Sunday, February 22, 2009

Three reveiws of three comics featuring two heroes who conceal two-thirds of their faces with their helmets and visors

Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files Vol. 11 (Rebellion) is the latest of the black and white phonebook-like collection of Judge Dredd adventures. It offers a couple hundred pages of stories from 1987 and 1988, all written by the John Wagner and Alan Grant team, and illustrated by the sort of all-star roster of artists that are pretty much par for the Complete Case Files course: Steve Dillon, Jim Baikie, Brendan McCarthy, John Higgins, Cliff Robinson, Brett Ewins and others contribute.

The most memorable story is both the biggest and the last one in the book, the 26-part “Oz” storyline.

Mega-City One skysurfing champion Chopper is rotting away in a cell, busted for illegal skysurfing (a future sport that’s exactly what it sounds like; surfers pilot flying surfboards), unaware that world championship Skysurf 10 is coming up in Australia, and that the loudmouth, maybe offensive to real-life Aussies Jug “The Wizard of Oz” McKenzie (any EDILW readers from Australia who have read this story who care to comment on …?) seems like a lock to win (and regularly trashes Chopper’s rep).

In the midst of being transferred, he managed to escape custody, and then attempts to skysurf all the way to Australia, which means a seemingly impossible journey over The Cursed Earth and over the ocean.

Meanwhile, the judges are being stalked by some sort of mysterious super-judges calling themselves The Judda, and Dredd journeys to Oz to arrest Chopper on the infinitesimal chance he manages to somehow arrive their alive (Dredd is, by that point, the only human being on earth who actually wants to arrest Chopper and prevent him from competing in Skysurf).

It’s a pretty great story, folding a series of the random-ish, episodic adventures of Dredd stories in general into a big, long, epic story (Highlights include Chopper’s battle with some bizarrely drawn (by McCarthy) giant birdmen who speak in outrageous Mexican accents and an encounter with a killer robot chef, and the extremely ‘80s sports movie formula Supersurf event itself.

There are a few other multi-part storylines in the book, including “The Alabammy Blimps” five-parter drawn by Steve Dillon about a group of very large what-used-to-be-Alabama-based Amazons in the Cursed Earth, but mostly the contents reflect Grant and Wagner picking up on an idea they saw in the modern world of the late ‘80s, turning it around and looking at it from a few different angles, and turning it into a ten-to-twenty-page tongue-in-cheek action adventure story sometimes only tangentially involving the title character.

More recent Judge Dredd adventures are collected in Judge Dredd: The Pit (Rebellion), a slimmer, collection of a series of stories form 1995-96 set in the titular neighborhood. A sort of dumping ground for Judges who are somehow defective and being punished for it, The Pit is a particularly bad part of town policed by a particularly corrupt bunch of judges.

At least until Dredd is sent there to be the new station chief, and turn things around—ferreting out corruption and improving judicial efficiency while fighting the rather rampant crime.

These stories, which all add up to a bigger story that starts with Dredd’s arrival and ends with his departure, are all written by John Wagner, and illustrated by his Dredd co-creator Carlos Ezquerra, plus Colin MacNeil, Lee Sullivan and Alex Ronald.

Wagner plays around with Hollywood movie clich├ęs in his usual fashion, here focusing on a variety of police movies as he introduces a series of corrupt cops and moles, an undercover cop who can’t come back in from the cold and various good cops with bad habits and double lives, culminating in an Assault on Precinct 13 meets The Alamo climax.

Though the writing here seems somewhat stronger than in the above Case Files collection—somewhat more sophisticated, or at least more serious and more focused on character drama than social satire—the art seems a great deal weaker, perhaps in large part due to the fact that it appears in color.

I prefer experience Dredd’s world in black and white, as the garish neon-green of the judges’ uniform doesn’t come through and my eyes are spared its violent clash with the red, gold and blue-black of the rest of it.

The color here looks particularly garish in general. I’m not sure if this was colorized black and white —I’ve only experienced Dredd in trade—or what, but it has a sickly, air-brushed look to it, and over-ambitious application of light and shadow effects that I find personally aesthetically unappealing.

While not quite the feast that the Case Files collection offers, The Pit is still a pretty satisfying genre meal.

Warlash: Dark Noir #2 (Asylum Press) isn’t a Judge Dredd comic, but it’s hero does resemble him. Like Dredd, he always wears a helmet with opaque lenses hiding his eyes, and only his mouth and jaws betraying any humanity (and even those are generally frowning and clenched).

Frank Forte’s sci fi superhero series reminds me a lot of Dredd actually, and not just because of his head ware. The design of the character Warlash echoes Dredd in a few places, and he similarly patrols a generic-ish futuristic city (Pittsburgh in this case), and, in this series at least, his adventures are presented in an episodic, anthology-like format, drawn by different artists.

I wasn’t exactly impressed with the first issue, and despite liking all four the artists who draw the four stories here, this isn’t the sort of book I’d be adding to my pull list any time soon, or probably even reviewing here, if I wasn’t sent a review copy (That’s pretty much the secret to getting reviewed here, publishers! While I can’t promise to review every single comic book that gets mailed to me, I do promise that I will put every single comic book that gets mailed to me in a pile on the floor of my living room, look worriedly at that pile a few times a day, and feel extremely guilty if I don’t review everything in it at some point).

The first story is part two of “Phlegm Fatale,” which began in the last issue. Like all of the stories, it’s written by Frank Forte, and this one is drawn by him as well. Warlash fights a big worm-like, tentacley monster in the sewers. I can’t tell how serious it’s meant to be taken. It ends with Warlash brandishing his weapons and saying, “Now that the playing field is leveled, let’s see how you fare against Warlash…in full fury!” That’s a joke, right? Forte draws this one too, and I do like his art quite a bit.

Next up is a story called—I swear to God—“Enter The Bladeviper.” This one is co-written by Royal McGraw and drawn by J.C. Wong. Wong’s art is also quite strong, but the story may be the visually weakest, if only because there are a few pages where I can’t figure out exactly what’s happening (This has something to do with Bladeviper’s powers, which I don’t understand, but seems to have something to do with making sharp objects move around or appear or something).

In this story, Warlash fights scantily clad Bladeviper, who looks a bit like Marvel’s Medusa character wearing a bikini and mask designed by H.R. Giger, two unfortunately placed rubies on her bikini top. She and Warlash fight each other with their various pointy weapons for a while, she releases a bunch of mutants from glass cases that Warlash must stop to fight, allowing her to steal a blood sample from what looks like Swamp Thing’s head, while using a bunch of stupid sex metaphors for the procedure.

The best part of this story, aside from the employment of “KRAKKADOOMM!!” as a sound effect, is the bit where Warslash narrates about watching a “neurovid” of an old “2D” musical from over a century ago, apparently just so McGraw can allude to the Annie Get Your Gun’s “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better” song to describe Bladeviper’s powers in relationship to Warlash’s.

Somehow Warlash just doesn’t seem like the sort who would watch ancient musicals on neurovids to me…

Next up is “The Transformation of Eduard Yan,” drawn Nenad Gucunja, in a cartoonier style with more extreme, energetic angles than the rest of the book. In this story, a couple of drug pushers cut up a junkie, who injects himself with something, and then gets thrown in the sewer, and turns into a big tentacley monster that fights Warlash.

Finally, there’s a black and white story by Steve Mannion, a continuation of the story that began in the first issue, in which Warlash fights a giant monster in the, um, sewer again.

Nice production values, all around great art—everyone in here can out-draw a good half of the folks working on DCU comics and a good quarter of the folks working on Marvel Universe comics at the moment—and a great value (42 story pages for just $2.95) make this at least worth a flip-through, should you encounter it in the wild. (Or you could just do a visual flip-through here; there’s a few pages worth of preview of each of the four stories in the issue).


Bob Temuka said...

The colour on The Pit was like that when it was originally published in 2000ad, at a time when computer colouring was just starting to take hold, so there were a few lessons still to be learned.

The US comic scene suffered from the same problem. Some of the comics from Marvel and DC that were published at the same time as The Pit have effects that look terribly garish to current readers. But once they realised there wasn't a need to put a giant lens flare on every page, things got a lot better.

As for the Australian stereotypes in Oz, I can honestly say the Jug McKenzie character is a pretty damn accurate depiction of Aussie bravado. (Although as a kiwi, I am legally obligated to make fun of my Australian cousins at every opportunity.) The character did gain some surprising depth in later Chopper stories, but remained a loud-mouthed boozer to the end...

David page said...

R.I.P mr mckenzie

one of the best deaths in 2000ad ever

Paul said...

As an Australian comics reader, it is hard to take offence at the depictions of assuies in comics, as they are never normal, city living folks. They are either outback dwelling wisemen, with knowledge you could never learn anywhere else, or laid back surfers. As for Bob Temuka, of course aussies have bravado, we have something to be proud of, unlike New Zealand :) ( as an aussie I am legally obligated to feel superior to kiwis, and damn the facts to hell )

Bob Temuka said...

Hey, we've got... um... you know... stuff to be proud of. Yeah, lots of stuff. But Australia has the best beaches on the planet, so they win.