“I'm Looking For A Creep With Big Feet!” COMICS! Sometimes Travel Can Limit Your Horizons To The Size of an Iso-Cube!

In which John beggars belief by actually following up on his threat to look at the Judge Dredd Mega Collection. This time out various, and largely unpleasant, xenomorphs get a quick course in The Law from Professor Joseph Dredd.  photo JDANmcmB_zpszkno1p6o.jpg JUDGE DREDD by McMahon, Wagner & Frame

Anyway, this... ALIEN NATIONS JUDGE DREDD: THE MEGA COLLECTION #75 Artwork by Dean Ormston, Ashley Wood, Ian Gibson, Mick McMahon, Karl Richardson, Cam Kennedy, Tony Luke & Jim Murray Written by Alan Grant, John Wagner & T. C. Eglington Lettered by Tom Frame, Fiona Stephenson & Annie Parkhouse Coloured by D'Israeli & Chris Blythe Originally serialised in 2000Ad Progs, 204,1033, 1133-1134, 1241 & 1855-1857, Judge Dredd Megazine 1.11-1.17, 2.53 – 2.56,& 2.73 -2.76 and Judge Dredd Mega Special 1995 © 1981, 1991, 1994, 1995, 1997,1999, 2001, 2013 & 2015 Rebellion A/C Judge Dredd created by Carlos Ezquerra, Pat Mills & John Wagner £9.99 UK (2015)

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This volume of the Hatchette/Rebellion partwork is yet more big chinned future cop thrills, but this time in the form of a (mostly) scrotnig smorgasbord of encounters between our autocratic anti-hero and various alien races. This is handy because it gives an idea of certain types of Dredd tales which occur in-between the mega death events. There are many kinds of Dredd tales and this collection is hardly exhaustive but it catches a fair few of them between its hard covers; covers adorned as ever with the pleasantly minimalist design of B&W line art with a red flash to catch the eye. It also allows me to look at a wide variety of Dredd artists including Mick (nee Mike) McMahon. Which is nice. (MICK MCMAHON!)

 photo JDANdoB_zpsyyof7kss.jpg JUDGE DREDD by Ormston, Grant & Frame

A smidge over half the book is taken up by the opening double bill of Raptaur and Skar, both of which are fine examples of the longstanding tradition British comics have of providing off-brand (and slightly tweaked to avoid litigation) versions of pop culture faves. (For corroboration see my previous babbling about Action Weekly, if you really feel you must. I don't recommend it as even my family refuse to read my writing.) Here, in Skar particularly, it's Alien, as in the fantastic 20th Century Fox movie presentation. (Of which I have also written tediously on previous occasions). There would come a point when Judge Dredd would actually face the licensed acid blooded xenomorph itself; it would be drawn by Henry Flint and it would be pretty great, actually. I  guess no such permission had been given back when these strips appeared so it's Skar and Raptaur. Raptaur has a slight edge as a concept since the tweak there is it's Alien crossed with Predator. Dredd would also eventually face Predator and it would be drawn by Enrique Alcatena and it would be forgettable.

 photo JDANawB_zpsmom8pwel.jpg JUDGE DREDD by Wood, Wagner & Frame

As it happens Skar is quite forgettable too. It's not bad , it's just a bit distended for what it is. Generally John Wagner seems to be keen to let his artists have a pretty free hand, and on occasion he seems to write stories intended to showcase the art, and so story depth and density become less of an issue. This isn't a bad approach (comics being a primarily visual medium, or so I hear) but it does depend on how the reader reacts to the particular artist. Alas, I'm not an Ashley Wood man. I stubbornly maintain he is great at illustration but poor on storytelling. Here Wood's art is, I think, intended to carry the piece in arms made sturdy by atmospheric layouts and oppressive blacks. Unfortunately what happens in my eyes is there’s a bunch of confusing layouts with the use of black seemingly an excuse not to draw things, and this approach is implemented so excessively it nudges the whole thing into visual tedium. Also, I wanted to slap that airbrush(?) out of his hands. Raptaur, on the other hand is written by Alan Grant and is a much denser affair. As well as the whole finding out what this thing is and how to kill it business, Grant also provides little snap shots of city life along the way for colour, atmosphere and humour. There's even a real sense of danger for Dredd ; he gets several right batterings, and some stand out Dredd Hard! Moments (the bit where he stabs himself in the hand because he is losing his grip above a vast drop is pure Dredd Hard!). But Grant's clearly writing with story rather than atmosphere in mind, so obviously he wins. Mind you he also wins because he's got Dean Ormston on art. Here Ormston's art is still developing but it's developing quickly. His quirky line is made robust by a queasy colouring job with a palette informed by some imaginary but very toxic children's cereal; it's all slightly off primary hues laid over gnarly figures, which tip over into the truly grotesque when occasion demands. Raptaur and Skar are two very different beasts in teh end; two very different approaches to the same genre staple; how you react to either will depend on you, but I think Raptaur takes it. There's also a short Raptaur Returns thing which combines Ormston's art with Tony Luke's modeling (CGI?) to produce a fresh take on Raptaur as a toothy poo.

 photo JDANigB_zpsx5w3jw98.jpg JUDGE DREDD by Gibson, Grant, Wagner & Frame

Acting as a kind of breather before the next chunk of fascistic fun we get a short one episode humour piece in which Dredd is tasked with showing an alien ball of feathers and eyes around the city. Alas, the alien isn't as cute as he looks and if “Diplomatic Immunity!” didn't work for Joss Ackland it sure as shit isn't going to work in The Big Meg. It's fun but slight and Ian Gibson's art is the real draw (ho!) Here Gibson is drawing as “Emberton” because for some reason there was a period where he confused the nuts off me by appearing in 2000AD under a couple of names (I think one started with “Q...”). For a bit back then I honestly thought there was some kind of Ian Gibson Movement or something. It would have been better than the wave of Bisley manques we did get. Oops, little bit of bitterness showing there.

 photo JDANmmB_zpsdwnfhwuo.jpg JUDGE DREDD by McMahon, Wagner & Frame

Next up is Howler which is big fat lump of Mick McMahon. Again , as with Skar above, John Wagner's story is the barest whiff of a thing; this time it is clearly just there so Mick McMahon can do whatever the Hell he wants for 36 or so pages. Since I would quite happily look at Mick McMahon's drawings of the contents of his fridge, the fact that he's drawing a story about an alien who thinks shouting loud enough to make people explode is going to make him King of Mega City One is just a dream made paper. Basically here McMahon's art is in line with that Legends of The Dark Knight I talked about a bit back. The illusion of depth is created not by perspective but by the layering of flat elements. It reminds me a lot of the work of Oliver Postgate (Noggin The Nog and all that); it's easy to imagine McMahon's figures lolloping across the panel with their arms and legs moving in a weirdly convincing but thoroughly unrealistic way. This is uber reductive cartooning, all geometric shapes and straight lines; the genius is in the measure of character which still informs everything McMahon draws. Mick McMahon is a living genius – FACT! Also, Judge Dredd gets his head dunked in a lav. Watch out for toothy poos!

 photo JDANckB_zpsivmzv402.jpg JUDGE DREDD by Kennedy, Wagner, Blythe & Frame

The traddest effort comes next in the form of Prey. I don't know who T.C. Eglington is but s/he does a decent job in providing a story about weird murders in an aid camp set post Chaos Day (see Vol.s 49 & 50). There's nothing amazing here but it's solid stuff and manages to lightly touch on a couple of real issues. Richardson's art is in the more traditional North American style (e.g. Ethan Van Sciver i.e. the Green Lantern one, not the more talented, arty one) and the end result is probably likely to be more to the taste of palates not used to 2000AD's traditionally richer mix. Then again look at Cam Kennedy. Don't mind if I do, cheers! Kennedy sees out the volume with a couple of tales. I was all ready to bang on about how it was a damned shame that Kennedy, a uniquely kinetic artist, had never found real success over in the Americas. Then I remembered he did all those comics based on the children's entertainment Star Wars so he's probably doing a-okay. Here he's doing better than a-okay because he's drawing Judge Dredd. And Judge Dredd and Cam Kennedy are like boots and feet – they are meet. Like all the great Dredd artists Kennedy has his own spin on The Chin. Literally in fact, because Kennedy's Dredd-chin looks like a crispy baked potato. In a good way. Kennedy's two strips are by John Wagner and are light hearted affairs with a varied roster of aliens for Kennedy to depict in his signature crumbly and lolloping style. Solid stuff, showing Dredd's softer side and given that extra oomph that only Cam can. Braced between Kennedy's efforts is a frothy piece combining escalating disaster and alien religious extremism, all of which is given whatever entertaining weight it has by Jim Murray's art. Murray's art is in that fully painted style popularised by Bisley and mills' The Horned God way back when; a style adopted by many but which only few could manage. Luckily Murray's one of the few.

 photo JDANjmB_zpsx6ggnhtb.jpg JUDGE DREDD by Murray, Wagner & Frame

Like my comb-over in a stiff wind, this volume is a bit all over the place but that's a nice change of pace from the nerve shredding marathon of the Epics. I appreciated the varied art styles and the various tones of the tales. While it doesn't hold together as a book that's because it was never meant to. However, it is like reading a really big Judge Dredd Mega Special or something. I had fun and some of that fun was was spectacular (Mick McMahon!) and sometimes it involved Tony Luke's toothy poos. But overall it was GOOD! (But if you like Mick McMahon you can take that up to VERY GOOD!)

The question is not whether there is life in space but rather whether they read – COMICS!!!

"You Owe Me A Father." COMICS! Sometimes They Define "Ramage!".

In 1987 DC Comics published a 12-issue "Maxi-series" by British (apparently I forgot one of them is of American origin)  Creators. It did not change the world of comics forever but since it featured a robot dog in a fez and shades, a living head in a bucket and stupid jokes by the pound while still being "about" something I thought we'd take a look. Me and my notions!


OUTCASTS Art by Cam Kennedy & Steve Montano Written by John Wagner & Alan Grant Coloured by Tom Ziuko & Nansi Hoolahan Lettered by Bill Oakley, John Constanza & Augustin Mas Published by DC Comics 12 issues, $1.75ea (1987/88) Outcasts created by John Wagner, Alan Grant & Cam Kennedy

It is The Future and in Big City while the rich live in enclaves the poor are mutated and damned to shanty towns. It is The Future and the police are not your friends. It is The Future and The Mutant Clearances have begun. It is The Future and the TV is shit. It is The Future and Kaine Salinger wants revenge for her father's death and answers to her questions. What is happening to the mutants? Who is murdering the city's ruling elite? Can a 104 year old man get an erection? Who are The Satan Brothers? Why Aren't They Funnier? Why is that dog wearing a fez and shades? All these questions and more will be answered but it'll take THE OUTCASTS to do it!


Since OUTCASTS has never been collected the reader will have no option but to read them in pamphlet format, doing so means they will soon find that around the edges of OUTCASTS floats the ghost of Alan Moore Past. His sublime presence can be felt in the form of a house ad for his and Brian Bolland & John Higgins’ THE KILLING JOKE; now here he is rearing magnificently up in an Advertorial with David Lloyd talking about their V FOR VENDETTA series. I understand that Alan Moore would go on to great success and pretty much redefine American genre comics as well as, with his and Dave Gibbons & John Higgins’ WATCHMEN, laying the foundations of the Great Internet Civil War of 2012. (Thanks, Alan!)


However, OUTCASTS would see print and then fade from the collective memory; Alan Grant would find some success writing decent Batman comics and John Wagner would join him there for a time before they both pretty much confined themselves to 2000AD and creator owned properties like THE BOGIE MAN and SHIT THE DOG. Now, while Alan Moore, like Alan Grant (but not, Andrew Hickey reminds me below, John Wagner), is British (I bring you only the freshest (and wrongest) facts!) he was, at this point anyway, filtering it through a very American form of comics. Wagner &Grant (W&G), however, seem to have made little attempt to adapt to American comics. Other than the length of each episode OUTCASTS reads very much like a strip from 2000AD.


Very, very much like a strip from 2000AD in fact. So familiar in fact that it seems likely that W&G were attempting to directly port across the sensibility that had worked so well over the pond in the hopes that American audiences would react equally enthusiastically. Or DC Comics were hoping for that reaction. The Big City setting is very reminiscent of Mega City One in Pat Mills John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra's creation Judge Dredd as are the designs of the police officers, the fact that mutants are an important presence, the familiar contrast between the squalor of the masses and the empty plenty of the rich and the writers’ signature love of parodying the tranquilising distractions of mass media. The very presence of the talented Cam Kennedy is another echo of Judge Dredd. Since I'm about to chunter on about W&G I should take this opportunity to praise Cam Kennedy. DC Comics appear to have employed Steve Montano to tidy up Kennedy's work,  so much so that on occasion it appears practically Gibbons-esque (now, why would that be?!?). Yet Kennedy's slightly off-kilter art is so idiosyncratic that it retains its pleasingly lolloping figures and chunkily eroded environments and, thus, its personality. As with your partner in life, personality's important in comic art and Cam Kennedy's art has stacks of it.


OUTCASTS could very likely have occurred in Judge Dredd’s world had Old Stoney Face been off (slowly) learning not to be a fascistic sh*thead off-planet. Any fan of Judge Dredd would find plenty to enjoy in OUTCASTS but the flavour of 2000AD is even more pervasive than that. The character B.D. Rickenbacker may obviously be a variation on W&G’s Dredd foe Mean Machine Angel but he is also an ex-Slaughterbowl player, as are the later characters “Killer” Kowalski” and “The Prof.” A key fixture in early 2000AD was the regular appearance of a strip about a fantastically violent sport (e.g. HARLEM HEROES, INFERNO, MEAN ARENA). Mutants were also all over the shop in 2000AD, not least in Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra’s excellent bounty hunting mutie strip STRONTIUM DOG. One of the Outcasts, Dag Skinnard, has blue skin and white hair which brings to mind Gerry-Finley Day and Dave Gibbons’ ROGUE TROOPER.  W&G also seem to have written it exactly as they would have a strip for The Galaxy's Greatest Comic.


OUTCASTS may be 12 issues in total but it seems W&G split the writing duties with Grant doing the initial 6 issues and Wagner taking on the home stretch. I don’t know because England is, contrary to popular belief, actually big enough to ensure that I have never met them. But there’s a clear change in the series’ tone and direction with issue 6. Initially the series has a bleakly dour cast spiced up with touches of absurdism to prevent it all getting a bit too humourless. You can also tell, roughly where it’s going and how, probably, it’s going to get there. It isn't that it’s predictable as such it’s just that conventions, while being toyed with, are being upheld. With issue 6 that changes.

Now, I’m going to explain why I don’t really go in for plot synopses. I’ll usually put some bare bones of a thing at the top in an attempt to give a flavour of the contents, or sprinkle bits through the piece where it can’t be avoided, but mostly the hope is that if someone sourced the books I talk about they’d still have a few surprises in store. It seemed like a good idea at the time. OUTCASTS is a case in point. While it is hardly the cases that you’re going to soil yourself with surprise, the events in #6 and #7 should wrongfoot you enough to make the series a lot more enjoyable than you thought. That’s all. It isn't “Oh God, they’re all ghosts!” or “His bum was The Devil all along!”, no, but it’ll ensure you keep reading. After that the series becomes more absurd with touches of gravity to prevent it all getting a bit too silly. So there’s a certain disparity of tone that readers might want to be prepared for.


Another thing today's reader may not warm to is the political aspect of the series. Now, this isn't really political as such but it does involve pointing out that those who have will do whatever they can get away with to those who have-not, until those who have-not have not even life. Worse, the series has the temerity to point out that perhaps that’s a not entirely nice thing to do and when it all gets a bit out of hand maybe someone should do something about it. Which sounds reasonable enough to me, but I’ve been paying attention and I see times have changed, so someone somewhere will undoubtedly find all that violently objectionable and lily livered, verging perhaps on daydreamy pinko-liberalism. We just used to call such stuff basic human decency but, hey, it’s your future now. Just be kind to my son.


This kind of decency is a hallmark of W&G’s work and I say that having been  reading their work since the ‘70s. Back then, since I am a traditionalist and have lived my life in a temporally linear fashion, I was a kid. When you’re a kid you learn things from the entertainment you consume and when I was a kid I consumed a lot of comics. Oh, there was TV, sure, but the kid’s stuff was only on for about 2 hours at tea time and mostly consisted of creepy puppets fixing things and Star Trek. So, while I can’t deny that a lot of my moral instruction came courtesy of Captain James T. Kirk and pals it would be more honest to accept that a lot more of it came from the pictures and words printed on paper one rung above bog roll in quality. There were proper books, yes, but this is a comics blog so I’ll concentrate on comics. After we've done talking about me, anyway.


Well, the “me” who is standing in for an entire generation of 1970s male children anyway. Now, if a parent had bothered to actually look at what their little rascal was poring over with all the unsettling intensity of a serial killer choosing a knife, they would certainly have got all Wertham about it stuck him in the Scouts and probably given him a good hammering to boot. Yes, you could thump your kids back then; it’s true The Past is always better! Underneath the surface thrills of seeing malarial and insane Tommies slaughtering people from Japan (“Aieeee!!”) or a dinosaur chewing on time travelling cowboys like they were screaming mince (“My legs! Oh, God! It’s eating my legs!”) there was a strong moral component. Not in a preachy way, just in a foundational way; these creators were fundamentally decent people and no matter how outré and savage their output that decency would always seep through. Okay, not all of them as that's a bit sweeping, but certainly in the case of W&G this is true. Oh, don't worry W&G are never afraid to deflate the mood by having a bunch of cybernetically enhanced brain damage cases break into a rap while someone is mourning the dead.


OUTCASTS is pretty much your basic Wagner & Grant comic what with its real life concerns almost apologetically presented alongside the drolly absurd and delivered with understatedly anthracitic humour. Cam Kennedy's art is perfectly suited to the tone of the book with its collision of grittines and goofiness. If you see the series in the back issue bins I think you'd not regret plucking it out. Because as comics go OUTCASTS is GOOD! Oh yeah, you'll be wanting to see the dog in fez'n'shades:


And like the mutants after the clearances - I'm GONE!

Have a nice weekend everyone! Go read some COMICS!!!