Judge Dredd vs Razorjack “This Corrosion” Part 3 by Michael Carroll, John Higgins, Sally Hurst and Annie Parkhouse
In footballing terms, Dredd squeaks away with a 1-0 away win. Michael Carroll has crafted a script that makes the most of Dredd’s more underrated abilities: His indomitable spirit and tactical intelligence. It’s difficult to manage a crossover event that gives a satisfactory conclusion without making one of the antagonists look weak. Although the Dredd fans probably outnumber Razorjack fans (certainly among the readership of Dredd’s own title) it’s important still to not nerf the other parties abilities, if only to allow for a return leg.
Carroll’s pacing allows for Joe to have a pop at the big girl herself. It’s a necessarily brief encounter. He knows he wouldn’t stand a chance in a fight to the death but he can dot in and out quickly enough to slow her down. It’s arguable that he didn’t even need to pursue her lieutenant into the Twist Loop. It’s almost as if he does it to make a point about the dangers of intruding on his turf. That certainly seems likely from his dialogue with Razorjack and is certainly in keeping with his old hard bastard persona. The fact that, in the end, the Pavadir seem as intimidated by humans as by aliens is a good marker of Dredd’s threat.
Higgins and Hurst create a glorious spectacle in the Loops. It’s a place of extreme violence with swarms of enemies being ripped to pieces in droves. Let’s give credit too to Annie Parkhouse’s ability to make Razorjack’s words look as though they’re spoken through teeth and blood. Although more enclosed than normal by his bodysuit, Dredd’s combativeness is expressed in every pose and growl. It’s especially evident in his confrontation with Razorjack where, jaw jutting, he lays down the law in great style. He’s not making a joke but it’s still funny given the past 40 years of conflict he’s seen. A great conclusion to a really enjoyable Dredd story.
The Returners “Irmazhina” Part 5 by Si Spencer, Nicolo Assirelli, Eva de la Cruz and Simon Bowland
For a story that started with great promise then lost its way, The Returners seems to be back on track this week. It is slightly concerning that the backstories to the characters are more interesting than the haunted house present. How they all got to this position is fascinating reading. Keeping it interspersed with the mission allows Spencer to drip-feed us their motivations and animosities. A series on the relationship of Correia and Mineiro on the streets of Cuidad Barranquilla could be sweaty, dirty gold.
Assirelli’s artwork is a treat, particularly combined with the shifting colour palette of Eva de la Cruz. His rough, sketch-like style is well-suited to the rundown slum setting. With each flashback scene having a colour filter, the present in the pyramid bursts off the page with unholy light and shadow. This is the best episode yet. Hopefully the climax will be just as good.
Devlin Waugh “Kiss of Death” Part 2 by Rory McConville, Mike Dowling and Simon Bowland
Devlin Waugh remains a frustrating read. The first part of this installment features Devlin arguing with a holographic nun. No harm in that for the purposes of exposition you may say. The problem is the overreliance on made-up Franzit’s Ascendancies, Centauri Solstices, Considium Charters and suchlike to create the impression of a larger world. Devlin’s been around a while. The existence of an occult world is already built in to the fabric of his story. It’s one thing to use the incomprehensibility of the jargon to put the reader into the place of the narrator (Devlin’s date), but it was frustrating enough when Indigo Prime did it.
Once we get moving it becomes an almost cosy experience. McConville’s Devlin is urbanely personable, winning his beau round with charm and exuding an alpha male aura. There’s no doubt who would be the daddy in this pairing. Sadly they don’t get the chance to move their relationship on as Act 3 this week is devoted to the kicking of cultist ass.
The presence of the Fifth of Aac is a flabby, grotesque monstrosity which Dowling has channelled straight out of Guillermo del Toro’s nightmares. It’s perfectly positioned too. After the claustrophobic tunnels in small panels, he opens into an enormous cavern filling nearly the whole page. We see it from Devlin’s point of view, the cultists just indistinct dots at the feet of the monster. As the scene bursts into action, the demon becomes part of the scenery. The focus narrows from the large indistinct threat to the immediate danger of smaller humans in smaller panels.
The tragic ending is perfectly poised. A young man’s fantasy of derring-do running into grim reality. He probably didn’t even entertain such an idea until he met Devlin, something our vampire hero will no doubt berate himself for, prone to introspection as he is. The closing scene, with Devlins protective runes appearing as streaks of tears, is a kick in the fangs in comparison to the usual Devlin hijinks.
Chopper “Wandering Soul” Part 4 by David Baillie, Brendan McCarthy, Len O’Grady and Ellie de Ville
Chopper confronts the nanocloud with allies from each direction. As each party uses their own talents to bust up the mega croc, we get treated to an apocalyptic show. The idea of using sonics to disrupt a creature drawing power from the songlines is one that makes sense to the Judges. Its transformation into the personification of the worst event of recent Radback history is spectacular. As they eventually take Dredd’s advice (if in doubt, drop a nuke) you have to expect things to get much worse for Marlon and friends in the immediate future.
The artwork here is the obvious thing to comment on. The use of colour is exceptional and it’s a story that just wouldn’t work with a more realistic design. Everything is designed to be turned up to 11. There are a couple of frames where Chopper looks about 12 years old which does break the spell briefly. When you’ve got giant crocodiles, sonic cannons and mile-high Judda it’s not such an issue. The writing, however is easy to overlook in the face of such spectacle. There’s a theme right through this story that has real heart. Each character does the best they can with what they have. These methods may differ wildly but the intent to save lives is the same. The care shown by each member to do the right thing (whatever that is) gives the story a depth of emotion that complements the wild armageddon perfectly.
Strange Brigade Part 1 by Gordon Rennie, Tiernen Trevallion and Annie Parkhouse
As a tie-in to promote Rebellion’s new game, the Megazine this week has Strange Brigade, a tale that is half “Ripping Yarns” half Hammer House of Horror. The narrative style is similar to the Harry Kipling stories that inhabited the prog in the 1400-1500’s. Harry may even make an appearance in one scene, or at least one of his ancestors. It’s a fun little diversion although in the Meg it is a bit of a round peg in a square hole. How it ties into the game is anyone’s guess.
Artistically there’s a lot going on. Tiernen Trevallion creates a breakneck pace with every panel bursting with energy. His amorphous blobs in particular are gloopily menacing. Rennie’s writing establishes each character with the minimum of fuss, employing a Pathe newsreel narrator to fill in the gaps of who’s who. Definitely more fun than it might have been.
Supplement: The Streets of Dan Francisco by Arthur Wyatt, Al Ewing and Paul Marshall
The Dan Francisco stories in the Megazine were a successful attempt to bring interest to a non-Dredd Judge. There haven’t been many characters who have had enough depth to carry their own series. Anderson is one of the few and there are several who have tried (looking at you Judy Janus) and a few who haven’t got the chance. The evolution of Hershey from idealistic rookie to hard as nails, realpolitik chief is a story that could have run for decades.
After a brief interlude of Dan as Chief Judge, included presumably for the sake of completeness we get to the main event. The first part of the story proper is told as a straight tv drama. We essentially see what the viewers would see. From the cheesy breakfast tv we slide into Dan’s show which presents a propaganda piece for the citizens. On camera he’s a hero in the mould of the early Dredd stories; a daring cop stopping crimes. Once the camera stops rolling the focus shifts onto the perps, an altogether darker tale of revenge. As the two stories merge gradually together, the perps use his media presence to exploit Dan’s guilt over the chaos that happened during his tenure as Chief Judge.
This differs greatly from a Dredd story. In a Dredd tale, Dan would have broken and Dredd would be drafted in to pick up the pieces. We’ve seen this before with Rico, Sladek, Kuerten and other Judges gone bad. What we’ve rarely seen is a Judge who takes the pressure and, like Dredd, doesn’t break. The advantage with this story is that we can explore the human side of a good Judge in a way we can’t with Dredd. Not that Dan’s a soft touch. He’s still a judge and therefore a bit of a bastard. Interrogating a kid in his hospital bed just after you shot him isn’t the action of a bleeding heart. His final act is reminiscent of some of Dredd’s acts of kindness. A punishment that isn’t really a punishment but not getting off scot free either.
Marshall’s pleasingly direct artwork is ideal for this Judge procedural. He plays it almost like a TV show, using the cityscape to bring in the opening and closing titles. All the action sequences have the feel of being shot by Dan’s orbiting camera, with it cleverly only making a direct appearance when we revert to viewing the story from the outside, not the show. Blythe’s colouring of the post-Chaos city is as bleak as the citizens’ lives. The only bright areas are the picture on the tv and the hails of gunfire. Even the Judges’ golden eagles are darkened as if tainted by their role in the disaster.
As a tale of the human side of Judging its reputation is well-deserved. One of the best modern non-Dredd Mega City One stories to date and well worth the cost of the megazine on its own.
All in all, it’s been a high standard of quality in the Meg this month. Next month, everything concludes ahead of the promised bumper crop of Meg #400.