¦ Reviews ¦ Prog
1504 - 1509 ¦2000AD Prog 1505
Prog 1505 - 13 September 2006
by Robert Cornell
1st opinion by Charles Ellis
2nd opinion by WR Logan
3rd opinion by Andrew Howe
and reviews contain spoilers for this issue.
draws Dredd riding out of Mega-City One and looking grim. What can you say? It’s
not the most exciting or eye-catching of images, but both image & cover-text
do get across the gist of the story and that is what it’s meant to do.
On one hand this is a fantastic cover, the Logo is perfectly visible for those
that hate it when it’s hidden behind any artwork. The ‘Origins’
tagline is large and clear and Brian Bolland supplies the cover artwork which
is bound to have plenty of readers lapsed, current or just Bolland fans wanting
to see it.
A moody sky, the
Mega-City skyline and Dredd & two other Judges astride Lawmasters heading
away from the city walls, this cover just makes you want to delay turning the
page to read the first part of the latest Dredd mega epic, a story that readers
have been waiting years for John Wagner to tell.
As good as it is
there’s something not quite right about it, if anything its too good, its
straight on look at the Judges on their Lawmasters looks too neat, the lines are
perfectly clean. Dread’s world is post apocalyptic and even the Cursed Earth
outside the city should be a foreboding place but as with many of Bolland’s
Dredd depictions the artwork is clean enough to eat your dinner off and its perfection
is its only downfall.
The cover also
features two city blocks that we can clearly see the names on. I’m not a
fan of Pink Floyd so the passing of Syd Barrett and the naming of a block after
him doesn’t really register, but more prominently displayed is the Tom Frame
block. Tom was a true unsung hero of 2000 AD, he’d worked on more strips
than I can remember and his contribution went mostly unnoticed by myself and others
for years. The bane of being a good letterer is that when you are a master of
your trade readers don’t notice your work. Tom was a gent, and I’m
sure Dredd will be the poorer for his passing. A couple of days a go I was at
Hope Street studios in Glasgow and saw Dom Regan and Jamie Grant’s colouring
on a tribute ensemble piece in recognition of Toms contribution to The Galaxy's
Greatest Comic and, as with the naming of a block on this weeks cover, it's good
to see The Mighty One recognising Tom’s place in 2000 AD’s history.
Origins is here, it’s Bolland, and it’s Dredd. I could complain
about the lifeless backdrop, but it’s probably deliberate (the foreground’s
where the action’s at), and in any event I couldn’t care less. Because
Origins is here, it’s Bolland, and it’s Dredd. That’s it.
- Part 1
Judge Logan is helping Dredd select a team for a mission into the Cursed
Earth. Logan volunteers himself and Dredd reluctantly accepts. The crew are shocked
by the nature of their mission. They are to escort a one billion credit ransom
for the body of Chief Judge Fargo - the Father of Justice. The Tomb of Fargo in
the Hall of Justice is a fraud and has never contained the real body, which was
"misappropriated" at some time in the past.
The previous day,
the package had finally been delivered to Justice Central. After a bomb scare,
it was found to contain human tissue and a ransom note. Forensic tests revealed
that the DNA matches Dredd's and that toxins
indicate the owner lived through the 21st Century. The Judges conclude that
the tissue was taken from Fargo. And that he was alive at the time...
CE: The shocking idea that Fargo might still be alive and in the Cursed Earth
would be more convincing if I hadn’t seen Wagner quoted on this site/board
as saying the story would involve Dredd’s mutant relatives. This being Wagner
on a Dredd epic, there’s probably a big twist in the wings though.
It’s a bit
of an understated start – most of the strip is set-up, getting the cast
together, explaining the ransom note, revealing that Fargo’s corpse is missing
and then setting out. Most of Dredd’s team appear to be new characters;
it’s good if we get interesting new Judges out of it, but the only one I
really know is Sanchez from Dredd VS Aliens (Logan’s appeared before but
only as a minor character). Compare this to Gulag, where we get Giant, Guthrie
and Karyn, characters who’ve had prominent roles before and who it means
more to see. It’s all good stuff but not the most inherently exciting of
Part Ones. Luckily, all the set-up has been done with in five pages, meaning we
can get right into the thick of things in the next prog. And that “EVERYONE
DOWN!” bit? Priceless.
And just look
at that splash page! Fantastic!
Over 4 years in the making, "Origins" finally makes its debut in print.
Carlos’s opening splash page is reminiscent of previous epics he's drawn
and it’s only a pity he couldn’t have been given a double page for
art needs little reviewing - it’s solid and dependable and as soon as you
see his name attached to any Dredd story you know exactly what you are going to
get. Saying that, if the next 22 episodes look as good as the opening episode
then the sooner that the story is finished so it can be collected in a graphic
novel, with loads of extras, the better.
John once again
shows why he’s been the principle Dredd writer since his inception. We’ve
seen other writers attempt to tell stories about Mega City’s most prominent
lawman but only a couple have ever come close and only one in recent times. After
the lead-in story "Connections" John hits the ground running and, by
the end of part one, I want to see where this story is going to go and what revelations
As when I was in
short trousers I’m wishing my life away - as soon as I finished a prog I’d
want the next one immediately and I'll feel that until next February. I’ll
be eagerly awaiting the postman to arrive every Monday… he'd
better not be late.
Origins has been a talking point for nearly nine months, but past experience with
over-hyped disappointments made it difficult to share in the excitement. All that
changed when I opened the prog and soaked in the opening collage – judges
manning the foxholes as the tanks roll in, a politician blinded by hubris, Dredd
wearing a rare look of surprise, muties and the lingering shade of Fargo thrown
in for good measure, with all of it backlit by a nuclear sunset. And, of course,
those two short words that have so often been a calling-card for quality - Wagner
and Ezquerra, getting back to basics and doing what they do best.
Dredd epics have
provided the weekly with some of its greatest moments, but we should never be
fooled into thinking they’re automatically earmarked for classic status.
Age and multiple re-readings have done nothing to lower The Cursed Earth, The
Day the Law Died, The Judge Child, The Apocalypse War, half of Oz, and The Pit
in my estimation, but I won’t be revisiting Necropolis or Judgement Day
any time soon.
The formula for
success is the same as its ever been – a vibrant supporting cast, emotional
investment in the characters, memorable villains, and insanely high stakes (for
which special mention goes to Oz, which conspired to make winning the Supersurf
seem even more important than saving Mega City One) – and in that respect
the extended page count is both a blessing and a curse. There’s more room
to develop the characters and script a weighty storyline, but it amplifies errors
of judgement in the creative process and invites filler-induced ennui if the concept
isn’t up to the task. Epics have also been notorious for shuffling artists
as deadlines come and go, which is fine if it’s Bolland and McMahon and
intolerable if you’re trading Ezquerra for Lee Sullivan.
to have the major bases covered – the early days of the Dredd universe is
one of the few stories that has yet to be told in any detail, the present-day
ramifications are presumably immense, and Ezquerra is on board for the duration
(plus his only major weakness – an inability to depict graphic horror in
the manner of artists who specialise in splatter – shouldn’t be a
problem in a story that’s unlikely to feature Judge Death and his merry
crew). I’ll admit that The Connection wasn’t up there with some of
the great lead-in stories (think Block Mania and The Dead Man), as it was little
more than five episodes of characters chasing each other around, but I expect
it’ll improve when we can reference it to the main storyline.
As this is only
the first episode there’s not much to work with – we’ve got
a squad of judges who may or may not play a major role in the proceedings, a revelation
(“Fargo may still be alive!”) that may or may not be true, and a mission
that’s certainly only the first step on a journey that promises revelations
galore. That’s enough for me, however, because I could have retired after
the first page and spent the week a happy man. The promise has been well and truly
made, and I’ll be back in a couple of months to let you know if they delivered.
Ellie De Ville
now controlled by the Clown, catches Serge; killing him without
closer to the truth...
mercy. Back at the hotel, he tells Missy to pack; they're leaving. Missy responds
with more questions Malone can't answer. They are interrupted by a knock at the
door. Outside is a strange man with robot legs. The stranger
seems to recognise Malone.
CE: I’ll be honest – having only seen a few appearances by Rocky
in Sinister Dexter and not that many where he was shown as having robot legs,
I didn’t get that was Rocky until I went on the 2000AD Review message board.
It’s not a twist that works very well unless you’ve read a certain
amount of Sin-Dex’s. Once I knew who the character was meant to be though,
I start looking back at the prog where the scary clown takes over… and it
all clicks. The signs are all there in Malone that we’re talking about Finnigan
Sinister, and the whole thing really is masterfully orchestrated.
It also adds a
whole new level to Malone’s desperation on page 4, as his whole world and
identity comes crashing down and we realise Malone wasn’t really his name
at all. It’s compelling even if it’s not Finnigan, but knowing it
is adds a whole extra dimension – what happened to him to cause such amnesia?
What’s he doing this far from home? And what the funt happened to Billi?
Mind you, if it
turns out that this isn’t Finnigan after all, this whole review’s
going to look pretty daft!
Simon Coleby’s evolution from his Clockwork Pineapple style continues and
for me his artwork gets better with each outing. Simon’s art is still very
black and dark with a death metal sensibility but it’s less cluttered than
it used to be and looks the better for it. We may want old droids back because
we like their style, but it's also good to see that with a new upgrade an old
droid can return with a brand new style and continue to improve.
For 5 weeks now
we’ve been waiting for more info on the background of Malone. Who is he?
Where’s he from? On the last panel we get no more information on Malone
but his world leaps into that of another 2000 AD story we are far more familiar
as a knock on the door reveals Rocky Rhodes. I’ve enjoyed Malone so far
but I’m not a fan of Sinister Dexter or what we’ve seen of their world.
I hope that in future episodes my dislike for Sin Dex won’t taint my perception
The road to ruin is littered with writers who thought that a hardboiled anti-hero,
regular blood-letting and laconic dialogue was all they needed to give Joe R.
Lansdale a run for his money (even the great Dan Simmons took a turn for the worse
when he decided that bashing out dreck like Hardcase was easier than writing the
next Hyperion). As a result I’m pleased to offer a tip of the hat to Cal
Hamilton, whose obvious affinity for the genre and slow-burn scripting prevents
Malone from becoming another one-note dirge.
ticks the boxes when it comes to the basics – Malone’s boiled pretty
hard in the current episode (shooting a dude in the leg so you can watch him squirm
is the act of an angry man), no matter where you are in the story you’re
never far from a healthy dose of violence (threatened or otherwise), and the dialogue
on pages 4 and 5 is quietly exceptional (it’s also structured to produce
a rhythm that enhances the subject of the discussion, which represents an attention
to detail I heartily endorse).
out on whether the finished product will also prove to be exceptional, but Hamilton’s
already done enough to make it one of the more intriguing efforts of 2006. He’s
taking it at his own pace, building an oppressive atmosphere, using claustrophobic
environments and repetition to good effect (“If she knows …”
is both an enjoyable line and a signpost to an obsessive mind), and he keeps us
guessing by raising questions with answers that may range from the simple (Malone’s
a loon) to the unexpected (Malone’s the only sane man in a world gone wrong).
Plus we’ve just been introduced to a guy with skinny robotic legs, which
is a strangely disturbing addition to a strip that’s featured precious few
laughs as it is (except, of course, for the hollow variety).
I’d be remiss
if I didn’t save some praise for the efforts of Simon Coleby, whose affinity
for malformed facial features and use of shadow is perfectly suited to the subject
matter (memo to the editorial team – this is an artist who absolutely has
to be matched to the script). Since Malone’s not a flashy all-colour affair
it’s easy to overlook the thought that’s gone into the layouts, but
check out the final four panels on page 2 for a case study in enhancing the moment
with intelligent design (in particular the use of grey on Malone’s face
to heighten the menace and the switch to a marginally closer viewpoint at a key
moment in the dialogue).
that Hamilton and Coleby are invested in this strip, and if it maintains the current
level of quality I’m with them all the way. And speaking of flashy all-colour
affairs, that brings us to …
Ellie De Ville
Sorrel and his pets...
five survivors desperately try to prevent the monsters getting through the door,
but in a very short time they are all dead or in big trouble.
Fenton's plan to block the door fails - all the cars have been gutted. Sorrell
is distracted from the danger by strange visions and a sense of unreality. When
the monsters finally break through, Fenton is gruesomely
killed. Sorrel has nothing to fear - he's their "favourite son." The
un-named woman tries to escape through a window but is dragged through by one
of the things. More creatures gather around Rivers. Meanwhile, Prentiss cowers
in the sewers.
CE: I knew the girl was going to get eaten, I bloody knew it. She
didn’t even get a name! (And if she did, I don’t remember it) I’m
surprised and upset to see Fenton eaten though, he was great fun; even more surprised
to see Harry get eaten so abruptly, with him seemingly being one of the two main
characters and all; but the biggest surprise of all is to find Prentiss wasn’t
eaten. Since he seems to be the only character other than Sorrell left alive,
I hope he shows more characterisation. Sorrell, on the other hand… it was
obvious he had some ties to the monsters and that he may be dodgy, but he appears
to know a lot more than he was letting on, explicitly stating he’s linked
to the monsters.
It’s a nice
frantic episode, as in five pages over half the cast is slaughtered after a doomed
attempt at survival. Apart from the surprising nature of who got killed and how
(you’d think if Harry was going to die he’d have a more meaningful
death), it’s extremely eerie to see Sorrel going to the dark side. We’ve
been following this guy since 1500 and generally identifying with him; seeing
him suddenly change direction and be a possible bad guy is disorienting. (OK,
he murdered two people, so it’s not like it’s unexpected that he’s
a bit dodgy) With most of the cast gone, our lead changing sides and the continued
mystery of what exactly the monsters are planning, Stone Island might be about
to go in a completely different direction to where we originally thought it would
As soon as you see Simon Davis's name attached to any project you know exactly
what you’re going to get visually, the only variable being the story he
works on. Over the years he’s done a variety of strips but the one constant
is the quality of his part on the project.
With Stone Island
Simon, once again, doesn’t disappoint with the visuals but I’m afraid
that no matter how good it looks, I’m not a fan of the story so far. Having
said that, once it's finished I shall read it in one go to see if I can get more
out of it.
My predilection for realistic facial expressions is well-known (it makes it easier
to convey emotion without resorting to redundant dialogue), and that makes Simon
Davis one of my artists of choice. He specialises in negative emotions - surprise,
terror, distaste, the look you get when a slavering beast tears your arm off –
so he’s obviously having a field day with Stone Island. Unfortunately he’s
the only thing that keeps me turning the page, as Edginton’s script has
yet to offer us anything more substantial than contrived dialogue and spraying
low page count for 2000 A.D. strips often fools writers into believing they can
script an extended action sequence and leave it at that (see my comments on The
Connection above and Nikolai Dante below). I like my daily dose of mayhem as much
as the next man, but the pyrotechnics have to form part of a larger whole, not
the least because the viewer has to care about the characters in harm’s
way. Some classic stories were little more than a series of violent confrontations
– think Swimming in Blood and Zenith III – but the writers always
took the time to develop the protagonists and construct an atmospheric and innovative
episodes in, and to date the entire plot wouldn’t amount to more than thirty
minutes of fighting, running, screaming and dying in a B movie. Moreover, a bunch
of miscreants trading insults doesn’t qualify as character development,
especially when the dialogue regularly borders on the ludicrous (when a door’s
the only thing saving you from disembowelment and some dude orders you to shore
up the defences with a car, your response will be something along the lines of
“Sure thing!” or an imperceptible whimper. You will not say “What
did your last servant die of?”, because that’s just stupid.)
As for an innovative
premise – well, this is Edginton we’re talking about, and I can’t
believe the man responsible for Scarlet Traces and Leviathan doesn’t have
something up his sleeve. If not, then this strip is going to go down as a visually
arresting but ultimately empty exercise in excess.
Robot Wars - Part 5
Bug Stomper fights back...
robo-ratter is gradually picking off the dwindling members of Banzai Battalion.
Flambo is captured and de-activated by Mrs Fitzenheimer, despite argument.
launches an audacious counter-attack, Oscar sacrificing himself to allow Bug Stomper
to access the robot dog's controls and deactivate it.
This use of such "weapons of mass destruction" is the last straw for
the now "human" Captain and he declares war on the garden's owners.
CE: It’s tiny gardening robots who talk like old war movies fighting
a giant robot dog called Killer. How could this not be fun? Stomper’s way
of getting a volunteer is bloody funny. But despite all that, we still have a
darker edge steadily taking over, as Stomper decides to take the battle to the
humans – and since the Banzais have explosives, this is a slightly worrying
prospect; it was always fun seeing the Banzais taking on human opponents and human
environments and it will be next prog, but this time they’re taking on their
own owners with possible lethal intent. Could this be leading to a final Banzai
story? It’s hard to see how the existing status quo can be the same afterwards,
with Stomper growing increasingly nuts.
Be pity if this
was the last one though – based on the last few progs, there’s still
some life in the Banzais yet!
I’ve liked Banzai Battalion ever since they first appeared and continue
to look forward to their reappearances. Steve Roberts's artwork is a departure
from previous outings as they’re now depicted as being very cartoony but,
as John’s cranked up the humour in his scripts, could there be any other
art droid in Tharg’s stable more suitable for the job? I’ve not enjoyed
this Banzai tale as much as others but I’ve always liked them more when
read in one go. If Flambo really has gone to the great bug-filled garden in the
sky, lest we forget that Bug Stomper is still a legend in pest control...
I appreciate there are times when writers need to take a break from crafting their
next critically acclaimed opus, but a week in Ibiza would be preferable to asking
me to fund their creative siesta. I imagine Wagner dusted off this strip as an
antidote to late nights on Origins, but while the original Banzai Battalion was
an enjoyable homage to Toy Story the premise was mined out by the time the third
outing came to a close. Wagner’s solution was to jettison the humour that
gave the strip its charm and replace it with a bizarre descent into lunacy for
Mr. Stomper, with the rest of the story consisting of a firefight that threatens
to go on forever.
style is custom-made for screwball humour, so it’s a pity he’s invariably
lumbered with scripts that aren’t particularly amusing (think Bec &
Kawl and the kind of Sinister Dexter episodes Abnett writes when he should be
joining Wagner in Ibiza). He rises above the subject matter to capture the spirit
of the series, and while previous Banzai artists lent Stomper a pleasing air of
nobility, now that he’s a garden-variety madman Roberts is actually a more
appropriate man for the job (in his work for the weekly he’s yet to draw
a character that doesn’t look like they’ve escaped from a mental institution).
strips in a row that feature (a) respected writers taking their foot off the pedal;
and (b) endless action substituting for a well-rounded story. It’s actually
three, however, because next up we’ve got …
Dragon's Island - Part 4
The remains of the Kraken...
angrily rejects the Tsar's offer of assistance. He is satisfied to be an observer
- for now.
Katarina and Lauren
have escaped but Akita's Dragon warriors make fast work of their crew and they
are soon captives again. Akita proudly explains how she created the Dragons from
clones of Kraken. Suddenly, she is interrupted by a voice from above. It's Nikolai
Dante, the Man who is Too Cool to Kill.
CE: Considering how well the pirates have been doing, it’s a real shock
to see them all slaughtered so damn quickly by the Dragons. They get overwhelmed
in just four panels. The Dragon’s are bloody hardcore, which does beg the
question of how Dante is going to rescue everyone from them and also get away.
And based on his track record, there’s a very real possibility he might
not. Is this going to be Dante’s triumphant victory or is he going to fail
where it counts? Even though it’s taken far longer than it should’ve
to get to this point, it is still a sign in Dante’s favour that it is genuinely
in question whether or not the hero is going to actually save the day. And then
there’s the Tsar waiting in the wings – ooer! Love the scene where
the oblivious pirates proudly tell Katarina how they tried blowing up her son
too, that was great.
Yawn. Whatever happened to the swashbuckling, fighting sex machine that used to
appear under the banner of Nikolai Dante? This latest adventure isn’t bad
- both story and art are decent enough - it’s just that I’m starting
to tire of these Dante stories that don’t seem to take the character anywhere.
Dante showing his more human side by saving individuals in other stories but trying
to save the two children in this latest adventure seems to be lasting forever.
I may have cared about Dante’s relationship with his mother but, as with
his attempts to save the children, there seems to be no end in sight and when
Dante’s family tree is full of characters that we yearn to see more of,
this meandering section of Dante’s adventures seems to be keeping us from
seeing the main event.
Over the last eighteen months I’ve written three negative reviews of Dante
strips (including this one), which is probably why I haven’t been getting
any Christmas cards from Robbie Morrison. However, I simply can’t understand
why Morrison hasn’t reacted to the faint praise his recent efforts have
garnered, which leads me to believe that one of the following must be true:
- Nikolai Dante
wasn’t actually as good as we remember it, so the quality is the same as
it ever was.
- Morrison still
hasn’t worked out what he wants to achieve with this strip now that the
initial story arc has drawn to a close.
With respect to
the possibility of the memory cheating, I recently re-read the bulk of the Dante
offerings from inception to the end of The Romanov Empire. That period certainly
saw its share of filler (usually the instalments that were played purely for laughs),
but the Romanov’s long march to destruction was a gripping and emotional
epic anchored by a powerhouse script and exceptional work from Fraser and Burns.
It came at a cost, however - Morrison achieved the desired effect by killing off
practically every supporting character, and the replacements (a bland female sidekick,
a mother who didn’t give her son enough lovin’ and a couple of textbook
villains) aren’t strong enough to carry a strip that can’t survive
if Dante’s the sole focus (I laid out the reasons in my review of prog 1435,
so I won’t restate them here).
that Morrison has a five-year plan that’ll make me look like a fool somewhere
down the line, but I still think he should have spent more time introducing new
characters and less on talking gorillas and daring escapes (seen one, seen ‘em
all). It’s worth noting that the only truly interesting individuals to appear
in recent times – the pirate captains – were virtually wiped out in
a couple of issues, an unfortunate quirk that also reared its head in the last
run of Morrison’s Shakara.
As for the current
storyline – well, something’s definitely happening at last, but so
far it’s been little more than (all together now) an extended action sequence.
That isn’t what I want from this strip, and at the risk of repeating myself
I’ll lay it out one last time. I want new and interesting characters I can
care about. I want an end to stories that feature swashbuckling, shagging and
nothing in between. I want Lauren and Katarina gone for good, because one’s
tiresome and the other’s served her purpose. I want villains who could be
heroes and heroes who could be villains. I want a return to the days when Jena
was something more than comic relief. I want to see the Tsar swinging from a gibbet
in the noonday sun. And most of all, I want to feel the way I did when Dante and
his companions made a hopeless but heroic stand in the name of a cause worth dying
for, because that’s why I started reading 2000 A.D. when I was ten years
old and nothing’s changed in the thirty years since.
still time to make it happen – all we need is for Morrison to find the will
to take us there.
Not a bad strip in the bunch. Long may it continue!
For me Prog 1505's Thrill Meter readings went up a notch with great art
on Banzai, Stone Island & Dante. Malone looks good and with this weeks reveal
has me wanting to see Prog 1506 and hope that my dislike of Sin Dex doesn't cloud
my perception of future episodes.
Although no matter
how good anything else was after waiting years for this story to finish going
through the creative process 'Origins' arrives and for me takes the 1st spot on
the podium by a mile.
It’s Origins, it’s Wagner and Ezquerra, and I’m ready to be
impressed. However, Hamilton and Coleby have a six-week head start, and that’s
enough to give them the edge. But only just.
WRL: Judge Dredd
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