Judge Dredd “A Better Class of Criminal” Part 3 by Rory McConville, Leonardo Manco, Chris Blythe and Annie Parkhouse
“The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley”. This probably wasn’t one of the best ideas the Judges have had. As an episode in a Dredd tale though it’s pure carnage. McConville’s tale of gangs jostling for supremacy boils over with the Judges turning up the heat to provoke a confrontation between them.
Let’s have more of the Manco/Blythe partnership please. These guys rock the fururistic city like nobody’s business. The bright lights of the H-Wagons and their internal HUD’s glow out of the page with their own life, reflecting off Judges’ helmets and throwing shadows over every nook and cranny. Manco’s no slouch on the action either. The Danforths pour fire onto the Azure Skeletons with a cold arrogance borne out of being the big fish. As the little fish adapt, they seem almost possessed. When the Judges are forced to step in as it inevitably goes belly up, McConville et al give us a great final panel. What do you use against exoskeletons and cannons? Daysticks, that’s what.
The Order “The New World” Part 7 by Kek-W, John Burns and Annie Parkhouse
Anna Kohl and her Order are in full retreat in the face of Sir Francis Bacon’s overwhelming robot army. Kek-W turns up the pace this week as our heroes run for their lives. There’s still time for both pathos and humour here; he’s able to give comedy, tragedy and history in one go.
Even as a throwaway character, Burns’ artwork makes the death of Paul Bunyan excruciating. It’s two panels which make the most of themselves. Bacon’s callousness towards Bunyan is clear even through his robotic persona. Bunyan’s pain and helplessness followed by Clara’s reaction are awful to behold.
There’s a moment of levity as Anna encounters her “horse”. Her disgruntlement is a neat way of signalling the end of the fight. As Calhoun recounts part of his tale, you can see how out of step Anna is with the new detente between human and wyrm. It’s clever how Kek-W has allowed us the same bewilderment as Anna, increasing empathy with her position.
At least things can’t get any worse. Wait, what’s that coming through the trees? Is it an old friend?
Tharg’s 3rillers “Appetite” Part 1 by James Peaty, Andrea Mutti, Eva de la Cruz and Ellie de Ville
3rillers have a difficult job to do. They need to have all the punchiness of a Future Shock with the depth of a larger story, all without using established characters. Like a play in three acts, Peaty uses this installment to introduce characters and establish the world. It’s a real-world setting, following a web-based gossip columnist with pretensions of serious journalism. The death of a starlet during an interview and the heavy-handed destruction of his equipment raise questions with him, but is there more than meets the eye? Of course there is, it wouldn’t be 2000ad if there wasn’t!
There’s a feel for Mr. Jones as a snake here. Look at his reaction to his guest dropping dead. His lack of empathy to her plight, seeing it instead as an opportunity for his career makes him unsympathetic. Mutti’s art conveys this with elegant simplicity. His eyes are permanently hidden by the reflection of his glasses. They’re only revealed in his hungry response to his partner confirming she’s got it all on tape.
His thirst for a story is manipulated by the shadowy Dr. Kneale; there are clearly high stakes being played for here and he’s the mark. The poor corpse cynically dropped on the floor was just to get his attention.
This is a solidly real-world story. In between the otherworldly shenanigans of The Order and Mechastopheles, it’s a pleasing contrast.
Mechastopheles “True Faith” Part 2 by Gordon Rennie, Lawrence Rennie, Karl Richardson and Simon Bowland
The Rennies pull a switch of perspective to give us the best of both worlds in Mechastopheles. We get the highlights of giant demon combat to satisfy our appetite for action and to show Mechastopheles’ power. We also get the passengers’ view from inside. That is, no view at all. Think demonic Das Boot and you’d be on the right track. They can’t even tell if the battle is lost or won, such is their terrifying lack of perspective.
Richardson’s artwork creates a gorgeously hellish landscape. The demonic battle is suitably lumbering and full of juddering impact. When he shifts downscale, the claustrophobia is palpable. When a claw penetrates the inner compartment, you feel the shock the inhabitants do. There are a few quibbles of inconsistency in scale. The city-sized demons’ hands seem too small when they’re inside the cabin and smaller still when we just see a claw. For dramatic purposes it’s successful but don’t think about it too much or it’ll spoil the effect.
Rennie gives us a glimpse of the remains of the world at the end. Is Mechastopheles an agent of salvation or doom? Either way guarantees giant robot-demon violence so that’s fine.
Grey Area “86” by Dan Abnett, Mark Harrison and Ellie de Ville
Grey Area continues to mine a rich seam of themes. The fact that it does so with a light touch and charm is testament to Dan Abnett’s abilities. Every one of the characters in the 86 is distinct and believable without falling into stereotype or caricature. All are dealing with loss in their own way. This week Feo and Bulleitt are at cross purposes dealing with a disturbance in the camp. It’s the kind of thing that could go either way. Feo’s understandably overwhelmed by fear and anger after the loss of Bitch and Kymn. Her reaction nearly pushes the situation into a riot.
Harrison’s art is a treat. The panels of plot are piled on top of an indistinct shanty town that could be any refugee camp on earth. Dispossessed people squaring up to uniformed armed troops could be the same anywhere. Harrison’s aliens could be anyone, that’s the point of Grey Area. It’s in the details that he shines. Everything about Feo cries twitchy belligerence, Bulleitt looks exhausted trying to keep a lid on the mob and his squad both. When they get through the day, you can see the relief in the locker room as well as the bonds the squad has.
Everything is tinged with grief. Bulleitt keeps catching himself in reminders of his lost colleagues. In a small team, that’s inevitable. The understanding response to the near-riot serves to keep the peace but, more importantly, it defuses Feo, at least temporarily. De-escalation of conflict isn’t something you see often in comics. Dredd would have been straight in there with the riot foam and stun gas. Abnett cleverly presents it as a heroic path where everyone wins with no bruised egos. In Grey Area, the good guys sometime actually get to be good guys. Fitting in a Monty Python reference is just a bonus.