Having discussed my personal history with 2000AD in part 1, let's take a look the most recent progs in my possession, progs 1689 to 1702.
That's 13 progs, three-month's worth. It's amazing how quickly they pile up! I only make it to the comics shop once a month or so (Gosh in London, by the way, and consider this a plug for the friendliest friendly comics shop in London) and so I've been reading them in a slightly different way to how I read it in the past. Instead of three or four page bites, I've been reading the stories in longer stretches. Some of them, I've been hoarding up and reading all in one go, and some of them I've gone through and re-read again for the purposes of this review.
This is more like how I've been reading the reprint volumes I've been reviewing than how I used to read progs in the old days, and it's thrown up a few contrasts between then and now, but I'm probably going to hold on to these until the end of the series. Howzabout that then, suspense fans? In the meantime, though I'm going to look at each story in some detail (some more than others), starting with two of 2000AD's most enduring characters, Judge Dredd and Johnny Alpha.
|This cover did it's job and drew me in.|
The Johnny Alpha story that begins in prog 1689 was the one that made me decide to start picking up 2000AD again. I'd just finished the first Strontium Dog collection from Rebellion, and I was starting to wonder what my old friends were doing now, and then, there he was staring out at me from the shelves of the comics shop.
I talked about my feelings regarding Johnny when I reviewed the Strontium Dog Vol 1 collection, so I won't go on about it here. Suffice it to say, that although it began in Starlord and didn't officially become a 2000AD character until the two titles merged (prog 86? I could check, but let's let my guess stand), few would disagree that he is one of the definitive 2000AD character.
Why they chose to kill him off, therefore, is a bit of mystery. Johnny died sometime before I finally dropped 2000AD first time around, and I have vague memories of an odd story focusing on the types of alternate dimensions introduced in the “Journey to Hell” storyline, and ending up with Johnny takling the marty's way out and Feral taking over the lead role in the strip, perhaps (if my wonky memory is right) under the “Tales From the Dog House” title. I also seem to recall stories featuring Middenfacw McNulty.
It was all very odd and unsatisfactoyr, and wikipedia says that Ezquerra refused to draw the story and John Wagner now admits that it was a mistake (quoting from the Thrill Power Overload book which I haven't read, by the way, preferring to maintain the mystery of Tharg the Mighty).
So, this story has the feeling of a reboot. It focuses on Precious Matson, a character who may have appeared in SD in the past (but I don't remember her) and who is now a writer researching the life of Johnny Alpha. In this capacity she searches out Middenface McNulty in an attempt to resolve various contradictions in the story of Johnny's last days. It becomes apparent that something's not right, and that perhaps Johnny survived his final encounter, so she and McNulty begin a quest to find the last witnesses and find out what really happened.
As much as I wanted this story to work, it's somewhat uncompelling. There's a whole lot of talk here, and very little action, particularly at the start. In fact, it begins with a big page of text of the sort I always skip in comics - big pages of text do not belong in comic books, chums!. The first episodes are full of long, dense speech bubbles while Matson and McNulty interrogate various old mutie about the events surrounding Johnny's death. I'm disinclined to say stuff like “this is the wrong medium for this story!” but if you are going to attempt a dialogue-based investigative story, you need to find ways to dramatise it visually.
Wagner and Ezquerra take a resolutely trad approach that's far more suitable for Johhny's old fashioned action-packed adventures. I might have been able to put up with some "putting the pieces" type episodes in the middle, but a feel that a Strontium Dog story ought to start with a bang and keep on banging all the way through!
|Ugh, that is one ugly space ship.|
It just to me that if you are going to go down this road with a character you either go all the way or choose another mutation. That said, perhaps this character has a history I am unaware of where all this made sense, and has been chosen on the basis of convenience and not because of her peculiar physical characteristics.
|Flashes of the old Ezquerra later in the series.|
|Bloated, de-nosed and burned to death:|
an igniminious end for Feral.
Judge Dredd is nearly synonymous with 2000AD. Judge Dredd was always my second favourite thrill (and thus second in this review!) to some other thing that might be going on at the time. Occasionally it busted through to the top of my hit parade – The Cursed Earth and Judge Child Quest and the first few Judge Death/Dark Judges stories, for example, are unalloyed thrill power classics, amongst the very best comics ever – but by and large it was second in my heart to the best of Strontium Dog, Ro-Busters at its peak, Slaine and the better series of Nemesis and ABC Warriors.
That said, a consistent second is still an outstanding record. It's a brilliant concept that allowed for all sort of interesting stories to be told, and the quality was always consistently high. Well, until I got fed up with it all. By time I abandoned 2000AD first time around, I really felt that it had started eating itself in a combination of over-stretched metaphor (America was really the last word, I think) and obsession with continuity (machinations within the Justice Department always bored me, and I really don't think we needed Guinness drinking oirish judges). It's the classic danger of any ongoing serial, as far as I can tell.
As at prog 1689 we come in at the tail end of a mega epic, Tour of Duty. Mega-epics are one of the reasons I soured on Dredd, as they seemed to encourage the series' worst instincts. This one appears to have been about some kind of internal corruption and wrangling around the appointment of Chief Judge, which doesn't exactly fill me with enthusiasm - these stories of internal politics are about as interesting as a day at the office. I prefer the image of the Justice department as aloof and remote, an almost perfected class of citizens, and the stories that focus on the city and how the Judges react to it.
Coming in at the end, the story's kind of unfathomable to me and the art by Ezquerra once again lacks his customary flair. I don't know if it's just that his regular art duties on the story coincided with my gradual trailing of interest, but I never really liked his art. I know he designed the character and the world, and if anyone gets it, surely HE does, but ... well, he doesn't get it!
If you take a look at the classic Bolland or McMahon Dredd strories, they are overflowing with funny visual references and odd design choices. Characters are all sorts of shapes and sizes, with all sorts of faces. In Ezquerra's hands, though - and this was true in the 90s - everyone looks Ezquerra. Everyone has the Ezquerra body shape, and one of his three Ezquerra faces (two if you're a woman, hot or ugly). He has a bunch of design choices that he repeates again and again, whereas the great Dredd artists threw in odd steers and wierdnesses all the time.
Ezquerra works well in a story with a strong consistent visual look - Strontium Dog, of course, and his Stainless Steel Rat adaptations similarly benefits from the highly consistent hard(ish) SF setting - but Mega City is a technicaolour, Po-Mo, multicultural hodge podge of contradictions, and Ezquerra's approach robs it of that vital, quirky energy. In his hands, this story looks like a drab police procedural rather than the wild and zany world of borderline madness that I always imagined Mega City to be.
|The Conoisseur: great art by |
|The Slow Walk: a nice filler story with excellent art|
by Boo Cook.
|Judge Walther the sniper: hopefully we'll see more of him.|
Adnire the great art from Ben Willsher!