Wednesday, 17 August 2016

2000AD Prog 1994

Prog 1994 Cover by Ben Willsher

Ben Willsher nails the brutality of PJ Maybe’s murderous ways with this fantastic cover that places the serial killer’s trademark badly spelt notes front and centre. Even though most of the gruesome tableau is obscured, Willsher manages to establish a macabre tone to his cover image that is reflected inside with Carlos Ezquerra’s wonderful interiors. Tharg referred to this current Judge Dredd storyline as a thrilling “cat and mouse” chase between cop and killer, and this cover image certainly captures that vibe. The perspective and angles are spot-on and really help the cover stand out from the crowd – definitely a strong contender for the eventual Top 10 2000AD Covers in 2016 list.


JUDGE DREDD - LADYKILLER (Part 4)
Script - John Wagner
Art - Carlos Ezquerra
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Narrowly escaped capture yet again, PJ Maybe resorts to random murders in an attempt to persuade Dredd into ending his manhunt. It’s interesting to note the desperation in Maybe’s behaviour as he continues to make sloppy mistakes and even his internal monologue chides him for tipping his hand after Chaos Day and revealing himself to be still alive. After a solid four episodes of the Justice Department having the upper hand, this installment showcases Maybe’s attempts to regain control of the situation and despite his erratic behaviour, he remains a very dangerous threat to Dredd and his supporting cast. There’s a wonderful tension about this storyline as John Wagner delights at bringing these two nemeses together for what appears to be their final face-off. While it seems increasingly likely that Maybe’s luck is about to run out, I am still wary that the title “Ladykiller” may be more literal than we first thought and refers to one of the female supporting cast members in Dredd’s world.


The living legend that is Carlos Ezquerra continues to serve up a world-class feast for the eyes as things take a more macabre turn in this installment. As with poor Budley’s strangulation in Prog 1992, Ezquerra creates a genuine sense of unease as Maybe commits another murder, this time killing a well-loved priest. The religious iconography and ‘crucifixion’ imagery certainly heightens the effect of the crime scene and Ezquerra’s artwork has a wonderful grittiness to it that suits the story-arc. With Maybe more focused on spilling blood on the streets, it appears that these set-pieces are set to get bigger and bloodier as the story advances. With Prog 2000 billed as a ‘special story’ from Wagner and Ezquerra, I wonder if it will be a similar set-up to Orlok’s death and we will see Maybe publicly executed after being caught in Prog 1999. The thing is, it’s impossible to predict where this story is going next as Wagner and Ezquerra conjure up a gripping thriller filled with unlimited promise. 



JUDGE DREDD - CAROUSEL
Script - Michael Carroll
Art - Ben Willsher
Colours - Chris Blythe
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

In the wake of his excellent mega-epic “Every Empire Falls”, Michael Carroll returns to Judge Dredd with an absolutely electrifying single episode that just drips with coolness. Playing out like Die Hard set in a hospital, Carroll crafts a story that showcases Dredd's toughness and inability to lie down and die – he is an unstoppable force here, not unlike Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees. Thematically, it is similar to his recent story “Sleeping Duty” in Prog 1956, which featured some perps uncovering a sleeping Dredd in a stasis tube, but rather than attack him, they surrender themselves because they know they'd inevitably fail. Thanks to the lengthier page count found in the Judge Dredd Megazine, this extended story feels perfectly paced and could easily be adapted as an episode for a Dredd TV show on Netflix. It is so cinematic, riffing on slasher horror tropes and 80s action movies.


It's always a treat to see Ben Willsher on art duties, and after doing such a fabulous job on Prog 1994's cover, he brings his flair for the gore to this adventure. Willsher captures the brutality of the perp's attack on the hospital perfectly, and the ferocity of their attack is later mirrored by that of Dredd's. Willsher is the ideal art droid to illustrate this alternate depiction of Dredd, capturing the raw pain and anger as he systemically executes his would-be assassins. After putting Dredd through the wringer in his mega-epic, Carroll effectively resets the clock and literally refreshes the character for other writers – in his epilogue last month in the Megazine, Carroll implied that Dredd had plenty more years on the streets ahead of him. In this story, he actively demonstrates this fact and addresses those critics who question why a man in his 70s is still able to work as a Judge. Even though he takes his fair share of punishment during adventures, Dredd's body can always be repaired and rejuvenated – but is his mind as durable? I think back to Rob Williams' hints of senility seen in his stories, and wonder what is next for ol' Joe.



THARG'S 3RILLERS - MINDMINE (Part 2)
Script - Rory McConville
Art - Colin MacNeil
Colours - Peter Doherty
Letters - Simon Bowland

After establishing his story’s conceit in the opening episode, Rory McConville turns his attention to character building as he focuses on his protagonist whose mind is infected with the psychic shrapnel of one of the enemy’s minds. What initially seemed like a riff on Inception has become something more – it’s a bloody brilliant idea and McConville makes full use of the dramatic ramifications of having pieces of someone else’s mind etched into your own. McConville’s authorial voice is brilliant, showcasing a real sense of confidence in his storytelling that makes the recent addition to the magazine feel like part of the 2000AD furniture already. Colin MacNeil’s artwork remains flawless as always, and it’s great fun to see him focused on the alien environments and populous as opposed to his more grounded work on Judge Dredd. Demonstrating his excellent grasp of mashing sci-fi concepts and character development together in quick bursts, McConville delivers a cracking ‘middle chapter’ to his first Tharg’s 3riller, showcasing the talent that helped him win the Thought Bubble 2000AD Writing Competition  last year.



ANDERSON, PSI DIVISION - THE CANDIDATE (Part 2)
Script - Emma Beeby
Art - Nick Dyer
Colours - Richard Elson
Letters - Ellie de Ville

Anderson, Psi Division continues to make political parallels as the Citizen’s Army attempts to ruin Carol Smart’s mayoral campaign, even hijacking the airwaves to do so. After last Prog’s assassination attempt, Emma Beeby adopts a more investigative stance in this episode as Anderson and Flowers work together to uncover more about the mysterious Citizen’s Army and their hold on people. Once again, an innocent person is seemingly hypnotised into performing the organisation’s terrorist attacks and I wonder if the so-called Citizen’s Army will be revealed to be a single person with psi-talents who has been exerting their influence on the Citizens, in a Manchurian Candidate style.


Nick Dyer’s art has a wonderfully nostalgic quality to it, reminding me of Cam Kennedy’s work on the Prog many years ago. His interpretation of Anderson is much less glamorous than other artist’s take on her, and I like this grittier and more mundane approach. The story is ticking along nicely and the references to the US presidential election and organisations such as Anonymous help preserve 2000AD’s strong reputation at presenting stories ripped from the headlines and shown through a science-fiction prism. The story itself is an interesting departure from the typical emotional roller-coaster that Judge Anderson usually endures, and it is odd reading an emotionally detached and more hard-ass version of Cass. At the moment, Judge Flowers seems to be the more interesting of the two characters, and I hope Beeby spends some more time with Anderson and her inner monologue in future episodes.



SCARLET TRACES - COLD WAR (Part 7)
Script - Ian Edginton
Art - D'Israeli
Letters - Annie Parkhouse

Opening up with some curious foreshadowing of future events, this episode of Scarlet Traces sees our heroes trapped in a Martian jail in Venus awaiting interrogation at the hands of their captors. Despite moving the action to Venus, this series remains rooted in its characters and this chapter sheds some further light on the mysterious Splice character who has instigated events. Finally, we get a name for the flamboyant anti-hero (Iykarus) and a backstory that fleshes out his motivations for arriving on Earth. Ian Edginton continues to maintain a brisk pace to the storyline, having out heroes escape captivity and running into a familiar face, whilst dropping in some more mysterious hints about Ahron Shakespeare’s true purpose.


D’Israeli’s gorgeous artwork remains integral to the tone of this series, and the architecture of the Martian jail evokes memories of classic Doctor Who episodes such as “Genesis of the Daleks” – in fact, the Martians themselves are very reminiscent of the Daleks – slimy, octopoid creatures encased in metal casing. I also loved the brutal efficiency of the fight scene between Iykarus and the two splice guards and D’Israeli’s use of green tones in the panels to accentuate the laser blasts. The panel where Iykarus blasts open the splice guard’s skull with a concentrated laser blast is horrifically beautiful and brought to life perfectly. Even though the series is hitting its stride now, Edginton and D’Israeli never lose sight of their wonderfully realised characters, and Scarlet Traces works perfectly as a love letter to classic science-fiction.



OUTLIER - SURVIVOR GUILT (Part 5)
Script - T.C. Eglington
Art - Karl Richardson
Letters - Ellie de Ville

The Hurde’s counterattack against the Alliance instantly changes the tide of the war as the symbiotic creatures begin to transform civilians into enemy occupants, effectively increasing their numbers and making further ground attacks useless. T.C Eglington maintains the pressure as he reveals the full extent of the Hurde’s forces, finally adding some evidence to fuel their reputation. While these initial episodes have focused on a galactic scale, Eglington seems to be heading back to a more micro level with the suggestion of a mission to deliver Caul to the Hurde to prove that he was manipulated by rebellious factions within the alien race. Presumably, this will bring him into contact with Carcer and add an element of symmetry to the story as the two characters clash once more on opposite sides of the fence. After five weeks setting up this last-ditch rescue mission, I’m looking forward to seeing Eglington focus more on his principal characters. Karl Richardson remains the driving force behind this script, bringing the epic sense of future war to life with style. There’s a brutal element to his work on the strip, which suits the uncompromising and vicious nature of the Hurde. All in all, this strip is shaping up to be a final conclusion to the Outlier trilogy as it heads towards its next act.



OVERALL THOUGHTS / NEXT WEEK:

Once again, the Judge Dredd Megazine has trumped 2000AD with a nail-biter of a Judge Dredd story – while things are heating up with PJ Maybe over in “Ladykiller”, Michael Carroll and Ben Willsher managed to craft a thing of beauty over in the Megazine. Without a doubt, “Carousel” might be the best Judge Dredd story of the year, and it has definitely risen to the top of the list of stories I want to see brought to life in a Dredd TV show!

The rest of the Prog is brimming to the edges with high-quality storytelling, making it tough to pick a favourite within the Prog itself. Each and every story is firing on all cylinders, providing a strong line-up as the magazine heads towards the iconic landmark of Prog 2000. I'm eagerly awaiting the next chapter of “Ladykiller” as Wagner and Ezquerra gleefully pit arch-enemies against each other for perhaps the final time! I'm in serious danger of thrill-power overload over the coming weeks, and I'm loving every drokkin' minute!

Thrill of the Week: Judge Dredd (Megazine)


The physical edition of 2000AD Prog 1994 will be available in stores on Wednesday 17th August - 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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