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
Cadet Dredd: Undertow
Credits: Paul Starkey (script), S. Califino & G. Walsh (art), John Charles (colors), Annie Parkhouse (letters)
Greg Lincoln: “Cadet Dredd” presents a distinctly different Joesph Dredd. He’s very much still a by the book sort and is actually graded lower than his fellow cadet Rico by an instructor in the brief opening flashback. ‘Undertow’ takes the two cadets on a rotation to Mega-City One port authority and an aptly named Judge Bly. She’s more charming than not and pretty much presents the job of working the docks as mostly tedious and boring. Dredd, as you would expect, takes to the expected tedium where as Rico wants to find some action. Surprisingly, Dredd follows Rico’s lead and their investigation actually leads to something worth investigating. Their nautical adventure hits on some interesting plot points, including illegal toxic waste dumping and, of all things, environmental awareness. There is a suggestion that Judges can expect to end up in their own cuffs and should prepare for it. They get through this mishap through being flexible with the rules. It’s a solidly good one-shot that really shows off some really creative storytelling and thinking.
For a three person art team this strip has a very cohesive and single vision kind of look. ‘Undertow’ looks very much like a classic Dredd strip seen through modern eyes. The design work is slick and clean and with an animated flare and the action is clear and easy to follow. The colors are true to its source material and lean just enough into garish to be appealing and eye catching. The story and art are both really fun, and and a real interesting all ages Dredd tale that’s got some meat to it.
Credits: James Peaty (script) Leigh Gallagher(art) Jim Campbell(letters)
Michael Mazzacane: The James Peaty and Leigh Gallagher strip is a futuristic sports story built around the titular game, short for gravity blading. Think rollerball or roller derby but in space. The comic never really explains the rules of the game, it is just evident that it’s violent and maybe an assortment of race styles. “Bladers” is a good example of how following basic genre beats can help to overcome aesthetic excess and a few pages of poor construction and still leave me wanting more. I honestly don’t care about the rules of the game, but the core sports narrative they are telling in the vein of Bad News Bears and Major League is a well-trod space that could make for a good, serialized narrative.
The Gravity Bombshells are a low rank G-Bladers team that after a cheating scandal is on the verge of being kicked out of the league. Which makes it even more confusing that they have a new owner, Abi Caine, who plans on revitalizing the team. If there is one shortcoming for this format it’s that the creative team had to shortchange the building of a team dynamic with the new boss in order to get to the big game. The dynamic building and potential for Caine to be a sadistic or domineering coach is implied. While certain dynamics are implied, Leigh Gallagher’s character design and the diversity of body types for the team is honestly one of the main reasons I’d want to read more of them. None of the characters really get much texture, but when one of them is called Queensbury Rules do you need that much texture for this kind of strip?
The one shortcoming in Gallagher’s art is how it interacts with Jim Campbell’s lettering that leads to some confusing pages where the left to right associations are muddled. Which is a bummer because the sports sequences are so dynamic that these moments of friction take the reader out of the experience.
These moments of friction and the broad nature of some core plot elements are covered by the use of obvious genre beats. This strip doesn’t do anything you haven’t seen before, but it does these moments well enough. There’s just enough here that makes me want to see more.Continued below
Ulysses Sweet: Psychobaby
Credits: Guy Adams (script), Paul Marshall (art), Dylan Teague (colors) Jim Campbell (letters)
Matthew Blair: Ulysses S. Sweet, also known as the “Maniac for Hire” is an absolute psychopath who was created for 2000AD by a young Grant Morrison in the late 1980’s. His schtick was that he was exactly what he said he was, a maniac you could hire to do any dangerous or ugly job you needed done. The problem was that he usually wound up doing more harm than good.
The thing is, even psychopaths have to come from somewhere, so here’s a story of the monster mercenary as a pint sized terror!
“Ulysses Sweet: Psychobaby” is written by Guy Adams, who was the author who worked on the character decades after his original Grant Morrison appearance. This means that Adams has a pretty good grasp of the character, which is good because he has his work cut out for him when trying to make such a violent, nasty man child friendly. Adams does this very well by taking Ulysses and making him a slapstick baby that feels like he would be more at home in an old slapstick cartoon like Tom and Jerry, and while the gags and violence might be a bit predictable, it’s a fun little bit of manic and child friendly fun.
The slapstick cartoon element in “Ulysses Sweet: Psychobaby” continues with Paul Marshall’s artwork and it is well suited to the story. Marshall has a very cartoon inspired style that is expressive, goofy, and lets the comic be violent without showing the bloody and gory consequences. On a more macro level, the story makes great use of tiny panels to create story beats that read like an aggressive jazz band, although the non-traditional panel layout did make it a bit confusing for a reviewer who gets the comic online and has to read it one page at a time.
“Ulysses Sweet: Psychobaby” is a fun, kid friendly, borderline harmless little romp into the origins and mindset of a violent killer that doesn’t say anything deep or important, but it reads like a Saturday morning cartoon and serves as a strange and cute introduction to one of the most violent and humorous characters to ever grace the pages of 2000 AD.
Future Shocks: The Planet Breakers!
Credits: Karl Stock (script), Karl Richardson (art), Annie Parkhouse (letters)
Brian Salvatore: Of all of the stories in these ‘Regened’ issues, the “Future Shocks” often seem least impacted by the ‘all ages’ banner. This is certainly true of ‘The Planet Breakers,’ which could appear in any issue of 2000 AD without anyone really batting an eye. The story is a well-worn one: Earth, depleted of resources, starts its vampiric sucking of other planets’ resources for its own gain. This is the type of story that only seems far fetched in how transparent the plans are; it appears more than likely that this is exactly what the Earth will attempt in the future, it’ll just have better PR.
Karl Richardson gets to draw a planet’s ‘brain,’ or at the very least a symbiotic creature that lives in its core, and his depiction is simple and striking. The bean-like green sac is the most natural thing we spend any real time with; the people and the planets of this story have all been augmented, used up, or greatly changed from how it is ‘supposed’ to be. Karl Stock’s script tries its best to pull its punches, but it is clear from the outset that Earth is the bad guy here, even before the ‘reveal’ on the final pages.
These stories are fine for what they are: five page fillers in issues that don’t have enough ongoing tales. It’s a little surprising to see this story show up in this ‘Regened’ issue, but there’s nothing terribly mature about it. That said, it seems like a missed opportunity to put a more all-ages tale in here or to save this for an issue where it wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb.
Chopper: All For One
Credits: David Barnet (script), Gary Welsh (art), Gary Caldwell (colors), Simon Bowland (letters)
Chris Egan: Readers should get a kick out of this entry in Chopper’s adventures. Getting to see a day in the life of this low-level criminal who always seems to be slipping through Mega City One’s Judges is quite a bit of fun. Chopper gives us a look at his family and close skysurfing buds, outruns Judge Dredd, and even saves a life.
This is a fun comic strip that leans into how serious the Judges take the small time crimes Chopper and his ilk partake in. They’re not harming, or at least trying not to harm anyone. Just getting into a little bit of fun trouble. Outside of that, there isn’t too much of a message here, but it is a quick and enjoyable read. The art and colors by Gary Welsh and Gary Caldwell respectively is bright, fun, and quite cutesy for a Judge Dredd adjacent tale, but it works for the tone of this story.
The script is akin to any teen action comedy told through narration. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it holds its own and keeps things moving. Between the surfing, the spray-painting, bodybuilders and mohawks, this feels like an episode of the 80s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon without the Turtles. Fun, flashy, and ultimately forgettable, it never aims to be anything spectacular, and holds its own as an all-ages romp.