¦ Reviews ¦ Red
Millar, Steve Yeowell, Nigel Dobbyn
this book from Amazon.co.uk
What to Expect:
Sometime in a future beyond that of current Dredd continuity, all Sov-Block
judges are to be ex perps who have undergone neuro-surgery to make them fit to
judge. Red Razors is one of the best, and worse...
Review by Gavin
Ah, Mark Millar.
He's not one of the most beloved of 2000AD writers to make it big across the pond.
In fact it's probably safe to say that among many ardent 2000AD fans, uttering
his name has the unnerving ability to bring forth levels of bile that no other
writer has ever managed to achieve - even Michael Fleisher, with his Rogue Trooper/Friday
But is this resentment
well placed? In some respects, yes indeed. A quick look at the votes on his work
over at 2000AD
Online tell a pretty clear story and the hideousness of his Robo Hunter
revamp should never really be forgotten or forgiven. But the man's writing has
clearly improved tenfold since he crossed the Atlantic, with the Ultimates and
Red Son in particular being solidly entertaining books. So, has the time come
to reappraise Mark Millar's contributions to 2000AD? Well, here's our chance to
find out. Given Millar's stratospheric rise over at Marvel, it's understandable
that Rebellion/DC would want to have his name on one of the collections to help
bring in the American readers. And so they have chosen Red Razors - a series that
is connected with the Dredd universe, and thus should give us all more reasons
to part with our well earned cash.
Red Razors is set
some 50 years after Dredd's current timeline (a fact I didn't actually realise
until over half way through this collection) where East Meg 2 has become Sov Block
2, a corporate-run city owned by a boy billionaire. The judicial system is still
in place, but they have begun to use neurologically modified perps as their judges
as they "don't think it's fair to ask our citizens to put on a helmet and
risk their lives." The first judge as part of this judicial program was Judge
Razors, a cruel and sadistic ex gang member who uses much of his nefarious methods
to become a cruel and sadistic judge. With a talking horse as his sidekick.
So far so... OK.
As mentioned above, there's some initial confusion as to where this lies in the
Dredd mythos - and luckily we have the timeline at the front of the book to clear
things up. Yet the whole idea of the "perps as judges" scenario is all
over the place. In the first story, it seems as if all Sov block judges are ex-perps.
A school kid even asks this question and isn't corrected - so we must assume this
is the case. Yet in the second tale, Razors now seems to be the prototype for
a new breed of judges, and is being used as an example so that they can sell the
technology to Mega City One.
It's this wild
change in plotlines and ideas from the first story (drawn by Yeowell) to the second
(drawn by Dobbyn) that proves to be much of the reasons for the character's ultimate
failure. The first strip isn't a masterpiece by any stretch, but it is filled
with a few decent ideas that elevate it slightly. Razor's talking horse is completely
ridiculous, but Millar uses the idea well enough to help lend the series both
a needed level of absurdity and to give Razors a sardonic sidekick - something
to occasionally burst the ego. The idea of the city worshipping Elvis as a deity
also plays up these absurdity levels, as does the idea of a Sov Block that looks
more like a corporate over-run America. There's a smattering of ideas like this
throughout the first series that makes it an entertaining and inventive read.
Some of them don't work, such as the odd parody of Scooby Doo which makes you
wonder what the hell Millar was on when he was writing this, but much of it is
certainly streets ahead of the rest of Millar's 2000AD work.
However, as mentioned
above, it all goes completely pear-shaped in the second series. Maybe it was the
3 year gap between the series, but Millar appears to have forgotten much about
what made the character tick in the first place and couldn't be bothered to go
back and read the first series to refresh his memory. There's the afore-mentioned
decision to change things and make Razors the only "perp judge" which
throws up huge swathes of confusion as the strip gets going. Next, there's the
decision to make the second series "grim and gritty". So all the amusing
satire is stripped out and replaced with a much more straightforward action tale.
Yes, this is around about the time that Millar decided he liked to see things
get blown up. A lot.
So the character
let first series is replaced by an action-led tale that can do little but disappoint.
Almost all of the quirks of the first series are either forgotten of disposed
of by the second episode, and by the end of it, you just don't care any more.
Add to that the depiction of a certain Mega City lawman that is so lazy and out
of character it's quite astonishing, the extraordinarily cliched line "stop
shooting, Razors has to win this fight himself" (a line I can't take serioulsly
since it was sent up so well in Joss Whedon's Firefly) and a highly unlikely
change of character in Razors himself, from devil may care judge to semi freedom
fighter and you have a huge disappointment on your hands.
There are other
saving graces in the collection, however. Both Steve Yeowell and Nigel Dobbyn
turn in exemplary art - particularly in the case of Dobbyn. Indeed, Dobbyn seemed
to be one of those great artists who never actually got matched up with a great
script, and it'd be good to see his art back in the weekly again. Yeowell, meanwhile,
turns in another effortlessly impressive job, once again showing how he can be
one of the most dependable artists 2000AD has.
So overall, I went
into this collection hoping to give a second chance to one of Millar's most successful
2000AD creations. And for a moment there, it looked like we could have an under-rated
gem on our hands. But with the ball dropped so comprehensibly in the second half,
it's very difficult to recommend this to anyone but Millar completists. And to
them, I'd recommend they just stick to his far superior American work instead.
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