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 3: The Long Series’

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

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

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

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

Hello, hello.

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

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

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

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

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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.

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!