Some say it’s not the journey but the destination. In this case it’s very much about the destination, which is the final issue of the artistically impoverished big ticket cash-grab from DC Comics, Dark Knight III: The Master Race. After this we’ll all just pretend it never happened and get on with our lives. We shall never speak of this again. EVER. DKIII:TMR by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson, Robins & MillerRead More
As I probably said, I’m quite busy at the minute. But I like to write to relieve the stress. So I wrote this. It’s about the Friday The 13th movies, being a dad, the implacable march of time and the Friday The 13th game on PS4. It’s of limited interest, except to students of the pointlessly self-indulgent. But that's never stopped me before!Read More
Nearly there. Good soldier. Nearly there. DKIII:TMR by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson, Robins & Miller
DARK KNIGHT III: THE MASTER RACE #8 Pencils by Andy Kubert and Frank Miller Inks by Klaus Janson Story by Frank Miller (Yeah, right) & Brian Azzarello Colours by Brad Anderson and Alex Sinclair Letters by Clem Robins Cover by Andy Kubert & Brad Anderson Variant Covers by Frank Miller & Alex Sinclair, Jim Lee, Scott Williams & Alex Sinclair, Klaus Janson & Brad Anderson, Bill Sienkiewicz and Riley Rossmo Based on THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS by Frank Miller (WITH Lynn Varley, Klaus Janson & John Constanza. Remember them, DC Comics? You should, you really should. You've got one more issue to remember 'em. Then it's spankin' time!) Batman created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane DC Comics, $5.99 or $12.99 (deluxe) (2017)Read More
In which I talk about a kid’s comic featuring Space Ghost and Green Lantern. That’s right, I’m 47 years old. It’s called living the dream, baby. Living the dream! RUFF'N'REDDYby Chaykin, Quintana and Brosseau
GREEN LANTERN/SPACE GHOST SPECIAL #1 Art by Ariel Olivetti and Howard Victor Chaykin Written by James Tynion IV: The Voyage Home & Christopher Sebela, and Howard Victor Chaykin Lettered by A Larger Word Studios and Pat Brosseau Coloured by Ariel Olivetti and Wil Quintana Cover by Ariel Olivetti DC Comics, £2.99 (2017) Green Lantern created by John Broome, Gil Kane, Bill Finger, Martin Nodell & Gardner Fox Space Ghost created by Alex Toth, William Hanna & Joseph Barbera Ruff And Reddy created by William Hanna & Joseph BarberaRead More
Just one comic, and not too many words. Oh, happy 4th of July, I guess. This one’s for all of my American buddies. (It’s got nothing whatsoever to do with the 4th of July, if I’m being quite honest.) SHADOWS ON THE GRAVE: "The Clown" by Corben
SHADOWS ON THE GRAVE #4 Art by Richard Corben Written by Richard Corben, Jan Strnad Dark Horse Comics, $3.99 (2017)
Shadows on the Grave (SotG) is a monthly B/W anthology comic featuring a spatter of short terror tales and a thoroughly muscular episode of a comedic barbarian serial. It could have just consisted of short stories revolving around the life cycle of the Scarabaeus sacer and pin-ups of Brian Bendis in a variety of revealing swim suits, as long as Richard Corben was on the job. Because SotG is very much all about Richard Corben. Or his art at least. The thing is, look, the thing about the traditional draw of a comic, the stories, the thing about them in SotG is…well, they often aren’t really stories as such. I mean, they are technically stories, I guess, but they can kind of peter out a bit sometimes. In that sense they are a lot like the old DC “Mystery” books in that all the signifiers of horror are there but the narrative thread comes a poor second. Atmosphere is paramount where shadows drape the grave. Which is okay for me, but maybe not you? I mean, I bought this because it’s Richard Corben doing whatever he wants. And I am all about the Colossi of Comics doing whatever they want. Which is why Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder is an auto-buy wherever it appears; why Walter Simonson’s Ragnarök is the only $4.99 comic I buy without grinding my teeth; why Howard Victor Chaykin’s Divided States of Hysteria is…oops, moving swiftly on… In essence, in much the same way that a Daily Mail reader comes for the sideboob and stays for the archaic right wing frothing which paints every monied white person over 50 as a besieged minority in their own country, I come to SotG for the stories but I stay for the craft.
Stories which are, as I say, mostly exercises in style; attempts at inducing an atmosphere of creeping unease. The opener in this particular pamphlet of pulsating dread, “The Clown”, involves a bloke who does a bad thing at the circus and is gotten by a creepy clown doll. There’s no overt connection between his act of murderous larceny and his fate via macabre marionette. It’s just your stringently judgmental mind at work, Gidget. He could as well been singled out for smoking, or calling the dancing lady a rude word, or just for wearing a roll neck jumper with a jacket. All of which he does, because he’s a proper bad apple. But it’s not really important. What’s really important is seeing how Corben does it. How Corben draws the lady dancer’s boobs floppaloppaling about, managing in just one static panel to suggest more about the interconnectedness of mass and motion via the slightly down-market device of her go-go mammaries than the entire career of, say, Jim Lee ever has. How Corben draws a circus so tattily alive you can practically smell the cheap pot pourri of fried onions, exhaust fumes and cotton candy, almost hear the sharp cry of a freshly slapped child. How Corben captures the shabby glamour of the travelling fair, in short. All that’s the real pleasure.
Next up is “Flex!” which has far more structural integrity story-wise. Which it should well have, since Corben calls on his frequent partner in grime, Jan Strnad. Now Jan Strnad’s name may not be up in lights on the Broadway of your mind but he is an extraordinarily capable writer. Which may sound like faint praise but it’s more praise that I’d give most fan-favourite hawt hold-the-phone-! writers. More comic writers should deserve praise so faint, in short. I enjoyed Strnad’s horror novel Risen (written as J. Knight, Warner Books, 2001, ISBN 978-0759550384, GOOD!) quite a bit. It’s one of those small-town-steamrollered-by-evil things, so comparisons with Gravity’s Rainbow might not be entirely fair. More of a beach read, really; but that’s no great slur. Risen’s prose is efficient and it’s speedily paced but, you know, several times I admit the thought crossed my largely empty mind that it would work really well as a comic drawn by…Richard Corben!. Choke! And, Corben’s art is the star on “Flex”, but Strnad’s script lends the hokey wish-that-is-obviously-going-to-backfire premise enough of a casually raised eyebrow to bring everyone in on the fun. Most of that fun is seeing the outrageous contortions Corben puts human physiology through in the toe curling pay off to this cautionary tale of body builders. Ouch, fair made my eyes water so it did. OOF!
Appropriately enough the hyperbolic muscularity, one of Corben’s key visual motifs, of “Flex” also saturates the episode of “Denaeus” which ends the issue. It’s appropriate because Denaeus is one of Corben’s hyper-muscular barbarian characters a la Den (the two are related in some fashion I’ve forgotten; it’s not important). It’s familiar territory for Corben, as familiar as his horror stuff but, because he is Corben (i.e. because he is awesome), it’s all as fresh as the meat on a newly felled steer. It’s the usual stuff about prophecies, heroes, mysterious mages, maidens and violence, but all enlivened and undercut by Corben’s typically modern approach to the dialogue. That and the fact Corben can’t even make a sand dune look dull. So you can imagine the artistic delights he throws like so much visual tinsel all over the pages during the violent slapstick of the Denaeus vs cyclops centrepiece. There aren’t many comic artists who can bring to the page a giddy blend of creatine, egg whites, Ray Harryhausen movies, Michael Bentine’s Pottytime, Johnson’s baby oil and John Milius’ Conan The Barbarian. In fact there’s only one, Richard Corben. Further, there’s only one Richard Corben. And Shadows on the Grave is what he’s doing right now, and that’s VERY GOOD!
NEXT TIME: Queersploitation, Canadian superheroics, Howard Victor Chaykin’s bizarre foray into Hanna Barbera territory, a crappy slasher movie franchise goes paper, Judge Dredd or, uh, something completely different? Whatever it is, it’s bound to be – COMICS!!! (If you have a preference let me know below the line. I’ll probably ignore it, but you could get lucky!)
In which I continue to try and make up lost ground by looking at issue 7 (
of 8 of 9) of DC Comic’s big-ticket Bat event. By popular demand! Well, two people, anyway.
DKIII:TMR by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson, Robins & Miller
DARK KNIGHT III: THE MASTER RACE #7 Pencils by Andy Kubert Inks by Klaus Janson Story by Frank Miller (Yeah, right) & Brian Azzarello Colours by Brad Anderson Letters by Clem Robins Cover by Andy Kubert, Frank Miller & Brad Anderson Variant Covers by Frank Miler & Alex Sinclair, Jim Lee, Scott Williams & Alex Sinclair, Klaus Janson & Dave McCaig, Howard Victor Chaykin & Jesus Arbuto and Chris Burnham & Nathan Fairbairn Based on THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS by Frank Miller (WITH Lynn Varley, Klaus Janson & John Constanza. Remember them, DC Comics? You should, you really should.) Batman created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane DC Comics, $5.99 or $12.99 (deluxe) (2017)
Make no mistake with issue 7 DKIII:TMR remains a very special comic; special in a wholly awful way. DKIII: TMR is the kind of comic that is so awful it actually makes you genuinely miserable for having sat through it. Maybe it’s the waste of talent that makes the misery sting so hard, for there are talented people here; people who have produced some pretty decent comics but this…thing, is just so awful, so pitiful in fact that to treat it with the disdain it deserves seems unfair, if not cruel. Then you remember how much money this bunch probably got ($$lot$$) for producing this vacuous piffle. It’s hard to decide which bits are worse, the bits with the words or the bits with the pictures. Only joking, it’s definitely the words. As vague and perfunctory as Kubert’s paltry efforts may be, his art’s inadequacies pale before the titanic idiocy of the writing. Azzarello firmly plants his flag in the peak of Mount Awful from the very first page with a tour de farce of faux cleverness. For the author of a comic that has spent far too long buggering about Azzarello certainly doesn’t bugger about in buggering things up. He’s straight in there. In the last characteristically pathetic issue, you will recall (because how could you not), Batman fell in battle. Actually, you might not recall that, because it was delivered with all the narrative vitality of a rural bus timetable. I didn’t see anything on The Internet about it anyway, and that’s where there’s usually some kind of moronic rumpus if a fictional character even coughs persistently enough, never mind finds a rusty red warning in their supertrunks.
So Superman picks ailing Batman up and flies off with him, which is where this issue opens. And Azzarello, for once wasting no time (but unfortunately wasting no time in being awful), in a move you just know made him fire finger guns at his screen, rejigs the old Superman “Faster than a speeding bullet..” spiel from the Siegel and Schuster days, but with a typically modern maudlin slant. “Am I, in fact, all that?” is the undercurrent to this un-Super internal monologue. Azzarello is probably under the misapprehension that this is as cute as that page in All-Star Superman which reduces Superman’s origin to its fundamentals (“Doomed Planet.” ,“Last Son.”, etc). Tragically for tobacco-beard-sporting-finger-gunning writers everywhere it isn’t cute; it’s plain dumb. For starters why would Superman know that speech? Does he make up little ditties about himself, maybe while he’s sat covered in ice (for reasons no one has seen fit to divulge over the seven issues of this blocked toilet of a comic)? Or are there Superman comics in the world of TDKIII:TMR? And were they made by Siegel and Shuster? And did they get royally fucked over like they did in this world? And if I want to read a comic where Superman and Siegel and Shuster occupy the same world why aren’t I reading Rick Veitch’s Maximortal, which is a far, far better comic? Flawed as it is from the off, Azzarello does his self-satisfied conceit no favours at all with his typically tortured syntax. Azzarello’s inept rejig comes off like the empty posturing it is in comparison to Siegel and Shuster’s breezy and effortlessly iconic brilliance. And it just doesn’t work anyway. Superman’s basically bemoaning the fact that even being Superman may not be enough to save Batman (like what’s the alternative, a fucking ambulance? Would a fucking ambulance be better? A flying fucking ambulance even? No, Superman, it wouldn’t.) “I’m only Superman” he sighs, telling us nothing about Superman or indeed anything at all except the utter failure of the writer to “get” the character. Someone should have made Azzarello rewrite this smug baloney until it worked, or until he binned it. It’s not big and it’s not clever; it’s nincompoopery of the highest order. Supernincompoopery!
But where’s Superman going with Batman? To the Lazarus pit! Who didn’t see that coming? Even Karl Marlden in Dario Argento’s Cat O’Nine Tails saw that coming! (Note: Karl Marlden plays a blind man in Dario Argento’s Cat O’Nine Tails. That’s the joke there.) But because Superman is a thoughtless dick we have several pages of Carrie being all sadznshitz because she thinks Batman is dead. You would have thought Superman would have had the wit to let her know there was…a chance! But although that would be entirely in character for Superman, and not too difficult to work into the story, he instead leaves her to wet Batman’s helmet with her lady tears (not a euphemism). These, typically for Kubert, sparsely arted pages are a complete fucking waste of space unless you like seeing young women feeling all sadznshitz for no reason. That doesn’t speak highly of you, I’m afraid. It does speak to the utterly desperate attempts of this comic to inject some drama into the thoroughly beige goings-on. Carrie’s already been sadznshitz over a not-dead Batman in issues #1 and #2 and here she is again all sadznshitz. Azzarello is so frantic to fill his pages he’s reduced to recycling things that already failed to work. So, Superman drops Batman in the Lazarus Pit. I don’t believe (I could be wrong; I don’t really care at this point) the words “Lazarus Pit” are used in this issue, so anyone unfortunate enough to be reading this without decades of useless Bat-ephemera clogging up their higher functions, would be left wondering why Superman has taken the corpse of his pal to what appears to be a particularly sternly ornamented San Franciscan bath house. Is it because they spent some good times there flicking towels at each other’s taut arses between badmouthing Lois and exchanging smoky glances?
No, it’s because it’s a Lazarus Pit! And, as the advert says - it does what it says on the tin. There’s about 4 pages wasted on Batman going into the healing waters, Superman waiting, and then Batman leaping out like a nude billionaire shaped salmon. Fully two pages of that are just Superman waiting. Just…waiting. Lad de dah…waiting. Just…waiting. Got any mints? Waiting…waiting. Thrilling stuff. If you’re an accountant. So, yeah, Batman’s young again! And we might as well shut up shop right here, because all protestations to the contrary this has been the whole point of the series – to make Batman young again. Now they can have TDKR comics forever and a day! Regular Batman can find Carrie’s soiled knickers in his washbin; we could have a lenticular cover, and when you move it Batman holds the lacy aromatic rag up to his nose! Part 1 of a 50 part event: “The Knickers”. Or Dark Knight Batman could team up with Huckleberry fucking Hound! Or Strawberry Fucking Shortcake! The possibilities are quite literally dreary beyond belief! As ever though, in their sweaty fumble after more money DC miss the point. The USP of The Dark Knight universe was that Batman was old, that Batman could die. Without that it’s all just more Batman. And still just more Bruce Wayne Batman to boot. A writer with any stones would have had Bats die, Carrie take the mantle and that black kid from issue one (the kid we all thought was indicative of some thoughtfulness, some relevance; the kid who died in one of the lumpen fight scenes) should have become Robin (but you know, in more urban attire. More “street”. Not just a Nehru collar and some piping, Jim Lee.) Instead we get the same old, same old. Seven overpriced, ineptly executed issues thus far; all so DC can just switch The Dark Knight Returns off and switch it back on again; restore the whole thing back to factory settings. What was once original and thrilling is now neutered and subsumed into the grey paste of insipid corporate product. See also: Watchmen. There’s going to be a Watchmen TV series! How fucking mundane must you be to be excited about a Watchmen TV series! How arid must your inner life that be to think The Dark Knight Returns was a bit too exciting and could really do with being more like the other umptyfuckingbillion Batman comics. The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen - now just as lifeless and drab as everything else! Huzzah! DC clearly need to brush up on their Aesop’s fables. Particularly the one about the goose and the golden eggs. BIFF! BANG! POW! Short stories, typically with animals as characters, conveying a moral aren’t just for kids!
A wiser man, a better man, would stop there; the series having essentially declared itself a bleak exercise in corporate box ticking devoid of any and all artistic intentions. Why bother with it anymore? Because it is truly, fascinatingly awful. And it is important that voices are raised against precisely this kind of incompetent high-profile crap. So, I’ll go on. There is a jaw droppingly shit bit where Azzarello tries to inject some depth into the junk tumbling from his characters’ mouths. Carrie and Commissioner Yindel have a rooftop confab which is so full of horseshit I half expected Kubert to have sketched a shire horse next to the smashed Bat-signal. But that would have required some humour, and also horses are hard, and if the art on DKIII:TMR tells me anything it tells me Kubert’s not all that into graft. If there’s a shortcut, Kubert will take it. I’d rather Kubert drove me on holiday than drew my comics is what I’m saying there. Back at the Brian Azzarello Insight Corner: Was it worth it?, asks Yindel who is clearly a moron. All what, asks Carrie because she too is none too bright herself. All this, says Yindel because circuitous drivel takes up space and that’s what writing for comics in the 21st century is all about – taking up space. That and choking the imagination and beauty out of everything. The gist, I think, of all this deep, deep thought is that Yindel is asking Robin if fighting the bad guys was worth it; worth all the death and property damage. This is such a boneheaded question I worry for the state of Brian Azzarello’s mental health. Then, even better (i.e. even worse) there is some mush mouthed mental gruel about how everyone always thinks they are on the right side, so how can they know what they did was right? Deep. Oh, and (buckle UP, Wittgenstein) how masks don’t just conceal – they REVEAL! (Christ. Just…Christ.) The ideas beneath all this overcooked rumbledethumps of inane prattle barely even qualify as thoughts. But important questions are being asked, we are assured. The only important question is how anyone could write this shit and not spend their life puce with shame. This is what happens when people whose talent has really short arms reach for profundity.
Other things happen in the issue and the best I can say about those is they aren’t as hair curlingly terrible as the stuff I’ve highlighted. The Kandorians continue to hang about like a cloud of midges over a stagnant pond, before deciding to go to Paradise Island (“De plane, boss! De plane! De invisible plane!” RIP, Herve Villechaize) for some childnapping. Superman and Wonder Woman’s daughter continues to hang about with the poorly motivated Kandorians, like a posh kid slumming it with the scruffs to piss off mom and dad. The guy with the big melted face complains about having a big melted face. And to be honest I think this whole guy-with-a-big-melted-face business isn’t really worth all the space it’s getting. There’s only so much mileage in a guy-with-a-big-melted-face. But then everything (what little there is of it) gets far too much space in this comic, the whole thing is a whole load of nothing spread far too thin. Oh, the Atom’s back! It’s been several weeks now, or something, since he shrunk so he should, by rights, be covered in his own mess, winnowed by starvation and not a little boggle eyed with fear. But Nah, He’s perfectly fine, sat on a molecule working on his techno-bits. I guess he’s sat on a molecule in a piece of ham which us why he hasn’t starved to death. Why, precisely, it’s taking him so long to fix his magic machine (which will no doubt be adroitly deployed at the climax of the book) is anyone’s guess. There’s also a mini-comic, the bulk of the fun of which is in Frank Miller’s enthusiastic pencils, alas much of the fun of these is crushed by Janson’s rigid inks. The best bit (of the whole series so far in fact) is the appearance of Bat-Mite, largely because there is no mention of him on the page; so it’s entirely possible Frank Miller just drew him in there (twice) for shits and giggles. Just that small sight of goofy (possibly improvisatory) fun throws the rest of the joyless crap surrounding it into stark and unflattering relief. Bat-Mite! Yay! Unfortunately, like the main book, it’s all written in Azzarello’s dourly congested style, in which everyone thinks they are being highly insightful while merely being full of shite. Fans of stereotypically sweaty and sinister Egyptians will have a field day, but that’s probably a minority of the Direct Market audience in 2017.
If DKIII:TMR had been a Broadway Musical it would have closed so fast Spider-Man: Turn Out The Dark’s run would have resembled that of The Mousetrap. But it’s a comic, so its audience are even less discerning than a pensioners’ coach trip at a heavily discounted, matinee performance. Also, because its sales figures are inflated by the comics equivalent of sub-prime mortgages (i.e. variants) it gets to preen about pretending people like it, until every last cent has been squeezed out and you can practically hear its pips squeak. DC even added an extra issue! That was about as welcome as an extra in-law. Obviously this decision was to allow the peerless artistry of the series room to excel, and certainly not because DC wished to increase their market share for another month with one of their few regularly well performing titles. I despise this new tendency on the part of Marvel and DC to gift its audience with an extra issue of whatever over-hyped and undercooked craptacular they have induced us all into buying despite the weight of experience. There’s nothing like flagrantly taking advantage of your audience to engender good will. Here’s where that ends up: I’m not buying anymore mini-series. I’ll just get the TPB when they are done. Add as many issues as you like, you short termist donkey haunches; I’ll not be buying them. Craven and underhanded shenanigans in the extreme, as ever from Corporate Comics. There’s no artistic reason for sticking another ish in since the series has no genuine artistry, and from a creative viewpoint could have done with being seven issues less. That might have, you know, focused the minds of everyone involved. The last thing an ill-disciplined, sprawling, and fundamentally empty thing like DKIII:TMR needs is more room. When your kid starts projectile vomiting due to an allergic reaction to a Chinese meal, you don’t wander through every room in the house with him; maybe knock on next door’s as a surprise and merrily spread the trail of vomitus yet further. No, you stick him in the bath and keep him there. Damage limitation, innit. You all know the words by now, so sing along: DKIII:TMR is CRAP!
NEXT TIME: Something a bit less blatantly soulless and worthier of the name – COMICS!!!
I don’t know what happened! I wrote about three whole comics in less than fifty billion words! It won’t happen again. My apologies. I don't know what I was thinking. I certainly wasn't thinking about this intro, which is why it's so weak. Rush politely past it and read on... BLUBBER by Gilbert Hernandez
SLASHER #1 By Charles Sanford Forsman Floating World Comics, Digital: £1.49 (2017)
Like many men in their middle years (“middle”, yeah, like I’m going to see 94. Pretty loose definition of “middle” there, society) I court danger like its dad owns a yacht. To relight that sputtering youthful fire some middle-aged men take up shark wrestling or sex pesting young women, but me? I like to take it to the edge. I try and go into comics with as little knowledge as possible. (Of the comic; as little knowledge of the comic, you wiseacre.) I saw SLASHER on the ‘Ology and thought “okay”; largely because it looked like it might be a slasher comic. How, I wondered, would a slasher comic work in the comics medium? On a static page how would an artist pull off the necessary control of pacing and deliver the required kills with the requisite impact? I’m still wondering. Because as it turns out SLASHER is as much about a slasher as JAWS is about a shark. Even less so, in fact, because JAWS has a lot of shark in it now I think about it. There is a bit of slashing in SLASHER but it is self-inflicted, as befits a warts to the fore portrayal of our oddly damaged modern psyches. At least I think that’s what’s going on here.
Despite sounding like a one man firm of lawyers, Charles Sanford Forsman earns every one of his three names with SLASHER. Mostly, for me anyway, by giving a lightly disquieting imprecision to his art. One which echoes his ably unsettling script’s unerring ability to pick at the scab of any normal everyday occurrence (shopping, workplace assessment, txting a friend, etc, etc…) until the wound oozes the tacit creepiness of us all. (Well, mostly you. Me, I’m perfectly healthy. But I see you, Sancho. I. See. You.) Mind you, I dig stylish imperfections in art since they imply the actual passing of a human hand across the page, which is as close to seeing the face of God moving over the face of the waters as an non-spiritual and inartistic putz like me will ever get. For a comic in which the milk of human kindness is so thoroughly curdled SLASHER is a surprising amount of fun. Most of that fun came from not expecting what I got, so I sure wouldn’t want to spoil it all for you. Take it from me that if you’re the kind of bitter freak who pines for movies like HAPPINESS (1998) and IN THE COMPANY OF MEN (1997) then get stuck into SLASHER. (ßPull Quote Alert!) Also, let’s go do movies and a brew sometime, you’re my kind of people! VERY GOOD!
GRASS KINGS #3 Art by Tyler Jenkins Written by Matt Kindt Lettered by Jim Campbell BOOM! Studios, $3.99 (2017)
I like this comic, but it doesn’t do itself any favours. Fatally so, I fear; in an overcrowded market it just sort of slouches there, instead of selling itself. For starters look at the cover, it hardly leaps out from across the room demanding your attention does it? The logo is all high-end understated artiness, the kind more suited to a designer range of name brand geegaws and tchotkes aimed at people who retro-fit wood burning stoves into their 21st century sci-fi kitchens. Can you even read that title across the comic store? Does it stand out in the slightest from the visual roar of Marvel’s latest waste of Al Ewing’s time and DC’s unrelenting variations on a Bat-theme? Did you even know this comic existed? I genuinely ask because I don’t go to a physical LCS, so I actually don’t know the answers. Except for that last one; I certainly didn’t know it existed, my LCS just sent it me because…they think I’m the kind of guy who retro-fits a wood burning stove into his 21st Century sci-fi kitchen? Tsk!
Beyond the cover GRASS KINGS remains a defiantly low energy affair. Jenkins’ art is a really watery water-colour affair that kind of seeps into your eyes, and Kindt’s script is a low summer drawl of a thing. It all kind of pootles past at its own sweet pace like an elderly gent on his weekly walk into town, pausing periodically to get his breath back, or simply staring into the air where the old dance hall and the night he met his deceased wife swims into being before his cloudy eyes. GRASS KINGS is about some kind of off the grid enclave where the gubbermint has no traction (i.e. the libertarian’s nocturnal emission of the American Dream), everyone’s a bit flaky and there’s murders and missing persons, and not a few flashbacks which are typically unhurried in declaring their relevance. Unlike most comics GRASS KINGS doesn’t scream for your attention, it doesn’t even whisper, it just sings to itself under its breath. (ßPull Quote Alert!) If you lean in to listen, I think you’ll be glad you did. VERY GOOD!
BLUBBER #3 By Gilbert Hernandez Fantagraphics, $3.99 (2016)
What’s black and white and covered in an old man’s dead jizz? My copy of BLUBBER! Only joking…it’s not all in black and white. (But it is covered in my dead jizz! (“Old man John! Spoiling everything!” ß Joke For The Kidz!)) Yup, BLUBBER’s covers are colour, and what lovely covers they are. The back of each issue has also been graced by a Gilbert “Bert” Hernandez pin-up of some kind of phantasmagorical fauna fresh from his bubbling brain pan. So invitingly comical and eye-catchingly vivid are these covers that “Gil” sometimes picks them up and asks if he can read them. HOO! Not wishing to spend the next several months and many, many, thousands of pounds fighting for visitation rights I have as yet denied him. He can stick with SPONGEBOB COMICS (also great, but in a really quite different way) for now. From the outside BLUBBER looks all fantastically harmless, but inside it remains a maelstrom of scatological insanity. Calm down though, my little pearl clutchers, as it is so offensive that it transcends offence and just becomes comical in its absurd mania for the grossly vulgar. Less Spongebob Squarepants and more Spongebob Shitpants. But don’t mistake my loutish rattlepanning and manic emphasis on the outré as licence to belittle the artistry on display. Hernandez’ big old floppy chops are evident on every page.
BLUBBER may well be an explosion of transgressions but it’s a highly controlled one. As the late Dennis Hopper, star of TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (1986), could attest were he not, well, dead, you can lie in a ring of dynamite sticks and set them off without harm; the trick is in having them face the right way. (Otherwise you’re fucked, bubeleh.) In every panel of BLUBBER Hernandez plays with dynamite but his spectacular artistic panache ensures he doesn’t take his talented face off in the blast. Not even Tony Salvador Daniel could lead up to XXX Papusi climaxing in a final panel as heart crushingly poignant as a JoJo Moyles book in the rain. (Be warned though if you are rubbing one out while reading and wipe a tear from your eye, you do run the risk of pink eye.) And could anyone but Gilbert “He Was Always A Quiet Man” Hernandez answer the oft asked question of “What if Arthur Machen’s ‘Great God Pan’ was crossed with Elvis Presley?” No, because the answer involves lots of furry-haunched cock frothing and cryptic wisdom. Cock-a-hula, baby, indeed! Gilbert ”Looking Back We Should Have Known” Hernandez is also versatile enough to reimagine the hauntingly poignant Mickey Rourke mumbling-sadly-in-sweaty-trunks movie THE WRESTLER (1990), but he gives it his own uniquely tender spin by smearing it with sudden bowel movements, satanic orgies and forlorn longings on the part of a phenomenally endowed man for our barely sentient albino lunk. Yo, mama, Hernandez really brings the stains to life in this tour de force of turds and turgidity. There’s just something truly affecting about the sight of our barely sentient protagonist’s trunks distended by a crop of fresh poops. (PRO TIP: If you scratch your bum and sniff your finger new levels of immersion can be achieved.) And that’s just some of the fun inside BLUBBER! In a world of flamboyantly vacuous TV pitches masquerading as comics BLUBBER is a refreshing toot from the artistic arse flute of Gilbert Hernandez. A real room clearer of a comic. (ßPull Quote Alert!) The only TV BLUBBER is likely to appear on is the one that explodes in a shower of guts in VIDEODROME (1983). And that’s because BLUBBER is EXCELLENT!
NEXT TIME: The world’s least informative reviews continue as I look at more – COMICS!!!
THE DIVIDED STATES OF HYSTERIA© #1 Art by Howard Victor Chaykin Written by Howard Victor Chaykin Lettered by Ken Bruzenak Coloured by Jesus Arbutov Cover Colourist Wil Quintana With thanks to Ramon Torres and Calvin Nye A tip of the Chaykin chapeau to Sabrina Pandora Image Comics, £2.49 (digital), (2017) © HOWARD CHAYKIN INC
1. An Actual Honest To Gosh Synopsis To Start Us Off, Like I hear The Professionals Do…
THE DIVIDED STATES OF HYSTERIA (TDSoH) is the latest paper swagger from cerebral beefcake, Howard Victor Chaykin (Tony Curtis), and his unruly crew, Ken “The Bruise” Bruzenak (Russ Tamblyn) and Jesus “No Relation” Arbutov (Channing Tatum). It’s set in a kind of alternate reality that doesn’t seem altogether all that more awful than, uh, actual reality; it’s just slightly more awful in different ways. A Presidential coup has been averted but America is getting low on Presidents, and paranoia is the new normal as the skies are spattered with drones and besmirched with the babble of conspiratorial chat rooms. Besmirched visually, because interestingly this latter internet chatter is given concrete form by “King” Ken Bruzenak, giving the pages a chaotic ugliness I’d guess is entirely intentional. It’s an ugly world under Arbutov’s crisp kitchen-catalogue sheen. Basically The War on Terror isn’t going well in this one, particularly for CIA spook-meister Frank Villa whose career just turned to wet shit and in order to save his rep and the world itself he’s going to need the help of polite society’s worst nightmares.
2. The Bad Ham Sandwich of History Always Repeats Itself
Judging by this first issue it looks like Howard Victor Chaykin is tweaking his 2004 CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN series for the 2010s. That is, a ragbag of ragamuffins are introduced and clearly set up to combat the instigators of a terrorist attack on American soil. Close reading Chaykinmaniacs will note the recurrence of the terror-attack-on-American-soil motif from both CHALLENGERS and CITY OF TOMORROW (2005), even closer reading Chaykinmaniacs will smugly recall this goes back through BLACKHAWK: BLOOD AND IRON (1988) and, yea, even unto AMERICAN FLAGG!(1983). That’s because, unlike 99.9% of North American Comic Creators Howard Victor Chaykin didn’t just start thinking about terrorism post 11th September 2001. And that’s because Howard Victor Chaykin knows that there are fundamental forces which move through history, thanks to the delightful intransigence of human nature.
Alas, terrorism itself is far more persistent than it is modern, staining history’s robes from the 1st Century AD Sicarii Zealots’ opposition to the Roman occupation of Judea, to, well, that Islamophobe in a van just the other day in dear old London town. (Yes, it’s still terrorism if the perpetrator is a white dude.) That’s two thousand and seventeen magical years of terrorism, not that anybody’s counting. There are other tangy chunks of familiarity in Howard Victor Chaykin’s latest jam, such as the fractious domestic doonybrook (see also MARKED MAN (2012)), because although somewhere in-between 1590 and 1597 William Shakespeare wrote that “the course of true love never did run smooth” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), it was true before that and it’s still true today. Chuck in kids, as Chaykin does, and make the bloke a philandering schmuck and it’s truer than ever. Truth persists after all. But so do shitty interpersonal relationships and terrorism. But there are other forces equally tenacious.
3. Exit Hubris, Pursued by Nemesis
“Theresa May is more popular with voters than any leader since the late 1970s, a new poll shows…” The Daily Telegraph, 26 April 2017.
What with a clutch of terrorist attacks, a general election, the resulting hung parliament, the possibility of the Tories propping themselves up with a party that doesn’t believe in either dinosaurs or homosexuals, a horrific fire so horrific it resists acceptance and sundry other whatnots and wellnows, the world of comics has been far from my senescent mind. Seriously, with all the real world upheaval I can’t even pretend to care about Nick Spencer’s Captain America comics, Marvel’s shrinking share of the market, or even DC’s latest attempt to use some dust they found trapped in an Alan Moore script to wrap Geoff Johns’ latest bovine Event comic maunderings around. As to that last, it seems that there is just too much honour and decency in comics (sarcasm), so DC have had to outsource the latest corporate fracking of Watchmen to some ex-CIA dude. Hey, I’m not saying the CIA are hazy on morals, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they thought ethics is a county in England immediately north-east of London.
All of which is a typically round the houses way of saying that like DC’s latest wunderkind homunculus TDSoH’s main protagonist, Frank Villa, is CIA, although Villa’s still employed by The Agency and currently riding a crack-head high on results and reputation. Nope, old Villa won’t have to write comics about Batman finding buttons (UK: badges) in his Batcave anytime soon. Crucially Villa also displays all the humility of a Marvel editor on Twitter. Pride goeth before a fall, as my old Mum used to say (she had a lisp). But it’s a pattern even older than my old Mum (bless ‘er oxen heart). Aye, truth be told thousands of years before Geoff Johns bought his first baseball cap the ancient Greeks noted that Hubris (the god of arrogance) was oft followed by Nemesis (the goddess of fate and revenge).
But since Howard Victor Chaykin isn’t Greek lets stick to the Hebrews, who stuck it in a book for posterity: Proverbs 16:18 to be precise in a little tome called The Bible. Said spiritual foundation would of course be familiar to our Prime Minister, Theresa May, who is keen to remind everyone at every opportunity that she is a vicar’s daughter; as though this were the 1930’s and somehow that accident of birth meant anything at all with regard to morals or the lack thereof. For as Saint Francis of Assisi (and indeed Otis Redding in 'Hard To Handle'), would have it, “actions speak louder than words”, and her actions contain as much Christian charity as Turkish Delight contains vitamins. In essence, my mum was a Nursing Auxiliary but I think there’d be some raised eyebrows if I started bed bathing strangers. Anyway, that’s got nothing to do with anything, I’m just sick of Theresa May. In a minute I’ll go on about her again, but it will actually be relevant. Which will make a nice change for us all.
So, yeah, what I’m getting at is the pursuit of Hubris by Nemesis is not some cobwebby redundancy to be disdained in this age of wifi, streaming content and fidget spinners. It was true back when men wore togas and were lot looser about where folks’ gristly bits went, and it’s no less true now. What’s that? “Can you give me an example, John? Perhaps involving Theresa May?” I’m glad you asked, imaginary reader! Flex your brain and imagine being so secure of your political position that you called a General Election three years early with the stated intention of gaining a massive majority and driving the opposition back into the sea for a generation or more. (That’s Hubris.) Now, keep that brain flexing and imagine if the election results came back and you not only had lost any previous advantage you had, but were now dependent on alliances with other parties in order to have a functional government, and even better, the opposition you sought to scour from the face of the earth had risen up and pushed back hard, in the process rediscovering its fire and grit. (All that bit would be Nemesis.) There’s a lot of it about, basically, and there’s been a lot of it about for a long, long time; so it’s exceedingly apt that Chaykin chooses this as his starting point. Hubris is all over the pages featuring Frank Villa, but on the last page, in the very last panel, Nemesis roars.
4. All The Action Is Always At The Shit End of The Stick
“The scum of the earth... but what fine soldiers we have made them.” The Duke of Wellington on the British soldier.
Knowing he’ll set Nemesis loose at the close of the issue Chaykin fills the preceding pages with introductions for his motley cast of embryonic leads. He makes some, er, interesting choices here; choices so extreme in their awfulness I suspect some dark joke is being played. I think part of the set up for that joke is recognition of who exactly ends up being the boots on the ground when a geopolitical fart unfortunately follows through. Because, c’mon, it is always, always, down to the ordinary Joes and Josephines to come to the rescue. Christ, these days even the spooks themselves don’t even have to get their hands wet; they sip their root beer in a shed a thousand miles from the zone, drawling instructions to some Iowa farmboy weighed down with a cam set into his breastplate, like it’s Call of Duty 15: It’s Not My Balls On The Wire. Yeah, should things turn to shit in a hot second it won’t be the sugar rushed Yalie whose mum gets folded flag and a telegram. And all for the benefit of the Status Quo (not the Dad-Rock band) and those who benefit most from the Status Quo (still not the Dad-Rock band); all of whom it would be pushing things to say gave even the slightest wisp of a shit for the human lives spent keeping them fat and happy.
More realistically, and more pertinently to us all on a day to day basis, take the low regard with which Emergency service workers are held by the political class. Their disdain for these mere cogs is clearer than a Cornwall summer dawn. Over here the emergency services have suffered more cuts than a sadist’s Sunday roast under the last 7 years of Tory austerity. But when the bombs go off, when the knives come out, when the cars slam into crowds and when the buildings burn, who is there saving lives, containing chaos, stacking the dead and stockpiling nightmare scenes for the rest of their nights? It’s not the politicians. It’s the mortgage slaves and the supermarket shoppers; the people who always have to do more with less. Ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. It’s not the people who start the shit who finish it, it’s the people who get stuck in the shit. In a bleaker than bleak gag Howard Victor Chaykin overeggs this propensity to the extent that his whole sick crew are plucked from the ranks of the razor taloned boogeymen under the bed of western civilisation: the real bottom rungers. These being Henry John Noone, a black racist fresh off a shooting spree; Paul Evan Berg, a confidence trickster with a yen for mass murder; John Cesare Nacamulli, a serial killing shithead; and Christopher Michael Silver, a chick with a dick kicking violently against the pricks. And Howard Victor Chaykin, a comic book prince, sets these utter sweethearts the task of saving the world. Or he will do, next issue. Unless his pacing is totally fucked.
5. Offence Is In The Eye of The Beholder
Even in my privileged cis cocoon of blithe obliviousness I heard some people were offended by this comic, now I’m no fan of Arbutov’s colouring myself but really, people, chill! Ah, a little cornball humour there. The thing is if people were offended then people were offended, I’m not about to argue against that. But if Comics as a whole is to be offended it’s probably best to nail down the nature of the offence. In the pages of DIVIDED STATES OF HYSTERIA is Howard Victor Chaykin transphobic, homophobic or (God forbid) neither? After all, the point of contention appears to be the portrayal of the character Christopher Michael Silver, and the book’s not entirely crystal on Silver's status. As I understand it a “chick with a dick” can be either a passive male homosexual or transvestite, or a trans woman (i.e. male to female) with male genitalia. Silver's one of them. Unfortunatley Silver is also beaten savagely while turning a trick and kills in self-defence. This, it has been argued, is a less than wholesome representation of an already besieged section of society. Well, yeah, it is. And?
Look, Chaykin has long been active in at least promoting the existence of the, uh, sexually lavish. I don’t know how many Trial By Internet points that’s worth, but it must have some traction. But just because he has a preoccupation with this aspect of human diversity I don’t think an automatic blanket condemnation is due. That would be as moronic as pointing out there’s a lot of rape in Alan Moore’s work and thinking that you had thus proved Alan Moore himself is a bit rapey. You’ve got to take it on a case by case basis. If the approach is consistently derogatory or repellent then, fine, fuck off, Sunshine; but if it isn’t… And just in case you think I am contorting myself unnecessarily to support an inherent bias, you’ll be pleased to note that, on a case by case basis the results are not entirely wonderful.
6. An Incomplete Look At The Many Chicks With Dicks of Howard Victor Chaykin
In AMERICAN FLAGG! comedy occurs when Reuben kicks a chick and his foot finds a dick. Comic relief is one of the earliest stages of societal acceptance when it comes to types considered outside the norm (see all the homosexuals in the sit-coms of the homophobic ‘70s), so…not great, but okay. Ah, but there’s also a whole plot in FLAGG! revolving around a kind of transvestite twist on Vertigo, which is pointedly humane in its portrayal of the (then) improper. Big points go in the pot for that one. The camp comedy stylings continue with a urinal encounter between the plucky fireplug Maxim and a hefty transvestite in POWER AND GLORY (1994). Significantly Chaykin’s bold as brass about it all, and the real punchline arrives with the superhero’s full pelt flight from the glam man, powered not by the atom or nanotech, but by his super-homophobia. So, still in the realms of humour, but since the brunt of it falls fully on the homophobe, some strong points awarded there. Unfortunately, in PULP FANTASTIC (2000) Chaykin’s portrayal of the sexually versatile reaches a sour nadir, so we’ll just say that the series itself has a thoroughly distempered air that does none of the contents any favours. Oof, some genuine demerits there. It’s okay though, because the spectacularly unpleasant BLACK KISS/BLACK KISS 2 is Chaykin’s ace in the hole. BLACK KISS (1988) prominently features a chick with a dick and while this prominence is slightly undermined by the fact s/he is used as none too flattering metaphor, by BLACK KISS 2 (2012) Chaykin, in a quite phenomenal feat of artistic sleight of hand, delivers a romantic horror comedy in which the demonic chick with a dick finds true love and peace (of a kind) with Chaykin’s doppelgänger, Cass Pollack. There are probably some I missed but I think that gives the gist.
Pillory Chaykin if you wish, it’s your dime and I’m sure he couldn’t give less of a shit; but I can’t think of another white male whose work extends to chicks with dicks the ultimate compliment of treating them just like everyone else. No, I don’t know why I am even bothering; it’s not going to change your mind. Howard Victor Chaykin’s a transphobe, a homophobe a Francophobe and a chifforobe. Think what you like. Sure, The Anti-Chaykin Grant Morrison had a chick with a dick in the waywardly great THE INVISIBLES, but s/he was an avatar of bullshit magicky wagicky woo-wooooooh! Maybe that’s better, more helpful to the cause, but I don’t think so. In his grumpy back matter Chaykin chunters on about identity politics, and I think this point gets lost in his anger at Trump winning the election. (There are many reasons Trump won, but mostly it’s because The Democrats didn’t campaign on policies, and seemed to believe they should win just because Trump is a dick. SPOILER!) Because I think his point is...that you shouldn’t define people by their labels, but instead by their behaviour. Define them by who they are, not what they are. There are white shitheads and there are black shitheads; there are hetero shitheads and there are queer shitheads; there are cis shitheads and there are chicks with dicks shitheads. Real equality is not achieved by singling a group out, but by treating that group as individuals, and treating all individuals equally. So, to take an example from TDSoH, it might rankle that Chaykin’s black character, Noone, is a racist murderer, but it’s not his skin that defines him, it’s his racism.
I was a bit naughty there. I overplayed how equally Howard Victor Chaykin treats, Silver. Mostly because the Witchfinder Internet also ignored this (how odd!). Howard Victor Chaykin does in fact apportion a greater measure of narrative sympathy to Silver than any of the other misfits. Significantly the only one of the characters whose situation is adulterated by backstory is the trans/queer character. It’s fairly clear from the punchy and unself-pitying internal monologue that the situation in which Silver finds him/herself is down to society’s failure to adapt or include. So, yes, there is transphobia and homophobia on the pages of TDSoH, but it belongs to the characters not to the author of those characters. The only two protagonists who don’t come across as monsters are Villa and Silver. Hey you know, this could turn out to be a love story after all. Let the chick with a dick get the guy. It’s 2017 after all, so why the fuck not?
7. Poor Old Ken Bruzenak
The real loser after all that noise is Ken Bruzenak. I intended to spend the bulk of this thing digging into the colossal contribution of Ken Bruzenak to the look of TDSoH, but now I have neither time nor room. Also, he goes over it himself in the backmatter. That's right! The backmatter in TDSoH is actually of interest! Sure, there's Howard Victor Chaykin's provocative screed about the election and how it messed up his intentions for the series, which is nice. But, better yet, Ken Bruzenak takes us through the creation of one single panel, from a black and white bitmap devoid of letters to the lushly layered final product. In the process he cements his right to be considered as much the artist as the colourist, Jesus Arbutov or the penciller, Howard Victor Chaykin. He puts a ridiculous amount of work into every panel and I'd like to single out his contribution for applause and pony rides but I've run out of room. Maybe next time, Ken Bruzenak. Because there will be a next time since THE DIVIDED STATES OF HYSTERIA was VERY GOOD!
NEXT TIME: Hopefully something a bit sooner, lighter and altogether shorter than this, and involving the plural of comic, which is – COMICS!!!
In which I aimlessly amble around Howard Victor Chaykin’s recent series ‘Midnight of the Soul’ and see what strikes my fancy. No, really, even more than usual, I just sort of prattle on rather aimlessly and hope some kind of coherent point emerges. It probably won’t, but as I haven’t written it yet we’ll have to find out together. Take my hand, fellow stranger in paradise! Take my hand... MIDNIGHT OF THE SOUL by Chaykin, Arbutov and Bruzenak Anyway, this...
MIDNIGHT OF THE SOUL #1-5 Written by Howard Victor Chaykin Art by Howard Victor Chaykin Coloured by Jesus Aburtov Lettered by Ken Bruzenak Image Comics, $3.50 each (2016)
On one level ‘Midnight of the Soul’ is exactly the kind of comic everyone thinks Howard Victor Chaykin makes, but on another level it isn’t, and the abrasion between what you expect to read and what you actually read creates some smart sparks. I think. The success of Chaykin’s smuggling run in 'Midnight of the Soul' is aided no end by the fact he draws it and so, inevitably, it looks just like a Howard Victor Chaykin comic. This is the bit that misleads because the surface is flawlessly “Chaykin”. Obviously. What did you want, Dave McKean? The guy’s in his sixties, he’s not likely to be suddenly incorporating mixed media and sculpture into his work. Not when “Diagnosis: Murder” is on and there’s kosher Franks in the pan! Thus, the art is as Late Chaykin as Late Chaykin gets. And, yes, it breaks my heart too, but it is getting late in the Seasons of The Chaykin. But dry your eyes, o feral child, because he’s still with us, and he’s still delivering his pugnaciously suave art. Sure, some eyes will still be perturbed by the clip art that doesn’t quite gel and flinch at the odd lapse in positioning. I’m a Chaykin maniac but I’m not blind to his transgressions; there’s one panel of Patricia in a doorway that doesn’t work – at all, and he’s stuck himself with a motorbike image that doesn’t always suit the angle of his composition, and that precise image of a woman was in Satellite Sam, and that cop’s all out of whack with that barrier and, and, and, you know, we could carp all day, but what matters is that for the most part, most of it works. As your eye sweeps over it, as you read it, it works. If you sit and look at each panel, eh, not so much. But who’d do that? Whaddya think comics are? Art? Comics are for reading first and looking at second. 'Midnight of the Soul' is a VERY GOOD! read.
The occasional glaring visual infelicity aside, Chaykin definitely gets in a major artistic victory by resurrecting a sense of of New York as 'twas. While Arbutov’s colours remain a little too garishly lacquer-ish for my sedate tastes, they contribute enormously to this effect as well. The interiors of the dance halls and gin-joints are particularly noteworthy and Arbutov lays down some seriously hot pinks and cool greens. So, y’know, yay. The ‘50s being the Golden Age of The Billboard, omitting to mention the phantasmagoria of styles and fonts Bruzenak scatters as gloriously and as evocatively as the notes Gershwin throws over the opening of ‘Manhattan’(1979) would be a serious dereliction of duty. Bruzenak also subtly colour codes his speech bubbles so you know who is speaking even when they are “offscreen”. The big thing about Big Ken Bruzenak is that he never stands still (artistically, that is), and his stylistic evolution continues here with a pretty darn exciting and innovative mock 3-D lettering effect, used sparingly and effectively. Conjuring a particular time and a particular place from the past into the present via paper and ink is a very Chaykin preoccupation. The man’s rightly proud that locations in the original ‘Black Kiss’ are so redolent of ‘80s Los Angeles that readers’ noses start convulsing for coke in sympathy. In ‘Midnight of The Soul’ Chaykin (and Arbutov and Bruzenak) work a similar feat for ‘50s New York, though here it’s your stomach that rumbles for coffee and a doughnut, rather than your nose for Class ‘A’s.
Not that the New York of ‘Midnight of the Soul’ is drug free. Au contraire, mon frère! On past evidence Chaykin’s not one of those selective amnesiacs who thinks the past was a magical Eden, to which the present is a disgraceful relative. If anything he’s prone to wallowing in the seamier side of things, and we’re not just talking about stockings there. And so it goes that Joel Breakstone’s search for his errant wife brings him up against a rash of rascals, a pair of gun slinging gunsels (in the correct sense of "catamites"), a saucy whip-smart dancer, a corrupt cop, and a boss man with a ginger flattop. This is after all, the ‘Midnight of The Soul’, so a certain sense of threat and moral conflict come with the territory. I mean, I could be wrong, but I believe the title alludes to ‘The Dark Night of the Soul’ (AKA ‘Noche obscura del alma’). That’s not because I am an expert on the poetry of St. John of the Cross (1542-1591), but because ‘Midnight of the Soul’ has a familiar structure, one which accords with the ‘time of testing’ the poem assures us we must all go through before reaching a state of Grace. Something to look forward to there, kids. That’s some high falutin’ stuff, poncho! Don’t worry, it just means ‘Midnight of the Soul’ is a lot like, oh, ‘After Hours’ (1985). Basically in these things you get some dude (or maybe a lady these days) out of his depth flailing about a thoroughly threatening city, encountering threats embodying his inner failings, while his intended goal remains persistently out of reach until his ordeal has suitably shriven him for the final confrontation. After which he’s a lot more at peace than he was when he started. And so it is for our slightly schmucky and typically Chaykin-esque looking lead, Joel Breakstone.
Joel’s a failed writer but a successful drunk who slouches despondently in the garage of a house he sold to his Brother-in-Law to clear debts accrued, pecking out unwanted alt-History tales of a World where Germany won WW2. If Joel punched himself every time he ate a bagel he couldn't be more obviously a self-hating Jew. He doesn’t hate himself because he's a Jew though, he hates himself for some unpleasantness which occurred during the liberation of a Concentration Camp in WW2. Something, as Joseph Heller famously had it, happened. Coming to terms with that memory is Joel's key to Grace, but to do it he'll have to navigate his 'Midnight of the Soul'. Meanwhile, just to underline his emasculation, his wife is out bringing home the bread working as a night-court stenographer. Except she isn't, as Joel finds out while pathetically creeping the house for booze. Turns out she's turning tricks. The lit match of his self-righteous indignation plops straight into the accumulated reservoir of self-hatred, and the resulting explosion of dumb machismo is sufficient to propel the cuckolded schmuck out into the city in search of vengeance. New York, however, has other ideas. 'Midnight of the Soul' is a picaresque adventure comic in which a man finds out a lot of the things he thought he knew about himself aren't true, and that the truth might hurt but not as much as living a lie does. Also: violence, jazz, profanity, blow jobs, snappy patter, racism, jokes and a man dressed as a baby in an Irish bar. 'Midnight of the Soul' has something for everyone! Except humourless drips.
Joel's a luckless boob for the most part, but he is ultimately lucky because he gets to inhabit one of Chaykin's more vital narratives. From the first loaded word (“Parallels”) there’s a sense of Howard Victor Chaykin pushing through the pages of the narrative at the reader. The explicit fictional narrative of the book seems shaken every now and then by subsurface ructions, barely repelled authorial outbursts, which threaten to make it lose its footing. Which it never quite does, but it comes close. There’s a lack of commitment to the pulp fiction on show, as though Howard Victor Chaykin is intermittently is gripped by the urge to be doing something else. And I think he probably is. In a sense 'Midnight of the Soul' works as a big kiss-off to a bunch of tropes you suspect Chaykin feels he’s outgrown. Joel enters a midnight world of Chaykin standards, but always at an odd angle, always a few beats behind thee action, always playing catch-up, as though trying to find his way into the story proper. A story which seems to be occurring in parallel(!) to his search. This story, the story Joel circles for the bulk of the book, is the “usual” Chaykin, the Chaykin we expect; all bad behaviour, colourful characters, sassy patter and blunt force violence. For much of the book Joel never quite connects with this pulp strand, instead he keeps bouncing off it into a more sedate but no less colourful screwball romantic comedy. Both strands hinge on a portrait of New York anchored by visual verisimilitude and the odd nod to reality (is that Joe Gould reciting 'The Face on The Bar-room Floor'? In #3?) but both run parallel(!) to each other; until the final pages, anyway. And it's on these final pages that Chaykin seemingly states his current genre preference. But is it “Goodbye” or just “Au Revoir” to the genre staples that made his name and brought him fame? Alas, despite what I tell ladies in bars, I don't know Howard Victor Chaykin personally, so we'll all just have to wait and see together...
NEXT TIME: Take a guess, punchy. That's right - COMICS!!!
There's a little bit of Dredd in this one, a smidgeon mayhap. However there is a whole lot of Carlos Ezquerra and he's really making his computer colouring work in this one. Some real freaky skyscapes going on in the background of these panels. If you're a Carlos Ezquerra fan you'll probably want to pick this one up. Oh, looks like I started the review early, better put the rest under the jump. See ya, wouldn't want to be ya! CURSED EARTH KOBURN by Carlos Ezquerra
JUDGE DREDD: THE MEGA COLLECTION Vol. 67: CURSED EARTH KOBURN Art by Carlos Ezquerra Written by Gordon Rennie Lettered by Ellie DeVille and Annie Parkhouse Originally serialised in JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE 211-212, 221-223, 228, 239, 241-244, 314-318 & 361-364 © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2011, 2015 & 2016 Rebellion A/S Hatchette Partworks/Rebellion, £9.99 (2016) JUDGE DREDD created by Carlos Ezquerra & John Wagner
‘Cursed Earth Koburn’ mostly features the exploits of circuit-Judge Koburn, rounded out by a Dredd adventure featuring the vengeful El Maldito. Both Koburn and Maldito hark back down the ages to Battle Picture Weekly and the strips 'Major Eazy' and 'El Mestizo', both of which were created by Carlos Ezquerra and Alan Hebden. I’ve written some slapdash slop about 'Major Eazy' before HERE, but just to recap for those too busy to click on a link: Major Eazy was a laid-back one man attack, as anti-authoritarian as he was effective in taking the fight to the Nazis. And since he was very effective indeed he was very anti-authoritarian indeed, as many a weak chinned officer type found out to his stuttering chagrin. Like most of Battle’s characters he was a direct reaction against the bright eyed and bushy tailed Tommy pushing back the baddies for God, Queen and Country, always with that distinct sense of good sportsmanship which defines the British in their own minds but in no one else’s. In comparison Major Eazy would fuck you up, and fuck you up good and he’d do it quick and nasty too. Because in war you get the job done, you don’t stop and have tea and scones while you do it. Visually Eazy was modelled on David Niven, as any fool knows. No, it was the American actor James Coburn (1928-2002), an actor with an easy-going and thoroughly amiable but subtly malevolent, screen presence., Despite apparently being born with the teeth of a much larger man the ‘70s were good to James Coburn, indeed as they were to British comics, and so the latter plucked the former’s iconic image from Peckinpah’s Cross of Iron and plunked it in a strip for kids, probably about 50 seconds after Hebden and Ezquerra left the movie theatre, since both film and character appeared in 1976. Which is why Eazy wears a German cap, usually pulled down over his narrow, calculating slits for eyes. He also usually has a cheroot drooping from his slim lip because Coburn was a keen smoker both on screen and off.
If you buy the Arrow blu-ray of 'Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia' not only will you have bought the greatest movie about Warren Oates and a head in a bag ever made, but you also get the documentary about Peckinpah, 'Man of Iron', in which Coburn probably appears, smoking. It’s highly likely because if you do buy that blu-ray (which I think you should. NOW!) you also get a disk with 10 hours (1!0! H!O!U!R!S!) of interviews, from which the contents of the doc are culled. I’m far too busy being a supercilious prick to have watched this yet, but I did treat myself to the first 30 mins or so, in which James Coburn appears, smoking. He is also, obviously, awesome. He is so awesome in fact that after a few seconds it’s like you’re sat opposite him while he suavely drawls about the past, smoking. So convivial is his company that at one point I almost tapped him for a smoke, then I remembered it was a recording, he’d been dead for 15 years and I no longer smoke. He’s a funny one because you always think he just showed up and did his stuff, but the interview reveals him as a proper artist with thoughts about his art and a real interest in the art of moviemaking. I mean, I never realised this, but James Coburn was second unit director on 'Convoy'. The last thing I ever envisaged James Coburn doing was sitting on a water tower waiting for instructions via walkie-talkie (like a mobile phone, kids) so he could film footage for one of Sam Peckinpah’s shittiest films. Man, the dude really dug Peckinpah. Oh, he also reveals what the ending to 'Cross of Iron' means, which is something I’ve been puzzling over for about four decades. (SPOILER: It’s hilarious, after all these years it turns out that the ending to 'Cross of Iron' means that Peckinpah set Coburn and Maximilian Schell loose on a set of exploding scrap until something happened. What happened was that Schell’s prop gun fell to bits in his hand and Coburn laughed his ass off in response. That’s it. Brilliant.) Basically James Coburn was awesome, and this was duly recognised by the Academy in 1998 with an Oscar® for his role in 'Affliction'. (Which is a great movie; one that should be on Blu-Ray, people!)
I don’t really know where I am now, uh, Major Eazy was based visually on James Coburn? Which is why Koburn is called Koburn. According to the interview with Rennie in the back of the book they tried lots of variations along the lines of “Eazy” but went with Koburn, which works. Turns out a fan suggested Ezquerra bring Eazy back, and that was Rennie’s impetus for introducing the basic character to the world of Dredd. The first strip “Sturm Und Dang” sets out the characters’ stall. Dredd is on a hotdog run with some cadets and picks up Koburn along the way. Koburn knows the territory because he’s a cursed Earth circuit-judge, a kind of itinerant sheriff with a given area to patrol. This set-up allows Rennie to play Koburn’s slackness off against Dredd’s rigidity, to effectively define how the character works. It’s a smart move. Key is the fact that both Dredd and Koburn get the job done. It’s no good being a laidback dude if you can’t snipe a guy’s eye out from two klicks at the drop of a hat. Koburn’s all pose but underneath his cool poise you just know he’s like a cat in a room full of rocking chairs (© Traditional). All Dredd can see is infractions of Dress code and lack of respect. But who ends up in a bath chair with a broken leg fighting a Panzer and who sashays his way through storms of bullets while barely breaking a sweat? That’s right. Oh, the panzer? Oh, yeah they are up against Comedy Nazis which isn’t ideal for me, because I’m not that into Comedy Nazis since that logically leads to Comical Concentration Camps and I have a hard time squaring that particular circle. And yet, I guess, yeah, it does acknowledge the roots of the character in a cheeky winkeyty-wink kind of a way, and no one gets hurt. Except the comical Nazis who get comically dead. Ezquerra is obviously having a whale of a time and gives The Cursed Earth his unique sheen of grubbiness while revisiting his war comic past, but with a quirky twist of Dredd. GOOD!
Next up is “Kuss Hard” in which Koburn gets a partner. Typically this is a female Judge, Judge Bonaventura, who is a bit more rules orientated than her shabby new partner, and so she’ll be getting a lesson in how things work in The Cursed Earth, dang straight! We get a bit of low-comedy where she walks in on Koburn being ridden by a Rubenesque whore and she’s all “Oh, my!” She’s a straight arrow, see. Did you get that? The mis-matched (sigh) pair set off on the trail of The Kuss Brothers who are suspected of Organ-Legging and are regulars on Koburn’s patch. To be honest Rennie seems to get distracted early on in this one and it all just sort of happens without any weight to anything. There’s a weird bit where Koburn visits the Brothers’ mom at the unsavoury jail she runs. When she’s less than forthcoming Koburn releases all the inmates and it’s like Rennie forgot Koburn was a Judge or something. He’s not some wandering vagabond laying down the law in his own special way; he’s a Judge! Even better (i.e. worse) their mom’s totally superfluous to proceedings, and it all ends, as it should have done a lot earlier, in a fight in a meat packing factory. It’s all a bit uninspired and flabby, which is unfortunate so early in the character’s run. But it does introduce Bonaventura for Koburn to play off, and old fogies will realise belatedly that she’s just a sex-swapped update of Sgt Daly, Major Eazy’s long-suffering subordinate. (Later I think Eazy acquired an Arab chap who liked cutting Nazi throats, but there are probably some things we should leave to the ‘70s. Despite what UKIP think.) OKAY!
“Burial Party” is up next, where Rennie widens the cast of the series to include Koburn’s fellow circuit-Judges, all of whom are either scarred or a bit nuts as befits the harshness of their lives. It’s a nice piece with drunken silliness giving way to sober reflection on occasion, as everyone drinks around the corpse of a fallen Judge, a blatant reminder of how they’ll all end up. Despite being mostly set in one room with a fixed cast all wearing very similar clothes, Ezquerra’s art is so good at making even the mundane visually interesting with his bold feathering and attention to grimy detail, it never feels visually constrained in the least. GOOD! Having established, koburn, Bonaventura, and their fellow circuit-Judges Rennie goes on to show us one of their regular duties in “The Assizes”. Titled after a now defunct British legal term describing courts held periodically around the country, The Assizes shows us Koburn doing precisely that small-scale King Solomon shtick in some Cursed Earth armpit of a town. The complaints of the scabby citizenry are of the "humorous" kind and are probably really funny if you think people fucking animals is hilarious. It’s the kind of stuff that would make Garth Ennis shoot Guinness out of his (broken) nose. Still, Ezquerra has fun, and it’s always nice to see his never entirely-absent skills as a caricaturist slide to the fore. Hit and miss stuff, basically. So little is there to “The Assizes” that a substantial part of it is the prologue to the next story. OKAY! “Malachi” is that next story and it’s where Rennie starts trying to inject some seriousness into his so far largely light-hearted strip.
Malachi is some dude who encountered Judge Death and, well, unlived to tell the tale. Now he roams about killing everything he meets while saying spooky things in those spooky word balloons that make spooky words everso much more spooky! I think he’s the physical manifestation of the hate The Cursed Earth dead hold for the living. Or something. It’s not entirely clear, but what is clear is nothing can kill him and he’s headed straight for Koburn and Bonaventura. Which is unfortunate as Koburn and Bonaventura are currently looking in on Spring Seeds, a Juve Offenders facility. This means there’s a lot of kids for Malachi to mangle unless someone can stop him, which is going to be tough as Malachi, as is demonstrated by his run-ins with the circuit-Judges introduced in “Burial Party”, is unstoppable. Just so we care, Rennie gives us a tough Juve who may be salvageable and his pregnant girlfriend to root for. Pregnant? Yes, even in a Juve Offenders facility nature finds a way. Which is not too big a surprise as later when Malachi bursts into the girls dorm they are squealing in negligees like someone got 'Porky’s' and 'Friday The 13th' mixed up. Negligees in a Cursed Earth Juve Offenders facility! Oh, Carlos Ezquerra, you cheeky Spanish rogue! There’s a real feel of impending doom, some characters to care for, a sense of jeopardy and a genuine question about how Koburn can stop such an unstoppable force. In the interview Rennie says the more serious strips don’t work as well, but I’d have to disagree here. GOOD! Blimey, this is a proper slog isn’t it? Last push, everyone!
In the final Koburn tale, “Going After Billy Zane” Rennie cranks up the seriousness and sets up a creepy tale in which the past which haunts the present bares its teeth. Koburn teams up with Judge Rico (who is basically another clone of Fargo; a younger Dredd) to track a Citi-Def squad lost on manoeuvres in The Cursed Earth. Unfortunately the Billy Zane Block Citi-Def squad are not lost but are tracking a distress signal, a distress signal sent by a man who died twelve years ago. Obviously they don’t know that, but we do. The squad are led by a female leader who lost her kids twelve years ago, the man who died twelve years ago was the Judge who broke Koburn in and, uh, about twelve years ago Rico had doubts about his lineage. (The original Rico being Dredd’s bent Judge brother. Judge Dredd's favourite joke: "My bent Judge brother has no nose! How does he smell?...") Which kind of reflects the strip in essence. That is, it struggles to link everything so that there’s a true sense of things coming full circle, a sense of inevitability but it..just…can’t…quite…make it happen. Which is a shame, because there’s some strong stuff on these pages. Strong enough certainly to entertain but not any stronger than that, alas. Ezquerra’s pours the creepiness on this one with a great inky ladle, making rocks and crevasses look far more menacing than you want them to . There’s a surface sense of unease and an undercurrent of violence running through all Ezquerra’s art here. The big noses and whiskery comedy chins stay at home and he breaks out the shadows and silhouettes to unsettling effect. The strip peters out on a cliff hanger which is as yet unresolved, but even that seems appropriate to the sense of amorphous menace it seeks to convey. Koburn’s last outing is GOOD!
Yes, that was Koburn’s last hurrah but there’s still one story to go: “El Maldito”. This strip is interesting for a couple of reasons, the most obvious of which I’ll save ‘til last. In this one a spooky figure is wading in on the side of the workers at a food processing facility in The Cursed Earth. What’s interesting here is that it’s not often that you see something so “up the workers!” in comics these days, which I find both odd and troubling. Mostly because this silence seems to reflect the increasing belief that somehow unions are bad things. Over here the papers (who are all to a greater or lesser extent in hock to tax dodging billionaires with their own freedom stifling agendas) endlessly roar at any and every episode of industrial action. And the vox pop is less than ideal, “how dare they inconvenience me!”, “I wish I could have the day off work!” and all that cretinous rot. Hey, poncho, I’ve been on strike. I’ve been on strike more than once, and I’ll let all you vox pop nincompoops out there into a little secret: you don’t get paid for strike days. And if I could afford not to get paid, pal, I wouldn't go to work. Those people striking? They are making a personal sacrifice to protest some form of injustice or proposed measure which will erode the safety of all involved. So, think on next time. Anyway, here we have a bunch of “peons” striking and acting up and generally getting in the way of business. Obviously that can’t stand, so the company send in the men with the batons. Apparently these workers want conditions improving or fair pay or somesuch socialist snowflake nonsense. Probably want treating like human beings or some other pie in the sky shit. So the plan is as ever, a few heads get cracked, names are named and the ringleaders get rounded up and hey ho we can all get back to work. Or you can. I’ll just spend all this lovely money while you put your back into it.
Unfortunately a lot of companies mistake salaried employment for indentured servitude, and even more unfortunately a lot of governments are happy to let them. Oh, don’t worry, my right wing chums, I’m fighting a losing battle. It’s okay, don’t ruffle your share portfolios over it; you’re winning while I’m whining. Today Theresa May sent her letter triggering Article 50 which will see us begin to leave the EU. Yes, we’ll be leaving all that “red tape”, all those pesky regulations that gave us holidays, safe working conditions and kept our food safe are all up for grabs now. And the Tories have the whip hand. So, yeah, good times ahead for people who want more human faeces in their drinking water and horse meat in their Bolognese. Regulation! Pah! Who needs it! Personally I think we should just go the whole hog and bring back hanging, National Service and 'The Black and White Minstrel Show'. Say, did you see that shit about “Empire 2.0”? And that’s the grown-ups in charge that is. I despair, I honestly and utterly despair. I also lose my track but always find my way back. The strikers are helped by this spooky figure who comes in times of need, this El Maldito. The company has Judge Dredd. Sparks fly and symapthies may not lie entirely where you expect. It’s a decent strip with good points to make about industrial relations, but Judge Dredd survives a massive explosion, uh, because, and the subplot about the guy and his kid doesn’t gel but, y’know, fun is had and salient points are made, so GOOD! Oh, the other interesting thing (besides how irritated you got when I went on about strike action) is that El Maldito is a tip of the hat to 'El Mestizo', which like 'Major Eazy' ran in Battle Picture Weekly. Unlike Eazy this was set in the American Civil War and involved a black slave turned mercenary having weekly and very violent adventures. Yeah, a black slave , and if you started any of that moaning about pandering to Social Justice Warrior Snowflakes shit he'd have stuck a stick of dynamite up your arse and kicked you off a cliff. And quite right too. Unfortunately while I do remember the strip, all I can remember is he looked like Jimi Hendrix as dressed by Sergio Leone and was balls cool. Although it was the ‘70s so we probably would have said he was “jolly spiffing” and then laughed at some homosexuals on TV. Since there were only 16 episodes someone should collect the 'El Mestizo' strips so I can buy them, you know, with money I earned while not striking. HAH!
NEXT TIME: If I don’t end up in jail for sedition, it’ll be more Judge Dredd and thus more COMICS!!!
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!!!
Bit of a hybrid this time out. It’s a little bit European and a little bit American. Something for everyone! Also, Batman! Everyone loves Batman! Unfortunately it’s kind of terrible. But, wait! I’m getting ahead of myself… BATMAN: EUROPA by Parel, Camuncoli, Casali, Azzarello and Brosseau
BATMAN:EUROPA #1-4 Art by Jim Lee, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Diego Latorre and Gerald Parel Layouts by Giuseppe Camuncoli Written by Brian Azzarello and Matteo Cassali Coloured by Alex Sinclair Lettered by Pat Brosseau BATMAN created by Bill Finger with Bob Kane DC COMICS,$3.99 each (2015-2016)
Tellingly the most interesting thing about BATMAN: EUROPA is its appearance some ten years and change late. Announced in 2004, the series finally slouched out in 2015. What? Yes, Jim Lee is involved. However did you guess, Holmes! I guess Jim Lee struggled to find the time to draw an actual comic in between his high level corporate gig of wearing baseball caps and smiling his sunshiney smile. Maybe it’s unfair to blame Jim Lee though, maybe it was Brian Azzarello who was busy earning more money than I’ll ever see, vigorously, and ill-fatedly, palping the withered dugs of Frank Miller and Alan Moore in an attempt to express one last squirt of milky, milky cash; all for a company so bereft of ideas they mistake having Batman fight Rorschach for creativity. Or maybe it was one of the other folk involved that we’re not interested in because they sound a bit foreign and haven’t made awesome comics like, uh, that one that’s only any good because Eduardo Risso drew it, or whatever comic it is that makes people like Jim Lee’s scratchy tedium. (If you really need to like an artist who works at the pace of tectonic shift then I still think Barry “Windsor” Smith’s your best bet.) I don’t really know Matteo Casali but I hear Matteo Casali has written some Dylan Dog comics I’ve never read, so maybe he’s a byword for tardiness; maybe our continental chums are all like, “Dylan Dog would be a good comic if only it ever came out. Damn Matteo Casali’s eyes! That Mateo Casali makes Jim Lee look like a Japanese Rocket Train. Mateo Casali! Pah!” Ah, but do you want it now or do you want it right, someone who thinks I don’t know a diversionary tactic when I hear one is saying. Look, the Sistine Chapel ceiling took Michelangelo four years. Four years. Therefore it took DC Comics six years longer than it took Michelangelo to paint the Sistine chapel ceiling to produce a comic about Batman in Europe. I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking that a Batman in Europe comic that takes 10 years had better be some brand new high in Batman comics, if not a fresh peak for the very medium of comics itself. It isn’t.
Unsurprisingly BATMAN: EUROPA is mostly set in Europe. And so it’s called EUROPA, which sounds a bit like Europe. But I don’t know why it’s specifically called “EUROPA”, since that’s the website for the European Union (which we aren’t to speak of lest we be hung, drawn and quartered for Treason against Brexit Britain. TAKING BACK CONTROL!!!!) Or maybe Brian Azzarello thinks people in Europe all put ‘a’ on the end of words; like Italians in an old Chris Claremont comic (“I-a welcome-a you-a to-a Europe-a, Bat-a man-a! Bella! Bella!”) Anyway, whatever, as the kids are wont to spout. Or maybe it’s one of Brian Azzarello’s “amazing” puns (e.g. it’s Brian Azzarello on Batman, he probably got paid a shitload so EUROPA it’s good. Geddit! EUROPA it’s good! Diamonds, baby! Diamonds.) I should probably move on now, since I don’t get to be ten years and then some late; you know, like professionals do. BATMAN: EUROPA is four issues, each set in a different European city (Chisinau, Podgorica, Heidelberg and Chichester; no not really, it’s Berlin, Prague, Paris and Rome), each has a different European artist and, uh, that’s it. Well, except for the first issue which starts in Gotham, which is in America, which is not part of Europe, (also, it's not real) and so has Jim Lee tepidly involved before the series flings itself across the Atlantic to Berlin where Camuncoli picks up his pen. The premise, or the (inch) high-concept if you must, is: The Batman and The Joker are both infected by a deadly virus and have to team up and travel round Europe for a cure. And so EUROPA starts off with Batman and The Joker rolling about on the floor all bloody and kind of weightlessly sketched in that way Jim Lee will continue to do for the rest of his stint on the book. Hey, Jim Lee fans, does Jim Lee have some kind of clinical aversion to suggesting weight in his art? I’m just asking; he’s clearly talented, but everything looks too samey, and this together with the failure to allot weight to any of his visual elements just leaves his work looking like half-hearted sketches. I don’t mind Jim Lee’s art, but I’m not all that excited by it, basically. I see a picture of Jim Lee smiling in his latest baseball cap and I don’t begrudge him, you know. Equally though, I don’t get all tingly round the prepuce when I see his name. Despite Lee’s signature dreariness Azzarello/Casali try to create a mood of finality about this opener as though this time Batman will have to do the ultimate and…smash cut to splash page flashback! Ooh! What could it be? Four very disappointingly written issues will have to pass before you find out. And it’s not a bad punchline, but really four issues of set up require a punchline with a lot more, uh, punch.
You heard me right, pilgrim, four issues! Four issues this bumptious thing is! Four whole issues! Back when you could hate women openly in the street, this whole Batman and The Joker in Europe device would be the kind of throwaway gimmick Bob Haney would do in 22 poorly coloured pages of The Brave And The Bold, probably with some Jim Aparo goodness to boot. You know the kind of goofy borderline racist awesome that would result, but let’s go through it anyway because I’m fighting off sleep just thinking about this Mogadon® of a comic. In a better world, in a Haney world, in Paris they would face stripy jumpered, beret sporting thugs armed with onion bolas ; in Rome they would be homicidally wooed by stiletto armed lotharios; in Berlin they would attend an Einstürzende Neubauten concert (Blixa would be felled by a rogue blow and The Joker would have to chip in on “Keine Schönheit (ohne Gefahr)” to thunderous applause) and foil the cloning of Hitler’s dog, Blondi; in London they would discover it had all been a plot by Oliver Cromwell’s great, great, great, great, grandson, Barry; and it would all end with Buckingham Palace being attacked by bowler hat helicopters, the narrow averting of the assassination of King Henry XXIV and the escape of Barry Cromwell into a sudden pea-souper, only for him to be killed in a bitterly ironic last panel by a passing Jack the Ripper. The antidote would turn out to be a nice cup of tea and a biscuit, and all the while the Joker would go “Hoo! Hoo!” a lot. It would in short be very silly, not a little casually racist, and a ton of fun. Because Bob Haney comics were very silly and a lot of fun. Bob Haney not only survived the battle of Okinawa (01 April 1945), he also wrote the best Batman: Brave And The Bold comics ever; talk about The Greatest Generation! But Bob Haney was Then and this is Now, and North American genre comics are nothing if not needlessly po-faced, drab and kind of, well, insipidly joyless these days. Say, I bet Bob Haney wished he’d been 10 years late to Okinawa, but he didn’t get that option. Not everyone gets to be 10 years late. Hey, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying today’s comics writers would benefit from passing through the fiery hell of Okinawa. Mind you, I’m not exactly ruling it out either.
We’re all busy people so let’s not beat about the bush here; the writing is just bloody poor. The plot is a mere wisp of a thing and the actual events clinging weakly to it are so deeply unthrilling that they barely register. At one point there’s a giant robot for not much of a reason, and all it makes you think is, I wish Bob Haney was writing this. I love me some Bob Haney but I shouldn’t be missing him so hard in 2017. I mean, I won’t lie, I can’t even remember what happened in this comic it’s so relentlessly leaden. I remember a human plot shortcut in the form of a lady hacker. She hasn’t got any character as such but I remember her because at one point she is wounded and Batman leaves the Joker to tend to her. Guess how that works out. I guess they never bill him as “Batman – The World’s Greatest Judge of Character” with good reason. Ooh, there’s a mystery villain behind it all! Yeah, that reveal had all the dramatic weight of a meringue in space. I thought it was KGBeast, but I just checked (professionalism!) and it wasn’t. That’s how exciting it was. I’ve forgotten who it was again. As for motivation, well, I don’t know. Sure, killing Batman is kind of on any decent Bat-villains to-do list, but The Joker? You’d hand feed Cujo before you got that looney tune involved. And why such a needlessly protracted and highly unlikely method? I think the idea is the virus gives them a reason to follow a trail of, cough, clues so that by the end that are all tuckered out and the Guest Villain can best them. It’s a Bob Haney plan in its unlikely roundaboutness but it’s played like it’s Shakespeare. Bob Haney’s Macbeth, now there’s a thought to conjure with. Probably about a jillion times more entertaining than Azzarello/Casali’s Batman. But it’s not just Batman, it’s Batman and The Joker! “Hoo!” and indeed “Hoo!” Yes! Batman and The Joker together! Like Bing and Bob in on The Road To Europa! What a gift to a writer. Think of the cracklin’ dialogue and sinister mind games you could fill the pages with. Having to trust your life to a man who can’t even trust himself! It’s the very stuff isn’t it? The premise practically comes with a bow tied round it. Time to get your Shane Black on. More like bloody Shane Ritchie. Predictably enough nothing memorable occurs and it’s all largely page wasting, occasionally enlivened by a coughed up furball of facts about whichever city the undynamic duo are in. Basically the interaction is about as vibrant and electric as that of a long-married couple on a lengthy coach trip. Odd, isn’t it what with all these master dialogists in comics that there’s very little masterful dialogue around. Some people have an ear for dialogue, but most people in comics seem to have an arse for it; and more than one of those people are called Brian. But I digress. Frequently and with great vigour.
The art’s okay, sometimes it’s even really, really good; these guys are all Eurotalents after all; and I don’t want to upset anyone in North American genre comics, but the bar for art seems a bit higher abroad. True, I don’t want to upset anyone, but since it’s true I don’t actually mind upsetting anyone. Giuseppe Camuncoli is a known known since he drew much of Peter Milligan’s underrated run on Hellblazer. As ever his art here has a pinched and repressed air which I enjoy, and everyone looks hungry on a really deeply unpleasant level that goes way beyond the appetite for food. Creepy, in sum. His colours are a bit heavy and rob his images of energy but as individual images they are certainly pretty. But comics is all about the sequential image and he dips a bit there with a lack of flow. Diego Latorre is, sadly, not the Argentinian footballer known as the “New Maradonna”, but is still impressive in a murky way. Maybe too murky. He makes up for the murk with an experimental brio that makes it look like he's running a sizeable charge of electricity through his panels. Alas, I was more impressed than seduced by the effect. If you've ever had a migraine (no not a headache, a migraine!) then you'll probably agree that Latorre has successfully represented that visually here. Arresting stuff but maybe a bit too much so. Gerald Parel is less than fresh to me as he also illustrated the original Iron Man graphic novel I looked at HERE. He’s gone for a really lush and soft edged look. It’s a kind of accumulation of colours blossoming across the page without the hindrance of holding lines. I liked this smeary expressionism just fine, but I can’t shake the suspicion that this is what sight is like when cataracts start to kick in. He gets some real beauty going though, I'll give him that. And then there’s stolid old Jim Lee, cap at a jaunty angle and smiles for miles. His art’s boring though. Yet what does it matter how good any of these artists are when the writing’s as weak as a politician’s excuses. Your eyes feast on an image only to be brought up short by the Joker alluding to pissing on a woman (my, how edgey!) or a pun as poor as it is predictable (“Vaud-Villain.” Yeah, really). Here's the big secret about puns: they should be used sparingly, otherwise it's like reading a lushly illustrated Christmas cracker joke.
BATMAN: EUROPA is not a good comic. The first three post-splash pages (or whatever; I’m not checking) consist entirely of Batman smacking Killer Croc about. This is excellent stuff, but only if the script directions asked for as unengaging a depiction of violence as possible, and the artist was asked also to ensure that the location was never identified beyond some rudimentary lines suggesting bricks, maybe a wall if needs must, a trash can if absolutely necessary. I think they are fighting in an alley in this scene, but if so, it’s an alley with remarkably elastic dimensions. Azzarello/Casali seem to think alleys are odd in a city based on a grid, and they draw special attention to this in the reliably problematic narration. However, alleys are only odd in a grid based city if the city in question is New York; a city notable for its scarcity of alleys due to the Commissioner’s Plan of 1811 omitting rear service alleys. Gotham is often taken as a stand in for New York sooooooooooo, okay, but I’m not sure many people have any clue about the distinctive absence of alleys in New York City, and this is Gotham so it could have loads of alleys, you know, what with it not being real and people making up its geography on the fly; so I don’t know why it needs special mention, particularly as by way of contrast no mention whatsoever is made of why Batman is smacking Croc about. What I’m getting at is, the storytelling priorities here are all skew-iff, basically. Sure, there’s mention, as Croc is loaded into an ambulance, of “victims” but of what? Usually Azzarello has Croc eating people because – EDGY! And sometimes crocodiles eat people or something. Christ alone knows what Croc’s been up to this time because Azzarello/Casali don’t deign to tell us, despite having had three pages to do so. Instead they keep telling us the same thing: Batman is off his game. It’s a good job they tell us, mind you, because there’s no particular visual indication of this fight being any tougher than any other Killer Croc and Batman fight. It’s not good comics, in essence. Unusually for comics where the art often picks up the writer’s/writers' slack all parties are at fault here; it’s a failure on two fronts. I don't know exactly what's happening and I have no idea why it is happening. It's like being at work! Presented with a visual spectacle as tedious as this a writer might attempt to punch things up with captions; maybe give it some context, some stakes, at a bare minimum some reason for the scene to be occurring. I guess that’s beneath Azzarello/Casali as what they supply instead is a load of sub-Miller tough-guy guff, which takes a whole lot of space to say very little indeed. It’s difficult not to imagine that the Azzarello/Casali team isn’t itself undermined by Azzarello’s compulsive need to avoid crafting a clear sentence, so much so here that it occasionally makes you think it’s a particularly poor translation from another language (any other language). That’s the first few pages, I’m not going on through the rest of the comic but, be warned, I could do because it’s not very good.
BATMAN: EUROPA, then. Bit like that time you went inter-railing round Europe with your mate, but you both got the trots and fell out just past Rouen after someone (naming no names, Terry Blesdoe) was sick on your copy of Camus’ The Outsider (US: The Stranger), and you had to suffer each other’s sulky presence for the remainder of the trip because you’d booked everything in advance. And your train was ten years late. Yeah, a bit like that, but BATMAN: EUROPA is, quite possibly, if anything even less thrilling. I’ve read some of them there European comics and, while there is a variety, mostly I think I’m safe in generalising wildly and saying that European comics can tend towards the grandiose, with large pictures and outsized ideas which kind of sweep past in a lustrous rush, one you have to plumb for meaning at a later date. It’s this kind of Euro comic BATMAN: EUROPA seems to seek to emulate. But Batman isn’t The Metabaron. And Brian Azzarello/Casali aren’t Jodorowsky. And Moebius is dead, baby. Moebius is dead. Four issues of big pictures and tiny ideas is what you get. Um, but some of the pictures are nice. I’m uttering a very Continental – “EH!”
NEXT TIME: We talk about the elephant in the…road? Ah, it must be the how you say – COMICS!!!
JUDGE DREDD: THE MEGA COLLECTION Vol. 80: DARK SIDE OF THE MOON Art by Paul Marshall, Peter Doherty, Laurence Campbell, Lee Townsend, Brian Bolland, Mick McMahon and Ian Gibson Written by John Smith, Rob Williams, John Wagner and Gordon Rennie Lettered by Tom Frame, Ellie De Ville, Tony Jacob and Simon Bowland Colours by Alan Craddock, Peter Doherty and John-Paul Bove Originally serialised in 2000AD Progs 47, 50-52, 57, 1017-1028 & 1468, JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE 328-331 © 1978, 1996,2005, 2012 & 2016 Rebellion A/S Hatchette Partworks/Rebellion, £9.99 (2016) JUDGE DREDD created by Carlos Ezquerra & John Wagner
JUDGE DREDD: DARKSIDE Art by Paul Marshall Written by John Smith Coloured by Alan Craddock Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in 2000AD Progs 1017-1028
The order of these stories are all to cock chronology wise. The earliest Luna-1 stories are later in the book. I'm not sure why that is but we start with another disappointing John Smith Dredd outing. All the more disappointing because there are some pretty nifty elements here, but it all fails to gel. Someone is murdering people on the Luna-1 colony, someone with Judge Dredd's DNA! Worse, old Stony Face is actually on the moon pursuing a perp while also accompanying Psi Judge Hassad who has had “premonitions of a premonition”, so it could actually be Dredd. In fact who else could it be? It's a really promising set-up, but Smith fails to capitalise on it and plays his hand far too soon. What you end up with instead of a murder-mystery is a lot of running about bumping into call-backs to older, better stories.
He's aided and abetted by Marshall's clean line and chunky directness, which in turn is lent pizzazz by Craddock's vivid colours, which include photographic elements. The colours give it an otherworldly touch and the art successfully casts everything in a serio-comic mode. But it's all for naught as the tale is torpedoed by Smith's failure to balance his disparate elements. Usually his blend of comedy and horror is jarring, but intentionally so. Here his hands are too heavy on the horror and the humour both; resulting in a tonal roller-coaster of brutal murders which keeps ploughing into the candyfloss stand of the overly broad comedy, because for some reason it's on the track instead of down below next to the boating pond. Some of this sense of humour failure stems from Smith's distaste for the Judicial System; having Dredd interrogated by a Teutonic sadist complete with monocle and duelling scars is slapstick rather than satire. Some of the sense of humour failure is...well, inexplicable really; Psi Judge Hassad's a step too close to the old “Dearie Dearie me!” stereotype for comfort, never mind comedy. (Later we'll see some more unfortunate stereotypes; being white, male and totes privileged I'm willing to give stuff from the '70s a grudging pass, but not from the '90s.) I get the impression John Smith doesn't enjoy writing Dredd much, which is fine, each to their own but unfortunately more often than not it ends up with the reader not enjoying reading Judge Dredd. That’s less than ideal. EH!
BREATHING SPACE Art by Peter Doherty,Laurence Campbell and Lee Townsend Written by Rob Williams Coloured by Peter Doherty Lettered by Ellie De Ville Originally published in 2000AD Progs 1451-1459
Regular Squaxx dex Kano will know that in the comments we've been having a bit of a think about who “gets” Judge Dredd; it being a bit of a notable failure on the part of some Dredd scribes. Turns out it's a matter of opinion! Anyway, here we have a good way of avoiding that problem; Judge Dredd isn't in Breathing Space. It's a space-noir which uses the enclosed environment of Luna 1 to excellent advantage. The newly appointed Chief Marshal of Luna 1, Judge King, steps onto the lunar surface and straight into a mess of corrupt Judges, corporate backstabbing and...MURDER! In a nice tip of the space-fedora to SUNSET BOULEVARD the story starts with a dead man, and then we go back and see how he ended up there. It's not so much whodunnit as a whydidhedowhathedunnit. Any greater detail risks an eruption of the Thrill Suckers' ambrosia – SPOILERS!
For such a sweet read it's odd to find in the text at the back that Breathing Space had a troubled gestation. Due to illness Doherty (he got better; don't send cards) draws only the initial episodes but Campbell & Townsend pick up from him so delicately that you barely sense a switch in style. Although episodes appeared regularly, apparently it was written over three years (by which I mean there was a ruddy great hiatus in there, not that Williams' was honing it over a three year period like some kind of Joycean perfectionist; as good as it is it's still space-noir not ULYSSES, people), but you'd not guess as the pared down style reads smooth as a successful getaway. The consistency is helped no end by Doherty's continued presence as colourist; his use of a strictly limited and thoroughly muted palette sets a suitably sombre tone for the dour proceedings. The whole thing zips glumly along and Williams' intelligent plot is peppered with characters just the right side of caricature, there's some nifty misdirection and the vital plot point is rooted firmly in the “Dredd” universe. Placed as it is after Smith & Marshall's misfire of dayglo clowning the success of Breathing Space's restrained doom-mongering seems all the greater. There's no Dredd in it but it's still VERY GOOD!
Thus starts a brief run of the original Luna 1 stories. It's not all of them; just those with art by Brian Bolland, because everyone likes to remember when you would get weekly doses of Bolland Thrill-Power. Fat chance of that now. I'll burn through these, because they are from that period when Dredd was finding its feet as a strip. Any elements that have survived into the Dredd canon (NOT cannon; that's a thing that fires projectiles. Make a note of that.) are sparse, since even for a strip which delights in exaggeration as Dredd does, Wagner is so far over the top here he risks clipping the moon itself.
JUDGE DREDD: LAND RACE Art by Brian Bolland Written by John Wagner Lettered by Tony Jacob Originally published in 2000AD Prog 47
The Land Race is a riff on the American West tradition of the first person to stake a claim on a piece of land getting to own it. (And by “people” I mean European immigrants; the native Americans were not consulted. I always like it when the Americans descended from European immigrants get all pinch-arsed about immigrants. Dunces.) Bolland has fun designing the vehicles driven by the prospectors, but the mayhem soon gives way to a protracted scene involving an old woman being mind controlled into signing her land away. Amusingly the bad guys are from Interstellar Psionics Corporation, i.e. IPC (the then publishers of 2000AD). There's also a panel of Judge Dredd's head in the corner of which is an X-Wing from the children's entertainment STAR WARS. I think this was to do with a Competition at the time; where you had to find these scattered through the comic to win...er...something to do with STAR WARS. George Lucas' bum fluff? I don't remember that bit; the prize. Unfortunately, we also see here the two Mexican Judges who are, uh, a bit stereotypical what with the sombrero, 'taches and the “Thees” and the “heem”s. Weird in that way only kids '70s could be Walter The Robot gets a girlfriend in the form of Rowena The Robot. Best of all though we discover that Judge Dredd's palate is so disciplined that he can tell the difference between man-made cookies and those made by a robot. Personally I think more should have been made of this and Judge Dredd hereafter is a lesser character without his cookie tasting skills. Trains not taken, eh? All these things are more interesting than the story which is just a lively entertainment, wonderfully drawn by Bolland. But there are worse things to be than entertaining and drawn by Brian Bolland so OKAY!
JUDGE DREDD: THE FIRST LUNA OLYMPICS Art by Brian Bolland Written by John Wagner Lettered by Tony Jacob Originally published in 2000AD Prog 50
Not much to this one beyond Bolland's reliably exemplary art and a horrifically un-Dredd moment. Most of it is a lot of simple jokes about The Olympics. The Sov competitors are full of drugs, and the bits that aren’t full of drugs are mechanical; the high jump is very high because of the low gravity; etc etc. Wagner nails the commentators' voices, and the jokes are mildly amusing jokes, but to his credit it's all a feint because at strip's end Dredd starts a war with the Sovs by accidentally shooting a Sov Judge. It's clearly an accident and the Sovs are over reacting, but Judge Dredd? An accident? Get outta town. I think this is the first appearance of the Sov Judges and Bolland totally nails their appearance; so much so that they have barely changed over the ensuing decades. I particularly like the way their helmets echo those odd toppings on the Kremlin. I thought I might have to do a quick run down of The Cold War and how America and Russia's nuclear cockfencing endangered the whole world. Luckily I don't have to because Putin and Trump have brought it all back. Personally I'd have preferred the return of the Rubik's Cube but there you go, they didn't ask me. Some okay jokes and a super unexpected cliff-hanger, with Bolland's comical realism on top like a tasty Kremlin Onion, is OKAY!
JUDGE DREDD: LUNA-1 WAR Art by Brian Bolland Written by John Wagner Lettered by Tony Jacob Originally published in 2000AD Prog 51
WAR! HUH! Oh, you know that song! In the future Luna 1 War tells us, “Wars today are NO LONGER FOUGHT BETWEEN VAST ARMIES, But by Combat units consisting of FOUR SOLDIERS and one reserve!” This idea doesn't last any longer as the duration of this strip (The Apocalypse War certainly seemed more substantial than a ruck in a pub car park.) but it is a good idea nevertheless. Dredd watches from the side-lines saying awesome things like “We're no better than The Sovs. They use war as an excuse to grab land – we treat it as a GAME!” I'm a-okay with eight year olds reading that despite how it may sound to sophisticated twenty year olds and up. So you can stop rolling your eyes, pal. Anyway, the Sovs are a bad lot so they spike the M-C1 reserve with a “Hypo-Dart”. Big Mistake. Judge Dredd dons a suspiciously Dan Dare-esque helmet and gives those unsporting Sovs' hides a good tanning. For two issues now we've had to “listen” to Wagner's excellently aggravating sports caster (Bolland makes him look like a certain Daily Planet stringer. Heh.) so on our behalf Dredd chokes him with his own mike, turns to the audience and spits, “War is POINTLESS. War is EVIL. WAR IS HELL!”. Hey, sometimes the truth doesn't need nuance. GOOD!
JUDGE DREDD: THE FACE-CHANGE CRIMES Art by Brian Bolland Written by John Wagner Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in 2000AD Prog 52
Unlike the concept of war as a 10 man sporting event, the idea introduced here would persist for the duration of the Dredd strip, causing no end of bedevilment for our future Lawman. It does what it says on the tin, this face-change technology. So here we start with a bank robbery by Laurel and Hardy with Charlie Chaplin, where the robbers evade capture after a bit of !presto-changeo! by being evacuated with the faces of the (3) Marx Brothers. Needless to say Bolland's art is every bit the perfect fit for the bizarre sight of dead 20th century comedians robbing a future bank on the moon. Luckily Judge Dredd has a somewhat unlikely knowledge of deceased 20th Century Comedians and quickly zeroes in on his suspects. Freed by their lawyer, who is a dead ringer for the famous actor and acromegaly sufferer Rondo Hatton, Dredd is left kicking his heels but..."TWO CAN PLAY A DIRTY GAME…!", and he doesn't mean nude Twister. This is a fast and fun one, with Bolland's realism coming to the fore to underscore the visual lunacy of what's going on. You know, VERY GOOD! Personally I feel more could have been made of Dredd's credulity stretching knowledge of 20th Century trivia; it could perhaps have been combined with his amazing ability to tell who cooked what he's eating in order to solve future crimes. On second thoughts we're just a touch of smug irony away from a Matt Fraction Image comic, so forget I said anything. The world doesn't need any more of those.
JUDGE DREDD: THE OXYGEN BOARD Art by Brian Bolland Written by John Wagner Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in 2000AD Prog 57
This strip is where the young John K(UK) was infused with a life-long detestation of the Free Market philosophy so beloved of soulless cankers who walk like humans. Regulation isn't the enemy, greedy psychopaths are. Sure, I know, I know, if we just leave the provision of services to find its own level no end of good will result. After all, human behaviour is improved no end by the possibility of earning ridiculous amounts of money without obstruction. And if you believe that fairy story/self justificatory pile of horse apples you probably think you can eat the moon on crackers. Anyone who has ever ridden a train in England or received a utility bill know that The Oxygen Board isn't just a possibility; it's inevitable. You also know that Free Market philosophy makes about as much sense as wearing hats made of shit. And if they could charge you for it they'd tell you that was a good idea too. And some of you would do it too. So, uh, yeah, on the moon, oxygen is piped in and billed and if you don't pay your bill...well, that's on you! It's a wicked and powerful punchline most writers would make much hay out of, but Wagner slaps it at the end of a tale of thieves who have robbed the very Oxygen Board itself. Their ironic comeuppance turns the whole thing into a darkly prescient parable. It's drawn by Brian Bolland too, and if that's the only thing that gets people looking at what is a tiny masterpiece then all the better. VERY GOOD!
JUDGE DREDD: FULL EARTH CRIMES Art by Mike McMahon and Brian Bolland Written by John Wagner Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in 2000AD Prog 58
This one is better than its simple premise might indicate. On the moon people go loco at Full Earth like people are purported to do on Earth when the moon is full. We then get a conveyor belt of crimes punchily slapped down by the living genius Mike McMahon. It's a succession of funny future crime set-ups each followed by a Dredd-is-a-hard-bastard punchline. E.g Dredd saves a leaper but then gives him 90 days Penal Servitude for public nuisance. Wagner doubles down by having a lady bystander tell Dredd off, because the guy is clearly not the full shilling, only for Dredd to fine her 2,000 Creds for obstructing Justice. Then, with a poker face like iron, Wagner TRIPLES down and when she complains Dredd ups the fine to 4,000 credits. Actually, it is quite funny now I think about it. There’s a bunch of that kind of thing before Dredd goes home exhausted. It's just a string of jokes really, with the double page opening by Bolland and the actual meat of the story by Mike McMahon. Call me unstable but I will always have room in my mind for the final panel where Walter faithfully tucks a blanket around “Dear Judge Dwedd...” OKAY!
JUDGE DREDD: GLOBAL PSYCHO Art by Ian Gibson Written by Gordon Rennie Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE #328-331
Oh, thank Grud. We’re nearly at the end! Oh, you're all feeling the fatigue, what about me? I went to C**********d and back halfway through writing this (round about the Luna-1 War bit) because people think I have to contribute to the social life of the family or something! It was cold and windy enough to require my big coat too! Straight back with “school shoes” and here I have to go on about Gordon Rennie, while fielding black looks from the person cooking the tea. Anyhoo, Judge Dredd is outfoxed by a serial killer in a oner which sets up the somewhat chunkier one which follows on below. Ian Gibson draws in his kind of diseased kid's illustrator style and once again his colours are a delight of polished inkwashes. The most interesting thing for me with Global Psycho is the fact it shows a bum and a bit of tit on a killer's strung up victim. We didn't need a bit of bum and tit in my day! Not in Judge Dredd anyway. What we did our own homes was another matter. It's just a setting up strip so it's OKAY!
JUDGE DREDD: KILLER ELITE Art by Paul Marshall Written by Gordon Rennie Greytones by Jean-Paul Bove Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE #328-331
Gordon Rennie acquits himself quite well here; it helps he's given himself a strong premise. The psycho from Global Psycho is dying, but before she pops off she collects the galaxy's greatest murderers and has them all face off on the moon. The prize is the seat aboard an escape pod. It doesn't sound like much of a prize, but the complex will explode in sixty minutes and there is only one seat on the escape pod. Dredd's in there because he is after all “the greatest mass murderer in human history”; which by this point in his history is probably understating the matter. It's nice to be reminded how much blood is on Joe's hands every now and again. Particularly if you've recently watched him get tucked up snug by a fawning robot. A whole lot of mayhem ensues but to avoid it all getting a bit one-note Rennie builds the trap around Dredd so tightly that by the time he reaches the pod with another survivor you really don't know how he's going to get out of it. It's fast and fun, and if not quite as fast or fun as Rennie might think, it's fast and fun enough. The only let down is the art. While there's nothing wrong with Marshall's typically sturdy work, someone has made the (cost cutting?) decision to go for gray tones instead of colour. This makes it all a bit visually drab, so much so it starts to undermine the art. The swathes of gray don't allow anything to pop, even when you know what you are looking at should be popping like Space Dust on a pre-teen's tongue. But Dredd's convincingly Dredd, and Rennies' Most Dangerous Game is dangerous enough so GOOD!
DARK SIDE OF THE MOON shows that Luna-1 is whatever any particular writer requires of it; empty and forbidding in Breathing Space, noisy and garish in Darkside, bustling and crazed in the original strips and the moon is just, well, there as a deadly backdrop in Killer Elite. It doesn't really matter as the freedom allows all these different approaches; and while some work (Breathing Space) and some don't (Darkside) none of that's down to the setting. As a volume it's GOOD!
NEXT TIME: Manners maketh the Judge, so says Judge Mum and - COMICS!!!
JUDGE DREDD: THE MEGA COLLECTION Vol. 77: HORROR STORIES Art by Brett Ewins, Ian Gibson, Dave Taylor, Mick McMahon, John Burns, Andrew Currie, Xuasus and Steve Dillon Written by John Wagner, Alan Grant, Gordon Rennie and John Smith Lettered by Tom Frame and Annie Parkhouse Colours by Chris Blythe Originally serialised in 2000AD Progs 359-363, 511-512, 1523-1528, 1582-1586 & 2005, JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE 2.27-2.29, JUDGE DREDD ANNUAL 1981, JUDGE DREDD ANNUAL 1982 and 2000AD WINTER SPECIAL 1994 © 1980, 1981, 1984, 1987,1994, 2004, 2007, 2008 & 2016 Rebellion A/S Hatchette Partworks/Rebellion, £9.99 (2016) JUDGE DREDD created by Carlos Ezquerra & John Wagner
JUDGE DREDD: THE HAUNTING OF SECTOR HOUSE 9 Art by Brett Ewins Written by John Wagner & Alan Grant Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in 2000AD Progs 359-363
I know we've all wondered more than once what Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House would be like if it was set in Mega-City One. Well, The Haunting of Sector House 9 answers that pressing question. Apparently there would be a lot less sublimated sapphism and repressive social mores and a lot more mouths exploding from walls, zombies, disembodied hands and big men in leather shouting. On reflection it might not have that much to do with Shirley Jackson's timeless terror tome after all. It definitely has to do with Judge Dredd stolidly yelling things like "DAMNED if I'll give in to a SPOOK!" and Brett Ewins wonderful ability to draw warped flesh and matter splattered walls. I really dug this one on its first appearance way back when, there was just something unsettling about the sci-fi world of Dredd suddenly morphing into a barnstorming full-on horror flick. Wagner and Grant pace this demon baby just right with each chapter containing something icky and an incremental revelation of the solution to the mystery. And they don't even cheat on the solution, it's not just "Well, I guess we'll never know. There are more things on heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your comportment, Judge Dredd." No, there's a proper (and very "Dredd") reason for all the poltergeisting about.
Much of the fun comes from Dredd's refusal to treat the supernatural any differently to a perp with a knife and an Umpty habit. Here he shares the stage with a couple of other Judges, most notably Judge Omar who has a turban so is, I guess, a Sikh. Although Dredd's world appears overwhelmingly secular there are still familiar religions (something Alan Grant would explore in his Judge Anderson strips; we'll get to those volumes. Patience.) Omar is also a PSI Judge. I used to think that a PSI Division was about as likely as a Healing Crystals Division (Judge Credulous, presiding) but over the years the strip has worn down my resistance, also it turns out fascists have a penchant for all that silly shit so, yeah, okay, PSI Division it is. Best used sparingly though, like nutmeg. The Haunting of Sector House 9 is good little thunder through spooky tropes with a satisfying pay off, but a lot of its success is down to the atmosphere and that's wholly down to Bret Ewins' art. Which is unfortunate, because these volumes reprint some very old strips, and I guess occasionally the original materials have gone AWOL. (Or Rebellion/Hatchette haven't bothered to source them.) In this particular case the poor reproduction annihilates the delicacy of Ewins' line. Despite his art being all about blunt impact, a kind of brusque shove to get your eye's attention, there's always a surprising amount of detail in there. Detail that isn't served well by the heavy handed reproduction. You can still see all Ewins's trademarks through the murk; particularly those shiny, shiny Judge helmets. It's just a shame his crisp, clear linework is swamped by blacks for the most part. Despite this The Haunting of Sector House 9 is pulpy sprint of a thing adorned by the art of one of Dredd's more under-rated artists. GOOD!
JUDGE DREDD: JUDGEMENT Art by Ian Gibson Written by Gordon Rennie Lettered by Annie Parkhouse Originally published in 2000AD Progs 1523-1528
Here Gordon Rennie manfully struggles to give Dredd and Anderson a supernatural mystery to solve, and for the most part he is successful enough. A ghostly Judge is dispensing justice on the streets, which just isn't on, and so Dred investigates along with Anderson and SJS judge Ishmael. Judge Ishmael, er, has a beard, and contributes little to the narrative before just fading into the background. He's the kind of story flab a Wagner or a Grant would have excised completely, but not Rennie, alas. This unnecesary heaviness weighs the strip down, it all seems overly convoluted in order to get to where it's going. The pacing plods, in short. And Rennie is inconsistent in his spookiness. A ghost judge whose shell casings are material enough to be traced? Um, no. I have trouble believing in gravity so if you want me to be all-in on vengeful revenants you can't trip me up with stuff like that.
But it's not without entertainment and Rennie gets a couple of very good moments in there, such as when the gang boss realises he's just made a biiiiiiiiiiiiig mistake. And the mystery itself is pretty good, there's just the odd leadfooted moment which makes you pause just long enough to irritate. A bit of red pencil would have helped. It's close to good, but what hurls it across the line is Ian Gibson's phenomenal art. Or to be more precise Gibson's phenomenal colouring. Seriously, there's some crackerjack colouring going on here. Done in something resembling ink wash, the colours are a work of art in themselves. The indigo Ghost Judge really pops out from the world it is haunting. For that world Gibson chooses a really chirpy and upbeat palette with warm pinks, deep blues and jolly greens which, draped over his lithely curvaceous lines, create images so ebulliently cartoony they are a joy. In Judgement Rennie does okay, but Gibson raises things up to GOOD!
JUDGE DREDD: ROAD STOP Art by Dave Taylor Written by Gordon Rennie Lettered by Annie Parkhouse Originally published in 2000AD Progs 1582-1586
Gordon Rennie again! This time Rennie picks up a bunch of genre cliches, each of which would be insufficient for a story this length and mushes them all together to create a kind of creepy comicbook rumbledethumps. And, I have to say, it's not half bad. Hmmmmm! For a bunch of reasons which can all shelter under the umbrella of Plot Convenience (which is much better than hunching under the bus shelter of Plot Contrivance) Judge Dred is stranded until a storm passes at a decrepit Road Stop with a serial killer, an assassin, a coach trip and several other cits. That's pretty good. But the Road Stop comes under attack from a mutant gang and, yes, and, the owners of the Road Stop have something hungry in the basement. It should be overstuffed but, credit to Rennie, it moves along with quite a bit of zip and not without a few surprises. There's never a dull moment, but then with that lot going on there shouldn't be. (Again, though, Mr. Editor should have pointed out that you don't tell someone who has just revealed themselves as an assassin that you would love to help them but you have to pack all this stolen money..oops, you're dead!) Fun for the most part, writing-wise.
But the art? Grud on a Greenie! Who is this Dave Taylor! He's the Tip-Top Top Cat and no mistake! His art has a wonderfully European inflection and a super robust sense of physical dimension. He doesn't stint one jot on the characters or the locations either. The road house is wonderfully designed, with a real sense of novelty to every room, rather than a jaded sense of yes-I've-seen-Blade-Runner-too-it-was-forty-years-ago-can-we-move-on-now-please. And there's no stinginess with the character designs either. Most folk would have saved the robot with a monkey’s head or the electric-circuit person for their own projects. But here they are just part of a bunch of wild designs which get less page time than Judge Dredd's bike. Dave Taylor goes all-in is what I'm saying. I looked him up on Wikipedia and it turns out he's English so that explains everything. Apparently he also had a double hernia. I doubt that's the secret of his ridiculously good art though. Road Stop is solid stuff so GOOD!
JUDGE DREDD: THE FEAR THAT MADE MILWAUKEE FAMOUS! Art by Mick McMahon Written by John Wagner Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in JUDGE DREDD ANNUAL 1981
In 1981 Judge Dredd got his own Annual! (Well, I guess in 1980 strictly speaking). This was pretty momentous if you were 11 years old, because that meant that Christmas would bring not only the 2000AD Annual but also a Judge Dredd one! (Family finances permitting; the ‘80s was a hard time for us, we had to let one of the planes go). North American genre comics have annuals too, but these are published too randomly to suggest anyone producing them actually knows what the word means, and are basically just fat comics. A fat comic chucked out intermittently is not an “annual”, North American genre comics! In Britain where we understand the value of routine and the meaning of words, Annuals come out just before Christmas, are magazine sized with hard covers and cater to a range of interests; sports, puzzles, etc and, yes, comics. The 2000AD Annual would bulk itself out with old reprints (one year I’m sure Rick Random Space Detective was in there. Rick Random! I’m sure Rick Random has his charms, but it was a bit like interrupting a kid’s party with a lecture on the Joys of Accounting. Rick Random isn’t exactly FLESH!) but IIRC Judge Dredd’s Annual was all new stuff. Even if it wasn’t, even if I’m wrong, it had an awesome Mike McMahon drawn strip (yes, this strip!) which took advantage of the big pages and extra length to really go Total McMahon.
The story isn’t much; Dredd is chasing down a bad mutant hombre but comes unstuck when the Milwaukee dead rise up to exact revenge for their nuclear annihilation. It’s a bit of zippy fluff which gets by on the visual joke of the bad guy and Dredd’s refusal to give an inch in the face of a city of restless spirits. Mostly it's McMahon's show. McMahon’s art here is a summation of his “scabby” style, which he would immediately start moving away from, like the restless genius that he is. You can really see here his technique for making the most of his page count by creating pages within pages; that is, a group of three or four panels which are read together within the larger page on which they nestle. He really covers some ground like that, and it leaves him free to have a big image dominating the layout to boot. He also colours it like a gifted child armed with felt tip pens; if Lynne Varley had done it we'd all be shaking a tail feather over it. His pages here were so scrumdiddlyumptious that even an 11 year old could tell. I spent a lot of 1981 copying Mike McMahon’s art from the Judge Dredd Annual 1981 in biro on some wallpaper offcuts we had lying about (remember wallpaper?). Yes, I should have got out more. The Fear That Made Milwaukee Famous! is not only a pun on an ancient Schlitz beer advertising slogan but, drawn by Mike McMahon, it is thus VERY GOOD!
JUDGE DREDD: THE VAMPIRE EFFECT Art by Mick McMahon Written by John Wagner Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in JUDGE DREDD ANNUAL 1982
JUDGE DREDD: THE VAMPIRE EFFECT by McMahon, Wagner and Frame A space ship carrying alien life form samples crashes into Mega City one and an energy vampire is on the loose! The more it eats the bigger it gets and by the time it has eaten a few under-city dwellers it is pretty hefty and ready to chow down on Mega City One. Can Judge Dredd and his fascist pals stop it before it's too late? Yes, obviously. But how? Yeah, smart guy, how? There's not much to this solidly scripted effort other than a steady ratcheting up of the stakes and a pervasive sense of hopelessness, which is quite a lot really; and most of that is probably down to the art by Mike McMahon.
One year later and we can see just how much hunger McMahon's talent has for fresh artistic conquests. The man gobbles up challenges like the in-story vampire chows down on energy. Ravenously. His art still retains a grubby patina but is far more visually controlled now. There's a discipline in the straightness of lines strong enough for him to perch his more expressionistic tendencies atop them. The flare of Dredd's helmet is starting to reach the point where he'll be forced to enter rooms sideways, but the exaggeration is consistent with the larger landscape of visual hyperbole it inhabits; which makes it Art rather than a goof. Fret not, though, McMahon's art has lost none of its playfulness despite his apparent turn towards the stern. His colours are more subdued here with the odd pop of a green knee pad leavening the dourness, but there's still wit; see the negative colouring on people “bitten” by the vampire, and his refusal to make the vampire anything other than a blob speckled by colour. The reproduction here is a crying shame, tending as it does to the blurry. But The Vampire Effect is still drawn by Mike McMahon and so it is VERY GOOD!
JUDGE DREDD: HORROR HOUSE Art by John Burns Written by John Wagner Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in 2000AD WINTER SPECIAL 1994
A one episode punchline strip in which Dredd has to rescue a kidnapped kid from an animatronic house of horrors. This is from a Winter Specuial which, unlike an Annual, is a fat comic released at seasonal intervals. Used to be we just had Summer Specials which were an awesome part of being a kid. Looks like we now have Winter Specials because profits in the third quarter are down, or whatever. I don't know, but I for one am not sitting on a Blackpool beach in my trunks reading Shiver'n'Shake in November, thanks. Must be getting old. So, yeah, the old lag John Burns (b.1938) has scads of fun with the different dioramas in the Mega-Tussauds’ of Terror, and my eyes enjoyed his lovely tides of colour breaking over the page. Burns’ style is very European, characterised by pin-sharp linework so awesome that he took over Modesty Blaise from Enrique Romano in the ‘70s. Burns was beloved by kids of the ‘70s for his art on the smutty newspaper strip George & Lynne, by the ‘80s he was blazing trails of awesome on the page for 2000AD, where his work embraced colour with a vigour that would make a vicar blush. I like John Burns’ art. Unfortunately while the script’s punchline isn’t bad as such, it landed leadenly as I hadn’t realised there was anything amiss with Dredd’s behaviour. He’s not exactly chatty Cathy at the best of times is he now? Anyway, John Burns drawing Judge Dredd fighting things is always GOOD!
JUDGE DREDD: CHRISTMAS WITH THE BLINTS Art by Andrew Currie Written by John Wagner Coloured by Chris Blythe Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in 2000AD Prog 2005
This is the finale of a long running storyline about Dredd failing to catch Ooola Blint, who is addicted to euthanasia-ing unwilling people, and her useful idiot of a husband, Homer. The problem with this series of mega-books is here we just get the end of the chase. Maybe the other bits are in other books, I don't know. Anyway, although robbed of much of its cumulative impact, the script is the usual drly comic Wagner effort wherein romance and murder become so intertwined it gets hard to distinguish between the two. At heart this is pretty sick stuff but thanks to Wagner's deadpan delivery this very sickness becomes part of the humour.
Christmas With The Blints is more of a characer piece than an action piece so Currie has his work cut out for him. Fortunatley Currie seems to have a yen for caricature, so fun with faces is right up his street, and his “acting” is well up to snuff(heh!) for the duration. He does a particularly sweet Morgan Freeman whose sloping contours suggest the influence of the Master Caricaturist Mort Drucker, which is nice to see in a Dredd strip. It's a wordy episode but Currie keeps it interesting and his crisp, clean style is attractive if never eye boggling. Christmas With The Blints is GOOD!
JUDGE DREDD: THE JIGSAW MURDERS Art by Xuasas Written by John Smith Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE 2.27-2.29
I really like John Smith as a writer, and I really, really like Judge Dredd as a character but I don't think John Smith writes a good Judge Dredd. The Jigsaw Murders doesn't change that opinion. Smith has his very own range of obsessions he rarely deviates from: body horror, fractured stream-of-consciousness inner monologues, creepy malefic beings whose reality can be a bit dubious and a rigid dislike of authority. This latter quality overshadows his more intriguing aspects on Dredd, because he gives the impression he's holding his nose whenever he has to write Dredd himself. I don't know how he gives that impression but he does. So what I do is, I just read it as a John Smith story and that usually works out okay. Here then I ended up reading about a serial killer who dismembers his victims to disguise his less than sane search for a replacement arm. This being a John Smith joint he rides about in an ice cream truck and is haunted by The Giggler, a creepy kid's toy, and is pursued by Judge Dredd, who looks like our Judge Dredd but is an inflexible asshole prone to bad one-liners. He's not as bad as Millar and Morrison's tone-deaf interpretation of Judge Dredd, but then at least here he's in a decent story which is something that pair never managed to conjure up. As John Smith stories go it's pretty good, there's a hilarious bit where the Jigsaw Killer finally gets his arm and it's all kind of icky and nasty like a good John Smith tale should be.
It's illustrated by Juan Jesus Garcia, who likes to be called “Xuasus”, in a fully painted style which I like to call “mostly successful”. It's got some real heft to it thanks to Xuasus' penchant for lumpiness and there's a winning ugliness to everything, not least the characters. However, stiffness is an issue when he paints people in motion, and while it didn't entirely convince there was always the odd stand-out like the panel below. Interesting, I guess I'd go for. The Jigsaw Murders is pleasantly odd thanks to Smith's script and Xuasus', uh, heavy approach. So, GOOD!
JUDGE DREDD: THE BEATING HEART Art by Steve Dillon Written by John Wagner & Alan Grant Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in 2000AD Progs 511-512
This is a little two parter, a playful update of Poe's “Tell-Tale Heart” which is amusing enough in its way, but is of note largely because of Steve Dillon's art. In 2015 comics lost Brett Ewins (see above) and in 2016 Steve Dillon died, which makes this volume a bittersweet read. It does provide a reminder that Dillon's sparky art could lift a trifle like this out of the filler category and up into GOOD! without breaking a sweat. Dillon may only ever have drawn one female face but he put atop it a cascade of Bizarre '80s hairstyles that would give a Studio Style executive a chubby, and while his décor could be minimal his pacing was precise. Best of all Dillon would always remember that it was Judge Dredd's strip and really nail his Dredd bits down hard. Ciao, Steve Dillon! Ciao, Brett Ewins! And thanks for all the Thrill-Power!
And as all the best horror stories end with a hand coming out of the ground…
NEXT TIME: I'm not sure but probably Judge Dredd in some - COMICS!!!
Hey kids! Who’s up for a heroically opaque fable about a vengeful castrato, illustrated in a darkly twisted melange of Gustav Klimt and José Muñoz! Okay, howabout if I describe it as CH Greenblatt’s Chowder via E.T.A. Hoffman? Ooooh, your little ears perked right up! Yes! It’s Euro-comic time! Everybody loves The Eurocomics! FOLIGATTO by Nicolas de Crécy and Alexios Tjoyas
FOLIGATTO Art by Nicolas de Crécy Written by Alexios Tjoyas Translated by Quinn and Katia Donoghue HUMANOIDS, $24.99 (2013)
I think it’s only fair to state at the outset of the clueless drivel which follows that Foligatto, illustrated by Nicolas de Crécy and written by Alexios Tjoyas, is way out of my intellectual weight-class. It’s one thing to be able to dance nimbly around some tawdry work-for-hire featuring a character invented by men seemingly high on cough syrup, laying on the odd low blow and pretending something of worth has been achieved, but quite another thing to unwrap this gleefully fetid bon-bon. See the critic quail before the might of actual Art! See him run behind the skirts of Batman! Ah, not quite, or at least not quite yet. Because while I may come off like Tom Waits in Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stokers’ Dracula (phew!), all unctuously hunched and servilely importuning as regards the imminent arrival of the masssster (de Crécy, not Dracula) while in fact only hastening my own ignominious end, it’s worth the risk if someone picks up this masterpiece, this Foligatto. Hopefully everyone will buy Foligatto, because only when De Crecy and Tjoyas are choking on gold can this world have the slightest claim to being Just.
I’m not propelling a visible suspension of carbon or other particles in air (typically one emitted from a combusting substance) up your posterior when I claim Foligatto is a masterpiece. Seeing may be deceiving, but not today! Your eyes don’t lie! You can tell just by looking at Foligatto that it’s a different class of comic altogether. It’s the artwork that hits you first and hardest, pummelling your fragile skull with the capital “A” of Art. It is classy stuff, you might want to comb your hair and polish your shoes for this one. It’s the art you’ll hold hardest to your heart but, hopefully, not at the expense of the script. Tjoyas’ script is undeniably erudite and imbued with a cultural intelligence lacking from the average Spider-man comic, which is a shame as I’m more intellectually equipped for Spider-Man comics. Still, failure is my sweetheart so I’ll press on. Spiritually Foligatto’s art and story are saturated with German Romanticism. Alas, this does not mean there are crowds of Teutonic men proffering flowers and holding doors open for ladies in big hats, it refers instead to the European Romanticism which developed in the late 18th/early 19th Centuries in opposition to the typically dourer English Romanticism and the Enlightenment as a whole. The Enlightenment being known to close personal friends as “The Age of Reason”, German Romanticism naturally pushed back with an emphasis on the unnatural, the fantastic. Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann (E. T. A. Hoffmann) is the go-to-guy for examples of the fantastic as a burgeoning genre, and his work fits right into the Foligatto attitude.
I’ll not fib, being a low class act I am primarily familiar with E.T.A. Hoffman via Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1951 cinematic adaptation of Jacques Offenbach's opera, Tales of Hoffmann (1879/1881). The handy link is that Offenbach’s opera is based three Hoffman tales: Der Sandmanon (The, er, Sandman), Rath Krespel (Councillor Krespel/The Cremona Violin) and Die Abenteuer der Silvester-Nacht (A New Year's Eve Adventure). At the risk of spoiling your next trip to the opera, the uncanny shenanigans include a man falling in love with a female automaton, a woman who risks death if she sings too much and the attempted theft of a reflection from a mirror. Fun stuff, kind of thing we all like to read about, because opera (“A bunch of fat people who got dressed in the dark, shouting.” said my Dad) might make most of us scarper sharpish but it turns out we’re just talking about the fantasy genre after all. Basically, Opera is just comics for fops. Who knew? Probably Nicolas de Crécy and Alexios Tjoyas. They mayhap overtly reference the Offenbach influence by having Foligatto be a castrato Opera singer, and the Hoffmann influence by, well, having a world where absurdity and surrealism are the norm. The astonishing trick Tjoyas and De Crecy pull is they make the multitude of nonsensical aberrations on show credible. While reading Foligatto you will accept the fact that a man can pick up his severed head and trot off with it as easily as you do the fact of gravity. In fact gravity seems much less convincing on reflection because it isn’t drawn by Nicolas de Crécy.
On the showing of Foligatto alone de Crécy’s art seems capable of anything. This is incredible stuff. Fully painted with maybe a touch of mixed media, this is art worthy of display to the public in one of those places. You know, one of those places Angie Dickinson sits looking at pictures in while being sex stalked in Dressed to Kill (1980). Gallery! Gallery, that’s what I’m getting at! Thanks, Brian De Palma. As it is the Art World is a closed shop, so every panel will have to settle for hanging in the gallery of your mind. They’ll hang Gustav Klimt but not de Crécy! Bah, their loss. De Crécy is clearly working in an allegorical mode with a hefty undercurrent of symbolism, but just as Klimt did he’s bringing his own themes and preoccupations. Whatever they are. Klimt was blessed with an audience cultivated and educated enough to decode his work. De Crécy isn’t that lucky; I have no idea what he’s on about, beyond the delightfully twisted surface narrative. However, I may lack cultivation and education but I do have WiFi, so who’s laughing now? Don’t worry though, unlike Klimt there’s not a sniff of the pornographic. The only way Foligatto will make the bald man cry is if you hit Brian Bendis on the head with it. (Legal Note: I’m in no way condoning this course of action.)
I jest there, but I jest not about the quality of the art; every panel is a little miracle, a joyful tweak of the possible, where the sheer delight of the artistry on show is the only threat to the ceaselessly downbeat tone of the work as a whole. This is bleak stuff, m’dears. The city setting of Eccenihilo resembles a nightmare vision of 19th Century Italy. Grand, arresting buildings of dense stone loom over a warren of snaking streets populated by hunched, skittering, grotesques. Characters have faces so deeply quarried by life they resemble hangdog golems, except for Foligatto whose tautly rounded face is gravid with malevolence, a boil on the cusp of explosion. Life in the world of Foligatto is miserable and confounding even before the portly nightmare starts throwing people out of windows like perplexed puppets. The sky is a bleakly toned miasma and everything beneath it has the air of a fairy tale, but one spoiled and corrupted. Like a tale once told filled with gold and innocence has grown up along with us, and become as venal, baffled and lost as our adult selves. Think Andre Maurois’ Fattypuffs and Thinifers (1930) with illustrations by a depressive Raymond Briggs working largely in shades of faeces. That’s a comparison and as such short-changes the work, this Foligatto; the actuality is purely and wholly original, and purely and wholly the result of the ridiculously skilled pair, de Crécy and Tjoyas.
tl;dr: Foligatto is EXCELLENT!
NEXT TIME: I scamper back to my Comfort Zone of English – COMICS!!!
JUDGE DREDD: THE MEGA COLLECTION Vol. 56: BEYOND MEGA-CITY ONE Art by Brendan McCarthy, Steve Dillon, Dermot Power, Charlie Adlard and Inaki Miranda Written by John Wagner, Alan Grant, Garth Ennis, Mark Millar & Grant Morrison and Gordon Rennie Lettered by Tom Frame, Mark King, John Aldrich, Annie Parkhouse and Simon Bowland Colours by Wendy Simpson, Chris Blythe Eu de la Cruz Originally serialised in 2000AD Progs 485-488, 727-732, 859-866, 1382-1386 & JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE 246-249 © 1986, 1991, 1993, 2004, 2006 & 2016 Rebellion A/S Hatchette Partworks/Rebellion, £9.99 (2016) JUDGE DREDD created by Carlos Ezquerra & John Wagner
ATLANTIS Art by Brendan McCarthy Written by John Wagner & Alan Grant Lettered by Tom Frame & Mark King
Have you ever seen a British Bobby’s helmet? Ooooh, don’t! Get you! Stop it! OoooOOOOooooOOOOOOh! No, really, back when they walked the beat tipping the wink to the ladies, dispensing directions and gruffly moving on the ruffians and all that, before they became swaddled in bullet proof jackets and started cradling matt black engines of death while licking their chapped lips, back before that, did you ever seen a British bobby’s helmet? We used to call them “tit heads”, because kids have no respect and, also, they were a pretty ridiculous bit of gear. And yet thoroughly British in their ridiculousness, due to their air of wonky pomp. Brendan McCarthy’s design for the Brit Judge embraces this tradition and carries it into the future like a sheikh carrying a blonde lady on the cover of a Mills & Boon romance. Smoothly, that is. It also suggests he is the only person in existence who ever looked at Calos Ezquerra’s original Judge design and thought, “Hmmm, pretty impractical, but not impractical enough!” Pity the poor sap who has to patrol the mean streets of Future Little Tidworth in this get-up.
It works on the page though because Brendan McCarthy is a design genius, and part of that genius must be due to his total refutation of physical practicalities. Not only is the Brit Judge get-up visually delightful it is also very British, what with its lion(s) rampant and multiple Union Jacks (The Royal Union Flag, to any Canucks out there). All the kind of garish tat in fact which symbolises the overcompensation this nation makes for its reduced circumstances and present global irrelevance. I wouldn’t be surprised if the kneepads alternated playing the national anthem and Churchill’s speeches, and the belt pouches contained the fixings for a nice cup o’ char. Preposterously impractical and ostentatiously nationalistic, like fascism filtered through buffoonery Brendan McCarthy’s design captures the British character to a tee. I like it. Other than that though we learn little as Brit-Judges just act like Judges and the strip isn’t set in Brit-Cit but instead in Atlantis, which is not a mythical sunken city but a way station on the sea bed. The strip is a shaggy mutie story that earns its length by introducing Atlantis and Brit-Cit judges, and by being drawn by Brendan McCarthy; it’s worth reading just to see McCarthy’s giant manta rays alone. Throw in the bumptious bobby design to boot and it’s GOOD! Stuff.
EMERALD ISLE Art by Steve Dillon Written by Garth Ennis Coloured by Wendy Simpson Lettered by Tom Frame
Bejabbers! If and it isn’t the quare man hissownself now, Garth Ennis! To be sure, and there’s been many a pot o’ gold at the end o’ his rainbow o’writing! To be sure, to be sure! Oho, oho, oho! But this’ll no be one of ‘em! See and if he’s not brought his sense of humour with him! Ah now, ‘tis a turrible, turrible ting his sense o’ humour is. Aye now, ‘tis a sorry tale indeed. In the immortal words of Alan Partridge, “Der’s more to Oirland dan DIS!” What? Oh, it’s racist when I do it is it? I see. I better stop then. When Garth Ennis does it it’s satire. Except it isn’t. Unless you are a lot less demanding than me. You know that particularly poor satire that’s so bad it is actually indistinguishable from what it purports to satirise? Well, after reading Emerald Isle you will. I guess it’s a satire of people’s ideas about Ireland but it’s kind of painful. Mind you, me and Garth Ennis’ sense of humour will always at odds. Mostly because I have an outdated belief that humour should be funny. A little bird tells me though that different people find different things funny, so if you think having a Guinness harp© on a Judge’s helmet and potato guns that you can set to “chips” are funny, then you tuck in!
Unconvincingly mixed into this hilarious stuff is a more grounded tale of a M-C1 hitman who hides out with a bunch of terrorists. Terrorism is apparently just a bit of a jape until the proper crook turns up, then things get heavy. The insouciant Emerald Isle Judges are unprepared for the sudden explosion of pitilessly thuggish activity. Luckily Judge Dredd lends a hand. Personally I’m a bit unconvinced that terrorism in Ireland and organised crime were not inextricably linked but I’m not going to argue that point with anyone from Ireland. Say, has anyone else seen that crackin’ John Boorman movie THE GENERAL (1998)? Brendan Gleeson’s in it and it’s well good. Based on Dublin Crime Lord, Martin Cahill, it probably soft soaps the harsher reality but still, Brendan Gleeson. Lovely, lovely Brendan Gleeson. ORDINARY DECENT CRIMINAL (2000) stars Kevin Spacey and apparently covers the same ground. I’ve not watched that one so I’d not know. Meanwhile, back at the point, the late, great Steve Dillon draws “Emerald Isle” in his usual sturdy fashion whereby he avoids drawing anything too demanding but his stylistic charisma prevents it all getting too bland. He’s also wise enough to know that Dredd’s the star, so he’ll ensure at least one really great image of Dredd being Zarjaz! He’s a right good choice for such a whipsaw mix of comedy larks and brutal violence given his style can accommodate both at the expense of neither. It may not be the craic it thinks it is but “Emerald Isle” is GOOD!
BOOK OF THE DEAD Art by Dermot Power Written by Mark Millar & Grant Morrison Lettered by Tom Frame & John Aldrich
I’m stretching charity to its limits when I say that Mark Millar and Grant Morrison’s Judge Dredd work is the high point of neither of their careers. Considering how little I rate anything by Mark Millar this should be warning enough. At this stage of their careers (the crazysexyfuntime ‘90s!) Millar & Morrison had teamed up and were giving interviews like they were pop stars in the vein of Pepsi and Shirley or something; they seemed pretty committed to the novel artistic approach of just telling people they were awesome without actually making any decent comics to back that up. A right self-promoting pair of capering mountebanks they were. Preening narcissists, some might say, because people can be very cruel. Morrison and Millar were all mouth and no trousers, as we say over here. Morrison would eventually snap out of it and lower himself to write some decent comics, which very clever people would read a great deal more into than was actually present. I don’t know what happened to him after, because the last thing I read by him was something odious about Siegel and Shuster’s treatment by DC which, while I can’t remember the specifics, certainly sounded like “Goodbye, John” to me. Apparently, because I ceased paying attention long ago, Millar would just defiantly plod on regardless, cultivating his lucrative furrow of thundering chicanery and creative impoverishment to spectacularly rewarding effect. Financially, not creatively rewarding, obviously. Before that though, the team were steadfast in their belief that if they reduced Judge Dredd to the level of a shit ‘80s straight to video action twat, this would be a good thing. At no point in their complacently leaden tenure on the strip would their approach bear any fruit other than arse grapes.
“Book of the Dead” is a pretty representative bunch of those very arse grapes. Here the legends in their own minds send Dredd to the city of Luxor in Egypt, where they can’t be bothered to invent a future society, because they are busy modelling Speedos© for Deadline, or taking about being punk while actually being about as punk as Barry Manilow, or whatever and who cares, so they just make it a really superficial idea of how Ancient Egypt was, you know, pyramids, pharaohs, mummies, etc. but with hover cars, energy staffs and Resyk. Given the amount of thought involved we’re lucky the Judges don’t ride about on robot camels and Dredd doesn’t come home with a rug from a mega-bazaar. Whenever Dredd’s abroad some folk’s antennae start twitching in case any casual racism slips in, but I think the mental sloth on show here is damning enough. It’s just a multi-part punch-up and a piss poor use of Dermot Power’s not inconsiderable talents. Power fully paints the strip with a level of skill and artistry better suited to a script where someone was, you know, actually trying. There’s some lovely muscle work on show reminiscent of the master of muscle magic, Mr Glenn Fabry, and at no point does Power succumb to the twin pitfalls of fully painted 2000AD art: drab colours and visual inertia. His work here is so lovely for seconds at a time I forgot how insultingly contemptuous the writing was of its audience. It’s only because of Dermot Power that this gets OKAY! rather than CRAP!
GULAG Art by Charlie Adlard Written by Gordon Rennie Coloured by Chris Blythe Lettered by Tom Frame
Charlie Adlard draws this one. Charlie Adlard is famous for drawing The Walking Dead, which is itself famous for being successful and unerringly mediocre. You knew that, but did you know that Charlie Adlard is now the UK Comics Laureate. Disappointingly, unlike the Poet Laureate, this does not mean that he has to produce comics on the Queen’s birthday or royal births and marriages, and public occasions, such as coronations and military victories. Her Madge’s Royal God-appointed face as she opened up her birthday card to find a picture of a rotting corpse tottering around a valiantly nondescript America would be quite the thing! No, it seems it’s more of a charitable position whereby the noble art of The Comic is promoted with the hope that one day it will be as popular as poetry. (<--- joke!) If you didn’t know that, then it probably evaded your attention that Dave Gibbons was the last UK Comics Laureate. As part of his promotional efforts I like to think The Gibbons used to squeeze himself into his Big E leotard from his Tornado days and leap into libraries scattering comics like startled gulls into the receptive faces of the next generation of comics’ readers. And old people sheltering from the cold. That probably didn’t happen but I think we all feel a bit better having imagined Dave Gibbons dressed as Big E. Take your pleasure where you find it doesn’t just apply to Wilson Pickett fans.
The story? Oh, “Gulag” is about Judge Dredd getting a bunch of stubbornly unmemorable Judges together to rescue some POWS from a Siberian Gulag. Yeah, by the way, in case it hasn’t become obvious these reviews aren’t the kind which tell you significant character appearances (e.g. here: Psi Judge Karyn), who created them (Dean Ormston and Alan Grant), which story they first appeared in (Raptaur), where that story first appeared (Judge Dredd Megazine #1.11-1.17) and when (1991). No, these are just what an old man of questionable lucidity manages to crank out in the time allotted by circumstance. Reviews, but not as we know them. There’s little rigour or design to them. It’s less Douglas Wolk and more a shaky old gent muttering to himself in a library (Dredd…zarjaz!...Rico…BAD! Pat Mills…lovely teeth! Space Spinner…Big news for readers inside! Etc etc), before Dave Gibbons unwisely clad in the rags of yesteryear, bursts in and causes me to vapor lock in shock. Prone to divergence at no notice, yeah? Particularly when dealing with Gordon Rennie, who here writes about Judge Dredd and chums in Siberia. In “Gulag” Sibera is less than rewarding as a locale as it is just full of snow and bits of barbed wire, and the differences in the Sov Judges’ uniforms is minimal. It’s not worth the trip really. Rennie huffs and puffs about the stakes at, er, stake but I could never rid myself of the impression that it was all just a big fight over an empty shed in a snowy field. Charlie Adlard fails to ignite events, but everything he draws looks like what it’s supposed to be. I mean, it certainly wasn’t worth a butt of sack but it was OKAY!
REGIME CHANGE Art by Inaki Miranda Written by Gordon Rennie Coloured by Eua de la Cruz Lettered by Tom Frame, Annie Parkhouse & Simon Bowland
“Regime Change” is the second Rennie penned tale and had an equal impact on my memory as that one in the snow, what’s it called? The one with, uh, the snow and, uh...Anyway, Dredd goes to Ciudad Barranquilla (AKA Banana City) which spawls over most of Central America like a gaily coloured, city shaped metaphorical sombrero. Pretending to give a shit about missing cits Dredd and a multi-national “peace keeping force” show up and nose about. Turns out though, in a twist that could only surprise a Daily Mail reader, that they are actually just there to depose the Judge Supremo and install someone more to M-C1’s liking. When the corpses of fourteen M-C1 citizens are found in a mass grave they have all the excuse they need. What shocking cynicism! The sheer gall of Gordon Rennie to even suggest to imply such a thing! It’s fine. It’s drawn by Inaki Miranda whose art I don’t like because everyone is drawn with a tiny wee head like Thrud The Barbarian, and it’s all just a bit too busy for me. One of the problems with comics is that you can come up against a style you just don’t like. It doesn’t mean it’s “bad”, it’s just not to your taste. Guess what? That’s right. So, “Regime Change” is OKAY!
It was a bit dull that wasn’t it, a bit normal. Sometimes I’ll do that, sometimes I’ll just start on a craven apology for not having done these sooner. Because, yeah, I started writing up these Dredd partworks in 2015 and then…I stopped. A lot of that was down to apparently I like to make promises I can’t keep. That way I think I get to keep the guilt up. I’m still feeding off the guilt of not carrying on with the Planet of the Apes Weekly, but that was a lot of work to be fair, I kind of aimed to high on that one. Not doing the Dredds as well was too much guilt though. It was getting oppressive. Mind you, about two write-ups in, when I first started, it was pointed out to me that Douglas Wolk had written up every Judge Dredd strip ever so…I felt a bit like a spare prick at a wedding. If Gus van Sant had been halfway through making PSYCHO when someone told him this guy Fred Hitchcock had already had a go, I like to think he would have had the sense to stop. It’s about knowing your place, innit. Alas, that didn’t stop me feeling bad; yes, I felt bad, and I still feel bad because “Drac” in the comments was all gung-ho about following along from his Australian location. And I just pisseded off and left him or her hanging. That’s shabby behaviour. So, too late to make up for it, I’ve started again. I’m banging them out now but that won’t always be possible (because, life), but as slow as the flow may become I’ll carry on. Sometimes I’ll try and do a proper job and sometimes I’ll just amuse myself, depends. Personally I find it difficult to say much about Gordon Rennie, so it’s unfortunate that we have two of his storylines in this book. Bit of a mixed bag this book, to be fair the Rennie ones are part of a longer uberplot involving the machinations of an embittered Sov, so they lose out by being isolated here. BEYOND MEGA CITY ONE is a GOOD! Read overall, I guess.
NEXT TIME: I haven’t thought that far ahead. So surprises in store for us all!
BONUS: A NO DOUBT OUTDATED MAP OF THE WORLD OF JUDGE DREDD!
Anyway, this… JUDGE DREDD: THE MEGA COLLECTION Vol. 33: THE DAY THE LAW DIED Art by Mick McMahon, Brian Bolland (Dave Gibbons inks one episode), Brett Ewins, Brendan McCarthy, Garry Leach, Ron Smith, Carlos Ezquerra and Henry Flint Written by John Wagner and Garth Ennis Lettered by Tom Frame, Dave Gibbons, Tom Knight and Jack Potter Colours by Chris Blythe Originally serialised in 2000AD Progs86-108 & 1250-1261 © 1978, 1979, 2001 & 2016 Rebellion A/S Hatchette Partworks/Rebellion, £9.99 (2016) JUDGE DREDD created by Carlos Ezquerra & John Wagner
It’s now established tradition that Dredd mega-epics are usually separated by the best part of a year so as to allow everyone to get their breath back, including the readers; but back in 1978 John Wagner must have been full of beans and youthful pep because Old Stoney Face would barely have time to wash his smalls after “The Cursed Earth” before being unwittingly embroiled in “The Day The Law Died”. This one would be purely John Wagner’s creature and as such it trades heavily in his trademark satire via absurdism, rather than the more in-yer-FACE!!! style favoured by Pat Mills. While “The Cursed Earth” had been an energetic and eye popping exercise in world building “The Day The Law Died” turned its gaze inward and set about consolidating the world of Mega-City One, with particular emphasis on The Judge system. Back in Mega City One Dredd is immediately framed for murder, dispatched to Titan, shot in the head and left in no doubt that the new Chief Judge, the flagrantly insane Cal, is up to no good. Heading a rag-tag resistance Dredd has to free his city from the autocratic maniac, his own Judges and Cal’s Praetorian guard of Klegg alien mercenaries. Slicey-dicey! Oncey-twicey! Personally, my money’s on Dredd.
Previously Judges had been shown as an elite police force with traffic cops and more routine police being glimpsed around and about the strips. The very name, “Judge” suggested they were high up some nebulous law enforcement hierarchy. It was now made explicit that the Judges were the police, the whole police and nothing but the police. They were The Law. Hmmm. That’s catchy. However, there was still an elite police force, the Special Judicial Squad (SJS). These being an armed version of Internal Affairs, or the gimlet eyed automata known within most organisations as “Audit”. Tellingly these salty looking SJS dudes sport a uniform even more fascistic than that of Dredd, and since Dredd’s helmet has the twin lightning bolt emblem of the Schutzstaffel instead of eyes, that’s pretty darn fascistic. Keeping these little charmers under control comes under the purview of the Deputy Chief Judge, second in command to The Chief Judge, the prime panjandrum of the Justice System. Both these sit on the Council of Five, with three other seasoned vets.
More seasoned vets are on show when the Judge Tutors appear to help Dredd. Back in the ‘70s the old saying was “Those that can’t, teach. (And those that can’t teach, teach P.E.)” Accordingly Judges who are no longer street fit end up teaching in The Academy of Law. Dredd has a bunch of these dudes with missing bits on his side. They are pretty funny; one guy calculates their chances of survival while they are falling to their probable doom, another is called Judge Schmaltz so…you can fill in the blanks there, I guess. Oh, Judge Giant turns up again reminding me that his presence links Judge Dredd to HARLEM HEROES. Alas, JUDGE DREDD was slow to incorporate black characters and Giant only appears intermittently hereafter. Since he uses the word “baby” and refers to his “pappy” this might have been for the best. He is, however, resourceful and instrumental in saving Dredd’s bacon, so there’s that. Apparently Mike McMahon started drawing Judge Dredd under the impression the character was black (mostly because his name was a garbled leftover from Pat Mills’ pitch for JUDGE DREAD, a voodoo horror strip which didn’t happen.) Imagine if they’d stuck with that! You’ll have to imagine it, because they didn’t; Judge Dredd is white, baby. White like Pappy’s bedclothes! Baby! Things look bleak for Dredd and Mega City One until he and his team of maimed trainers smash through to the undercity and land in the Big Smelly. Oh, yeah, turns out the undercity is the polluted husk of the American Eastern seaboard. Seems it was easier just to concrete over it and build Mega-City One (some landmarks were relocated above ground for the tourists e.g. Empire State building), the Big Smelly is the Ohio River. On impact, most of them die as a result, but they do meet Fergee who is a big lovable doofus with a penchant for ultra-violence. Fergee’s lack of smarts, specifically his failure to realise he is dead, will be instrumental in foiling Cal’s plan to nerve gas the whole city.
Don’t be deceived by those leaden paragraphs from my stilted hamd because Wagner is a talented writer, so he knows how to leaven the strip with exposition without sapping any of the demented drive of his tale. A tale which is an answer to an interesting question. What if someone with only the most tenuous grasp on sanity achieved the most powerful office in the land? Apparently he would build a big wall, institute a whole slew of authoritarian and often preposterous laws, throw a hissy fit when the public failed to display the requisite adoration, surround himself with pusillanimous yes-men and, basically, just abuse the office he holds and stain the system he represents like a crack addled Little Lord Fauntleroy. But enough about the 45th President of the United States! (Cue: sad trombone.) Weirdly enough that’s also what Judge Cal does after he has connived his way into The Chief Judge’s chair. “It is the doom of Man that he forgets!” squawks Nicol Williamson’s skull capped Merlin in EXCALIBUR (1981) and he’s not wrong. See, Wagner doesn’t base Cal on the Roman Emperor Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (AKA Caligula) merely because he’d recently watched the 1976 BBC production of “I, Claudius”. I don’t doubt that it helped, particularly as the late John Hurt’s performance of “the little boot” was probably reliably arresting. (Wagner almost certainly hadn’t seen Tinto Brass’s porno-chic “cult” movie CALIGULA (1979), for which we can only be thankful.) No, he probably picked Caligula mostly because, well, “It happened before, it will happen again, it's just a question of when.” as Charlton Heston narrates in ARMAGEDDON (1998). It’s called learning from history, and when we don’t this is where we end up. Also with Wagner picking the much maligned Roman Emperor the opportunities for absurdism knocked harder than a drunk whose forgotten his keys. Suetonius says Caligula made his horse (Incitatus) a Senator? Wagner can have his Cal appoint a fish Deputy Chief Judge. Yes, Judge Fish is the spectacular character find of 1978! Who can ever forget his sage advice, “Bloop!” or his heartbreaking “Bloop! Bloop!” Gets me every time. Wagner has a ton of fun with Cal’s credulity straining antics so we’ll not spoil it for anyone. But, y’know, Judge Fish!
Artistically “The Cursed Earth” was a two-hander between McMahon and Bolland, with McMahon’s hand being comically large like that of a cartoon mouse and Bolland’s being more refined and smaller like that of a lady of means. “The Day The Law Died” is more of a scrum; there’s a real pout pourri of art styles on display for the length of the epic. In a North American mainstream genre comic this would lead to a right buggers’ muddle and generally not work terribly well. Here it works out surprisingly well. Regular 2000AD readers (and Brit comic readers in general) were conditioned to understand that a strip’s artist could change at the drop of a hat. Being too young to be anything other than positive it was viewed as more of an opportunity to see a different style, rather than an indication that Terry Blesdoe had had to step in because Barry Teagarden had started shouting at buses due to the punishing demands of drawing 8 pages of Space Urchins every week for wages that would shame Sports Direct. It helps also that there’s a definite visual through line. Say Mike McMahon ends his strip with Dredd’s gun arm stuck deep in a Klegghound’s gullet, next Prog Brian Bolland will start his strip with…Judge Dredd’s gun arm stuck deep in a Klegghound’s gullet. And although every artist tends to draw MC-1 and the Judges with their own slightly quirky way, you are still clearly reading a strip about a future cop in a future city.
Big Brian Bolland leads us in with his reliable clarity of line and subtle undermining of his hyper realism via restrained caricature. As ever his episodes are few and far between but always a tight delight. Mike McMahon gets stuck in, his work here being a bit airier than on “The Cursed Earth” but no less manic or delightfully inventive. By now Mike McMahon is able to bend reality to his scrappy whim and can populate his strip with what look like maltreated Muppets lolloping about a claustrophobic jumble of a city without once endangering the reader’s suspension of disbelief. There are also strong hints of McMahon’s next evolution in style peeking through, but right here right now Mike McMahon’s work is sweet indeed! Gary/Garry Leach looks like he’s got too much ink on his brush and that spoils his usual majestic delicacy of line this time out. Brett Ewins and Brendan McCarthy team up and their combination of rigidity and fluidity creates an interesting effect each couldn’t achieve alone. Picking up the baton for the last stretch is Ron Smith. I understand Ron Smith is a divisive artist for a lot of Dredd fans, due primarily to his cavalier attitude to continuity of the series’ designs. Despite being in the top ten in terms of Dredd output (probably, I can’t be arsed to check) there’s not likely to be a “Dredd by Ron Smith” volume any time soon. Which is a shame, because I think Ron rocks. Like McMahon he can lard a page with a so much detail and information it’s staggering. His page layouts are always striking, with at least one dominant image to grab the eye, and sometimes more, so the eye bounces about the page, but always in the right direction. He shows a remarkable agility with regards to shifting scale between panels without jarring the eye, and the amount of detail he crams in is ridiculous. I’m a particular fan of his hyperbolic body language, shown off here to best effect by Cal’s contortions as his mania grips him. Look, Ron Smith is the man who drew “Sob Story”, “The Man Who Drank The Blood of Satanus”, “The Black Plague”, “The Hot Dog Run”, “Shanty Town”, “Tight Boots” and co-created not only Chopper but also Dave, the orang-utan mayor. John says Ron’s The One!
“The Day The Law Died is an artistic mish mash held together by the strength of the various styles on show and John Wagner’s elegant and understated blend of absurdity, drama and action. It’s VERY GOOD!
This volume of JUDGE DREDD: THE MEGA COLLECTION also includes “Helter Skelter” a 12-parter from the year 2001 which marked Garth Ennis’ return to the character of Dredd. In comparison to the “Day The Law Died” it’s a slight effort indeed, but not without its charms. An experiment in dimension mapping comes unstuck when a probe returns with what looks remarkably like the Geeks from the old 2000AD strip THE V.C.S. Further incursions of the familiar occur, and it all turns out to be a plot by Judge Cal from another dimension to kill Dredd, since he can’t stand the idea that there’s a dimension where Dredd won. Cal is accompanied by an army of Judges, a bunch of Dredd’s old enemies (dead in this dimension: Fink, Rico, Murd The Oppressor, Cap’n Skank, etc) equally upset at the thought of a live Dredd and a bunch of dimensional flotsam and jetsam familiar to elderly Squaxx Dec Thargo, or keen readers of reprints.
It’s all done with a sense of fun (there are roughly “two thousand” dimensions already mapped. Ho ho!) and while it trades unashamedly in nostalgia there’s enough of a plot and some decent jokes to leave you with a smile (and maybe a little tear as you recall Ace Garp’s sign off floating through the air). Carlos Ezquerra draws the bulk of it and is as reliably Carlos Ezquerra as ever. Most notable are his computer manipulated backgrounds which are interesting reminders that he was a swift adopter of new tech. Henry Flint does a bit of it and he’s as inkily delightful as ever, managing to evoke early McMahon while also being clearly his own man. “Helter Skelter” has some good scenes and makes a valid point about the Judges (they don’t do it for their benefit but for the citizens’ benefit) but is never really more than a bit of a nicely illustrated lark. GOOD!
NEXT TIME: Uh, maybe look at some other bits of Dredd’s world? People seem interested in that judging from the, uh, two comments. So pack your swimsuit and your sun oil! Factor 2000!
7 PSYCHOPATHS #1-3 Art by Sean Phillips Written by Fabien Vehlmann Translated by Dan Heching Coloured by Hubert Lettered by Troy Peteri BOOM! Studios, $3.99 each (2010)
Despite sharing a name this 3 issue comic book series published by BOOM! Studios in 2010 is nothing to do with Martin McDonagh’s 2012 ridiculously overstuffed (but still wildly enjoyable) movie. Also, despite it involving an attempt on Adolf Hitler’s life by a bunch of ne’er do wells any similarities with Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Bastards” (2009) will have to come from you, because I don’t watch Quentin Tarantino movies anymore. I’d rather watch the movies he rips off, uh, repurposes. Hey, you watch what you want and I’ll watch what I want, nobody’s judging anyone here. Going on the brief text piece provide by Sean Phillips in the back of #3 this was initially published as a 1 volume hardback in that there Europe in 2007. Which explains why each issue feels weirdly paced, particularly the first one where they don’t even finish introducing the cast before you hit the back cover. Still, no one’s going to be reading it in monthly instalments in 2017 so it’s not really a concern. I’m sorry I brought it up. Alright, alright, don’t go on about it. ♫♬♩ Let it go, let it go, let it gooooooooooooooo! ♫♬♩.
So the high concept is set a nutter to kill a nutter. Or 7 nutters, for as Joshua Goldschmidt, the plan’s instigator and principal nutter, points out, 7 in the Kabbalah (קַבָּלָה) symbolises completeness. I remember this from R.E. lessons myself; you know, all that business about 7 days to create the world, Exodus telling you how to make a 7 candle menorah, er, 7 brides for 7 brothers all that. 40 was a pretty popular number in the Bible or Torah (תּוֹרָה) (from which the Kabbalah is derived) as well, maybe Joshua Goldschmidt would have been better with 40 psychopaths. He would certainly have been better with 40 days, because he also specifies the mission has to take 7 days. It’s a bit of a tight deadline that but, hey, he’s not the full shilling is he? He’s all about the number 7 this guy. But why people with, uh, issues. Look, okay, I apologise for using the term “nutters” back there, I did so on the understanding that we’re all here to have a bit of light hearted fun, and that when I use the term I’m kind of just indicating how exaggerated and cartoonish the mental health issues on show are. Life is hard and we’re all built differently, and it takes its toll on us all in different ways. You know, my compos isn’t exactly totally mentis either but, yeah, I hear you, words matter. Duly noted. Even Goldschmidt pitches a fit when he catches his Special Executive Operations (SEO) liaison calling the project “7 Psychopaths”, even though there are 7 of them and they are all…
…talented in their own ways. Willy Wright just wants to be loved and to this end can transform himself into anyone you like with a bit of bootblack and a comb, like that “Ooo will buy mah steecks!” guy off the Fast Show or (my Bronze Age DC fave) The Unknown Soldier, but without the hideous facial scarring. I guess that’s because there was no scarring left to go round because "The Warlord" is a hulking crust of scar tissues with tendencies of a decidedly pyromaniacal stripe. He’s a mute, unlike the voice in Erik Starken’s head which is that of the Berlin paperhanger himself and which stridently orates about intense visions of possible futures, with a worrying rate of accuracy. Our female member, Susan, would be worried about that but she’s too busy worrying about everything else, she’s the best shot in the forces but her tendency towards catastrophic thinking keeps shooting her concentration to shit. In the shit is where Captain Stewart finds himself after a bit of murdering but who better to turn his murder on than the architect of mass murder himself, the failed painter, Hitler. James Smith is so sane he’s insane and Joshua Goldschmidt we’ve already met. That’s 7, yeah? Phew! Goldschmidt reckons his plan will succeed because his crew’s unpredictability will make it impossible for the enemy to anticipate them. He’s not wrong. If anything he’s too right, because the unpredictability takes a terrible toll on the plan early in the game. Pretty much precisely at the series’ half way mark in fact.
Which, unless you’ve just read a review which spoils it for you, comes pretty much out of left field. But don’t worry because that inept (and most likely aged and balding) reviewer has left plenty of other “!” moments unrevealed. See, the big thing about 7 Psychopaths is how refreshing the storytelling is. It doesn’t go where you think, and it doesn’t get to where it’s going the way you expect. It’s kind of bracing not to have the same old trex from the same old guys who’ve all read the same old books on “How To Sell Tepid Undemanding Shit To Hollywood” without realising (or caring, let’s be honest) how stultifying and homogenous most genre entertainment has become as a consequence. Three Act Structure! Meet the mentor! The Hero’s Journey! No room at his inn, pal! Yup, the best thing about 7 Psychopaths is that Joseph Campbell’s dead and withered balls haven’t been rubbed all over it so hard all the individuality’s been erased. I don’t know whether that’s because European comics have a whole different set of genre conventions, or Fabien Vehlmann is some kind of Gallic genius, but what I know is 7 Psychopaths wrong footed me throughout. It’s also pretty funny in a dark way. Just saying.
Of course this BOOM! Edition was aimed at an Engish or American audience so being healthily xenophobic we don’t care about Fabien Vehlmann with his, ugh, Frenchness, no matter how well he’s written this; no, we’re probably drawn to this because it was, uh, drawn by Sean Phillips. Mostly Sean Phillips spends his time making Ed Brubaker comics far more interesting than they have any right to be, so it’s nice to see him do something else. He does a pretty good job here; he’s Sean Phillips after all, so even on a bad day he’s still got some sweet chops. The panels are quite small, Euro-style, and he never gets a full splash, yank style, so he seizes by the scruff the few three quarter splashes he does get. Yeah, he has some fun with those showing the prophetic pantomime show going on in Starken's head. The stained glass Hitler warning us of the Cuban Missile Crisis was my favourite. Although the bit where they open the door to meet Hitler hits its hilarious mark spot on as well. Spoilt for choice, really. It’s a war book so by necessity it’s a reference heavy book and Sean Phillips does okay. I didn’t check any of it, but the German uniforms look like German uniforms and the Jerry tank is a Tiger instead of a Russki T-34, the British look British etc. The physical locations all look present and correct, largely because he seems to have drawn over photos so well they should be. There’s a bit too much “Sean’s Smile” going on (look at his work long enough and you soon recognise “Sean’s Smile”) and some problems getting the distinctive German helmet right, but all my carps are small carps. It’s Sean Phillips stretching himself so, you know, it’s solid with the odd burst of spectacular. On reflection I’m probably just being overly picky because he doesn’t find room for his signature “white shirts with creases”, which I enjoy seeing so much.
7 Psychopaths is inventively written and nicely drawn stuff so I’m going to give it a GOOD!
OI! Where do you think you're swanning off to? No one said you could go. Sit back down. Right...Now look, it’s a sad reflection on the depths our collective psyche has plumbed that I feel the need to point out that in this series Hitler is the bad guy. Further, and it kind of pains me to have to spell this out, in real life Hitler was the bad guy. He was a “bad dude”, in the parlance of today’s POTUS. Previously that could go unspoken, but apparently some of you out there these days don’t really get the whole Nazi thing. Even I in my blithely middle-aged caveman no Facebook, no Twitter life picked up on the recent furore over whether it was right to punch Nazis. I really don’t know what’s so hard about that question. Was everyone just stuck for moral dilemmas that week? Had everyone forgotten their history? Have you all lost your furshluginner minds! The Nazis were a blight on humanity. They still are. They always will be. The evil is built in. Nazism is a giant filthy ideological cancer that will metastasize like mad given half a chance. So you don’t give it that chance. Oy! What’s hard about this, I ask you?!? Say you go to your doctor and he or she pulls a funny face and orders some X-rays, and later finds some shadows on your lungs, okay? He or she doesn’t go “Gee, we should maybe encourage that. Maybe you should take up smoking, eat a lot of burnt toast? Smoke more if you already smoke, get some Genetically modified food into your diet, put your head in the microwave if you can. Y’know, a lot of people talk cancer down, but, you know, maybe if we encourage it, give it chance to grow it’ll make you shit gold bars and bring a Heaven on earth.” No, he or she gets zapping that crap as fast as he or she can.
Fucking Nazis. What’s up with you all out there? Try turning off MR fucking ROBOT and picking up a book. If you ever find yourself going, “Hmm. You know, maybe those Nazis have a point.” Something’s gone wrong in your head. There’s no “shades of grey” here. It is simply black and white. Or black with silver piping and a natty little skull to boot. Nazis! Their “philosophy” was/is childish horseshit. A load of half understood crap science and mindrot mythology, about being descended from a race of people who live in the earth’s core. That’s a 1970s Edgar Rice Burroughs movie starring Doug McClure and Caroline Munro not a workable philosophy! Some of those evil goofballs were actually, really, truly, looking for Biblical nonsense like The Ark of The Covenant and The Spear of Destiny. That was in the 1940s, Kirk Brandon didn’t even form Spear of Destiny until 1983! That’s how fucking smart Nazis are. But John, they are smart, they’ve read Nietzsche! Don’t give me that Nietzsche stuff, unlike most Nazis I’ve read Nietzsche, and as problematic as a big woolly humanist like me finds him, Nietzsche would have spat in their faces. Of course they’d have bested his more subtle ratiocinations by catching him in an alley and kicking him to death en masse, or maybe throwing a Molotov through his window while he slept, you know, in that brave way Nazis have. And they’re always the injured party! O! So badly done to! Nazis! Always the fucking underdogs, even when they’re shoving bayonets through barbed wire at your emaciated frame. It’s still your fault! Why are you making them do this! Can’t you see the tears in their eyes as they bundle you into that van with the hose leading from the exhaust into the air vent! You heartless untermensch! The poor wickle Nazi lambs.
They have to do all this rank shit because, well, er, the Treaty of Versailles went too far. That’s it. That’s their rationale. Look, the Treaty of Versailles was in 1919 and had to do with Germany’s reparations for WW1. ♫♬♩ Let it go, let it go, let it gooooooooooooooo! ♫♬♩. I don’t know what earthly reason an American Nazi has to feel badly done to. Particularly as the average American Nazi would probably look at you gone out if you even mentioned the Treaty of Versailles. I imagine they aren’t too tight on the whole WW1 deal either. I guess it must just be terrible living in the richest country in the world. Is it that there’s too many black people? Too many Jews? Too Many Hispanics? Too many cooks? Have you seen how big America is! No, if there’s too many of anything there’s too many Nazis. If there’s one Nazi there’s too many Nazis. Even if (and it’s a pretty big if) American Nazis were still sore about the Treaty of Versailles, or whatever’s hurt their sensitive Nazi feelings in America (Black people being able to drink from water fountains? ALF getting cancelled?), what are they working towards? The most successful Nazi ever was Hitler and Hitler’s Germany ended up (and these are just the highlights you understand) shooting the mentally ill and shoving people in ovens. That wasn’t a mistake; things didn’t just get a little bit out of hand; that was the plan. That. Was. The. Plan. I don’t know, call me a snowflake, but that’s not an ideal outcome to my mind. But to Nazis it is. That’s what they are working towards. That’s still the plan. Building giant autobahns with concrete mixed with your ashes. Something to aim for there. Really worthwhile stuff. Making the world a better place, yeah? Seriously, Nazis have nothing to offer humanity. Sit round the negotiating table with a Nazi and you’ll soon find they have nothing to offer. It’s never long before they start on the old “ethnic cleansing” tip. Dead giveaway really, that. I find the whole “ethnic cleansing” thing a bit of a deal breaker, speaking personally. I’m just funny like that.
Remember that bit in The Dead Zone where Johnny Smith asks Dr Sam Weizak if it would be right to go back in time and kill Hitler? He doesn’t ask if it is okay to go back and punch Hitler, does he? No, he cuts straight to the chase. And the Doc does too: “I'm a man of medicine. I'm expected to save lives and ease suffering. I love people. Therefore, I would have no choice but to kill the son of a bitch.” Christ, I got my moral instruction from Original Star Trek, 2000AD, a second hand illustrated Bible and my ol' Mum’s Stephen King novels, and even I know whether or not to punch a Nazi is the wrong question. The right question is why are there still Nazis? Sort yourselves out, you’re a disgrace. It’s 2017 not 1939; sort it.
NEXT TIME: Maybe something else from that there Europe because whatever the original language they are all – COMICS!!!
So while I was musing, as is my wont, upon THE LAST AMERICAN it occurred to me that it could also be read as a riposte to another strip involving a trek across a post-nuke landscape. One Wagner was also involved in, but which was driven mainly by Pat Mills. The difference between the two approaches is telling. But I don't tell you about that, instead I just ramble aimlessly in my irritatingly hyperbolic style. It's “An Impossible Journey Through a Radioactive Hell...” It's “The Cursed Earth”! JUDGE DREDD: THE CURSED EARTH by McMahon & Mills
JUDGE DREDD: THE MEGA COLLECTION Vol. 32: THE CURSED EARTH Art by Mick McMahon, Brian Bolland (Dave Gibbons inks one episode) and John Higgins Written by Pat Mills, John Wagner, Chris Lowder and Alan Grant Lettered by Tom Frame, Peter Knight and John Aldrich Originally serialised in 2000AD Progs61-85 & JUDGE DREDD ANNUAL 1988. © 1978, 1987 & 2015 Rebellion A/S Hatchette Partworks/Rebellion, £9.99 (2015) JUDGE DREDD created by Carlos Ezquerra & John Wagner
“The Cursed Earth” started in Prog 61 of 2000AD and is when Judge Dredd, for me (yes, it’s all about me!), became not just one more very good thing about 2000AD, but the very best thing about 2000AD. Pat Mills seizes the reins, with an assist from John Wagner & Chris Lowder, and starts hacking all the ballast from Dredd’s first appearance (in Prog 2) back to the raw necessities, and there’s a marked emphasis on cohesion of backstory. The first shaky steps on this road had been made in the “Robot Wars” and “Luna-1” extended story lines, but it’s “The Cursed Earth” where things really start to click into place and the mythological underpinnings really lend the strip its own unique flavour. Basically Judge Dredd starts to feel a lot less like Dirty Harry in the future and a lot more like its own crazysexy thing. In these 21(*) episodes (each roughly 7 pages in length) the strip savagely shears off the generic elements and imprints the series with the signature super-satirical lunacy, mega violent mayhem and boundless imagination which will propel it through to 2017. Also, it’s also a fuck ton of fun.
Oh, it’s still a work in progress and there’s still some pruning to be done; witness the first episode, set in 2100AD, when Dredd’s old friend, Red, a space pilot returns from a plague ridden Mega City Two with a desperate plea for help. In hindsight not only is it unlikely Dredd would have a friend who was not a Judge, the idea of Dredd having friends of any description seems to soften the character to almost Mr Tumble proportions. Dredd comes off as strangely naïve throughout; quick to recognise the decency in radlanders (“I guess all mutants AREN'T crazy and evil...”) and often appalled by the depths people sink to (At one point he even writes “SOMETIMES THE HUMAN RACE MAKES ME SICK!” in his notebook in block CAPS with underlining, like a disillusioned adolescent. Not quite the stony faced arbiter of authoritarianism we will all come to both fear and pity. But then this is mostly Pat Mills' baby and so it is a heady blend of shrieking polemic and apocalyptic violence, events are so awesomely unhinged the characters have to shout their way through them as though they can't believe what's happening either (“THE BRUTE'S TRYING TO EAT THE KILL-DOZER!”) Chris Lowdner would be lost to the mists of time and John Wagner would cover himself in glory hereafter but “The Cursed Earth” is very much a Pat Mills strip. On the upside, for those who find Mills too antagonistically blunt, there’s a dizzying explosion of world building on show. Mega City Two is first mentioned here, and expands Dredd’s world considerably, being a West coast equivalent of Mega City One. Well, at least it is until 2114AD when it is nuked to ash during the “Day of Judgement” epic. Fourteen years earlier though, in order to prevent the whole of Mega City 2 devolving into feral cannibals Dredd will have to deliver an antidote to the 2T(FRU)T (that’s right, “oh Rudy!”) virus by crossing “over a thousand miles of hostile radioactive desert!” The Cursed Earth! which is named here for the first time.
The mind thrashingly bizarre encounters include The Last President of America, Robert “Smooth” Booth, (affording us our first glimpse of how the Judges came to power), escaped genetically engineered dinosaurs (linking Judge Dredd to “FLESH!” (AKA “The Best Comic Strip Ever!”; thus spaketh the sage John Kane (age 7)), masses of mutants both good and bad (which will provide much grist to the strip’s mill in the decades ahead) and the war droid survivors of The Battle of Armageddon (2071AD). (These last and the dinosaurs will also be linked by Pat Mills later to his ABC Warriors strip, which will itself become linked to “Invasion: 1999” etc etc etc) And that’s just the continuity stuff I can remember. Then there’s the crazytown who make sacrifices to flying rats, Mount Rushmore with a special addition, the mutant slavers, the Las Vegas mafia Judges, sad faced telekinetic Novar and his spindly metal tree, Tweek the rock eating alien who is more human than the humans who degrade him, and I know I already mentioned the dinosaurs, but I did not specifically mention SATANUS, THE SON OF OLD ONE-EYE! And I don’t think it’s possible to mention rampaging genetically engineered dinosaurs too much. SATANUS! SATANUS! Rah! Rah! Rah! Cough, uh, anyway Dredd’s band is hassled by that eyeboggling lot as they cross The Cursed Earth. Oh, they have to go by land, see, because the cannibals have taken over the spaceports, or there are “death belts” of rocks in the air which are never ever mentioned again, or both; I can’t recall. It doesn’t matter. No one said it was drum tight stuff. It’s 1978! Just go with it. Dredd soon crews up, gears up and sets off into one of the most entertaining uses humanity has ever put paper and ink to - “The Cursed Earth”. You think I’m exaggerating? It’s drawn by Mike McMahon and Brian Bolland.
Dredd and his team of elite Judges (Gradgrind, Patton and, uh, Jack) are accompanied by Spikes Harvey Rotten and some war droids aboard the Modular Fighting Unit. Continuity is bolstered by the return of Judge Jack from “Robot Wars”, and Spikes Harvey Rotten, who is drawn here by McMahon completely differently from Bolland’s original in “Death Race 5000” (but Bolland here gamely follows McMahon’s lead). The names of Dredd’s compadres are a nice touch too, adding another level of fun to the proceedings. Judge Gradgrind recalls Charles Dickens’ character Thomas Gradgrind (from HARD TIMES (1854) and whose surname has become a byword for hard hearted philistinism); Judge Patton is named after the flinty WW2 U.S. General, as famous for slapping a wounded soldier as for his nickname of “Old Blood and Guts” (which also foreshadows “Old Blood and Nuts” who crops up later); and Judge Jack is called that because that’s what he was called last time. Mills often has fun with names, witness also Judge Fodder who lives up to his jokily obvious name in short order (“AAAGH!!”).
You might think that that stuff might be above most 8 year olds and you wouldn’t be wrong, but since it’s 2017 and we’re still here talking about a comic from 1978, I will stand by my belief that it’s always better to write up to than to write down to your audience. Essentially though, the primary audience in 1978 was most definitely kids, so it was a smart move to base the Modular Fighting Unit on the MATCHBOX ADVENTURE 2000, K-2001, "COMMAND RAIDER" toy. Also, having a physical reference would have helped keep McMahon and Bolland on-model, because stylistically those two were/are apples and oranges, Ditko and Kirby, ham and eggs, Hammerstein and Ro-Jaws, Bogie and Bacall, uh, pretty different but both great, yeah? And a bit of visual consistency never hurts. Lest we forget each of these episodes originally appeared weekly, so it’s no surprise that McMahon shoulders most of the burden since Bolland’s never really been built for speed. His art may be a crisper, cleaner and altogether more elegant affair, but it’s little Micky whose scruffy bursts of inky mania prove a far better fit.
JUDGE DREDD: THE CURSED EARTH by McMahon, Mills & Aldrich
Back in 1978 Bolland’s the better draughtsman, but his Cursed Earth is a tad too antiseptic. That alien slaver might have a nose festooned with boils but it still looks like you could eat your dinner off 'em. It’s attractive stuff artistically speaking and Bolland’s astonishingly accomplished even at this early stage but Mike McMahon? Look, Bolland is beautiful, but Micky’s the Man. You wouldn’t even want to eat your dinner off a dinner plate if Mick McMahon (circa ’78) drew it. His art here is just such raw bloody fun and the sheer talent on show is immense. Each of McMahon’s pages is so hectic with incident and so deceptively detailed that in lesser hands they would collapse into eye boggling unintelligibility. The control of flow and density of information is that of a master, but the energy and chutzpah is that of a sugar rushed kid. It’s a killer combo for a strip paced as crazily as Judge Dredd circa ’78. Most comic artists could work a lifetime and never reach this peak, but for little Mick McMahon it was just the start. And the stuff both Bolland and McMahon are called upon to draw is punishing and unrelenting in its demands.
In 2017 most comics hunger to be TV shows or movies and so the imagination on show is (unconsciously?) limited by implicit budgetary restrictions. Back in 1978 it was understood that comics were movies without budget, and thus there were no limits to the imagination. Back then, basically, Brit comics blew the bloody doors off. Jim Lee would sue for mental cruelty if he had to draw an episode of “The Cursed Earth” in a week. Or even a panel. In one panel McMahon has to draw a T-Rex smashing through a prison wall while all the prisoners react in a fairly understandable fashion. Another finds our T Rex drooling mutilated bodies from its flesh glutted mouth as it rampages about. What? No, not splash pages, panels. About six of those things to a page, each imbued with so much atmosphere you can practically smell the fetid stench of theT-Rex's breath. It’s a strong style, sure, and it’s not for everyone, which is why in the halls of my mind he will evermore be known as Mike “Mango Chutney” McMahon.
JUDGE DREDD: THE CURSED EARTH by McMahon, Mills & Frame
“The Cursed Earth” is kind of wonky, and lopsided but it is drawn by two All-Time Great artists, and has a narrative festooned with visions of the impossible which sear themselves indelibly into your soul. It would be a stony heart indeed which could be left unmoved. And the bit where Dredd finally staggers into Mega City Two battered, rad-burned, stubborn beyond sanity and still defiant is a comic book moment up there with Spidey and his machinery lifting.“The Cursed Earth” is VERY GOOD!
JUDGE DREDD: LAST OF THE BAD GUYS by Higgins, Wagner, Grant & Frame
The book also contains a later strip from the JUDGE DREDD ANNUAL 1982 by Wagner, Grant & Higgins. “Last of the Bad Guys” is inessential stuff, notable mainly for Higgins' queasy colour scheme and the ability of Wagner and Grant to pad out an idea more suited to 7 pages to 30 pages without leaving you feeling too short-changed. It's OKAY!
(*) Originally “The Cursed Earth” was 25 episodes long but this reprint omits the “Burger Wars” and “Soul Food” chapters, 4 episodes in total. Since the strips mocked the copyrighted characters of McDonalds, Burger King, and Green Giant (amongst others) and this led to legal action, these were not reprinted until 2016 in ““The Cursed Earth” Uncensored”. This was due to a 2014 change in the law implementing a European directive on copyright law allowing the use of copyright-protected characters for parody. Bloody Brussels! Bloody unelected bureaucrats! Coming over here and staffing our Health services! Grrr! Oh, wait…Anyway, I can’t remember the missing episodes having only read them once, and so “The Cursed Earth” no longer includes them in my head. Basically I’m not fussed that this book is “incomplete”, but you might be. You know how funny you can be about these things.
JUDGE DREDD: THE CURSED EARTH by McMahon, Mills & Frame
NEXT TIME: A flamboyantly insane man-child achieves the highest office in the land endangering the lives of millions! Is it reality or – COMICS!!!
Anyway, this... DARK KNIGHT III: THE MASTER RACE #5 Pencils by Andy Kubert Inks by Klaus Janson Story by Frank Miller (Yeah, right) & Brian Azzarello Colours by Brad Anderson Letters by Clem Robins Cover by Andy Kubert & Brad Anderson Variant Covers by Frank Miller & Alex Sinclair, Jim Lee, Scott Williams & Alex Sinclair, Klaus Janson & Alex Sinclair, Paul Pope & Jose Villarubia, Karl Kerschl Based on THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS by Frank Miller (WITH Lynn Varley, Klaus Janson & John Constanza. Remember them, DC Comics?) DC Comics, $5.99 or $12.99 (deluxe) (2016)
DARK KNIGHT III: THE MASTER RACE #6 Pencils by Andy Kubert Inks by Klaus Janson Story by Frank Miller (Yeah, sure) & Brian Azzarello Colours by Brad Anderson Letters by Clem Robins Cover by Andy Kubert & Brad Anderson Variant Covers by Frank Miller & Alex Sinclair, Jim Lee, Scott Williams & Alex Sinclair, Klaus Janson & Romulo Fajardo Greg Tocchini, Guiseppe Camuncoli & Dave Stewart Based on THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS by Frank Miller (WITH Lynn Varley, Klaus Janson & John Constanza. I'm pretty sure they were all involved too, DC Comics.) DC Comics, $5.99 or $12.99 (deluxe) (2016)
I've read these comics several times now, trying to pinpoint exactly what it is about them that gets my back up so. Every time I read them new flaws come to light. So much so that it's got to the point now that I'm afraid if I read them again I'll discover the ink is actually the blood of poor people or they are printed on capybara skin. It's hard to think how a comic could fail so badly at pretty much everything. It's a Batman comic, for goodness sake. We're not talking about PROVIDENCE or HUMAN DIASTROPHISM here. Batman. I've tried to find the bright spots but I can only come up with one: in issue #5 Batman seeds the clouds with Kryptonite and the resulting rain depowers the Kandorians enough for everyone to lay into them. I liked that, it was fun and goofy and pretty much COMICS!!! Everything else made me wonder what everyone was thinking to let this get published. (Besides $$$$!)
DKIII:TMR by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson, Robins & Miller
Eventually I hit upon the answer. Or an answer. It was during one of Brian Azzarello's tedious inner monologues which he characteristically spreads across as many panels as he can, like a miser with margarine, in an attempt to disguise the banality of the thought at its heart. In this particular overwrought paean to intellectual aridity Batman refers to Fear as “My nanny.” Eureka!, I thought. And not because the comic stank no, all had come clear. They were trying to out-Frank Frank but because they fundamentally misunderstood THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS they had outflanked themselves. The ridiculously hyperbolic interior monologue is as much The Tank as wearing a hat that looks bigger than him, but Frank knows when to stop. Azzarello thinks you just keep going, listing things until you've filled enough panels. At no point did it occur to him that the “nanny” was way over the line into bathos. I mean, a fucking nanny. How identifiable. What next? “Fear is my Hedge Fund Manager.” “Fear is my Chauffeur.” “Fear is my Personal Masseur.” Seriously, by the time Batman is telling me Fear is his Nanny, he's no longer the Dark Avenger of the Night and is instead an addelpated overpriveleged fop in need of a hired titty to suck.
DKIII:TMR by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson, Robins & Miller
The Tank would also go so large his ideas dwarfed our minds, but he'd stick to it. He'd fulfill that promise. He'd have a nuclear strike on the American mainland by Golly, and he'd make you feel it too. This clueless bunch trap Superman in a black matter shell which is, apparently, an whole 'nother infinity of bizarreness for eternity. What do we get. Pictures of Superman like he's caked in quick drying scat. The only thing Azzarello can think to do with it is set up a fucking awful play on the words “fork” and “fuck”. Seriously, is Carrie eleven years old? About that, during this series Carrie drawn as being just past Bruce Wayne's waist heightwise. How come everyone in issue #1 thought this flailing munchkin was Batman. And howcum his Bat-suit fit her? It should have hung off her like when Alfred used to wear it in the Adam West series, and be about as convincing. This comic is so terrible it makes previous issue worse retroactively, and they were pretty dire to start with.
DKIII:TMR by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson, Robins & Miller
So this Black Matter dimension, right? There's a load of people telling us how terrible a pickle Superman is in (over a whole host of pages, natch) but he just pops out of it in a stunningly dull splash page (i.e. typically Andy Kubert). I have had balloons from the fair that were weightier than this threat. It's all huffing and puffing this comic, working so hard to avoid doing any hard work that it might have just done the hard work in the first place. Having underplayed everything to a remarkably wearying degree they then have Superman recover from this awesome threat by just touching his face and wincing, and then he feels all better. It's high stakes stuff you can feel in your boots! This wholly unnecessary side road into adventure-as-tedium tries one last time to convince us something of import has happened by having Superman declare that while in the Black Matter Scat he searched his soul. Sorry, his SOUL (because Brian Azzarello's random emphases are in full effect throughout this, sorry, THIS, series). That sounds interesting doesn't it? I wonder what Superman saw in his SOUL. And I'll have to keep wondering because they haven't got a clue with how to do anything with that, and the book strolls into the next scene. Mostly though, I wonder what Brian Azzarello sees when he stares into our souls. His career? (Take your time…geddit?) And because this team can't give without taking away, the groovy Kryptonite rain pays off with Superman in a no-neck-robot suit. This suit is so hilariously drab and perfunctorily designed you wonder if your eyes are having a laugh. Even better it has a fully molded reproduction of Superman's face as the helmet. It's just...shit. Utter, utter shit. Which is two more shits than the people involved in this comic apparently gave.
Ah, the people! Thus far the ridiculously poorly thought out metaphor for Terrorism has floated about in the sky and asked the people of Gotham to bring it Batman. Now, ask yourself what you do when you want to find something. No, not Batman. Just your keys or that picture of Howard Victor Chaykin looking well buff. Okay? Right, do you run around like a screaming maniac smashing things and setting things on fire? No? Well that's what the people of Gotham do. For several days. Batman feels all put out because the poorly thought out metaphor for Terrorism has shown humanity at its “worst”. But Batman is mistaken. The people who made this comic have shown us at our “worst”. It's this nasty, tiny-minded, and thoroughly adolescent view of human nature which is the biggest bellyflop in replicating the spirit (good movie; shut your face!) of DKR. Yeah, the people of Gotham behaved abominably in the original, but there came a tipping point. Humanity came through. Jim Gordon had Sarah, and thinking of her made everything easy;Gotham rioted and looted, but it pulled together and mostly without Batman. Fires were extinguished, people held out hands and lifted others up. Sanity and humanity prevailed. Sure, Batman helped, but after the understandable initial wobble after the nuke hit, people were the best we could be.
"The SPIRIT spreads as fast as the fire. Two NURSES show up out of NOWHERE--they don't have a DAMN thing to work with..The ones they can't COMFORT they get DRUNK. a HARDHAT grabs a LUGWRENCH from the back of his dead TRUCK and smashes open a FIRE HYDRANT. The man at the HARDWARE STORE puts his shotgun away and empties PAINT BUCKETS all over his new tile FLOOR. A LINE forms." Frank Miller in DKR, 1986.
That generosity of spirit (I'm telling you, revisit it) is wholly absent from DKIII:TMR. The people of Gotham are a mob which Batman redirects at the Kandorians. In DKR people were humans, in DKIII:TMR people are weapons. Ugh. Just ugh.
All that is prologue because in DKIII:TMR #6 Batman dies! Yes! You read it here first, effendi! Batman dies! (Well, you know, "dies") OMG! Has Brian Azzarello been crowbarred onto on a US TV talk show where they clearly couldn’t give a tin shit about comics, and been patronised like a precocious child who can recite the Bible backwards? You know, fielding hardball questions like, “And the words, do you write all those yourself?”; “I see, the pictures are drawn by another person? Golly!”; “You are in your forties now and you’re on TV talking about killing Batman, do you sometimes wake up with your face inexplicably damp with tears?”, “Well, Batman sure has changed since I was a kid! Now here’s Chet with news of a dog with a very special talent. Chet…?” If he hasn’t why not? This is important business! The death of comic book characters is seismic stuff! I still remember where I was when I heard Hawkeye had shot the Hulk with a Special Bendisium Arrow. At home. Or at work. One of the two. I don’t get out much, so it was definitely one of those. Titter ye not, non-continuity-poorly-written-Batman dying is a real ball jangler! I hope that guy who studies Batman is paying attention, his reading list just got EDGY! I cannot overstate the importance of this development! These pages are soaked in historical significance like a teenagers tissues are soaked in dead jizz! The game just got changed, my friend. BOOM! My kid tried to pick this comic up, but luckily I roundhouse kicked him across the room before his germy fingers could soil this Near Mint Collector’s Edition. “THIS IS YOUR COLLEGE FEES!!! DON’T!!! YOU!!! EVER!!! TOUCH!!! IT!!! I screamed into his traumatised face as he spat out his teeth like bloody chiclets . Kids don’t get it, comics aren’t for them anymore. They are for death fetishists and preposterously optimistic speculators. Hurrah!
Remember Captain Marvel’s death scene in DKSA? “Where does a dream go?”, “Go out with a lion’s roar!”, all that, yeah? It was about a page if that, he was a supporting player if that, and it resonates through the decades to make my elderly eyes tear up still. Here in DKIII:TMR in stark and daft contrast Batman gets shot in the back by B’al-D'ee’s eye beams . Mind, he mustn’t have hit anything too vital because Bats has time to swoon into Superman’s No Neck Robot Suit arms and tell Superman not to take him to hospital because, uh, I guess he mustn’t have kept up with his insurance? Or maybe he doesn’t like those gowns that tie at the back and leave your arse flapping about? This heat beam takes its sweet time to find anything vital because Bats has chance to tell Supes to tell Carrie…what? We’ll never know. Oh! What gems from the pen of Brian Azzarello have we been deprived of! Possibly, “Tell Carrie…I’m sorry I involved her in this nonsensical belly flop of half arsed execution and poor creative choices.” Maybe it’s “Tell Carrie…I love her, tell Carrie I need her, tell Carrie I may be late, I've something to do, that cannot wait.” I can see Bruce being a big Richie Valens fan. Superman’s more Glen Miller, I think. KRYPTON-65000! Doodly doo doo! Well, that’s about as likely as Batman getting shot in the back by heat vision.
Even worse, because if there’s one thing DKIII:TMR likes to do it’s up the ante on awful, “Clever”, thinks Superman as his Bat pal is felled. “Clever.” Clever, my charred arse. Unless Superman has just realised the answer to that morning’s Daily Planet crossword clue which had him stymied over his java and Lucky Charms ("Closet's opening needs handle, quick" (6)) then I don’t know what he’s on about. “Clever.” That guy shot someone with his eyebeams. Ooh, that’s a smart move! You should write that one down Superman, maybe do that yourself sometime. What else does Superman think eyebeams are for? Reheating his java because he’s spent so long on his crossword that it’s gone clap cold. “Clever.” Sometimes I just despair. Remember Waterloo where it looked like Napoleon had won but The Duke of Wellington said he was going home, and as he walked away he spun round and shot Napoleon with his musket. “Clever”, said the history books. (Or for the Internet generation: This Entitled Elitist White Male Warmonger Won The Battle With This Clever Trick And The French Hate Him! (Picture of a dog with tits)) (NB I know Napoleon didn't die at Waterloo, I sincerely doubt Batman dies here.) The death of Captain Marvel this ain’t. “Where does a dream go?” More like, “Where does a chump go?” “Go out with a lion’s roar!””, nah, “Go out with a wet fart!” It’s not the same really is it? Not “This would be a good death. Good enough” but “This would be a shit death. Shit enough.” Nothing about DKIII: TMR is “good enough”. The “death” least of all. Who signed off on this? Who thought, “Yeah, that’s good that is.” I’d really like to know. Names, I want names. Forget it, I just want it to be over. The best bits of DKIII:TMR are when The Tank draws something, even if it is all messy and wobbly and clearly the work of a man in trouble, it's still obviously COMICS!!! While DKIII:TMR is cynical, idiotic, vacuous and tiresome CRAP!