Thursday, May 21, 2009

101. Coming Down Fast

July 2001: Prog 1253 features this nice cover by Colin Wilson. Inside, Judge Dredd is a third of the way through a twelve-part epic written by Garth Ennis, with art mostly provided by Carlos Ezquerra. He'll have to bow out briefly - the story goes that his house was being renovated and the builders were doing a fine impression of O'Reilly's men from Fawlty Towers on his roof - and episodes nine and ten will be drawn by Henry Flint, but honestly, the art doesn't seem to be as enthusiastic as the script. Ennis's return to Judge Dredd, part of a deal to reclaim the copyright on two earlier series for Fleetway, Troubled Souls and For a Few Troubles More, is a head-scratching failure. You can tell that Ennis enjoyed putting it together, but the epic is a humorless suggestion that all of 2000 AD's series share a single "multiverse" like DC Comics, and has the evil Chief Judge Cal (remember him?) of some parallel universe decide to invade our Mega-City One because he hates Dredd so much. Even weirder, he teams up with a selection of long-dead Dredd villains who managed to kill Dredd in their home dimensions (including War Marshal Kazan, Fink Angel, Murd the Oppressor and... Don Uggie Appelino of all people), and are so aggravated to learn that he's still alive in our world that they put their differences aside to come here and get the chance to kill him again.

As the boundaries between universes get messed with, we get cameo invasions by the Geeks from The VCs and Old One Eye from Flesh, while D.R. and Quinch joyride through the city and Dredd's radio picks up CB transmissions from Ace Garp. If only it were played as a wild, non-canon romp, it could have been huge fun, but Ennis scripts it with the touch of lead, and it doesn't feel quite so much like a love letter to the comic's past as a contractual obligation.

Faring a little better is the return of Durham Red by Dan Abnett and Mark Harrison. This is the second big storyline for the character in the far-future continuity that the creators established in 1999. It's much the same as the first, a big, sweeping science fiction epic with armies of humans and mutants in bloody conflict. Like the Dredd story, it's a pretty joyless affair, but at least it's not po-faced. Durham remains a likeable character, even if there are no standouts among the supporting cast and villains.

Harrison's artwork suffers from being too darn dark to distinguish anything. What we can see looks fantastic, but since he composed everything in little snatches of black, midnight blue and purple, it's pretty flat until you really look at it to see the detail. Even when Durham gets half-naked, as she tends to, she does so in a barely-lit room. You read this and wish Godolkin or somebody was wearing canary yellow, just to break up the page, or maybe have the sun come up over the battlefield. The panel below is an example of how neat the strip looks on those occasions he chooses to change things up. It's an interesting mix of scratchy pen and ink and computer-generated color patterns.

The other strips which feature in this issue are the second and final storyline for Pussyfoot 5 by John Smith, Steve Yeowell and Chris Blythe, and the second in a series of short Tor Cyan adventures by John Tomlinson and Kev Walker. Also, there's the climactic adventure in Nikolai Dante's "Tsar Wars" arc by Robbie Morrison and John Burns, about which more next time. Of these stories, only Cyan's has not been reprinted. You can buy the Dredd, the Dante and the Durham Red stories in nice Rebellion paperback collections, and the Pussyfoot 5 story was reprinted in a bagged supplement to the Megazine a few months ago.

Thrillpowered Thursday will be taking a short vacation while I get myself married and my co-readin' children take a short holiday. We'll be taking another break in July as well. But be back in three weeks to read about both the new Dante collected edition and the apocalyptic events of the epic that we are rereading. Plus the Banzai Battalion break out into their own bug-bustin' series! See you in twenty-one, fellow Earthlets!

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