Judge Dredd “The Small House” Part 4 by Rob Williams, Henry Flint, Chris Blythe and Annie Parkhouse.
As could be reasonably expected, Dredd makes his first foray on his secret conflict with Smiley this week. Williams has cleverly sown the seed of a chess match in Dredd’s earlier meeting with Kazan so this episode feels very much like the opening moves. Joe’s taken a pawn and looks to have the initiative but Smiley’s the king at looking several moves ahead. Despite an early victory, there’s a cloud over Dredd’s rogue squad. Dredd’s not completely irrational hatred of Sensitive Klegg provides a brief moment of humour and allows Frank to move away from being the comic relief for once. His status as the cuckoo in the nest gives a welcome new aspect to the character who can sometimes be a little one-dimensional.
In the background Sam and Maitland have the look of sacrificial lambs, their perky optimism tempered by Dredd’s “seen it all before” cynicism. If there’s a false move at all this week it’s Smiley’s surprise at Dredd’s play. He’s not a man who should be too surprised by anything. His unobserved and therefore genuine reaction hints that maybe Dredd isn’t the blunt tool that he surmised last week.
Flint’s art is tight as a drum. His brooding Hershey shows wordlessly just what a political animal she’s had to become, a far cry from the idealistic rookie and street judge of yesteryear. Dredd’s tension is evident in clenched jaw and tense posture. Frank’s obviously discomfited by lying and not just because Dredd’s suddenly in his space. The closing panels show how there’s not much difference between a chat and an interrogation when Joe’s asking the questions. It’s an excellent setup for whatever Smiley’s riposte will be next week.
Brink “High Society” Part 4 by Dan Abnett, INJ Culbard and Simon Bowland
There’s sudden violence in Brink as Bridget’s cleaning picks up a bug. Her suspicions are aroused not by the device, but Blasco’s too-quick appearance and method of resolution. She’s genuinely shaken by the experience. This isn’t MC-1 where people are blown away every few panels. A death in Brink really means something for all concerned.
Most notable this week though is the return of the owner of the best nose in comics; the sparky and sardonic Gita Gibrani, also undercover. Abnett uses her reintroduction to tease out Bridget’s suspicions and also to defuse some of her post-shooting tension. It’s masterful, economic writing and perfectly pictured by Culbard whose characters’ use of non-verbal communication says as much as the script.
Fiends of the Eastern Front “1812” Part 4 by Ian Edginton, Dave Taylor and Annie Parkhouse.
Edginton gives us a glimpse of Constanta’s origins in Fiends this week. There’s witchcraft bloodshed and gratuitous nudity galore as we see that vampirism probably hasn’t changed Constanta all that much. Proud and violent, he seems unlikely to give up the curse but the desire for revenge against Baba Yaga he keeps opaque. The exposition feels natural, as if neither man expects D’Hubert to survive the encounter.
Taylor’s artwork remains on point as in previous weeks. The snowbound forest chills the reader as D’Hubert struggles on. There’s a definite feeling that he could share his contrymen’s fate and freeze to death before the Russians get him. Constanta, meanwhile glides through effortlessly in shirtsleeves, his absence of breath emphasising his inhumanity. The flashback has an almost cinematic feel with narration over noiseless action in an ethereal fantasy. “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”? Baba Yaga and her chicken-legged hut may have something to say about that.
Skip Tracer “Legion” Part 4 by James Peaty, Colin MacNeil, Dylan Teague and Ellie de Ville.
The psychic landscape of the minds of the brothers Blake is the background for this week’s Skip Tracer. Unfortunately 2000ad readers have been spoiled by the likes of Alan Grant and Arthur Ransom’s mindscapes so this is doomed to be a pale imitation. That’s not to say that it’s without merit though. A cameo by Selby gives a poignant payoff about Nolan’s feelings of culpability in what happened last series. It strikes a realistic note to see that he hasn’t just moved on from the events that led to the demise of his closest/only friend. Artistically the sparse backgrounds lack the atmosphere of the cube. It also seems a bit wrongfooted to set up the Cube as a compelling background that is immediately discarded in favour of arbitrarily grey desert. This along with the hiccupping alcoholic dad-projection and the b-movie Consociation villains has dragged Skip Tracer down from a promising new thrill to the low point of the prog.
Kingdom “Alpha and Omega” Part 4 by Dan Abnett, Richard Elson, Abigail Bulmer and Ellie de Ville.
It’s not often that Gene is helpless, but here he takes very much a back seat to proceedings. This allows us to watch what’s going on almost form his perspective and learn a few things along the way with him. First and foremost, these riders know their stuff. Their handling of the masters and their purebred auxes will probably go a long way to swing him towards their pack. Canis walking straight into the ambush either indicates arrogance or a tactical naivete. It gives Elson to provide Bulmer with some impressive artwork which she gleefully spatters with blood and gunfire in the night. It’s a far cry from the stark, sparse way the violence was handled in Brink but that’s just one of the things that makes an anthology like the prog so good.
It’s a strong set of stories in total, Brink in particular, but let down by a stale-feeling Skip Tracer.