Wednesday, 9 March 2016

2000AD Prog 1971

Prog 1971 Cover by Tiernen Trevallion

This truly magnificent cover from Tiernen Trevallion's expertly captures the epic nature of the events occurring in this Prog's episode of The Order. As much as I love John Burns' interior artwork on the strip, this cover blew me away – whereas Burns opts for a green colour palette in his artwork, I really like the grey tones that Trevallion brings to the piece, which helps provide an historical atmosphere to the artwork. His more intricate design of the Wyrmqueen is impressive as well, making the creature look like one of the Graboids from the Tremors franchise somehow transported to Elizabethan England. Actually, someone copyright that – that's a fantastic idea for a film! I absolutely adore this cover piece, and it is shaping up to be a strong contender for the illustrious position of '2000AD Cover of the Year'.


JUDGE DREDD - UNDERCOVER KLEGG (Part 3)
Script - Rob Williams
Art - D'Israeli
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

It's hard to believe we're already at the penultimate episode of “Survival Klegg” as I could quite happy read months of this odd-couple storyline. Rob Williams plays against expectations and keeps the majority of the story away from the Peace Treaty signing, where I thought a comedy of errors would ensue over the Klegg attempting to maintain cover and instead sends Dredd and Klegg on a romp through the Sino-Cit jungles. Williams' dialogue sparkles throughout with some excellent one-liners and it's clear that he is revelling in the humourous set-up he has created – it's just a shame that he has had to squeeze it into four episodes as I'm sure there could have been more opportunities for humour with this conceit. There are several laugh-out-loud moments throughout the adventure, not least the section where Sensitive Klegg ends up with a Sino-Cit terrorist in his rectum. I'm really enjoying this light-hearted tone to the adventure and Williams strikes the right balance between slapstick comedy and Dredd's irritated inner monologues to achieve comedy gold.


D'Israeli is doing an amazing job with the art for this storyline, capturing the anarchic tone of the plot with ease. I love his unconventional take on Dredd himself, not to mention the cartoonish Sensitive Klegg. The use of vibrant colours is just fantastic – with Mark Sexton's impressive debut earlier in the year and D'Israeli's work here, Judge Dredd seems to be attracting a bevy of talented artists to work on the series this year. Not that this is an unusual occurrence, given the likes of Henry Flint, Greg Staples and Colin MacNeil working on the strip last year. While I am slightly apprehensive about the amount of story that Williams has to cram into the final episode, I am confident that he will pull off this seemingly impossible feat with the same skill he has demonstrated in this past three episodes. I hope that he leaves the door open for Sensitive Klegg to return in the near future as the character is shaping up to be one of the best additions to the Judge Dredd universe over the last decade. Williams is fast proving himself as to be an exemplary Judge Dredd script-writer, producing pitch-perfect stories ranging from blockbuster action to oddball humour-led tales.



KINGDOM - BEAST OF EDEN (Part 11)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - Richard Elson
Letters - Ellie de Ville

This penultimate episode of Kingdom is full of status-quo shattering revelations as for the first time in the series' history, Dan Abnett gives the Neosectus (aka “Them”) a voice as Numan uses his pheromone translator on the Them King. Not only that, but he also reintroduces the ticks from “The Promised Land” as a third faction in this war, placing them as an aggressor against the Neosectus that scares them more than the Humans and Aux. While most of this storyline, and its predecessor, have focused on huge scale battle sequences and carnage, it is these past couple of episodes that have greatly developed the series as a whole, providing readers with a glimpse of what the future holds for Gene and the rest of the Aux. I'm really enjoying the increased complexities that Abnett is introducing to the series with the Masters seemingly planning something to combat Them, as well as this “civil war” between Them and the Ticks.


Richard Elson remains the heart of this series with his sense-shattering artwork providing some absolutely gorgeous visuals. There's no denying the calibre of talent on display here as Elson seamlessly switches from the tense first conversation between Neosectus and Human into the chaotic fight sequence that sees Numan lose an arm and Gene engaging the Them King. While the earlier fight scenes lacked any real emotional impact, focusing on this smaller group of Aux and Humans has raised the stakes and made me eager to find out how this latest skirmish will end. While there was an element of predictability about earlier battles, there are multiple ways that Abnett could continue the story from here. Personally, I think it might end with Gene and whoever survives this latest attack boarding the Masters' ship and travelling to their off-world location, possibly reuniting Gene and Leezee Sower, as well as addressing the curious mystery surrounding the Masters' weaponisation. I eagerly anticipate the next episode to see where Abnett decides to go with this storyline as my interest in Kingdom's future reaches an all-time high.



THE ORDER - IN THE COURT OF THE WYRMQUEEN (Part 11)
Script - Kek-W
Art - John Burns
Letters - Ellie de Ville

This penultimate episode of The Order is filled with high-octane action as the various members of this latest iteration of The Order of Ouroboros deals with the emerging Wyrmqueen. Kek-W and John Burns work together like a well-oiled machine, not unlike the steam-punk inventions that pervade the series' anachronistic narrative – it's great to see writer and artist come together to create a such a strong series, with its rich atmosphere dripping off the pages and into my lap. Burns' artwork just screams out “swashbuckling adventure” with every brush stroke, which is what made it such a brilliant fit for the sea-pirate era of Nikolai Dante and an absolutely amazing choice for this medieval romp. While I loved Tiernen Trevallion's cover art for this Prog, there really is no better artist for this series than John Burns – I honestly can't imagine anyone else interpreting Kek-W's story with as much energy and authenticity as Burns.


Given that this is the penultimate installment, I am a little concerned that next Prog's conclusion may be slightly rushed and I sincerely hope that Kek-W allows the characters the opportunity to carry over onto the next series of The Order, without performing another time jump Blackadder-style into another era. I've really enjoyed the odd mix of new characters introduced throughout this story and Kek-W has done a tremendous job at building them up organically to side alongside existing characters such as Ritterstahl and Anna Kohl. I've really been impressed with the subtleties used throughout the series, telling the story through the character's dialogue in a natural way rather than relying on heavy exposition and invasive narration boxes explaining the situation. While the first series of The Order had some flaws in its storytelling at times, this second series has greatly surpassed the original and improved upon it in almost every way. Depending on the outcome of next Prog's concluding episode, I hope Tharg commissions a third series, as The Order has been one of the most consistently entertaining strips of this current line-up.



THE A.B.C. WARRIORS - RETURN TO RO-BUSTERS (Part 11)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - Clint Langley
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Thrust back into the future, we're treated to Clint Langley's fabulous computer-generated artwork, which immerses the strip in a fresh 'coat of paint' that highlights the metallic and technological aspects of the series in a way that his black and white style was unable to. I love the designs of the ABC Warriors, as Langley brings them to life with such realism. The detail on these robots is staggering and I look forward to the day when the entire ABC Warriors strip is illustrated in this manner, removing the need for flashbacks. Despite the transition into the modern-era of the series, there is little action as the ABC Warriors head towards Ro-Jaws' last-known location in an effort to obtain the Defiance Code from the sewer droid. The script features some more of Pat Mills' brilliant twists on modern-technology with Blackblood sending the other ABC Warriors “scam thought-mails” designed to trick them out of their savings. As much as I enjoyed the nostalgic Ro-Busters elements of this storyline, I must admit I was hoping for some more forward momentum on the current status-quo, especially since it looks like the climax will involve the ABC Warriors reuniting with Ro-Jaws. Going forward, the next series of The ABC Warriors really needs to move away from the introspective flashback format and offer readers more action in the current-day timeline, otherwise it will become too stale.



STRONTIUM DOG - REPO MEN (Part 11)
Script - John Wagner
Art - Carlos Ezquerra
Letters - Simon Bowland

This concluding episode of Strontium Dog ends the current storyline “Repo Men” with a whimper, rather than a bang as John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra tie up the loose ends, including an ironic ending that cements Shaggy Fuzz's position as the dumbest Strontium Dog there is. Interestingly, Wagner drops hints that Johnny plans to reform the Search/Destroy agency which suggests more stories with this eclectic cast of supporting characters, which I wholeheartedly support! I've really enjoyed this nostalgic take on the series, which feels reminiscent of the “untold stories” between 2008 – 2012, which preceded the resurrection of Johnny Alpha in “The Life and Death of Johnny Alpha”.

While I enjoyed this particular tale, it seemed to lack any real sense of suspense and everything seemed to work out perfectly for the Strontium Dogs, despite the apparent impossible nature of the plan. I guess I was hoping for more near-misses and close-calls than were actually seen in the story. The whole affair felt a bit like Strontium Dog meets Only Fools and Horses and lacked any real sense of danger and dilemma. While that does sound overly critical, I must stress that I really enjoyed seeing the Wagner/Ezquerra dream-team in action, but I hope that when the series returns, it has a bit more bite to it, more in line with the action and adventure seen in last year’s “The Stix Fix” storyline.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

In a Prog filled with penultimate episodes, there were plenty of cliff-hanger endings on display here, but only Kingdom managed to capture my interest as Dan Abnett threw in plenty of twists and turns into the series' status-quo. Ultimately, my choice for “Thrill of the Week” goes to Judge Dredd again as Rob Williams and D'Israeli produce another flawless chapter of the “Undercover Klegg” storyline, although I am worried that there are too many loose ends to be tied up in the final episodes without upsetting the pace of the storyline. While the majority of the stories teased one final cliff-hanger, Strontium Dog came to a satisfactory end without much shake-up – I hope when the series returns, Wagner continues to utilise the motley crew of Strontium Dogs he has assembled in this adventure as Johnny Alpha works best with partners to balance his taciturn demeanour.

With a new jumping-on point on the horizon, Tharg teases some of the stories waiting in the wings, ready to debut in Prog 1973. First off, there is a sequel to the deliciously dark Dreams of Deadworld entitled Tainted: Fall of Deadworld, which reunites Kek-W and Dave Kendall for another horror series looking into Deadworld's past. This is great news as the original four-part Dreams of Deadworld was a fantastically gruesome glimpse into the untold history of Judge Dredd's greatest foes. Secondly, Tharg teases the return of Survival Geeks by Emma Beeby, Gordon Rennie and series artist, Neil Googe. Filled with pop culture references and spoofs of geekdom, this light-hearted comedy strip is the perfect balance to Tainted: Fall of Deadworld's Gothic horror, suggesting that Tharg is once again offering his loyal readers a varied mix of genres in his latest line-up of stories.

Thrill of the Week: Judge Dredd


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1971 will be available in stores on Wednesday 9th March - 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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