Luke is halfway through an article he has been writing for months for the blog’. But rather than do any more work on that, he decides to write up a review of the Abnett and MacNeil epic recently reprinted in the Mega Collection.
Luke is halfway through an article he has been writing for months for the blog’. But rather than do any more work on that, he decides to write up a review of the Abnett and MacNeil epic recently reprinted in the Mega Collection.
After what seems like an eternity (well,a few months anyway), the three way match up finally reaches its’ conclusion. No one likes to be kept waiting do they? Whilst hardly sitting on the edge of his seat with anticipation, Luke reviews the whole series.
Well, well, well. If my granny had wheels, she’d be a wagon. It’s taken a while but based on the first two issues of JUDGE DREDD: BLESSED EARTH, it appears IDW’s version of everyone’s favorite fascist lawman of the future has finally found his feet. Ulises Fariñas, Erick Freitas and Daniel Irizarri have crafted a grizzled post-POST-apocalyptic western that’s unique, confident and, most importantly to this old-school Dreddhead, completely prog-worthy. You’d be forgiven for remaining skeptical.
In case you missed it: Dredd has woken up a thousand years ahead of what you’re currently reading in the prog. He’s rockin’ a Santa Claus beard (Lopez must be rolling in his astral grave), Mega City One has been abandoned and left to rot and the missing citizenry have been awoken from an induced dream-state courtesy of Dredd and some feral children he teamed up with. See? You missed quite a lot.
BLESSED EARTH picks up ten years later. Society is slowly rebuilding (in the Justice Department’s image, naturally), primarily focused on building a gargantuan mega rail that will span the continent. Mega City One consists of one rebuilt sector, while the rest of the citizens eke out a frontier existence in the Blessed (Cursed) Earth, kept in check by an unreliable and ineffective number of judges. Dredd is out in the sticks checking the progress of the rail being laid. The kids Dredd teamed up with previously, Quill and Lolo, are now themselves judges, investigating their own separate cases. It’s stripped-down frontier justice, short on supplies and technology, as if every judge we meet is on the Long Walk, bringing law to the lawless.
Stripped-down also applies to the strip itself. The previous run felt overstuffed with ideas but Fariñas and Freitas have streamlined their storytelling this time out, leading me to think this strip might be better enjoyed having NOT read the previous run. There’s something intriguing about jumping in cold, so far removed from the prog’s version of Dredd and his world, and just letting the story fill in the blanks at its own pace. It feels like a soft reboot, but all the better for it. The writers also seem more comfortable with Dredd himself this time out. They’ve nailed the character so far – stern, commanding, glib, and as typically –relentlessly – badass as you’d expect. If the prog’s Dredd has become dour and cynical over the years, he’s reenergized in this incarnation. This is very much a world on its last legs and the only thing keeping it hobbling forward is Dredd through his unwavering commitment to duty. There’s no room for him to doubt what he’s doing. I really liked how he’s almost mythological in this world. Everyone knows who he is and he’s met with perpetual skepticism that this battered old man could measure up to the legends they’ve heard.
Irizarri replaces Dan McDaid here as artist and his bold and patient artwork elevates the strip to another level (I love McDaid’s art but I felt by the end of the previous run everything had just become too muddy and cluttered). He’s part Moebius in spots, part Brendan McCarthy in others and he creates a beautifully foreboding sun-bleached atmosphere, all Mad Max via Unforgiven.
IDW haven’t been great to Dredd over the years (that may well continue: Blessed Earth #2 and a one-off issue of Dredd as a fucking Funko toy came out the same day. Guess which one was front-and-center and which one was buried behind it…?), but Fariñas, Freitas, Irizarri are doing solid and interesting work here that deserves to be seen and finally offers an alternative take on Dredd any 2000AD old-schooler should be happy with. Highly recommended, says this spugface.
Luke breathes a sigh of relief as he reaches the home straight.However, this might be hardest stretch yet. The strip begins to meander, it finds the way home for a sprint finish over the last stage, only for the finish line to be moved on a few yards……..
Luke begins to think he has bitten off more than he chew, but with resolve (or sheer pig headedness) perseveres for part 3. (Over the hump and all that). He finds another shift in tone but a lot to love, even if some of it takes some getting used to……..
We left Nemesis haring down the Time Wastes in pursuit of Thoth. Thoth was hopping in and out of the timeline eliminating specific figures from human history.
Clearly sick of being panel dressing in “Nemesis”, the ABC Warriors shoot off to their own series, clean up the mess (not The Mess – he’s still on Mars) that the little scamp Thoth has wrought (“see “The Black Hole Mission” and summed up shabbily here).
Torquemada on the other hand, heads back to Termight to reclaim his throne, reinforce his rule and re-establish his dynasty. The little interlude is illustrated by art god Kevin O’Neill. Brother Kev’s art had developed, but was still recognisably O’Neill.
If such things matter to you, it is here that the Titan editions start falling back into sync’ with the prog’ numbering. This book is “6” in Titan numbering and collects this short (but glorious) return by Kevin O’Neill alongside the Torquemada “Diceman” gaming book strip drawn by Bryan Talbot. A short, but rambling article on this can be found here.
At the 1986 Eagle awards, Torquemada was voted best villain, this says a lot. Deny it, he’s the star of the series isn’t he? Gleefully evil, you love to hate him, he’s not a poe faced, supercilious evil like his opponent ( I’m getting ahead of myself), but you want to see what he does next, to see how far he will go. In the introduction to ‘Phone Book 2, Mills himself said that Nemesis was enigmatic, unknowable and well….. alien. Torquemada started stealing the show quite early on, villains can be the the most interesting of characters. Sith or Jedi? Who is cooler?
Starting in Prog 520 (the ten year anniversary prog’ – but lets not argue about the accuracy of that statement) Torque’ returns to glory, adulation etc, and not surprisingly this goes to his head. Torquemada becomes convinced of his own divinity the “Torquemada the God” of the title and takes the opportunity to resolve some staffing and family problems. Mazarin had already been despatched, Krassan and Broder Kruger are subjected to a rather wretched fate.
Nostradamus is committed, and Candida….
Well, it’s all been a bit much for Candida. Over the last 2 books, she has lost her husband only to see him “resurrected”, her children have been killed by her husband’s greatest enemy, she’s been pawed by her brother in law, and sought peace at the end of the world, but been denied.
Tomas, ever the pragmatist, knows he needs an heir. He needs a divorce, a re-marriage and offspring. Stat.
He finds a suitable candidate in Sister Sturn, his biggest fan. The downside is that she is married. But Torque, never sees problems, only solutions (final ones). Brother Sturn is sent on a quest and is soon no longer a problem.
Divorcing Candida on grounds of insantity, “SS” and Torque marry, and she bears him a son, Attila. However, Sturn herself is not the most stable of characters (who knew?), she sees deviants everywhere. Paranoid and violent, she is under watch from the Terminators to ensure that no harm comes to Torquemada’s heir.
However, Tomas is distracted by illness.
Turns out, it’s all down to Thoth meddling with the time line. The young warlock is killing Torquemada’s previous incarnations and consequently destablising this current incarnation. Torquemada will experience much pain and discomfort, but finally that will be the end of TT.
Brother Mikron hypnotises the Grand Master, sending his consciousness back in time to trace his incarnations through human history, with some unsurprising results :
Mikron finds that The Grand Master can be traced to the first Torquemada, “star” of the Spanish Inquisition. Which leads us nicely onto the next chapter in the series.
Book 7 : The Two Torquemadas
With a new artist, John Hicklenton delineating their deadly duel, our protagnonists head to 15th Century Spain. The Spanish Inquisition is in full swing, Torquemada mk1 running the show. Torque Mk2 wants to meet up with his ancestor / previous incarnation to end this attack on him and meet his inspiration.. Nemesis sees Torque Mk1 as a means of bringing Thoth out into the open. Thoth, on the other hand just wants to cause more mayhem.
T2 introduces himself to T1. T1 obviously thinks that T2 is madder than a sackful of arseholes and to “cleanse” him (where have we heard that before), he puts him to torture.
Clearly having no idea what thousands of years of evil, homicidal prejudice and hate would have on his spirit, T1 grossly underestimates the resistance of T2, and falls under his influence.
Meanwhile, Thoth has been one step ahead of Nemesis and Purity, but Nemesis has caught up. Thoth and Satanus had taken some downtime in the Cretaceous, to give Satanus an opportunity to work out some “frustrations” with a lady Tyrannosaur.
Instead of contacting him directly, Nemesis takes sometime to watch him as his father.
But Thoth, was tiring of his crusade.
He leaves Satanus in the Cretaceous, and heads to the 15th century to face T1 on his own, little realising that both his Pa and his target are ahead of him.
Both Nemesis and T2 are using T1 as bait to get to Thoth, but with very different outcomes in mind. Thoth materialises to finish his mission and kill the 15th century Torquemada.
Nemesis temporarily exhausts his powers to trap Thoth, but leaves his son vulnerable to Torquemada’s attack, and with Nemesis unable to use his diabloical powers to stop him, T2 exacts his revenge on the Warlocks.
Torque and Nemesis face off, T1 becomes “collateral damage” in the process. T2 on other other hand is prepared, tooled up in his “anti Nemesis” armour. But in a twist, Nemesis traps him in it and counterattacks in which the Grand Master is powerless to resist.
His Terminators carry him back to the ship, and leave the time zone. Nemesis has the opportunity to mourn the death of his son. He’s mad, and isn’t going to take it anymore. The mortal enemies have hurt each other as much as two beings can.
Their conflict might be moot at the end of the book, Blitzspear and Torquemada’s Auto Da Fe are caught in a massive time wave that engulfs them. It seems that the world is about to end and the ABC Warriors have failed in their mission…..
Book 7 sees another shift in the tone. Mills emphasises Nemesis’s near omnipotence (more of which we will see later) and his seeming omniscience and impotence in seeing but preventing the death of Thoth. My scans are a tad on the bobbins side, but it’s clear to see how much of a departure John Hicklenton’s art was to what had gone before.
With the arrival of Hicklenton, the dark humour becomes pitch black and grotesque, Mills riffs off the art and inspires Hicklenton to new heights (or lows) of depravity. There is no argument that Hicklenton’s is distinctive. But is it any good? Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeellll………………………………
It’s not as easy as that. I remember reading the first episode and being a little shocked and definintely disappointed. I tried to like it, I wanted to like it. But Hicklenton’s art made my skin crawl. Oodles of body horror, grotesque and distorted figure work, hideous facial expressions and lots of bodily fluids and his story telling wasn’t the clearest. But the guy had talent, the hypothetical love child of David Cronenberg and Bill Sienkiewicz made real. Marmite art.
As I’ve got older, I appreciate it more. Re-reading it for this article, Book 7 is a strong entry in the saga, but commissioning Hicklenton for this strip was a brave step. Pat Mills has always shouted from the rooftops of his support for “Johnny Deadstock” (Hicklenton’s pseudonym). Uncle Pat’s attitude (and I’m paraphrasing quite extensively here) is “do you want a Jimi Hendrix artist? or an Ed Sheerhan artist?” Put it like that, it’s hard to argue against.
It takes Nemesis in a different direction from the gothic SF trapping of Bryan Talbot. The strip becomes unsettling and atmospheric, if occasionally a little difficult to follow. Read Hicklenton’s final work : “A Hundred Days”, published just prior to his untimely death, it’s great, but the stuff of nightmares.
Defintely not right for Dredd though.
Book 8 picks up exactly from where Book 7 leaves off. The universe hasn’t ended, and the chase continues. David Roach is at the drawing board for this installment, you could not pick a more drastic change in style. .
Torquemada leaves the time wastes with Nemesis in hot pursuit. Purity begins to reflect on how Nemesis is always changing his mind, how they met, and how she got here.
Or, as Mills puts it :
In her younger days Purity spent some time at the “Grand Master’s convenience”. Locked up in an asylum for campaigning against Torquemada’s crusade. Repeated escape attempts and subsequent “treatments” do nothing to dampen her enthusiasm. She is visited by Nemesis, who enlists her, and casts a spell for Torquemada to fall for her. She is released into Torquemada’s care and becomes Credo’s spy.
The arrangement works well for Credo. The resistance strikes a number of blows for the galaxy and amongst Termights. However, to discredit Nemesis, Torquemada hires an imposter to wreak havoc and murder and maim, the “Mimesis”
The Mimesis has the required effect, Nemesis’s name is mud. Meanwhile, Torquemada rumbles Purity’s game and sets the Mimesis after her. Nemesis arrives in the nick of time, and the two aliens fight to the death. Despite clearly being the more powerful, Nemesis has seven bells knocked out of him and bounced around Termight by the imposter.
Just when he is on the ropes, Purity saves him, the Mimesis is killed, and Nemesis and Purity escape to the tubes. There, Nemesis spills the beans.
Being a god of Khaos isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Omnipotence, cloven hooves and the ability to spit acid doesn’t make you fulfilled (apparently anyway). Turns out he’s bored. He’s not fighting Terra for the greater good. He’s doing this for a bit of a laugh.
He craves the thrill that lesser beings experience. It breaks up the time, and he treats his battle against Terra as a game, liking his attacks to prodding a termite mound to see how the termites react.
Purity is a smidge distraught by this, but Nemesis still has use for her. He blocks her memory of this discussion and her relationship with Torquemada
The arrival on Earth, and the tachyon radiation released these memories, and the revelation is not welcome
But Nemesis can’t let her remember and reinforces the memory blocks.
The pursuit of Torquemada resumes.
After the brief flashback to Purity’s past in Book 5, this fleshes out the origin and nature of the relationship between her and Nemesis. It also seeds plot threads that will blossom in the next two books, following the resolution of the Thoth plotline. It sets up for the climax,which little known to us, was over 10 years away.
After the extreme and disturbing art from John Hicklenton, the arrival of David Roach is jarring, but also acts as a palette cleanser. He always reminded me of Garry Leach with fewer blacks. It’s beautiful work, all clean lines, and an easier, more conventional read but manages to carry over the spirit from the Kev O’Neill and Bryan Talbot years. Roach’s version of Termight was a highly respectable interpretation of what had gone before. I’d be interested to know whether Mills had a say in picking Roach – as they have never worked together since, he’s usually quite vocal about his artistic discoveries.
And I have a page of the art of this book 🙂
Following on from the retrospection of Book 8, John Hickletnon comes back off the bench as Torquemada and Nemesis face off in contemporary (okay, 1989) Britain.
Despite leaving the time wastes just moments before Nemesis, Torquemada had been in this era for ten years (‘cos you know, time, folks!). This is an earth of disruption, inter dimensional incurisons and instability.
Torquemada has built a power base, beginning as a gang leader, establishing a right wing racist organisation “Oy”, and gains power and influence from a fearful government. Torquemada and his “Reapers” militia are seen as the only thing who can save Britain from the incursions caused by Thoth’s fiddling with the black and white holes.
Purity and Nemesis arrive and split. Purity disturbs a group of Reapers and after a brief struggle is arrested and brought to Torquemada. He reminds her of their “relationship” and informs her that Nemesis has made her his tool and has brainwashed her.
Purity seemingly has an “epiphany” and changes sides
Torquemada also has other irons in the fire. He has found Jennifer, a young woman who bears an uncanny resemblance to Candida, a great distraction. He stalks Jennifer, with a view to taking her back to Termight to be his “Grandmistress”. Jennifer is not too keen on this, but Torquemada finally corners Jennifer in a nightclub
Jennifer agrees, and has seemingly fallen for Torquemada’s charms. They swap spit, but “Jennifer” turns out to be Nemesis in disguise. “Ew”s all round. And it all kicks off.
The battle pauses. Torquemada heads for Jennifer’s apartment, and Nemesis heads to release Purity, unaware he is heading into a trap. Backmailed, Jennifer agrees to travel back to Termight.
Purity escorts Nemesis to an underground station where Torquemada has his means of escape back to Termight. The two foes are wounded and Purity goes to finish them both off, but not before she listens to their arguments to spare their lives
Before she offs them both, Brother Mikron saves them both and allows the two enemies to continue their battle. Mikron sacrifices himself to save his Grandmaster and Torquemada escapes to his own time. Nemesis and Purity also return to their own time, but Purity rejects further help from Nemesis. So ends Book 9.
It was around this time that Pat Mills was developing Third World War in “Crisis” the political 2000ad spin off. The research Mills was undertaking for that cross pollinated into Nemesis and consequently this story feels like a dry run for that other work. The student dialogue, the oppressive totalitarian police state Britain, the bedsit and clubbing environment.
Nemesis always had a political undercurrent, anti fascist and anti racist. But here it is front and centre. Another website (though obviously not a patch on ECBT) has suggested that Mills becomes self indulgent in this period. They have a point. Enjoyable enough, and I enjoyed Death Bringer and The Two Torquemadas far more after so many years than I did in the original progs. Far more happens in each of the first 4 books, than the next 5. The pace slows down and the plot begins to meander, particularly after the departure of Bryan Talbot, the earlier books are far tighter in plot and story development.
Hicklenton’s art is looser and more open and slightly less depraved than his last outing, but in placees no less confusing. Just look at the first few panels where Nemesis and Purity split up and Nemesis “rescuing” Purity from the cells.
By the end of Book 9, Purity and Nemesis are no longer a partnership, both enemies have lost their families in almost their entirety. And Nemesis is not the altruistic freedom fighter that we all thought he was at the start.
And then someone hits the “Pause” button for a few years.
As an old-school fan, it can be exasperating to comprehend IDW’s approach to Judge Dredd. Not potent enough for the traditional fans, and too off-center to properly define to an audience unfamiliar with him. So, it’s good to report while the main title does its thing, the real gold for the old-school Dreddheads has been the excellent standalone spin-offs IDW has commissioned. (I’m sure it’s just coincidence they’re usually helmed by current 2000AD creative droids…)
Emerging from the shadows and snarling like a rabid Trump supporter, the latest entry to that impressive roster is John McCrea’s take on Cry Of The Werewolf, based on one of Dredd and 2000AD’s most iconic stories. In the original tale, Dredd tussles with a pack of mutated werewolves, briefly being transformed into one himself. McCrea’s tale is short, so I won’t go deep. Just think Marvel’s old “What If…?” title with Dredd stuck as violently lycanthropic as a Welshman** when he runs out of Babycham. As you can imagine, mayhem and carnage ensue. The original strip was written by John Wagner and Alan Grant and illustrated by the late Steve Dillon back in 1983, and it’s a much loved and respected story, with all three heavyweights at the absolute pinnacle of their creative powers.
No pressure for McCrea there, then.
With that said, he can rest easy. I pretty much loved it. It’s lean, it’s energetic, the story bounces along nicely. I laughed at a pretty unexpected and ingenious nod to a more obscure Dredd one-off (that I’d completely forgotten about) that really sets the story in motion. As always, McCrea’s art is joyous to behold. Bold, bombastic, crisp and exciting. He draws great destruction. Frankly, I love his art so much I’d probably frame and hang his used toilet paper. I don’t know why he’s not in the prog every week. (He is right now, thankfully.)
If there are any flaws, they can’t really be leveled at McCrea himself. He’s done what it says on the tin. It’s written well and the art’s stonking (Yeah, I’m bringing ‘stonking’ back. You heard it here first.) The story just feels a little short. It would have been nice to see it expanded a little, and while it’s great to see the process of bringing the comic from script to final art paired up with an absolute bevy of wonderful homages to the original story by the likes of Duncan Fegredo, Brendan McCarthy and Jock, it gives the feeling the issue has been padded a bit to give it a higher page count. But look, if my only criticism is I wish it had been longer, well, I hope that tells you what you needed to hear. It’s a great little one-off, a cracking homage to a great story and a perfect tribute to the almighty Steve Dillon. Still hard to believe he’s gone.
Go buy it. You won’t be disappointed.
(**Don’t get your knickers in a twist. Everyone knows Welsh people aren’t real.)