Review written by Jordan Smith
Bloody hell, that’s a really nice cover again this week. With the exception of Karl Richardson’s cover for Outlier, I’ve been quite fond of all the covers I’ve seen so far, and this is certainly no exception. The unusual thing is that most, including this, have been stock covers, unrelated to the story inside, and those have a habit of being quite poor in my experience. But so far, so good, I’m happy to report.
This particular one is brought to us by Phil Winslade, an artist only credited with one Dredd story and a Tharg’s Terror Tale on Wikipedia (though he’ll be appearing in the Megazine shortly alongside Dan Abnett), but would appear to have done several covers, most recently before this that of Megazine 345. According to Wikipedia he was supposed to do the art for Ian Edington’s The Red Seas instead of Steve Yeowell, which is quite interesting (and incidentally, that’s another series I missed the conclusion of I’m sad to say) and makes me wonder how that would have looked. Anyway, unlike the Simon Coleby and Len O’Grady cover of last week, there’s an entry over on 2000AD Covers Uncovered for this one. It doesn’t suggest anything about the idea behind it, I guess because the aim was as simple as creating a very old school look, but you get a nice look at the different stages it went through. Before adding the colourful background, I have to say that I actually quite liked the look of the painted Dredd on a plain white background quite a bit. Maybe we can see it like that on the cover of a Case Files book in the distant future?
Either way, it looks terrific, and the psychedelic-like background is what really makes it appear like an old school sort of cover anyway. It’s not something I expect will draw the attention of passer-bys unfamiliar with the comic, but I’m sure long time fans probably cracked a smile when they saw it. Excellent stuff – what a painter this guy is!
So, Mega City Confidential ended last week, which means there’s a new Dredd story (which will be four parts long according to artist John McCrea’s blog) starting in this Prog. But imagine my joy when I found that this tale, Shooters Night, is the second in the row written by John Wagner! Oh yes, I can live with that alright. Being of such short length again and similarly dark in tone does make me wonder if I’m right that the man is up to something. But then again, I can’t imagine what, if there’s anything, that he could be leading up to, having recently been reminded of Dark Justice, the next epic due to start at the end of the year. There’s plenty of time before then certainly, but I figure that it’s best not to go making wild speculations and just look at these two tales for what they are.
The last was very much classic Dredd social commentary and it had its usual sense of humour proudly worn on its sleeve. The first episode of this on the other hand shows a teenage boy gunning down classmates at a party he wasn’t invited to. Although it’s a sadly all too familiar sounding shooting spree, it will probably take another episode or two until we see if it’s also social commentary on this real world issue. If it is, then it’s certainly uncannily timed with the very recent stabbing of a schoolteacher by a student in England, though I guess there’s no “good” time to offer a perspective on something as tragic as that. Whatever the case may be, Wagner’s writing is as solid as ever – really liked the inner monologue of Dredd quickly sizing up the situation, so used to these random killings that he is – and the set up for this first episode, with its implication of there being more to the shooting than just another depressed citizen of Mega City One, suggests that next week’s will be just as good.
The artwork comes from the aforementioned John McCrea, an artist who has contributed to 2000AD and the Megazine before, and who I should have come across in my readings of the Complete Case Files unless I haven’t gotten that far. Indeed, his name doesn’t jog my memory, so I’m kind of treating this like it’s the first I’ve seen of him. But the good news is that I like what I see. The only somewhat worthwhile thing I can possibly point out about the artwork besides the usual obvious stuff is his interesting line work. There’s a lot of these really thick, bold lines used for the shadow on one side of a character’s face, part of their clothing or what have you, but an interesting little thing that McCrea does is have much thinner lines come off of these. On the second to last panel of page five you can even see that, on Dredd’s face, he has these really thick lines then a series of thin ones and then more thick ones, as if the thin ones are connecting the two. Couldn’t tell you why he does all these things but it’s something I noticed and, for some reason I can’t find the words to describe, it’s really eye-catching and unique. Looking forward to seeing what McCrea has up his sleeve for the remaining episodes.
We see Outlier make preparations for the finale that I expect we’ll see in the next couple of weeks or so, but not a whole lot else. In fact, the only interesting thing of note is that there’s yet more mirroring of Caul and Carcer’s actions, this time in the form of a flashback for our lacklustre protagonist where the words “Close your eyes” are spoken like they were for Caul’s pleasant memory last week. So, yeah, hopefully whatever their “psychological link” might be and mean for the two will be something interesting. Otherwise, we just continue to see Ramona being up to no good as she lures Caul into a trap that she doesn’t mind getting former friends killed to partake in. Hopefully the showdown that we’ll be seeing soon will end the strip on an at least decent note if Carcer and Caul’s connection amounts to nothing, as the rest has been very unimpressive.
As far Richardson’s art, well, I noticed a curious little thing this week, what with all the talking heads and all, and that’s how he really seems to draw men and women in only a handful of ways. Seriously, you have Mr. Muscle that we’ve seen thrice before, a woman who looks like a slightly thicker-necked version of Ramona with a different hair colour, and the guy who’s murdered looks like the guy killed in the second episode but with more hair. Weird. But hey, we’re six episodes into this series and I’m only just noticing this, so whatever. Some people seem to really like Richardson’s artwork for some reason that I can’t understand. I’ll admit that it’s instantly recognisable, but I’m not convinced that it’s any good. What I saw him do in two episodes of The 86er’s so long ago was, from memory, much better than any episode I’ve seen of this. Maybe Eglington’s script is to blame, I don’t know; but I really find myself glancing over the art now, which is quite a shame.
Not so with Simon Davis’ continually incredible work on Slaine. To be honest, I think I’m completely out of praise to heap upon it, and that isn’t a bad thing. It’s just so consistently wonderful that there’s really no need to talk at length about how detailed it is, how he gets expressions right every time, and so on. That sort of goes with Pat Mills’ writing too.
The dialogue has been unusually sparse for him but when there is any, it’s been fantastic, such as Slaine splashing about the water in anger when Sinead’s taken by evil mermaids (which are the best kind, don’t cha know) this week. A lot of people have also been pointing out that this marks either the first or one of few times that we see Slaine’s own inner thoughts, the perspective usually brought to us courtesy of Ukko the dwarf. This isn’t something I would really know, but it is interesting and further evidence of Mills taking a much more bare bones approach, for this instalment in the new series at least, stripped of a roster of characters and a ridiculously complex plot. And it really can’t be a coincidence that there’s so little of this, yet so much bloody good art taking up the place. I do wonder what Mills’ script looked like for this story arc; if he specifically told Davis that there wouldn’t be much in way of significant plot developments and that he should just go fucking mental.
Not that I’m complaining, mind – I’m continuing to love this and am still praying that Davis will be kept on for the rest of the series, whether Mills returns to usual tricks or not. It’s been bloody good fun and I appreciate that it hasn’t been taking itself too seriously. Looking forward to the first release of the collected edition of the A.B.C. Warriors later this week to get a good look at Mills’ earliest writing for those characters.
“The latest outing of Sinister Dexter sadly draws to an all to early conclusion this week…I just…*sniff*…I just…Noooooooooo!“, cried no one ever.
You know, I wish I could say that when I suddenly find myself reading the words “The End” in another of these fucking stories, I jump up and punch the air in triumph, but I don’t. Because if Tharg doesn’t say it in his usual column before you reach those two typically beautiful words – which I actually prefer, since it’s a much fairer warning, and gets the pain of defeat out the way – you can be damn sure that they’ll be juxtaposed on the final panel of the strip itself with words to the effect of “More soon”, a stark reminder that this shit will never truly end. The scariest thing is that you never know how soon soon is, so you become paranoid, watching as another series ends and wondering what its replacement may be, shuddering at the thought that you’ll open next week’s Prog and find another of these stories facing you. What would be really bad timing for their return in my case is if it were as quickly as June like Jaegir, as that’s when I’ll be returning from a lovely holiday. Please don’t make me come back to this country of dreary weather to find that this duo have made their return. Have mercy, Tharg, I implore you.
Every dark cloud has its silver lining, however, and in this case that would be Smudge’s artwork, which is pretty excellent this week with some fantastic shots and a great amount of detail. But if he’s artist again next time, I really do hope that either he or someone else will add colour on top of his ink work. In fact, if this particular story had had colour from week one then I think it might been a bit of a more worthwhile read than it was, instead of one that I just sped through as quickly as possible like most other Sinister Dexter tales.
And yes, you read that right: Jaegir ends this week too. It’s quite surprising actually. Though Mega City Confidential had been a slow burner, it ended perfectly well and reading through it as a whole you can see how well paced it was. This? Well, the pacing has most certainly not been a problem, even slower than Dredd that it was, but it maybe could have done with one additional episode in my opinion. My expectation was that that’s what we’d get in fact, having suggested as much last time – my ideal ending being that in this Prog Grigoru meets his end and in the one after that we see loose ends tied up and Nerria recruiting Jaegir and co. for future missions. Instead, Rennie manages to use the last page of this first story arc for that and Strigoi ends.
A bit of a shame that it’s over so soon, but here’s hoping that its return in June will see with it a much longer story. These past six episodes have all been about the characters and although I’m sure we’ll learn a lot more about them, I think that we need to see an even greater foe next time, though that’s one – as Rennie has made very clear by now with his references to the monsters of old tales – that could come in any number of forms and should make for a very interesting sequel indeed. Truly, I can’t wait to see much more of this series – here’s hoping it remains as well received and doesn’t end up like The 86er’s. Here’s also hoping that Simon Coleby and Len O’Grady will be sticking on as artist and colourist respectively. Now that we’ve seen what they’re capable of and how perfect they are for such dark subject matter, I honestly can’t think of any other two people I’d want to see doing this. Fingers crossed, eh?
So Jaegir, despite its surprise ending, was my favourite of the Prog one last time. There’s no mention from Tharg about what could be replacing it and Sinister Dexter next week (though there technically could only be one new story next time with a double length opening – that happens from time to time), but I wouldn’t mind seeing something else new, to me that is. In the past I might have said, “More Nikolai Dante please!”, but alas that story ended as I wasn’t collecting it and I’m not really sure what new stuff I’ve been missing. There’s the Tharg 3hrillers, which I believe are a new three part mini-series by creators (kind of putting me in mind of Al Ewing’s short stories), so the start of one of those might be good, although I’d be perfectly happy to see a Future Shock. Ach, I’ll find out tomorrow morning so long as the post man doesn’t betray me. Until next time!