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Home ¦ Reviews ¦ Red Razors

2000AD Review Extra 30th March 05

2000 AD - Red Razors
Red Razors
By Mark Millar, Steve Yeowell, Nigel Dobbyn

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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 Hanly

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 fiasco.

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.

2000 AD - Red Razors

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.

2000 AD - Red Razors
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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Original content (c) 2002 Gavin Hanly (contact 2000AD Review).