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2000AD Review Extra 15th February 04

2000 AD - Shimura
By Robbie Morrison, Frank Quitely, Colin MacNeil, Simon Fraser, Cyril Julien, Robert McCallum, Duke Mighten, Dylan Teague

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What to Expect: The world of the judges in the Far East..

Review by Gavin Hanly

Back in the mists of 2000AD time, someone at 2000AD had the idea that if there were judges in Mega City One then surely there would be similar judges all over the world. Carefully ignoring the glaringly obvious plot holes in this idea (for example, would they all really have costumes that were essentially slightly altered versions of Dredd’s uniform? Do they have the same tailor?), at heart it remained a decent enough premise and immediately allowed the possibility of an innumerable number of spin-off’s – handy when you’re launching a Judge Dredd magazine.

So we had, in no particular order, Calhab Justice, Judge Joyce and the Irish Judges and not forgetting Armitage – a detective in Brit Cit that has certain similarities with Inspector Morse, but unlike that fine show was unfortunately shite. In the main Dredd story we were treated to judges from South America, Egypt, Australia, Hong Kong (or if you like “Ciudad Barranquilla” “Pan-Africa”, “Oz”, “Sino City”) and many more . Not to mention the cities that were wiped out in Judgement Day or other such Dredd-world changing disasters.

2000 AD - Shimura

But while the idea of foreign judges should have provided a wealth of story prospects, none of them had the lasting power of Robbie Morrison’s Shimura.

As evidenced by this substantial collection, Shimura has had more than his fair share of outings (solely in the Megazine, where they can get away with more of the “adult” themes dealt with in the series). Shimura is a Ronin, essentially a judge gone bad or, come to think of it, actually more like a judge gone good, as Hondo (that’s Japan for you and I) has an essentially corrupt judicial system, heavily influenced by Yakuza and the like. The second tale in the collection, the MacNeil drawn Outcast, spells out his expulsion from the judges in a little more detail, while the intro featuring his time as a judge was actually written after this piece, but published first – giving rise to lots of confusion as to who created Shimura that is corrected by this volume and also by a recent MacNeil interview in the Megazine.

2000 AD - Shimura
Throughout the ensuing stories, Shimura tries to distance himself from his old job, while still occasionally getting dragged back in, bribed, or otherwise coerced to do some dirty work or to simply have a fight with those who are willing and stupid enough to pick one.

All sounds good on paper – but is it an enjoyable read?

Well, the idea of the Hondo society is a decent enough one by itself, with the judicial system impressively realised with a good deal of thought put into the way the system actually works. However, the problem with the series is the main character himself. Once he eventually becomes Ronin, Shimura starts to lose all direction. Essentially, he’s just a bit pissed off and wants revenge. And then a bit of peace and quiet. However, it’s difficult to empathise with the revenge aspect since he didn’t really lose anything personal to him, and when he finally does get an element of payback the reader is left a little nonplussed.

Once Shimura finally does get his revenge, it goes off the rails completely. The character no longer has any purpose as far as the main storyline is concerned. As mentioned above, he just kind of hangs around and get into some scrapes. When your lead character has no direction at all, the series starts to flounder. Morrison does manage to think of lots of, fairly ingenious, ways of getting Shimura back in action, and even tries to give him a tragic reason to continue so he can make amends for something rather terrible. However the reader is often left wanting him to make his own decisions, and to have some element of a character arc mapped out which, in collected form, there is little evidence of. So instead of being the grim and determined hero, Shimura comes across as the grumpy angry old man that you try desperately not to get dragged into a conversation with at the pub.

2000 AD - Shimura

There are saving graces, though. The introduction of a child for Shimura to look after later in the story improves matters, using her as a device to play off against Shimura’s oppressive ennui, and the story picks up pace when he’s trying to protect her. Morrison also can come up with a good convoluted plot once in a while, and the short tale of the assassins sent after Shimura is one of the most satisfying stories in this volume.

And then there’s the art. The main artists contributing to this collection are Frank Quitely, Colin MacNeil and Simon Fraser. All three of them stamp their mark on the series in their own unique way, from Quitely’s high tech manga influenced mayhem, via Colin MacNeil’s more dramatic black and white lines to Fraser’s frenetic efforts later on. All of their art makes this book well worth checking out – with MacNeil’s black and white artwork being particularly stunning – you can see why he views it as amongst his best. The other artists provide passable art, but none can match the masters mentioned above.

However, the great contribution to the book of these three artists raises a valid point. Why on earth id the book credited to Morrison, Quitely et al? Leaving aside the utter clumsiness of having “et al” on the cover, there was more than enough room on the heading for the other artists, particularly as they actually provide more artwork inside the book. A little too much pandering to Quitely’s superstar status, I feel.

This was one of the 2000AD reprints I was most looking forward to, having never particularly re-read the tales early on, and having missed much of them from my long time away from the Megazine. It’s a diverting read, but it does occasionally feel like a chore – something that I feel a good comic should never be, so ultimately I was a little let down by this package. If you haven’t read these and love the artists, then I can give it a cautious recommendation if your hopes aren’t too high. But if you’re after a really great read, then head for Morrison’s Nikolai Dante collections instead.

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