Thursday, May 3, 2012

168. About Baby Beeny

October 2006: While 2000 AD is running a major new story called "Origins," something smaller, but almost as important, is happening in the pages of Judge Dredd Megazine. When we last saw Ami Beeny, it was in 1996's "America: Fading of the Light," being inducted into the Academy of Law. Her return to the story as a teenager a decade later is a complete surprise. "Cadet" reunites writer John Wagner and artist Colin MacNeil, who have followed Ami's story since her mother's childhood in the 1990 story "America" that launched the Megazine. This story ties up all the loose ends from Ami's sad family history and sees her working as a very effective judge. Technically, she's still a cadet, a few years away from being given rookie status. In time, she will become a major supporting player in Dredd's story.

Since I'm a fan of detective fiction, I really enjoy watching Wagner use Dredd as a more cerebral character, working a detailed investigation and noting small details to work out the ten year-old story of the terrorist conspiracy that led to Beeny's father's death. There is a really fantastic character moment in part one, where after spending more than an hour silently going over paperwork with Beeny, Dredd says that they need to take a break and do some real judging, and they're going to go hit the streets. Since, as part of her Academy training, Cadet Beeny is actually leading this investigation, she casually says that she'd rather continue, if Dredd does not mind. It's these little character touches that really make Dredd shine so much. I hate that the Simon Bisley ultraviolence version of the character is the one that most readers in the US know; the impatient, taciturn, ruthlessly intelligent and experienced Dredd is a much more interesting one. It's this take on him that has dominated the series for years and years.

I think that it's a shame that the Complete Case Files reprint series has bogged down in the early nineties, around the point where Dredd was his least interesting, just as his profile in media and general fandom has grown in recent months. You almost wish that Rebellion could just skip forward ten or eleven books and start printing the stories from around the time PJ Maybe broke out of prison and made for South America. Dredd hasn't been Super Gun vs. Entrails for such a long time, but the evolution of the character and all these brilliant stories are, mostly, still only available in the back issues and not bookshelves.

Still providing backup to the main Dredd feature, there's Fiends of the Eastern Front by David Bishop and, again, MacNeil, and Black Siddha by Pat Mills and Simon Davis. These both end in the next issue of the Megazine, and end pretty finally. Fiends is particularly interesting. It's established that a golem is one of the few things on Earth that can destroy the vampire Constanta, and he barely escapes from their battle with his life. As the "present" of this story is established, via bookends, as being set in the late 1960s and looking back at the war, it is shown that another golem has been prepared, should Constanta ever resurface.

Black Siddha also concludes, but it is done in a curiously subtle way. It shows our hero purged of his bad karma and no longer tied to his strange, superheroic other self, set for a happily-ever-after life. Since 2000 AD stories, if indeed they do reach a proper final episode, tend to go big and memorable, the understated conclusion to this mix of Bollywood, superhero fisticuffs, and organized crime really is a surprise. In point of sad fact, this third story, "Return of the Jester," had been so uninvolving and disappointing, and so hard to follow in six-page, weirdly-edited chunks (as discussed in chapter 164), that, despite claiming to enjoy this series, I had actually tuned it out when I first read it, because Mirabai was acting like a jerk, the fight scene never ended, and I didn't understand why Siddha was having any difficulty overcoming Jester. So I figured that I would come back to it some other day, and figured that the next story would be better, and wondered for years when the heck it would return. Okay. Well, since it's done and done for good, can we have a collected edition, please?

Speaking of collected editions, Tales from the Black Museum is certainly due one. This first appeared in Meg 244 back in May, and it has racked up 24 episodes since. Under Matt Smith's editorship, it is effectively the Meg version of Tharg's Future Shocks, just one-off episodes dropped in between longer stories and series. They're usually written and drawn by the newer model droids, and typically riff on some established point of Judge Dredd continuity.

This time out, for example, we have a story written by Al Ewing (whose first Future Shock was published in 2002 and whose first 2000 AD serial, Go Machine, ran just a few months previously in '06) and drawn by Rufus Dayglo (whose first Future Shock was published in 2003 and who will finally get a big series in '08 when Tank Girl will appear in the Meg), which follows up an old comedy Alan Grant Dredd Annual story, told in verse, in which the Devil is incarcerated in Mega-City One's Iso-Block 666. Here, a criminal mastermind risks everything to get into the Devil's cell for a game of cards. It is fantastic. It's hugely funny, beautifully drawn and has a terrific twist.

"God of Gamblers" is probably my favorite Black Museum story, but it's possible that I might have overlooked one. After 24, they sort of run together, but I'm enjoying refamiliarizing myself with them as I've gone back and reread them. I maintain, however, that 24 is more than enough, the format is tired, and that they should be collected in a single volume and the format concluded in favor of something else. Honestly, I would really prefer for Smith to choose one of the huge number of Meg regulars in Dredd's universe with a too-low-to-reprint episode count - Black Atlantic or Juliet November or Bato Loco come to mind - and commission six one-off episodes, and drop them between other stories instead.

Stories from this issue have been reprinted in the following collected editions:
Judge Dredd: America (only in the 2008 Rebellion edition, which is out of print, link to Amazon UK sellers)
Fiends of the Eastern Front: The Complete Fiends of the Eastern Front (2000 AD's Online Shop)

Next time, our long (inter)national nightmare is over. Simon Fraser returns to Nikolai Dante. See you in seven!

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