Judge Dredd “Brain Drain” by Rory McConville, Staz Johnson, Chris Blythe and Annie Parkhouse.
McConville’s one-off Dredd this month is a smart but ultimately throwaway story which has Justice Department on the trail of designer student drugs. The use of performance enhancers in academia is turned up to Dredd proportions with students abusing drugs which can effectively download their chosen topic into their brains.
There are some neat jabs about the pressures of student life packed in here. It would arguably have been a more morally grey (and therefore more interesting) story if McConville hadn’t built in psychotic side-effects, allowing the Judges a rationale for their crackdown. A Dredd story that took a long and serious look at the war on drugs could be something impressive in the right hands. This is not that story, however, as Dredd wraps up dealers, manufacturers and users in a neat bundle of riot foam.
Staz Johnson’s feel for MC1 and its inhabitants is realistic and believable. His never quite straight lines give the dingy dealers and their habitats a lived-in feel. There’s a subtle nod to happenings in the prog too, with the reporter from the ongoing Sons of Booth storylines making an appearance on the background vidscreens. Johnson is allowed to stretch his artistic wings slightly too. A sequence involving a Psi-Judge’s interrogation into the mind of an EZPZ user, allows his fantastic side to emerge.
The humour in the final page, the students who overdosed on philosophy and Dredd’s world-weary response to them brings it all together in a neat bow. Who needs philosophy when you’ve got the law?
The Returners “Irmazhina” Part 6 by Si Spencer, Nicolo Assirelli, Eva de la Cruz and Simon Bowland.
Speaking of neat conclusions, the rather patchy Returners reach theirs in a finale that lives up to the initial promise of the first part. Barrancourt’s deal with the devil works out just about as well as anyone with any sense could have expected. That’s probably why it’s only maniacs who even try to make these deals.
The implications of immortality without invulnerability are laid starkly out in a gloriously creepy double-pager which is a fine money shot for the whole 6 episodes. The final outcome, a kind of Dredd universe Suicide Squad set in Cuidad Barranquilla is a premise that has considerable legs. With the promise of The Returners returning in 2019, hopefully that means the investment in the characters that sets up a meaningful new series.
Assirelli creates some unsettling images, conveying horror without overt violence. De la Cruz’ use of colour to give everything a sandy, dust-covered sheen, drags the reader into the pyramid. When we’re dropped back into civilisation in the cubes, the comparative cleanliness is almost a shock. Not as shocking as those natty red Judge trousers though…
Devlin Waugh “Kiss of Death” part 3 by Rory McConville, Mike Dowling and Simon Bowland.
As first dates go, that was pretty eventful. Still, never let it be said that Devlin doesn’t do grand, romantic gestures. This has been a great way of showing the bizarre incomprehensibility of Devlin’s life. The device of seeing him through the eyes of an absolute outsider has given the whole ride an endearing craziness. McConville opens this episode with Mercury opening his eyes, disoriented after his death last month. It’s a strong emotional counterpoint which mirrors last month’s poignant ending. The brightness of the artwork is a neat counterpoint to the cavern crawl we had previously too, nicely balancing the whole story.
The utter absence of eplanation for what is going on puts us firmly in Mercury’s shoes. We get to see Devlin as Mercury now sees him. Ours and, by extension, Mercury’s first sight of Devlin is dashing matinee-idol stuff. Between that and the resurrection, it’s no wonder he falls for him. It’s all thoroughly charming and all turns out spiffingly well (apart from all the dead plague victims that is).
Chopper “Wandering Soul” part 6 by David Baillie, Brendan McCarthy, Len O’Grady and Ellie de Ville.
Baillie plays with the disconnect between science and magic beautifully in this month’s Chopper. Our Oz Judge proxy narrator does her best to explain up to a point. It makes a certain sense that the sonic cannon disruptions could be mimicked with a didgeridoo and a city block. She gives up when the ancestors put in an appearance though. Sometimes there is no credible scientific explanation, magic does exist in the Radback and that’s no bad thing.
All this is irrelevant in comparison to McCarthy/O’Grady’s incredible artwork. The pair have produced a swirling neon nightmare which dazzles the senses. The comparatively realistic Oz Judges provide an anchor of normality beside the giant Judda. After the battle, Baillie provides an emotional hook that McCarthy enhances by toning down the artwork almost to reality. This has been the best Chopper story in years, even for someone who thinks he should have stayed dead after Supersurf 11.
Strange Brigade Part 2 by Gordon Rennie, Tiernen Trevallion and Annie Parkhouse.
Rebellion wraps up their extended advert this week and it’s been a rum old show indeed. Yes, it’s a bastardised League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and by far the weakest tale in this month’s Meg. But, taken at face value, it’s not a bad read. The characters are distinctive and, thankfully, not too cliche. It’s a relief that the 2000ad view of different nationalities has moved on from the painful “Blakee Pentax” era. The Pathé newsreel narrator was beginning to grate already, so it’s probably a good thing that it only lasted 2 episodes.
Artistically, Tiernen Trevallion is the perfect choice to conjure the spindly, eldritch creatures from the pit. He manages to tread lightly between the whimsical sights of London ladies and gents and the horrific violence that threatens real horrors. Each scene’s different colour scheme lends a sense of place and progression which enhances proceedings. In particular, the glow of the cave beast seems to light the whole scene around it.
Supplement: Judge Dredd “The Lost Cases” by Alan Grant, PJ Holden, Anthony Williams, David Roach, Paul Marshall, Nick Dyer, Karl Richardson, Ellie de Ville, Simon Bowland and Peter Doherty.
The Lost Cases gives us a chance to appreciate the versatility of 2000ad stalwart Alan Grant. Here he takes a new twist or looks at a Dredd story from the perspective of another character. The first, A Contract on Grud, is a simple heist tale set in Block Mania storyline. PJ Holden’s work is a neat stylistic update on the classic era strips. He pulls out a gorgeous Ron Smith impression in the final panel which will drag you right back to the 80’s classics.
That’s not the only time The Lost Cases gives the new breed of artists an opportunity to pay tribute to the old guard. Nick Dyer’s take on Cam Kennedy in Flipped is worthy of Kenny Who himself.
The pick of the bunch, however is Collaborators. In this, Grant takes a brief but memorable moment from the Apocalypse War epic and flips it on its head. He uses the story to look at the nature of collaboration within a wartorn city, what constitutes collaboration and the rough justice meted out to those deemed collaborators. It’s a scenario applicable to almost every conflict in history and it’s this universality which gives the story a telling resonance.
The Apocalypse War was arguably one of Dredd’s least morally ambiguous stories, despite the genocidal ending. Grant’s overt injection of shades of grey, rather than undermining the impact with , adds a welcome layer of complexity. It’s in keeping with all the Dredd stories over the years which have mined the rich seam of peri-conflict motivations and post-conflict fallout. While this story isn’t as epic as Chaos Day or even the trial of Orlok, it has an impact that belies its size.
The Meg ties everything together nicely in preparation for #400. A pretty special Alan Grant supplement is the cherry on top.