Wednesday, 18 May 2016

2000AD Prog 1981

Prog 1981 Cover by Jon Davis-Hunt

Ironically, this cover to Prog 1981 celebrates the recent reveal that Judge Dredd isn't as dead as it seemed, but Dredd himself doesn't actually feature in this week's installment of “The Lion's Den”. Regardless, this is a powerful image from Jon Davis-Hunt, although some have mocked it as being Dredd constipated on the toilet. To me, it feels reminiscent of the cover to Prog 1690 by Greg Staples, which depicted Dredd on the Chief Judge's throne – it also reminds me of the famous Abraham Lincoln statue at Washington DC, or perhaps I'm reading far too much into it. I love the attention to detail on Dredd's tattered uniform and the grizzled expression on his face – my only nitpick is the size of his helmet (ooh, err) which seems to be a bit too wide for his head, although it could be an optical illusion. 



JUDGE DREDD - THE LION'S DEN (Part 4)
Script - Michael Carroll
Art - PJ Holden
Colours - Adam Brown
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Despite the surprising reveal that Judge Dredd is alive and in Brit-Cit custody, this episode of “The Lion’s Den” concentrates more on Judge Joyce’s precarious situation as he attempts to escape his would-be assassins and reach his allies. Alongside this more immediate plot-thread, Michael Carroll continues to sow seeds of future problems as Texas City begins to integrate its Judges into Mega-City One, hinting at a possible takeover and civil war. In exchange for providing aid and resources, it seems that Texas City wants to edge a tired Chief Judge Hershey out of the picture and introduce new laws that mirror their own. It’s not clear whether this ties into the current Brit-Cit storyline, but it certainly seems like Mega-City One is under threat from all sides.


Carroll’s script is full of intrigue and crackles with all the suspense of a good political thriller. Just like Judge Joyce, the reader feels out of their depth and removed from their comfort-zone, making for a suitably thrilling narrative. The temporary loss of Dredd adds a distinct feeling of vulnerability to the Judge Dredd universe that really hasn't been felt since “Necropolis” / “The Dead Man”, and makes it an exciting time to be a 2000AD reader. PJ Holden is doing a tremendous job on art duties, capturing the juxtaposition of styles in Brit-Cit and giving iconic landmarks a futuristic polish, as well as adding little easter eggs into the background – It’s somewhat comforting to know that Gregg’s survives through into the 22nd Century. Holden’s use of dark colours and heavy shadows helps convey the danger of Joyce’s situation as he attempts to find sanctuary from his enemies. This is shaping up to be a very different type of Judge Dredd mega-epic, focused on political machinations and scheming rather than zombies, undead super-fields or robot warlords.



JUDGE DREDD - DUST TO DUST (Part 2)
Script - Michael Carroll
Art - Henry Flint
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Once again I find myself reviewing the lead Judge Dredd story appearing in Judge Dredd Megazine whilst Michael Carroll weaves his dual narrative mega-epic across both magazines. While most of 2000AD's activity has revolved around Judge Joyce in Brit-Cit, Carroll focuses on resolving the issue of the Grindstone Cowboys within his Megazine story. Partnered with Cursed Earth Koburn, Judge Rico takes the lead in this adventure which sees the two characters joining forces with a tribe of Cursed Earth natives, who look similar to the Native Americans of old. There's a Dances with Wolves vibe about this adventure and it's interesting to see the parallels between this story and the real-life treatment of the Native Americans by the settlers. Interestingly, aside from the link to the Grindstone Cowboys, the storyline seems quite separate from the goings-on in 2000AD at the moment. Those unwilling to buy both magazines could easily skip over the Megazine and still get a coherent narrative, but those who do read both magazines are treated to an interesting side-story about the aftermath of Dredd's 'final mission'.


Cross-overs between multiple titles are a double-edged sword – the writer has to cater for readers who only purchase one magazine, whilst making sure that the supplementary adventures are important enough to warrant the cross-over. Here, Michael Carroll hits the right balance, using his Megazine story to mop up the loose ends left after “The Grindstone Cowboys” ended with a bang. Reading this installment, it seems likely that Thorn and his gang aren't directly related to the Brit-Cit conspiracy currently going on in 2000AD, so I'm guessing that Dredd's abduction from the Medi-Wagon was more about Brit-Cit seizing an opportunity, rather than a pre-mediated plan that involved the co-operation of the Grindstone Cowboys. Henry Flint proves once again why he is one of the fan-favourite artists working on Judge Dredd at the moment as he delivers another brilliant installment. I love his take on the Cursed Earth, and his action sequences are filled with a frenetic pace that evokes memories of the climax to Mad Max II: The Road Warrior. While not essential reading, this is certainly a fun way to deal with the loose plot threads.



BRINK (Part 4)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - INJ Culbard
Letters - Simon Bowland

Moving along at a steady pace, Dan Abnett and INJ Culbard's space-cop procedural continues to impress as our two heroes arrive at Ludmilla Habitat to follow up on their leads about cultists operating in their own area. Abnett's talent for writing realistic and flowing dialogue is on full display here as he continues to develop his two lead characters – Brinkmann and Kurtis. Sure, it's a slow-burner of a story that relies on detective work rather than action sequences but both Abnett and Culbard are so gifted at building worlds, it's easy to get lost in the majesty of the Brink space-station and its evocative locales. Culbard's artwork is absolutely stunning and rich with atmosphere, effortlessly communicating the essence of Ludmilla Habitat to the readers. Aside from establishing the personalities of his leads, Abnett also introduces us to this wonderful new world through the bureaucracy of the HSD and sets up an intriguing new mystery involving religious sects and criminal organisations. It makes for utterly enthralling reading and INJ Culbard's magnificent artwork is literally the icing on the cake. I'm a huge fan of Abnett's past work on Sinister Dexter and Grey Area, but Brink could possibly be his best work for 2000AD yet.



SURVIVAL GEEKS - LORD OF THE RINGERS (Part 4)
Script - Gordon Rennie & Emma Beeby
Art - Neil Googe
Colours - Gary Caldwell
Letters - Ellie de Ville

This current run of Survival Geeks comes to an end this Prog as the reunited Geeks attempt to thwart malcontent Kev in his ultimate form. Once again, writers Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby use Kev as a method to poke fun at some of the less “cool” geekdoms such as My Little Pony, Babylon 5 and Highlander: The Series. For once, brain-box Clive isn't the architect of the solution to the team's problems as every-man Simon realises that Kev craves acceptance and friendship and gives it to him...before throwing him out of the house and stranding him in a parallel dimension. Neil Googe remains impeccable on art duties, capturing a real sense of urgency to the chase throughout the house. I absolutely love his character designs on this series and the series owes a lot of its charm to Googe's unique hyper-frenetic style. I've really enjoyed this elongated run of stories from Survival Geeks, especially in light of the drama occurring elsewhere in the Prog – it's a great laid-back series that doesn't take itself too seriously and celebrates the geekiness and love of sci-fi that all us readers have in common.



TAINTED: THE FALL OF DEADWORLD (Part 9)
Script - Kek-W
Art - Dave Kendall
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

The excellent Tainted: The Fall of Deadworld comes to an action-packed climax in this Prog, tying up some of the immediate loose ends but leaving plenty of opportunity for the inevitable sequel. With most of the supporting cast dead or undead, the series concludes with three surviving characters – Judge Fairfax, Jess and Fairfax's Bike – all three of which have become strong, independent characters over the past nine episodes. It's great to see them all convene after the chaos that has befallen them, and there's a nice Lone Wolf and Cub moment as Fairfax 'adopts' the young girl. I am definitely looking forward to the series returning with these three cast-members and seeing their attempts to survive in a world overtaken by evil. This first series has been a brilliant homage to the 'end of the world' and zombie genre, and I look forward to seeing how Kek-W approaches the follow-up. I'd imagine it'll be the same tonal shift seen between Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, establishing a post-apocalyptic tone.


As much as Kek-W's script has detailed the various horrors befalling the population of 'Deadworld', it was Dave Kendall's haunting artwork that really captured the mood of the series. The original Dreams of Deadworld series originated from Kendall's dreams about the Dark Judges, and it's fantastic that this has spawned a prequel series that provides details behind the downfall of Deadworld. This series has been a firm favourite of mine since it begun in Prog 1973, and each installment has been absolutely flawless – in terms of both art and script. The very nature of a prequel series makes it hard to shock and surprise readers, but by keeping the story focused on everyday survivors instead of the Dark Judges, Kek-W managed to create a strong and emotional storyline that really engaged readers. For me, it's another example of Kek-W's skill at writing characters – coming soon after his sterling work on The Order. While there has been a concerted effort to make the Dark Judges scary again, as seen from last year's “Dark Justice” storyline, Kek-W and Kendall have succeeded in making them truly terrifying.



SLAINE - THE BRUTANIA CHRONICLES: PSYCHOPOMP (Part 3)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - Simon Davis
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Visually, this episode of Slaine ticks all of my boxes with some absolutely fantastic painted artwork from Simon Davis. The panel where Slaine and Gort loom over Gododin before losing their warped powers is amazing, demonstrating Davis’ skill at bringing the grotesque to life on the page. Liberal use of the colour red ensures that the hyper-violence of the past few episodes lingers on as Slaine changes his opponent from the Primordial to his nemesis, Gododin. Davis provides some excellent moments in this battle scenes, such as the scene where Gododin’s guts are spilled out from his stomach, but are soon sucked back in, leaving nary a scratch. I've said it before, but over the past few years Simon Davis has quickly established himself as one of the all-time great Slaine artists, it’s just unfortunate that the storyline doesn't quite match his talents.


As with preceding episodes, Pat Mills likes to lump on the hyperbole during the battle with the excessively verbose Gododin spending most of his time chatting smack to Slaine instead of actually delivering deadly blows. I must admit that the “Slaine is about to get killed” cliff-hanger is getting a little tired now, after being used constantly throughout this series of books – perhaps Mills is attempting to acclimatise us to seeing Slaine in mortal danger, so that he can pull a twist and actually have Slaine killed off and reanimated as one of Gododin’s corpses. While it’s a gorgeous read, I am finding myself frustrated by the stop-start pace of the battle sequences, although I suspect that may be a side-effect of the weekly episodic structure and the story would perhaps read better in its eventual collected format. Hopefully, this particular fight sequence will come to an end soon and Mills can develop the story in new and exciting places.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

This Prog saw the end of two vastly different series – the jovial, light-hearted Survival Geeks and the dark, haunting horror of Tainted: The Fall of Deadworld. I really enjoyed both series, but for vastly different reasons and the fact that they were both running at the same time is a testament to 2000AD's wonderfully eclectic personality. With its parting shot, Tainted: The Fall of Deadworld earned its place as “Thrill of the Week”, delivering a satisfying conclusion that left me wanting more – both Kek-W and Dave Kendall have done a marvellous job on this series over the past nine weeks, maintaining a high level of quality across each episode.

Filling in the space left over is another Dan Abnett deep-space adventure, Grey Area, which returns for its final run. I've really enjoyed the way Grey Area has evolved over the past few years, so I will be sad to see Bulliet and company go, but at least it will free up time in Abnett's busy schedule to write more Kingdom, Sinister Dexter and Brink. With the flurry of new series being launched in the past few years, it makes sense for some of the older ones to come to a natural conclusion, given the limited 'shelf space' available for thrills in the magazine. With Black Shuck on the horizon for Prog 1983, the current line-up of stories is expected to undergo some changes, refreshing the palate with a whole new batch of thrill-powered adventures.

Thrill of the Week: Tainted: The Fall of Deadworld


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1981 will be available in stores on Wednesday 18th 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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