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: The Booth Conspiracy Part 3
Credits T.C. Eglington (script), Staz Johnson (art), Abigail Bulmer (colors), Annie Parkhouse (letters)
Greg Lincoln:It becomes obvious this week in ‘The Booth Conspiracy’ that they have done more then just stage a prison break recently. Judge Dredd’s visit to the asylum housing previous Boother and accidental nightmare gun victim Kelvin Sprayy reveals that The Boother’s have a mole in place there. Sprayy’s Psych-block provided “friend” Mr. Hugs is actually a two way device planted to get the secrets that Kelvin took with him when the Judges collared him near a year ago. More disturbingly the rest of the chapter goes on to show the Judges following fans tips to Boother hide outs from citizens and implies moles deeper in the government by all the blueprints that Linus has. One of those blueprints looks suspiciously like a Judge headquarters. The script and story from Eglinton raises the stakes on how much influence and power that Linus and his followers are getting, asking us to wonder how deep the roots of this particular nationalist corruption runs.
Staz Johnson’s art is very workman like, something like John or Sal Buscema his consistent and clarity in their storytelling. Clarity can go a long way in telling a story even if the art does not stun or wow us. Abigail Bulmer’s colors and embellishments bring many of the scenes in this weeks part a lot of impact. She aided in setting the sense of tension in the empty warehouse the Judges raid that leads up to the disturbing revelations of the week. Johnson and Bulmer may also hint in their art on all those blueprints where the improvised “nightmare-bomb” might be planted for those that catch them.
Survival Geeks: Slack and Hash, Part One
Credits: Gordon Rennie, Emma Beeby (script) Neil Googe (art), Gary Caldwell (Colors) Ellie De Ville (letters)
Rowan Grover: Despite the fact that it says Part One on the first page, this comic is not the most reader friendly. Upon first read, I struggled to let all this strange suburban sci-fi lore sink in, and had to really sit with it and the blurb for a while. However, Rennie and Beeby have certainly created a wholly unique world here once you step back and look at it hard enough. They introduce characters like Brian and his friend who kind of subtly introduce that this world is more than it seems by how blatantly serious they take it. Then, the tone is twisted even more when this pair notice Simon and Rufus, two ordinary looking stoner teens, blatantly ignore the ‘rules’ and walk around in total ignorance to the dismay of the first pair. Beeby and Rennie further throw the readers for a curveball by diffusing the middle of the issue with some mysterious cosmic Fireman zombie, stalking down the street with no dialogue or explained motive. Everything seems a little bizarre at first, but you can see the two writers carefully setting up ideas and tropes to come when you break it down.
Neil Googe provides some hyper-fun, candy like art here which helps to uphold the facade that this is an ordinary, 80’s Halloween inspired suburban world. The character mannerisms are what really sell the story. Brian and his friend, the true believers in this story, approach everything with caution and are constantly anxious. Simon and Rufus, however, are depicted with hands constantly in pockets, Rufus with a consistent hunched posture, and Simon with a general bored disposition. Gary Caldwell handles colors, giving a bright, cel-shaded feel to the comic. I love little moments where the panel goes full monochromatic to inspire a tense feeling: when Brian and his friend run in fear, the panel turns a sickly green and when the clown Uncle Bobo goes to stab Sam, the panel turns a bright, startling red. It’s clever mood coloring amidst general aesthetic coloring.Continued below
“Survival Geeks” might be more suited to those already following from the first story, but it’s still interesting to look at from a newcomer point of view. There’s great worldbuilding done here unlike much else in 2000AD at the moment, and solid, cel-shaded art to really make the story pop.
The Order ‘The New World’ Part 10
Credits Kek-W (script) John Burns (art) Annie Parkhouse (letters)
Michael Mazzacane: The journey into the realm of the wyrm and weird continues as our adventures cross through spaces that never quite came to be. John Burns gets to show off more environmental skills as they journey through an environment that can only be described as Monument Valley of Mars and the Bridge of Dying Sighs set on the edge of time surrounded by stars. There are fits of action later on in the strip, but these first pages are the most sedated the series has ever been. And that’s with the appearance of alien dolphin creatures known as Nommo. Transitions into new environments happen in the gutters between panels but their size and framing captures the sense of timelessness the adventures feels on their journey; as if they’ve been questing for years going nowhere and everywhere.
The heavy use of red by Burns is an interesting visual departure considering how natural most of his palette choices have been. This departure helps to establish how alien and weird their environment is. The plain limitless red though is nothing to compare to the various mixing shades of purple and black as they cross the Bridge of Dying Sighs.
For all the well done environmental work, it draws attention to some minor clumsiness when it comes to the action of the strip. Phantoms throughout time haunt Anna, figuratively and literally, and spook her horse which falls into the empty white void. On an individual level that panel and the sequence overall is effective storytelling except the environments are so opaque that the reader doesn’t get a chance to gain their bearings before it all gets started.
The destination our adventures eventually find themselves in isn’t too surprising but also introduces yet another wild character: Berg jr.’s Mother the Queen of Shadow Worms. Needless to say he Berg jr. could’ve handled introductions a bit better, but it appears to setup something of a Medusa fight in the coming weeks and that should be an interesting change of pace from how action is normally situated in “The Order.”
Mechastophales: True Faith, Part 5
Credits: Gordon Rennie & Lawrence Rennie (script), Karl Richardson (art), Simon Bowland (letters)
Kent Falkenberg: It’s fitting that Chiaroscuro’s main goal this week is to find the Clockwork Man who sought sanctuary in Benedictia after the city’s gates were finally opened to Lord Mechastophales at the close of last week’s strip. He even says this aloud in one of the early lines at the start of ‘True Faith, Part 5.’
This time around, Gordon Rennie, Lawrence Rennie and Karl Richardson all feel more focused on the underpinnings that make this story tick – the gears and cogs that make their own clock work. They tip their collective hands to the real reason why the giant mech was so intent on entering the city. And they begin to dig into the true nature of several characters we’ve been following, as well as the true nature of Lord Mechastophales himself. But while the titular character weighs heavy on those populating this week’s installment, he never actually appears.
‘True Faith, Part 5′ delves into the machinations of all those drawn into the gravity of the metal behemoth. No one, however, seems to be able to pull far enough back to see the bigger picture of what’s truly going on. Richardson keeps pace with this by ensuring that faces and bodies are continually obscured by darkness and shadow. While the Rennie’s are slowly revealing information to us, the characters are careful not to reveal too much to each other.
The pace and intensity of the story does get turned down a bit. Still, the Rennies’ and Richardson craft a compelling strip.
Grey Area: Objectives, Part 2
Credits: Dan Abnett (script), Mark Harrison (art), Ellie De Ville (letters)
Tom Shapira: we are now far enough in that I am starting to question what this story is about. Not in terms of ‘what is happening,’ the story beats are quite clear, but in terms of themes and ideas. Dan Abnett is an accomplished writer, specifically in his ability to marry straightforward storytelling to interesting ideas about characters and society; he’s doing the very same thing in his two other current 2000AD strips – “Lawless” and “Brink.” But “Grey Area” never seems to rise above itself, it’s about black ops teams doing unpleasant secret things for corrupt government officials , no exactly fertile ground, but so far if it has any notions beyond the surface it keeps them in the margins.
This is a shame because the setting lends itself to all sorts of interesting ideas about immigration and the complicity of law enforcement in policies they might not have decided upon, or even agree with, but are still working for. By creating a black ops version of the main team, an obvious collections of bad guys with some good guys forced in against their will, the creators deflate a lot of the potential inherent in the strip.
What we are left in, in the end of the day, are the plot machinations (which are sound, because Abnett knows his stuff) and the art itself. I’ve written enough times that Mark Harrison’s style is simply not to my taste and it’s obvious this not going to change – settings are undefined and characters seem to bounce all over the place with very little spatial consistency. It’s not terrible, but it could be a lot better.
It’s time for this strip to get into higher gear, or it shall be the runt of the litter of Abnett’s 2000AD work.