Various (W & A)
It’s the first prog of 2015! A new year with new thrills…well, sort of.
The start of the year seems like the perfect time for a prog full of new stories, but 2000AD already crossed that bridge last month in the final prog of 2014. As a result, “Prog 1912” mostly continues stories that started three weeks ago – which is a long time to wait when you’re dealing with a weekly format.
The prog begins with Dredd, as it should. This is Part Two of “Dark Justice,” the first Judge Death/Dark Judges story in ten years. John Wagner (who else?) is on writing duties, with Greg Staples on art.
I was about to describe “Dark Justice” as slow-moving, but the plot actually moves at a fairly standard pace. It’s Greg Staples’ gorgeously painted art that makes it feel slower than it really is; in contrast to many other artists, whose work can be processed quickly (at least at first, before you go back to look again and again), Staples forces readers to pause, as though we’re looking at a stand-alone art piece rather than a comics page.
If I have a criticism, it’s that Staples’ art looks almost too nice for a Dark Judges story. Those guys get very ugly very fast. But we’ve got nine more installments to go, so when the killing starts to ramp up, that lovingly rendered detail might make things look even more disgusting. I hope that’ll be the case.
“Savage: Grinders” is the newest chapter in a saga that goes all the way back to the early days of 2000AD. The first Savage story involves Britain being invaded by the Volgans, natives of an authoritarian Communist state that is definitely not Russia. This same story featured Margaret Thatcher getting shot by the Volgans, which may have something to do with the name change.
In “Grinders,” the titular character, Bill Savage, is the leader of an anti-Volgan resistance army and finds himself negotiating peace with the Volgan leaders. Author and Savage co-creator Pat Mills has a few pages in which to get political, and does so with blunt force. Sample quote: “‘Terrorists’? That’s what the bigger army calls the smaller army, isn’t it?” (For sharper Mills critique, read his other current 2000AD story, “Greysuit”; it pushes British upper-class public schoolboy society just that little bit further into the realm of the chilling.) Thankfully, there are also pages of giant robots and explosions, so I was still entertained.
One major point in “Grinders’” favor, though: unlike most 2000AD stories, which are set in the far future, medieval/ancient eras, or the immediate present, it takes place in 2010. I think the world needs more narratives set in the recent past as filtered through the dystopian predictions of twenty or thirty years ago, and “Grinders” has stepped up to the challenge.
Next is Part Two of “The Order”, a new series set in medieval Europe about a female warrior and a proto-robotic knight. John Burns’ art looks excellent here, although Anna (the protagonist) shows distinctly more cleavage than necessary. We’re spared the tired “female fighter = not like other girls” trope, too; some aggressors don’t take well to seeing a woman with a sword, but author Kek-W doesn’t try to convince us that Anna’s warrior status is overly unusual. Why should it be? This story deals with robots, prophecies, re-animated corpses, and laser guns, so anything goes. And if anything goes, Anna can wield a sword or a laser gun if she feels like it.
On now to Part Two of “Ulysses Sweet, Maniac for Hire: Psycho Therapist.” Ulysses Sweet was originally written by Grant Morrison, which may explain why this current story skews toward absurdity rather than serious business. Unfortunately, Guy Adams’ dialogue is a bit too self-conscious; I can see that it’s supposed to be funny, but the mechanisms are showing and that gets in the way of laughter.
There are some pretty good bits, though: a contract killer named “Foetus Joe” is a shadowy but tiny baby in an old-fashioned stroller, and a search for assassins uses the term “Reliable Kill Merchants,” which isn’t funny per se but would be an excellent band name.
Finally, we arrive at the final story of the prog: “Orlok: Agent of East-Meg One,” the beginning of a new story set in the Judge Dredd universe. Like Bill Savage and Ulysses Sweet, Orlok is a blast from the past. In the Cold War-paranoid 80s, he was tasked with destroying Mega-City One; as the sociopolitical climate shifted, he became a worthy adversary/equal/we’re-not-so-different-you-and-I counterpart to Dredd. Now he’s the protagonist of his own story, and the conflict is not between Future Russia and Future America, but between Orlok and Future Russia’s most powerful individuals. This isn’t about the good West versus the evil communists anymore. It’s about the rich and vengeful trying to crush the underdog who just wants to do his job, and placing Orlok at the center of the action reminds us that that can happen anywhere.
What strikes me about Prog 1912 is the diversity of its stories in terms of subject matter, art styles, settings, and seriousness levels. 2000AD is generally known for that sort of narrative variation, but for some reason it really stands out in this prog. Some stories hit or miss more than others, but each of them does something completely unique. It’s not a bad note on which to start the year.