Monday, November 16, 2020

Comics Commentary: Judge Dredd Megazine #418-419 and 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special


Unscripted, unedited. Just a guy talking about comics.

Transcript below...

Today we're going to talk about Judge Dredd, specifically three comics: two issues of the Judge Dredd Megazine and the 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special from earlier in the year. I like to think I knew about Judge Dredd before the Anthrax song “I Am the Law” came out in 1987, but I might have learned about him and the comic 2000 AD right around then. 

2000 AD started in 1977. The Judge Dredd Megazine, which is what we're looking at today, didn't start until about 1990, and it's slightly different from 2000 AD. We're looking at two issues of Judge Dredd Megazine, #418, which came out April 14, 2020, and #419, which came out May 15, 2020. It's a monthly. The third comic we're going to be looking at is the 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special, which came out June 24 this year to celebrate 20 years of Rebellion publishing Judge Dredd.

The Megazine is slightly different from 2000 AD. Both are anthology books. 2000 AD is still weekly, whereas the Megazine is monthly. 2000 AD has been running continuously since 1977; the Megazine just since 1990. And whereas 2000 AD focuses primarily on new stuff all the time, the Megazine has over time included reprint stuff, as well, to keep costs down and to keep the issue page count up. I don't know if it's still the case, but at one time at least one of the story slots was dedicated to a creator-owned story. They have also been including reprint volumes bagged along with the comic, so along with the two issues of the Megazine that we'll be looking at today, we also have two reprint volumes of the story Black Shuck. I'll talk about those separately because I consider them a separate item.

Let's look at the two issues of the Megazine. The reason why the issues are so old is because of the vagaries of comics distribution during the pandemic; it does take a while for things to get places. Also, given that these are coming from England, there tends to be some delay in terms of when they hit our shores. It's not like picking up a manga like Shonen Jump at a Japanese grocery here in LA, where you can get it the week it came out in Japan. There usually is some lag. That said, there's usually not this much lag, as far as I know. These two issues just hitting me recently came out in April and in May, and that seems like a long time. The Sci-Fi Special came out a little more recently—its cover date is June 24 to August 19—so it's a little more recent, a little more shelf life but still quite a bit of time to get to us.

Regardless, these are the newest ones that I've seen. They currently contain five stories. We've got a Judge Dredd story, a Devlin Waugh story, and a Blunt III story. There's a Zombie Army story and a Lawless story, which is another Judge Dredd story, though not featuring Dredd specifically. What I want to do is start with the cover to #418. It's drawn by Phil Winslade, and it's an absolutely beautiful painted wraparound cover. This might actually be the highlight of the issue. #419 is not a wraparound cover, so that doesn't happen all the time.

Let's take a look at the stories. The Judge Dredd story was written by Arthur Wyatt, with art by P. J. Holden. For me, Judge Dredd is always the highlight. You get stuff like the different residential blocks with celebrity names or historical figure names, which are always kind of funny. This is actually a really interesting story. There's a drug that's related to fungal growths, and it doesn't always go well for people. The Judge Dredd story is very much a highlight of this issue.

That said, the Devlin Waugh story is also intriguing. I've seen other Waugh stuff. He's a vampire, scripted by Ales Kot, with art by Mike Dowling. This story is kind of a revenge story. Someone who he somehow did wrong for over the years has come back to exact revenge and has actually prepared himself quite well to be ready to exact revenge on a vampire, which might be a daunting task. So it's an interesting revenge story, an eldritch evil summoning story, and then the debonair and fey vampire. The story gets a little weird because it also turns out that there is a demon possessing a dildo. You get this two-page spread of a conversation between Waugh and this possessed dildo, and it is quite humorous. I'll leave it to the reader’s imagination to determine how—if this demon were to possess someone else—such possession would occur. I certainly did not expect that in my Judge Dredd Megazine today.

The Blunt III story also turns out to be a Judge Dredd-related story. I see some shoulder epaulets of a judge. Scripted by T. C. Eglington, with art by Boo Cook, it is a little more cartoony in its art style—a little more biological as well as technological. You get some neat fun, and the looser art style, the more cartoony art style leavens the seriousness and the realism that we've had so far in the issue. The Blunt III story is also worth reading and will continue into the next issue.

In the previous episode of Media Diet Comics Commentary, I mentioned Action. It recently is being brought back in a retro manner. Action was originally banned because of its content. One cover actually mentioned the word “suicide” three times before the comic was banned. That opens up the editorial content outside of the comics for this issue. The magazine content focuses mostly on other volumes published by Rebellion and other stuff going on in the comicscape. There's a two-page article about the Action 2020 Special, in part a history of the original Action anthology comic. There's an article about The Rise and Fall of the Trigan Empire Vol. 1 reprint book; that has lovely vintage art that they reproduce, a highlight of such articles like that in the magazine. And the third article is about Judge Dredd: False Witness, which seems to be a new comic series from IDW. That brings us back to IDW, which we've commented on in recent episodes. The editorial content is all about other comics in terms of articles. In this issue, the article about Action is perhaps the most notable because it takes a look at the history of the series as well as the return of the series.

Zombie Army is pretty straight-ahead zombie fare, script by Chris Roberson, with art by Andrea Mutti—pretty decent dark art and color palette. There are military ruins of a city, someone who's either possessed or wearing a mask or a helmet of some kind—but your basic undead story with zombies that move relatively quickly. That brings us to the last story, another Judge Dredd story and perhaps my favorite. It's scripted by Dan Abnett, who's been writing Judge Dredd for quite some time, with art by Phil Winslade, who did the beautiful wraparound cover. The art is just black and white, really inked well, a lot of hatching balancing with the whites, and not every page as dark, but relatively dense black-and-white art. I really appreciate this. Not only do I like Winslade's art—and not only do I really like Judge Dredd and the judges as characters—but the black-and-white art takes me back to when I first encountered Judge Dredd in the pages of 2000 AD when it was still newsprint. 

Let's move on to #419. We've got the Devlin Waugh character taking the cover, and it's the same five stories: the Judge Dredd story again continuing the previous serial, Devlin Waugh continuing, Blunt III continuing, Zombie Army continuing, and then the Lawless story continuing at the end. The fungal growth drug story continues and develops nicely. This one is a good story and will collect pretty well. The Devlin Waugh story continues with really creepy moments in the story where some people that he had lost—friends he had lost—return from the dead, and he actually has to decide with his demon possessor friend how to get rid of them as a threat. The revenge story comes to a head and takes a tumble.

The Blunt III story continues. The biological technological threat is explained, you get some interesting double helix stuff, and again, loose, more cartoony art—and a little more humor. Then we're into the editorial content. The highlight of the editorial content in this issue is a new book collection edited by David Roach called Masters of British Comic Art. You can see the cover of that, and there's an article on the new book. If you're interested in the history of British comics, especially through its art, this interview with David Roach will expand on some of the highlights that you can look for. There's also a review of the Cor!! Buster Easter Special!, which is from the comic Buster. It's more like Beano. There’s a character that made me think of the British Dennis the Menace. The review of the Easter special reminds us how old this is—it came out in mid-May. There's an article about another comic from Boom! Studios, Alienated, another connection to a previous episode of these comics commentaries. Boom! is also a pipeline for British reprints.

Another Zombie Army story continues. In the military-ruined city, trying to dispatch the threat, they commandeer a vehicle. It doesn't really go well for everybody. Then we reach the end, and it continues the serialization of Lawless with more relatively dense, somewhat hatchy black-and-white art by Phil Winslade. There’s a scene of this story—I don't know the name of the character—but this is just a wonderful, wonderful sequence of art. So that is that; that's the two issues of the Megazine. Remember that it's an anthology book and they're serialized, so if you pick up other issues and there's some space in between them and the issues that I've commented on, the story will have progressed or you'll be before the story where it is now. It's worth picking up. The two Judge Dredd stories alone, the front of the book story and the Lawless story at the end, make it worth reading. The Devlin Waugh story is kind of a curveball; I've actually really been enjoying that. Even though I don't like zombie stuff too much, the Zombie Army is not turning me off too much, and the Blunt III story is also really interesting; just the art difference makes that worthwhile, as well.

That takes us to the two reprint volumes. Each reprint volume is bagged with an issue of the Megazine, and these two are reprints of Black Shuck. This first volume reprints from 2000 AD issues 1712 and 1891-1899; that comes to us from 2010 and 2014. The second volume reprints from numbers 1983-1992; that's 2016. They are in order; it takes Black Shuck stories from the pages of 2000 AD and puts them together into standalone volumes. 2000 AD tends to lead to reprint volumes. That's not uncommon with anthology books. These are kind of a low-cost way to approach that. There are probably also nicer hardcover album-style reprints.

The basic story of Black Shuck is that it's Scandinavia, 813 A.D., and Viking raiding parties continue to besiege the coasts. That's the time period in which it takes place. Black Shuck seems to be some kind of lycanthrope. That's known from the offset, so I didn’t really just reveal too much. It's a story of his adventures, trials and tribulations, over time, at different spots in history—because he also seems to be relatively long lived. At the end of volume two, it looks like he encounters some kind of spirit creature who might embody his lycanthropy. It's a pretty decent read, written by Leah Moore, John Reppion, and T. C. Eglington, whose name we've already heard today (Blunt III, above), and art by Steve Yeowell; and then the second volume with Leah Moore and John Reppion—no Eglington—and then more Steve Yeowell. The art's good enough, but I wouldn't say the art's the highlight. The story is interesting, a neat example of how if you're really into a story that's serialized in an anthology book, a collection like this can work well. But if you're not, it might not be your thing. If you really like Black Shuck, these will be really cool; if you didn't really like Black Shuck, they're kind of an insert or an inclusion with the comic that you bought that you're not really interested.

From the issues of the Megazine, clearly anything Judge Dredd collected is worth looking at. I think that the Holden art and the Arthur Wyatt story with the Bad Sector storyline will be worth collecting. I think Devlin Waugh is probably worth collecting if it hasn't been already. And the Phil Winslade Lawless story is actually really, really cool. If I were to hope that those would be collected, that would actually not be a bad thing to see.

Let's take a look at the 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special. This came out in late June and is specifically intended to celebrate 20 years of Rebellion publishing Judge Dredd. This is a mix of new stuff as well as reprints. We've got a new story from Al Ewing and Jake Lynch, “Judge Dredd: The Immigrant.” It's basically about an immigration intake for a zombie. You get a neat comedic 12-panel-page exchange ending with Judge Dredd deadpan saying, “Are you trying to be funny?”

We've got some reprint stuff in here, as well. We've got a story by Al Ewing and Dom Reardon that originally ran in 2002. It’s a wonderful story, a serial killer story, but also with some kind of viral information, visual cue story, as well. There's an interview with the editor of Rebellion. The reprints are some of the more interesting pieces. There's a Sinister Dexter piece from 2000 written by Dan Abnett and drawn by Andy Clark that looks at the concept of bullet time from an interesting comics point of view and just the value or devalue of bullets as individual objects and items. Another reprint from 2010, Nikolai Dante, kind of hit me hot and cold. I really like the Judge Dredd stuff. I really enjoyed that kind of visual, viral serial killer story. I quite like the art in this Storm Warning story drawn by Clint Langley—just look at those colors, just wonderful painted density and an interesting color palette. It's almost like airbrushing, with my limited art knowledge. The piece about ants possessing people on the island was really cool—that's actually new, the Red Seas Vs. Ant Wars in Edginton's script and Steve Yeowell art. We're back to Yeowell, who did the Black Shuck stuff.

It's definitely about celebrating two decades of Rebellion being the publisher of Judge Dredd, and that's worth recognizing. They've done a good job shepherding the character set. There's an article, “20 Thrills for 20 Years.” Karl Stock looks at what he thinks the 20 best stories of Rebellion’s 20 years are; that might be worth looking at. But I think the highlight of this issue—with my comments about the hot and cold value of the reprints depending on whether you liked the story—for me is the 2002 reprint written by John Wagner and drawn by Carlos Ezquerra. If you recognize those names, they are the creators of Judge Dredd. They came back together to do a story in 2002 to recognize the character's 25th anniversary, and that's reprinted and included in here, as well. If you missed that in the original 2002 2000 AD, it's worth checking out. It's a pretty standard street crime apartment block story with Judge Dredd intervening. It's actually kind of a funny look into his personal life, with the apartment that he rents and lives in being turned over to another judge that really excites the block committee because they think that this Judge Dredd guy is no good. Then it turns out the other judge is actually his clone, so he's no better. That story is absolutely beautiful, and I want to thank those two gentlemen for creating Judge Dredd so many years ago. Thank you, John Wagner, and thank you, Carlos Ezquerra, because you've given me and so many other people wonderful joy.

And thank you, Rebellion for continuing to publish the stuff. The 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special is an annual, and this is a memorial or commemorative edition. Judge Dredd Megazine is worth checking out on an ongoing basis if not just for the front and back Judge Dredd stories and the current run of Devlin Waugh. The other two don't do as much for me but are well worth reading. And with that beautiful wraparound cover, if you get stuff like that every so often, that's well worth picking up, too. If you haven't checked out Judge Dredd recently, he’s still in print and still worth checking out. There are tons of reprint volumes, as well, but the new programs, 2000 AD, comes out every week; the Megazine comes out every month; and the new stuff is worth keeping up with.

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