Wednesday, 23 March 2016

2000AD Prog 1973

Prog 1973 Cover by Mark Sexton

Fresh off of his recent stint on the Judge Dredd storyline, “Ghosts”, art droid Mark Sexton has produced this excellent cover image for this jumping-on Prog. It certainly feels like a quintessential “new readers friendly” cover with its iconic imagery of Judge Dredd and Mega-City One. As with Sexton's work on “Ghosts”, I was struck by the level of detail in his background images with street signs and citizens used to populate the city. My only nit-pick is regarding Dredd's Lawgiver, which looks a bit misshapen here, as if the angle isn't quite right. Other than that, it's a great cover debut for the artist, who seems to be quickly slipping into the roster of great Judge Dredd artists with a clear line-work that evokes memories of legendary artists, Brian Bolland and Chris Weston.

Script - Michael Carroll
Art - Colin MacNeil
Colours - Len O'Grady
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Michael Carroll and Colin MacNeil reunite for another Judge Dredd adventure – one that nicely dovetails with their previous collaboration, “Blood of the Emeralds”, demonstrating Carroll's knack for juggling left-over plot threads. I suspect that this is merely a nod to the reader to let them know that both Dredd and Joyce still have to deal with the consequences of their last visit to the Emerald Isle, rather than a direct threat for this storyline. Once again, the Justice Department's thinning resources and desire to portray outward strength to their allies and enemies is the central theme of this storyline, creating continuity across the series' writers in the wake of Chaos Day. Carroll does a great job at care-taking the status-quo of the series whilst John Wagner is away from the strip, building up his own sub-plots and storylines within the post-DOC framework. One can't help but feel that this 'house of cards' that Chief Judge Hershey is building will collapse at the slightest push, causing even more dramatic changes to the Judge Dredd universe.

Colin MacNeil's artwork remains as impeccable as ever, bringing his years of experience with the character to the storyline. I am immediately comforted whenever I see his artwork on Judge Dredd as you know that it is going to be a strong storyline – often vital in its importance. They don't waste an artist of MacNeil's caliber on a sub-par story arc! As this is another jumping-on point for new readers, MacNeil is an inspired choice for this storyline, recognisable to even the most casual reader as the artist behind “America” – the most important Judge Dredd story ever published. Carroll quickly gets Dredd and his group out into the Cursed Earth, but it seems that this is more than a simple case of raiders attacking Mega City-One food stores. It'll be interesting to see what long-term ramifications this storyline will have for Dredd and his world, especially as the Justice Department continue to loose their grip on power.

Script - Eddie Robson
Art - Jake Lynch
Letters - Simon Bowland

Veteran Tharg's 3rillers script droid, Eddie Robson, returns to the format with another urban slice of science-fiction, this time subverting the classic “haunted house” template with a tale of squatters being victimised by spirits in a derelict new-build. Robson does a great job at instilling everyday realism into his scripts before he flicks the switch and lets the crazy out, and he has demonstrated a firm grasp of the three-act narrative structure over the past few years with his various Tharg's 3rillers adventures. Jake Lynch's sketch-like artwork is a great fit for this contemporary urban horror, immediately creating a recognisable atmosphere for Robson's script to unfold. Given that this is a jumping-on point for new readers, it is a great decision to include a Tharg's 3riller into this current line-up, giving readers a complete “three-part” adventure to enjoy from the beginning to the end without any prior knowledge. With a bold confidence to his script, Eddie Robson demonstrates why he has become the “go-to name” for Tharg's 3rillers, with an uncanny ability to condense his adventures down to a three episode format.

Script - Gordon Rennie & Emma Beeby
Art - Neil Googe
Colours - Gary Caldwell
Letters - Ellie de Ville

One of the most recent Tharg's 3rillers to make the transition to full series, Survival Geeks takes a number of common pop-culture and science-fiction tropes and blends them together to produce a light-hearted romp through parallel dimensions. Wrapped up in some brilliantly frenetic Neil Googe artwork, Survival Geeks always offers some levity to 2000AD's line-up, with its cast of geeks sent to increasingly outlandish post-apocalyptic situations. It's great fun and it's clear Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby are having fun with their central concept – this time focusing on the familiar science-fiction storyline of a gender-swapped alternate cast. It's fun to see our cast of male geeks visualised as female versions, particularly the drugged-out stoner, whose female counterpart seems to have accrued psychic powers. Neil Googe does a great job at capturing the series' spirit of madcap adventure with another high-octane chase sequence to open the storyline. Googe is a fantastic choice for artist, with his style reflecting the pop-culture bravado of the series whilst creating some fabulous post-apocalyptic set-pieces for its heroes to escape. It might not be the most high-brow of 2000AD stories, but it offers a lovely bit of contrast to the tense sci-fi and ultra-violence seen elsewhere in the Prog, providing a much needed burst of mischief.

Script - Kek-W
Art - Dave Kendall
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

After the success of the stand-out Dreams of Deadworld mini-series, which examined the Four Dark Judges ahead of their chronological first appearances, Tharg has re-teamed Kek-W and Dave Kendall to create a prequel series set within the Fall of Deadworld, previously only depicted in Young Death: Boyhood of a Superfiend. Dave Kendall's artwork is wonderfully haunting and really captures the mood of a world on its last legs as disease and pestilence run rife through the farmyard crops. While it might not sound like a compliment, this opening episode feels reminiscent of an M. Night Shyamalan film, evoking memories of the director's apocalyptic thrillers such as Signs and The Happening.

As seen with his fantastic work on The Order, Kek-W manages to quickly build up his supporting cast through naturalistic dialogue – a technique that works well with Dave Kendall's evocative artwork to create a tangible post-apocalyptic atmosphere. There's something genuinely unsettling about that final panel when a Judge's Lawmaster, carrying an injured Judge, appears at the scene. Kek-W is clearly channelling masters of horror and suspense through his script here, bringing a shade of Stephen King to this tale of Deadworld. I'm really enjoying this more personal and intimate take on the “Fall of Deadworld” compared the more blockbuster approach seen in Dreams of Deadworld, focusing on this extended family of farmers who are struggling to survive against the end of days – it's a brilliant narrative technique and promises some fantastic storyline potential in the future.

Script - Gordon Rennie
Art - Paul Davidson
Colours - Len O' Grady
Letters - Simon Bowland

After a two year hiatus, Aquila returns to the pages of 2000AD with a change in artist and what appears to be a fresh new direction for the series. Paul Davidson maintains the gore quotient with his artwork – a vital ingredient for this gritty Ancient Rome revenge-fantasy – whilst providing brighter backgrounds and more clarity to his panels than seen from his predecessor, Leigh Gallagher. Perfect for a jumping-on point, this episode reintroduces the two lead characters – although it fails to nail them both – and gives us a glimpse at their personalities through their reactions to the gladiatorial combat occurring before them. I was struck at how similar the set-up is to Slaine and Ukko, with the stern but silent muscle-bound hero accompanied by a morally-corrupt weakling, obsessed with money. It's clearly a recipe that works and Gordon Rennie does a great job at establishing the relationship between the pair.

Davidson is a great choice of artist to replace Leigh Gallagher, capturing the visceral violence of Ancent Rome with ease. I also liked his character designs for Charon and Mercury, the two “cleaners” of the arena floor – Aquila has long featured grotesque creatures from Ancient Rome mythology and I look forward to seeing how Davidson brings the various monsters to the page. There are plenty of similarities to be had here between Aquila and Slaine, and yet room enough for both series to co-exist in 2000AD's stable of thrills. Relatively undeveloped as a series, Aquila is rife with potential and I really like the enigmatic central character. My only concern is the lack of central narrative – the previous storylines revolving around Emperor Nero's attempts to ascend to godhood were thrilling and offered a great villain to overcome, but with that story-arc resolved, I wonder where Rennie plans to take the character next.


In terms of appealing to new readers, Prog 1973 was an unmitigated success, offering five brand-new stories that welcomed new and lapsed readers into the fold. The opening installment of “The Grindstone Cowboys” provided an entry-level view in Judge Dredd's world, sending the titular Judge into the Cursed Earth to apprehend a group of raiders. Even the returning series, Survival Geeks and Aquila were positioned as introductory episodes, giving new readers the opportunity to quickly familiarise themselves with these bold new worlds. Tharg also presented readers with completely brand-new stories in the form of Tharg's 3rillers and Tainted: Fall of Deadworld, ensuring that both new and old readers started off on the same playing field.

Ultimately, Tainted: Fall of Deadworld stood out for me as “Thrill of the Week”, thanks to the combined efforts of Kek-W's script and Dave Kendall's amazingly emotive artwork. With a mix of ultra-violence and pop-culture craziness, this current line-up of stories certainly showcases 2000AD's eclectic tastes, offering a broad mix of genres for readers to sample. It's like stuffing your faces at a buffet without worrying about paying any charges for unfinished food – even if you don't like that side portion of Tharg's 3riller, there will be someone else there who does! Tharg also teases the imminent arrivals of Slaine and Brink, offering further diversity to his current line-up of adventures. Yet again, it's a glorious time to be a 2000AD fan and no other comics publisher works as hard to reach new readers – if you're even the slightest bit curious, pick up this “jumping-on” Prog and see what you've been missing for the past thirty-nine years!

Thrill of the Week: Tainted: Fall of Deadworld

The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1973 will be available in stores on Wednesday 23rd 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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