Luke Graham reviews the latest 2000 AD prog…
Another week, another Zarjaz new issue of sci-fi anthology 2000AD. It’s a strong issue with some great moments. Prog 1800 was the magazine’s yearly new reader drive, with five strips that were either one-shots or the start of new series. Now, with prog 1806, the magazine has settled down with four on-going stories and the beginning of a new Dredd epic. Let’s jump in…
Judge Dredd: The Cold Deck, part one
Script: Al Ewing, Art: Henry Flint
Al Ewing is one of 2000AD’s best writers. Considering how good many of their writers are, that’s saying something. He’s just able to create really compelling characters and situations, along with big, strange ideas that make 2000AD so interesting to read.
Since the end of the Chaos Day and for the last few issues, there has been a growing tension within Mega-city One and Judge Joe Dredd. With Justice Department depleted and struggling to control the city, ambitious and corrupt players are coming out of the wood-work and making power plays. Currently, of concern for Dredd is Judge Bachmann, a corrupt Judge who is now on the city council and in charge of Justice Department’s Black Ops. In The Cold Deck, a situation has occurred that could allow the evil Bachmann to seize more power. We know she is evil because she has tied back hair and glasses, and because Dredd keeps saying she is.
We start with a murdered man, who explains what a cold deck is. It is what you call a rigged deck of cards when it is first snuck into a game. As a metaphor for how Bachmann may seize power, it is very apt. Ewing’s narration of Dredd’s thought is perfect in this strip, clearly and simply communicating Dredd’s frustration and worn-out cynicism with the current situation: “Find ‘em, book ‘em, and on to the next creep. Keep moving. Keep waving the daystick. While it all sinks slowly into hell.”
Joined by Judge Buell, Dredd hunts down a pair or perps while Buell explains that important and sensitive information has been lost, reminding me of similar incidents where the British government has lost information on trains and elsewhere. A deliberate parallel, perhaps?
So the game’s been set: Dredd and Buell are in a race against time to find the lost information before the news spread and gives Bachmann the leverage she needs to seize control over even more of Justice department. With Ewing’s writing and Flint’s moody art, it’s going to be a compelling game.
The Simping Detective: Jokers to the Right, part thee
Script: Simon Spurrier, Art: Simon Coleby
Everyone’s favourite hard-boiled detective in clown shoes continues this strip, with Jack Point finding himself held at gun-point by Judges dressed like cyber-punk ninjas and shouting like zealots: “Crimes against God! Righteous execution!”
Over the course of the strip, Jack has to get out of this situation, discovers he’s been kicked out of Wally Squad (maybe for killing two Judges in as many days?) and meets an assassin accomplice. Jack’s getting more and more out of his depth, and being manipulated and lied to by those around him. With Judges coming after him, he’s got a long way to go before he can rise back up.
Jack’s narration, as mentioned last week, is full of jokes. It’s basically five pages of stand-up complimenting a gritty film noir story. This week, the stand-up is an overplayed and extended metaphor for why surviving the mean streets of the Meg is a lot like sex.
Good writing, good art and the plot gets moved forward nicely, but it’s not quite as strong as the previous two chapters of the strip.
ABC Warriors: Return to Earth, part seven
Script: Pat Mills, Art: Clint Langley
An action-packed ABC Warriors this week, as Hammerstein turns the table on the security forces who tried to dismantle him last week. Now in Washington, he’s very close to his target, and meets with Dedan, the mysterious politician who has orchestrated Hammerstein’s mission.
Return to Earth is an interesting statement on weapons makers and war profiteering. Hammerstein’s target is the head of the factory that makes ABC warriors, and the characters in the story argue that his target wants more wars and more deaths to fuel his business. It’s an interesting, if cynical, message by Pat Mills (similar to the message of the Iron Man films about the relationship between war, weapons manufacturers and the army).
Apart from that the writing is overtly simple. Pat Mills keeps adding details to the weapons and mechanics of the Warriors and their world, with depleted uranium armour and built-in lie detectors and ethical governors. It ends up feeling like a children’s playground game:
“Bang, I shot you!”
“No I had my shield up!”
“But my gun shoots shield beating bullets!”
And so on. It all just feels unnecessary and tiresome to read, and detracts from Langley’s fantastic and detailed art.
Brass Sun: The Wheel of Worlds, part seven
Script: Ian Edgington, Art: I. N. J. Culbard
After last issue’s world-building interlude, this prog has the start of Wren’s mission for The Station-Master.
As a side-note, the cover to prog 1806 looks amazing, depicting a photo-realistic version of The Station-Master drawn by Nick Percival. It’s an incredibly cool image due to how chilling and freaky it looks , with bright lights coming out of the eyes of an old-weathered face, entombed in a giant, rusty robot suit.
Wren and Conductor Seventeen have to travel to a new world along the rails, which no one has used for 200 years. Sitting in what looks like a silver bullet, they are shot through space using magnetic propulsion, before arriving in a large and intimidating conservatory.
One very important discussion happens as well in this strip, when The Station-Master speaks to Conductor Seventeen. He instructs the young monk to watch Wren closely, and bring anything they find to him first. He tells them this as he leans right over Conductor Seventeen, in an incredibly intimidating way. In a single panel, his image as a compassionate old man dissolves and is replaced by that of another power-hungry patriarch. Perhaps this is a red herring for the reader to create tension and The Station-Master will continue to be an ally to Wren, but if not it sends a clear message about the theme of Brass Sun.
Brass Sun is about the young against the old. Wren and Conductor Seventeen are both very young, both in their mid-teens, and are opposed by old ancient men who hold all the power. The Station-Master and the High Priest from a few progs ago both represent the old order and the stagnation that has led to the breaking down in the society of The Wheel of Worlds, with their vested interests in keeping hold of their own power to the detriment of the young.
Lots of films and stories have used a similar conceit before, but this theme of old versus young elevates Brass Sun from a fun steam-punk romp into something with a little more meaning.
Low Life: Saudade, part two
Script: Rob Williams, Art: D’Israeli
The mystery of Dirty Frank’s current adventure gets deeper this week. We also find out the background of the aggressive and over-the-top business half-shark/half-man executive Mr. Overdrive, who made his fortune by patenting his ridiculous business slogans and by buying failing companies and firing 99% of their work force. He’s certainly a dangerous, nasty (and hilarious) piece of work.
Something sinister is happening on Luna-1. Thousands of people have been snuck onto the moon illegally by Mr. Overdrive. For what purpose, Frank does not yet know. Worse, he manages to contact Justice Department to find out that they were not the ones who put him on the Overdrive board and do not know he is on the moon.
While the main draw of Low Life is the absurdist humour, Rob Williams and D’Israeli work together to create huge amounts of pathos and sympathy for Dirty Frank through the way his face is drawn and his narration. It is a story about a man who is on the edge of sanity, and is terrified to tumble over the edge. Try to imagine what it would be like to be unable to trust your own mind and perceptions and how frightening that would be. It also makes Dirty Frank one of the most human and relatable characters in 2000AD, as he struggles with these doubts. For all he knows, Luna-1 and Mr. Overdrive could be frenzied imaginations.
Full of witty one liners and art that utilises great story structure and pacing, Low Life is quickly emerging as my favourite strip of 2000AD.
Strip of the Week!
Despite all those nice words about Low Life, Strip of the Week has to go to Judge Dredd: The Cold Deck. As a set-up to a new saga in the life of Mega-City- One, it is perfect. Dark, moody and full of tension, with layered writing and narration that develops and communicates the essential character of Judge Dredd, and energetic, exciting art from Henry Flint, which utilities unusual panel structures to reflect the bleak and gritty atmosphere of the story. A must read.