Review written by Jordan Smith
Another week, another smashing Prog, and yes, I’m using that corny line to open this review with your usual chat about the cover, which in this case is of Dredd smashing through glass on his bike like an utter badass.
It’s brought to us from Ben Willsher, a terrific artist, but not someone that I believe I ever encountered during my collecting of the comic. No, where I discovered him was in the trade paperback collections of Day of Chaos, though I’m to understand that he’s worked on other strips too. The cover itself isn’t one I would have had a lot to say about to tell you the truth, but don’t let that make you think it’s bad. Although it’s not a particularly unusual shot to find Dredd in, the two things that make it more interesting than most are the reflections of whoever Dredd’s shooting at and that the Lawmaster takes up a lot of space instead of the man riding it. Indeed, in my lurking’s of 2000AD’s forums, I’ve noticed quite a number of people associating Willsher with Dredd’s bike and rightfully so because he draws those things like no other.
Over on 2000AD Covers Uncovered, in fact, the author of that blog refers to him as “king of Lawmaster porn”, which is hilarious but also very true. From now on I think I’ll always be leaving a link to the relevant post of that blog each week because the thought process behind these covers makes for interesting reading. In this case, for example, the shot was inspired by Dredd’s first ever appearance and the idea of adding the reflections of a perp that Dredd’s attacking was to give the shot a greater sense of purpose. Excellent stuff in other words. Hopefully we’ll see some interior artwork from Willsher in the near future.
Alright, moving on.
On the contrary to my suggestion last time that this week’s episode of Dredd would give us a good indication of which direction it would be heading in, Tharg announces in his usual column that this week’s instalment of Mega City Confidential is actually the penultimate one, something that came as a bit of a surprise. Being such a slow burner these past three weeks, I expected that now would be the time that something happens to force the pace into a quicker second half, but with only one more episode to go, that isn’t the case at all. Though he makes it safely out of Dredd and Styler’s clutches just before they find out that he has evidence against Section 7, Blixen’s escape isn’t what I would call comparable to Erika’s tense time on the run.
In fact, we see some humour again this week, which I noticed has led some people into believing – this in addition to Dredd’s comment to Styler that he was “never going to keep this under wraps forever” – that the mystery of what Erika found out in the first place may turn out to be quite anti-climatic, possibly quite trivial in nature. Personally I don’t see it that way at all, especially since Dredd’s refusal to do anything else to keep the secret contained suggests to me that it’s something he disapproves of. But that this has only been five parts and is ending with the reveal next week actually leads me into thinking that Wagner has future plans in mind with whatever this may turn out to be, not something that I would say is unusual of him – it’s the sort of build-up that I associate with him being the head writer of Dredd, typically acting as a prologue to a greater, bigger story. Whether I’m right or wrong is something that I suppose we’ll find out next week, or tomorrow in my and other subscriber’s case presuming my Prog reaches me then.
Next up we have Outlier and I’m afraid I’m going to be quite harsh here – or harsher than last time I should say – having read a post on 2000AD’s forum that quite rightly compared the strip to the superior Jaegir, a subject I was also wanting to talk about. Both stories are, as he says, very alike in plot, being centred around the hunt for a former human / semi-human, semi-monster who is the cause of several deaths, but where they differ is in their approach, the former story of which – apparently not a series that’ll continue judging by the fact that it has no subtitle like Jaegir – has been doing a terrible job.
Last week I said that I wouldn’t be getting my hopes up for the story to surprise me, not giving two hoots about the weak attempt at character development through flashback at the time, but now I’m saying that I don’t really care what happens anymore. Unless whatever Caul is about to reveal about the Hurde is completely game changing, I cannot see their being any chance of this redeeming itself. None at all. And that’s having noticed that, like the first episode, there are two panels in which Carcer and Caul’s expressions are mirrored, again suggesting a stronger connection between the two. But who cares if there is when the former character might as well not exist for someone who’s apparently the protagonist, such is how little we see and actually give a shit about him; and the latter, though with the potential of being more interesting, isn’t really, the little we know of him being quite the cliche, this episode seeing him being berated for his past by the people who still bully him, boohoo, etc.?
Cementing its failure, I’m somewhat sad to say, is Karl Richardson’s artwork, which I’ve now grown bored of. If there was an episode for him to shine, this would have been it, but I really didn’t like what I saw. There’s actually an extra page for the strip this week to fit in a double page spread, indicative of this supposedly having meant to be a better looking episode than the last three, but I can’t call myself a fan of it too unfortunately, Caul’s figure looking a bit too stiff for someone running from a stampede, the pages being a little too cluttered such that two of the monkey-like aliens don’t look like they’re correctly in perspective, and the amount of green – and not an easy-on-the-eye shade of it either – is horrible. In general his artwork for the story has just been awfully generic, and though I’m sure that’s partly a fault of Eglington’s script too, couldn’t he have angled the shots of Carcer in his cockpit in this issue and last from another perspective, say from above so that we can see the planet below us, subtly making the world looking a little more lively and interesting?
That’s not been a problem of Jaegir, which continues to flesh out its world and characters week to week, still my favourite of the Prog’s selection thus far. By the time this current series, Strigoi, is over and the next begins, Rennie will have us invested enough in the world for him to do something bigger in scale. Indeed, this is another slow paced episode, but I’ll be damned if I don’t fucking love it.
Unlike this week’s Outlier, which sees Caul trapped purely by cocky chance, we get a full episode devoted to Jaegir and co. setting up their ambush for Grigoru at her family castle, learning additional snippets of information about everyone, including the fact that Jaegir and her target once slept together. Though it was already quite easy to feel sorry for the guy before, through the simple display of his physical transformation and the effect this had on him mentally, I like that Rennie poses Jaegir’s ultimate task of eliminating him as something more personal, and thus more difficult to do.
In another short scene – though it’s alluded to through the idea of the castle formerly belonging to an “evil wizard”, something she tells Grigoru’s son (and doesn’t that story itself, made at her own expense when the boy is frightened by her scar, say a lot about her character?) – we learn what exactly her father was like (he was a dick) through a flashback, but not one that felt like the ham-fisted exposition seen in Outlier last week. Instead, the memory that we see of her father through a ghostly apparition-like way is only bluntly brought to the surface like that after the afore-mentioned “evil wizard” dialogue, finding a portrait of him as she wanders the halls with Klaur, and then changing the idea of the castle having been occupied by a bad wizard to that of ghosts unforgotten instead. Absolutely brilliant writing, and terribly atmospheric art and colouring from Simon Coleby and Len O’Grady once again.
The only negative criticism that I have is that it appears to be ending soon! Say it isn’t so, I know. At the end of this fourth part we do find the strigoi making his way to Jaegir’s castle, meaning that its attack will probably be beginning next issue. It’s difficult to tell how long it may be drawn out, especially since I’m quite sure that Rennie will continue to flesh out his characters where he can, but as killing this poor guy is the whole point of this first series, it seems likely that it’ll draw to an end an episode or two after his death. Not sure that it’s going to be a happy ending though.
What will most likely see a happy ending is Sinister Dexter, if only so it can dump more crappy filler stories upon us. As much as I hate this fucking series (is it obvious?), however, I would like to think that I’m fair to one and all, including this, which actually sees a pretty decent episode for a change. Maybe it’s because the two annoying lead characters are missing for most of the five full pages and only get a single line of dialogue each, or maybe it’s because I’ve just started watching Sons of Anarchy with its nasty biker gang recently, but I did enjoy this week’s episode, particularly the focus paid to the two female characters who come to Ray and Finny’s rescue after exposing the traitor we saw last week at the biker’s bar. With the fifth part looking to be the big gunfight that the main characters are caught between, this might go out with a bang after three fairly crap episodes. That’s a thing you have to keep in mind about 2000AD – opinions can quite quickly change if a story is steered in a particular direction or other.
Slaine is the story I’ve saved for last for the simple reason that nothing worth talking about actually happens when it comes to its story. Following last week’s ending and my doubts about Mills’ direction with future instalments, we instead immediately follow that with a fight, as we find that Sinead was followed from Minadh – which she would seem to have genuinely escaped from – by gloops, the lizard-like creatures we’ve seen before. It ends on a dreadful cliffhanger of Slaine turning to find one of their tails indeed flying towards him, which I just find silly, but that’s about it, and no, I’m not complaining. For the reason I saved this for last is that this is easily the best damn art that I’ve ever seen from Simon Davis.
Yeah, if you thought that the look of this new story arc couldn’t get any better, think again. Honestly, I no longer know what to expect from the guy after seeing these past four episodes because this is bloody ridiculously good looking. The thing is, as I was collecting the comic, I had a bit of an on-off appreciation of his art style, one moment dropping my jaw but the next thinking it looked awfully lazy with its long distance silhouette shots where characters looked like stick men, or its at times awkward colouring of characters.
But this has been incredible each and every week, though I now wonder if it’s possible for him to top these six pages because, seriously, if it weren’t for the lettering and the fact that it isn’t actually the two centre pages of the Prog, I would take that two page spread and frame the damn thing. Stunning artwork and speaking of lettering, I think we should all be very grateful that, for those two pages, we find Slaine’s thought bubbles running along the bottom of the page, underneath their respective panels instead of inside them, letting us enjoy the art all the more, so thank god for Elle De Ville using common sense where others may not have done so. Can’t wait to see what this strip looks like next week.
Or tomorrow morning if my Prog arrives as early as it should. As usual, though, I won’t be writing up a review until it’s actually on sale this Wednesday but, until then, I do intend to begin my catching up of the Megazine, starting at issue 332 and making my way up to the recently arrived 347. Should take me quite a while since I intend to talk about the floppy bagged with each, but more so because I actually have additional copies of those mini-trades that I guess I’ll have to review separately.
There’s other posts coming too. It hasn’t arrived yet but I’ll be writing a review for Insurrection, a Dan Abnett and Colin MacNeil series set in the Dredd universe, once I’ve read it. It recently finished with book three in the Megazine so I wanted to buy this trade paperback collecting the first two in order to really enjoy it. Having blitzed my way through all three volumes of Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Saga series recently, I’ll be doing a write up of my thoughts on that as well. Spoilers: it is fucking amazing and everyone should be reading it. Should also see a more personal post up too quite soon. Alas, I’ll be going on holiday at the end of May so how I intend to do all this, I do not know, but oh well.
Until next time.