Thursday, December 24, 2009

122. Aliens and Robots

March 2003: More than four years since Judge Dredd last crossed over with Batman, he's back in another scrap with a media franchise. This time it's Aliens, the unaccountably popular character-free badasses who've become a marketing juggernaut for 20th Century Fox and Dark Horse Comics. This publisher has been churning out a huge library of tie-in miniseries, most of which seem to have them fighting the Predators from all those other movies. The epic 16-week series is co-written by John Wagner and Andy Diggle and drawn by Henry Flint, and it's presented in a pretty interesting way: the sixteen weekly 2000 AD episodes are structured to be easily reprinted as four monthly installments by Dark Horse. That publisher also gets the rights for an American-sized trade paperback collection for our market; an oversized hardcover graphic novel will appear in England and Europe a couple of months later as part of Rebellion's new line of European-styled albums.

Well, Aliens may not be to my taste, but this is a very effective story because Wagner and Diggle never waste time building up the Aliens as anything other than big, ugly, acid-blooded grunts in the service of Mr. Bones. If you recall, he was the Undercity criminal introduced a few months earlier in the four-parter where Dredd and a retired judge find him plotting against Mega-City One from the wreckage of the old White House. We learn that Bones' gruesome, scarred appearance is the result of being sprayed in the face with Alien acid many years previously, and he's got a pretty good scheme in mind: blow a whacking huge hole in the foundation of the Hall of Justice and sic several dozen pissed-off Aliens at the judges.

Wagner and Diggle do a fantastic job making this an "entry-level" story for Dark Horse's readers unfamiliar with Judge Dredd. We meet a newly-promoted judge called Sanchez who is the audience identification character, and a squad of "Verminators" who lose a few of their number early on in the story. The build-up is slow and deliberate, and when one Alien gets loose, initially in its small, scuttling form, the Verminators are called in, and then get in trouble when they realize the creature they're looking for is a lot bigger than they thought.

The resulting story is a darn good one for middle school-aged boys, although not, perhaps, for girls. My son has been staying in Kentucky with his mother for a few months, and missing out on the reread that my daughter and I have been enjoying. She called a halt to Judge Dredd as soon as the Aliens showed up, and grumbled that she wanted to see more Durham Red instead. She did, however, tell her brother on the phone that he was missing out on Judge Dredd vs. Aliens and he about hit the ceiling. He's home for Christmas and I asked whether he'd like to catch up on the thrillpower that he'd missed out on while he has been away. He opened up prog 1300, read about one page, remembered what he heard and asked "When does Judge Dredd vs. Aliens start?"

I could be wrong, but Dark Horse's US-format collected edition does not appear to be in print anymore, but you can still get the hardcover British version from sellers in the UK. Here's the Amazon listing. The book is one of six that Rebellion released in this format towards the end of 2003.

Other stories in prog 1330, shown off with the lovely Frazer Irving wraparound cover shown at the top of the entry, are Bec & Kawl by Si Spurrier and Steve Roberts, The V.C.s by Dan Abnett and Anthony Williams, Atavar by Abnett and Richard Elson and a Tales from Telguuth installment by Steve Moore and Jan Haward.

It's been a couple of years now, but I was talking once in the blog about how Rebellion really needs to bring the sprawling Mechanismo epic back into print. This was a mammoth story full of subplots and subterfuge, detailing the deterioration of Chief Judge MacGruder as she orders the development of robot judges. It seemed like a good idea at the time; with the judges' numbers seriously depleted after the high bodycounts of the "Necropolis" and "Judgement Day" epics, something needed to be done. Turns out, this wasn't it. The stories wormed their way through the pages of the weekly and the then-biweekly Judge Dredd Megazine from 1992-94, before coming to a storming conclusion in the aftermath of a 16-part story called "Wilderlands."

Back in May of '07, I suggested how Rebellion could repackage the story for bookshelves and they have done something quite similar, and very satisfactory. The new "Mechanismo" book, released in October, contains the first three serials from the storyline and deal with one robot, Number Five. These originally appeared from October 1992 to December 1993 and feature art by Colin MacNeil, Peter Doherty and Manuel Benet, with scripts by John Wagner. Although there is a great deal more of the story to come, this book ends on as satisfactory a point as is possible, and hopefully we will see MacGruder's next series of moves in a second volume in 2010.

Wagner does a terrific job in telling the story from multiple viewpoints. The focus shifts from Dredd to various robots to a hapless security clerk, and he uses his frequent Mega-City One trope of having dingbat teevee news announcers comment on the action, which is both effective and very funny. MacNeil and Doherty certainly bring their usual A-games to the party, and Manuel Benet does a laudable job for what I believe was his only assignment for the House of Tharg. It was certainly odd to see a new name dropped in the deep end for what was a critically important story, but Benet's work is pretty good, if perhaps not completely suited to Mega-City weirdness. Production of the book is mostly up to Rebellion's very high standards, but an unfortunate production error left a few erroneous credits on the spine and front cover for artists whose work does not actually appear in the book. Overall, though, a fine collection of a very good sequence of stories, and highly recommended. More, please!

Next time, we end the year and, for now, end this blog! Thrillpowered Thursday is going to take a hiatus for the first few months of 2010, but before we go, a last look at the big thrills from the spring of 2003, including The V.C.s and Caballistics Inc. See you in seven!


Tohoscope said...

Nice Colin MacNeil cover. Is MacNeil still painting for 2000AD?

Grant, the Hipster Dad said...

He alternates between paint and pen and ink. This year, he's done some Dredds along with a very good series with Dan Abnett called Insurrection.