¦ Reviews ¦ Progs
1421 - 1426 ¦2000AD Prog 1424
Cover by Simon Davis
Prog 1424 - 2 February 2005
Synopsis by David
1st Review by Andrew Howe
2nd Opinion by Ed Berridge
and reviews contain spoilers for this issue.
imagine I previewed this week's cover as follows: "A gun-toting Hannah Chapter
faces off against a hulking stone golem." Sounds like something that'd have
you tearing open your subscription wrapper in anticipation, right?
Simon Davis has drawn Ms. Chapter in a manner that defies the laws of gravity
(she's effectively doing the limbo while holding a gun and a flashlight, not to
mention being pelted with rocks), human nature (her expression is one of mild
surprise, as opposed to fear, grim determination or a dozen other reactions we
might deem appropriate to the occasion) and conventional wisdom (it’s curiously
static for an action-oriented piece). Davis is a fine artist, but since Sin/Dex
is his thing it's pointless to force him to draw characters he's obviously not
comfortable with. Given the paucity of Caballistics covers to date, this ranks
as a major disappointment.
one this: I’m not totally convinced that this works as a Caballisitcs, Inc.
I’m just missing the black and whites of the strip inside, or simply ruing
the fact that Dom Reardon has yet to be allowed a Caballistics cover.
However, I can’t
really find it in myself to dislike a Simon Davis cover; in fact, thinking about
it, I can’t even remember one of his covers that I haven’t liked.
He does a nice job of emulating Reardon’s Golem, and even adds in little
details like the vial seen in the actual strip. Of course the best thing about
any S. B. Davis cover is his use of colour: his use of unusual browns and purples
is so unique that I can only really think to compare it to Brendan McCarthy. For
example, witness the excellent colours in evidence of Chapter’s midriff,
which really suggest something simply and believably real. Quite why this man
hasn’t been snapped up to work for Oni Press, Avatar or some other publisher
is a mystery to me, but I’m glad he’s still hard at work for 2000AD!
placement was still a problem in Mega City 1..
months after the Total War terrorist threat is ended, Judges Dredd and Guthrie
are searching the Cursed Earth for survivors among the hundreds of thousands of
citizens who fled Mega-City One in panic. They find scattered groups of vehicles
abandoned by their occupants. Many have ventured into lethal radiation zones mistaking
the rad-glow for the lights of a settlement.
The only living
citizen they find is Howard Wootkins, who has survived alone after his family
died of radiation sickness. He fires on Dredd and Guthrie with a Citi-Def issue
sniper’s rifle. Dredd circles round behind the sniper and gives him one
chance to surrender. Dredd fires a stun beam which fails to immobilise the enraged
citizen, who returns fire, knocking Dredd to the ground. While Dredd is reasoning
with the citizen, Judge Guthrie shoots Wootkins through the head.
Dredd tells Guthrie
he did the right thing, and suggests that if Guthrie suffers any personal doubts
about the incident, he should try wearing tighter boots to take his mind off it:
advice handed down to Judge Dredd himself by another senior judge years before.
Dredd and Guthrie resume their patrol.
AH: Long-time readers will be familiar with the degeneration of Dredd’s
character that occurred when John Wagner took a break from writing duties in the
90’s. The humanity Dredd displayed in The Cursed Earth and Bury My Knee
at Wounded Heart was replaced with lines like “fewer citizens means less
crime” (thank you, Mr. Ennis), and even Wagner hasn’t gone out of
his way to set the record straight since returning to the fold. Dredd may be a
borderline fascist, but he’s still a hero, and every time he refuses to
act like one my interest in following his escapades continues to ebb away.
With stories like
After Hours (Prog 1319) and War Crimes (Meg 201), Gordon Rennie reminded us why
we bother. He’s at it again with The Searchers – when Joe shelves
the heatseekers in favour of an unreliable stun beam on the grounds that “We
came out here to rescue him, not kill him”, the Dredd we know and love is
with us again.
The Searchers continues
the Total War post-mortem, balancing the widescreen chaos of the main storyline
by bringing the conflict down to a human level. Double-page spreads of nuclear
incineration are well and good, but for sheer emotional impact it’s hard
to beat the line “Two juves in the family – Mikey and Vanessa. Three
more names off the list.” It’s painted on a small canvas – nothing
much actually happens, but the meditative pacing and dust-choked atmosphere of
despair are streets ahead of the “humorous” filler that pollutes the
strip on a regular basis. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t applaud Rennie’s
hugely enjoyable nod to Dredd continuity with the “tight boots” line
(a reference to the events of Prog 667 that resonates with long-time readers without
alienating the new), and Critchlow's art provides a suitably grimy backing to
a downbeat story, even if Dredd occasionally looks like Lobster Random in a helmet.
Any strip which references
the classic John Wayne western in the title, or that features the gorgeous art
of Carl Critchlow, is going to get my vote.
Yet the main reason
that I like this strip is that it marks, for me, the moment that Gordon Rennie
really came of age in his Dredd writing. Of course, I’m sure that most people
had already long since reached this opinion, but I’d always remained something
of a sceptic. But recently I’ve noticed how Rennie has been quietly eased
nearer the reins of the strip: whether it was using key characters like Giant,
Rico, Grice or Vienna; or inventing new ongoing storylines, such as last year’s
Gulag. Yet now he’s been given the chance to write follow-up stories to
last years blockbuster hit Total War.
Follow ups to Mega-Epics
are difficult: the readership love them, but they have to be written right –
not always an easy task (anyone remember Tales of Necropolis, or whatever it was
called?). Yet Rennie matches the task pitch-perfectly: his Dredd, world-weary,
and ready to hope that he can still save someone from the massacre created by
Total War, perfectly catches the character as he now exists today, showing how
much he has changed during that time. Add into the mix some classic Dredd humour
(the malfunctioning Stunner Shot) and a reference to the classic A Question of
Judgement, and you have a Dredd to match the classic Wagner/Grant follow ups to
The Apocalypse War.
Many people, including
John Wagner himself, have touted Rennie as the future of Dredd: up until now,
I hadn’t really been interested in reading it.
Ellie de Ville
loses his cool
sponsored by the squid gangster Mr. Mourn Salter, the team arrive for training
at a decrepit sports arena converted for slam ball.
Their new coach
is slam ball veteran Vince Sergeant, former captain of the Torpedoes. They are
put through a gruelling training regime.
Even though it
might take two months to get the team into shape, their first league fixture is
set for just five days’ time in Second City Sub-district Three, formerly
Wolverhampton, where they will play against the Wolves.
anyone with a long memory, the failure of Second City Blues to ignite the readership
shouldn't come as a surprise. Kek-W wasn't the worst writer to earn a crust at
our expense in 1995, but The Grudge Father and Kid Cyborg aren't exactly revered
as classics of the genre. In any event, the darkness at the heart of SCB can be
summarised by the following excerpt from pages 2-3 of the current instalment:
"I'm going to push you so hard during the next few weeks that you'll wish
you had never been born!"
come much lazier than that, and these days we expect better from our paid professionals.
We've seen the "training a bunch of losers to win the title" sequence
a hundred times before, so the least a writer can do is inject a little originality
into the proceedings. Instead we witness the cliché raised to a virtual
art form, and while the low episode count for this story (God willing) works against
an extended lead-up and leisurely character development it's still no excuse for
not even trying.
Warren Pleece appears
to have something of a following amongst the readership, and as this is my sole
exposure to his work I'm tempted to give him the benefit of the doubt. However,
I've never been a fan of this style of retro artwork, since the unrealistic facial
expressions and minimal level of detail can derail the noblest of intentions.
Then again, even Henry Flint couldn't have saved this particular train wreck,
so if I was Warren I’d consider the script in more detail before accepting
my next assignment.
Funny strip this one:
I started off thinking it was a load of poorly coloured rubbishy old tosh. I have
to say that I’ve since been converted to its charms – not a popular
opinion perhaps, but one that may possibly become so.
The script has
obviously been written to purposely remind readers of the classic sports strips
of yesteryear: the gang of misfits up against the odds; the mysterious benefactor;
the grumpy veteran coach, who appears to have escaped from television puppet-fest
Stingray – all the elements are in place. Perhaps it’s taken a bit
of time to settle in, but I had to say that I was genuinely surprised at the breadth
of storytelling on show here. The density of information that the mysteriously
monikered ‘Kek-W’ manages to cram into the space of five pages really
does remind one of the classic ‘everything and the kitchen sink’ writing
of the classic Thrills of yesteryear. And he manages to pull off that most difficult
trick in a team story: I’m actually aware of who all the characters are!
Nice to see Warren
Pleece finally working for the Galaxy’s Greatest too. Although he’s
maybe not the best suited artist to the slamboarding scenes, he has a lovely style
for drawing the inter-team character stuff that really is the heart of any book
like this. Plus he does some nice graffiti on the first page, so I’m happy!
Not really sure about the colour though. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong
with it, but I can’t help but feel that the strip might have achieved the
‘old school’ aesthetic it’s obviously reaching for had it been
presented in black and white, as well as being a purer form to present Pleece’s
Ellie De Ville
Books of Invasions - Tara - Part 6
has a bad day.
meets the Goddess again in a clearing where other warriors have been turned to
stone by the gaze of Morholt’s basilisk. Danu and Morholt taunt Slaine with
jibes about his time being over and his kingdom passing on to the Atlantean invaders.
The Goddess sets the basilisk onto Slaine and praises Morholt’s qualities
in front of him. Slaine realises that Morholt’s helmet protects him from
the monster’s transfixing gaze and wrests it away from him. Pushed in front
of the basilisk, Morholt is turned to stone. Slaine puts on the helmet and shoots
at the monster with a crossbow pistol.
While Slaine fights or his life, Mongan reanimates, and consels
Slaine to do as he does and agree with whatever the Goddess says. Slaine chops
off the basilisk’s head with Morholt’s sheers, and the Goddess threatens
Slaine with her own crossbow. Slaine levels his at her in turn, but the Goddess
tells him his weapon is empty.
Back in Tara, the
Fomorian forces have broken through the fortress’s defences. Leora’s
daughter Amber runs to her mother but is killed by Sethor with the Sword of the
Moon on the orders of Odacon. Leora attacks Sethor in a rage but she too is killed.
AH: I've always maintained that Zenith III was a brilliant story that would
have been even better if Zenith wasn't in it, making it an enduring testament
to the benefits of a vibrant supporting cast (see also practically every Dredd
story regarded as a classic). I mention this because there are five pages in Prog
2005 that gave me hope for the future of Slaine. As Gael reflected on his love
for Scota I realised I was experiencing an emotion I haven't felt while reading
Slaine since, well, ever - I actually cared about what happened to this guy (and
still do). Gael took the time to express his feelings of loss and regret, and
often that’s all it takes to forge a connection with the reader. On the
other hand, I doubt that anybody's ever harboured an iota of affection for Slaine,
since invincible, psychopathic, socially challenged anti-heroes rarely inspire
any form of attachment.
All of which suggests
that the strip might be saved if Mills could bring himself to sideline Slaine
and concentrate on a group of well-realised supporting players (and I don’t
mean Ukko, whose absence from the series has made me realise how little I miss
him – check out The Time Killer for a relevant case study). Instead we get
a king-sized serving of the usual dross - Slaine fights Morholt and a basilisk,
Slaine wastes Morholt and a basilisk, and Slaine faces off against the Goddess
in a showdown that's unlikely to end in tears for anyone concerned.
The only notable
things about this episode are the bizarre switch to an interior monologue while
Slaine's doing his thing (he's actually unusually coherent in this sequence),
and the vaguely unnecessary murder of a child to prove what a right bunch of bastards
the Fomorians really are (it's a surprisingly good prog for infanticide, with
the demise of Mikey and Vanessa over in Dredd). As always it’s the subject
of another stunning turn by Langley, though I imagine he’s getting tired
of pouring his soul into a strip that’s attracted so much flak.
Next prog another
reviewer will doubtless express similar sentiments, but until Mills get the message
we have to keep singing those songs of lamentation. And it's getting old fast.
For me, Slaine seems
to be such a mixture of highs and lows these days. Clint Langley’s art has
continued to improve, but I’m still reminded sometimes of my first reaction
when I saw his work – that of static photographs. Yet he’s clearly
able to move beyond this, as evidenced by excellent fight between Slaine and the
Basilisk. Indeed his lovely Basilisk design should be enough by itself to silence
those who say that he’s nothing more than a photographer. However, occasionally
these comparisons do return: I have to admit that I had to re-read the last six
panels of the strip a couple of times before I actually understood what had actually
happened in them.
Pat Mills keeps
the story ticking over: Mills’ writing seems to leap from the interesting
to being rushed with voracious rapidity. Characters like Morholt, something of
a cheap Elfric rip-off, appear and then are suddenly and rather easily killed
off; leaving one wondering what the point of them was in the first place, other
than narrative necessity. However, Mills is still wily enough to realise the essential
ridiculous nature of heroes such as Slaine, and in this case uses the figure of
the Goddess to puncture his macho pomposity.
Mills is often
most criticised in his ‘over-writing’ of the strip, and the repetition
of phrases and situations, but as the strip is based largely in the Celtic legends
of old Ireland, the strip actually cleverly matches the writing style of these
writing can still prove to be occasionally frustrating: he often reaches these
points where he seems to be taking the strip in a genuinely new direction, such
as Slaine’s standoff with the Goddess at the issue’s close. Yet you
can’t escape the nagging suspicion that next week the situation will be
ended suddenly, without any real resolution. Sometimes you really want to see
Mills try to take the train off the rails in the same way that he has been in
Savage, and see what new directions he can take the strip in.
Safe House - part 5
uses old school techniques against the golem...
Back in 1960, young Ethan Kostabi ventures into the cellar of a boarded-up house
to retrieve a football. Investigating a voice, he sees the mummy of one-time Department
Q agent Emmanuel Konterman. A mystical force seems to seep out of the mummy and
In the present,
Hannah Chapter and Doctor Brand have to fend off Konterman’s golem come
to life in the same cellar it was walled up in. Brand takes off its head with
a sledgehammer, but it keeps on coming. Chapter defeats the monster with a continuous
hail of armour piercing rounds. The golem and the mummy burn with a weird black
fire, and the investigators grab what they can before fleeing.
Meanwhile, in Scotland,
a television actor taking a break from filming on location is killed by a monster
in a kilt, with the head of a wild boar with horns on its head as well as tusks,
wielding a sword.
AH: The current run of Caballistics fails to end with the usual cliffhanger,
but it's been another fine ride nonetheless. I honestly wouldn't mind if the next
few progs consisted of nothing but a hundred pages of this series, and every time
I wonder if I'm rating it too highly I recall those exquisite “downtime”
stories from Progs 1363-68 and my faith is restored. My sole suggestion is for
Rennie to have someone read Hannah's incessant chatter aloud before he hands in
the final copy - I can only assume the golem took a coffee break from the slaughter
to allow her to finish that rave-on about "Appalachian cannibal clans"
and their ilk.
I’ll simply express my fervent desire that Rennie really has plotted this
series well in advance. It’s one of the few ongoing stories that actually
appears to be working towards something, and it would be a shame if it degenerated
into a meandering 10-year opus in the vein of Sinister Dexter. If the next outing
consists of nothing more than the team chasing a boar-faced lunatic around the
Scottish highlands there may be rumblings about whether Rennie is missing his
chance, but on the strength of his two contributions to this issue I think Hannah
& Co. are in safe hands.
as soon as it was begun it was over. I just hope that Mr. Rennie and Mr. Reardon
don’t keep us waiting too long for the next instalment.
One of the great
aspects to this series, and one that will no-doubt help it develop the inevitable
‘cult following’, is the way that the reader has to piece together
the backstory that somehow involves the hidden history of Department Q, the deathless
Solomon Ravne, and the enigmatic Ethan Kostabi. And finally it feels as though
we’re getting close to the motherload – the mysterious truth behind
Kostabi. Apparently it seems that Mr. Kostabi was somehow possessed by Emmanuel
Konterman, formerly of Department Q, which also must provide a connection to the
Jewish commandos and their Golem who were out to kill Ravne way back in Krystalnacht.
However, if Rennie’s writing on the strip is anything to go by, he’s
no doubt got quite a few rabbits to pull out of the hat yet.
My one complaint
is the killing of poor old Tom Baker by some bloke, who looks like he’s
escaped from the pages of the Slaine story Treasures of Britain, on the last page:
surely an act of national treason? Yet it’s this kind of devil may care,
two-fingers up style of writing that has made Rennie’s work on the strip
such a success.
As for Dom Reardon:
put simply, he should be chained to a desk and forced to draw living rock-men,
Hassidic mummies, and all kinds of scary spook-tacular stuff until he either dies
or his hand snaps off at the wrist.
of Destruction - Part 6
may have met his match...
an underwater research facility, the stasis cage holding an experimental bio-weapon
has been broken open, and the organism inside attacks every living thing within
its reach. The monster wipes out Kraken’s men and reconfigures itself into
the shape of a tyrannosaurus rex and then a giant scorpion as it chases Dante,
Lauren, Marguerite and Kraken through the research complex. Although Dante’s
Huntsman rifle having the ability to adapt its ammunition to its target, the bio-weapon
is able to rapidly alter its own DNA, negating any combat advantage the rifle
might confer upon its owner.
Faced with overwhelming
odds, Kraken calls a truce, but receives a rifle butt in the face for his answer.
Marguerite turns her pistol on Dante, suspecting him of being secretly in league
with Kraken or working for Akita Sagawa or the Tsar. Lauren forces Marguerite
to lower her gun. Kraken laughs as they turn against one another, but his jeering
unites them against him instead.
AH: My comments about "meandering opus" above define my disappointment
with the current Dante offering. The Romanov war drove this story to its fondly
remembered heights, but these days Nikolai seems to be all dressed up with nowhere
useful to go. Dante fights, Dante cracks wise, and Dante might want to take a
look at what happened to Slaine when the well ran dry. And seriously - "How
about a group hug?" Otherwise Burns provides able support, and we wait as
one for the next big development to finally roll around.
think Robbie Morrison’s going Japanese, I think he’s going Japanese,
I really think so.”
With the current
Dante series set in the Land of the Rising Sun, and Shimura in Hondo City in the
Judge Dredd Megazine, Morrison does seem to becoming something of a Japaholic.
Unfortunately this episode is not the best example of his writing skills, or of
Burns’ art: piracy on the high seas and human drama – yes; sf bio
weapons and people in funny diving suits – no. I still don’t understand
why exactly the bio-weapon suddenly changes into a dinosaur, then a giant scorpion.
Plus the Kraken, leader of the villains, seems to be quickly losing his mystique
and aura of evil: still, a sharp kick in the gonads of pompous villains is Dante’s
usual style, I suppose.
Yet the strip regains
its credentials in the three-way standoff at the end. And it makes me wish that
Morrison would concentrate on this familial-intrigue aspect of the story, such
as we witnessed between Dante and his mother in the first episode, as this seems
to be where Burns’ characterisation really comes into its own.
You could probably
cut and paste any conclusion from the last month into this space – solid
Dredd, Caballistics hitting the high notes, Dante boring but inoffensive, Slaine
boring and offensive, and SCB making us wonder how it ever got past quality control.
However, this week
I’m giving the nod to Dredd, since it’s another example of Rennie
recapturing the spirit that even Wagner seems to have lost. The good outweighs
the bad, but a poor replacement for Caballistics could see things go downhill
very quickly next week.
PW: An excellent
Dredd and Caballistics, Inc. make this an enjoyable prog, whilst Second City Blues,
Nikolai Dante and Slaine keep ticking over comfortably. It’s good to see
Tharg keeping the mix of old trusted strips and taking chances on new ones at
the same time, and the comic seems to be maintaining a healthy level of quality
that hasn’t been so consistent for a long time.
to see a redesign of the Nerve Centre and Input pages that let’s me actually
read the text! (Although why they don’t use accomplished Solar Wind and
Whistler artist Bolt-01’s picture of Tharg, I’ll never know…)
But any prog that contains a Droid Life with a reference to a terrible British
sitcom will always get a thumbs up from me!
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