A Five Finger Thrill Punch – It’s 2000AD Prog 2023!
As the benevolent Tharg The Mighty would say, it’s time for a ‘jumping-on prog’ which means if you’re unsure about 2000AD and don’t know where to begin, now would be a good time to lay down your fistful of change and walk away with the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic.
I thought I’d write this review for those who have either never read 2000AD or have never heard of 2000AD (where have you been?), which means this is a lot longer than a normal review – see this as your introduction to the current world of 2000AD. Naturally, story arcs within 2000AD will finish and fresh stories will begin, but when should you actually start buying if you’ve never bought before? Now would be a good time to start because you need not have read an issue before in order to get a lot out of this one.
There are five stories in this week’s issue, two of which are stand-alone one-off stories (Judge Dredd and a Future Shock) which will be perfect to read without any prior knowledge of 2000AD. The other three titles start up new story arcs for Brink, Scarlet Traces and Cursed: The Fall of Deadworld. There is some continuity happening throughout these stories but you do not require knowledge to enjoy them – Tharg will always do a very nice job of providing a synopsis within the first page of the prog, giving you sufficient background.
So let’s look at these five in turn.
Judge Dredd // Get Jerry Sing by John Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra & Annie Parkhouse
Again, if I treat this review as an opener for those new to 2000AD let’s give you some context on who Judge Dredd is. In terms of British comics, he is perhaps the closest you will get to a household name and undoubtedly the most iconic character created by 2000AD. Judge Dredd was created by writer John Wagner and artist Carlos Ezquerra 40 years ago (yup, 2000AD is 40 years old this year which you may have heard), so you’re very much in luck because this week’s story was written and illustrated by none other than John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra. Many have written and illustrated Dredd, but you will find these two names spread far and wide throughout 2000AD (and not just Judge Dredd as you will find out).
The story itself begins with a topical reference to a certain US President and features a satirical look at the power of words in a short format as well as the way in which they can spread and influence (Twitter anyone?). In this case, graffiti containing just three words, ‘Get Jerry Sing’, is starting to crop up in Mega-City One and no one quite understands the reason why or indeed what exactly it means. Before long, things take a slightly more sinister turn as Jerry Sing (a popular comedian/singer/entertainer) comes under threat and Judge Dredd is tasked with investigating the origins of the graffiti.
You might have some pre-conceptions of Judge Dredd (thanks for that, Stallone) being an action hero or vehicle for violence. Whilst he can be those things, he is never those things without a very good reason and, certainly in this case, he is carried along by an insightful and topical idea. When I mentioned he can often be an action hero or vehicle for violence, he gets by this story without firing a single shot – demonstrating just how clever John Wagner’s writing really is. It is compelling to read and is paced perfectly as a criminal investigation without the need to throw a gun-fight into the mix for the sake of it.
Carlos Ezquerra designed Judge Dredd’s look and his style is very distinctive regardless of the title he is illustrating. In this story, Mega-City One is brought to life through bold skylines, huge buildings (Mega Blocks), futuristic vehicles and some very strong character creations. The first page is presented as a single panel illustration overlooking a section of Mega-City One, with three vertical panels layered to one side of this larger image. The result is detail put into a grander context and throws you into the world of Mega-City One without needing to question where you are. Welcome to the Big Meg.
Ezquerra’s character design is always bold and presents iconic characters whether they move into future stories or not. You never need to wonder ‘who’s that person?’ because it will be impossible to forget once you’ve set eyes on them. Facial features, hairstyles, expressions and even posture brings life to each individual.
Annie Parkhouse letters this story and you will find reading the dialogue incredibly rewarding thanks both to John Wagner’s writing and the way each word is punctuated, emboldened and sized by Parkhouse.
I can almost guarantee that by the time you finish reading Get Jerry Sing, you will have a grin on your face.
Brink // Skeleton Life Part 1 by Dan Abnett, Inj Culbard & Simon Bowland
If you’ve never heard of Dan Abnett you’ll be surprised by the length and breadth of his work both in comics and literature. Dan Abnett is the go-to author for Games Workshop’s Black Library, bringing to life Warhammer 40,000, Warhammer, Age of Sigmar and The Horus Heresy. He also happens to be a prolific comic-book writer and must be one of the busiest writers alive right now.
Abnett’s comic writing frequently features snappy and often humorous dialogue mixed among some very fun characters. Brink is no exception and the concept behind the title places mankind colonising space having evacuated the Earth in 2072 (not long to go folks!) due to industrial pollution and ultimate destruction of the environment.
The first story (Brink starting in prog 1978) centres around two police officers; Carl ‘Brink’ Brinkworth and Bridgette ‘Bridge’ Kurtis. Brink: Skeleton Life takes it’s name from a newly constructed colony that houses a ‘skeleton’ crew, who is still working on completing it. From the outset you are given intrigue into the corporate world behind the manufacture of these colonies, namely in acting CEO Mariam Junot of Junot Corp. Her rather leisurely pace of life is interrupted by an unusual lack of contact from one of the colonies still under construction. Soon after meeting Mariam, you are pushed into the middle of a mystery that asks plenty of questions and leaves you wondering what direction the story will take after the shock ending to this part.
Inj Culbard presents you with a bright and colourful first few panels before taking you out into the black of space, somehow making it visually interesting and full of shadow and varying shades. It might be dark in space but it’s still very much dynamic. Culbard has worked as an animator but stands firmly as an established and very successful comic illustrator – easy to see why.
Lettering is completed by Simon Bowland who must have had some fun doing the annotation work used in Brink to give an almost Heads Up Display over the comic, detailing character bios on the fly adding a futuristic feel to the comic.
Future Shocks // The Best Brain In The Galaxy by Andrew Williamson, Tilen Javornik & Ellie De Ville
Tharg’s Future Shocks are (usually) completely self-contained stories that don’t follow a particular canon or prior storyline. In this Future Shock you have a black and white story surrounding two starship crew members in particular who are competing for the position of Captain on an upcoming mission. It’s very much a battle of the sexes featuring a jock male character and professional female, both of whom throw playful insults at each other throughout their various trials to be named Captain. Williamson’s dialogue is playful and fun to read and the ending is a big pay off. Again, you’ll have a smile on your face.
Javornik’s art features high-concept designs for equipment, technology and starships while giving us strongly contrasting characters. The bold shading and strong lines make the visuals easy to differentiate, giving easy to follow action and scenarios (not always the case with black and white). Ellie De Ville completes the story with lettering that is completely on point.
Scarlet Traces // Cold War Book 2 by Ian Edgington, D’Israeli & Annie Parkhouse
This is the beginning of book 2 of Scarlet Traces: Cold War but don’t panic! Remember the synopsis from Tharg I mentioned? You’re still going to get something out of this. After all, Star Wars began at Episode IV…
As a title, Scarlet Traces is already well established although not originally as a 2000AD comic (it was intended to be an animation). Suffice to say, the collected works are available via previous Judge Dredd Megazines or through Dark Horse Comics. To give a basic summary, Scarlet Traces is essentially a sequel to the classic H.G. Wells story; War of the Worlds which itself was adapted by Ian Edgington and D’Israeli into a graphic novel.
Scarlet Traces is set in Britain although the scale comprises of the entire solar system complete with a recent history of war with Mars and Venusians seeking refuge in England’s green and pleasant land (not for much longer). Cold War picks up as Mars prepares to destroy the rest of the solar system and we begin this story with a political gathering to discuss the threat. As with most politics, you have representatives sitting and talking with very little actually being done (perhaps that’s a little pessimistic of me) – this is a wonderful piece of satire as the plans to wipe out humanity are laid bare before a large gathering of very bored looking delegates.
There is a pattern throughout this prog because yet again, once you finish this episode of the story you will have a grin on your face. The writing is fantastic and takes you through an impassioned speech given to uninterested political leaders, supplemented by a visual presentation of the downfall of the solar system. It quickly moves to a harsh outdoor environment showing first-hand what Britain has become. This is all depicted in bright and powerful art created by D’Israeli who conveys the emotion and desperation of the speaker through strong facial expressions and body language, while the colours and depiction of lighting/shadowing bring each panel to life leading us to a final and gloomy page which slows down the story to deliver a great final line of dialogue.
Award-winning letterer Annie Parkhouse presents the dialogue with perfect positioning within the artwork, wrapping up this episode wonderfully.
Last but by no means least…
Cursed: The Fall of Deadworld by Kek-W, Dave Kendall and Annie Parkhouse
You know that guy, Judge Dredd? Well he has some serious nemeses known as the Dark Judges. These four agents of destruction, Judges Death, Fire, Fear and Mortis were once similar to Judge Dredd in that they upheld the law in their own dimension. The leader of the four, Judge Death, came to the conclusion that only the living committed crime and therefore all life was itself a crime. A tided of death and destruction ensued and eventually, the Dark Judges found their way to Mega-City One to dispense justice. Keep in mind that their appearance in Judge Dredd and 2000AD happened in 1981. Since then, they have made various appearances within Judge Dredd. The Fall of Deadworld was as a result of a dream that artist Dave Kendall had of the four Dark Judges who later went on to create Dreams of Deadworld with Kek-W.
Dreams of Deadworld depict the downfall of the dimension inhabited by the Dark Judges, focusing on one Judge per story. The Fall of Deadworld differs in that it paints a personal story within this event of a family of farmers and key characters Jess and Judge Fairfax, with Fairfax’s sentient motorcycle that serves up attitude in every panel. The story is therefore bleak, dark and a tale of survival at all costs. Cursed: The Fall of Deadworld follows the first installment Tainted: The Fall of Deadworld, so we join Judge Fairfax and Jess already on the run.
Dave Kendall’s art is nightmarish and gritty. It has an almost charcoal feel to it as everything has a blended style that is at once clear and yet smudged and dirty. It’s unsettling and quite frankly awesome to see. The fact it accompanies such a great story is pretty special and the three main characters (Fairfax’s bike is certainly a character in its own right) is thrust into danger and a fight for their lives. The action is violent and gory but never extreme thanks to the impressive style of Dave Kendall. The dialogue is witty and in your face, punctuating the three different characters’ personalities (AI can have a personality right?) in each conversation, making it very much a character story as well as a bid for desperate survival.
Cursed: The Fall of Deadworld finishes this episode on a cliffhanger so roll on next week.
This week’s anthology is perfectly balanced between each title. Starting off three new story arcs while giving readers two stand-alone stories means you have the thirst for more but the satisfaction of reading two enjoyable stories in their own right. As progs go, this is also an ideal issue to start your love affair with 2000AD.
Prog 2023 is available now in stores, online and in digital at www.2000adonline.com