Category: Graphic Novels/Collections


Reviewed by Eamonn Clarke

Hot off the press this week is a large format, coffee table style art book which reproduces classic covers from 35 years of 2000AD.

After a short introduction from John Wagner the book starts working through the different eras of the prog. Each cover is reproduced in full colour on the right hand page with comments and recollections from various creators on the left hand page. Pat Mills, Brian Bolland, Steve Dillon, Henry Flint, D’Israeli, Alan Grant, Ben Willsher, Matt Smith, Pete Wells and many, many more chip in along the way. The result is a verbal history of the prog and, in particular, the art design decisions about the covers, and some of the techniques artists used to stunning effect.
This book concentrates on Judge Dredd and is obviously tied into the launch of the movie and the (hopefully) increased interest in Dredd. So you won’t find covers from other 2000AD stories. What you do get is just about every iconic Dredd cover you can think of reproduced in all its glory. All the great artists are represented from Bolland, McMahon, Ezquerra, Dillon, Gibson and Smith to new stars like Jock, Henry Flint, Greg Staples, Cliff Robinson and Ben Willsher. There are about 130 full size colour pages including some of the wraparound covers. Other Dredd covers are reproduced as smaller images on the left hand pages. Inevitably there will be one or two of your favourites which you would have preferred to see full size instead of in miniature, but reproducing all the covers would presumably have been prohibitive in terms of cost and weight. But you do get to see small versions of the infamous Jolly Green Giant and Burger Wars covers.
 Comic book fans are naturally drawn to visual imagery and the brilliant combination of the covers with short comments from the creators gives a real feel of how the comic and Dredd in particular have developed over the 35 years. The result is a book that acts as a history of 2000AD. You can read it straight through as I did or you can just dip into it from time to time. You won’t have to flick through many pages before you find an image that makes you wish you had that prog or the original art.
Over on the 2000AD forums there was a plea for movie tie-in products. Well here’s one. It’s a lovely, hard-bound book which you can proudly show to anyone with an interest in art and design, or in Judge Joseph Dredd himself. I can’t possibly give it any less that a full 5 star rating. It’s a thing of beauty. Pop over to the 2000AD site and order a copy, you may even still be able to get one of the enhanced special editions. Or if funds are limited go to Amazon where you can save yourself a few pounds. Zarjaz!
Advertisements

Scarlet Traces

Special guest reviewer- Eamonn Clarke

Tharg has launched a new thrill for 2000AD in the shape of the intriguing Brass Sun. Written by Ian Edginton and illustrated by I.N.J. Culbard, with future installments to be drawn by another of Edginton’s regular collaborators (and current Lowlife artist) Matt “D’Israeli” Brooker.

Edginton and Brooker have previously worked together on a number of stories that have appeared in and around 2000AD and the Megazine. Scarlet Traces started from the fantastic premise that Britain used the alien technology left lying around at the end of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds to create a steampunk empire. The writer and artist use this as the background for a murder mystery as a traditional gentleman adventurer and his assistant come up against a dark conspiracy.

The original Scarlet Traces story appeared in the Meg (vol 4 16-18) and it also spawned a sequel, The Great Game, which was published by Dark Horse. They were collected in hardback but are getting rather hard to get hold of these days. If you are interested you can read their adaptation of Wells’ original novel on the Dark Horse site.

Like most works by Edginton and D’Israeli Scarlet Traces is filled with references to other works, in-jokes, and nods to various bits of popular culture. There are so many that it inspired me to compile a set of annotations which you might find helpful as you read along. They even come with the stamp of approval from the creators themselves.

Possibly I have too much time on my hands becauseI have also extended the annotations to look at their more recent works including Leviathan, Kingdom of the Wicked and, of course, Stickleback. And if you find anything that I have missed or got wrong then please email me. You can find links to all my comic book annotations here.

 

Thank you for your attention.

Eamonn

Next to 2000AD itself, Charley’s War is perhaps Pat Mill’s most well known creation. While he’s also written the likes of Savage, Slaine, Defoe, ABC Warriors etc I personally think that Charley’s War is quite rightly considered one of his best works. Printed in the war comic Battle, Charley’s War was a huge risk to take. Having an anti-war story in a war comic is always going to be risky, especially when the comic is aimed at 10 – 12 year old boys. Add to that the removal of the artist from an allready popular strip to focus entirely on Charley’s War, then the comic was perhaps seemingly unlikly to succeed. But as anyone who has read it will tell you, Charley’s War did not just succeed, but it became one of the greatest British comic strips of all time.

If, like me, you have even a passing interest in the First World War then you’re sure to love Charley’s War. Right from the start of this first volume it’s clear that this isn’t going to be any prosaic Commando style war story, with seemingly invincible British soldiers “taking it to the Bosche”. No, here we have a main character who has very little in the way of intelligence (as brilliantly portrayed in his letters home), is certainly nothing out of the ordinary, and is perhaps one of the least likely people to become a soldier. In that respect he is very much your typical “Tommy Atkins”, just a working class boy who was called away to fight. The supporting cast are all well fleshed out characters too, such as Smith 70 and his obsession with anything techincal, and the tragic figure of “Lonely” who has been traumatised by his experiences in the trenchs. The German’s are written for very well too. Rather than be portrayed as evil monsters to be overcome, they are instead portrayed as the German equivalent of our soldiers (which of course is what they really were). There are perhaps some stereo typical characters thrown into the mix however, such as the cockney Sergeant and the upper class officers, but the reason they’re stereotypes is because they often were as portrayed here, the officers in particular.

While Mills provides a fantasticlly well researched script, a lot of the praise must go to the late Joe Colquhoun’s superb artwork. Every panel expertly evokes the feeling of the First World War trenches, with loads of detail being put into the backgrounds of every panel. I can’t begin to imagine how long it must have taken to draw the Charley’s War strips, but a quick flick through any volume will give the impression that the artwork must have been highly labour intensive. It’s a testament to Colquhoun that in a strip with such a large cast of characters, every character is easily recognisable and distinguishable from the others.

If there’s one niggle I have with this first volume it’s that some of the dialogue does feel quite dated. Being written in the 1970s there’s a lot of characters saying things which people just wouldnt really say or even think, for example describing what they are about to do when in a fight with an enemy soldier. Still this doesn’t detract from the quality of the story by any means and must just be viewed as a byproduct of the times it was written in.

As both an anti-war story and a comic strip, the first volume of Charley’s War succeeds tremendously. This is exactly the sort of thing which would be perfect to give to any school children who are studying the First World War at school, as everything from the script to the art is pretty historically accurate. If you read Charley’s War on it’s original run then I would still recommend you pick this up, as not only does it remain a classic comic strip, but the added extra of Pat Mill’s commentry provides a fascinating insight into his thought process when writing the strip. I can’t believe it took me so long to start to read Charley’s War, particularly considering I allready had an interest in the time period. So if you’ve been thinking about picking up this first volume for some time, then I recommend you get of the fence and purchase a copy asap.

One of the great things about 2000AD is its relatively high turnover of new strips. Sure you have the old classics like Dredd and Strontium Dog, but 2000AD has never been a comic to rest on its laurels, continuingly bringing us brand new strips too enjoy. Sometimes they don’t work and are forgotten about pretty quickly, but other times the new strips stand head and shoulders over the rest of the prog as a classic in the making. Fortunately Absalom falls firmly into the latter category.

Around this time last year I was pretty excited about the forthcoming debut of Absalom. As a spin-off of supernatural horror strip Caballistics Inc I had high hopes for Absalom before it had even started. Cabs Inc had been one of the best strips of the 21st century so far, so anything to do with it had to be good. That has certainly proved to be the case as Absalom is perhaps well on its way to surpassing its parent strip in every way. Absalom is one of those rare strips where everything is absolutely perfect…the writing, the art, the characters, the premise…everything is firing on all cylinders.

Having a good lead character is absolutely vital to any comic strip, particularly when he lends his name to the strips title. Inspector Harry Absalom is a fascinating leading man, riddled with incurable cancer yet apparently unable to die, he remains something of a mystery despite the reader knowing quite a bit of his backstory. We know that he is in fact hundreds of years old as is revealed in the first strip in this collection, having been witness to the signing of The Accord between the British Government and Hell itself, centuries in the past. Yet he also appears to be a modern day detective in the vein of Inspector Frost, albeit one who enforces a treaty made with Demons and Monsters. What’s particularly great about Absalom is that this is just a job for him. Most supernatural investigators are portrayed as being interested in little outside their job. But for Absalom it’s very much something he has to do, rather than something he chooses to do. The supporting cast are noteworthy too, including an apparent mole and a rather unusual little man who you really have to read the strip too be able to fully understand.

The art by Tiernen Trevallion is absolutely stunning throughout. His attention to detail is particularly noteworthy, just check out some of the backgrounds on the Ghosts of London strip. That panel with the Dog running off with a severed head is particularly hilarious. But it would mean nothing if the writing didn’t back it up. With Gordon Rennie on script duties though, you know that the writing is going to be first class. All three strips included in this trade are absolutely must reads and I can’t imagine there is anyone who reads 2000AD who wouldn’t love to read Absalom. It should also be pointed out that Rennie makes sure you don’t need to have read Caballistics Inc to be able to read Absalom, no prior knowledge is necessary.

In my opinion Absalom is the finest strip to debut in the prog since Stickleback’s debut about five years ago now. As I said everything comes together to form a perfect supernatural horror strip, and one which looks to be even better than Caballistics Inc ever was. I sincerely hope that Absalom gets a good long run in the prog and that we will see many more trade collections in the future. Ghosts of London is an absolute must buy for any fan of 2000AD.

10/10

If theres one thing lacking in the 2000AD line up right now, its a future war story. The future war story is something which the Galaxy’s Greatest has always done extremely well, from the battle scarred lands of Nu Earth in Rogue Trooper to (in this case) the outer space conflicts of The V.C.s. Originally printed during the early days of 2000AD, The V.C.s was dusted off for a 21st century revival, this time with Dan Abnett on writing duties. If like me you’re not familiar with the strips original run then never fear, Abnett does an admirable job of reintroducing The V.C.s universe, allowing new readers to jump on board without being weighed down by continuity.

Set fifty years after the war between Humanity and the insectoid like Geeks, Back in Action begins with the war veteran Steve Smith being invited to attend the fiftieth anniversary of the outbreak of peace. As you would expect things quickly take a turn for the worse, when the Geeks launch a suprise attack on Earth, in doing so kicking off the Second Human-Geek war. The assembled veterans prove to still be more than a match for the alien Geeks, and so are appointed commanders of a new breed of soldiers. From that point on we’re very much into traditional space opera territory, which is certainly no bad thing. Throughout the rest of this trade Abnett introduces us to the various characters and personalitys of Steve Smith’s new crew, against the backdrop of some truly cinematic space battles. If your a fan of TV series such as Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda (a personal favourite of mine) or the remake of Battlestar Galactica then I can guarantee that you’ll find something to enjoy in Back in Action.

Dan Abnett was a perfect choice to bring back The V.C.s, being a writer who has a great pedigree of writing space opera strips, such as the reboot of Durham Red, as well as the popular Dredd spin off Insurrection. As revealed in his introduction to this trade Abnett had tried to bring back The V.C.s on several previous occasions, each time being knocked back by whoever happened to be Tharg at the time. His persistance eventually payed off however, and its no great suprise that when given the opportunity to write one of his all time favourite 2000AD strips, he proved to be more than up for the challenge.

I do have one greivance about The V.C.s however, although its nothing to do with the actual strip itself. The Back in Action trade ends on something of a cliffhanger with the inside back cover advertising a forthcoming trade to complete the strips run. I can only assume that the Back in Action trade didn’t sell well enough as unfortunatly the advertisted follow up has yet to materialise. So if you choose to pick up a copy of Back in Action do be aware that you’re not getting the full story, although perhaps if enough people were to buy it we could eventually see the missing trade published. Despite the lack of a conclusion The V.C.s is still an enjoyable and action packed romp through outer space, and one that comes recommended.

7/10

(Bagged with Judge Dredd Megazine 288)

They’re a very friendly bunch over on the 2000AD forum. During a discussion about what strips we’d like to see released as a supplement with the Megazine, I mentioned the Dredd world spin off Harmony. I’d never read any before but the premise of the story sounded intriguing. I was soon informed that Harmony had allready been released with the Meg and that I had managed to miss it. Within minutes however, the forum member known as Tordelback offered me his copy of the Harmony reprint, and within a few days I was sitting down to read, what was for me at least, a brand new Dredd world strip. So many thanks Tordelback, here as promised is the review.

As I said the premise for Harmony is an intriguing one. Harmony Krieg is a bounty hunter, living and working in Uranium City in the snowy wastes of Alaska. (And for those interested Uranium City is actually a real place in Alaska. Google it!) Now I’ve always had a fondness for any kind of story set against the back drop of a snowy desolate landscape, and given how much I had enjoyed the one off story Wynter, I was very much hopoing for more of the same with Harmony. The story for Blood and Snow is clearly written as an introduction to the character. While attempting to salvage a crashed ship full of diamonds, Harmony and her mutant accomplice find themselves pursued by Harmony’s former lover, who is now a cyborg working for the Uranium City Justice Department. This allows flashbacks too Harmony’s past, explaining to the reader who Harmony is and how her ex lover ended up as a cyborg. Its a fairly straightforward story, although one which does seem to take a little too long in getting to its conclusion. The main characters spend a good few pages trapped within a colony of cannibal nudists, which is an unusual turn of events to say the least. I did find the story to be an enjoyable one however, and it managed to keep me suitably entertained throughout, which is always appreciated.

I wasn’t too impressed by the art however. While black and white is always the way to go when drawing an icy wasteland as far as i’m concerned, Trevor Hairsine’s art never really gives the impression that we’re supposed to be in Alaska for this story. Indeed, if it wasn’t for the characters occasionally referring to how cold they were, I think I would have completly forgotten where Harmony was supposed to be set. I’m not saying the art is bad in any way, which it isn’t, just that I was hoping for something more akin to the art seen in Wynter.

As an introductory story then I think Blood and Snow just about succeeds. It would have been nice to see more of Uranium City rather than the outskirts of it, and I would have loved to have seen what their Judges look like, however I imagine this could well be something which would be seen in later Harmony strips. So apart from that and the art I can recommend you give Harmony a read if you happen to have the reprint lying around somewhere.

7/10

Carlos Ezquerra is perhaps the greatest artist too have ever worked on 2000AD. His resume is certainly an impressive one, having co-created both Judge Dredd and Strontium Dog, as well as providing art for the likes of ABC Warriors, Judge Anderson, and Al’s Baby too name but a few. In that case perhaps the most suprising thing about this collection is that it took so long for such a book to be released. The contents however features some curious choices.

The collection is split into two halves, with the first half being made up of some of Ezquerra’s work on Dredd. The bulk of the Dredd stuff is made up of the Garth Ennis scripted Helter Skelter. This has always been a fairly unpopular story, as its pretty much a piece of glorified fan fiction. Several parallel universe versions of some of Dredd’s most notorious enemies, under the leadership of an alternate Judge Cal, arrive in Mega City One. Having defeated Dredd in their own universes, they decide to invade Dredd’s universe so as to be able to kill him again. Its a pretty flimsy idea for a story, and with the sheer amount of continuity involved it was never going to be a fan favourite. Presumably Helter Skelter is included in this collection, as it allows Ezquerra to draw many of the classic enemies from Dredd’s past in one single strip, as well as character from other strips who happen to slip through into Dredd’s universe as well. Despite my misgivings about the story I did find it a reasonably enjoyable nostalgia fest, and I have to admit I had too smile when the robot from “Colony Earth” made an appearance. Deffinetly wasn’t expecting that one. The other Dredd strips are fairly inconsequential one off’s from the megazine, with the exception of one story which follows on from the events of Judgement Day. While I enjoyed them all, I’m sure there were better Ezquerra drawn strips which could have been included instead.

The other half of this collection is made up of the first five Cursed Earth Koburn strips. Considering this collection is part of the Judge Dredd series of trades, devoting half of the page count to a non Dredd strip (all be it one set in Dredd’s world) was a suprising choice, but having never read any Cursed Earth Koburn strips before, I was pleased to see them included. As the title suggests Koburn is a judge who was sent out to the Cursed Earth, to bring the law to the lawless as it where. While none of his strips are particularly grounbreaking, they are all good reads, with the final strip dovetailing into one of Judge Death’s solo stories.

The problem with any potential Ezquerra collection, is that he’s drawn so much great stuff over the years, that any collection is bound to leave some people disappointed with its choice of contents. While this collection does contain some dubious story choices, the important thing here is the art, and as you would expect Ezquerra lives up to his legendary standards throughout. Having said that, none of the stories are actually that bad, so if you’ve been on the fence about getting this collection I can recommend you go for it. Even if the stories aren’t too your particular taste, there is at least plenty of top notch art for you to enjoy.

8/10

REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS

Origin stories tend to be very hit and miss. When they’re done correctly they can be a fascinating insight into how our favourite heroes or villains came to be who they are. When done badly however, they can have a damaging effect on the character, or in some cases prove to be just very underwhelming stories. The character of Judge Death himself is something that has to be handled in the right way. He can be an extremely dark and menacing villain, arguably being one of the greatest comic book bad guys when portrayed in this manner. He has been known to be turned into a comedic figure at times though, which served only to diminish his character, and thus the threat he would bring to any story he appeared in. So as you can imagine I was somewhat cautious about reading a strip which gives us the origins of 2000AD’s most iconic villain. I needn’t have worried though, as John Wagner delivered a suitably dark and disturbing background story for Death.

In comic strips bad guys are often shown to have been good originally, with some event in their lives turning them down the wrong path. Thats certainly not the case with Death however, as he is portrayed as thoroughly evil from the very beginning. As a child Death seems to enjoy causing pain to anyone and anything he chooses, including his sister whom he handicaps at an early age. We learn that his father was much the same way as Death, except in his case he was a dentist who enjoyed torturing his patients. If you have a dentists appointment in the near futur then I advise you don’t read the scenes in which Death and his father perform surgery on a patient without anasthetic. The young Death soon decides to join his universes version of the Judges, and rapidly rises through the ranks sentancing people to Death for pretty much any minor offence. This includes his own family who he seems only too glad to judge. A chance encounter with the Dark sisters Phobia and Nausea sees Death cast off the final vestiges of his humanity as he turns into the now familiar Judge Death. We’re not just shown these events however, rather we are told them by Death himself. Still in hiding following the events of Necropolis, Death agrees to an interview with a journalist in order to change their opinions about him. Needless to say thats not quite how things turn out.

Its a very dark story, and fortunatly the art is a perfect match for it. Drawn by Peter Doherty, I was suprised to read that this was his very first work for 2000AD (or in this case the Judge Dredd Megazine). Not only does his art look far more professional than one would expect from someone who had never been published before, but its also a testimony to John Wagner who was willing to allow a young rookie artist too draw such an important strip. Even more so when you consider that this was one of the strips to feature in the very first issue of the Megazine.

It was crucial that everything was perfect in order for a Judge Death origin story to work. With Wagner’s art and Doherty’s art, I’m happy to say that this is very much the case. If you’ve recently read Necropolis then I recommend you pick up a copy of this trade immediatly, as it shows what Death did in the immediate aftermath. If your a fan of the character then I can also recommend that you take a look back at how this particular fiend came into being. You won’t be dissapointed.

8/10

Leviathan

For its short running length, Leviathan remains an extremly well remembered story, even though its been almost ten years since it first ran in the prog. As you might imagine the reason for this is that its a very well crafted and readable tale, which was one of the early stories to be set in Ian Edginton’s universe.

In the year 1928 the city sized ocean liner, the Leviathan, vanished on its maiden voyage along with the thousands of souls on board. After two decades adrift on an alien sea, hope for the return of the ship and its passengers is virtually nil. During their time adrift the people on board have formed their own society, with the upper class living in first class, and the poorer passengers being confined to the den of iniquity that is steerage. Its against this backdrop that the Captain of the ship calls in DS Lament to investigate a series of grizzly murders. Murders in which the victims are found to have had their skin stripped off them. Its an intriguing premise to say the least, and to say any more about what happens over the strips 55 pages would be to ruin it for anyone who has yet to read it. Suffice to say that Edginton turns in one of the finest strips he has ever written for 2000AD, populated with believable characters and glorious art by D’Israeli. D’Israeli’s art is always superb, but it seems to fit the 1920’s art deco stylings of the ship particularly well. I don’t know how he does it, but Ian Edginton somehow always manages to get the perfect artist to draw any of his strips.

As well as the main Leviathan strip, the trade paperback comes complete with three short prequel’s set aboard the Leviathan, as well as six pages of the Captain’s Diary from various points in their twenty year nightmare. These are a nice little addition as they help to flesh out the backstory of Leviathan, breathing more life into the characters and their predicament. If theres one problem with Leviathan it is its length. While the prequels do help, it still feels like its all over far too quickly, and that we don’t get quite the amount of time the strip perhaps needed in order for Edginton to build up the world he had created.

In spite of its length Leviathan remains an excellent strip, and one which would prove to be an integral part of the Edginton universe, as we have since seen references to Leviathan and the events of the story cropping up in Ian Edginton’s other 2000AD strips. If you live in the USA then you should be able to get hold of a copy of Leviathan very soon, as I believe its due for a US release at some point in April. Wherever you live though, I can recommend you give Leviathan a read, especially if you’ve enjoyed any of the other strips by Ian Edginton.

7/10

“P.G. Wodehouse meets H.P. Lovecraft”

This is how the 2000ad shop describes Ampney Crucis Investigates, and it’s a pretty accurate, if a little oversimplified, description of Ian Edginton’s most recent contribution to the Galaxy’s Greatest.  The eponymous Ampney Crucis was one of the rising stars of upper class society, before an encounter with a monster from beyond the universe during the Battle of the Somme, sent him temporarily insane. After recovering from his nightmarish experience, Crucis finds that he is sensitive to the presence of other entities from beyond our own reality. It’s a nice concept for a strip, and one that has the potential to run for a long time. And if the strips continue to be as good as the two collected in this trade, then I hope it gets the long run it deserves.

The first story, Vile Bodies, is pretty much the perfect introductory story. Within the first six pages we find out who Ampney is, what happened to him in the past to make him what he is now, as well as a brief glimpse of what this story will be about. Thats pretty impressive to cram all that into just six pages. Vile Bodies then continues as Ampney and his loyal butler Cromwell do battle with human/bee monsters, and a gigantic god like plant creature. The latter part of this story wheres its Lovecraftian influence on its sleeve, recalling in particular Lovecraft’s novella “At the Mountains of Madness” when describing the origins of the plant god. Towards the end Edginton manages to tie Ampney Crucis into the same universe as his previous “Leviathan” strip (surely some day we have to get a proper cross over story for all of Edginton’s 2000AD strips). Vile Bodies is as good a first story as your likely to come across but it would mean nothing if the following story didn’t live up to it.

Fortunatly the second story, The End of the Pier Show, is just as good as Vile Bodies. Recieving a letter from a long dead comrade, Cromwell convinces Ampney to visit a sea side resort where the dead are returning, by taking over the bodies of the living. Lots of blood and gore in this one, as well as one of the most bizarre looking monsters you are ever likely to see. Its another fantastic story from start to finish, although the end does feel perhaps just a tiny bit rushed.

A real stand out feature of this trade though, is the art of Simon Davis. Davis is one of my favourite artists to have ever worked for 2000AD, and if its big, ugly, insanity inducing monsters you’re after, then he is the man to go to. His style of art is totally unlike any other artists that I have ever seen, and even his colouring and page layout is beautiful to look at. He also seems to enjoy drawing naked people as often as he can in any given strip, although fortunatly its mostly women this time around, as oppose to what we saw in Stone Island.

Ampney Crucis Investigates comes highly recommended. Not only is it one of the best strips Edginton has written, it is also my personal favourite new strip to have appeared in 2000AD for a long long time. If you haven’t read any Ampney strips before then I can promise that you won’t regret getting hold of a copy of this trade. If you like H.P. Lovecraft then you’ll like this. If you like Horror strips then you’ll like this. If you like the 1920s as a setting then you’ll like this. If you like comic strips then you’ll love this. So what are you waiting for, go and buy a copy at once. Its a must have for any Gentlemans (or womans) comic book collection.

9/10

%d bloggers like this: