Scary creatures with sharp teeth sell comics, or at least they did back in the late seventies. Pat Mills and Ken Armstrong created Hook Jaw for the launch of Action comics in 1976 as a direct attempt to cash in on the success of the first summer blockbuster Jaws. Although Action had a short lived and controversial run it was one of the forerunners of 2000AD, and the popularity of the swimming killing machine led Mills to create another fearsome beastie in the form of Shako, the lethal polar bear on the CIA’s most wanted list which débuted in Prog 20.
Egmont classics produced a restored digital version of the first six episodes of Hook Jaw written by Ken Armstrong, The original art by Ramon Sola has been sensitively coloured by Gary Caldwell and re-lettered by Eisner award nominated Jim Campbell. I bought it fairly cheaply through the Sequential comics app and I believe it is also available for the Kindle. The four page episodes follow a fairly standard pattern; plenty of lambs to the slaughter; a loud mouthed hothead who wants to kill the shark at any cost; and the calmer, clean cut hero who acts as the reader’s focal point and narrates much of the action. According to Egmont Hook Jaw was consistently the most popular strip in Action.
Sola’s artwork is fabulous and Caldwell has done a lovely job of bringing it to life with a suitably bloody colour palette. It’s a nice job by the restoration team and the only downside is that there is no more available in this digital format. This was a 2013 release so it’s possible that sales weren’t enough to justify further issues?
Shako retreads familiar ground with a similar loud mouth, a native american hero, and a big beastie who is confused by all these humans running around but finds them to be a rather tasty snack. I read the digital collection on the 2000AD iPad app but the trade paperback version is still available. Written by Pat Mills and John Wagner, Ramon Sola was again the go to guy to draw the first episode. Juan Arancio takes over for chapters 2-4, later on the art chores are handled by Dodderio and Lopez-Vera who are perhaps a bit bland in comparison for my taste. Both of the fierce animal stories contain many examples of the showing and telling that was common in kids’ adventure comics back then, particularly when it comes to scenes of people being consumed by the monster while narrating their own demise.
The Shako volume benefits from having all of the stories that appeared in the Progs and the 1978 annual story, White Fury. It also has a couple of gallery images including the striking Jock cover for the trade paperback. I gather there may be a few issues with repositioning of the title logo on some of the pages for the reprint but I’ll leave that for the experts to comment on. The raw black and white art is fine stuff and I’m again caught in a cleft stick between original monochrome or the lovingly restored and coloured work on Hook Jaw.
Although Hook Jaw was the forerunner I’ll give the edge to Shako just for completeness in one volume, but they are both nice collections that are well worth a look.
Exploring the world of Dredd as seen in the 2012 movie here is the first collection of parallel Dredd-verse stories in a lovely hard back format with a clever title (and yes, it took me a while to get the reference to the actor’s name).
First we have the film prequel Top of the World, Ma-Ma by Matt Smith and Henry Flint, then Underbelly by Arthur Wyatt and Flint, and finishing with Uprise by Wyatt and Paul Davidson. Coloured throughout by Chris Blythe, with lettering Ellie De Ville and Simon Bowland. Also there are some extra artwork images on the end papers and title pages by Trevor Hairsine, Greg Staples, Ben Willsher, Boo Cook and Jock.
All the stories originally appeared in the Megazine where they got a mixed reception to be honest. Some fans want their Judge Dredd straight up and are not particularly interested in this other version of Mega-City One but here we have a chance to reappraise the stories. The prequel is very brief and to the point, it certainly reproduces the atmosphere of the movie but it’s so short that it just feels like a deleted scene from the cutting room floor. Henry Flint’s artwork is always fantastic to look at but somehow his surreal images always feel more at home in the traditional Dredd stories and seem slightly out of place in this gritty vision of the future. Arthur Wyatt”s first story Underbelly seems like a familiar retread of the drug gang plot from the film. It has moments of brilliance particularly as the Judges move through the criminals’ factory lair and Wyatt’s handling of Anderson starts out as interesting,but she gets forgotten as the story progresses and overall it feels a little underwhelming.
Uprise on the other hand expands the world and the character in a new direction and does something interesting with its version of the Occupy movement. There are hints and tips of the hat to the mainstream Dredd world with robot Judges, a Wally squad, and a computer called Walter. Paul Davidson creates some lovely looking pages, the whole thing is more satisfying in story terms than the first two, and it suggests that Wyatt and Davidson may bring us some interesting stuff in the future.
There are no extras in the book and sadly the Megazine covers by Staples, Willsher and Cook get rather lost when reprinted in moody monochrome on the title pages, However there is some compensation in the lovely look and feel of this hard back which appears to be the same size and thickness as an old school Christmas annual. It is a strange thing to comment on but it sits in the hands beautifully and produces a strange tactile reminder of the excitement of those volumes of childhood.
2000AD and Rebellion have clearly decided that we fans will lap up these lovely hardbacks and it appears to be working for them. The beautiful design work tips this book over into the must have category for me. Nice work by the House of Tharg.
After a few weeks off I thought two new strips was reason enough to jump back in with another review. So here it is. – Richard Mc
Should black and white classics be re-coloured? Do we want to see Casablanca tinted so that Bogart and Bergman’s memories of Paris appear in Technicolor? Personally I believe the correct answer to be no, and I generally feel the same way about black and white comics. I have nostalgic views about those starkly inked stories from my youth, and some artwork just seems better in monochrome. David Lloyd’s chiaroscuro work on V for Vendetta is a perfect example. I was happy to see the series completed when DC picked it up but I much preferred the black and white beauty of the Warrior pages to the American coloured versions.
Now IDW comics continue their fruitful relationship with 2000AD and publish two US style floppies reprinting the original John Wagner, Alan Grant and Brian Bolland Judge Death stories. Bolland’s artwork has been coloured by Charlie Kirchoff who impressed me with his work on IDW’s lovely Apocalypse War hardback. The results are very impressive indeed and make for enjoyable comics which are available with two different covers for each issue. Of course there are always some problems with reprinting these classic 2000AD stories from the golden age of large format newsprint British comics. The artwork does not scale down perfectly to fit the US floppy page size and IDW have chosen to get around this by leaving a large bottom margin of about 5 cm of white space with some ghosted grey-scale images of Dredd along the bottom edge. And honestly I didn’t even notice it at first as my eyes were immediately drawn to the lovely sight of the beautifully coloured Bolland art.
Kirchoff’s work is generally excellent and would not look at all out of place in the pages of the Prog or Megazine. The only glitch I could spot was where he tried to add some shading to Bolland’s rather featureless representation of Anderson’s nose as she looks directly at the camera. The result makes her look a little like a six nations rugby star.
Apart from that the two issues are a joy to behold. It’s particularly impressive to have Judge Fire rendered in all his ghastly, glowing glory. The standard covers shown above are by Darick Robertson and Diego Rodriguez who bravely attempt their own version of the most famous panel in British comic history on the second issue. The two spooky variant covers are by Sam Shearon.
To answer my own question I am happy to have my cake and eat it and delight in both the original black and white versions, and in these updated full colour comics. And just how many times can we 2000AD fans buy reprints of these classic stories? Rebellion and Hachette are no doubt gambling that we will return again and again to the same well, and in my case they have been proved right. Meanwhile IDW continue to introduce US readers to delights of the Dredd world and I hope it proves to be successful for them.
The Hachette part works collection continues with issue 2 which confusingly is volume 24, and issue 3 or volume 36 for those who are keeping score.
The Mechanismo volume includes Mechanismo by John Wagner, Colin MacNeil and Annie Parkhouse; Mechanismo Returns by Wagner, Peter Doherty and Parkhouse; Body Count by Wagner, Manuel Benet and Tom Frame; S.A.M. by Wagner, Val Semeiks, Cliff Robinson, Chris Blythe and Tom Frame; and finally Safe Hands by Gordon Rennie, Jock, Chris Blyth and Tom Frame. The full colour reproduction seems good all the way through, I’m guessing that the original art plates from the painted era all survive so there are none of the problems that trouble reprints from the older black and white Progs. I’ve previously reviewed the Mechanismo storyline so won’t rehash my thoughts but safe to say it is nice to have all these stories collected in a neat shelf sized volume.
The Apocalypse War includes the complete Block Mania by Wagner, Alan Grant, Mike McMahon, Ron Smith, Steve Dillon and Brian Bolland; and The Apocalypse War by Wagner, Grant and Carlos Ezquerra. Lettering is by Tom Frame throughout. Again it’s good to have these iconic stories collected in a neat compact sized hard back, but there are some reproduction problems. The original colour double page spreads from the Progs are reprinted in black and white throughout, and there are large blocks of very dark blacks in the block mania issues, particularly affecting McMahon’s art. The Dillon pages look similarly dark. Fortunately Ron Smiths’s detailed line work stands out beautifully and the Bolland pages look fine.
Most of the Ezquerra pages are lovely too behold. There are couple of pages where the art appears as washed out greys that look like unfinished pencils. Correction. The 2000AD forum points out that is how they appeared in the original Progs and Ezquerra was using the technique to indicate flashback sequences.
Sadly I don’t have the original Prog to compare it too but here is how Tom Mullin dealt with them in the lovely IDW coloured edition
that I have previously raved about.
The other problem affecting the King Carlos episodes is some central gutter loss on the double page spreads particularly towards the middle of this volume where the binding seems tight. The IDW edition and Case Files 5 do have similar problems but their larger size makes it less obvious.
Extras in these issues are limited to full colour reprints of the Prog covers, introductions by Matt Smith and afterword essays by Michael Molcher. However subscribers also got a rather lovely ceramic coffee mug and a metal Dredd badge which is a bit small for cosplay but does look spectacular on my mantle piece.
Overall these are nice compact volumes that sit well on the shelf and are lovely to pull down for a quick dose of thrill power. I am still going to recommend the IDW volume as the best version of the Apocalypse War out there at the moment. This Mechanismo issue wins out on previous editions by virtue of those two extra stories of more Mega-City robot madness.
The excitement of receiving my subscriber copies has to be balanced against the thought of how much shelf space the full set will take up, and, of course, the full cost of continuing to all 80 volumes. Space and money are limited resources so it remains to be seen whether enough 2000AD fans will continue to double or even triple dip with these stories for Hachette to make it to the end.