2000AD PROG 1383 Review

Reviewer: William Cooling

Editor: Matt Smith
Publisher: Rebellion

Judge Dredd
Title: Gulag: Pt. 2

Written by: Gordon Rennie
Art by: Charlie Adlard
Coloured by: Chris Blythe
Lettered by: Tom Frame

Last week, Dredd managed to convince the Chief Judge to allow him to lead a small SWAT style team of judges to investigate sightings of Mega City One prisoners in the Sov Bloc. This week, we see Dredd recruiting his team with applications from regular Dredd supporting characters Rico, Karyn and Giant. What makes this part interesting is its focus on characterisation and dialogue, as Rennie has never really been given the room to set out his own vision of Dredd. This is largely due to him specialising in comedy one offs that (rightly) use Dredd more as a plot device than a fully rounded character.

Here we get to see Rennie portray Dredd slightly differently from Wagner, with him coming across as a slightly ridiculous, tough talking, right-wing hawk right down to the chunky action hero dialogue, presumption of superiority over Johnny foreigner and an unwillingness to admit he hasn’t found something (geddit?). Whilst this is a different take on Dredd than we’re used to, it is sympathetic enough to Dredd and retains enough of the character’s essence for it not to jar. Indeed, it’s refreshing to see a writer give his own take on Dredd rather than slavishly aping Wagner’s.

In addition, Rennie maintains a brisk pace that quickly and efficiently introduces us to the team whilst spending time to include little nuggets of characterisation such as the “chat” between Dredd and Rico and a major spoiler at the end. Couple that with some enjoyable cartooney work that is reminiscent of classic Cam Kennedy and you have an excellent Dredd story.

Sinister Dexter
Story Title: Job Jobbed: Pt. 1

Written by: Dan Abnett
Art by: Andy Clarke
Coloured by: Gary Caldwell
Lettered by: Ellie de Ville

Last week, Kal did the job and killed his lover of 30mins, Isobel, in what was portrayed as his moment of decision as to whether he became a gun-shark. This week, Sinister Dexter use what appears to be a straightforward hit to give him his first solo mission, which he eagerly snatches. Abnett is, so far, having a great 2004 and this is no exception. The shrewd decision to abandon the spoof/comedy serial for a more serious, characterisation focused approach with overlapping stories replacing the self contained stories gave Sinister Dexter a much needed new lease of life. Here his work is excellent with tight writing matched by some thoughtful characterisation; especially with regards to Kal, whose youthful impatience and exuberance marks him as an engaging character. Where his writing does fail is in the caption boxes describing Downlode and Kal’s emotions, which are at times a bit too pretentious and verbose, although it’s a minor fault.

In another clever move, Andy Clarke is retained as artist giving the series the artistic consistency and integrity that it has often lacked. It helps that Clarke is doing some of the best work of his career with the action movie style aesthetic he brings to his work being perfectly suited to the story.

Another good Sinister Dexter that nicely progresses some interesting storylines.

Rogue Trooper
Story Title: Realpolik: Pt. 4

Written by: Gordon Rennie
Art by: P.J. Holden
Lettered by: Tom Frame

Last week, in this espionage thriller, Rogue met up with his Nort handler in War Marshal’s base, in his pursuit of the War Marshal. Whilst the net closed in on the conspirators as Arkhan received information of the conspiracy right from the torture rack. At the end of Part 3, we saw Arkhan prepare a full orbital assault to deal with the murder plot that we see at the beginning of Part 4 with the headquarters of the War Council attacked. This puts Rogue in a slight pickle as the War Marshal’s base goes into lockdown whilst his Nort allies are either killed or prepare to desert. All is not lost however.

This is an excellent story with Rennie finally finding his voice on Rogue Trooper with this taut and tense tale of military politics. This part is one of the best yet with Rennie developing the premise well and providing some shocks and surprises along the way with the best left for the end. In addition, Holden continues his excellent work with subtle and detailed pencilling alongside gorgeous pencil shading making this one of the best looking comic stories I’ve read in a long time. It’s just a shame that this pairing won’t be doing any more Rogue Trooper stories after this final run/story.

Bec and Kewl

Story Title: Toothache Pt. 1
Written by: Simon Spurrier
Art by: Steve Roberts
Lettered by: Annie Parkhouse

Bec and Kewl are two art college students (or Time Wasting Tits as the great Al Murray would say) who just happen to get involved in freaky s*it for no apparent reason. As usually happens with comedy spoofs (Sinister Dexter being a prime example) its very much a love/hate series with myself being very much in the love category finding the lead characters admirably gross and unappealing and the stories an amusing example of the pop culture zeitgeist being fed through ridiculous cult clichés/conventions. That said, the last run last summer wasn’t that good. Something that surprised me, as Spurrier had a great 2003 with Lobster Random and From Grace being two of the comic stories of the year.

This time, they return to undertake a quest on the request of a Swamp Thing parody (who they’ve met before but I’ve forgotten about) to help him free Faerieworld from the tyrannical grip of the Tooth Fairy. Yep, you’ve guessed it, we’re set on a spoof of fantasy (comics) and yes it is a bloody easy target, but hey, if you’re doing a spoof its best to shoot low and cheap. To this end we meet the League of Uncanny Weirdoes, which includes parodies of Sandman, someone I don’t recognise, Harry Potter, John Constantine, and Slaine’s Lord Weird. The characterisation of these parodies is very enjoyable with Constantine and Weird’s unique syntax perverted admirably (I just pray for Spurrier’s sake that Pat Mills isn’t reading this) whilst some enjoyable and justified cracks are made at Sandman and Harry Potter’s expense. In addition to the broad spoof of fantasy contained in Spurrier’s script, we also get some effective cartooney artwork with Roberts having an appropriately blunt approach to characterisation combined with solid linework and storytelling. Together they deliver an enjoyable silly story that marks a welcome return to form for this series.

Durham Red
Story Title: The Empty Sun ~ Book II – Pt. 2

Written by: Dan Abnett
Art by: Mark Harrison
Lettered by: Ellie De Ville

Last week, in a disappointing return, we saw Red try to annoy the Offspring and so draw him into a fight. Now, we see Red and her crew withdraw to the edge of the universe where the fabric of time has become fractured, it is here where Red intends to trap the Offspring. This is the surprise of the Prog as Abnett and Harrison manage to reach the heights of The Scarlet Cantos and The Vermin Stars in what is a fantastic part.

Abnett is at home in unveiling the sci-fi concept of a place where time has broken whilst mixing that with some welcome characterisation involving Red and her son. However, the star of the part and real surprise has to be the art of Mark Harrison, which shakes off the murkiness of last Prog and looks absolutely fantastic. Partly, this is due to a genuine improvement with his linework, which is far tighter than last week. It’s largely due to a change in what he’s asked to draw with the cosmic lightshow that is the time fracture far more suited to him with his colouring and use of CG effects creating some stunning pages. It stops the art from having that murky feel that much of his art in the previous book and the opening episode of this one had.

A welcome return to form by Mark Harrison ably induced by a (slightly verbose in places) Dan Abnett nearing top form once again bodes well for this series achieving its full potential.