Wednesday, 27 July 2016

2000AD Prog 1991

Prog 1991 Cover by Neil Roberts

Well-known for his sublime computer-assisted artwork on the Judge Dredd: Year One eBooks, Neil Roberts provides us with yet another iconic cover here as the full force of the Justice Department mobilises in order to catch mass-murderer PJ Maybe once and for all. Ronald's character models are flawless as usual, but I must admit that I'm not overly wowed by the illuminous green and yellow buildings in the background. Sure, the colour choice conveys the futuristic tone of Mega-City One, but it distracts quite heavily from the Judges and overpowers the piece. Perhaps a more subdued colour palette would have proved more effective here? That said, it is still a striking piece of cover art and one that will no doubt be used for future Judge Dredd: Year One novellas.


JUDGE DREDD - LADYKILLER (Part 1)
Script - John Wagner
Art - Carlos Ezquerra
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

After the murder mystery story-arc that was “Serial Serial”, John Wagner has returned to Judge Dredd to continue the PJ Maybe storyline once more. Given his recent teases on the 2000AD Thrillcast that he had plans to kill off a long-running character in the Judge Dredd universe, and the upcoming 'special story' scheduled to appear in Prog 2000, I suspect that “Ladykiller” might be the final chapter in the decades-long PJ Maybe saga, which may see Dredd finally deliver justice to the “Moriarty” to his Sherlock Holmes. After a slight recap of events from “Dark Justice” and “Serial Serial”, Wagner steams straight into the chase as Dredd offers citizens a one million creds reward for information that leads to his arrest. Given the efficiency and pro-active nature of the Judges in this opening chapter, it seems highly likely that this storyline will end with PJ Maybe dead.


Carlos Ezquerra returns to Judge Dredd and his artwork fits the strip like a well-worn glove. Ezquerra's distinctive style effortlessly captures the overcrowded metropolis that is Mega-City One and his take on Dredd is naturally the definitive look for the character. Reading a Wagner / Ezquerra Dredd tale is like eating a home-cooked meal from your mother – it might not happen all the time, but it brings back plenty of nostalgic memories when it does. After the stunning work from Michael Carroll, PJ Holden and Colin MacNeil on the “Every Empire Falls” mega-epic, it's great to see Wagner and Ezquerra teamed up on a smaller-scale adventure that also promises to shake up the status-quo dramatically and possibly remove one of Judge Dredd's recurring enemies from the picture. I have every faith that Wagner and Ezquerra are going to deliver another epic adventure that will have fans talking for years to come.



BRINK (Part 14)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - INJ Culbard
Letters - Simon Bowland

With its penultimate episode, Brink hits a bloody crescendo as Kurtis tackles her three would-be executioners in a gruesome “Mexican Stand-off” that has echoes of the iconic conclusion to Reservoir DogsINJ Culbard takes the lead with this episode, choreographing the ballet of violence as Kurtis manipulates her foes and takes them out with expert precision. Despite the gruesome events of this episode, Culbard never loses sight of the melancholy tragedy behind the action, and much like Reservoir Dogs, it feels like the violence escalates too quickly and trigger-happy fingers have caused a gory domino effect. The rich reds that increasingly pervade the panels serve to highlight the bloody consequences of the character's actions and contrast nicely against Culbard's blue metallic backgrounds. The final sequence where psychotic Frannie meets her end is surprisingly poignant and yet again Culbard injects a cinematic flavour to his artwork as she slowly falls to her death.


It's interesting to note the cinematic influences on this series as Dan Abnett continues to borrow tropes inherent to the science-fiction genre and mould them to fit his engaging narrative. While he'd seemingly discounted the religious iconography of the Sects in the previous installment, suggesting that the psychotropic ingredients in the processed food had caused mass hysteria amongst the populous, Kurtis' admission suggests that there is a supernatural element behind the various Sect behaviours, and I wonder it will turn out that there is something else out there influencing the people. With one episode left to go, I wonder where Abnett intends to take this series – there is certainly the potential to write further adventures, but he could also bring it to a conclusion as a finite one-off series. This has been an absolute roller-coaster ride of a series and I've enjoyed every episode, so I sincerely hope that Abnett has plans to continue Brink beyond this inaugural adventure, especially since there are plenty of unanswered questions around Brinkmann's 'ghost' and the Sects.



BLACK SHUCK - SINS OF THE FATHER (Part 9)
Script - Leah Moore & John Reppion
Art - Steve Yeowell
Colours - Chris Blythe
Letters - Ellie de Ville

It all goes a bit 'The Exorcist' in this penultimate episode of Black Shuck as the titular character's wife goes into childbirth and the priests attempt to separate the newborns from their cursed ancestry. After weeks of build-up, Leah Moore and John Reppion let loose with a wonderful dual narrative structure that deals with the Shuck's cursed children and his battle against the mysterious Scucca in one feel swoop. Steve Yeowell is the artistic glue that holds these plot threads together nicely, continuing to deliver world class art that just drips with medieval intrigue from every panel. Having dealt with two of the main problems facing Shuck in this story-arc, Reppion and Moore end this episode with a corker of a cliff-hanger as Coenwulf appears at Dunwich demanding to see the former king Eadwald and Shuck himself. With one episode remaining, I am very curious to see how Shuck intends to reunite with his family without crossing Coenwulf – judging from the eerie premonitions he had earlier in the series, I suspect that Eadwald is toast – but can our hero live to fight another day?



SCARLET TRACES - COLD WAR (Part 4)
Script - Ian Edginton
Art - D'Israeli
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

After uniting his two protagonists, the Venusian Ahron and the quirky Martian-Humanoid Splice, Ian Edginton uses this fourth episode to delve into the past history of the series, offering a more detailed look at previous events than the recap page in Prog 1988. While this episode is quite exposition-heavy, Edginton manages to keep it engaging through the distinctive voices of his lead characters, with the Russell Brand-esque flamboyance of the Splice and Ahron's more straight-laced attitude. After referencing real-world racism in the preceding episode, Edginton takes it a step further in the flashback sequence with moments ripped from the headlines, such as the dying Venusian children floating in space uncomfortably paralleling real-world struggles of Syrian refugees dying on the beaches of Turkey. Unfortunately, the attitudes of the British people towards the Venusian refugees looks all too familiar and if such an occurrence ever happened, it is highly likely the alien visitors would be ostracised and segregated – especially if they had different coloured skin.


Once again, D'Israeli knocks it out of the park with some absolutely spellbinding panels – I love the subtle touches to remind readers that this is a alternate 1960s, such as cars with robotic insect-like legs instead of regular wheels. Even though this episode consists of two men talking in a car, D'Israeli ensures that each panel is vital to the story and manages to convey the emotion on the character's face with ease. Talking of emotion, his work on those flashback sequences where the Venusian ships are being fired upon by the British forces are very effective and convey the grim tragedy of those events. Also of note, is the transition of colours from the bright, colourful roads as Ahron and the Splice head towards their destination to the drab, grimy greys of the Venusian immigrants and their slums. I also love that final panel showcasing Ahron's home, which looks to be some kind of Chinatown parallel with Venusians running street markets and selling alien foods, yet there's still touches of Britain there with Barclays Bank standing out. I'm really enjoying this series, and this 'recap episode' has really helped flesh out the past adventures and firmly establish the real-world parallels in this alternate Earth adventure. Edginton and D'Israeli have yet another classic on their hands here, seamlessly blending engaging and fascinating characters with a rich and vibrant world, alien to our own.



OUTLIER - SURVIVOR GUILT (Part 2)
Script - T.C. Eglington
Art - Karl Richardson
Letters - Ellie de Ville

After presenting the Hurde as a nigh-invincible threat, T.C Eglington uses this second episode of Outlier to present a counter-argument as the warmongering General Sornell demonstrates the prototype Armourigami Droids. Eglington also reintroduces Colonel Luthra, last seen accompanying Carcer on his mission to investigate a crashed Hurde ship in the last chapter, creating more consistency between installments and offering a more reasoned alternative to the bloodthirsty General Sornell. Karl Richardson continues to make this series his own with his wonderfully designed antagonists with sharp, metallic armours covered in illuminous green symbols. Once again, the Armourigami Droids look spectacular and its great fun seeing them in action, deconstructing themselves and reassembling with enough beauty to make a Transformer jealous. While we're still firmly in the exposition mode of this storyline, it's shaping up to be a worthy conclusion to the trilogy of Outlier adventures, possibly bringing the whole series full-circle in the process.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

Without pausing for breath, Judge Dredd launches into another epic adventure as Dredd aggressively hunts for PJ Maybe. Uniting the character's co-creators is always a cause for celebration, but here it seems that the Wagner / Ezquerra double-act will result in some dramatic changes to the status-quo. Elsewhere, Black Shuck and Brink reach their penultimate episodes with dramatic action-packed installments. Once again, Brink has stolen the “Thrill of the Week” award with its pitch-perfect Reservoir Dogs-esque gunfight that had the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end. This series has definitely been one of the highlights of the past year and further proof that 2000AD is well and truly in the midst of another golden age of stories. While Outlier and Scarlet Traces had more exposition-driven episodes this week, both were handled really well and developed the character's personalities whilst filling in lapsed readers on the series' history.

Aside from promoting the current Predator vs Judge Dredd vs Aliens miniseries from Dark Horse Comics, Tharg also provides us with an intriguing full-page teaser for an upcoming series called Hope from Guy Adams and Jimmy Broxton. It's hard to tell from the image, but it looks like an LA Noir adventure with supernatural overtones. Broxton's artwork looks absolutely amazing and suits the genre perfectly, adding a gritty realism that is reminiscent of Arthur Ranson's work – it definitely looks like something completely different for 2000AD and I can't wait to see more about it in future Progs.

Thrill of the Week: Brink


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1991 will be available in stores on Wednesday 27th July - 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!

Review - Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor (Vol. 2) # 11

Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor (Vol. 2) # 11
"The Organ Grinder"
Written by: Si Spurrier
Art by: INJ Culbard
Colours by: Marcio Menys

Taking place during the Time War, this issue of the Eleventh Doctor comic series is a highly unusual departure from the series in that it doesn’t contain the Eleventh Doctor in it at all, instead Si Spurrier focuses on John Hurt’s War Doctor as the lead protagonist. With Alice trapped in the time-locked paradox, she is able to provide a first-hand look at the events of the Time War which led to the Eleventh Doctor’s current situation. Despite the absence of the series’ titular character, this issue loses none of its pace and in fact, it benefits from the sudden momentum in narrative as the readers are finally given answers to the mysteries that have ran deep throughout the past ten issues. I was quite pleased with the reveal of the Doctor’s young boy companion, which offers a surprising new addition to Doctor Who lore – adding a bonus incarnation of The Master in the Time War – presumably taking place between Alex MacQueen’s current incarnation in the Big Finish audios and Derek Jacobi’s Professor Yana who appeared in “Utopia”. It’s great to see the Doctor’s age-old nemesis inhabiting the body of a young boy, showcasing the unpredictability of Time Lord regeneration and even foreshadowing his eventual appearance as a female in Season Eight.

One of the highlights of this issue is the fabulously freaky Volatix Cabal – a group of deformed Daleks who are only allowed to exist because their madness allows them to create deadly weapons and creatures for use in the Time War. Spurrier captures the madness of these monsters perfectly during their interrogation scene with Alice, making use of different fonts to emphasise their craziness. Some of their bizarre non-sequiturs and creepy statements are quite disturbing and makes them much more scary than their Extermination-focused counterparts. They are a great twist on the Dalek concept, and a worthy enemy for the War Doctor to face during the Time War – interestingly, this issue seems to debut the concept of the Daleks hiding in Human skins, first seen in the TV episode “Asylum of the Daleks”, implying that the Volatix Cabal designed this ingenious weapon. Alongside this fantastic portrayal of the Daleks, Spurrier also strikes gold with his representation of the War Doctor. With scant appearances in the television show proper, the War Doctor is something of a blank slate and Spurrier captures the driven nature of this war-weary soldier perfectly, partnering him with his arch-nemesis in a desperate effort to end the Time War.


Making his debut on the Eleventh Doctor series is INJ Culbard, an artist who I've discovered through his absolutely beautiful work in 2000AD on series' such as Brass Sun and Brink. Unsurprisingly, his artwork here is truly brilliant too and within seconds, he makes the series his own. His interpretation of John Hurt's War Doctor is amazing, capturing both the actor's likeness and the inherent 'soul' of the character. One of Culbard's strengths is his ability to effortlessly convey the emotions of the characters through facial expressions, using subtle changes to communicate the thoughts and feelings going through their head. The sequence where Alice is being interrogated by the Volatix Cabal is a particular highlight, not only for Spurrier's creepy dialogue but also for the raw emotion that Culbard brings out in his artwork as a terrified Alice deals with some unbalanced Daleks.

After a slower pace in the past few issues, this Time War-centric installment has reinvigorated this already great series and propelled the narrative into a whole new direction. Ironically, this issue has benefitted from the removal of its lead character as the spotlight is shone firmly onto a new set of protagonists. Presumably, the next issue will continue to reveal the secrets of the Time War, leaving the final three episodes to bring this epic year-long adventure to a close. This second volume has been an ambitious Doctor Who story, and for the most part, Rob Williams and Si Spurrier have delivered a wonderfully epic adventure that scratches that Time War itch that many long-time fans of the series have. While it has been more dense and focused than its fellow Titan Comics series, I have loved the 'whodunnit' approach to this storyline and the twists and turns that Williams and Spurrier have dragged the reader through. Once completed, I have no doubt whatsoever that this storyline will be regarded as one of the high points in Doctor Who's comic-book history - It's just that good!


Score - 10 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor (Vol. 2) # 11 is now available in all good comic shops, including Forbidden Planet, as well as on the Comixology website. Be sure to put in a standing order for the upcoming issues in the series when you pick up your copy!

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

2000AD Sci-Fi Special 2016

Sci-Fi Special 2016 Cover by Ryan Brown

True to 2000 AD's subversive personality, Ryan Brown has drawn Judge Dredd stamping his authority over a traditional British Summer tableau, crushing a child's sandcastle under his boot whilst shooting holes in a bucket and spade. It's a great image and it sums up the cheeky personality of the 2000AD Sci-Fi Special perfectly, especially with Dredd's sardonic “Happy Holidays, Creeps!” speech bubble. Aimed at casual readers, this cover certainly suggests a more accessible copy of 2000AD for customers to pick up over the summer holidays as, once again, the Sci-Fi Special revisits some classic thrills from yesterday with modern writers and artists at the helm. This has certainly been a highlight of my summer holidays and I'm glad to see that 2000AD has continued to release these summer specials since reviving them in 2014.


JUDGE DREDD - NIGHT ZOOM
Script - John Wagner
Art - Brendan McCarthy
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

There’s a distinctly nostalgic tone to this one-off Judge Dredd adventure from John Wagner and Brendan McCarthy, which feels like it could have could have been printed in the 80s or 90s era of the strip. What initially begins as a homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train soon devolves into devilish Mega-City tragedy, typical of 2000AD’s subversive output. Wagner has fun with his set-up and while it’s expected that the cuckolded citizen will end up losing out, the final twist is a delightfully ghoulish and plays on a longstanding element of Judge Dredd mythology. Dredd himself barely features in this story, which isn’t a problem as Wagner ensures that the central storyline between the “Strangers on a Zoom Train” remains engaging.


It’s always interesting when the Justice Department fails to apprehend the correct criminal, and this is a formula Wagner has used more and more in recent years with the ongoing PJ Maybe stories, corruption within the Justice Department seen in “Bender” and the explosive ending to “Block Judge”. It’s great to see the fallible side of Dredd and the Judges, rather than presenting them as an omnipresent “Big Brother” – especially in light of Chaos Day. Brendan McCarthy’s distinctive artwork not only adds a nostalgic feel to the strip, but also highlights the anarchic nature of the tale. McCarthy’s use of colour to theme each of the panels works exceptionally well, especially with the rich reds used during the gruesome murder scene. It’s a great technique and it really accentuates the raw emotion of the story – there’s something really unsettling about the family celebrating their good fortunes due to crime and the green colour palette helps emphasise the ‘sickness’ of this twisted family. All in all, this was a striking one-off tale that showcases the flaws in the Justice System with a cheeky wink and nod to the readers.



ACE TRUCKING CO. - THE BANNED BRAND STAND
Script - Eddie Robson
Art - Nigel Dobbyn
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Coinciding nicely with the Rio 2016 Olympics, Eddie Robson has written this fun Ace Trucking Co. adventure that pokes fun at the Olympic Committee's overzealous behaviour surrounding non-sponsor products. After reviving the classic space-trucking series in last year's Sci-Fi Special, Robson continues to recapture that nostalgic tone to the series, making use of the series' unique vernacular to remain true to the spirit of the original run. Wisely avoiding any long-term narrative, Robson treats this comedic series as a framing device to tell a fun satirical tale that pokes fun at the bureaucracy of the Olympic Games. I think Ace Trucking Co. works best in this format, as the series itself ran out of narrative steam in the late 1980s. Much like Robo Hunter and Rogue Trooper, it suits the annual appearance in the Sci-Fi Special to tickle reader's nostalgic funny-bone without the need to deliver a multi-episode storyline. Nigel Dobbyn is replacing Nick Dyer as the artist on this year's episode and he does a tremendous job channelling his inner-Massimo Belardinelli, whose iconic artwork on the original run of Ace Trucking Co. was a huge part of the series' charm. Dobbyn's art is respectful of Belardinelli's take by filling the panels with plenty of detail and in-jokes, but also showcases the artist's own flourishes at times. Overall, this is a great one-off adventure from the Ace Trucking Co. crew and I hope they continue to appear in future Sci-Fi Specials.



SINISTER DEXTER - SHADY AS FUNT
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - Tom Foster
Letters - Ellie de Ville

After resetting his lead character’s status-quo completely, it makes sense for Dan Abnett to return Sinister Dexter to the occasional comedic one-off stories that ran often during the series’ beginnings in the late 1990s. With no mention of the mysterious ‘mind-wipe’ that restored the Downlode duo’s anonymity, Abnett tells a fun story that possibly teases a further antagonist down the line with the mentions of the unseen ‘Lizard King’ who has taken over from Moses Tannenbaum. I have to say that the long-form narrative of Sinister Dexter has gotten a bit tiresome and the two wise-cracking gunsharks suit these shorter, humour-led stories compared to the sprawling mega-epics that they’ve been involved in. By returning the series to its roots, hopefully Abnett will maintain this short-form structure when the series returns to 2000AD, or possibly consign the series to the Summer and Christmas annuals.


Last year’s ThoughtBubble winner Tom Foster is on art duties for this adventure and instantly makes the series his own. His detailed line work and shading really suits the characters, adding a nice element of realism to the series. I really enjoyed his take on Dexter, who resembles Wesley Snipes in some of his panels – a celebrity often associated with the character in the early days of the series. Aware of the dark humour of the series, Foster slips in a fun ‘easter egg’ that references the Looney Tunes, of all things. When Reggie O’Conda gets shot point-blank in the face, his Daffy Duck hat swivels around much like in the cartoon when Daffy gets shot by Elmer Fudd and his beak is spun around to the back of his head. It’s a fun visual joke, underscored by gruesome violence, in that distinctly Sinister Dexter way. Returning to these shorter, one-off adventures definitely seems to have reinvigorated the series and given it more purpose than the meandering multi-episode adventures of late.



ROBO-HUNTER - THE DROID DILEMMA
Script - Alec Worley
Art - Mark Simmons
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

After his previous stories had referenced such broad topics as Ikea, ABBA and Iron Man, Alec Worley turns his attentions to Star Wars with this fun pastiche of the ‘holy trilogy’, using familiar iconography such as a crushed C3P0 and R2D2, the Mos Eisley Spaceport and a Star Destroyer to create a humourous story about droid slavery. Well acquainted with Sam Slade on his third year writing the strip for the Sci-Fi Special, Worley captures the ‘old-school’ tone of Robo-Hunter before the series’ awkward ultra-violence phase in the early nineties. Accompanying Worley once again is artist Mark Simmons, whose greyscale artwork helps firmly establish the series in its classic era and captures the light-hearted tone of the storyline. Both Worley and Simmons have proved themselves to be a solid Robo-Hunter creative team over the past three Sci-Fi Specials and it would be great to see them return the character to 2000AD proper with a longer storyline that re-developed the character. However, I am more than happy to see the series revisited in these one-off adventures on an annual basis. As with the other classic thrills dusted off for this special, Robo-Hunter suits the annual format as it removes the pressure to develop an ongoing narrative and writers can instead use the set-up to develop fun, satirical adventures instead.



ROGUE TROOPER - SHORE LEAVE
Script - Guy Adams
Art - Jimmy Broxton
Letters - Simon Bowland

Guy Adams returns to script another 'lost tale' set within the original Rogue Trooper continuity, bringing with him artist Jimmy Broxton. Broxton's art has a very distinctive feel to it, which is somewhat reminiscent of Frazer Irving's work, particularly the first and final pages which infuse the artwork with a faint pink and purple haze against the thick black background. It's a slight departure from last year's Sci-Fi Special which featured Darren Douglas' smooth animated-esque artwork, but it works equally well to establish the mood of the storyline. Broxton and Adams are set to reunite for the upcoming 2000AD thrill, Hope, and judging from these pages, we're in for an artistic treat once that series begins.


Wisely backing away from the complicated continuity of Rogue Trooper, its relaunch and the various other Nu-Earth series since, Guy Adams produces a very straight-forward adventure as our hero infiltrates a cruise-liner touring the poisoned seas of Nu-Earth to find out key information. Much like its previous installments over the past few years, the plot is largely superfluous to this adventure as effectively it's 'Rogue on a boat fighting Norts', which isn't a downside considering that this whole Sci-Fi Special is designed to induce nostalgic feelings amongst its readership. Broxton's unique artwork certainly feels reminiscent of classic Rogue Trooper adventures – moreso than the glossier efforts from Darren Douglas and Lee Carter in recent years. Again, Rogue Trooper feels perfectly at home in this summer special format, offering a short and concentrated burst of nostalgia without outstaying its welcome in the main Prog.



OVERALL THOUGHTS:

Nostalgia is the name of the game for this Sci-Fi Special, and once again Tharg delivers on his core objective with ease. Picking some of the most legendary thrills from 2000AD's past and allowing new creative teams (for the most part) loose on the characters has proven to be a successful formula. This Sci-Fi Special is the perfect solution for lapsed 2000AD fans wanting to dip their toe back into the water, thanks to the accessible nature of each series. Even moreso than the FCBD issue, this special works perfectly as a gateway drug to 2000AD, offering 'tasters' to thrills of yesteryear in an attempt to lure readers to the new generation of stories currently running in the Prog. I think that this annual special is a fantastic idea from Tharg's Nerve Centre, offering a perfect 'summer treat' for loyal fans, whilst fishing for former readers with the bait of 'classic thrills'. Three years in, and the Sci-Fi Special shows no lapse in quality whatsoever, offering a great selection of 'one and done' stories to tide even the most thrill-hungry reader over the Summer Holidays.

Top Thrill: Judge Dredd


The physical edition of the 2000AD Sci-Fi Special will be available in stores on Wednesday 20th July - Digital copies of this Prog will be available on the same day through the 2000AD app, which can now 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!

2000AD Prog 1990

Prog 1990 Cover by Jake Lynch

Simple, yet effective – this wonderful cover from Jake Lynch really stands out from the crowd, thanks to its stark white background that places all of the focus on Judge Dredd as he looks down at the reader. There is an undeniable coolness to this image, which riffs off Dirty Harry – one of the many inspirations behind Judge Dredd’s creation back in the late 1970s. I love the way that Lynch makes use of Dredd’s body posture, his facial expressions and the blank white background to instil that “ultra-cool” tone. Despite its minimalistic approach, this cover certainly makes a big impact and I’m sure it’ll feature in our “Top Ten 2000AD Covers in 2016” end of year blog post.


JUDGE DREDD - RECLAMATION (Part 5)
Script - Michael Carroll
Art - Colin MacNeil
Colours - Len O' Grady
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

After seventeen episodes and a side-story running in Judge Dredd Megazine, Michael Carroll’s mega-epic finally comes to a conclusion this week with an explosive ending that deals with the immediate threat of Chief Judge Oswin, but leaves plenty of uncertainty for Mega-City One’s future. Carroll delivers a wonderful solution to the Oswin problem, disposing of her and the nuclear weapons aimed at the Big Meg in one fell swoop – it’s a wonderfully ironic twist which sees the Texas City Chief Judge’s plans undone by one of her own schemes. While this “Reclamation” arc has felt slightly rushed in comparison to the slow-burn approach seen in the preceding “The Lion’s Den”, there’s no denying that this has been an absolute blockbuster of a ‘mega-epic’ in true Judge Dredd fashion. Ultimately, the storyline concludes with things are restored back to the status-quo, as the tensions between Mega-City One and its neighbouring countries continue to bubble on – it certainly seems like the series is headed for a major change soon, presumably under John Wagner’s hand.


Not one for half-measures, Colin MacNeil delivers a pulse-pounding conclusion with some absolutely brilliant moments, such as Dredd’s point-blank execution of Texan Judge Tower. It’s such an impactful panel, made all the more effective through its excessive use of reds and oranges to highlight the bloodshed as Tower takes a bullet to the face. The sequence where Oswin is teleported to her secret nuclear silo is equally impressive with the attention to detail as the ground beneath her feet is transported along with her and the pack of explosives. MacNeil also manages to balance the action-packed sequences alongside the more reflective moments as Dredd and Hershey look over their city, unsure of what the future may hold. Overall, this has been a satisfying conclusion to a refreshingly different mega-epic, rife with subterfuge and Machiavellian takeovers. With this storyline, Carroll has earned his well-deserved place amongst the pantheon of legendary Judge Dredd writers, getting his first mega-epic storyline under his belt and influencing the future of the strip.



JUDGE DREDD - FROM THE ASHES
Script - Michael Carroll
Art - Carlos Ezquerra
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Acting as an epilogue to the explosive events in the Prog, “From the Ashes” allows Michael Carroll to focus more on Chief Judge Hershey – a character who felt somewhat maligned during the Texas City takeover. While Dredd works to mop up the last remaining Texas City resistance on the streets of Mega-City One, Hershey ponders her past and future in a surprisingly reflective tale. Without the pressure to move the narrative along, Carroll uses the extended page count of the Judge Dredd Megazine to tell an effective character-driven story that touches upon the longevity of both Dredd and Hershey.

There is little to be said about Carlos Ezquerra’s amazing artwork that hasn’t been said already – his very presence on a Judge Dredd strip imbues it with added importance and gravitas. Given the reflective nature of this episode, Ezquerra is a great choice of artist and the scenes where Dredd is told by the medic to look after himself more are brilliant. Interestingly, the Doctor claims that Dredd has another few decades of active duty in him, which is a nice reassurance for fans worried about his health as he continues to age year-by-year. This is an excellent conclusion to what has been an immensely enjoyable Judge Dredd mega-epic, demonstrating Michael Carroll’s love for the character and the series’ rich continuity.



BRINK (Part 13)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - INJ Culbard
Letters - Simon Bowland

Along with last week’s “talking heads” installment, this episode of Brink showcases the power of exposition as Dan Abnett and INJ Culbard once again manage to make a conversation between four people utterly enthralling. It’s absolutely mesmerising to watch the seemingly kind and quirky Frannie unravel before our eyes to reveal a gleeful psychotic, willing to poison the people’s food supply to ensure her plans run smoothly. It’s a brilliant twist and seemingly explains much of the psychosis and cult-mentality that Kurtis and Brink experienced during their time in Ludmilla district. With all the precision of a master-surgeon, Culbard makes every panel count in this five-page episode and the change of perspectives during the crucial interrogation at gun-point hammers home the danger and tension to the scene. This series has been so wonderfully cinematic throughout as Abnett’s naturalistic dialogue and bleak dystopian narrative pairs nicely with Culbard’s inventive world-building and directors’ eye for storyboards. With comic-book properties being optioned for movies left, right and centre, Brink is one of those one-of-a-kind adventures that deserves a shot at the big screen. With echoes of Logan’s Run and Blade Runner, it could definitely hold its own amongst other science-fiction cinema releases and could be an interesting way for 2000AD to position itself as a cinematic force to be reckoned with.



BLACK SHUCK - SINS OF THE FATHER (Part 8)
Script - Leah Moore & John Reppion
Art - Steve Yeowell
Colours - Chris Blythe
Letters - Ellie de Ville

With a climactic battle against the Scucca and the imminent birth of the Shuck twins, it seems as if we’re careening fast towards the conclusion of this second series of Black Shuck. As a rule, I tend to favour the science-fiction stories in 2000AD over the fantasy and historical epics that occasionally feature, but Black Shuck has maintained my interest throughout with its interesting use of Anglo-Saxon lore. The reveal of the Scucca was well-handled by Steve Yeowell, who creates a truly unsettling image of a wolf demon with a sole red eye in the centre of its forehead. John Reppion and Leah Moore’s script deftly balances the two climactic events as the Black Shuck battles the Scucca, whilst the safety of his unborn sons lies in doubt. There are plenty of different directions that this story could go in, but I suspect it will end in tragedy for the titular character, especially given the incoming invasion from Coenwulf and his army.



SCARLET TRACES - COLD WAR (Part 3)
Script - Ian Edginton
Art - D'Israeli
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Introducing a new protagonist into the mix, this latest episode of Scarlet Traces showcases the nastier side of humanity as a young Venusian refugee named Ahron is bullied and racially abused by fellow soldiers. It’s a particularly effecting sequence considering the recent increase of hate-crime in the wake of the Brexit vote, and Ian Edginton does a tremendous job at shining a spotlight on the racism and bigotry that would likely exist if real-life aliens were to come from the stars to co-habit with us. It’s kind of depressing when you think about it, and the allegory between Ahron’s unwelcomed attempts to repay Earth for providing him and his race sanctuary is worryingly similar to some people’s attitudes to immigration in England. Edginton writes the scene extremely well, utilising the fictional situation to make some very real political points.


With some absolutely gorgeous panel work, D’Israeli continues to demonstrate why he is one of the most popular artists in recent 2000AD history. There’s a wonderful nostalgic quality to D’Israeli’s art here, which fits the H.G Wells-inspired timeline of Scarlet Traces like a well-worn glove. It’s hard to articulate just how damn good this series is – if I didn’t know any better, I’d assume that Ian Edginton has the brain of H.G Wells stored on ice somewhere and is mining it for barmy story ideas. Clearly, Edginton has a love for this classical science-fiction genre and it shows in his work, which takes the original source material and infuses it with modern storytelling elements and socio-political commentary. It shouldn’t come as any great surprise that the writer behind the sensational Brass Sun and the extraordinary Helium has once again struck gold with another beautifully whimsical science-fiction fantasy.



OUTLIER - SURVIVOR GUILT (Part 1)
Script - T.C. Eglington
Art - Karl Richardson
Letters - Ellie de Ville

With surprisingly little fanfare, Outlier unexpectedly returns for its third and final series reuniting T.C Eglington with artist Karl Richardson in what appears to be an interesting inversion of the initial storyline. Along with the recap in Tharg’s Nerve Centre, this opening episode concentrates on refreshing readers on the plot and establishing the ramifications of Caul’s escape plan in the previous chapter – turns out, he has put the human race firmly on the Hurde’s radar as the unstoppable alien force begins its campaign to wipe out the Earth. Eglington does a great job at recapping past events and quickly re-establishing the Hurde as a deadly threat to the human race.


One of the most distinctive elements of the series is Karl Richardson’s amazing artwork, which instantly evokes a militaristic tone to this science-fiction adventure. While his human male characters do share facial similarities at times making them harder to distinguish between, Richardson excels at designing alien races and robotic constructs, such as the wonderfully named Armourigami weapon. The previous two chapters of Outlier have been fascinating reads, so I’m glad that Eglington and Richardson have the opportunity to bring his unique alien war epic to a conclusion. Given the unpredictable nature of the series' past storylines, I am reluctant to make a prediction on where this one is headed – my gut instinct leads me to think that this might be a fight that the humans might not walk away from.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

Unusually, this week’s “Thrill of the Week” is actually a story that wasn’t featured in 2000AD and is instead the absolutely excellent “From the Ashes” story seen in the Judge Dredd Megazine. It works well as both a coda to Michael Carroll’s months-long Judge Dredd mega-epic running in the Prog and as a character examination of Chief Judge Hershey. If I had to pick a strip from 2000AD to bestow the “Thrill of the Week” accolade to, it would be Brink yet again – Dan Abnett and INJ Culbard have struck gold with this wonderful deep space sci-fi adventure and it is a series that deserves more attention. Perhaps Tharg will release it in his popular US-sized format to gain wider recognition overseas?

Also of note is the welcome return of Outlier, which promises to bring the epic battle between humanity and the Hurde to a dramatic conclusion. I really enjoyed the previous two series, which have fluctuated between a revenge-driven murder mystery to a deep space rescue mission – judging from this initial episode, I suspect the third chapter will be more action-packed as intergalactic war threatens to break out. Elsewhere, Black Shuck and Scarlet Traces continue to bubble away nicely, with the former heading towards its action-packed conclusion with foreshadowing and dark portents aplenty. I’m really enjoying the current line-up of stories, which once again represents 2000AD’s wonderful eclectic tastes.

Thrill of the Week: Judge Dredd (Megazine)


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1990 will be available in stores on Wednesday 20th July - 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!

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

2000AD Prog 1989

Prog 1989 Cover by INJ Culbard

Channelling the claustrophobic nature of the past few episodes of Brink, INJ Culbard delivers an excellent POV-style cover. It’s a brilliant visual that demonstrates Culbard’s wonderful attention to detail, such as the glow trails from the light on her gun. During his run on Brass Sun, Culbard released some covers which also adopted a similar POV stance, and it’s a technique that really suits his artwork and immerses the reader in the scene shown. My only nit-pick is the timing of this cover, as the story inside has moved away from the sequence that this image depicts – that said, it’s too great a visual to waste, so I can see why Tharg has included it on this Prog.


JUDGE DREDD - RECLAMATION (Part 4)
Script - Michael Carroll
Art - Colin MacNeil
Colours - Len O' Grady
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

With the action hitting break-neck speeds as the storyline heads towards its explosive conclusion, Dredd and his team of loyal Judges finally make their assault on the Hall of Justice to confront Chief Judge Oswin following her attempts to overthrow the Mega-City One leadership. Michael Carroll’s script is taut and fast-paced, and at times it feels like watching Die Hard on fast-forward. While it’s understandable why Carroll has decided to expedite this portion of the storyline, it does come across as slightly too easy with the Null-Grav chute acting as a “cheat” to skip the floors and floors of enemy Judges. Interestingly, the plot of this episode reminds me of the central plot to Dredd, in that it involves a team of Judges ascending a tower to defeat the female matriarch at the top. That said, Carroll ensures that the action flows nicely and delivers a nice cliff-hanger ending as both Judge Hershey and Mega-City One’s fate lies in the hands of the traitorous Texas-City Chief Judge.


Continuing to demonstrate why he is one of the best Judge Dredd artists to ever work on the strip, Colin MacNeil effortlessly maintains the sense of pace throughout the episode. It’s a joy to see a master at work, and I am always pleased to see MacNeil’s name in the art credit box. This has been a strong installment of “Reclamation”, and a worthy pay-off to the set-up of the past three episodes. Given the nature of the cliff-hanger, I wonder if Knox is about to sacrifice herself for the greater good and take down her corrupt leader – although I am unsure how Dredd and the others will avoid an explosive death. Perhaps they will use the teleporters that saved Dredd’s life back in the conclusion of “The Grindstone Cowboys” – that said, I’m not sure whether blowing up the Hall of Justice (again!) is a wise strategy for the Judges and perhaps Dredd will simply win through intimidation. I’m looking forward to seeing him go up against Oswin, although given how maligned Hershey has been throughout this mega-epic, perhaps she deserves to be the one to save the day. I’m still unsure which direction Carroll is going to take this story, and how he plans to resolve the tensions between Mega-City One, Brit-Cit and Texas City going forward, and I love that there's that level of uncertainty in the Judge Dredd world following the "Day of Chaos" storyline.



BRINK (Part 12)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - INJ Culbard
Letters - Simon Bowland

After the action-packed sequences of the past few weeks, this episode of Brink takes a different approach and allows Dan Abnett to provide some exposition about the civil unrest occurring in the Brink, whilst revealing another faction at odds with the warring Sects. Having fallen in with the rebels, Kurtis discovers that they are hoping for a civil war within Ludmilla District as it will cause the corporations to consider their experimental survival project – Project Kali – which will allow selective members of the Brink to escape to inhabitable exo-planets, offering a long-term solution for the future. Abnett's script is very clever, and while their intentions are good – Frannie and her friends have abandoned empathy in favour of cold, hard logic and this is likely to bring them against Kurtis.

While it was verbose in parts, I loved this 'plot dump' of information, shedding light on the reasoning behind the mass hysteria amongst the Sects and the shadowy corporations running things on the Brink. I have no clue where Abnett intends to go with this series and it's wonderful. Despite an episode of talking heads, INJ Culbard fills each panel with emotion and ably supports Abnett's script with subtle facial expressions that showcase Kurtis' distrust of her newfound allies. There's something about this episode that feels quintessentially sci-fi in nature, and it reminds me of those downbeat 1960s and 1970s sci-fi classics, such as Soylent Green, Logan's Run or Planet of the Apes. This is absolutely mesmerising stuff, regardless of whether there is masses of Sect cultists crawling through ventilation or four people discussing the future of their human colony as it rots from the inside.



BLACK SHUCK - SINS OF THE FATHER (Part 7)
Script - Leah Moore & John Reppion
Art - Steve Yeowell
Colours - Chris Blythe
Letters - Ellie de Ville

The chase is on as the Black Shuck hunts down the mysterious bowman who attacked the village of Dunwich, endangering his wife and unborn children. It appears as if the attacker was the Scucca who has been ravaging the countryside, acting as a mirror image to the Black Shuck himself. Scriptwriters John Reppion and Leah Moore do a great job at setting up the tension, as there is a strong sense of foreboding about this story-arc as Black Shuck leaves his wife and child alone to confront the Scucca. I heavily suspect that he will return to a raided Dunwich, possibly thanks to Coenwulf's forces and his wife and children will be slain. As for the Scucca, I am very curious to find out its true identity – my initial theory was that it was Eadwald, but perhaps it will be Coenwulf himself. Shuck's monologuing references rumours that the Scucca was his true father, and I wonder if that revelation will come to be true. The title of this second story-arc strongly implies some paternal tragedy, so I wonder whether Shuck or Scucca is the titular father in “Sins of the Father”. Once again, Steve Yeowell does a fantastic job on art duties with some flawless panel work and absolutely fluid storytelling throughout the episode.



SCARLET TRACES - COLD WAR (Part 2)
Script - Ian Edginton
Art - D'Israeli
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

After a striking opening episode, Ian Edginton and D'Israeli get to grips on explaining the danger that Earth faces at the hands of the aliens. Immediately, I was struck by how similar this series is to Helium – not surprising since it shares the same creators – but the whole concept of this opening chapter is similar to how Helium opened up: A refugee from an alien world arrives unexpectedly and offers to help the inhabitants defeat their shared enemy. It's not a negative, but it's interesting to see Edginton tap into the some of his familiar authorial tics once again.


This episode is tremendous fun, and I love the hyperactive personality of the Splice, who is reminiscent of Benedict Cumberbatch's turn as Sherlock Holmes or Tom Hiddleston's take on Loki, God of Mischief. Either actor could play the role in a cinematic adaptation of this series, and it's fun to see his quirky personality, complete with his bizarre Ena Sharples fandom, shine off the page. D'Israeli's artwork propels this story along at a merry speed, and it's terrific to see his steam-punk designs of this alternate London, made up of reverse-engineered technology left behind in the wake of a Martian invasion. Only two episodes in, and Scarlet Traces is shaping up to be a fantastic addition to 2000AD lore, and another excellent example of the genius creative team of Edginton and D'Israeli.



FUTURE SHOCKS - MEAT
Script - Martin Feekins
Art - Jon Davis-Hunt
Letters - Ellie de Ville

There's a strong hint of Strontium Dog about this post-apocalyptic thriller about two bounty hunters on a job, which helps the story instantly achieve that distinctive 2000AD tone. Pacing is the most problematic element of the Future Shock format, but Martin Feekins nails the balance between building up his protagonists whilst developing the story and its twist. His story is a nice subversion of the classic grizzled veteran schooling the green rookie, and as a result, there's a fun twist at the end of the tale that re-frames the whole adventure.


Adding to the success of this one-off tale is Jon Davis-Hunt's fantastic artwork, which instantly transports the reader to the desolate desert planet and provides key visual cues to quickly establish the landscape of the adventure. Davis-Hunt also fits in a nice bit of foreshadowing with his initial panels showcasing the beady eyes of the vulture – a motif that is revisited at the end of the story. Overall, this was a solid Future Shock that could easily have doubled as a Strontium Dog: Tales from the Doghouse adventure back in the day, and acts as a refreshing change of pace from the recent run of ongoing tales featured in the Prog.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

Yet again, this was another strong Prog and the inclusion of a one-off Future Shock paired nicely with the existing ongoing adventures. For me, Brink stole the limelight once again with a brilliantly tense bit of exposition that felt every bit as engaging as the series' action scenes. Abnett and Culbard have created something truly special with this series and watching it all come together has been an absolute delight. Judge Dredd has been equally as exciting on a weekly basis, and I'm on tenterhooks waiting to find out how Dredd and his team plan to solve the Oswin problem. While its early days for Scarlet Traces, it is shaping up to be another classic Edginton / D'Israeli romp with wonderful characters and brightly-coloured visuals to charm its readers. Even Black Shuck, which has been a strip I've struggled to engage with, has picked up as it heads towards its conclusion, pitting the titular were-creature against a rival threat. All in all, this is a fantastic time to be reading 2000AD as we head hurtling towards the landmark Prog 2000.

Thrill of the Week: Brink


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1989 will be available in stores on Wednesday 13th July - 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!

Review - Doctor Who: The 10th Doctor (Vol. 2) # 12

Doctor Who: The 10th Doctor (Vol. 2) # 12
"Music Man"
Written by: Nick Abadzis
Art by: Giorgia Sposito
Colours by: Arianna Florean

Death is the only companion that the Doctor has never parted ways with and this issue of the Tenth Doctor comic book series showcases the heavy cost that those who travel with the Time Lord must sometimes pay. There’s an eerie subdued tone to this issue, as Gabby and the Doctor find themselves surrounded by the unconscious and the dead following the cliff-hanger confrontation against the Nocturne seen in the preceding issue. While I was predicting an emotional resolution to Gabby’s “holiday romance” with Roscoe, I didn’t expect it to be as brutally harsh as it ended up. Nick Abadzis’ script tapped into the Doctor’s guilt and awkwardness surrounding death, as he and Gabby brought Roscoe’s body back from the future to be united with a distraught Cindy. That final image was surprisingly effecting and put an emotional sting onto the end of a fairly standard adventure. I’m very interested to see how this tragedy will shape Cindy, who has proven to be the more intriguing of the two female companions accompanying the Doctor through this adventure. Since she is not seen in Supremacy of the Cybermen, which is presumably set between Years Two and Three of the series, I suspect that Cindy may take a leave of absence in the near future.


Giorgia Sposito’s artwork really helps set the tone for this story-arc whilst maintaining the same style utilised by the various artists on this series to date. Sposito manages to bring a distinctive haunting quality to those final few pages as the Doctor and Gabby break the news of Roscoe’s death to their friend. As a whole, this was an entertaining diversion from the series’ central story-arc involving Anubis and offered genuine character development for its trio of lead characters. Abadzis’ script has a wonderful maturity to it, and I’ve really enjoyed seeing Gabby and Cindy grow as characters under the Doctor’s tutelage. With three issues remaining of this second year of adventures, it seems as if we’re heading towards the “season finale” and perhaps Abadzis will deal with the Anubis story-arc that has hung over this series since the Year One finale. Abadzis has seeded plenty more sub-plots in his narrative recently, such as the mystery surrounding the Time Lords and the Untempered Schism and Gabby’s growing psychic powers, both of which will presumably be dealt with in the next volume. I’m really enjoying Abadzis’ unique blend of mythology and mysticism that pervades his stories, and while it might not be typical Doctor Who fare at times, it has provided some fun stories and an in-depth exploration of the Doctor’s relationship with his companions.


Score - 8.6 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor (Vol. 2) # 12 is now available in all good comic shops, including Forbidden Planet, as well as on the Comixology website. Be sure to put in a standing order for the upcoming issues in the series when you pick up your copy!

Review - Doctor Who: The 4th Doctor # 4 (of 5)

Doctor Who: The 4th Doctor # 4 (of 5)
"Gaze of the Medusa" - Part 4 (of 5)
Written by: Gordon Rennie & Emma Beeby
Art by: Brian Williamson
Colours by: Hi-Fi

This penultimate issue of the Fourth Doctor miniseries sees the Doctor travelling back to Ancient Greece to do battle with the Medusa with the hopes of rescuing his loyal companion Sarah-Jane Smith. Unbeknownst to the Doctor, however, Sarah-Jane has already been turned into a statue by the fearsome creature. Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby do a great job of demystifying the Medusa in that quintessential Doctor Who way, making her into an alien creature whom the Ancient Greeks then turned into legend. The whole aspect of turning its foes to stone is also given a Doctor Who-styled explanation that nicely ties into the continuity of the Weeping Angels. Interestingly, the Fourth Doctor speaks of the Weeping Angels as creatures of myth, implying that he has yet to meet them in his own chronology. Given that Big Finish are soon releasing an audio adventure where the Fifth Doctor meets the Weeping Angels, it could be that story will be the first meeting of the Doctor and the quantum-locked stone creatures.


Rennie and Beeby demonstrate their firm grasp on the Fourth Doctor’s manner of speech, and as I read every bit of dialogue, I could hear Tom Baker’s unique vocal delivery in my head. Assisting this pitch-perfect recreation of the Fourth Doctor’s voice is Brian Williamson’s amazing job at bringing the character onto the page with photo-realistic skill. Reading this issue feels like time-travel in itself, thanks to the amazing accuracy of recreating the tone of the era by both writers and artist. This adventure feels ripped straight out of the Gothic Horror era of the Fourth Doctor, and much like Titan Comics’ other Doctor Who comic series, it feels authentic and high-quality throughout. While the story has felt somewhat formulaic at times, Rennie and Beeby still manage to introduce a surprise or two into the narrative, and the scene where Professor Odysseus James meets his end, and in a rather gruesome fashion too, elicited wide-eyed shock. Add to that, the complete head-scratcher of a cliff-hanger at the end and you have a stone-cold stunner of a penultimate issue to this wonderful five-part miniseries!


Score - 9.1 out of 10

Doctor Who: The Fourth Doctor # 4 is now available in all good comic shops, including Forbidden Planet, as well as on the Comixology website.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

2000AD Prog 1988

Prog 1988 Cover by D'Israeli

To celebrate the return of Scarlet Traces, Tharg has commissioned series artist D’Israeli to create an ‘out of this world’ cover image with some wonderfully anachronistic spaceships flying away from Earth to deal with the invading Martians. It reminds me of the Doctor Who episode, “Victory of the Daleks” where spitfires armed with alien technology engage with a Dalek mothership orbiting Earth. It’s a wonderfully striking image and it really captures that “Royal Britannia” spirit as the Union Jack-crested space craft make their way to battle. I’m not that familiar with the previous Scarlet Traces adventures but this cover certainly makes a strong impression and communicates the key themes of the series.


JUDGE DREDD - RECLAMATION (Part 3)
Script - Michael Carroll
Art - Colin MacNeil
Colours - Len O' Grady
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Chief Judge Oswin’s takeover of Mega-City One continues as she removes any potential obstacles from the playing field. Having dealt with most of the Council of Five and Chief Judge Hershey, Oswin begins to weaken Mega-City One’s Psi-Division using a multitude of tactics to debilitate the psychic Judges. Michael Carroll continues to present the ‘silent takeover’ of Mega-City One as an effective process, and I am very curious to see how he plans to reverse the dramatic changes he has made to the city – assuming of course that they aren’t permanent. Carroll’s script really captures that “city under siege” feel, and the lack of bloodshed and city-wide attacks make this mega-epic a very refreshing change from the norm. There’s no death toll in the billions here, but a very tense and taut thriller about an attempted regime change. As our ragtag group of heroes head towards the Grand Hall of Justice to confront Oswin, it feels like we’re heading towards the finale of this excellent long-running storyline.


Even though this installment mainly consists of Carroll putting the various chess pieces in their proper place, Colin MacNeil renders the scenes with such an intensely beautiful and atmospheric style. I love the way that he often presents Oswin’s Texan City Judges in silhouette, giving them a menacing presence and alluding to their secretive and ‘invisible’ takeover of the city. While it’s likely that Dredd and his team will prevent Oswin from completing her coup, I do wonder about the far-reaching ramifications of this storyline as surely it will position both Brit-Cit and Texas City as major threats to Mega-City One, which is a new status-quo for both cities. Both Carroll and MacNeil are master storytellers and every panel contributes towards that grim, outnumbered and outmatched tone that has been prevalent for most of this story-arc.



BRINK (Part 11)
Script - Dan Abnett
Art - INJ Culbard
Letters - Simon Bowland

Once again INJ Culbard takes the reins for this episode of Brink as he choreographs a wonderful zero-gravity fight sequence as Kurtis attempts to escape the crazed cultists after her blood. Through his expert use of colours, panels size and panel placement, Culbard is able to convey the claustrophobic feeling of being trapped in an elevator shaft to the reader. It's a tense sequence and Culbard knows how to pace his storytelling, making sure that he hits the right cinematic beats, such as the extended use of panels to showcase Kurtis' 'action hero moment' of shooting the anti-grav inhibitor and sending the cultists flying up to the ceiling. It's a truly inventive sequence of events, handled with effortless skill from a master storyteller. He has already proved his 'cinematic chops' in the epic 'clock-punk' fantasy Brass Sun, but here Culbard channels his inner sci-fi geek to flirt with a different genre to equal success.


Of course writer Dan Abnett deserves his share of the credit for this excellent series – his pulse-pounding script has maintained a rapid pace throughout the past eleven weeks and has never failed to surprise, or indeed shock. With Kurtis welcomed into the inner sanctum of the resistance against the Cults and the Corporations, it seems that Abnett is ready to connect the dots between Kurtis and Brinkmann's investigation and the eerie cult of the Leper Heart. It's been a wonderful mystery and I love the way Abnett has drip-fed the reader pieces of information throughout the series, never drawing attention to some of the clues and exposition behind the Brink's inner workings. Never willing to follow the path of least resistance, Abnett and Culbard have created a real modern classic with Brink – constantly shifting the playing field for the reader and the series' characters to ensure that each page is an absolute joy to read.



BLACK SHUCK - SINS OF THE FATHER (Part 6)
Script - Leah Moore & John Reppion
Art - Steve Yeowell
Colours - Chris Blythe
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Black Shuck’s machinations lead towards conflict between Coenwulf and Eadwald as Dunwich is attacked by Mercia’s forces, causing Shuck to reveal his wolf-man secret to save a new-born from a burning building. Instantly, the Shuck is accused by the villagers of being the Scucca who has been attacking people and livestock in the area, but his act of selfless heroism seems to confirm to the reader that he isn’t the were-creature who has been terrorising East Anglia. I suspect that the villagers won’t be as easily convinced, and I fear that his wife and children will met an untimely end due to their superstition and fears – it certainly seems that John Reppion and Leah Moore are heading towards a tragic end for the Black Shuck’s family, with the very title “Sins of the Father” indicating a dire fate. Steve Yeowell maintains his firm grip on 9th Century fantasy, imbuing every panel with an authentic Anglo-Saxon atmosphere - however, I still struggle to work out who each of the main male cast members are, given that they are all dark-haired and bearded.



SCARLET TRACES - COLD WAR (Part 1)
Script - Ian Edginton
Art - D'Israeli
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Being unfamiliar with the preceding chapters of Scarlet Traces that ran in Judge Dredd Megazine, I greatly appreciated the brief ‘catch-up’ section provided in Tharg’s Nerve Centre, although Ian Edginton’s script is wonderfully accessible to new readers. Rather than throwing the reader into the deep end with exposition and references to prior adventures, this opening episode has a Star Wars: A New Hope quality to it, with the parallel between the Martian’s crash-landing on Earth and C3PO and R2-D2 arriving on Tatooine. The comparison continues when you consider A New Hope is technically the fourth installment of the series, yet acts as the entry point into the franchise for a whole generation of fans. Unfortunately, I’m even more in the dark since I’ve never read H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds - *gasp* - yeah, I know. Despite my overwhelming lack of knowledge, Edginton ensures that I’m kept in the loop with his naturalistic dialogue and gentle introduction to the series’ concept.


Paired once again with Edginton is epic artist D’Israeli, who brings his vivid and colourful vision of this alternate 1960s onto the page with his usual visual flourishes. I’m struck by how similar the series looks to the duo’s recent offering, Helium, and I wonder whether there is a connection between these two series beyond the visual similarities, as Helium shares a H.G. Wells’ tone in its story. As always, I find myself mesmerised by D’Israeli’s artwork and his ability to infuse his panels with that child-like wonder and fascination with science-fiction. Even without the knowledge that this series is a ‘sequel’ to War of the Worlds, it is clear that H.G. Wells is an influence on this adventure. I was expecting myself to be playing ‘catch up’ for the first few episodes, but I feel confident that the series will be accessible to new readers such as myself, and I look forward to catching up on the previous Scarlet Traces adventures once they are reprinted in graphic novel format next year.



SLAINE - THE BRUTANIA CHRONICLES: PSYCHOPOMP (Part 10)
Script - Pat Mills
Art - Simon Davis
Letters - Ellie de Ville

As expected, Slaine’s ultimate humiliation is a temporary roadblock for the character as he is spurred back into action by his companions. Pat Mills wisely moves away from this plot device to begin cultivating his end of book cliff-hanger, which is actually quite effective as it involves a brilliant Simon Davis double-page spread featuring the stone army of the Archon. The series has been rather ‘hit-and-miss’ with me over the past ten weeks, reusing the familiar tropes and narrative cul-de-sacs seen in previous adventures as Mills attempts to use Slaine’s childhood with his mother to reveal traumatic secrets from his past. Of course, Davis’ artwork has been stunning throughout and he has made the series look absolutely amazing from his very first panel, right up until the end. The next book promises to be the final chapter in the tale, and hopefully it will offer a strong conclusion to “The Brutania Chronicles”, allowing Mills and Davis to return to shorter, more defined adventures for the character.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

Breezing into the line-up with a cocky swagger, Scarlet Traces takes the position of “Thrill of the Week”, thanks to Ian Edginton and D'Israeli's excellent world-building skills. While I do worry that the similarities to Helium may make it feel somewhat derivative at times, I'm expecting great things from this series. Elsewhere, Michael Carroll and Colin MacNeil are meticulously building up towards an epic climax to their current Judge Dredd storyline, and even though it's likely that Dredd will reclaim his city from the Texans, I cannot wait to find out what the status-quo between the two cities will be once the dust has settled. While my natural affinity for science-fiction has me preferring the future-focused stories, both Slaine and Black Shuck ensure that there is plenty here for fans of fantasy. Moreso than with its recent line-ups, these five stories span a diverse range of genres and there should be something for all tastes within its 32 pages.

Thrill of the Week: Scarlet Traces


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1988 will be available in stores on Wednesday 6th July - 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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