Thursday, 31 January 2013

Review - Judge Dredd: Origins

Judge Dredd: Origins
Written by:
 John Wagner
Art by: Carlos Ezquerra, Kev Walker
ISBN: 978-1-78108-099-3
Diamond Order Code: JAN131250
Price: $19.99 (US) $22.99 (Canada)
Release Date: March 19th 2013


Judge Dredd has been running in 2000AD for a weekly basis since it's second issue, with a handful of exceptions, and over the thirty years that it has been featured in the sci-fi anthology, there have been references to the back story of Mega City One and the creation of the Justice System. In particular, the fact that Dredd and his brother Rico were clones of the legendary Judge Fargo, was so ingrained within the character's history that the first feature film used the plot as it's focus - for better or for worse. However, there had never been a definitive story that filled in all the gaps, so as part of the 30th anniversary of Judge Dredd, creators John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra produced the mega-epic storyline, Origins, to show readers how the America they know became the sprawling metropolis that is Mega-City One and how the Judges rose to power over democracy under the guidance of Judge Fargo.

The graphic novel for Origins contains the five-part prologue called 'The Connection' which is a nice little introduction and sets up some foreshadowing in the form of Dredd's dreams about his clone brother, Rico, whom he killed in the line of duty and their 'father', Judge Fargo, from whom the two were cloned. The story focuses around a mysterious box that two mutants (three, if you count the talking armpit!) are attempting to deliver to the Justice Department. There is the sense of a Coen Brothers movie about this introduction (Fargo, perhaps?) as plans go awry and corpses begin to mount up. I really enjoyed this interlude and as always, I appreciated the artwork of Kev Walker, who in my opinion draws a fantastic Dredd, equalling that of the character's creator, Carlos Ezquerra, who comes aboard to draw the main event.

I love the crazy mutations in Dredd - such as this Armpit Mutant

The contents of the 'macguffin' are revealed in the first part of Origins and prompts a journey into the Cursed Earth. Without spoiling too much, the Judge's are concerned that a very important element of their history might be being held ransom by a group of Cursed Earth mutants. Sending Dredd and a select team of veteran Judges, the search party head off into the wilderness to locate what is theirs. Along the way, the encounter various groups, some hostile and some not. Throughout the adventures, Dredd recounts the history of Mega City One and his involvement in it, and they soon discover that not all history is dead and buried.

I'll admit that I found the flashback sequences to be slightly slow and they didn't hold my interest as much as the present day scenes. Wagner manages to inter-splice the flashbacks with action in the present to prevent them from being too slow, which considering that this book was originally published in six-page episodes, some of the flashback material could have seemed even slower when reading it on a weekly basis. For long-term fans of Dredd who are more intimate with the character's past from the hints dropped over the years, there was probably a lot more pay-off to seeing the history of Mega-City One recounted almost from start to finish. For myself, however, I did find myself slightly confused in parts, although that may be due to my pre-conceptions of Dredd's origins that I had picked up from the 1995 film. I was always under the impression Fargo took the Long Walk into the Cursed Earth, so I was slightly confused at the retelling here, although this could be a revision of events, as Wagner makes it clear that there has been falsehoods and inconsistencies in the tale as part of a plot point.

Young Dredd & Rico in action

Reflecting on the story as a whole, it makes sense on why the flashbacks go into such detail, since there is a pay-off in the final act. In fact, the whole story works well as a full package and neatly sets up the changes that will occur in Dredd's character in later stories, particularly his feelings about mutants and the laws preventing them from entering the city. This is clearly an important story that has had far-reaching consequences within the Judge Dredd series, in some ways fundamentally challenging the character's views and beliefs.

I was lucky enough to get my hands on this beautiful collection that contains both the five-part prologue and the main Origins storyline. As usual, the 2000AD graphic novels are perfectly crafted with a thicker page than the usual comic and a nice gloss on them. The reprinting is crisp and clear and the colours all leap of the page with a shine. There is a covers gallery showcasing some artwork from Jock, John Higgins, Rufus Dayglo, Simon Coleby and Boo Cook. Also included is a sketchbook from Carlos Ezquerra, which has some black and white sketches of early designs.

The North American & Canadian edition of Judge Dredd: Origins is available from 19th March 2013, whilst the UK and Europe edition is currently out now and available at Amazon.co.uk and ForbiddenPlanet.com

Score - 8.6 out of 10

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Review - Dredd 3D


Judge Dredd is a comic series that has been running in the British anthology comic, 2000AD, since 1977 and more-or-less appeared in every one of its weekly issues (or Progs, as they are known). The series was originally conceived by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra as a Dirty Harry in the future, and many of the early strips were rather action-heavy featuring the borderline fascist Judge Dredd as he dispensed instant justice to the citizens of Mega City One. Unlike most US comic creations, Judge Dredd aged in real time and his characterisation has vastly changed over the years, to the point where he has grown more disillusioned with the Judges and their role in society, particularly in terms of the mutant segregation.

Most popular in the UK where he was created, Judge Dredd did manage to spawn one big-screen outing where he was portrayed by Sylvester Stallone and memorably bawled out the words, "I am the Law" in a Rocky-style bellow. It wasn't well-received by critics, yet some people (including myself) have a minor soft spot for it, thinking it was probably the only time we'd see Mega City One realised on-screen...until now, that is. Released in September 2012, Dredd was an attempt to reboot the franchise with a story and a tone appropriate to the source material. The script, written by Alex Garland, featured heavy input from the series creator, John Wagner, ensuring this attempt had the blessing of those who had worked on it from its beginnings as a comic strip. The film utilised 3D effects, as well as "slo-mo" - a side effect of an illegal narcotic manufactured by the film's villain, Ma-Ma.

Having seen both film versions of Judge Dredd, I can easily say that Dredd is the better of the two. Not only does Karl Urban play the tough-as-nails Judge perfectly, but he also doesn't feel the need to remove the helmet in order to showcase his own face. Stallone, on the other hand, whipped off his helmet as soon as he could and paraded through the film acting rather emotional in a non-Dredd manner.


The storyline focuses on Dredd taking a new recruit, the psychic Judge Anderson, on a routine assessment and they manage to pick a homicide at Peach Trees block as their assignment. Quickly, events escalate and the two Judges find themselves trapped in the tower block with a blood-thirsty gang of criminals after them, whilst attempting to escort their prisoner out of the building. 

Rather smartly, in my opinion  the plot skirts from some of the more absurd elements of the Judge Dredd mythos such as: Droid Revolutions, Clones, Judge Death and the other supernatural villains. I would recommend any sequels stick to this more realistic tone for the world in which Dredd lives. It doesn't look as hi-tech as the stories in 2000AD, nor does it have to. The post-apocalyptic Mega City One in this film feels somewhat similar to Mad Max and I think that mood suits the franchise better. Perhaps future sequels could focus on the Cursed Earth and possibly the Angel gang?

Olivia Thirlby acts as the emotional centre of the film, portraying the fresh-faced Anderson, who spends the entirely of the film without her helmet, as a nice contrast to Dredd. In fact, later on in the film there are multiple Judge's on-screen and it does become difficult to work out which is which, so perhaps Stallone did have a point in removing the helmet all those years ago! I liked how the whole movie was effectively her probation test and how she was constantly quizzed by Dredd throughout it. I'm sure the rookie on trial storyline has been done several times in the comics, but it was nice to see it represented on-screen.


The film has a fair amount of gore and some inventive deaths, featuring the varied range of Judge Dredd's multiple ammunition. Also, surprising was the level of swear-words used in the film. The 2000AD stories obviously don't feature as many F-bombs as the film does and relies on its own in-story bad language such as "Drokk". While the film didn't stick to that language, there were plenty of nice references to the comic book in terms of graffiti in the Block. Keen eyes would be able to spot 'Chopper' (a sky-surfer character from the comics) and Sternhammer Block (a reference to Strontium Dog, another series by John Wagner)

Overall, this was a very stylish film that bucked the trend of the big-budget blockbuster and took an independent route. The design and mood was heavily influenced by the location (it was shot in South Africa) and felt like a nice combination of Mad Max and Die Hard, yet it still managed to carve out its own identity. I would recommend this to anyone who has ever read a Judge Dredd story and wanted to see it realised in live-action, as well as anyone who saw Stallone's portrayal of Dredd, in order to show them how it should be done. My only real concern is whether or not a sequel could be as successful, considering that they will need to introduce more elements from Dredd's world which may change the 'back to basics' tone of this iteration of the franchise.

Score - 9.2 out of 10

"Go see it, punk!"

Monday, 14 January 2013

Top Ten Shocking Deaths in The Walking Dead

One of the most annoying things about comics is how characters die and come back from the dead so often that death loses its meaning. However, The Walking Dead, is the opposite to that - Once characters die, they stay dead...well, okay, they might come back from the dead once, but after they're killed a second time, they are definitely dead! Here is my Top Ten list of shocking deaths from The Walking Dead series.

[SPOILERS for The Walking Dead #1 - 100]



10) Amy (Died - # 5)

Amy had the dubious honour of being the first main character to die in the comics, and her death acted as the first demonstration that these characters weren't safe and could die, even if they were popular and had potential.


9) Shane (Died - # 6)
Shane was another early exit - shot through the neck by Carl. This plotline seemed to be resolved too quickly and even writer, Robert Kirkman, regrets killing off Shane so early. In the TV show, Shane lasted a lot longer and more tension is drawn out from their rivalry over Lori. Shane manages to get killed off twice - once by Carl and the second time, much later, in Zombie form by Rick.


8) Carol (Died - # 42)
Carol's suicide by zombie was surprising, as it came out of nowhere. She had been acting erratically beforehand, propositioning Lori with a threesome with Rick and an attempted kiss. With her advances spurned, Carol found someone else to get close with - unfortunately, it was a hungry zombie. The smile on her face as her throat gets ripped out is particularly unnerving.


7) Duane (Zombified - # 58)
Duane and his father, Morgan, are the first human survivors that Rick stumbles across, hiding out in his abandoned neighbours house. When Rick leaves to find Lori & Carl, he offers Morgan & Duane the opportunity to join him, but they prefer to stay. Many issues later, Rick returns to his home street and finds that Morgan has survived, but his son is now zombified.


6) Billy (Died - # 61)
Billy and Ben are two of the youngest survivors, losing both of their parents through the course of the series. Gradually Ben becomes more fascinated by death, and murders his twin-brother, Billy. The adults are unsure how to deal with someone like Ben who has no concept of life and death, and therefore dangerous, but matters are taken out of their hands when Carl executes his former friend.


5) Glenn (Died - #100)
One of the more recent deaths, it was heavily teased that something shocking would happen in the 100th issue of the comic and many speculated a long-running character would meet their demise. Negan, the new psychopath, lined up all the characters and picked one at random to brutally murder with a baseball bat to teach them a lesson. Unfortunately, his finger pointed at Glenn, one of the longest-running and more likeable characters in the show.


4) Abraham (Died - #98)
In terms of pure shock value, Abraham's death is up there because it came out of the blue. Whilst walking with Eugene, Abraham is shot through the eye with an arrow mid-sentence. There was no build-up or foreshadowing and the character had seemingly replaced Tyreese as Rick's second-in-command, so to be wiped out within a few panels was very shocking.


3) Tyreese (Died - # 46)
For the duration of the Prison-era of the series, Tyreese was Rick's second-in-command and friend. He was physically strong and a useful soldier in the war against The Governor's army. However, he was captured by The Governor and executed in front of the survivors, using Michonne's katana. Tyreese maintained composure in the face of certain death and despite being a fan favourite, was not safe.


2) Rachel & Susie (Died - # 15)
The death of Hershel's twins is particularly shocking because it not only came out of left-field, but it also involved no zombies and there was no real motiviation. Whilst in the prison, the survivors come across a group of prisoners unaware that one of them, Thomas, is a serial killer. At some point off-panel, he decapitates the twin girls, despite knowing he will get caught. It's a motiveless crime, served only to fuel Thomas' urge to murder living people. Ultimately, the twins weren't essential to the plot, so their deaths had a short-term effect, unlike my suggestion for the number one shocking death.


1) Lori & Judith (Died - # 48)
Since the first issue, Rick has been the lead character and his aim was to reunite with his family and keep them safe, so when his wife falls pregnant, his initial fear is that she will die in childbirth, and many readers predicted a troublesome birth, resulting in the death of mother or child. However, baby Judith was born healthily without any issues to Lori, but when The Governor storms the prison, he orders Lilly to shoot at Lori, who is carrying baby Judith. The shot seemingly kills Lori & Judith, although writer Robert Kirkman later pointed out that Judith wasn't killed by the shot, but was crushed by Lori's body...wow. Unlike the other deaths, these two changed Rick as a character and the focus of the book - the survivors left the prison and have continued their travels, meeting new characters, but Rick is forever changed.


What do you think? Have I missed out any shocking deaths? Do you disagree with my list - drop me a comment below or feel free to tweet me @PCB_Blog with your thoughts!
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