Cover by Tula Lotay or Emily Zeinner. Poster by Marguerite Sauvage.
Before the review itself; spare a thought for one of this edition’s contributors, Leah Moore (Judge Death) who recently suffered a serious brain injury. If you can spare more than a thought, there is a crowdfunding page to help Leah and her family get by in the coming months while she recovers: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/leahandjohn
Now without further ado, let’s see how special the special really is!
Judge Dredd “The Feels” by Emma Beeby, Babs Tarr and Annie Parkhouse
Dredd takes on the pernicious forces of peace, love and understanding with only one possible outcome. Beeby has a great ear for dialogue with crusty old Joe who neither knows nor cares about the feels. His discomfort with how people express this is comedy gold. It’s a smart story at the same time. Psychopaths don’t have the same feelings as normal people so what else would happen when you drug them like this? Dredd gets this instantly, probably because he’s able to understand the muggers better than the huggers.
Babs Tarr’s gorgeous cartoony style is perfect for this wee tale. Dredd is seething throughout, looking like he’s shouting in even the most pleasant of chats with his colleagues. Her expressive anime faces complement the emotional theme perfectly, and there’s a unique take on the uniform too. It looks like a not-unpleasant melange of both movies with classic Dredd.
Tyranny Rex “Don’t Forget To Blast My Cache” by Kathy Rex, Liana Kangas, Gab Contreras and Ellie de Ville
Katy Rex (presumably no relation) revisits the Tyranny Rex body horror themes in this special. Kangas and Contreras combine to give us a gruesome car/human hybrid that Indigo Prime would be proud of. The sauron herself is as hip and punchy as ever in double denim. The fact that it’s not entirely clear what anyone in the strip was actually trying to do is detrimental to the overall impact. That’s nothing new for a Tyranny rex strip though. Is this a hint that she’ll be following Durham back to the prog? We can only hope.
Rogue Trooper “The Thousand Days” by Alex De Campi, Sam Beck, Eva De La Cruz and Annie Parkhouse
Alex De Campi gives us a Rogue Trooper story whose look at the futility of warfare would make Gerry Finlay-Day proud. All the elements are there; an unmoving trench front, stalemate between Nort and Souther. There’s a nice moment where the troops think they’ve come full circle because the enemy camp is nearly identical to their own.
De Campi doesn’t let such “futility of war” detract from what we’ve come to see though. Before long we have the common Rogue tropes we know and love: bickering biochips, torn suits and seals and the big blue guy walking away like the Littlest Hobo.
Sam Beck manages to make each of the southers distinct enough to have character. They portray weariness, disillusionment, frustration, fear and outright madness with elegance. Her Norts are the classically faceless enemy. There’s no reflection in either script or artwork that the enemy are just as downtrodden as the “heroes”. Likewise the fighting seems a bit static without managing the impact the script demands.
Future Shocks “The Delivery” by Tillie Walden
Walden’s Delivery providess a neatly-encapsulated Shock. It’s a creepily atmospheric follow of the postie on her rounds in a dangerous area. Is she the hunter or the hunted? Is she the beast she’s being warned about throughout the story? Do we even get a definitive answer?
The artwork here is dark and heavily inked, drawing the reader into the oppressive gloom. We peer in, hoping to gain clues as to the nature of what is around us. As the uncertainty grows, the panels become rougher and less uniform, reflecting our own uncertainty. Minimal dialogue accentuates the solitude and the sense of otherness is heightened by the otherworldly night sky which illuminates the scenes. Haunting and lovely stuff.
Judge Death “Darkness Descends” by Leah Moore, Xulia Vicente, Pippa Mather and Annie Parkhouse
Leah Moore’s take on Judge Death is a tale of a possessed tape. What the story lacks in substance is compensated for by Vicente’s grimy artwork and Mather’s gloriously bonkers colouring. The song lyrics swirling around the performers really immerses the reader in the concert environment. Particularly well-executed (no pun intended) is the heart-ripping transformation into the alien superfiend in the climax. The final panel is a chaotic treat. The apparition managing to look solid and gaseous, being blown around by flames above the corpse is perfectly presented by artists and well-paced by writer.
DeMarco P.I “Love Remains” by Laura Bailey, Dani and Ellie De Ville
There’s a seam of excellent dialogue running right through this special. It’s continued in fine style in DeMarco and allows the characters (and in some part the reader too) to be distracted from some of the implausibilities of the story. What we end up with is a tale that needs a few leaps of faith to suspend disbelief. Gifti’s reasons for not wanting to involve the judges are odd but perhaps no weirder than you might expect in the Big Meg.
From DeMarco’s point of view, a case is a case at the end of the day. She ends up confronted with a horrifying conclusion which artist Dani shows her full talent with. She mixes up the visceral with some beautifully realised characters in sharp black relief. The only problem is DeMarco herself who in some frames seems to be missing her nose (“How does she smell?” etc etc). Her Han Solo pistol is so cool that most people would probably give up their nose for it though…
Terror Tale “The Hockey Sticks Of Hell” by Olivia Hicks, Abigail Bulmer and Annie Parkhouse
What can be said of this Terror Tales? Well at least it’s short. And Abigail Bulmer’s quirky fun artwork is colourful with some whimsical details. Now you know what face you would make if you were decapitated by a hockey ball. Otherwise move along to…
Anderson PSI-Division “Spa Day” by Maura McHugh, Emma Vieceli, Barbara Nosenzo and Ellie De Ville
2000ad’s most enduring female character closes the show with a not-so-relaxing spa day. Again, it’s a story that’s light on plot but delivers on character and detail. The ongoing tension between psi and street-div is again captured and used to give us some neat exposition. It’s a revealing insight into the unique difficulties experienced by the psi’s. it also gives a glimpse of how they view the “slab jocks” who don’t have to deal with the emotional and esoteric problems the psi’s face. There’s even an affectionate dig at Dredd – although this time it isn’t Anderson’s irreverence to the fore. No wonder he finds them so drokking flaky!
The rest of the story hinges on the literal inner demons that Cass has dealt with so many times before. While Orlok et al are always welcome for nostalgia purposes, you can’t help thinking more could have been done with the pages than this. It’s good to see poor tragic Corey get a better outcome from a Sci-Fi Special than last time we saw her. McHugh takes pains to show Anderson isn’t in need of saving by anyone. It’s this self-determination that’s kept her at the top of the judging tree for 38 years.
All in all it’s a special that falls slightly short of being special. Maybe it was overhyped due to the groundbreaking all-female lineup or maybe the sniping from the 2000ad “community” poisoned the well somewhat. There are certainly some zarjaz moments to enjoy but overall it feels less than the sum of its parts.