Judge Dredd “A Better Class of Criminal” Part 4 by Rory McConville, Leonardo Manco, Chris Blythe and Annie Parkhouse
McConville et al. finish off this slice of MC1 life in great style. Every element seems to work, art and storytelling synchronise perfectly to produce a barnstorming 4-parter that is tied off neatly this week. It’s a story that presents the Judges in an almost heroic light. Out manned and outgunned, they charge in daysticks flying; ready to risk life and limb to prevent further bloodshed and keep the peace. We’ve had a reasonably serious look at the pressure of gang culture (and it’s a theme all too relevent in contemporary society) so we can have some empathy with Zanzibar. McConville pairs Zanzibar’s memory of humiliation with his short-lived revenge on the Danforth leader, so for a moment you’re almost on his side. Almost.
There’s a reason the Judges are the top gang and Dredd is the top dog. This is teamwork on display. Dredd’s giving the orders but there’s no hint of an argument from his squad when it comes to risking their necks. In fact, to emphasise that it isn’t a one-man show; Dredd gets knocked on his arse and it’s random Judge who gets the (literal) collar.
The manner in which McConville reveals the source of the Skeletons’ powers is the only fly in the ointment. It feels just a bit forced, as if a loose end had to be tied up at the last minute. A foreshadowing of it as even a working line of investigation for Dredd’s team could have felt more satisfying.
Artistically, it’s impressive. Leonardo Manco has excelled himself with a dizzying conflict. The opening panel is an absolute riot of flying bodies. As the fight progresses, there’s an impact behind everything that impresses that these guys are playing for keeps. Each panel has a different movement in keeping with the frantic struggle of the Judges to contain their perps. In keeping with his senior status, Manco’s Dredd looks twice the age of the other Judges. He’s tough and fit for sure but he looks like a definition of old man strength. It’s good to see an artist new to Dredd capture who he is so early. It’s enormously helped by Blythe’s colouring as the blue HUD lighting so much in vogue in the prog just now shows off every crag and wrinkle of Joe’s stoney face.
There’s a witty wee Easter egg in Judges Terry and Gilliam which gives 2000ad it’s second Monty Python gag in as many weeks. Maybe next week will be Dredd versus the Knights Who Say Ni?
The Order “The New World” Part 8 by Kek-W, John Burns and Annie Parkhouse
Armoured Gideon comes out of retirement and unexpectedly into the pages of The Order. Does his return after 20-odd years in the wilderness work? Strangely, it kind of does. Although he would be just at home in Mechastopheles, the presence of an automated guardian of dimensions does fit into the feel of Kek-W’s universe without being too jarring
. Cleverly, he steps back from last week’s reveal with a retrospective look at Calhoun’s first encounter with Clara Weitz. In that encounter, he gives us a sniff of the Enochian symbols which foreshadow a link between Clara and Gideon. It’s a clever parallel of the relationship between Anna and Rittenstahl although, as things transpire, perhaps not as durable. However much or little you may enjoy 2000ad’s most divisive pick of the current crop of strips, Kek-W has a talent for both worldbuilding and finding the human element in conflict.
Burns’ take on Gideon differs unsurprisingly from Simon Jacobs’ original. The heavy plated and riveted edgewalker seems rounder, sleeker and slightly more up to date. His smoothly moulded legs are almost in keeping with the tubelike limbs of the Wyrms, creating a pleasing uniformity which makes his intrusion seem more natural. A slavish adherence to the original design would look too much like a comic crossover. Allowing a bit of artistic license may help to reinvigorate a story which, up to now, has been one of the weaker ones in the prog.
On a side note, could Clara Weitz be a distant relation of Frank Weitz? It would explain her bond with the big guy. It seems to have done her as much good as it did Frank, however, as her reach exceeds her grasp at the end to give us a pretty painful cliffhanger.
Tharg’s 3rillers “Appetite” Part 2 by James Peaty, Andrea Mutti, Eva de la Cruz and Ellie de Ville
As an Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers idea goes, Appetite is a pretty nice update. Riding the wave of the demise of traditional media, it seems plausible that a vlogger would have the reach to be the tool of dissemination for any malicious thing needing spread. It’s an idea we’ve seen with each incarnation of new tech, both in cinema (think Rec or Ringu) and comics. The all too human vices of greed, vanity and ambition are constant, though and our protagonist is blinded by them until he literally blunders into the truth.
Mutti’s real-world vibe gets us into the heart of the cult. It’s a sub-Scientology New Age mess, making only a pretence as a spa. Eva de La Cruz subtly shifts the palette through muted tones down into indistinct CCTV monochrome before bursting into horrific organic reds. It’s beautiful in an almost shocking way.
There’s also a cold, weary cynicism to all the characters. We never see Mr. Jones’ eyes, the closest we get to sympathy is for his beleaguered assistant who, unlike all the others, has a degree of animation. What happens if you can’t tell the real people from the pod people?
Mechastopheles “True Faith” Part 2 by Gordon Rennie, Lawrence Rennie, Karl Richardson and Simon Bowland
Rennie’s weird streak may not be to everyone’s taste but the sight of two giant demons cannibalising their still-living brother as he berates them for just that is what breathes life into a tale that would otherwise run out of steam very quickly. Everyone loves giant robot, demons and demon-robots. What keeps us coming back is the human drama within. The atmosphere inside Mechastopheles is becoming ever more fractious, aided no doubt by the claustrophobic siege mentality.
For those of us who remember the original 3riller only vaguely, the characters are beginning to assert themselves with growing clarity. The introduction of a destabilising factor gives the wanderers new purpose. The stowaway psychic demon seems to be steering them towards sanctuary, but no doubt has a more malevolent agenda of its own.
Richardson has created a world where the safe interior seems almost as hellish as the outside wasteland. Each character has an element of ugliness, whether overt or otherwise, which hints at hardship and privation. For a story writ large, it’s the subtle effects which carry the emotional drive. Watch the change in direction from Beatrici and the satisfaction on the mouth of the stowaway for evidence that Richardson has the ability to keep the reader invested.
Grey Area “The Laundry Room” by Dan Abnett, Mark Harrison and Ellie de Ville
The Laundry Room is an instalment of Grey Area that we all could feel coming. The survival of Bitch and Kymn has been foreshadowed in previous weeks, not least with the “no organic matter” comment of the supervisor. That shouldn’t detract from the emotional impact of their colleagues’ grief reactions in previous weeks. It’s just like we’ve seen recently with Robin in Detective Comics although arguably written more meaningfully and realistically than the caped brigade.
Anyway, this week we effectively get a training montage as the unwilling duo are put through their paces. The idea of using unwilling conscripts for covert ops doesn’t make a lot of sense. The deniability of something going wrong would be flimsy at best so an off-world mission of no return would be the only realistic possibility.
Despite the plan, the Laundry Room itself is gorgeously realised by Harrison. The recurrent artistic theme in the prog of floating neon HUDs is used again here, and to good effect. The angles of the visible displays give a sweeping camera which drags the reader along as the characters move along the course. The bright lights and unreal enemies in the dark room give it a safe Holodeck feel which is contrasted by the threatening presence of the commander in harsh fluorescent lighting. The game is ended and Bitch and Kymn are going to be challenged, morally as well as physically next week.
An excellent conclusion to Dredd keeps the quality high in an overall strong prog.