What would Thunderbirds be like in the world of Judge Dredd? My dog has no nose; why isn’t Robbie Morrison funny? What if the messiah was susceptible to weed killer? What would be the absolute best name for a character in a very cold place? Can a gun be too big? And if war is so terrible why is it so good for John Wagner? All questions I’ll probably forget to answer in the latest jolly riverdance through the JUDGE DREDD MEGA COLLECTION. JUDGE DREDD: THE HEAVY MOB by P J Holden
JUDGE DREDD: THE MEGA COLLECTION Vol. 55: THE HEAVY MOB Art by Jim Murray, Clint Langley, Malcolm Davis, Nick Percival, Xuasus, David Millgate, Kevin Walker, Brian Bolland, Ron Smith and P J Holden Written by John Smith, Chris Standley, Robbie Morrison, John Wagner and Michael Carroll Coloured by Chris Blythe and Len O'Grady Lettered by Gordon Robson, Ellie DeVille, Steve Potter, Tom Frame and Annie Parkhouse Originally serialised in 2000AD Progs 122-125 & 1792-1796 & JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE 2.31-2.33, 2.60-2.62, 2.70, 3.20-3.23, 3.29-3.33 & 240-243 © 1979, 1993, 1994, 1995, 2006, 2012 & 2015 Rebellion A/S Hatchette Partworks/Rebellion, £9.99 (2015) JUDGE DREDD created by Carlos Ezquerra & John Wagner
HOLOCAUST 12: SKYFALL Art by Jim Murray Written by John Smith & Chris Standley Lettered by Gordon Robson Originally published in JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE 3.20-3.23 HOLOCAUST 12: STORM WARNING Art by Clint Langley & Malcolm Davis Written by John Smith & Chris Standley Lettered by Gordon Robson & Ellie DeVille Originally published in JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE 3.29-3.33
In the 1990s the JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE was so starved of content there was actually a strip based on a concept (The Holocaust Squad) which had appeared for less than a page in Judge Dredd a couple of decades earlier (see Father Earth below). Spotting that idea had legs was a pretty good spot, particularly as the 1990s were characterised by a bizarre fetish for trying to replicate the high-octane and content-light high-concept action movie style into comics. It didn’t work. Movies aren’t comics and comics aren’t movies. What zips past on the screen trundles across the page, and so this first outing for what is basically a fire brigade on steroids staffed by psychopaths seems to involve the world’s slowest space ship crash. It would have been even slower on its first appearance with the weeks separating each instalment. On screen there are also actors, so even the slimmest of characters can be fattened with unspoken character. On the page Cyrus “The Virus” is probably a bit flat but stick his words in the mouth of John Malkovich and we’re off to the races. Smith’s strip has no such advantage so his characters are just violent ciphers. Visually they are distinct because comics have art and Murray and Langley are certainly distinctive artists, but that’s about it. One of the Squad carks it in this first instalment and I couldn’t remember which one , and our POV character gets side-lined shortly after he’s walked through a room and had everyone described to him. There’s a lot of “This is Cockthrottler Magoo. He can fart through cement and is just such a badass, well, it’s just plain scary is what it is!” A lot of telling not showing basically, and we all know how much we enjoy that. Smith is a good writer but some writers are good only in certain areas. The vagaries of comic writing mean the humble dreamweavers are often called upon to write something they aren’t really suited to. Disaster-action movie seems a particularly poor fit for John Smith’s body horror obsession and trademark bursts of stream of consciousness narration. It’s too constricting; Smith works best on horror because horror is a tad more elastic than the action movie. The action movie is all about the cliché, moving within that cliché, and stretching it maybe, but always solidly retaining that core cliché. Smith’s not one to work well within restrictions. He’s too cerebral for this shit basically; you practically can feel him switching of areas of his brain, limiting himself.
It’s not a complete loss, he certainly has some fun sneaking his gore in there. Lots of people die horrible deaths in both instalments and it sometimes seems like concocting vile ends for his bodies is all that’s keeping Smith awake. It’s pretty much all that kept me awake too, well, besides his always fun narrative captions, evidence that at least one comic creator enjoys modernist linguistic trickery. There’s a disaster, people die, the Holocaust Squad stop being naughty and set off, the clock is ticking, more people die, rescue is achieved. It’s all pretty much like that. In the first a spaceship fizzing with chemical death is crashing into the city, in the second the tallest building in the world (Chump Tower; ho ho!) is hit by a freak weather storm and a space ship, oh, and the zoo gets loose, because there's no such thing as overkill! In this second one Smith doesn’t make it easy to root for the victims as they are all rich arseholes (rissoles?) except for a manservant (maybe a nod to The Admirable Crichton (1957) there?) Ultimately Holocaust 13 just feels too restrictive a concept to have much room for Smith to manoeuvre within. Artistically the strip provides plenty of freedom for Murray and Langley (hmm, that sounds like a posh brand of paint) particularly in the realm of the grotesque. Although given a largely tech-based scenario Murray gets some nice gore in there, and has fun with his POVs. He takes the time to paint the reflected lights in a pool of blood and his SFX have a Vaughn Bode/Comix wobble to them. The reproduction dulls his fully painted but cartoony art, but Murray goes the extra mile indicative of someone enjoying themselves. Clint Langley goes several miles too far and may be enjoying himself far too much. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what you’re looking at on Langley’s metallically garish yet brutally dark pages. It’s like squinting at a metal zoo losing its collective mind in a catacomb. Langley’s obviously pushing the then available technology of photo manipulation to its extreme, and while it may be a struggle to read, it is just a step on the way to his current bizarre peak. For a couple of strips struggling so hard to be unpleasant, surprisingly there are pleasures in these Holocaust 13 strips but you have to hunt and peck for them. GOOD!
BRIT-CIT BRUTE Art by Nick Percival Written by Robbie Morrison Lettered by Ellie DeVille Originally published in JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE 2.31-2.33 BRIT-CIT BRUTE: TRILOGY Art by Nick Percival, Xuasus and David Millgate Written by Robbie Morrison Lettered by Steve Potter Originally published in JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE 2.60-2.62
I’m not spending long on this one as it’s clearly for people who found DC’s Lobo a bit highbrow. It’s supposed to be funny so you get our strapping lad of a lead being named Newt (because they are small!) and his boss who looks like John Major (British Tory Prime Minister 1990-97) is called Judge Major (because satire!) and some Elvis references (because he’s a lazy comedy staple!) and some underwear stealing (because the British!) and if you find your ribs being tickled by any of that you’ll soil yourself if you ever read any Mark Millar (ugh!). Brit-Cit Brute is bad is what I’m saying. And don’t be expecting any insight into Brit-Cit unless you are a massive fan of being disappointed. It’s hard to even tell what Brit-Cit looks like because Percival’s art is so unfocused. It’s the work of someone who likes drawing but hasn’t realised there’s more to comics than just drawing; there’s as much panel to panel continuity here as there is on Celebrity Squares. It’s a good job Robbie Morrison’s script is so tedious that it informs us of things we should be able to see , because thanks to Percival’s murky and stilted art we can’t actually see them anyway. There’s a two page interview with Percival at the back where he sounds very enthusiastic and likeable, which is nice, but doesn’t alter any of the artistic deficiencies here. However we do also learn he was very young and Brit-Cit Brute was very early in his career, so maybe enshrining it between hardcovers wasn’t such a hot idea, Rebellion? Xuasis and David Millgate fare better artistically, but none of it’s in any danger of hanging in the Louvre any time soon. Hopefully everyone involved had a great time because I didn’t. Brit-Cit Brute has only a handful of episodes but manages to outstay it’s welcome before even the first of them is over. CRAP!
WYNTER Art by Kevin Walker Written by Robbie Morrison Lettered by Ellie DeVille Originally published in JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE 2.70
He’s called Wynter ‘cause he’s up in the snow, and it’s proper snowy in winter, see. Clever wordplay, Robbie Morrison. Well, in the old days it snowed in winter, nowadays not so much. Definitely nothing to that global warming malarkey, mind. All made up by them Koreans to make America look bad, bribed all the scientists haven’t they? My lad’s all glum because every year they promise it’s going to be a “Bad Winter”, and it isn’t; so no sledging for the yowwun. We had a bit of a flurry but nothing special. I remember when it’d be knee high, and all the buses would stop and you’d have to walk to school. Mind you I also remember the Yorkshire Ripper, Margaret Thatcher and the IRA pub bombings so, you know, it wasn’t all roses. You can oversell nostalgia, kids. But it wasn’t that far back either; in the ‘90s I once got stuck halfway between home and Leeds because the snow was too much for the buses. Had to spend the night in a Fox’s biscuit factory. No lie. Got waved over to it by a plod who spotted me walking aimlessly about looking worried and trying to keep warm. Curled up on a leatherette sofa eating free biscuits and reading Helen Zahavi’s Dirty Weekend while the night shift kept those biscuits flowing, snow or no snow. I’ve had worse nights. Rang in and told work to **** off the morning after. Barely had any sleep had I? Got to get my beauty sleep or I’m no use to man nor beast. So, yeah, Wynter, clever word play. Except it drives me nuts that “cool misspellings” thing. I have to keep checking “Gil” knows you don’t spell “attacks” “attax” as in “Match Attax” and all the other everyday spelling atrocities which slip my mind right now. So, back at the comic, Wynter is a Judge in the snow, the Antartic Territories to be precise. All Robbie Morrison has to tell us about this exciting addition to the world of Judge Dredd is it’s cold, snowy, sparsely populated and it’s snowy, did I mention the snow? Luckily he remembers Michael Moorcock’s The Ice Schooner and has a boat zipping over the ice proper sharpish like. It’s crewed by ice pirates who have made off with some medical supplies and some chemical weapons. Wynter (recap: because it’s cold) has to get the chemical weapons and never mind the mega-Lemsips. But kids are dying so he’s not happy about that. There’s a bit of a ruckus and he makes the right choice. There’s not much too it but then I imagine no one imagined it’d ever be enshrined between hard covers, probably a last minute bit of filler unfairly maligned here by my rancorous self. The art’s okay though. Probably more of interest as a look at Kev Walker before he dropped all the extraneous detail and went a bit Mignola; a style which suits him greatly and is adequately represented elsewhere in this series. Here though he’s still drawing like someone who really liked Citadel miniature’s Warhammer 40K and thinks John Blanche is an artistic demigod (which he is). His action’s all over the shop as well, but he’d get (a lot) better and so he shouldn’t be too upset. I did like the way Robbie Morrison tried to give it some weight by starting off with Wynter (recap: brrr!) portentously informing us that he’d “buried a child today”. In the same way that chucking Johnny Cash’s version of Hurt over anything, even a video of a your cat cleaning its bum, makes it seem as important and moving as The Crucifixion, dead kids give stuff a bit of heft. Wynter (recap: because it’s a bit nippy!) is a bit of a waste of a dead kid really because it’ still EH!
JUDGE DREDD: FATHER EARTH Art by Brian Bolland and Ron Smith Written by John Wagner Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in 2000AD Progs 122-125
This is the best tale in the book by a hefty margin and it’s nobody’s fault except everyone surrounding it that it’s also the most elderly. This does mean a few of you will be suspecting that I have difficulty accommodating the present and like many withered old fusspots prefer to live in the past. Which is obviously true; after all I sit here in the sallow light of flickering candles inscribing these words upon parchment via quill and ink. There is a certain bit of the power of early imprinting at work because I can quite clearly remember several moments in this one and the attendant original thrill they induced quite clearly. But would it have imprinted so hard had it not been so good? I don’t know, and I don’t think it’s worth applying for a grant to find out. It is good; really, really good. It starts off small with a (rare for 2000AD) black couple encountering a Cursed Earth messiah, who looks like Alan Moore if he’d been designed to sell corn on tins for a living, at their trading outpost. Before the story ends Mega City 1 will have become besieged by mutants wearing dog heads like hats, a power tower will have gone a bit Pompeii, thousands will have lost their lives and a singing, killing plant will have meted out blackly ironic justice. It is a master class in serialised entertainment. Because not only is there all that stuff but there is also a tense bomb disposal scene (a la David Hemmings in JUGGERNAUT (1974)), comedy robots, Dredd failing to save a lady, and a major plot point hinges on the power surges in the 1970s whenever the whole country watched something on TV (e.g. there used to be power surges immediately after CORONATION STREET as everyone leapt up to put the kettle on) and of course…the Holocaust Squad!
These dudes appear for a half page, dropping out of the sky in sci-fi diving suits and into the maw of the power station turned volcano. After that we only hear their voices for a handful of panels as they go out one by one like candles in a draught. Which reminds me…hang on (lights candle and bends back over the parchment). The brevity of their appearance belies its power to shock the mind of a child. For the last few decades I thought they were the focus of a whole episode, but they barely get a page in reality. It really shook little me up reading their voices bravely passing the baton as they burnt up like tissues in a furnace. Wagner has many strengths as a writer and here we see two of them smashing boredom like twin hammers going at a pile of crackers. First is how much he can get out of so little; the robots get enough personality to make them humorous, but also enough for you to go “Oh!” when the bomb disposal goes to cock, and the Holocaust Squad have more impact over their petite sprinkle of panels than they do over two full stories by John Smith (see above). Secondly he is fearless in his use of imagination. A lot of comic writers write like they are scared they will never have another idea, Wagner writes like he’s convinced their flow will never cease. It takes some nuts to write like that, but it’s definitely the best approach. The art here is by Bolland and Ron Smith and it’s great too, although the reproduction is so awful you may have to take that on trust. Bolland fares worst with big areas of solid black swamping his detail but Smith uses a lighter touch and his art comes off better, if a little ghostly. Shame, but it doesn’t stop Father Earth being VERY GOOD!
JUDGE DREDD: DEBRIS Art by P J Holden Written by Michael Carroll Coloured by Chris Blythe Lettered by Annie Parkhouse Originally published in 2000AD Progs 1792-1796
Michael Carroll is one of the new breed of Dredd writers currently tasked with chronicling Old Stoney Face regularly whenever John Wagner isn’t. Because I don’t follow The Tooth regular like anymore I’ve not read a lot of his stuff yet, but it seems competent enough, just lacking that essential Umpty factor. This Debris one is fine, I guess, but not exactly a stunner. It’s about a block seceding from the Meg and how it has a big gun on top to defend itself. There’s an interesting kernel there about how the block feels it’s better at protecting its inhabitants than the Judges, and it’s hard not to see their point as the story is set after another of the seemingly endless city filleting events. The gun on the top is the least interesting aspect but this proves to be the focus of the strip, which is unfortunate. Carroll seems unduly impressed by the fact that the gun hoovers® up debris (that’s right!) to fire. Sure, it’s an idea but it’s not a big enough or good enough idea to hang the story on. I mean, it’s a big gun so all you have to do is get under it so it can’t fix a bead on you and Bob’s your uncle and Fanny’s your Judge. This doesn’t seem to occur to any of the characters, who are bulked up by some Space Marines who themselves are bulked up by their armour (hence their inclusion in this volume). The Marines are there because the Judges are so depleted by the regular occurrence of extinction level events their numbers are running low, they might also be there to highlight the different approaches to situations between the military and judicial mind-set, they might not; it’s hard to tell because developing that would distract from the big gun, which Carroll is convinced we are more interested in. Unfortunately we’re not; or I wasn’t, you might be all over that big gun like a rash. Since it devolves quickly into action and shouting Debris takes up too much page space. After The Pit it’s pretty much established that the Dredd audience can manage the more talky stories, so Carroll’s swerve into the least interesting and more action packed approach is even more puzzling. Holden’s art is okay though; a little rushed and he fluffs some of the staging, but it’s chunky and funky in a Brett Ewins/Rufus Dayglo markers and rulers way. It’s no great shakes but Dredd seems like Dredd and entertainment is had. OKAY!
JUDGE DREDD: WARZONE Art by P J Holden Written by John Wagner Coloured by Len O'Grady Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE 240-243
Not only is this one also illustrated by P J Holden but its events are also spurred into being by a recent Mega-City trashing event. One of the many (many) cool beans things about The World of Dredd is how Events happen and then there is a period of fallout from that Event which has to be navigated before the next corpse-piling Event occurs. Because, yes, astonishingly, it turns out that it is possible to segue from one Event into another while also providing satisfactory stories with beginnings, middles and (crucial this:) endings, characterisation and even internal logic; despite what writers of North American genre comics demonstrate on a monthly basis. (I mean seriously now, are you people even trying?) Anyway, Dredd’s after some bloke who was instrumental in terror attacks on the Big Meg. Wisely hiding out in a warzone the guy probably thinks he’s safe, unfortunately he doesn’t realise he’s the bad guy in a Judge Dredd strip so his days are numbered, like on a really morbid calendar. You can take the war comics off the child but he’ll only buy them again later in more expensive hardback formats. No wait, I mean you can take the writer out of the war comics but you can’t take the war comics out of the writer. Wagner might have started out writing girls’ (eeew!) comics but he got great during his stint on war comics, and Warzone is like a quick reminder to the world that where war comics are concerned John Wagner’s still got it going on. He hasn’t lost a step; he might even have gained a couple of new ones.
In less time than it takes a North American genre comic writer to have his characters discuss their favourite cereals Wagner has sketched in the personalities of each member of the group assigned to Dredd. Not only that but he’s also established the needlessness and futility of the conflict they are waging (it’s space-Vietnam). Sure the soldiers are types, but they are also alive; the noble sergeant who is more metal than man, the shell-shock case who can only utter profanities, the hov-grafted guy who lost his girl along with his legs, the ear-collecting Rogue Trooper-a-like, etc etc. Not an original one among them, but you’ll still give a shit when they get shot to bits. How does that happen? SPOILER: Good writing. There’s a tellingly protracted sequence after the big battle when time is spent just showing the bodies, all torn and mangled and host to a variety of carrion eaters, in which the reader is silently invited to ruminate upon exactly what their deaths have achieved. They died bravely and they died well but they are dead. Wagner being Wagner there’s also some humour because where there’s life there’s laughter. I particularly enjoyed Dredd’s abrupt curtailment of the campfire bonding. In the end as implacable as ever Dredd, bloody but never beaten, pushes his way past the war and manages to extract some small measure of Justice for the fallen. Warzone is John Wagner doing war comics and that’s still VERY GOOD!
NEXT TIME: Old British war comics make another unlikely appearance in the world of Dredd as a couple of familiar faces get a new coat of future-paint! Hoo ha -COMICS!!!