Thursday, July 28, 2011

140. The Megazine Takes it Eazy

June 2004: Well, here's an entry that I can tell is going to be a little frustrating to write. There's so much that I want to say in the next two entries, and get up on a couple of pet hobby horses of mine, but instead I have this utterly flawless issue of Judge Dredd Megazine to discuss. Wow. Reading this again reminds me of how utterly perfect a comic it was during this period. It's a big, thick chunk of a book with a pile of features and some classic black and white reprints (Charley's War and The Helltrekkers) backing up five downright excellent new stories.

On the cover, it's the return of Judge Koburn in his own series, Cursed Earth Koburn. He'd previously appeared as a guest star in a two-part Judge Dredd adventure. Writer Gordon Rennie did this several times, introducing new characters like Johnny Woo and Bato Loco as spotlight-stealing guest stars in Dredd, usually pulling the rug out from under the ostensible lead or otherwise looking much more fun, before they moved out to their own strip. Hey, it works for television spinoffs.

Koburn, of course, is a Dreddworld remodeling of the classic Major Eazy, a delightful World War Two strip by Alan Hebden and Carlos Ezquerra that ran in Battle Picture Weekly in the late seventies. One run of the series was set in North Africa and another in Italy, and it featured a laconic, droopy tactical genius who routinely bettered the Nazis and the fascists by way of being an independent thinker who fought his way, never panicked and never hurried. He was visually modeled on the actor James Coburn, and apart from stick-up-their-rears children who weren't in on the joke and wrote unintentionally hilarious letters to Battle complaining that it was a jolly poor rum show to suggest that the disgraceful, unshaven, disrespectful Eazy should have such luck.

Naturally, a character like Eazy is going to have all kinds of fun making the judges of Mega-City one look like idiots. Too much fun, as it turns out, which is why he's a circuit judge bringing law to the lawless of the Cursed Earth wasteland. Here, he's free to drink, brawl, smoke, have girlfriends in every frontier town and occasionally be tasked with cleaning up some city problem in the desert.

And tool around in his great big car. Or hover-ship thingy, whatever. So, teamed with a young stick-up-her-rear Mega-City judge named Bonaventura in this series by Rennie and Ezquerra, he brings law to the lawless and has a ball doing it. The series tackles darker drama with a grain or two less success than it does comedy - the most recent story, featuring an indestructible monster killing everything in the Cursed Earth, felt a little stale - but most of the time, it's terrific fun. Koburn has been resting since his most recent appearance in 2006, but will be returning to the Megazine in 2012.

There's a lot more of interest in this issue. Old hands Alan Grant and Arthur Ranson are putting the comatose Anderson: Psi Division through hell and introducing an incredibly neat set of supporting characters, fleshing out the judges' very weird department of psychics, pyrokines, telekinetics and witches. Somehow Grant is able to make this believable and compelling.

Pat Mills and Simon Davis are collaborating on Black Siddha, which is really neat. Mills has gone on the record many, many times about how much he dislikes superheroes, but when he does them here, the results are really fun. Black Siddha is an Indian superhero operating in London, featuring a young, put-upon lead who really, really doesn't want either the great power or the great responsibility thrust upon him. This impacts his karma-based superpowers and leaves him vulnerable at awful moments.

Surprisingly, this isn't actually a comedy, but it's written with a much, much lighter touch than most of the Guv'nor's work during this period. I think it's a complete trip, a sometimes smutty Bollywood action romp through criminal gangs and reincarnation that plays out very well. There have been three Black Siddha adventures so far, and while it has yet to be collected and the character is currently resting, I certainly hope that we will see him again.

The Simping Detective by Simon Spurrier and Frazer Irving is continuing a celebrated run of stories. Jack Point, a wally squad judge who poses deep undercover as a private investigator, is one of the best characters to emerge during this period. He gets to indulge in all the vices that Koburn enjoys, but he never gets to take much enjoyment from them. He's constantly riding a knife-edge, about to be busted by either the judges' "SJS" internal affairs unit or sent to certain death by a corrupt sector chief. The series is lovely, dense and complex, and Point's ability to think on his feet and manage spiraling chaos is really entertaining.

But it's Judge Dredd who beats even this tough competition of excellent strips. This time out, in the first episode of "Six," written by John Wagner and drawn by Chris Weston. It's an investigation into the work of a serial killer, obviously following in the footsteps of the David Fincher film Se7en, but it takes a fantastic new twist as readers gradually realize that the killer is actually our old, illiterate, super-genius friend PJ Maybe...

Maybe was last seen in a trio of one-episode stories in 2002, where it was revealed that he had engineered a fantastic breakout from the prison where he'd been sent almost a decade earlier. By the time the judges have any idea that he had gone, Maybe had already left the city, established a new identity in Ciudad Baranquilla and then faked his death, leaving his heart behind as evidence. Since the judges never found his many millions tucked away, he was able to live in unimaginable comfort.

Except, well, killers have that urge. Now accompanied by a sexbot called Inga, real estate mogul Pedro Martinez returns to Mega-City One to take care of some old grudges. Time in the sun hasn't dulled Maybe's senses. The story is inventive and the killings are gleefully sick, and once the judges find out what's going on in the concluding episode, the peripheral bodycount gets pretty enormous.

I think I can safely bet that nobody reading this story had any idea how Maybe's story would play out. Wagner probably didn't, either. It's a great example of what I was talking about last time, how Wagner puts so many pieces into play in his stories that subplots naturally arise from all over his world and weave into things. I'm sure it might make Judge Dredd a denser comic for newcomers these days, since there is just so much going on, and an occasional pain in the rear to collect in book form - lost in the nevertheless quite readable Complete P.J. Maybe collection is the reality that the stories unfold over the course of about twenty years - but man, the payoff is amazing. This is terrific stuff.

Stories from this Megazine are reprinted in the following editions:

Cursed Earth Koburn: The Carlos Ezquerra Collection (2000 AD's Online Shop)
Judge Dredd: The Complete P.J. Maybe (Amazon UK).
The Simping Detective: The Simping Detective (2000 AD's Online Shop).

Next time, a little change of pace, as my own personal daydream of what it might like to be Tharg runs up against a reality exemplified by Bec & Kawl and The ABC Warriors. See you in seven, friends!

1 comment:

David page said...

Chris weston is fantastic

nuff said

Great entry as per