Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Judge Dredd Tour of Duty: The Backlash Review

This weighty collection follows on the heels of Dredd's brief re-acquaintance with his clone-father, Fargo, at the conclusion of the “mega-epic” Origins. Now doubting the role of the Judges for the first time, the legendary lawman turns to politics to force through a liberalisation of Mega City One's tough anti-mutant laws. The only problem is pretty much everyone in the City disagrees with him and that leads to some fairly dire consequences.

Despite the title, this graphic novel features precisely zero pages of Tour of Duty as seen in “The Galaxy's Greatest Comic” but instead includes all the 2000AD strips that depict the events leading up to the story actually called Tour of Duty. This makes for a fascinatingly eclectic collection, with the odd weaker story to be sure but also some bona fide classics such as ...Regrets and Emphatically Evil.

John Wagner has been working on the character since the 70s and he's still doing an amazing job here, complemented by an array of talented artists led by evergreens Colin MacNeil and Kev Walker. With all due respect to other Dredd scribes, Wagner is pretty much the only writer who's ever captured the man's contradictory core of fascist decency, and here he pushes the instability of such an outlook to breaking point as the man is driven by his more noble feelings to imperil not only his own position but that of his allies such as Chief Judge Hershey. Adding the entertainingly bloodthirsty serial killer turned Mayor P J Maybe to the mix makes for an impressive cast.

The real star of The Backlash however is the city itself, which has been created over a span of decades and is now an extraordinarily complex and well drawn backdrop that ties all the stories in this volume tightly together. It's a classic Dystopia, riddled with misery and hate. Nothing demonstrates this more clearly than the attitude of virtually all the “normal” citizens to their mutant cousins which is one of unbridled murderous rage. This makes Dredd's downfall inevitable, and yet it's done so well you can't help but look forward eagerly to the next volume.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Futurequake 17

I find it almost impossible to walk past a comic shop and so, after a nice lunch in Covent Garden I recently found myself in Orbital Comics. It was heartening to see they stocked a healthy selection of small press offerings, including both Zarjaz! and Futurequake. Always keen to support my fellows - and always keener to have something to read on the train home - I purchased this:

It's a great cover by Richard Smith and leads straight into the first strip, Regrets, Rules and Jellied Eeels, scripted by Neil Merrett. The art is crisp and clear, Smith's background in computer games is evident and that's no bad thing at all. I really enjoyed the story too, the twist is pretty funny.

The highlight of this issue for me is Ex Libris by Eoghan Ahern and David Frankum. Regular readers of this blog will know I've worked with David on a forthcoming Zarjaz! strip and that I'm working with him again on a Massacre For Boys piece at the moment. Therefore I guess I am not entirely neutral when I say that I think David is extremely talented and that his work here is little short of genius. Some of the panel compositions are really powerful and you can see that technically he pretty much has everything. It's no surprise to me that one of the "Big Two" comics publishers have expressed an interest in his work. Ahern's sharp post-modern writing gives David the platform he needs to flourish.

The other strips in this issue all have something to recommend them. I particularly liked the last couple actually - the atmospheric Robo Sapiens by Mark Smith & Steve Howard and then the short and spikey Rugged Romper by Michael Deshane and BMB. Still, I have by no means mentioned everything in the comic that's worth reading.

The quality does vary, as you would expect from an anthology title, but the overall level has definitely improved markedly from a couple of years ago. I think this is down in part to the editorial prowess of Dave Evans and Richmond Clements, but also to the vast number of submissions they now receive. There's some fine art in this issue but I perhaps naturally like to focus on the writing, which can often be pretty bad even in quite high profile professional comics let alone the small press. However, in FQ 17 there's maybe one story that's difficult to follow and overall the standard is as good as I have seen outside the very highest echelons of the medium.

On this form, Futurequake is clearly an important breeding ground for UK comic talent and long may it continue.