Welcome, Earthlets, to Multiver-City One, our “2000 AD” weekly review column! Every Wednesday we examine the latest offerings from Tharg and the droids over at Rebellion/2000 AD, the galaxy’s leading producers of Thrill-Power entertainment. Let’s get right to it!
THIS WEEK IN 2000AD
Judge Dredd: Simply Normal, Part 1
Credits: Kenneth Niemand (script), Steven Austin (art), Chris Blythe (colours), Annie Parkhouse (letters)
Noel Thorne: A new company promising to deprogramme Mega-City One’s simps (citizens who choose to live as clowns) has sprung up – much to the dismay of one simp who believes her wife is being deprogrammed against her will. But is she right, how far will she go to save her and what will Dredd have to say about it?
“Simply Normal, Part 1” is an unimpressive start to what seems to be an uninspired story. Simp conversion therapy is a thinly-veiled take on our world’s Christian gay conversion therapy that lacks any nuanced or thoughtful commentary in this context. There’s really no mystery to the story – you immediately know the wife is being held against her will and can see it’ll lead to conflict with Dredd predictably cracking down on both sides.
The characters are similarly one-dimensional: the simps are framed as wacky (with names like “Lady Delilah Eel-Pie Crazy Horse”) but are essentially the good guys as they fight for equal rights, while the “normies” are framed as stereotypical bad guys (with names like “Barry and Brenda Normal”), ie. corporate business people, only in it for the creds.
Though being a story featuring people with a propensity for crazy outfits, Steven Austin doesn’t draw anything especially imaginative that hasn’t been seen before in other simp stories. You’ve got a half-and-half costume for the simp leader, an ordinary potted plant outfit, and variations on typical clown outfits with a Rocky Horror Show-flavour. Close-ups of Dredd look grotesque as Austin draws his face almost like it’s moulded from clay – it looks awkwardly expressive.
There’s also a strangely limited range of colours used by Chris Blythe. When I think simps, I think all the colours of the rainbow, but here pinks, purples and greens dominate for no reason – that is when the crowds aren’t bathed in unnaturally-golden sunlight. The final image of the Radical Simp Underground looks great though – Austin seems to do better with static images than active ones.
“Simply Normal, Part 1” is too simple a story to really compel the reader. It’s competently rendered with easy-to-follow writing and decent art, but, in large part because you can clearly see where this one’s headed, ultimately the comic is unremarkable, forgettable and uninteresting.
Stickleback: New Jerusalem, Part Six
Credits: Ian Edginton (script), D’Israeli (art), Jim Cambell (letters)
Michael Mazzacane: As we enter into the sixth episode of “Stickleback: New Jerusalem” I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. This is normally the episode range where strips take a breath and set the table for the next chunk of strips. Edginton and D’Israeli could have been subtly doing that with their discussion of how the eldritch egg sack could function in the same way a hyperbaric chamber works, gently changing pressures. That is the kind of speculation that is the setup for a job. That sort of introspection also last for about two and a half pages. The back half of the strip is the beginnings of a clash of the titans between the embodiment of London and the eldritch egg sack!
The energy produced by this back half is almost the opposite of Edington’s fun use of contemporary inventions to explain the supernatural. Action on this scale is generally hard to pull off. D’Istraeli gets around it by keeping page designs simple, everything is a 4-5 panel page. These layouts afford a fair amount of size and a clear reading orientation. It also constricts everything so that when the turn happens on the final page it’s actually effective. The “unnh” as the egg sack fights back lands wonderfully. Unlike other cliffhangers that end on a moment of sudden drama, this is a reversal of fortune that the reader could entirely see coming. So it leaves you wanting but not shocked and confused as to what happens next. What happens next is clearly stated in the preview “clash of the titans!”Continued below
Skip Tracer: Hyperballad Part Seven
Credits: James Peaty (script), Paul Marshall (art), Dylan Teague (colours) Simon Bowland (letters)
Ryan Pond: We finally get a little clarity on who is chasing India, but more importantly we find out why they are after her. If there was ever a moral gray in business, Van Hess has definitely found it.
One thing that has stood out about Peaty’s scripting through this series is how everything escalates with each chapter. We started with Nolan taking on a protection job, but then things went south, and he took her on the run. Then we got a new ally. Then some new tech. And now, a little more of both. I always enjoy the things I discover, but the scripting does a great job with those reveals and new introductions.
I’ve praised Marshall and Teague every step of the way, I believe this is one of the best issues yet. There is plenty of action in this issue, with a heavy dose of technology, and the line work is very clear in indicating who is doing what with very consistent facial expressions.
Teague comes in and brings everything to life with vibrant colors and a great sense of opacity for the technology. The blue on the video screens is so vibrant, and the way that the center of the tracking device glows is captivating on every panel.
As Van Hess’ plan comes to light, Nolan develops his own plan to protect India and get to the bottom of things. The discovery of a hidden device spurs Nolan into a great setup, but it is going to require some technology and help to pull it off.
Fiends of the Eastern Front: Constanta Part 6
Credits: Ian Edginton (script), Tiernen Trevallion (art), Annie Parkhouse (letters)
Greg Lincoln: The story of Constanta’s origins continue as he travels and fights along side the Troll Skade and the men once sent to kill him. We learn that across their adventures the men come and go but Skade and Constanta become an inseparable pair. Edgington tells us that Skade becomes a father figure to the man, but the only real indication the story gives us of this is once Skade is mortally wounded. The story finds its way to the mythological figures of the fates. The three women repressing the maiden, the matron, and the crone are beautifully reimagined by Trevallion in his chunky blocky style.
This chapter gave the artist the opportunity to show some fun character designs including some Celtic berserkers and a teasingly creepy Asian-seeming demon who, herself, fells the Troll and is the cause for the next phase of the tale.
It really just occurred to me that there is a very pleasing Mike Mignola quality to the way he uses his lines and light and dark to create his overall images. The story that they tell here feels a lot more sinister then other encounters with these iconic figures. To save Skade from having the thread of his life cut, there is a cost to be paid, a cost of years and an implied curse is passed to Constanta in this moment. It is a pleasingly haunting chapter, mainly due to the richly imagined art, but also in part to the tweak to the otherwise comfortable or benign assumptions about the fates. Edginton has done something very clever here to keep us engaged going forward.
Hook Jaw, Part Seven
Credits: Alec Worley (script), Leigh Gallagher (art), Simon Bowland (letters)
Rowan Grover: “Hookjaw” this week hits us with a loooot of dialogue and catching up with Jack’s Granny Esme, a weird spirit pirate manages to still inject some sense of fun into this issue despite the heavy narrative dumps. As always, the opening scenes are pretty great as we see Hookjaw’s mainstream popularity rise further and further as people are amassing at the harbor to get him on their social media or otherwise. Interestingly, this section makes sense now at this part of the story, as Esme later reveals that Hookjaw’s resurgence is due to the fact that people are more willing to believe in cryptids and the unreal, and that’s what’s powering him. Other than this interesting revelation, there’s a lot of abstract back and forth between Jack and Esme that ends up incredibly cringe-ly as Esme explains nearly word for word to Jack that he’s getting woke.
Gallagher’s art is still pretty strong in this issue, although for different reasons than usual. The opening scene is fine but a little by-the-book, and the usage of dated-looking blur effects for the crowd sticks out like a sore thumb. The Esme scene is where we really hit the ground running, however, with the first panel establishing a great tone for the rest of the prog. The panel merely shows a broken pot but it works as a signifier for a genie out of the bottle, which is almost what Esme’s relationship is to Jack in this prog. Gallagher’s glowy negative inks work well at making Esme look supernatural without relying too heavily on glowy gradients or other old coloring techniques. Outside of these specifics, however, there’s not a lot going on in this prog that’s terribly exciting. I hate to be that guy but Gallagher’s art really works for me on this book when rendering demented, otherworldly creatures and serious blood and guts-style carnage.
This is a fine chapter in a story that seems unsure where it wants to go, but “Hookjaw” still has a solid enough premise that I still want to read more past this issue.