Judge Dredd “The Small House” Part 10 by Rob Williams, Henry Flint, Chris Blythe and Annie Parkhouse.
Williams rounds off the Small House in grand style this week with a finale that doesn’t disappoint. At the end of all the cerebral manoeuvering, this game of chess ends in a visceral confrontation. When it comes down to that, there’s only going to be one winner. You can argue all day about what Dredd’s cardinal virtues are but it’s his tactical awareness and absence of ego that make him such a team player and inspirational leader. Smiley’s hubris is his undoing. For all his bloodlessness, Williams has cleverly given us glimpses of Smiley’s almost sadistic enjoyment of the game. Dredd isn’t a man for showing his emotions but his rage, when unleashed, is awe-inspiring. Flint’s depiction of his takedown of Smiley is primal as his bulk looms out of the page, casting the reader in the terrified, defeated shoes of Smiley. You would feel sorry for him if he wasn’t such a wee nyaff.
It’s to Williams’ great credit that each character functions here perfectly within their idiom. Smiley manipulates to the end and arrogantly can’t resist a gloat. Maitland remains idealistic, the moral compass unwilling to accept the “greater good” argument. And Dredd? He’s simultaneously aware of both his own stature and his limitations. None of his plan would have worked without the willing cooperation of the participants. Inspirational leadership rather than Smiley’s manipulations was the key to his success and Williams plays it note perfect.
The epilogue promises major changes in the Dreddverse. Will Joe finally be obliged to take the big chair? Will Hershey consider her position and step down? Or (possibly more interesting) will she struggle on after the revelations? She’s always had a grasp of realpolitik and what’s gone on has predated her position. Williams makes her walk a tightrope of defiance and, if not contrition then something close to it. Masterful stuff. Williams is owning MC1 and no mistake.
Brink “High Society” Part 10 by Dan Abnett, INJ Culbard and Simon Bowland.
Bridget’s in deep trouble this week in Brink and Abnett makes us feel every sweaty moment in a tight, tense episode. Culbard keeps the camera in close as Croker gets in her (and our) face. Normally heroes are working to keep on mission in these situations but, to Abnett’s credit, he goes in a different direction. Bridget is terrified. Scrambling for her life she throws Blasco to the dogs. This could be seen as her keeping the mission alive by not disclosing the cult angle but she knows that would be certain death.
Culbard’s simple art gives Bridget a believable humanity. She’s no superhero. Her presence during her interrogation swings from defiance to fear, shock and abject terror. It’s the determination as she makes the decision to bring down Blasco that shows her character. She’s processed what’s going on and taken the only available route to save her skin, despite it meaning almost certain death for Blasco. Noble? No. Pragmatic? Yes. And it’s 5 of the tensest pages in a long time. Incredible stuff.
Sinister Dexter “The Sea Beneath the City” Part 1 by Dan Abnett, Steve Yeowell, John Charles and Ellie de Ville
The weird world of Downlode moves into Bond territory in this new Sinister Dexter story from the ubiquitous Abnett who provides 3 of this week’s 4 stories. Depending on your personal taste, this is arguably the weakest of them. Our heroes are on the trail of Wharfinger. You may think that having yet another underworld kingpin who has thus far gone unnoticed in the past 20 years is a bit of a stretch. Especially if this figure controls all the smuggling in Downlode. But SinDex has always relied on a certain suspension of disbelief to get by so this isn’t much of an exception.
Another exception is the length of the episode. Unusually, Tharg has granted 10 pages (double that granted to Brink) which allows Abnett to set us up with a variety of characters, locations, organisations and sea monsters. It’s’ an editorial decision which works ideally as there probably isn’t enough occurring to tie this off as 2 episodes. Unlike Brink which would have suffered from making the tight, tense episode any longer this week. On closer inspection, the end of page 5 could have been the end of episode 1 proper(you can almost see the glue where they stuck it together) but overall, it would have suffered without the second act.
Artistically Yeowell creates a cool 60’s vibe in the mini-sub and underground reservoir. The architecture in particular gives a sense of scale that works perfectly. Even when the sea serpent appears, the angles of the coils reflect the skewed strut formations to give the scene a neat symmetry. It’s all complemented by Charles’ muted pastel palette, giving it a soft-focus Panavision feel.
Kingdom “Alpha and Omega” Part 10 by Dan Abnett, Richard Elson, Abigail Bulmer and Ellie de Ville.
Gene may be in trouble (as usual) but it’s nothing compared with what’s happening to Skinner. In a bleak move by Abnett, he has the honourable leader of Us usurped by Numan. Now the tick’s in Numan, he’s adopted the Aux mode of speech which begs the question of why they all speak like that? Until now that syntax has been a given but Numan isn’t an Aux so why is he talking like one? If it’s the tick, then why do Gene and Canis do it? It’s a minor point but it grates a bit. The question of how much Numan is Us or Master is one that Abnett may not have time to answer before the conclusion.
Bulmer’s muted, grainy colours this week work perfectly with the dialogue. Everything bar the shooting is hushed in the twilight. The forest backdrop is lush and deep against the blue-grey light. The splashes of red are deep and thick, sticky and gory. Get whet indeed.
An excellent prog with Dredd and Brink as good as anything out there in comics.