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. 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)
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!!!