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.

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

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

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Prog 1880 Review

Damn, that cover’s a difficult one to assess. It’s certainly not what I expected our eventual Slaine cover to be – in my head I’d imagined some action-packed monstrosity of art too good to be true, whereas this is arguably a little dull looking, particularly with the unusual choice of colours. Most oddly of all for me is that Sinead’s profile combined with these colours actually makes the cover look startlingly similar to a Native American themed series of paintings I did back in high school, indeed based on how they would be portrayed on shields and cloths, etc.; though a few people on 2000AD’s forums also pointed out the resemblance of Sinead to the Queen as she appears on stamps and coins, not the last we’ll be seeing of her in this Prog if you can believe it. Either way, a strange cover. Not as exciting as what’s inside, but I do quite like it and think that’s it quite a memorable little thing.

Over on 2000AD Covers Uncovered there’s a brilliant entry for this really worth checking out. There’s only one other idea that Davis had in mind for the cover, but the highlight of the post for me is seeing a couple of his roughs, particularly that of the two page spread in Prog 1877 that I loved so much. What I found really great about that was seeing his idea for the placement of lettering which, if you compare to the finished spread in part four of the story, you’ll see Elle De Ville has ignored, placing it all along the bottom, which I mentioned in my review at the time as letting us enjoy the art in its full glory. Was quite surprised to see that he paints the roughs themselves too. It’s not something I paid any thought to admittedly, but most artists just work it out by pencil first, don’t they? Must cost the guy a fortune in paints if you take into consideration that he probably makes several variations of those.

 

Ach, it’s a shame that this Judge Dredd tale is only going to be four episodes in length. Such quality writing from Wagner, though I suppose that’s always to be expected when it’s Dredd he’s penning. This week isn’t much cheerier than the last, though still incredibly tense in tone. Loved seeing Dredd making his way through Zane’s apartment – thought the baby itself had been killed too when we came to that panel, but thankfully there’s a small amount of mercy given there. Not sure what could happen in the next two parts of the story but I suspect it will be ending with as many flowers and daisies as Mega City Confidential did.

Loving John McCrea’s artwork on this for reasons that I briefly discussed last week. The interesting thing that came to my attention about his line work is that most of it – hell, most of everything – is done in the inking stage, as is best illustrated in this photograph he posted on his Twitter feed of his pencils for a page in the third episode of the story. Quite interesting to see just how much he leaves out, yet how brilliant the final pages are. Big thumbs up to colourist Chris Blythe who I somehow neglected to mention last week. As usual, he does bloody tremendous work.

 

First of two new series’ filling in the space left by Sinister Dexter and Jaegir is John Smith’s Indigo Prime, which has everything from crucifixion and a ghost hovering over a bed, to a stuffed version of our queen in a Britain ruled by Nazi lizards. In other words: what the fuck did I just read?

Yeah. In my review of Prog 1473, my jumping back on point for the comic, I actually mentioned having read the return of Indigo Prime in a story called Dead Eyes (which Tharg mentions here as being the last time Smith and artist Lee Carter collaborated), and how my dear ol’ father all but squealed in delight to see it, whereas it meant nothing to me. It still doesn’t, as I haven’t bought either in-print collection of that series, though if Wikipedia’s Prog numbers of the original run are correct (also re-learned from here that the revival in Dead Eyes in 2008 was the first Indigo Prime story since 1993, a year after I was born – that’s a long time! (plus: the follow up to Dead Eyes came three years later)), then the recent lots I bought collect them all. Still, probably best that I get myself acquainted with the series quite soon, because I have not a single scooby how these folk operate in their multidimensional policing or what the hell terms like “glancers” and “imagineers” could possibly mean.

That said, if all the weird shit that happens in this Prog is of any indication, then it doesn’t look like Smith cares much for making sense, preferring to throw out wild ideas at every opportunity, which I’m certain will make for one hell of a fun story (Osama Bin Obama pretty much confirmed it), not to mention give Carter the opportunity to go completely nuts with his art. Indeed, his work on Dead Eyes was gorgeous stuff – absolutely packed with detail – and this is too. There’s a few details that seem unimportant, though are very cool (there’s the graffiti of an eye behind Mickey Challis, and a tiny face behind Trixie, as he talks about feeling watched); but the ghost and a face on the large monitor behind Arcana seem to be when you consider the talk of the agency’s HQ being haunted. And I may have accidentally spoiled the reveal of who the “haunter” could be over on the forums, a few people mentioning a “Nihilist”, who I presume is the bad guy? If so, what a fucking great name.

But – gah! I’m going to have to buy the collections of the old and new series, aren’t I? What’s that? I already have?!? Well…shit.

 

Though Indigo Prime may have fried my mind (in a good way!), we at least have Slaine here to be as simple as its subtitle suggests. All that happens this week is this: Slaine crosses the causeway to Monadh, killing the most part of an army of Slough Thruc’s weird creatures along the way. The writing’s as top notch as ever, one particular highlight being that one of the Drune lords is actually quite clearly Sean Connery in dishguise, what with that schmashing voicesh. So, now that I’ve made that joke , let’s talk about that art, huh?

You know, I was pretty certain that Davis couldn’t possibly trump the beauty found in part four of this story in Prog 1877, which you may recall I named the best of his art I’ve ever seen. I was positive. Well, somehow, this chapter in our tale now ties with it. It was a nice surprise to see another map of the world, this time a closer look at Monadh, but an even bigger surprise to turn the page and find myself looking at an absolute belter of a spread, packed with all sorts of creatures making their way across the causeway. Oh, but then I turned the page again and found a lovely shot of a really pissed off looking Slaine; and a splash page opposite that that’s simply incredible, of our unhappy hero now making his way across the causeway alone, leaving total slaughter in his wake, the sky ahead cleverly imbued with an image of his fury. To finish things off Davis then has four panels up his sleeve – all positioned from the same overhead angle – of the waves clashing against the sides of the causeway as crows high above swarm the two pages as Slaine makes his way safely across for the next chapter.

I’ve quite liked a lot of Davis’ artwork that I’ve seen in the past. It’s not always been perfect, but the first Stone Island series (I can’t remember how good or bad the art may have been on the second), first Ampney Crucis series and some of his stuff on Sinister Dexter was astonishing looking. But has he secretly been waiting for this one job his entire life or something? I’m serious – the guy has poured has heart and soul into this, and I think it’s actually what I’ve been looking forward to the most each week.  I try not to spoil other stories but I cannot help but have a look at what madness he’s done this week. It would be a crime to let him amaze us like this and then have another artist take his place for the next series. For god’s sake, Mills, don’t do it! If not for us, then for him. It’d be like giving a child presents then stamping on them in front of him or her, so don’t you do it to the man!

 

Like my mind was read, the other story filling in for those finished last week is my first Tharg’s 3riller, a story called Colony by “Kek-W” (actually someone by the name of Nigel Long who seems to have been credited for stories long ago and then again fairly recently), with art provided by Vince Locke and colouring by Guy Adams. I’m very intrigued to see what the deal with the space capsule is, and why apparently coming in contact with it has driven at least one character insane. Looks like it’s going to be a Terror Tale-like twist of pure horror, which I wouldn’t mind at all.

The art is pretty good. The only time I can remember seeing Locke’s artwork was for a Dredd story about a serial killer who preyed on sex-meks, but it hadn’t been very amazing there, whereas here it looks pretty nice, especially with Adams’ suitably murky colouring. If I have one complaint, however, it would be the digital addition used to create realistic looking snow, which I found to be a bit of an eyesore against the dominantly normal colouring. Otherwise, it looked great, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next, particularly since these 3rillers are only three episodes long, meaning Kek-W / Nigel has only two more episodes to impress us.

 

Last and, um, least of all I care for is Outlier, which begins to limp to its end. Gotten bored of this by now and have sod all to say for this week’s episode – just hoping that Eglington has some little twist or other planned, anything redeeming in quality, that will at least make its ending good. In my catching up of the Megazine I’ve came across a few stories by Eglington (including a two-part prose tale that I loved) and the thing is, I actually quite liked them. There’s a story in the backlog of Progs that I bought recently called Gunheadz (a 3riller) that’s right up my alley too by the look of it, so reading this saddens me even more, knowing that he’s not a crap writer. Really hope that whatever he comes out with after this series ends will be much higher in quality.

 

Pick of the week is Slaine for that ridiculously amazing art, though I feel like Indigo Prime will become a quick week-to-week favourite, even if I don’t understand it. It’s just mental, and the little I’ve read of John Smith in the past (including one of my favourite Dredd tales, Jumped) has been brilliant, which I feel like this will be too. ‘Til 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 1877 Review

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

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

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

Alright, moving on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I mean, holy shit.

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

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

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

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

Until next time.

Prog 1876 Review

Hello, hello.

Though I won’t be starting with this today, I think that in my next review of 2000AD I’m going to try my hand structuring the post differently. Instead of reviewing everything under different headings, I’ll try creating a better flow from paragraph to paragraph. It would be less noticeable that I have more to say about certain stories than I do others that way, I think, in which case it would probably be the better option in the long run, seeing as 2000AD is an anthology comic and you never quite know how much you’ll have to say about a continuing story each week. The other thing is that there’s simply those series’ that you care for more than others, and will thus have more to talk about. Right now, for instance, I could gush over Simon Davis’ artwork on Slaine for several paragraphs, but would be content with writing “Fuck these guys” and moving on when it comes to Sinister Dexter. So, yeah, I’ll give this approach a shot next time. But for now, let’s just do this traditionally, incidentally starting with a cover depicting the two characters I hate so damn much.

 

Cover by Alex Ronald

One of the many fascinating things about 2000AD is that they don’t often do variant covers like other comics. Where DC use these variants to let another artist have a stab at a cover for one of their characters whilst the artist of the strip inside does the standard one, here we almost always have the single cover, and what’s interesting is that they very often have little to do with the story inside, are by a completely different artist to anyone found inside, or are outright unrelated to what’s inside. In this case we have a Sinister Dexter cover from an artist I’ve never heard of, portraying the duo in an action-movie like shot that you won’t find awaiting you in Abnett’s third part of Gun Shy, and the funniest thing is that Finny looks totally different than he does at the moment – as I’ve ever seen him in my collection of the comic actually – with long hair and in a suit, the polar opposite of the punk rock vibe he has going on just now.

But don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s a bad cover or anything – it’s a belter as far as I’m concerned, all digital like Clint Langley or not. Like I said though, the artist’s name rings no bells with me, and for good reason. A search of the name on Google and I came back with his blog in which the latest post of his is about this very cover, specifically saying that it’s his second for 2000AD (he would appear to have done more for the Megazine and would seem to have featured within there at least), having last done one only several weeks before I jumped on board with the comic again. That was Prog 1869, for which he drew a cover of a character called Ulysses Sweet, apparently quite an old character that has now recently been revived. Over on the blog 2000AD Covers Uncovered there’s a post about that one in which he steps us through the process of creating it for those of you that may be interested. Thankfully there’s one for this too, though not quite as revealing about his approach unfortunately. But whether you like this more obvious type of digital art or not in your comics, it’s just as complicated as doing it the old fashioned way, and I should know as someone who very briefly did some digital art as part of his games development course.

If I do have one complaint, however, it’s that it would appear to me that there’s quite a lot of aliasing going on here, most noticeably around all the shards of glass, although you can just make it out on Ray’s two guns as well. Can’t imagine what the deal is here because in all of Clint Langley’s art that I’ve seen, jaggies has never been something I’ve noticed, yet it immediately stood out here. Alas, having studied games development in which aliasing is a problem or not (sort of why you have anti-aliasing methods in the options menu of most PC games), I’m no expert on the cause of it and have no idea why we could be seeing it so clearly here. Oh well. Otherwise, it’s a brilliant cover and we’ll hopefully be seeing much more from Mr. Ronald in the future.

 

Droid Life

Wasn’t going to include this as part of the review but what the hell. We’re already at almost 800 words, so why pretend that this will be short? But, yeah, Droid Life’s still kicking around. Never really cared much for this, though I guess it’s nice that it’s there. Plus, it has its own short collection, so I guess some people find it funny. But I never do, so I can live without it in my life. Then again, I can’t imagine it’s easy creating a joke in such a small amount of space. Whatever, I don’t know why I’m still talking about this. In his usual spot of the Prog, Tharg mentions a Sci-Fi Special at the end of May. Not really sure if this is also the Summer Special but he promises to talk about it again soon, and I’m sure I’ll see someone refer to it as the same Special Prog if that’s what it is.

 

Judge Dredd: Mega City Confidential (Part 3)

Quite unsurprisingly, following on from last episode’s ending, we find Erika walking into a trap in which Max Blixen is involved. It could have been a little unnecessary of Wagner to show us Dredd intimidating Blixen into co-operating via flashback, but it works in conjunction with the final page where we get a shot of an awfully sad looking Blixen taking off his glasses. That’s a panel I do love because on the second page it was his turn to get a close up where we can’t see the eyes behind the glasses, already used to paint Dredd and Styler in a non-human light, so it works in contrast to this, making Blixen another victim of the Judges in a way. Indeed, only he, Erika and the now-dead Ramage have been characters we’ve seen below the surface of. Though not exactly a choice when it comes to Dredd, Wagner and MacNeil could easily have decided that Styler should be without glasses if there weren’t a purpose behind it, so I am seeing the distinction between those characters looking so constantly ominous and the others as having eyes and more expressions than a frown on their faces as an intentional choice, and it’s bloody good stuff with that being the case.

Still no word on what this big conspiracy could be and although Blixen now has a data slug containing Erika’s evidence, I don’t think we’ll be finding any answers next time either, which I’m sure will annoy some people. Though there is the possibility that Wagner could pull a fast one on us by having Blixen killed and the secret remaining so, I do believe that we’ll find out what’s worth all this quite soon. But in the next Prog I expect that we’ll see Blixen make a run for it (the Judges will most likely interrogate Erika into revealing that she made copies of whatever the data slug contains) and who knows where we could go then. Maybe Ramage’s senseless death is supposed to be an indication that the Judges are going to rack up a body count in keeping their mysterious secret contained? That could make for a bit of a tragic tale, especially if the secret doesn’t reach the public. Whatever happens next will probably give us a better idea of the story’s direction. Another good episode this week.

 

Outlier (Part 3)

A bit of an unusual week for this story. Taking up the middle three pages this time, we get two featuring a flashback and one of Carcer and his client talking to each other. The latter’s a little silly since there’s no room at all to make it even slightly interesting, with both characters talking via hologram. It is your typically boring full page of exposition, right down to Carcer telling us that she’s lying. Meanwhile, the actual flashback scene would appear to simply be a set up for another one in the future, one in which I expect we’ll see exactly what happened to Caul and the other characters who were left to the mercy of the Hurde. If you care.

This is looking more and more like a straightforward revenge tale, and that’s quite a shame. Even the titular ship that I thought might be of some importance wouldn’t appear to be of any at all, little more than that which Caul was part of the crew of, now only a representation of the people that betrayed him, boohoo, etc. It would be nice if I’m wrong about this strip and it can still surprise me, though I won’t be getting my hopes up, particularly as Karl Richardson’s artwork, I’m afraid to say, continues to be unimpressive. Here we are at a game reserve on another planet and out in space, yet neither have any memorable qualities. Since we’ll still be on the planet in the next Prog, hopefully that means we’ll see a bit more of the jungle and finally something about this world will actually look kinda interesting. At least Caul had gorilla-like arms on the last pages, I suppose.

 

Slaine: A Simple Killing (Part 3)

Well, that was an unexpected two page spread to open this part of our story, wasn’t it? The first three pages of this week’s Prog are pretty good – rather odd certainly, but it’s quite interesting to see Slaine apparently having moved on from his dead wife in such a simple manner some time in the past, the memory perhaps being another indication of Pat Mills taking the character in a new direction, forgetting these things. Or is he? Though last week’s Prog had Slaine choosing not to kill the man who stole from the Goddess’ temple in the opening episode and he again considers leaving his pursuit of that man’s daughter or the sea devils who kidnapped her behind here in this chapter, she turns up anyway, apparently having escaped.

The thing is, last week took quite an unconventional turn by having Slaine meet Kark yet do nothing in the end, changing our perception of this series’ title, which seemed to suggest it’d be a run of the mill “To kill this guy, our hero must first jump through this hoop, and then another, and another after that – irony, folks!” kind of tale. So to see Slaine either being lured into a trap or finding himself in the position of having to help Sinead anyway, might suggest that things are to be on the straight and narrow from next week’s episode onwards. It’s hard to tell at this point obviously, but I do hope that Mills won’t have Slaine caught up in another supposedly epic tale that we’ve seen before and stick to what he’s been doing for these first three episodes because, for me at least, this bare bones approach to the character has been really fun so far and, missing some complicated plot or other, I’m not sure what to be expecting.

Artistically, I don’t know if I need bother for it speaks for itself. Yet again Simon Davis is acing the look of this series and I sincerely hope that he’ll be kept around for future story arcs. This week we get a mixture of lovely colour, starting with a very green opening spread, finding a page full of orange after that, and then some darker pages after that which have a lot of blues and purples. A treat for the eyes, I call it. The only particularly unusual thing about the art this week – and by “unusual”, I don’t mean in a bad way – is on the fourth page, where we see the moon behind Sinead’s head, which two separate panels are cut off with a crescent arc to either side of. There’s no lacking in the imagination of Davis, that’s for sure. Looking forward to more of this next week.

 

Sinister Dexter: Gun Shy (Part 3)

Apart from the slightly humorous Pastor, I pretty much have the same feelings about this as the last few weeks, which is to say I do not care and hope it ends swiftly. Just complete filler until we reach the next big story, and I shudder to think what that may be. It’s funny that this week’s cover of the duo is so exciting, yet the story inside so bland and uninteresting. However, we’re gearing up for the big fight soon (though it would not surprise me if next week’s episode is five pages more of stretching this out) so hopefully that will make it somewhat worthwhile in the end.

The art continues to be alright, but I really do believe that it’d look so much better in colour. Earlier this week I was actually going through some of my collection and came across a Judge Dredd story drawn by Smudge that was coloured and I think a similar look would suit this strip a lot more. Wouldn’t save the story itself from being total crap of course, but I probably wouldn’t let my eyes skim over the artwork compared to the rest of the current line-up.

 

Jaegir: Strigoi (Part 3)

Yep, still my favourite, which is quite strange because very little of importance happens this week, except that we’re given some subtle insight into Jaegir and her team members. What the point of this episode basically is is that, even when she’s given a new task, Jaegir doesn’t put the assignments she was previously working on on hold. Though many of her own people may hate her for it, this is her job and she’s fully committed to it. Where I can honestly say this week surprised me was in the way that she personally only brings her targets in alive, and only then because she needs to interrogate them in order to chase up another lead, but the other three that we see are rather brutally killed by the members of her team. For some reason I expected her to be taking everyone in alive to stand trial but it’s very suitable to see that she neither has the time for this or the means to do so because of their political standing, so has her team members dispatch of them through more discreet means.

Absolutely loving this strip, as dark as it may be. It’s taking its time, which I’m sure is bugging people as much as Dredd may be as well, but it has something to talk about week to week and I can’t wait to read what happens next, and probably after that too. All the while, Simon Coleby and Len O’Grady are still being a brilliant combination. To be honest, I’m actually so comfortable with how well these two are depicting this grim world that I’m having a difficult time imagining who else could possibly be doing the art and colouring for it, drawing a complete blank. When this is over and the second series begins I think it would be great if these two were still on board because they’re doing a great job at bringing Rennie’s story to life.

 

So that’s another fantastic Prog overall, though I am a little concerned that Outlier may not have any tricks up its sleeves after all, and that Slaine could be succumbing to a familiar storytelling pattern next week after these first three surprising episodes. Let’s hope not. Otherwise, Jaegir’s still on top for me, and Dredd is just behind.