Judge Dredd Megazine #402 (with “Hail To The King – A Celebration Of The Work Of Carlos Ezquerra”)

I have to say, it’s been quite a few years since I last put my hands on a prog of 2000 AD or Judge Dredd, decades, if I’m being honest, but after picking up some specials and a few books of classic material in recent months, I’ve grown nostalgic and started picking more of the books that I started with.“started with”, I mean before I began to collect Comics. My neighbour used to get 2000 AD regularly, every now and then, he’d give me a pile of progs, since discovering that the best way of keeping me quiet and having an easy night when babysitting me was to sit me down, give me pile of 2000 AD, and watch me fill up with lots of Zarjaz Thrillpower.

“Borag Thungg, Earthlets!” would be my customary greeting, before being exposed to what were the most exciting stories in the galaxy! Of course, my neighbour could also be a bit slack with these progs, and though I’d receive a pile sporadically, I realised I was missing progs. Well, that just wouldn’t do, so I would watch out each week for when neighbours would put out the papers for collection.

Missing 2000 AD just simply wouldn’t do, so when those papers were put out, I’d sneak over and go through them, pulling out all the progs I hadn’t been given, after all, when Johnny Alpha was wanted, I couldn’t just let the Stix Brothers catch up to him and Wulf Sterrnhammer outside of my watch, I was there to watch the Apocalypse War, the Dark Judges and the Judge Child stories unfold, Slaine telling you to kiss his axe, Torquemada telling you to be pure, be vigilant, and behave!

Well, it was my duty as a Human, so who was I to argue?

Somewhere along the line, my supply was cut off, but I started finding American Comics in my local Newsagents and started picking them up, after buying Secret Wars, Spider-man and Zoids and Punisher, featuring The ‘nam. Quite how I lost my relationship with Thrillpower, I don’t know.

So since I’m returning to IndieComiX.net, what better way to kick off with a bit of Dredd? I was more comfortable with delving back into the world of 2000 AD with Dredd, after all, it was Judge Dredd that gave me the most dark cackles most of the time.

And this was perfect timing, because along with Judge Dredd Megazine #402, there was a tribute book to the late, great Carlos Ezquerra; “Hail To The King – A Celebration Of The Work Of Carlos Ezquerra”.

This made the opportunity particularly attractive, not simply because I love Carlos’ work, but I love archival works and Comics history, indeed, a while back, I’d caught the 2000 AD exhibition at the Cartoon Museum in London, and worth every penny of the £7 I paid for admission, not to mention watching the brilliant documentary, “Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD”, plus an old documentary “10 Years Of 2000 AD” that I found on YouTube (both of which I heartily recommend), so why not, eh?

Of course, opening up the cover of Judge Dredd Megazine, I found something I hadn’t expected; not a lot of Dredd himself, which I’ll be honest, I was deeply disappointed about, but times change, and I quickly figured that the Megazine was giving time to stories that were in the Judge Dredd universe, not just Dredd himself any more. Oh well, I’ll keep an open mind about it, I thought.

And I have, but after a moderate story from Alex De Campi and Mack Chater, where Dredd goes undercover in an Iso-block to find out what’s happening to prisoners going missing, that’s when things started going downhill.

The Dredd story was fine, and more importantly, accessible. Although the story continued on from the last issue, this worked perfectly well as a self-contained story, and I enjoyed it well enough.

But then it was followed by “Lawless”. I figured, by the name, there was a Cursed Earth reference in there, and there’s some stunning pages from Phil Winslade in here, among the best he’s done in years, I know, because I’ve had the pleasure of seeing a few of these pages from Phil (unfortunately, not in person), prior to reading the publication, but…

..Dan Abnett. I have to ask..what the Drokk is with the F-bombs and blasphemy?

Now this made me mad seeing this, and I have to ask Rebellion, what the Hell are you thinking?! When I was growing up, I would never see language like this in 2000 AD or Dredd, and it was partly because I didn’t need to, because common expletives were replaced with “drokk!”, “grud!” and “stomm!”. The expletive substitutes were already there.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a prude, but this is just plain unnecessary. While 2000 AD was clearly aimed with adults in mind, it was also clearly aimed at youngsters as well. Dan, you’re a good Writer, you’ve been doing it for a long time now, so I have to wonder how this happened. Books that are aimed at adults, when they are discussing adult themes, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re obliged to put sex, heavy violence or swearing in them in order for them to appeal to adults, it’s about the mentality of the book that makes it adult-oriented.

And this is where I’ve got to call Rebellion out on this. Why even do it? Why allow it? Because many Parents aren’t going to be happy with their kid reading that kind of material, and by ignoring that, you’re cutting off a good chunk of potential readership. Why would you do that?!

Frankly, I’m a bit staggered by this. I would also have liked to have seen this in colour as well, mainly because of the sheer amount of detail, which colour would have delineated that detail a bit. Story-wise..well, I was thrown in the deep end with this, I got the gist from the contents page of what was happening, but it’s not easy entering half-way through a story, but Abnett has a saving grace with this tale, which I won’t drop spoilers, but a moving end sequence saved this for me.

In the end, redeemed, but the point stands about the swearing. The 2000 AD fore-bearers created alternative swear-words for a reason, so why not use them, Rebellion, and keep the potty-mouth out of it?

“Storm Warning” reigned things in a bit, but even here there was some mild swearing, again, unnecessary, but other than that, I like the concept of Lillian Storm; a PSI-Division Judge who can talk to the dead, unfortunately, this story from Leah Moore and John Reppion got a little confusing. You see, I thought the patrons in the bar were ghosts, or something, then one guy, stepping out of the toilet, drunk, comes stumbling forward, taking out a Fruit Machine, then goes steaming out of the bar.

Storm is about to give pursuit, and a..well, astral version of guy who stumbled out of the bar appears behind her, asking Storm if she’s going to go after him. Of course going over it a second time, I then ‘clicked’ on what the story description was on about when it spoke of someone stealing a body. In other words, we’re looking at a spirit possessing the body of the man who appears behind Storm, asking if he’s going to go after him. Not as obvious as the Authors might think, still, in the end, quite fun, I suppose.

As for the art, while it’s well illustrated from Jimmy Broxton, I think Broxton could lose a little bit of the roughness in his work, it”s bit too rough for its own good in places, so he might want to go a little easy on the heavy blacks and tighten the detail up a bit. All in all though, his style fits the main character well, and the book generally.

“Blunt II” is next up, and, ironically, where Lawless could have done with colour, it’s Blunt II that could have done with being in black & white. While Boo Cook’s pencil and ink lineart carries itself well enough, the colour here is just a bit too vivid, especially with the pinks, it’s just a bit too sharp, and perhaps a more “Old Skool” approach would benefit it more.

The script from T.C. Eglington is engaging enough, basically about a group of colonists that go missing, and our Half-Ape hero and a small rescue team are to rescue them from mutants on a distant planet.

Mind you, I’m trying to see the connection to Dredd, apart from mutants being in it, while every other story in the Megazine has Lawgivers of some kind, this story appears to have zero connection, and if it does have one, it’s not apparent. Maybe a book like this should be over on the regular 2000 AD schedule?

Thankfully, the best was saved for last in the Dark Judges “The Torture Garden”. Now in this, I have no complaint, this is classic Dark Judges material. Okay, a couple of the Judges (Fire and Mortis) aren’t wearing their uniforms (a pity), but even walking into the third chapter isn’t off-putting, mainly because David Hine’s story is so direct on what’s happening, you don’t even need to read the leading information on the contents page.

In fact, I recommend you don’t, the read up there makes this sound like a rip of something from the Aliens franchise, whereas the pages themselves feel like I’ve been thrown back in time to a ‘Neo-classic’ period of 2000 AD, when Bisley and Langley were pushing the boundaries.

After the Judges are discovered by the crew of a cargo ship in space, the Judges wind up on a remote colony (I told you this would sound like Aliens), called Dominion. This is atypical Dark Judges behaviour, allowing some Colonists to live, with others getting sent back to cells, because they’re addicted to killing, and they need to ration themselves. Of course, the Colonists are just going to have to hang tight, while Mega-City Marines are on the way (because that’s probably going to work out well too).

Nick Percival’s take on the Judges shows exactly the reason he was selected as a cover Artist for BOOM! Studios Hellraiser series, the art is creepy and ethereal, disturbing in places, even, but mostly implied, rather than direct horror. “And Death shall have no Dominion”.

This is one of the modern stories that harkens back to the roots of 2000 AD, and this is the thing I feel is missing in the modern era. It’s a good job all this Ezquerra material is here as a point of reference, because in this we can see plenty of examples of what I’m talking about.

You see, having grown up with 2000 AD, I understood from an early age what made it tick in the heyday. It had a pure ‘Punk’ mentality, the humour was dark, quite often palpably ironic in places, frequently self-referential, and filled with anti-establishment themes, many of which poked fun of the British’s inability to laugh at themselves, and at the same time, remind us that we could – and this was Thatcher’s Britain (well, so she thought), and much of the humour was darkly satirical, Dredd very much carried that theme in the extremities of punishment and bureaucracy.

These were stories that were “Space Operas”, Dredd and Strontium Dog were Westerns, Rogue Trooper and ABC Warriors were war stories, Nemesis The Warlock and Slaine were Fantasy-based Warriors, with ABC Warriors and Nemesis merging, both as books and in their themes, yet each of them largely kept their own mission.

These were ‘boys toys’, no doubt about it, written by big boys for little boys, and maybe big boys that were just as mad as themselves. Now don’t get me wrong, I understand that over time, Comics change. I dare say fans that grew up with Marvel Comics in the 60’s probably proclaimed a dislike for “all this modern stuff” in the 80’s, just like how fans that grew up in the 80’s blather on about “the modern muck”.

Things change, books finish, the world moves on, but it’s the essence of the books I miss, and one thing I found is the backbone of 2000 AD came mostly from just a few people; Pat Mills, John Wagner, Alan Grant, Carlos Ezquerra, Colin MacNeil and Dave Gibbons. Ezquerra, MacNeil and Gibbons built worlds on a visual level, while Mills, Wagner and Grant, filled out their history and brought their mentality to life.

Many others that joined that ride perfectly fitted that profile; Alan Moore, Alan Davis, Mike McMahon, Brett Ewins, Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon, Ron Smith, Cam Kennedy, even Alec Trench, eventually. There was clearly a specific sense of humour running through the shorter stories, with the larger stories more serious and epic in feeling.

That feeling diminished more and more over the years for me, and for whatever changes in art and design there may be, and yes, I expect new creators to come in, new creations and stories to come about, because most stories will always have a logical ending to them, so you’ll need to replace them. Nikolai Dante was the last character to fill those boots, for my part, so this is what I’d like to see for the future for 2000 AD;

Get back to basics. I’m not talking about dragging out and rehashing books that have had their day, Rogue has, but what about Cursed Earth Koburn? Koburn never really had the run he should have, another classic Ezquerra design. 2000 AD was at its best when it either didn’t take itself too seriously, injecting painful humour, whimsy and clever little ideas into shorts, or otherwise they were these engulfing, serious quests our characters were on.

Here we had massive crusades our characters were on, where we would discover the true essence of these characters, and in between, we’d have down-time we’d spend with them on less consequential, fun outings. That’s what made us care and gave us room to catch our breath. That was the nature of these epics, what gave such longevity to them, and why we missed them when they weren’t around.

I largely don’t feel that any more. But while much of what I’m saying here today may seem to have a negative connotation, I come to praise Caesar, not to bury him, to remind him of what made the golden era glorious, and that’s perfectly possible once again.

Lastly, in this issue, there’s a wonderful tribute to Carlos Ezquerra, from the people that knew him, worked with him, or were influenced by him, talking of their experiences. I never met Carlos, but I have a number of friends who did, some of which were close to him as well, I’ll be going into greater depth about this in a follow-up piece, where I take a look at the“Hail To The King” special that comes with this issue of the Megazine, it’s glorious, and deserves an article all of it’s own, so makes sure you come back for that.

Judge Dredd Megazine #402 (with “Hail To The King – A Celebration Of The Work Of Carlos Ezquerra”)
2000 AD/Rebellion
Writers: Alex De Campi, Dan Abnett, Leah Moore, John Reppion, TC Eglington, David Hine, John Wagner, Pat Mills, Alan Grant
Artists: Mack Chater, Phil Winslade, Jimmy Broxton, Boo Cook, Nick Percival, Carlos Ezquerra
Colorist: Jose Villarubia
Letterers: Annie Parkhouse, Ellie De Ville, Simon Bowland
Reviewer: Scott Mack