fast one on us all when he turned out to be the author of what we thought was an amazing  new story – with beautiful art by D’Israeli, easily some of his best – called The Vort, actually Lobster Random in the guise of an amnesiac guy who just happens to be good at torturing folk. Oh, and Malone turned out to be Sinister Dexter, which was actually incredibly obvious in hindsight but really bloody good.

So, yeah, there was a lot of cool stuff going on when I was collecting this here comic. Having been stalking their site for some time, I noticed that this one would be featuring all new stories throughout, and with a new monthly subscription added to the site, I thus find myself collecting it again. Along with the Megazine though. DUN DUN DUUUUN. Though I only ever bought one terrible issue of that in the past, it seems to be doing pretty well for itself right now actually, so I’m jumping on board with that too, and you’ll be seeing reviews of it as well. But mostly this, for it is out every week whereas the Megazine is every four. If you’re curious at all as to how much I really love the comic, let me put it this way: it’s the only comic or magazine I’ve ever submitted a letter to (and gotten published in one Prog…somewhere), expressing thy love; I contributed to a website, now shut down, called 2000AD Reviews (I now follow a blog here on WordPress doing the same thing, and will probably send this their way), even though I was kinda terrible at writing at the time, just to talk about it; and I even helped out on Wikipedia’s various entries for the comic, such is how sad I am. On that note, let’s get started, and do note that they’ll probably be more traditional reviews in way of briefly mentioning the cover, then the writing and art of the various stories.

 

Cover by Edmund Bagwell

Pretty smashing stuff, I must say. Though all the characters look great, Bagwell’s Slaine in particular looks fantastic. This guy was the artist on a strip I missed, but bought in trade paperback, called Cradlegrave, indeed one of the very best stories I’ve read from the comic, so I really hope we’ll be seeing him as the artist on a future story, preferably one with dark subject matter so he can present us with horrible looking images.

 

Judge Dredd: Mega City Confidential (Part 1)

Gee, John Wagner and Colin MacNeil? It’s like someone knew that these two are a favourite combination of mine, Wagner being the writer when it comes to Dredd of course, and MacNeil having illustrated some of my favourite strips for the character. Maybe it’s been a while but his art work looks a lot darker here than I think it usually is. Perhaps that’s just me though, or is down to this being set up as a slow, unravelling mystery rather than a comedy, even a slightly dark one. Either way, it’s as amazing as ever and certainly matches the ominous mood of this opening chapter. Just look at how scary Dredd is when he’s up in Guff’s face.

The story itself does appear mighty mysterious in this opening chapter, but I can’t imagine that it’ll remain that way for very long. What the secret of Section 7 could be has me intrigued though, and I’m sure there’s a great story in store for us. It looks like we could be following it quite closely from the perspective of the girl, Erika, too, judging by the way that Wagner depicts Dredd in one of his more monstrous states, and the two citizens as the innocent couple with whom we sympathise. It’s always very interesting when that’s the case, and it’d be quite the treat for me if that were the story I returned to Dredd for. Oh, but one more thing. Though I haven’t collected the strip for years, I have kept up to date with the Dredd trade paperbacks, most recently the two Day of Chaos books. The first page of the Prog has been updated since I last collected the strip to point out that the city is still recovering from the events that took place in those books, so it’s pretty cool to see even small details like the cranes and rubble on the bottom of the second page to reflect this. Great stuff.

 

Slaine: A Simple Killing (Part 1)

Hmm. I’m not, I must say, a particularly big Slaine fan and I know that I most certainly wasn’t when I collected the comic years ago, the only story that I can actually recall seeing of the character being Carnival which was…well, crap. The writing did very little for me and, though I loved Clint Langley’s artwork on the A.B.C .Warriors, I really didn’t like it on Slaine, I’m sad to say. But this? You know, I might actually enjoy this. No, the writing isn’t Mills at his most perfect but it’s certainly a lot better than I remember reading in both Carnival and the A.B.C. Warriors stories on which Langley did the art, but maybe that’s because the latter series, at the time, was filled with lines referencing this and that that I found to be pretty distracting. This seems like it could be pure fun – it’s got the silly dialogue that I can sometimes love about Mills, like “Kiss my axe!” and the quite literally eyebrow-raising final panel, surely aware of how overly dramatic its being – but I’ll be reserving any true verdict for future episodes. Perhaps Carnival has left too bitter a taste in my mouth, making me unfairly suspicious, especially since I haven’t read any Slaine since, but I do recall how that got off to a decent enough start before going down Cliche Alley. Hopefully this won’t do the same.

The definite positive here, however, is Simon Davis’ artwork. An interesting choice, but a very welcome one. Though I did like his art for the most part, it wasn’t always amazing in every strip I read, sometimes quite unsuitable for the story being told (Ampney Crucis is a story that I distinctly recall looking quite horrible). But this looks great, my own highlight of the art in this Prog, and I expect it will only get better in future episodes. I love the map before the start of the story; I love that Slaine actually looks old; I love the expressions of the characters; and I love that fifth page, with the darkness Slaine’s silhouetted against in the first panel being used as the shield he peeks out from in the next. Incidentally, I forgot that Davis does such interesting things with panel composition, so more of that, please.

 

Outlier (Part 1)

To be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about this one at all, both in terms of its plot and art. T.C. Eglington isn’t a name that rings any bells from when I collected the strip, though if he is a recent addition to Tharg’s writing droids then I did maybe see him do a Future Shock or two that I simply can’t remember. Whatever the case, depending on which direction the story heads, this may or may not be a terrifically great opener for a brand new series. My first impressions told me it would be a mystery thriller when I read the first four pages, but that Eglington shows the killer to belong to a race that’s bad news, seeking revenge on some old friends it seems, and fits in some backstory for the lead character, who knows? There is the titular ship, I would assume the centre of the crime and any following ones, but it’s hard to tell if Eglington’s intention is to wrap it up in some great mystery or if the plan is that this murder and any more could spark hostilities between the Alliance of this world and these aliens. We’ll just have to wait until next time, I suppose.

That sort of goes for the art too. The only strip in which I’ve seen Karl Richardson’s artwork before, that I can recall, was the first episode of the The 86er’s before P.J. Holden took over, so I’m certainly not someone who can fairly compare his work. It looks good in this opening part of the story, but nothing about it really wow-ed me, except maybe the attention to detail of Raol’s broken wrist when we first see him and the rest of the crime scene. It all flows from panel to panel very well too. It’s just that the character and interior design of the world in this first episode isn’t very exciting, quite surprising for a new sci-fi tale in the comic. But, like the story, we’ll wait and see what direction it heads in.

 

Sinister Dexter: Gun Shy (Part 1)

Oh, for fuck’s sake. When I was purchasing this Prog online, I honestly stared in disbelief to find that this would be part of the contents. Why is this still in the Prog, and how the hell are the titular characters still contending with Moses? There’s no nice way for me to say this, but thankfully I don’t care: I hate this bloody strip. The first 2000AD I bought was Prog 2006 and inside I met skeletal versions of these characters in a story that I believe was called Festive Spirits, only it wasn’t so festive, seemingly set in the afterlife, one of the characters having escaped Downlode at the end of the Prog before, their fate murky, and the other having been gunned down, seemingly killed. Reviews I read at the time, written by people who didn’t like the strip very much, all seemed to agree that it was a perfect ending for the story of two gunsharks. But Dan Abnett was not done. Then he seemed close to being done. Only he wasn’t. And it went on…and on…and on.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll give this story its fair chance, because Abnett is absolutely not some utterly crap writer; far from it, in fact, Kingdom sticking out as a particularly memorable series (with a novel coming out that I may pick up). There have been Sinister Dexter stories I’ve enjoyed, yes. Though it varied in quality over the course of its different, separate titles, for example, the stories in which Ray was quadriplegic and Finny busted him out of prison and then tried to get him fixed had their moments. Of course, there was also Malone, easily the best that I read, though that could well be because it felt nothing like a Sinister Dexter story. The trouble I found with this series is that for every good story that Abnett produces for these characters, there’s about a dozen terrible ones that feel like generic “filler” material, paving the way for the next good storyline, or are simply not as funny as he thinks they are. For now, this seems like it could be the latter, but I’ll be fair and see what happens next week, even though this really did little to impress me.

The somewhat good news is that Smudge is on art duties. All I’ve saw of him is his work in Chiaruscuro, a story he illustrated for Simon Spurrier, and the little he’s done on Low Life by Rob Williams, but he’s fairly good. When he was doing Chiaruscuro, his art seemed more focused on looking particularly detailed and realistic (the main character gradually grew more stubble over the course of the story, which was a small but nice little touch), but I quite like this style too. The only thing it really needs is colour – something tells me it would look way better with Chris Blythe or Len O’Grady working their magic.

 

Jaegir: Strigoi (Part 1)

Speaking of, O’Grady acts as colourist for Simon Coleby here, doing a damn fine job indeed, as does Coleby himself. After Slaine, I’d say this was the best artwork of the week but, then again, I’m completely biased when it comes to Coleby, believing him to be a very consistent artist. And speaking of consistent, the writer of this new series is Gordon Rennie, a continuously terrific writer as it happens. This is probably the most interesting story in the Prog, a new series but one set in the familiar world of Rogue Trooper. Sadly, it’s been a very long time since I last read any Rogue Trooper, so my memory of the particular details about the war of the series are a little hazy. In fact, I think that in all the time I collected 2000AD, there was only the one actual story told from the titular character’s perspective, and it wasn’t very good. But it wasn’t very surprising that it’s the only one I ever saw – as far as my understanding goes, the strip has never been a hugely popular success, quite interesting for one told in a world raved by war that you’d think has the potential to be great. There was, however, a strip that I mentioned earlier in this review called The 86er’s, also written by Rennie. The interesting thing about that was that it was all set in space, almost a space opera in fact with the way that it focused on the conflicts between the characters and not necessarily the ongoing war. It didn’t receive overwhelming praise as far as I remember, but I enjoyed it quite a bit myself.

But this sounds even better, and should be fantastic if the quality of this opening can be maintained. It is a bit of a wordy start but I do like the direction that Rennie’s heading in. Hell, just the concept alone, of telling the story from the “bad guys” point of view had me sold when I read the contents page, particularly since our lead character is a woman who investigates the potential war crimes of her own people, which is of course very interesting because all we typically see them as is a bunch of murderous bastards. Highlight of the Prog? Yeah, I think so. Certainly the other strip besides Dredd that I have high hopes for.

 

Looking at the Prog overall, it’s interesting to note how I feel three of the five stories – SinDex, Outlier and Slaine – could go either way in terms of quality, which technically makes it a lacklustre start of sorts. But screw it – I’m excited to be subscribed again. It’s hard to believe that I forgot how good this comic is. There truly is always something for everyone, one of the things that make it special. Though I only hold two stories up to high expectations, there’s probably others who chuckled their way through Slaine’s silliness with no niggling doubts gnawing at them, and there were probably those who have a better grasp on where Outlier may head than I do. God forbid, there may even be Sinister Dexter fans out there, somewhere. See you next time.