Oliver Davis reviews 2000AD Prog 1934…
Borag Thungg, Earthlets!
After the plodding ‘Breaking Bud’ story by Judge Dredd co-creator John Wagner, Michael Carroll returns to the strip with ‘Blood of Emeralds’. The green gem of the title refers to Emerald Isle, where one of the strip’s characters – Judge Fintan Joyce – was drafted from post-Chaos Bug. He’s attacked by the assassin Stonefish in the opening segment, a wickedly quick sequence of narrow, page-wide panels, similar to Mark Millar or Brian Michael Bendis’ panoramic layouts. It’s all over a MacGuffin – Joyce’s safety deposit box that’s just arrived in his possession. There’s a distinctly Irish flavour to the story: Fintan Joyce’s name, the ‘Emerald Isle’, a picture of his father wearing a green version of the Judges outfit, even the tease for next week’s instalment called ‘Return to Murphyville’. Expect a Gangs of Mega City-One joke in weeks to come.
Speaking of the Ireland, Slaine continues killing Trojan soldiers in Pat Mills’ gory, pagan tale set on those shores. The bodycount is sublime, Simon Davis at one point depicting Slaine atop a mountain of freshly slayed bodies, and, at another, obscured by a torrent of red blood. One of Slaine’s main drawbacks, though, is how invincible he can sometimes appear. Not much affects him. Just like Superman, establishing a credible threat can be difficult.
Mill is intent on addressing this with the Primordial Warrior, an ultimate soldier being forged by the Cyth. Hopefully he’ll pose more of an obstacle to Slaine than just another warm body for his axe.
Gordon Rennie’s Absalom returns for the first time in what feels like ages. 2000AD’s last encounter with the curmudgeonly paranormal detective was way back in 2012’s Christmas special (which the strip briefly references). Slow builds are a great thing…but jeez, Tharg, sort it out.
This new story, ‘Under a False Flag’, opens on a flashback to one year ago, where a vicar trains a teenager to kill demons. Fast forward 365 days and you have Absalom investigating a suspicious murder. The plot is intriguing and steadily paced, Tiernen Trevallion’s draws with a wonderfully black and white Manga inflection, but Absalom himself remains gratingly unfunny. His old man-ish sense of humour and worn out, un-PC jokes contort your face into a grimace. It’s frustrating, because Rennie can write dark jokes incredibly well – just look at his great dialogue throughout Jaiger.
2000AD Prog 1934’s Scrotnig Story of the Week
Getting a double-length feature slot this week (ten pages rather than five), the debuting Helium is a slow-paced marvel. Ian Edginton (the man responsible for Red Seas and Brass Sun) is at his world-building best, crafting a story set in a world with toxic gas instead of seas. Its inhabitants live high above sea level to avoid the fumes and ships fly across the ocean with helium barrels and enormous propellers to keep them afloat. Just a few panels in, your eyes begin to widen with wonder, an amazed smile curls at the lips.
Edginton is complemented by his Stickleback co-creator, D’Israeli, one of 2000AD’s top three artists working today (along with I.N.J. Culbard, another frequent Edginton collaborator and Henry Flint). His style perfectly fits Edginton’s child-like, steam-punky creations, his bold outlines and simplistic shapes hiding a deeper truth within them. The conflicts, narrative and immense environment and backstory are established remarkably quickly, not a snag of forced exposition at all. Constable Hodge is the leading law officer in town. She’s had enough of the mayor’s corruptness and refuses to cover up the smugglers’ murders any longer. A man emerges from the toxic cloud on the town’s shore. With writing and art of this quality, 2000AD should hand over the other three story slots to Helium next week. Superb.