Judge Dredd Megazine #218 Review

Reviewer: William Cooling

Editor: Alan Barnes
Publisher: Rebellion

This review contains spoilers

Judge Dredd
Story Title: Damned Ranger: Pt. 1

Written by: John Wagner
Art by: John Ridgway
Lettered by: Tom Frame

Outside the walls of Mega City One lays the Cursed Earth, a radioactive desert full of mutants and outlaws that can’t or won’t live in the Mega Cities. The Judges regularly patrol this through “Hotdog runs” involving street Judges or using rangers trained specifically for that task. Of these none is more respected than Dounrey who as we join this story is preparing to bring his man back to the Mega City One for a five-day break. However, they are ambushed by an organised cell of mutants called the New Mutant Army who leave all his men dead and Dourney concussed and unconscious. He is rescued and despite the best efforts of his comrades and peers he cannot help but feel guilty for what had happened.

This is broadly speaking a set up issue with Wagner taking his time to introduce Dourney as a character we should care about and the New Mutant Army as a genuine force to be reckoned with. He certainly succeeds in the former, with Dourney coming across as a very sympathetic and believable character due to his guilt over his fallen charges and whilst the N.M.A is slightly like something out of Zulu the savagery of their attack is a good indication of their strength.

Due to this we don’t really see much of Dredd with Joe forced firmly into a supporting role, indeed he’s almost used more as a plot device than a character in this story with him only turning up at key points similar to Linda McMahon. Now I for one am glad about this, as I’m not a huge fan of Ridgway’s Dredd, as he looks too young and trim. As for the rest of his art it is of course excellent with his scratchy linework being amazing at bringing the harshness and deadliness of the Cursed Earth to life. Where there is a slight problem is his pastel style colouring, which at times uses an oddly garish colour scheme (why does Dourney have red lips?) and generally detracts from his excellent linework. That said he does bring some excellent effects to his Cursed Earth backgrounds, which I assume he couldn’t do in black and white.

So, an interesting opener that actually seems to be threatening a long, meaningful Dredd story something the Meg hasn’t had in years.

Young Middenface
Title: Brigadoom! Pt.1

Written by: Alan Grant
Penciled by: Patrick Goodard
Inked by: Dylan Teague
Lettered by: Annie Parkhouse

Young Middenface became one of the sleeper hits of the Meg during its last couple of runs. Alan Grant constructed an engaging and moving tale of how the mutant Middenface was exiled from his home and joined the mutant resistance. Unfortunately, Grant takes a wrong turn with this story as we see Middenface and his friend Scaly come upon a remote, creepy village. This is a mistake as it returns the character to the type of old fashioned comedy that it was doing before Grant/Ridgway’s excellent run of stories gave the character real pathos. In addition these stories are usually more light-hearted than out-an-out funny, which personally I cannot see the point of. Now, that’s not to say the writing hasn’t got good points, Grant is obviously comfortable with these characters and his characterisation and dialogue is excellent.

What is less creditable is the art with Goodard/Teague returning to this character after an absence. Now, personally, I like this art team and I’m amazed that they haven’t been snapped by the Americans yet, but their Bryan Hitch influenced clean linework is simply not suited to black and white. Without colouring, it often looks flat and decidedly retro, which hurts this story (especially when we’re used to John Ridgway). This is a shame, as the linework doesn’t look bad; it simply lacks the texture that say Chris Blythe would have added.

Overall even though this is a good read it’s slightly disappointing when judged against previous stories.

Mean Machine
Title: Angel Heart: Pt. 1

Written by: John Wagner
Art by: David Milligate
Lettered by: Annie Parkhouse

After an enjoyable run by Gordon Rennie a few years ago set in the Cursed Earth, John Wagner returns to the character and promptly ignores everything that happened to the character pre-1995 (when Wagner at the behest of editorial brought back his Pa and bro from the dead). This means that Mean Machine is simply a cyborg psychopath with a dial on his forehead to control the amount of anger he feels (1 is lowest and 4 is highest). It should be noted that within this hideous body lies the soul of a sweet innocent lad, you see the Angel family was the nastiest family around but Mean was a nice wee lad. So, his father took him to the local doctor and had said dial placed in his brain and gave him a nice new arm (boy am I glad my Dad doesn’t read comics, don’t want him getting any ideas).

Now, Mean used to be the number two Dredd villain behind only Death yet similar to that character during the nineties he became more of a comedy character and has really ceased to be villain of any sort having now slid into a sort of anti-hero role. Whether Wagner intends to bring him out of this role is unclear as he (to be brutally honest) spends much of this part treading old ground in having progressive and egocentric shrinks try to cure him with a new treatment. Whereas before it was hypnosis now it’s an electric box near his brain called the Warden that acts much like the programming Alex undergoes in A Clockwork Orange, in that whenever Mean thinks a bad thought he feels pain.

To add to this we see a Justice Department woman counsellor called Porsha get increasingly involved with Mean despite the concerns of one of the shrinks. This is all fairly broad, predictable stuff with Wagner hitting on old targets such as naïve liberals and greedy and foolhardy shrinks. His characterisation of Mean is nothing new either, with the character still in a similar vein to the one that turned him from a main-eventer to a mid-carder with a grotesque yet cartoonish violent streak matched by intense hick style stupidity and flashes of the naivety and innocence of a child. Not that this is a bad thing, Wagner retreading old ground still walks the walk better than most writers and he does construct an enjoyable enough story that is different enough in tone from the last time he used this plot (called “You are the Mean Machine” I think) to be worthwhile.

In addition, Milligate’s art captures the anarchic comedy tone of the script excellently with his linework and characterisation being similar to early nineties Simon Bisley in its shock jock, extreme cartoon quality. Happily this furthers it from the more naturalistic “You are the Mean Machine.”

All in all not a bad story even if it’s been done before.

Whatever happened to…?
Story Title: Conrad Conn

Written by: Gordon Rennie
Art by: Carlos Trigo
Lettered by: Tom Frame

Marlon Brando turned 80 recently; I mention that as Gordon Rennie obviously bases his story of the fall into obesity and obscurity of Conrad Conn on Marlon Brando. You see, we see Conn entrapped by a celebrity reporter into giving up all the dirt in his desperate life with details about his numerous plastic surgery, hatred of acting, his “difficult” relationship with his domestic staff, etc. All this is done in a broad style with a tone that, like the best tabloid, rests somewhere between affectionate and scathing. Whilst it never causes you to laugh out loud some of the humour contained is quite funny with some clever and pithy characterisation from Rennie.

What I could do without is the art, which looks unfinished in places with the linework lacking texture and finishing detail. Still it doesn’t get in the way and so in no way mars your enjoyment of this story.

Black Siddha
Story Title: Kali Yuga

Written by: Pat Mills
Art by: Simon Davis
Lettered by: Ellie De Ville

One of the saddest things (or funniest depending on how conservative and/or cynical you are) is watching old progressive iconoclasts fall into grumpy-old-man reaction as the world leaves them behind with their previously daring and leftfield beliefs now considered shockingly outdated. This is now happening to Pat Mills. Now, normally (being both conservative and cynical), I would be one of those laughing, but I do actually care about Pat Mills with him being the first writer to really blow me away upon my return to 2000AD (w/ the Deadlock solo series if your interested) and I’ve remained a firm fan/apologist since. However before we get onto to my ringing denouncement of him let’s pretend that this is an objective review of his latest work.

Okay, this is the second run for what is one of the few superhero series that the 2000AD group has ever published. Obviously there’s a Vertigo-style twist that allows those in denial to add quotation marks to the adjective superhero but such people are deluded w*nkers so lets not play their games. Anyway, this basically uses Indian mythology as a pretext to get its young Anglo-Indian lead Rohan into a cool looking costume by claming he must take up the mantle of Black Siddha to atone for the sins of his previous incarnations. Yes it’s pretty silly and makes you realise that perhaps Christianity really is the least barmy of the major religions, but man, that costume looks cool.

It also allows for (Promethea style) previous incarnations to come back and give advice although Mills seems to have settled on just two; a woman called Lakshmi and the original Black Siddha, thus establishing a weird (in a good way) family dynamic. In the last story, we basically see these and others force Rohan to take up the mantle of Black Siddha to avoid eternal damnation (although his cop dad was killed by gangsters too if he needed an additional push) and also to develop his good friend Rak Shasa as an evil-doer who must be taken out. From this point we start the new story with Rohan set to begin training and Rak still set on being evil.

So far so good, but basically, Mills seems very self-conscious by the fact that this story really should have followed immediately after the first. So, he spends the entire story (well save the last page, which we’ll get to) hammering home all the (not exactly subtle to begin with) characterisation. In this, we get REMINDED that-Rak’s evil and a degenerate, Rohan likes superhero comics, his girlfriend’s dad does not like him—Isn’t it a shame that nice Indian culture (which incidentally dismisses good sections of the population as being nothing better than slaves) is dismissed in favour of evil western culture—Lakshmi likes to stick her nose in Rohan’s business. Did I mention that Rak’s really, really evil, oh and has a typical Mills’ woman for a girlfriend (i.e. evil in a hot, slutty kind of way)? To be fair, it’s not written completely without merit with all the characterisation making sense even if the dialogue is very dodgy in places.

Where he does go wrong is in the setting. He places far too much of the action at night or in shadowy places. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem, but Simon Davis is a painter and the lesson that all writers should learn (but never seem to do) is that Anglophone painters can’t do dark places. So, you soon can’t tell what the hell’s going on. This is a shame because on the whole Davis’ work isn’t bad. There’s good character design and depiction and a blotchy style that not only separates it from the Bisley-esque types, but also suits the darker mood of the piece. In addition, the fact that very little action happens (and what does seems to be written in a showy, pose fashion) hides the fact that his linework generally goes to pot when asked to depict action.

All of which places this pretty much where the last book was, a kinda interesting take on the superhero that’s let down by flaws in the execution. What p*issed me off about this whole story and why this review has been written in a particularly sarcastic manner is the last page where Rohan in the guise of Black Siddha tackles his first set of bad guys. Nothing wrong with that until his lipstick clad, eyeliner-wearing villain grabs a woman and threatens to inject her with his own HIV infected blood.

What the f*ck is that?

Now, I know that I’m very sensitive about this, but this would be bad enough on the grounds of desperate sensationalism if done by any other writer. But as done by one who has a track record of…er…not winning GLAAD awards (I’m thinking the gay rape jokes in the last Slaine and the numerous homoerotic or outright gay villains in the otherwise excellent Marshal Law for starters) it would seem safe to point to an even grubbier, nastier motivation for it. It’s sickening to see such bigotry depicted especially in a comic that has in recent months been sooo desperate to laud itself as cutting edge and progressive (usually by taking pot shots at Ronald Reagan and the Daily Mail).

Charley’s War
Story Title: 29-32

Written by: Pat Mills
Art by: Joe Colquhoun
Lettered by: N/A

Oh great! After that I get to read Mills’ rant about the First World War. Okay, I’ve been meaning to get this off my chest so here goes—this is a great little comic story full of excellent characterisation amongst the likes of Charley and his friends and manages in an insanely tight amount of space to cover stories and trigger emotions that Brian Michael Bendis takes a trade paperback to do. Yet, this is nakedly a piece of anti-war propaganda (Mills has admitted and celebrated as much) and so it should be judged on the message its spewing, which one can only presume is that it was bad to fight WWI or both the English and the German upper classes were just as bad with the poor working classes both as noble.

Okay, here’s a quick recap of what really happened:

  1. Quick thing—Britain was a democracy with all propertied men having the vote. Germany on the other hand was not. With a sham Parliament hiding before 1915 a hybrid of Monarchical and Aristocratic rule and after 1915 a full on military dictatorship.
  2. Whilst the British people went to the aid of Belgium and France, the German people went to capture and annex foreign lands. The nonsense about it being a defensive war can be seen by the fact that they were still fighting years after successfully defending the German frontier and now deep in enemy territory.
  3. The idea that the alliance system predestined it all and this makes all the powers wicked for starting the war is rubbish. The war started because Austria-Hungary wanted to bully and perhaps even annex Serbia and got the unconditional support of Germany (which incidentally was not covered in the terms of 1879 Dual Alliance). Russia had no alliance with Serbia but intervened as the Tsarist regime would have in all probability collapsed if it had left its fellow Slavs to fend for themselves (also see point four). Although France was under the terms of her 1894 alliance with Russia committed to helping her if she was attacked by two powers even without such commitment she would have done anyway as she would’ve been entirely at the mercy of Germany if she let Russia be invaded and defeated.
  4. The idea that the war had nothing to do with Britain is pathetically isolationist and ignorant. Truth is that without Britain, France would have been defeated and Germany would have in all probability done what she did in 1940 and annex the north of France. The difference would be that unlike in 1940 she would have had a good High Seas Fleet and so could actually consider invading England. Secondly with the defection of Bulgaria to the Germanic side after the 1912/3 Balkan Wars, Serbia was the only power that lay between the Germanic Powers having complete domination of the Near and Middle East and so having their thumb on the windpipe of the British Empire (Suez and the Straits (which was also Russia’s windpipe as well).
  5. The idea that pervades this work that the British military was useless and incompetent is grossly unfair. Somme for all the carnage was a success as judged by its true aim, which was to relieve the French and so save Verdun. In addition (although he hasn’t got here yet), it was the British Army that won the bloody war by breaking the Germany lines due to very effective and clever leadership of (amongst others) General Haig.
  6. We in four years managed to assemble practically from scratch an Army and then defeat a country that since the reforms of the 1850’s in Prussia had been permanently mobilised. Yet, we all we get are pacifist, self-loathing, and pretentious t*ats turning round and saying how evil we are. Well screw that!

Okay rant over.

As I was saying this is a very effective comic. We see Charley try to halt a misplaced British advance that is killing our own men. It is however, grossly distorted by a pathological hatred for the English upper classes that results in the astute and sensitive characterisation that he gives for everyone else being abandoned. It is also, to be frank, incredibly repetitive with Mills driving one recurring theme into the ground—war is hell (which I do know by the way before anyone emails to point out).

Hell Trekkers
Story Title: Pt. 1-6

Written by: F Martin Gandor
Art by: Lalia
Lettered by: Tom Frame

In our second reprint we see the start of Hell Trekkers, which follows families that leave the security of the Meg to begin a new life in the Cursed Earth (is it me but does this go against the idea that its an inhospitable desert?). Now this is a doozey of a reprint with clever plotting, sympathetic characters and some fantastic art by Lalia that combines excellent characterisation and design with an incredibly detailed style and that’s not before I drool about the coloured pages with his colouring raising the art to near modern standards.

What’s best about this reprint is that unlike many of the other stories it doesn’t make the Meg look retro, this may be a classic thrill but it has a modernish edge to it. There isn’t really more I want to add save that this makes for a welcome return to longer stories after a few months of comedy Dredds.