Wednesday, 13 January 2016

2000AD Prog 1963

Prog 1963 Cover by Ryan Brown

This more realistic take on Kingdom from Ryan Brown has me torn – while I find it hard to adjust to any artist besides Richard Elson bringing Gene and his world to life, there is something about this interpretation of the character that lingers in the mind. With Tharg ‘dream-casting’ Tom Hardy in the role of Gene in the Nerve Centre, this fresh approach to the character certainly feels like promotional artwork for a film adaptation of the series. Whereas Richard Elson’s artwork imbues the strip with a Saturday Morning cartoon vibe, Ryan Brown goes for a much darker and mysterious approach – with his red eyes and gritted teeth, Gene the Hackman looks less like “man’s best friend” and more like “someone’s worst nightmare!”


JUDGE DREDD - GHOSTS (Part 1)
Script - Michael Carroll
Art - Mark Sexton
Colours - Len O' Grady
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Michael Carroll kicks off the first multi-part Judge Dredd thriller of the year, focusing on a missing person case that appears to reveal corruption and misdeeds at the heart of the Cadet Judge selection process. Corruption in the Justice Department has always been a plot device that writers have drawn upon, but recently it seems to be recurring more frequently with stories like “Bender”, “Mega City Confidential” and “Blood of the Emeralds” all exploring Judicial misconduct in a variety of different ways. Here, by concentrating on the grief of the parents, Carroll hooks the reader into the mystery with the emotional bait, and I'm ready to be reeled in for the rest of the mystery.

"Gaze into the fist of... oh, you know the rest"

This story marks the debut for new art-droid Mark Sexton, who Tharg reveals is an Australian storyboard artist who had recently worked on the film, Mad Max: Fury Road. I was struck by how wonderfully detailed his panels were, and his take on Dredd himself feels very reminiscent of Chris Weston's style. That first panel on the second page, which reveals Dredd in the doorway is a  brilliant self-assured debut on the character, effortlessly communicating his hard-ass personality with one single pose. I also loved the bold colour choices made by Len O'Grady, which works perfectly with Sexton's inks, giving it a distinctive look that suits the series. I am very impressed by this new art-droid and look forward to seeing him quickly fall into the regular roster of Judge Dredd artists in the future.



KINGDOM - BEAST OF EDEN (Part 3)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - Richard Elson
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Richard Elson takes the lead on this episode of Kingdom with a fantastically choreographed action sequence that, as Tharg himself notes, feels heavily influenced by Mad Max: Fury Road. There's a genuine sense of danger throughout this installment as most of Gene's pack are killed during the chaos, including long-time supporting character Tommy Hawk, who suffers one of the goriest deaths in the series at the hands of a spit-bug. It's great to see the series developing in scale from the small skirmishes between Gene and Them seen in the initial storyline to these huge battles across the desert. The introduction of a mysterious hatch, much like in LOST, has piqued my curiosity and I am very interested to see where Dan Abnett plans to go with this, as I have felt like the series has felt dominated by its action sequences lately and needs some narrative thrust to push it forward.



THE ORDER - IN THE COURT OF THE WYRMQUEEN (Part 3)
Script - Kek-W
Art - John Burns
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Three episodes in and the first concrete link between the two books is made as Kek-W reveals that Daniel Calhoun has been infected with Ritterstahl's memories, with the ginger-haired Irishman compelled to locate “Anna Cole”, presumably an English derivation of her original name, Anna Kohl. Kek-W dangles some more morsels of plot to the hungry reader in the form of Calhoun's rantings, suggesting that Queen Elizabeth I is actually a Wyrmqueen in disguise and may be corrupting the Royal Court. Rather than spelling things out, the plot seems to be developing organically from the events and I'm very impressed with the way that Kek-W has plotted this sequel, bringing the themes of the original into a whole new era. I love the way that Kek-W explores the concept of legacy heroes in The Order, which feels like a mash-up between Watchmen and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, substituting the well-trodden Victorian era for Elizabethan London instead.


John Burns is producing some absolutely legendary artwork here, imbuing the series with an atmosphere that practically rises off of the page. He is the perfect choice for this romp through the Elizabethan era, and I love the colour choices he has made throughout these last few installments, making Calhoun's distinctive red hair stand out from every panel it is featured in. The final panel, which features a Terminator-esque “Come with me if you want to live” moment is a great cliff-hanger and indicates a reunion of sorts between Anna and Ritterstahl in the next installment. I am looking forward to seeing Kek-W fill in the blanks between the two series with these two characters, and creating some firmer continuity between the two time periods. I'm very glad that this series has returned to the Prog, after what was initially assumed to be a one-off outing – I would love to see the series do a Blackadder and advance throughout the various historical timelines, possibly even ending up with Ritterstahl sending his mechanic body back to the time period of the original series.



THE A.B.C. WARRIORS - RETURN TO RO-BUSTERS (Part 3)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - Clint Langley
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Pat Mills continues to court nostalgia with this latest episode of “Return to Ro-Busters” as he revisits a common theme of the original Ro-Busters storylines and has Hammerstein and Ro-Jaws facing destruction at the hands of Mek-Quake. Whereas they'd usually get a last minute reprieve, Mills shows no signs in making things that easy for the robot double-act and has Ro-Jaws undergo painful torture, all the whilst maintaining his trademark unruly attitude. Given how this story is transpiring, I'm guessing it is set to fill in some of the blanks between the final Ro-Busters story-arc and the re-emergence of the ABC Warriors in Nemesis the Warlock.


I'm really enjoying the blend of computer graphics and hand-drawn artwork that Clint Langley brings to the strip, alternating between art styles for the scenes featuring Howard Quartz and the more rough and ready sequences featuring Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein. I love the grind-house feel that Langley brings to Mek-Quake's lair, with bits of robots strewn across the floor in a gruesome display. This rougher style certainly emphasises the brutality of Mek-Quake's “big jobs” and makes the fact the duo aren't given an instant reprieve, all the more shocking. Obviously, given this is a flashback, we know that the two robots will make it through this somehow, but it's interesting to see Pat Mills play against expectations and develop 'cliff-hangers' within an established narrative.



STRONTIUM DOG - REPO MEN (Part 3)
Script - John Wagner
Art - Carlos Ezquerra
Letters - Simon Bowland

With the addition of humourous 'Lonely Cosmos' travel tips into the story's narrative, John Wagner has once again tapped into that nostalgic charm that makes his Strontium Dog stories so much fun. It's a fantastic narrative device that not only allows the writer to flesh out this new alien planet through a faux-tour guide, but also allows him to create humour. I'm really enjoying the Ocean's Eleven atmosphere to this story as Johnny attempts to lead his crew of friends, foes and in-between on a wonderfully complex heist. While I really enjoyed the previous adventure, “The Stix Fix”, the addition of this supporting cast has elevated “Repo Men” far beyond it, capturing that old-school Strontium Dog magic. The term “instant classic” gets tossed around a lot, but it is the best way to describe this current wave of Strontium Dog stories, following on from “The Life and Death of Johnny Alpha”.

One major ingredient in crafting these “instant classics” is Carlos Ezquerra, whose artwork brings a timeless quality to these stories. If these were printed in black and white, you'd almost mistake them for missing tales from the Starlord era! While this storyline is still firmly in the set-up phase, with Wagner placing the various pieces on the narrative chess-board and introducing Chekhov Gun's left, right and centre; it remains an entertaining read, thanks to the wit of the 'Lonely Cosmos' guide and the banter between 'Johnny's Nine'. This series feels like the narrative equivalent of a roller-coaster, currently making its ascent and heading towards the pinnacle where it will become a white-knuckle ride for the readers. If only Strontium Dog could be a permanent fixture like Judge Dredd...



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

Once again, we have another fantastic Prog with multiple stories vying for the position of “Thrill of the Week”, ultimately I have to say that The Order was the one that I enjoyed the most this week, although both Judge Dredd and Strontium Dog were strong contenders for the title. I'm really enjoying the mix of stories in this current line-up and the balance of nostalgic strips (The ABC Warriors, Strontium Dog) contrasted against newer series, such as The Order and Kingdom. It's a great time to be a 2000AD fan, with long-term readers rewarded with some classic thrills that feel just as fresh and ground-breaking today as they did when they debuted in the seventies.


Thrill of the Week: The Order 


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1963 will be available in stores on Wednesday 13th January - Digital copies of this Prog will be available on the same day through the standalone 2000AD app, which can be downloaded onto iOS and Android devices.

Keep checking back each week for more reviews and features about 2000AD, the Galaxy's Greatest Comic! Remember to leave your comments below, or contact me on Twitter or through my Facebook page!

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