I’m writing this the day of the 2016 US presidential elections, which I think means that we’re about to kick off the series of events that lead to the Atomic Wars of 2070, and ultimately the formation of the North American Mega Cities. By the time you all are reading this, there will either be a new president in The States, or a massive, contentious battle over a ‘rigged system’ that’ll put 2000’s Bush v. Gore debacle to shame. What a time to be alive!
Most of the mag is tearing ahead with nearly all of its strips in full swing. I say ‘nearly’ because we say good bye to one this week, Williams and Flint’s “Act of Grud.” So let’s dive head long into things and seek refuge in Tharg’s surprisingly warm embrace.
I. THIS WEEK IN 2000 AD
Judge Dredd: Act of Grud, Part 3
Credits: Rob Williams (script), Henry Flint (art), Annie Parkhouse (letters)
Over already? I love a tidy story, but when it comes to Williams’ Dredd work I always want more. Particularly when he’s teamed with Henry Flint. These two make for a fantastic pairing, and their stories are so expansive that any ending will always feel like it came too soon.
Be warned, there’ll be some spoilers ahead.
Alright, so starting off it was obvious that “Act of Grud” is a follow up to Williams and Flint’s “Titan.” Judge Sam was retrieved from Enceladus and has started a new life as a Mega-City One Street Judge. Sam was biding his time, though, as he felt that Grud had some plan for him, and all he had to do was wait for the moment to reveal himself. Then all the stuff with the witness and Enceladian energy signatures went down, proving to the former architect that his inclination was right, he was meant for something larger. Now, while this may make sense when considering just the events of “Titan,” the seeds for what’s happening here were planted much further back.
As much as this is a “Titan” sequel, in the end it may actually be more of a follow up to “Trifecta.” If you’re unfamiliar with the story I’m referring to, here’s a little snippet of something I wrote three years back describing it:
Last month saw the release of the Judge Dredd: Trifecta hardcover. If you’re unfamiliar, Trifecta was an unannounced crossover that took place last year following the events of the Day of Chaos storyline. What’s that? You’ve never heard of an ‘unannounced crossover’? I hadn’t either. No one had, and that’s why the 2000 AD folks deserve major propers for pulling this thing off. Progs 1803-1812 each had a new Mega-City One story begin in their pages: Judge Dredd: Bullet to King Four, The Simping Detective, Low Life, and Judge Dredd: The Cold Deck, respectively. Now all of this was business as usual; an anthology magazine running a bunch of stories with various start points. Then, without warning, they all converged into one huge narrative that engulfed the entire magazine. And it was awesome.
The moment the crossover became crystal clear featured Judge Dredd kicking in a door and barging from one strip into the next. It was pretty incredible. The culmination of the story was the realization that the long lost Judge Smiley had secretly been living in the walls of The Grand Hall of Justice and acting as the secret head of Black Ops for the last twenty years. It was so secret, in fact, that the Judge acting as the visible head of the division didn’t even know about it. Which was good news for everyone, seeing as how she was the big bad of the story. Anyways, Smiley told Hershey that she could seal up the secret door from his lair in the wall of her office because he had other ways in and out.
As you could imagine, Hershey was quite unsettled by all of this but let it slide, seeing as Smiley popped up in Michael Carroll’s big story a few months back. At the time I read his comment and just took it as a sort of cute way of him saying that she’ll never know all of his secrets. Smiley was, after all, the Judge who Judges the Judges who Judge the Judges. Which, now that I’ve typed that out, I remember Williams may have made some sort of joke about that using the Overdrive slogan in “Trifecta.” He’s a clever writer, that one.Continued below
So why was Smiley living in secret behind the wall of The Hall of Justice? Well, because Judges can get into some shady shit. That’s why there’s the Special Judicial Squad, after all. But who keeps an eye on the SJS? After all, it was through this division that the maniacal Judge Cal rose to power, right? So, in secret, Smiley was installed to keep an eye on this sort of thing, doing so for two long decades. Twenty years of watching and waiting.
Then it happened. Enter Judge Carolyn Bachmann, acting head of Mega-City One’s Black ops division.
This was the threat Smiley had been waiting for. Through a complex scheme of decimating the Wally Squad, embezzling money through the Simp Church, and funding a massive lunar construction project (really, read “Trifecta” if you haven’t, it’s so damn good) Bachmann set her sights on taking over Mega-City One. In anticipation of her power grab, Smiley set up a shadow team that consisted of Judge Dredd and Judges Jack Point and Dirty Frank of the Wally Squad. Their goal was to combat Bachmann and her squad of fanatic ninja Judges. Judges who seem to have resurfaced.
Seeing this made everything click for me, though in hindsight the answers were there all along. Someone has restarted the Black Ops program, but who? We saw Bachmann take a bullet to the noggin, though this is comics so take that for what you will. That’s when I realized that there was a better answer than, ‘she just didn’t die.’ I remembered the map.
Here’s where I start making a lot of assumptions.
When Judge Sam mapped out the Enceladian energy he found that there were all sorts of secret paths and tunnels in The Hall of Justice. Behind walls, under floors, everywhere. These have to be the work of Judge Smiley, right? Is this the extent of his ins and outs he teased Hershey with? It’s already established that he’s been able to live for decades undetected under everyone’s noses, so maybe having a lot of space made that easier. Plus, if his network was this vast, he’d avoid having to depend on informants. That way, less people know he’s there and he can snoop directly. His secret’s safe and there’s no second hand information.
If I had to venture a guess, I’d say that the events of “Trifecta” may well just be a part of something much larger. It’s possible that after Bachmann was deposed Smiley stepped in and picked up where she left off. Then, after Aimee Nixon led her invasion, with all of that alien energy, Smiley saw an opportunity. Now his ninja Judges are able to be stealthier than ever and accumulate more information because of it.
That’s my guess, at least. I mean, someone’s the ‘he’ that Dirty Frank is referring to.
Plus, Sam was fixated on the secret cabal he saw forming around Dredd, with Frank, Gerhart and Giant. Sure, those happen to be some of Rob Williams’ favorite characters to write, but it’s also not unlike what Judge Smiley did.
So while my thoughts on Judge Smiley and his involvement are pretty set, I can’t quite wrap my brain around Judge Sam’s role in all of this. Obviously his narrative function would be to help tie two big stories together (“Trifecta” and “Titan,”) but I just don’t see how it fits yet. Dredd does, that’s for sure. He’s been keeping Sam at arms distance throughout this thing, presumably to see how he’d behave given the connection Dredd’s got in mind. In terms of writing, Williams seems to be playing the two off of each other. Both Dredd and Sam have distinct and rigid views of the way the world should function. I particularly like the way these panels read against each other:
Judge Dredd only sees ‘the law,’ while Judge Sam seeks ‘order.’ And no, I won’t be making a Dick Wolf joke. They may sound similar, but there couldn’t be more of a difference between these two characters. There’s real contrast here, but I’m just plain foggy on what it could mean for the big picture. Regardless, it’s clear that we’ve got a compelling new character to shoulder the next leg of William’s Dredd mythos. I was surprised to see that this was the final installment of this particular strip, though. It really feels like things could have jumped off in a big way, so I guess we’ll just have to wait for that to happen.Continued below
CONTINUING THIS WEEK
Flesh: Gorehead, Part 5
Credits: Pat Mills (script), Clint Langley (art), Ellie De Ville (letters)
Huh, so I guess that’s it for Flesh, huh? The product that is, not the comic.
Look, I’d be lying if I said I knew what the hell is going on here. I mean, I see the surface elements of it: big ol’ dino fight with a familiar, branded face and a party at the end of the (prehistoric) world. Beyond that? It’s all of the moment for me. There are clearly conversations that harken back to earlier installments, as well as a lot of interpersonal history amongst the characters, but I don’t really understand the weight of it all, which seems to be because of a couple of reasons. One, this is a strip that dates back to the beginning. Almost forty years ago, in 2000 AD Prog 1, “Flesh” made its comics debut. It was the second story in the line up and has outlasted all of its peers, making it the only regular(ish) strip in the magazine to run longer than “Judge Dredd.” So yeah, lots of history.
That lengthy history gets compounded when you factor in Mills’ style of writing, which is my second point on the impenetrability of “Flesh.” When your’e reading one of this guy’s comics, you’re either with him or you’re not. He’s a high-minded writer who loves to layer and seemingly loathes exposition. It seems as if he couldn’t give a shit if the whole of the audience is with him or not, and I think that’s a part of his magic. When you’re keeping pace with a Pat Mills strip, it’s electric. It’s like he’s writing for you and a select corps of ‘real’ readers. You get it, and balls to anyone who doesn’t.
So, fate would dictate that, from time to time, you’ll be left outside of Mills’ hip inner-circle. When it comes to “Flesh,” my place is with the band nerds at the far side of the cafeteria, my gaze fixed upon the table of raucous punkers who seem to be the coolest kids in the room.
Hunted, Part 6
Credits: Gordon Rennie (script), PJ Holden (art), Len O’Grady (color), Simon Bowland (letters)
Aw yeah, this week we get that good Nort inner-monologue Rennie perfected over on “Jaegir.” Oh, and speaking of “Jaegir,” this is now a crossover!
Maybe it was already a cross-over, though? I don’t know who that Liefeldian fella in the head gear with the BFG is, but I’m wondering if he isn’t from “Crucible?” Or maybe he’s an 86er? Forgive me for not knowing, but I’ve been upfront about my blindspots so far, haven’t I?
Anyway, I know damn well who Atalia Jaegir is, so It’s game on. The General, Rogue, The not Cable or Prophet guy, and Jaegir. A tidy little round up that Holden draws the living shit out of. Every week I find myself more and more impressed with this guy’s work, which is refreshing. Usually, if a strip is going to have a high-point, it’s at the very beginning. Then, as lead times shrink, the wheels start to come off. When it comes to Holden though, he seems to improve with each passing week. The further into this story we get, the more involved his renderings become, the more expressive his figure work gets. He’s not shying away from any of this, which is obvious in each and every panel. Len O’Grady’s doing a fair bit of heavy lifting, too, but you’d have to be blind not to see that this is some of Holden’s best work to date.
Savage: The Märze Murder, Part 6
Credits: Pat Mills (script), Patrick Goddard (art), Annie Parkhouse (letters)
“Savage” is a strip that feels slippery. Every time I start to think I’ve got a handle on it something pops up out of nowhere to shake me loose. But I think there’s a lot of fun in that! Mills seems like he’s trying for lunacy, but using familiar character and story types as a framework. That’s why he’s able to buck me so easily. When we read genre stories we rely on what we’ve already read to help ourselves understand the narrative, but it’s almost like Mills is using that in a different way. Instead of leaning on type to help readers along, he uses it to challenge us. There’s no falling into complacency because Mills won’t allow it.Continued below
There’s something about Goddard’s art this week. I think it may be his best work of the series so far, with the way he plays with light and, more interestingly, texture. His line is so clean, but he also uses a lot of dry brushing to bring these pages to life. It’s really interesting to see such an even and measured approach to line sharing space with the more happenstance nature of a dry brush. One is very predictable, while the other can surprise the artist. It plays nicely against what Mills is doing in the narrative, as disparate elements bounce against each other, giving readers a sense of surrealness in an otherwise conventional setting.
Counterfeit Girl, Part 7
Credits: Peter Milligan (script), Rufus Dayglo (art), Dom Regan (color), Ellie De Ville (letters)
The exploration of identity and persona gets even deeper this week as Libra finds herself face to face with someone she never expected.
I’m constantly impressed by Dayglo’s line art. I feel like he’s moving towards the Paul Pope school of comic art, with his inky, lively lines and character construction. These pages have the same sort of bombastic feel as those early THB issues, though Pope never had Dom Regan backing him up. I love the kinetic, complex world that Dayglo has brought to life, and his sense of future fashion is impeccable.
I feel like maybe this techno-virus thing is dragging out a little too long, though it seems like we’re approaching a resolve for it. While Libra’s illness has given Regan’s colors a real chance to shine, I kinda wish we could have spent a little more time learning about the process of collecting and transferring identities than we did. It feels like we lost any shot of that in order to get a month of sweaty Libra grasping at a cure. While the strip started of feeling wide and limitless, I can’t help but feel like maybe the scope has narrowed a little bit too much.
We’ll see where next week takes us. We’re left with a pretty interesting cliff hanger, to say the least.
At Multiver-City One, we understand trying to figure out to start with a selection of almost 40 years worth of comics can be daunting. What do they publish? Where can I get it? What’s up with Judge Dredd? Can I still read “2000 AD” if I don’t like Judge Dredd?
To help all you new & potential readers, we’ve put together something we call An Earthlet’s Guide to 2000 AD. This FAQ collects everything you need to make your initial foray into the 2000 AD Thrill-verse as easy and simple as possible.
That’s gonna do it for us this week! “2000 AD” Prog 2000 and Judge Dredd Megazine 376 are both on sale today and available digitally worldwide on:
- The 2000 AD Newsstand app for iPad and iPhone,
- The 2000 AD app for Android devices,
- 2000ADonline.com in DRM-free PDF and CBZ formats.
They are available in print today from:
They are available in print in North America next month from your local comic shop.
So as Tharg the Mighty himself would say, “Splundig vur thrigg!”