2000AD PROG #1400 Review

Reviewers: Will Cooling & Chris Delloiacono

Editor: Matt Smith
Publisher: Rebellion

Will: Before we start can I just say a quick thing? I’m (unusually for me) writing this whilst listening to some music namely Rachel Stevens’ album Funky Dory, what’s more I’ve got one song More, More, More on repeat. Seriously you have to get this album if only for this song, totally kicks all sorts of ass it’s just a great, breezy, catchy pop song. I can’t believe I’m writing this but it blows anything that Girls Aloud or Britney (yes even Toxic!) have done in the past year—it’s that good!

What do you think Chris?

Chris: I too am listening to some tunes as I write. Considering we’re reviewing the #1 comic in Great Britain, and you’re across the Atlantic from my perch in lovely New Jersey, USA, I felt it appropriate to listen to The Best of Bond…James Bond—Right now the splendour of Goldfinger is playing.

As a whole though, I’m not into the pop music scene. I’m more into Acid Rock, Metal, or just your average Rock music.

For professional credibility I took a run over to Rachel Stevens website, and let me just say, she’s hot! I sampled some of her music too, and it’s not bad at all. Unfortunately there wasn’t a sample available of More, More, More. My L.A. Ex and Fools were probably my favorites of the clips that I heard.

Okay. We may have lingered a bit too long on this discussion. Let’s get on to the comic at hand.

Cover by: Clint Langley

Will: I haven’t reviewed a cover in a while but I’ve gotta mention how great a cover this is. A gorgeous painted montage of the four stars of the Prog and Tharg with the ABC Warriors standing out as being absolutely amazing, even better than Kev Walker’s painted version of them. Honestly, there’s loads of detail and personality here with Langley’s Alpha being an interestingly ugly take on the character.

Chris: I’ve always been a sucker for a painted cover, so we’re in total agreement. This cover is amazing! For those who want to take a gander, check it out here. My eye was immediately drawn to Judge Dredd and Johnny Alpha, and then to see the mighty Tharg, the editor of our weekly jarjaz, thrill-packed adventures, looking over the heroes was outstanding.

Judge Dredd
Story Title: Big Deal at Drekk City: Pt. 1

Written by: John Wagner
Art by: Cam Kennedy
Coloured by: Chris Blythe
Lettered by: Tom Frame

Synopsis: Judge Dredd and Judge Vance are leading a group of Cadets (trainee judges) on a patrol in the Cursed Earth when they encounter a number of criminals wanted in the Big Meg. The trail leads to Drekk City, which is hosting a massive Poker Game called the Big Deal.

Will: And we kick of 2000AD’s 14th century with an enjoyable Dredd comedy romp. After the intense classic “Terror” (with its sequel due in September) this marks a welcome lightening of the pace and tone with Wagner once again showing his versatility as a writer. What shines, in what is actually a set-up part with little really happening, is Wagner’s superb characterisation, in particular Dredd’s interaction with the Cadets. Pick of the bunch is the eager star pupil, Packard, whose self-confidence causes him to act almost as a colleague of Dredd’s, so inspiring some terrifically understated put downs by Dredd…which naturally go right over Packard’s head. The other characters are well developed as well. With some very believable moaning about the conditions from what are still children, whilst Vance plays the lazy teacher who wants to go home. Indeed, in many ways, Wagner deliciously presents the group as a school’s outing with Dredd as the serious lead teacher, Vance as the poor sod who drew the short straw to accompany him, Packard as teacher’s pet and the rest as a gang. The fact that Wagner can introduce the more serious criminal elements into the script without compromising this tone is testament to his writing skills.

We also are treated to some great art from Cam Kennedy with his angular, cartooney style well suited to the script. Kennedy’s a strange artist in that sometimes his work can quite frankly look crap with little detail and strangely squashed. However, here he benefits from 2000AD’s larger dimensions (as opposed to his Punisher run) and the fact that whereas his Punisher always looked generic his Dredd with his massive, grizzled chin just stands out, as any lead character should. Plus his slightly dishevelled Dredd suits the tone of the story with some of his facial expressions being spot on. Add to that Chris Blythe’s great colours that always add texture to his artwork especially his backgrounds and buildings and you have a great looking story.

Chris: John Wagner is one of the reasons that I decided to start reading 2000AD a couple of months back. His American work was always outstanding, and his regular contributions to this book were a definite plus.

“Terror,” which just completed last prog, was an amazing ride with a strong contemporary influence. It was dark, and never played for laughs. Wagner’s ability to switch gears with this story is impressive. The somewhat-comical discussions between Dredd, Vance, and the cadets are a blast. The transition to the more serious elements are also well done. It’s going to be interesting to see where this storyline is going. I’m wondering if the villains are actually there to rob The Big Deal World Poker Challenge; I think they may be there to compete. I personally think it would be hilarious to see Dredd sit down at the card table and take the baddies out in such a fashion.

Of course, that may have something to do with me listening to that Bond CD currently. For your eyes only, only for you… OOPS. Sorry about that! Got distracted there for a moment.

As for Cam Kennedy’s artwork, I was very impressed. My first exposure to Cam’s work was back in the late 1980s when he worked on Star Wars: Dark Empire. While the starships and other landmarks looked cool, I really hated the work he did on the human characters. I’ve seen his work on War Story with Garth Ennis and in a few back issue progs that I’ve recently procured, and he’s growing on me. This is definitely in the “Like” column.

ABC Warriors
Story Title: The Shadow Warriors ~ Book 2: Pt. 1

Written by: Pat Mills
Art by: Henry Flint
Lettered by: Tom Frame

Synopsis: After the successful conclusion of peace between Medusa (Mars’ living conscience) and the Humans that saw the President of Mars become a Martian/Human hybrid, a Civil War has broken out with the Confederacy attempting to restore human rule. In the first book of “The Shadow Warriors,” the ABC Warriors, amid helping Government forces, learnt of a plot by the Confederacy to form their own robot squad to take on the ABC Warriors. We learnt the identity of four of the robots; Dog-Tag (former leader of a pirate gang of Confederate deserters), Bootleg (a bounty hunter with no guilt programs or serial number), The Rev (leader of the Church of Judas; a robot Church designed to help robots overcome feelings of guilt in betraying their masters) and Deus X Machina (the mysterious Ghost in the Machine who can take control of any vehicle). These were formed by a private mercenary called the Rent Men and are laying a trap for the ABC Warriors at New Sidona, which, coincidently, is exactly where the ABC Warriors have been sent to support Government lines.

Now the ABC Warriors make their way to the front through a near deserted city…

Will: This is a double-length part and nothing much particularly happens plot wise. Mills spends his time recapping the plot but who the hell cares this is a great read. Mills’ recent work is really starting to gain a modern edge and feel to it, something that even his good work in the nineties on-the-whole lacked. He’s brilliant here at establishing a sense of uneasy calm as the ABC Warriors explore the deserted city. Here we see some great ideas crop up including no talk zones as decree of the Total Information Agency (which actually is a reference to a real world American Government project). In addition, his characterisation is top-notch. The interaction between Mek-Quake, Blackblood and Hammerstein (the only Warriors who get major roles) being a joy to read. One of the things that is often missed about Mills is that he’s actually quite a funny writer when he’s on form and the bickering between Hammerstein and Mek-Quake, due to the former being embarrassed that the latter’s conspiracy theories were proved correct, is great fun with Mek-Quake once again proving him wrong.

In addition, this is an incredibly compressed story with an average of around seven panels a page. This provides an incredible challenge for the artist, which, naturally, Henry Flint easily meets. His work brings back a lot of the detail and “smoothness” that his recent work has not had (due to the story content mind) with his character designs on the Warriors just being so spot on its unbelievable especially his Mek-Quake who makes a welcome (if irritatingly unexplained) to the giant robot look. His layouts are terrific as well with a mixture of quite radical layouts for some of the action sequences (i.e. Hammerstein’s rescue of the solider with some more traditional box panels). His backgrounds are amazing as well. He manages to get across the sense of isolation and desolation with a minimum of fuss but a maximum of achievement.

Having recently interviewed both Mills and Flint I can tell you that both of them are very excited about this story and you can see why. Truly top quality.

Chris: I recently got to read a few of the older ABC Warriors stories, and it’s been a bit of a chore to get a clear picture of what’s going on. My understanding of the situation is coming together, as is my enjoyment of the stories. This is a bit of a jump forward from the stories that I read in the 1200s, so I’m a bit lost again. Yet, thanks to your fine synopsis, Will, I’m feeling much better now.

Anywho, this was an interesting story. Mills’ scripting builds the coming clash between the Shadow Warriors and the ABC Warriors quite well. It reads like an old-fashioned war story in many ways, but does have a fresh vitality to it also. The personalities of the ABC’s are quite interesting. My favorite part was Blackblood’s comments about the Robot Church of Judas, and the reason that these robots worship the man who betrayed Jesus, is because it makes it easier for them for kill their masters. Quite an original take.

Artistically speaking, Henry Flint kicks ass. Mars looks sweet, the robots are all very well rendered, and the fast paced portions are clear and easy to follow.

My interest has been piqued.

Strontium Dog
Story Title: The Headly Foot Job: Pt. 1

Written by: John Wagner
Art by: Carlos Ezquerra
Lettered by: Annie Parkhouse

Synopsis: A Strontium Dog is a bounty hunter, a job on the whole too dirty and dangerous for humans, so it’s left to the mutants. Most feared and respected of the Strontium Dogs is Johnny Alpha who along with his Viking friend Wulf Sternhammer is at hand to witness a fellow Strontium Dog, Headly Foot, harshly sentenced to death on the planet Feefo. Outraged by this injustice they decide to break him out of jail.

Will: John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra on Strontium Dog (or anything for that matter) is just guaranteed quality. The two of them are so comfortable with each other and the characters that it almost feels like it’s completely effortless to them. This adopts the same comedic tone as last year’s The Tax Doge with Wagner furnishing the story with a range of oddball characters with the almost Python-esque Feefons (?) a self-righteous and law abiding race that are overly literal and plodding, qualities that produce some hilarious results especially in the tense courtroom scene and the beginning of the prison break. As for Carlos Ezquerra’s art, well what can you say? This guy is just an absolute genius with his cartooney exaggerated style just perfect for this strip. Quality all the way through!

Chris: This story was an absolute lark. There were so many comedic bits that actually made me laugh in these six pages that it’s just ridiculous. Will, you’re right about the Python-esque qualities. I loved the line by the one guard, “Watchtower, did I just hear the alarm.” The watchtower’s response, “I don’t know. Did you?” Johnny and Wulf work so well as a team, mainly due to the ability of Wagner and Ezquerra to produce brilliant work together.

I don’t know if anyone else felt this way, but when Headly Foot was bathed in the silver tones in the second and third panels of the story he looked like a perverse Tin Woodsmen from The Wizard of Oz. Whether that was a conscious effort by Mr. Ezquerra or not, he’s, in a very cool way, sullied my memory of Oz for all time.

Caballistics Inc.
Story Title: Picking Up The Pieces

Written by: Gordon Rennie
Art by: Dom Reardon
Lettered by: Ellie De Ville

Synopsis: The Caballistics Inc. are in the aftermath of the Israeli Secret Services’ assault on them to capture their member Ravne who was a former Nazi. In the middle of the battle not only was he killed but it was also revealed to all the members that Jonathan Brand’s fiancée was possessed by a demon. Now Jonathan is understandably in the middle of getting rat-arsed as Chapter and Verse attempt to console him and plan what to do next.

Will: Oh man! How good is this story? Rennie has an unenviable job of recapping quite a well developed plot, after a six-month break, in only five pages, which because he rules, he does brilliantly. This is a very talky part, which is unusual for 2000AD, but Rennie’s characterisation and the tension he has imbued the various relationships makes it absolutely thrilling. He has a terrific grasp of the characters and is able to take the cliché of a man hitting the bottle, yet maintain all the Hugh Grant (swoon) style idiosyncrasies that make Brand such a fabulous character. What’s more, he manages to make the reader understand the full horrific consequences of Jenny’s possession with Demon Jenny being an absolute blast of a character. This Demon Jenny is very edgy and in complete contrast to poor old Jenny (who I slightly miss). Finally, he’s able to keep a degree of suspense going about what has happened to Jenny and Ravne and then there’s a surprise visit at the end. A corker of a story, packed with tons of content with superb art from Dom Reardon whose Jock/Mignola style artwork manages to perfectly capture the brutalisation of Brand, the brashness of Demon Jenny, and the sense of darkness present in the house. Plus his effect of writing out the sound effects in a bizarre Vertigo riff of the sixties Batman series style just adds to the feeling of quietness and stillness in the story. All in all, an absolute corker.

Chris: Considering that I haven’t had the opportunity to read the previous Caballistics story this one grabbed my interest right off the bat. Clearly a lot has gone on prior to my arrival. Yet, between Rennie’s well-done recap and Will’s synopsis and other comments, I don’t feel lost.

Rennie’s script introduces a couple of mysterious elements that will surely play out in the coming weeks and I can’t wait to see where it’s going. Dom Reardon portrays the proceedings expertly, capturing the vibe of creepiness that’s going on here.

This one seems to be right up my alley—I’m hooked.

Will: A terrific Prog with quality stories all the way through. ABC Warriors is promising a return to Mills’ best form whilst Caballistics Inc. and Strontium Dog are their usual awesome best. Dredd whilst not as good…oh who the hell I am I kidding? That’s great too with some nicely understated comedic moments and some great art. Totally blows the recent Progs out the water and they were unbelievably good.

P.S. I mentioned that Rachel Stevens’ More, More, More is the best song I’ve heard since god knows when didn’t I? Love that song!

Will’s final score: 10.0

Chris: Good stuff, and I finished the review in the time it took me to listen to the almost the whole Bond CD (I’m getting down to The World is Not Enough right now…alright “getting down” may be a bit of a strong description). Not bad. Of course there was a phone call and several other interruptions that slowed me a bit, but as a whole, not bad. That’s in reference to the time that it took me to write the review. The prog was more than not-bad, it was excellent.

Why do I get the feeling this review has gone a little long?

As all the parts were introductory, there wasn’t a ton of action, but a lot of great set-up was within. I can’t wait for next prog to get more developments. Not to mention that a new Bec and Kawl storyline is starting. I just recently read a few of their adventures, and if it’s similar to those tales, we should expect some fun movie inspired humor.

Will, I’ll try and get a listen to More, More, More before we do this again.

Chris’s final score: 9.0