Wednesday, 11 May 2016

2000AD Prog 1980

Prog 1980 Cover by Clint Langley

It’s great to see Clint Langley producing cover art featuring characters that he isn't usually associated with. While the artist predominately works on The ABC Warriors and Slaine, his computer-generated artwork is a fantastic fit for The Four Dark Judges as he is able to convey a sinister supernatural atmosphere with his highly detailed and multi-textured images. There’s even a subtle nod to the eventual fate of ‘Deadworld’ with the faint outline of a skull overlaid upon the image of the Earth, and I love the imposing image of Judge Death leering over the planet. While it may contrast against the more low-key goings-on in Tainted: The Fall of Deadworld, it’s a great mood-setting piece and will certain attract attention on the newsagent shelf.

Script - Michael Carroll
Art - PJ Holden
Colours - Adam Brown
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Let's deal with the elephant in the room first, shall we? Looks like Judge Dredd isn't as dead as everyone thought, and while it might not be a total surprise, I was shocked that Michael Carroll tipped his hand so early on. I'm very interested to find out what exactly happened on that Med-Wagon and why Brit-Cit wants Hershey and Mega-City One to think that Dredd was dead, but keep him alive. Surely, it would be easier to kill him off – clearly they have some long-term plan that involves keeping Dredd alive. Since this adventure begun, they've wanted to get their hands on Judge Joyce and Dredd for their role in the Murphyville Spaceport massacre, so presumably this was their way of getting ahold of them. Perhaps Dredd and Joyce are pawns in a game between the Emerald Isle and Brit-Cit? Still, the mystery surrounding Texas City seems to be connected as their Chief Judge seems to be taking advantage of Hershey's weakened state. Sure, the death of Judge Dredd was something of a red herring, but there's no denying that Michael Carroll is shaking up the status-quo of the series here and with the speculation over Dredd's fate reduced, I am very interested to find out the motivations behind the various power-plays going on.

As one would expect from that final page cliff-hanger, my attention has been on Dredd and the ramifications that his 'resurrection' poses for the remainder of this story-arc, so I haven't really focused on Judge Joyce. Carroll makes a point to mention that his captors are pretending to have Irish accents, adding another layer of mystery onto proceedings as the readers attempt to piece together the puzzle laid out in front of them. There's so much going-on here that it makes sense for the mega-epic to be spread across both 2000AD and Judge Dredd Megazine, and already it seems like it's shaping up to be a perfect storm of storytelling from the Carroll droid. PJ Holden continues to do a fantastic job of bringing Brit-Cit to life, especially with another sneaky cameo from a bus-driver droid that looks like Blakey from On The Buses. I love the attention to detail in Holden's artwork and the way he balances the modern elements of 22nd Century Brit-Cit against recognisable elements from our own Britain. While I was initially disappointed that the mystery over Dredd's 'death' was resolved, I soon realised that there is still plenty of story left to be told and I am very eager to see how the dual narratives progress over the next two months.

BRINK (Part 3)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - INJ Culbard
Letters - Simon Bowland

Even though this entire episode consists of two characters talking and a couple of interruptions, it was absolutely brilliant and showcased Dan Abnett's skill at writing naturalistic dialogue that not only develops the character's personalities but also provides easy, flowing exposition to the reader. Three episodes in and I absolutely love the handy info-blurbs that inform and remind readers of key information – it totally fits in with the vibe of the series, but also serves a practical use. Maybe it's the focus on the futuristic habitat and the down-to-earth atmosphere of the series, but Brink feels very reminiscent of The Ballad of Halo Jones and Abnett's world-building is on par with Alan Moore's impeccable work on that 2000AD classic. INJ Culbard's artwork continues to impress, and despite the lack of action, he manages to keep the pace flowing alongside Abnett's sparkling dialogue. I loved the attention to detail with the food outlet opening behind the pair and Brinkmann heading off to pick up his Soy-Dogs from the vendor. Not content to rely on old favourites, 2000AD is genuinely creating modern  classics here with Brink, and recent successes, Brass Sun and Helium. If you're a fan of independent comics and smart science-fiction storytelling like Saga, East of West and Low, then why the hell aren't you reading 2000AD?

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

Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby continue to poke fun at geek culture in this penultimate episode of the current Survival Geeks storyline, opening up with a flashback sequence that showcases Kev’s inability to latch onto the cool elements of geekdom, choosing Buck Rogers over Star Wars, for example. It’s a great opportunity for Neil Googe to showcase his immense artistic talents as he continues to litter his panels with wonderful references to classic sci-fi pop culture references, including a rather sexy version of the Fourth Doctor being cosplayed by a girl. While this episode is largely transitional and focuses on reuniting the four Survival Geeks to do battle with Kev and his otherworldly persona, Rennie and Beeby ensure that the dialogue remains sharp throughout and continuing to flesh out the characters into distinctive roles. While I might not remember all their names, I am growing fond of the group and the way they work together as they travel through the doomed parallel dimensions. While some of the characters still feel slightly under-developed at times, Survival Geeks provides a welcome breath of fresh air in the Prog, offering an extremely accessible entry-point for new readers to get to grips with, thanks to its elevator-pitch concept and frequent references to familiar pop culture touchpoints.

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

Okay, I admit it, I was wrong. My theory that Judge Fairfax was to be revealed as the civilian identity of one of the Dark Judges, namely Judge Fear, was completely off the mark. After holding off on showing the Dark Judges in this story, Kek-W uses this episode as a roll-call of all the big names as Judge Death checks the progress of his lieutenants. It's really interesting to see them working to bring about the downfall of Deadworld, as evidenced by Judge Fear's horrific inversion of the hot-dog run or Judge Mortis' foul pollution of the water supply to spread dead fluids. Interestingly, the Sisters of Death receive a vision of the Judge Child – initially, I thought this was the character from Judge Dredd, but could it be that little girl at the end of this storyline is the equivalent of the Judge Child on this world?

As the series races to its crescendo, I'm finding myself on the edge of my seat. This has been a wickedly subversive ride through the origins of Deadworld, and a fun expansion of the Dark Judges' histories. While the characters are doomed to failure in Judge Dredd, this series allows them the opportunity to cause as much devastation as they wish without any consequences. With “Dark Justice” and Dreams of Deadworld last year, 2000AD has done a fantastic job in making the Dark Judges scary again, after a brief flirtation with parody, and it would be great to see these characters realised in live-action in a Dredd mini-series. Kek-W and Dave Kendall have produced a wonderfully horrific Gothic fantasy in this series, and proved that “untold origins” can be equally as exciting and enthralling as current-day adventures.

Script - Pat Mills
Art - Simon Davis
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Continuing the fight scene from the previous issue, this episode sees Simon Davis cut loose with his incredible interpretations of a Warp-spasmed Slaine and a disfigured Primordial battling against each other. Rather than letting the visuals lead the story, Pat Mills continues to make use of a slightly intrusive narration technique as the Lord Weird commentates over the violence, which distracts and slows down the action somewhat. While I appreciate that Mills wants to emphasise Slaine’s position as an illegitimate child, it does feel like an unnecessary director’s commentary running over the top of your favourite movie, or Harrison Ford’s voice-over on the original theatrical cut of Blade Runner. Sometimes less is more, and I think that Simon Davis' visuals work extremely well as a storytelling device on their own.

However despite these criticisms, the Lord Weird’s monologue does also 'explain' the reason for Gort’s defection at the end of this episode, so while it feels intrusive, it does provide a use in the end. I'm still divided on my thoughts of this series as I absolutely love Simon Davis’ work, but still find myself frustrated by the slow meandering pace of this series at times. Hopefully now that Gort and Slaine have resolved their differences to team up against the Cyth, we should get some forward momentum on the main storyline and hopefully see it move in a new direction. Despite my minor gripes with this current storyline, I have to say that I'm still greatly enjoying Davis and Mills’ partnership on the series and it is shaping up to be one of the strongest ‘eras’ that Slaine has ever seen.


In a Prog where Judge Dredd is revealed to be alive, Slaine is nearly beaten to death and a little girl swears vengeance on the undead, it is somewhat surprising that my choice for 'Thrill of the Week' is an episode that consisted of two people having a conversation and being interrupted by others whilst travelling on a spacecraft, but Brink is really that good! Everything about Dan Abnett and INJ Culbard's space-cop procedural drama is hitting my sweet spot at the moment and it's truly awe-inspiring to see two masters of their craft working together seamlessly to produce something fantastic. As with Brass Sun and Helium, this story has “instant classic” written all over it and I hope 2000AD market it to the mass-market through its US-sized collected editions once complete.

While I was initially disappointed that Judge Dredd was so quickly revealed to be alive, I soon realised that the story isn't about the mystery over whether he was dead or alive and is in fact about Mega-City One losing its position of power in the world as other cities scramble for a piece of the action. Michael Carroll is doing a fantastic job on script duties and there is a genuine feeling of unease surrounding this mega-epic. Interestingly, Tharg teases an upcoming Judge Dredd story in this Prog's letters page. Drawn by Carlos Ezquerra, it cannot be named for fear of causing “uncontrolled mass speculation” - could this be the real death of Judge Dredd, and this whole scenario has been a warm-up? One thing you can say about 2000AD is that it's never predictable, and 2016 is already shaping up to be a momentous year in its thirty-nine year history!

Thrill of the Week: Brink

The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1980 will be available in stores on Wednesday 11th May - 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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