Well folks, Zarjaz #18 doesn’t mess around. By the very second page, suicide bombers have killed one bunch of civilians and a hungry tyrannosaur (beautifully brought to life by SK Moore) is ripping the rest of them in half. As a huge dinosaur nut myself, I’d just like to say this is how every comic about anything ever produced by anyone anywhere should start. And there’s no let up from that point.
As usual, the standard on display here is notably above average. Every strip has something to like and if some of them may not quite match up to the actual prog in terms of ability (and let me say, they all come pretty close in my book), they more than make up for it with does-what-it-says-on-the-tin Grud’s-honest enthusiasm and energy.
My highlights: Ewington and Crossley’s ‘Masqueraid Of Death’ (the Dark Judges show up but all’s not quite what it seems), Williams and Bell’s ‘Barely Legal’ is a delightful tease (and shows us Dredd has an arse as great as Anderson’s. Not what I was expecting to have stuck in my head!) and my personal favorite, McAuliffe’s A Helping Hand – complete with the masterful, wondrous art of Tom Berry – manage to bring unexpected and fresh spins to their tales.
Dogbreath #27’s no chopped liver either. Dogbreath feels less whimsical than Zarjaz. The stories are generally more serious, have more pathos and sometimes it can feel a little more hemmed in content-wise.
The artwork generally stays under Ezquerra’s giant shadow, a more than safe and respectful place to nest but if I had one thought, it would be to see these artists explore their own styles with these characters (there’s a beautiful pin-up by Graeme Neil Reid, for example).
Such is the price to pay when you focus on one specific property but in saying that, I immensely enjoyed this. I particularly loved Avery and Broughton’s ‘All That I Have’. Richmond Clements pulls a triple shift here and knocks it out of the park. Maeve the Many-Armed is just plain awesome. (More please, Rich!) It’s great to see the original Ezquerra’s Durham Red back in action again (never cared for her reinvention in the prog).
Look, Zarjaz and Dogbreath are just plain great magazines. The writing’s never less than solid, the stories are engaging and the artwork’s top notch. Both of them arrive safely snuggled between Ben Willsher’s beautiful wraparound covers. To write them off as fan-fiction would be a mistake. To my eyes, they’re a perfectly valid spin-off of the mother publication with a great opportunity to explore these worlds in a way the prog would never have time to. Go buy them. Go buy the back issues. Go buy everything. You won’t be disappointed.