October 1, 2014

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Reviewing a Starting Point: 2000AD 1900

Hey! Did you know it was day of Dredd? Well, it is! So here's a review of the new jumping on point of Dredd's home comic, 2000AD!

While I first became aware of Judge Dredd through the Sylvester Stalone movie, of all things* I never had any access to 2000AD growing up. I don't think it was even carried in my local comic shop. Even the excellent Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh had only a few, and given my obsessive need to have a starting point, I didn't jump from the middle.**

A few years ago, I just started reading 2000AD from a random point. It was a bit on the rough side to start, but once I got into the swing of things, I was hooked. Here's a weekly series that's putting out batshit crazy comics, most of which I enjoyed. Sure, sometimes I was flipping pages when there was a series I didn't care for, but one of the things that's awesome about 2000AD is that no story in any issue is longer than 6 pages. Don't like something? That's okay, there's another story just a few pages away.

So yeah, here I am slowly becoming a big 2000AD fan, and a Dredd one in particular. I skipped a few here and there, but I've got a pretty good handle on the storyline from 2012 to the present. My interest grew after watching the new movie, which was criminally underrated. Urban's Dredd may live in a world that's a bit less colorful than his comics incarnation, but he nails the essence of the character, the world actually featured people of color living in as normal people (not just thugs), and My God, they treated the female characters with respect, even the villain.

A page from the new Dredd story.
Basically, whether on screen or on the page, Dredd and 2000AD are pretty much everything we say we want in comics, but for some reason, don't always support.

Why? Well, in the case of 2000AD, I think it may be because it's hard to find an "in." While I am not of the opinion that you need to keep dropping new #1 issues like they're a breadcrumb trail from Hansel and Gretel, it's still a bit daunting to look up and say, "Hey, I'd like to read issue 1784 of this series, please!" It's absolutely astounding that 2000AD has been going strong for over 37 years and hasn't missed a week, turning in a milestone issue just under every two years. (The history of the milestone issues is covered in a great essay, written of course by 2000AD's alien editor, that is included in Prog 1900.)

It's also kinda scary to anyone new. In fact, even as a reviewer, I've had a hard time picking an entry point, because though there have been a few others in the time I've been reading, by the time I go to do the review, it's sometimes already too far past that point to make for a timely review on a weekly book.

That meant that this time, I was going to be ready. We've got our starting point, and now it's time to talk turkey? Is this really a good issue for a new reader? I tried to do my best to think of what it might be like to start with this issue, and the answer is definitely yes. Sure, there's going to be some things you'll wish you knew, especially in the case of the two non-Dredd stories, but overall, there's definitely a sense that these first parts of new serials were written for someone who had little to no knowledge.

I'll take each of them in turn:

LOOK AT THIS ART!
Judge Dredd: Block Judge features Dredd being asked to take over one of the most thankless tasks in all of Mega-City 1: Presiding over an entire city block. Cleverly using a discussion between Dredd and the block leader to help new readers understand that in Mega-City 1 terms, a city "block" extends to dizzying heights into the sky (in this case, 307 levels, of which the final 47 are private), original co-creators John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra return to Dredd to give him a new task. We quickly see that the block is not anywhere close to Dredd's high standards for order, and he's going to have to work particularly hard to get it up to speed. This first entry shows his team already fighting back, with Dredd pondering his limited resources and nearly impossible mission. Ezquerra's art style is similar to people like Simon Gane, who bring a level of grime to extremely detailed linework. You can tell this place is a shithole just by looking at the rubble, and my only minor quibble is that his Judges are a bit too similar in form, meaning we need their badges to know them for sure. A great start, with a lovely pun for the second serial--Meet the Blockers.

Stickleback: The Thru’Penny Opera Every once in awhile, I get absolutely blown away by the art in a comic. This was one of those times. Even though I've seen D'Israeli's work before in anthologies, finding it here in 2000AD portraying a world where avatars of gods via for power, a person hides their persona behind an elaborate and painful costume, and where 1890s London itself is a twisted, maze-like mass of buildings toppling in on each other, absolutely blew me away. The artist's vision here and ability to show everything from an angry robot to the gentle work of disguise, building an entire world for the reader in just a few pages is really amazing. It doesn't hurt that Ian Edgington's dialogue is top notch, especially in the quips between Stickleback (a name literally derived from the spines on the costume of the main character) and a Mr. Punch, whom Stickleback proffers was named because "You're sweet, fruity, and intoxicating?" Done entirely in black and white, with a strong sense of contrast between the two, this one took me by the lapels and made me pay attention. I can't wait to read the rest of this one!

A page from Kingdom
Kingdom: Aux Drift was the weakest of the three stories for me. It's a great way to show off some of the bat shit insane things you can find in 2000AD (this is a world where genetically modified dogs are all over the place and fight against equally large and absurd-looking insectoid creatures). Gene, a mostly humanoid dog if I understand things correctly, saves a pair of pilots who get stuck in the wasteland. It's got a great splash page by Richard Elson at the end, where Gene's allies arrive to take the fight to the big bugs, but I wasn't feeling all that moved by Dan Abnett's plotting or script. It's got potential to grow on me, but I prefer Abnett's Grey Area, where aliens are quarantined on Earth before allowing to explore the planet.

Overall, this is a solid introduction that, were I coming into it completely cold, I think I'd definitely pick up Prog 1901, which actually comes out today. Between a promising new story for Dredd and the innovation of Stickleback, which really blew me away with how different it looked, even by the more exploratory and experimental standards of 2000AD, I'd want to read more.

I hope this has intrigued you enough to try out 2000AD. If you are a science fiction fan but haven't had the pleasure of discovering this magazine, don't wait. Go bug your comic shop, or do the easy thing and get a DRM-free download directly from 2000AD online, starting with Prog 1900.

After all, when Tharg the Mighty throws his 2000th Prog bash, you don't want to be late to the party.

*And sorry, Ulises, it is not better than the new one with Karl Urban.

**This is a failing on my part, I know. But I like seeing how things develop.