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Judge Dredd: Casefiles 26
Judge Dredd: Casefiles 26
by John Wagner
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.58

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Law of the Jungle, 6 Feb. 2016
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A solid, rather than spectacular collection of the future lawman's adventures, 'Case Files 26' is dominated by three very different stories, none of which make the grade as classics, but all of which have something to offer.

The volume's main draw is John Wagner's 'The Hunting Party', with art by a number of notables, most memorably Henry Flint. Dredd, De Marco and a group of cadets cross the Cursed Earth to seek the source of a deadly dune shark attack, previously documented in Case Files 25's 'The Pack'. The result is very much in the vein of 'The Judge Child' or indeed 'The Cursed Earth' itself, in terms of its episodic structure - short but connected arcs of adventure abound. However, 'The Hunting Party' is a second-tier sort of epic - unsophisticated fun, lacking the depth of the best Dredd tales, but still a decent, if slightly broad read. It does however introduce judges Renga and Stark, and showcases a surprisingly tolerant post-Pit Dredd - compare his verdict on the cadets in this tale to the fate of those in 'The Hotdog Run' and there can be no doubt the man's lightened up.

'Mad City', a comical Wagner yarn featuring various crazed citizens crossing catastrophic trajectories, is this collection's second key story. Blessed with mid-period Greg Staples art (my favourite era of Staples, for what it's worth), the tale is a little more significant than it at first appears, for it introduces none other than Oola Blint, the Angel of Mercy. Black-clad Blint is a fan of involuntary euthanasia and a clear favourite of Wagner - she returns again and again for the next seven years, playing a notable role in mega-epic 'Doomsday'.

The final major story herein is John Smith's African-set 'Fetish'. This lengthy tale sees Dredd team up with vampiric Vatican exorcist Devlin Waugh and local judge Shaka to deal with a vengeful witch-doctor who has unleashed a psychic parasite on Psi-Judge Karyn (very clearly standing in for Anderson.) 'Fetish' is a story with a complicated and difficult gestation, and the final version is likely not quite as originally conceived. (I seem to recall John Smith originally envisioned it as 'Judge Dredd Meets Tarzan'.) The plan was for Ashley Wood to undertake art duties, but somewhere along the line things went awry, schedules slipped, rewrites were needed and Wood was replaced with Siku, whose hyper-stylised work is best described as an acquired taste. Then-editor David Bishop suggests 'Fetish' suffers from 'the curse of Devlin Waugh', for behind-the-scenes problems seemed to routinely beset any story featuring the camp vamp! 'Fetish' is another one for the 'good but not great' column - Smith's lurid, individualistic writing always appeals, and there are some memorable images, not least an early death-by-devil-zebras sequence, but it never quite fulfils its promise.

Other tales in this collection see Gordon Rennie employing his trademark 'Dredd as git' characterisation, whilst Robbie Morrison pits Joe against Hondo-Cit ronin, Shimura (quite a good story, with some nice little continuity references and a rare appearance by the Widowmaker shotgun!) A leftover Mark Millar strip even surfaces, and turns out to be one of his less objectionable efforts, meaning that whilst Case Files 26 isn't a standout volume, there are no actual clunkers. Though as a whole it may lack an indefinable something, it remains a perfectly enjoyable collection - after all, even average Dredd is still better than most other comics.


Dan Dare The 2000 AD Years Vol. 01
Dan Dare The 2000 AD Years Vol. 01
by Pat Mills
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.40

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dan, Dan, He's Our Man!, 13 Nov. 2015
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2000AD fans have a lot to thank its owners Rebellion for, not least the comic's continued existence. But one area in which the publisher have truly excelled themselves is getting stories back into print that most assumed would never be seen again. I'm not just talking about dredging up and repackaging wonderful obscurities like Return to Armageddon and Meltdown Man, laudable though that is. I'm referring to negotiating the legal complexities that kept certain stories in limbo - stories like the banned Cursed Earth segments, like Zenith, and like this beautiful tome right here - Dan Dare!

Flashback to 1977. Pat Mills, 2000AD's creator, felt reviving Britain's most iconic comic character would give the new title a flagship strip. It didn't exactly work out that way - precisely one prog later, Judge Dredd arrived, stole Dan's expletive 'Drokk', and eventually usurped both Dare and early rival Mach One to dominate the prog. Nonetheless, Dan Dare remained a popular early strip, despite having little in common with its more mannered 50s namesake - 70s Dan is a much rougher, fiercer and wilder character, reflecting the pop culture tastes of his era. As Garth Ennis points out in this collection's introduction, the new Dan even does the unthinkable - he uses speech contractions!

That said, if Dan's a bit more of a ruffian, he's still a beautifully drawn one. In fact, the 2000AD-era of Dan Dare can be split cleanly into two separate eras, defined very much by artist (the same two artists who split Harlem Heroes between them, in fact.) The opening run features the wonderful work of Italian superstar Massimo Belardinelli, and sees Dan dive headfirst into combat against the gruesome Biogs and their horrid helpers, the Shepherds. In many ways, Belardinelli was the perfect choice to illustrate this tale - virtually everything he ever drew had a weird, organic quality irrespective of the actual story, so hand him a script where even the axes are alive, and he turns in some first-class art. (The Living Axe, needless to say, is an absolute highlight, and really should have stuck around longer - though I do seem to recall Tharg briefly adopting one.)

Belardinelli's still on-board when Dare teams up with mutt-faced chum Rok to battle disturbing conjoined foe the Two of Verath - and his infamous ally, the Mekon of Mekonta! But following that crazed yarn, the madness is dialled down a bit with significant changes across the board. The clean lines and realistic approach of Dave Gibbons now provide the visual flair, whilst scripting shift to war-comic veteran Gerry Finley-Day (previously it was Future Shock-creator Steve Moore, and previous to him, a Mills / Gosnell / Armstrong combo.) Dan, now much more traditionally depicted, recruits a crew of dodgy types such as Hitman, whose gun has been fused to his hand after logic-defying exposure to deep space. Together, they wage interstellar war, principally on the Starslayers, who like the Klingons before them have something of a 'Mongol-Horde-in-Space' vibe. (Their leader, the Dark Lord, has an irresistible Terry-Thomas 'tache.) For me, this run lacks the balls-to-the-wall lunacy of the Belardinelli days, but maybe a purist would find it hews (slightly) closer to expectations of what a Dan Dare strip should be.

The volume is rounded off with a few stories fished out of specials and annuals - the Gary Leach one's pretty good, but the one in which Dare punches space-frogs in the face is... enjoyable on a different level. Despite this, 'The 2000AD Years' is a remarkable book. The art's five-star stuff all the way (apart from the aforementioned space-frogs), and even if the scripts are clearly not on the level of the strongest 2000AD stories, this is more than compensated for by the superb presentation - and the fact we're getting to read them again at all! Much greater than the sum of its parts, and a cracking addition to your comic book shelves, Dan Dare remains a smashing read.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 4, 2016 2:56 PM GMT


Strontium Dog: Dogs of War: Life and Death of Johnny Alpha 2 (Life & Death of Johnny Alpha 2)
Strontium Dog: Dogs of War: Life and Death of Johnny Alpha 2 (Life & Death of Johnny Alpha 2)
by John Wagner
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.48

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cry havoc..., 17 Jan. 2015
Spending several years buried on an alien world in a Schrodinger's cat-style dead / alive state hasn't done much for Johnny Alpha's sense of humour. 2000AD's newly-resurrected bounty hunter has discovered a plot to sterilise Britain's mutants and wipe their race out entirely - but too late, it seems, to actually prevent it. All that's left then is war - total war against the norm oppressors, in which Johnny reaches new heights of character-defining ruthlessness. Middenface McNulty's not happy with the emergence of Johnny's cold-blooded side - but a passenger Johnny's been carrying since his return is more than pleased with Alpha's slide into moral oblivion...

Welcome to a very dark collection of modern Strontium Dog tales. It's been observed that there's been a profoundly nihilistic streak to writer John Wagner's recent work - the almost complete decimation of Mega-City One and total failure of its lawmen in `Judge Dredd: Day of Chaos', for instance - and this harsh tone is equally prevalent here. We are presented with a very morally ambiguous take on Johnny Alpha, something entirely consistent with his character (think `Rage' crossed with `Portrait of a Mutant'), but troubling nonetheless. Whereas Judge Dredd is routinely portrayed as both hero and villain, Alpha has always been the good guy - so when he goes off the deep end and effectively ignites a civil war between norms and mutants, it's disturbing and compelling in equal measure. That said, I would venture to suggest that the story reads far better in one go than it did in weekly instalments - in the prog, the week-in, week-out diet of grimness became a little wearing, but it is more easily digested in a single dose. Even the slightly out-of-left-field dismissal of a plot element that looked as if it was going to prove more lasting seems less abrupt in this format.

As ever, Carlos Ezquerra is at hand to document Johnny's excesses, and he does so with all the talent and affection you'd expect of a master of his craft drawing his favourite character. Of particular note are the alien Ikan race, who also appeared in the previous volume: distinctively designed and extremely sinister, they prove a definite highlight. And of course, Ezquerra always excels when given lurid mutations to draw - those who follow 2000AD's small-press fanzines will thrill to see him drawing a notable fan-created Strontium Dog, who has now ascended to the strip proper.

There will still be many who are unconvinced at Johnny Alpha's revival, or would at least have preferred to see him return immediately to his bounty-hunting ways, but to me, returning from the dead and then just going back to work would have seemed like an anti-climax: a plot as pivotal as this was undoubtedly necessary. That said, though the story ends on a cliff-hanger, the reader is left feeling that enough has been resolved to move the strip forward and maybe return Johnny to a more familiar role - assuming, that is, he hasn't done a u-turn on his resurrection...


Axe Cop Volume 5: Axe Cop Gets Married and Other Stories
Axe Cop Volume 5: Axe Cop Gets Married and Other Stories
by Ethan Nicolle
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Axe Cop Goes Autobiographical, 17 Jan. 2015
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Well, kinda. Or more accurately, a spate of weddings in the Nicolle family means that matrimony is foremost on nine-year-old Malachai Nicolle’s mind – and as such, his creation Axe Cop also ties the knot! But what sort of woman would want to marry a balding workaholic sociopath with no time for love? Every woman alive, as it turns out – and Abraham Lincoln too!

This volume of Axe Cop’s misadventures contains two major stories. The first, ‘The Dogs’, focuses on Axe Cop’s canine chums and their struggles with a pair of Siberian witch-doctor mummy cats. Ethan Nicolle readily admits that he likes drawing animals more than people, and as such, this story features his strongest art to date. Be it evil cats, heroic hounds, monstrous mummified fusions of both (or just incontinent Hell-Chickens), ‘The Dogs’ marks a clear progression in Nicolle’s work, and showcases some confident and gloriously over-the-top designs. Check out the page where a confused Axe Cop awakes to a world of giant birds and flying, bat-winged sea-creatures – a surreal delight indeed.

The other key story is the titular one, and features Axe Cop’s quest for a bride, to act as mother to his two recently adopted mutated sons. Whereas ‘The Dogs’ is an artistic tour de force, ‘Axe Cop Gets Married’ is a funnier strip. Given Axe Cop’s fundamentally unromantic nature, there’s a lot of humour to be mined from his typically blunt dealings with the opposite sex – the Rainbow Princess, for instance, gets a particularly rough deal. That said, Axe Cop does learn something important about women during the story. He learns that you can’t always knock them out with the blunt side of an axe - sometimes you have to lure them into a pit using decoys instead. Whilst the tale arguably goes on a little long, it’s still great fun, and again, Nicolle’s art shines when able to draw more monstrous creations, such as a rather terrifying fusion of Axe Cop of his monkey and bat-hybrid sons. The one area where Nicolle’s work falters a little concerns, ironically enough, his portrayal of the Water Queen, modelled on Nicolle’s own real-life wife. Understandably, he’s tried to draw her realistically and non-comedically, but given the over-the-top and stylised nature of all the other characters in the strip, she sometimes looks as though she’s wandered in from another story entirely.

As much fun as the longer stories are, the highlight of the collection remains, as ever, ‘Ask Axe Cop’, which here reaches its one hundredth instalment – and what appears to be its conclusion. ‘Ask Axe Cop’ has always been the funniest element of the Axe Cop universe, but here, it becomes the most surreal – time is routinely rewritten, major events happen in the space of a page, and the utterly bizarre secret of moustache growth is revealed, in a story which has to rank as the weirdest and most unsettling in the Axe Cop canon. And that’s saying something.

So there you have it. Another smashing collection of alien-decapitation, rowdy beard-leaders, and the most implausible martial arts moves in the history of fighting. Business as usual for the man who works the always shift - but he no longer works it alone.


Axe Cop Volume 6: American Choppers
Axe Cop Volume 6: American Choppers
by Dark Horse
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars “The body dies, but the axe lives!”, 17 Jan. 2015
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Welcome to the sixth volume of Axe Cop, collecting the third Dark Horse mini-series by the now-10-year-old Malachai Nicolle (time flies!) and his big brother Ethan. Ethan’s introduction suggests this might be the last volume for a while, and given both his busy schedule and Malachai’s refusal to stop aging, it’s hard not to wonder if it might mark the end of the series as we know it.

As regular Axe Cop readers know, summarising the plot is rather like herding cats: an ultimately-doomed attempt to impose order on chaos. That said, this collection sees Axe Cop forming a team of axe-themed superheroes, most of whom hail from previous continuity, in order to fight Satan. Yep, that guy. This has proved something of a recurring theme in Ethan Nicolle’s work – see ‘Chumble Spuzz’ for an earlier rumble with the Anti-Christ – but this story really turns the religious anarchy up to six-hundred-and-sixty-six, and where there are devils, there are angels too – and a surprising revelation about Axe Cop’s origin.

Highlights? Well, we finally get to meet Mr. Chicken-Chicken Slice (first mentioned in the bonus material for ‘Bad Guy Earth’), who fires roast chickens out of his brain when he closes his eyes, and turns out to be surprisingly pious. Axe Cop’s goat communication surgery (and a surprise involving Axe-Goat) are also classic comedic moments – the latter involves a piece of characterisation that seems to draw inspiration from the Axe Cop cartoon series. And as for the story’s final page – well, if the series is to end, that’s pretty much a perfect image to leave us on. As ever, Ethan’s art is full of the energy, vigour, and wild imagination that have made Axe Cop a hit- I’m particularly keen on his scary designs for the rampaging Axe-Beasts – and it seems likely that if you’ve enjoyed previous insane instalments then this one will prove a hit as well.

The volume also includes the ‘Revenge on Rainbow Girl’ story by the guest creative team of Tom Martin and his nieces Charlotte and Amelia. Inevitably, this has a slightly different feel to it than stories by the brothers, but at the same time, it is unmistakeably Axe Cop, and highlights a possible direction for the series to continue – as Malachai grows up, the axe-baton might be passed to a new generation of imaginative youths.

On the whole then, a cracking collection – it feels a little fresher than ‘President of the World’ and features an obese tiger painted on the side of an RV. What more do you people want?


Return to Armageddon (2000 Ad)
Return to Armageddon (2000 Ad)
by Malcom Shaw
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.78

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars If you're going through hell, keep going!, 24 Aug. 2014
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2000AD has a long-running tradition of one-off stories called Future Shocks - short, punchy sci-fi yarns with a twist ending. `Return to Armageddon' is, in length at least, the total antithesis to a Future Shock - but in spirit, it's like a marriage of virtually every classic Future Shock idea the weekly prog has ever seen, all jammed into one completely mad, marvellous, Manichean saga. Biblical allusions? Check. Rebellious robots? Check. Interplanetary destruction? Check. Temporal anomalies, interstellar zombies and aliens who aren't quite what they seem? Check, check and double check. If writer Malcolm Shaw had only thrown in a virtual reality prison, we'd have had the full house.

Originally running in 2000AD in 1980-81, `Return to Armageddon' concerns the exploits of the demonic Destroyer - "a creature with the power to end all life" - and his blonde twin brother Amtrak, unwisely cloned from the corpse of a devilish alien found on a frozen world. Prematurely aged to adulthood, Amtrak quests to stop his brother's machinations, eventually aided by Seeker, a forthright, no-messing robot, who is probably the most likeable character in the story. But Amtrak's quest is far from free of complications, and he spends a protracted and gruesome period as a shambling abomination, unable to die, but existing in perpetual agony.

Shaw delivers an apocalyptic yarn that is part fantasy, part sci-fi, part horror, part Genesis and part Book of Revelation. At first glance his writing leans in the direction of Inferno's Tom Tully - one quite-literally damned thing after another - but whilst there's no shortage of mad ideas, the story is a lot more controlled than Tully ever managed, and one has the sense throughout that Shaw has a definite destination in mind. The tale is also structured into three clear sections - an opening third in which the twins are cloned and exist in infancy, a memorable middle with Amtrak immortal and tormented, and a cataclysmic conclusion with our hero rejuvenated and dealing with a very literal hell on earth. The story's also blessed with a pleasing and delicious nastiness - Amtrak really gets put through the ringer, and even Seeker spends most of the series partially dismembered.

With the exception of a two episode fill-in by Johnny Johnson, art is by the wonderful Jesus Redondo, best known for Nemesis the Warlock Bk II and, most notably, Monster from IPC's late lamented Scream! weekly. If there's one thing Redondo can do well, it's horror, and this tale gives the Spanish master plenty of opportunities to strut his artistic stuff. Whether it's space zombies, the damned writhing in torment, or hairy winged devils, Redondo delivers with nightmarish relish - Amtrak's lurching, degenerate form even seems something of a precursor to Monster's infamous Uncle Terry!

Overall, `Return to Armageddon' is a crazed romp, with a core of pure, subversive imagination. Every time you think you've figured out where it's going, it throws you for a loop: they don't make comics like this any more, folks, and more's the pity. As ever, thrill-power custodians Rebellion deserve the highest praise for dredging up a less-obvious but clearly fondly-remembered tale from Tharg's archives and presenting it with such care. Indeed, the collection even includes a brief bout of colour for both the covers gallery and for the story's one-off appearance at the comic's centre-spread. As such, you need to get a copy in your claws pronto, sinners - 'cos if you don't, there'll be hell to pay!


Judge Dredd: v. 23: The Complete Case Files
Judge Dredd: v. 23: The Complete Case Files
by John Wagner
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.58

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Hide of Scars Stretched Over a Heart of Stone, 21 Aug. 2014
After Case Files 22’s rather lacklustre performance, this newest volume of Judge Dredd’s adventures takes a pretty dramatic upswing in quality. We kick off with ‘Goodnight Kiss’, a rare return appearance by Garth Ennis, who’s only written two other Dredd stories since. This isn’t the pinnacle of Ennis’s work on Dredd (that’s the superb ‘Monkey On My Back’ from 2003) but it’s pretty darn close. Tying together several threads from Ennis’s earlier tales, this nine-parter sees Dredd fall foul of both assassin Jonni Kiss and the Cursed Earth’s Brotherhood of Marshals. As ever, Dredd’s defining characteristic under Ennis is his sheer toughness, but the writer also takes us on a memorable trip into Dredd’s psyche with a hallucinatory sequence making great use of both Kraken and The Dead Man. There’s an attention to detail and continuity in ‘Goodnight Kiss’ that is much appreciated in the wake of the ludicrous Millar / Morrison days – the sequence where Dredd disarms a colleague’s lawgiver feels particularly authentic, as does the much-lauded episode in which he tracks a foe to a mutant schoolhouse. True, Nick Percival’s fully-painted art isn’t really my cup of tea, but it’s not a deal-breaker, and it’s certainly atmospheric enough. Great story.

Following this, John Wagner is back with a series of solid one-offs, some comedic, others laying groundwork for ‘The Pit’. These days, it’s quite rare to see Carlos Ezquerra brought out for anything less than an epic, so it feels a bit of a welcome novelty to see him on several shorter stories here. In the midst of this run of Wagner gold is something of an oddity – Pat Mills and Paul Johnson retelling ‘The Return of Rico’ from prog 30. The story was prompted by the Stallone Dredd movie, featuring Joe’s aforementioned clone brother, but it does little that its more concise McMahon predecessor didn’t already manage in six pages. Aside from Mills getting his own continuity wrong – Rico’s return predates the Cursed Earth saga, it doesn’t follow it - I was never particularly impressed with Pat’s invention of straw-man-style laws to have Rico criticise. There is no MC-1 prohibition against human / alien relationships, Pat – that’s from your own strip, Nemesis the Warlock.

Thankfully, we can rely on John Wagner to provide the strongest story in the collection - the brilliant five-parter ‘Bad Frendz’. This tale, a direct antecedent to 'The Pit', introduces the Mega-City Frendz and their crimelord Nero Narcos, along with Vitus Dance, radland assassin and psychic. Dance is a hugely exciting and original villain, with quirky powers and a really creepy long-faced design by Ezquerra. Unfortunately, Wagner also provides the worst story in Case Files 23, the 2000AD material ending with the absolute clanger that is ‘Awakening of Angels’ - an infamous story that sees the unwelcome resurrection of Pa and Junior Angel from ‘The Judge Child’ saga. Wagner has since admitted this was a bad idea, which is rather like suggesting the Apocalypse War was a bit violent – an understatement of the highest order. As a result of this realisation, the pair have only ever appeared in two subsequent tales, one of which is this volume’s Megazine cover story, ‘The Three Amigos’ – a spirited romp in which Dredd teams up with both Judge Death and Mean Machine Angel to combat the mutant army of President Clinton Box. I’m no fan of playing Judge Death for laughs, but complaining about that at this stage is pretty futile, so I recommend you enjoy this for what it is – a big, mad action-comedy romp with hugely impressive art by Trevor Hairsine. In fact, Hairsine’s work is probably the highlight of the whole collection, channeling the big-booted spirit of Mike McMahon and the craziness of prime Ron Smith, yet still remaining wholly its own entity.

The other Megazine material is mostly decent, although the art is often weaker than the scripts. Take ‘Bug Crazy’, which sees the triumphant return of Olympic staring champion Agnes ‘Laser Gaze’ Bolton – great Wagner script, but Charles Gillespie’s rather wooden posing struggles to keep up. The same holds true for Siku’s work on the daft-but-fun ‘Whatever Happened to Bill Clinton?’, though the artist's idiosyncratic take on Dredd does have its fans. Aside from the work of Wagner, we get one-offs from Jim Alexander, Chris Standley, Gordon Rennie and Robbie Morrison – none are awful and none are outstanding, though Morrison carves out an odd niche for himself as a writer of somewhat over-emotional Dredd tales, something that works for Wagner only because he does it so rarely.

Overall then, this is a pretty great collection. ‘Bad Frendz’, ‘The Three Amigos’ and ‘Goodnight Kiss’ are all excellent stories, and the weaker stories are few and far between. Call it four and a half stars – I couldn’t give five stars to any volume that contains ‘Awakening of Angels’.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 29, 2014 11:07 AM BST


Rogue Trooper: Tales of Nu Earth 4 (2000 Ad)
Rogue Trooper: Tales of Nu Earth 4 (2000 Ad)
by John Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.58

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "See you on the other side, blue boy!", 28 Jun. 2014
What happens when the mission’s over and the war’s finished and the main character’s walked off into history? Flashbacks, that’s what. Lots and lots of flashbacks. And that’s very much the case in this fourth volume of the Genetic Infantryman’s exploits. It would not be accurate to say that this completes the published history of Rogue Trooper – the character returned to co-star for a while in the adventures of his successor, Friday – but outside of the post-‘War Machine’ continuity, this predominantly black-and-white collection is pretty much it for the original blue-skinned avenger and his bickering equipment.

This collection kicks off with ‘Cinnabar’, which is also the main reason to buy the volume. One of uber-scribe John Smith’s earlier 2000AD stories, the story is pencilled by Steve Dillon and inked by Kev Walker: quite a successful combination, as Dillon’s dynamic layouts and posing are complemented by Walker’s crosshatch-heavy fondness for detail. The tale begins with Rogue crucified, crippled with an AIDS-style virus, and teamed up with a bunch of deserters – and things just keep getting worse from then on in! For many, ‘Cinnabar’ is one of the greatest Rogue Trooper stories: personally, I’d agree that it’s definitely one of the greatest stories ever set within the world of the titular G.I., but it’s sure as hell not the kind of thing Finley-Day would ever have written! In fact, the whole 10-part story has what might best be described as a ‘mature readers’ sensibility. Rogue himself, though central to the story, spends a good two-thirds of it in a state of severe physical and mental illness, meaning that he’s more victim than hero – a far cry from the days when his all-consuming mission drove the plot forward. In his place, the biochips really take centre-stage – and what a vicious bunch they are. Though Helm comes off as fairly optimistic, albeit cynical, Smith takes Gunnar beyond his regular status as team psycho and writes him as an utter bitch, cattily spewing venomous comments as readily as he sprays bullets. And it works – he gets most of the best lines in the story! Meanwhile Bagman, always my personal favourite of the chips, is true to form as the ostensible voice of reason who is in fact quietly but spectacularly insane – his brand of meticulous madness is played to remarkable effect in the series finale, which is one of the most imaginative and elaborately nasty set-pieces in 2000AD’s history. In short, ‘Cinnabar’ is an unforgettable read and the highpoint of the book.

The next story is John Tomlinson’s ‘Remembrance Day’, largely a retelling of Rogue’s early history, with colour art by co-creator Dave Gibbons. It links into ‘Mercy Heights’ and ‘Tor Cyan’ continuity, and is most memorable for its vision of Nu-Earth as a war grave – quite a moving final page. After that, we’re into the Gordon Rennie run, a lengthy series of black-and-white flashback tales set during the hunt for the Traitor General, which comprise most of the collection. I stopped reading 2000AD for a while whilst these were being published, and they didn’t have much of an impact on me at the time, but reading them now, they’re actually very good. Rennie pretty much nails the ‘classic Rogue’ vibe, and some of the black and white art is a real treat – great work all-round by Staz Johnson, Mike Collins, Dylan Teague, Simon Coleby and PJ Holden. The run is capped-off with a three-parter by Ian Edginton and Steve Pugh – eye-catching art, script so-so – and then we’re nearly up to date with Gerry Finley-Day’s brief but rather triumphant return to the character for Prog 2011, in a doppelganger-based tale that could have come straight out of his classic run.

After that, we’ve got the ‘bonus material’ from annuals and specials (mostly in colour). Sadly, we start with a pair of genuinely awful Mark Millar stories. The first tale is the better of the two (a very relative term) though reuniting Brett Ewins and Jim McCarthy on art serves only to emphasise how badly the story is ripping off ‘Bad Company’! Meanwhile, the second tale is barrel-scrapingly bad, one of the worst pieces of drivel ever published under the 2000AD banner – its purported account of Helm’s death bears zero resemblance to the actual facts of the situation and is impossible to reconcile with correct continuity. Oddly, both stories feature somewhat homophobic portrayals of camp villains – this was very much Millar’s thing in the 90s. Go figure. Thankfully Gordon Rennie and Richard Elson swiftly step in to show us how it should be done with ‘Survival Lesson’, and we follow-up with an Andy Diggle ‘What If...?’ tale, which sees Gunnar surviving the Quartz Zone instead of Rogue. Despite the great Colin Wilson art though, it’s more ‘So What?’ than ‘What If...?’ The volume concludes with a text piece from the Megazine, recounting Rogue’s history, and a cover gallery.

Overall, this is an extremely solid volume – though there are one or two low-points, the vast bulk of the stories are good through to excellent, and ‘Cinnabar’ is a genuine 2000AD highlight. War may indeed be hell, but ‘Tales of Nu-Earth 4’ isn’t too far from comics heaven.


Judge Dredd: v. 21: The Complete Case Files
Judge Dredd: v. 21: The Complete Case Files
by John Wagner
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.58

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "What's crazy old McGruder going to do next?", 23 Mar. 2014
Hallelujah, we're back on track! Yep, this is the volume where Dredd-creator John Wagner makes his triumphant return as full-time chronicler of Old Stoney Face's adventures. Cue wild applause.

The bulk of this volume is devoted to `Wilderlands' and related stories, in which Dredd's attempts to dethrone Chief Judge McGruder backfire spectacularly. Instead of immediately ending ol' Hilda's reign, Joe's own falsification of anti-Mechanismo evidence is revealed, earning him a trip to the Titan penal colony. But McGruder combines the journey with a diplomatic stop-over at Hestia, the `tenth planet' - a stop-over that leads to sabotage. With the cast marooned in Hestia's hostile Wilderlands, danger lurks at every turn - and not all of it is Hestian...

This particular arc begins with `Conspiracy of Silence', in which Dredd discovers that the Mechanismo programme is still on-going, despite his best attempts to stop it. Art is by Mark Harrison and is a bit of an acquired taste - some of my fellow reviewers seem to love it, and I quite enjoyed it at the time, but looking at it now, I don't feel the story-telling is up to scratch (and the judicial shoulder-pads don't look right, either!) We eventually move on to the Wilderlands prologue, a perfect match for Peter Doherty's characterful art (he does a great McGruder) and then `The Tenth Planet', which introduces hostile Hestia and its native Dune Sharks. Wagner clearly loves these beasties - they make a magnificent return to the strip under the penmanship of Henry Flint a couple of years later, and serve as focus of subsequent epic `The Hunting Party.' Ezquerra also has fun with them, though their introduction coincides with his permanent shift to computer colouring his art. The results are exactly the same as the first time you or I had a go of an art package in the 90s - filters, textures and fills turned up to 11, all competing in a luridly brain-melting melange.

Next stop is `Wilderlands' itself. It isn't the greatest Dredd epic - it falls pretty squarely into the second-tier category along with `Doomsday' and `The Hunting Party' - but it is a good story, and serves as culmination of plot-threads that have been simmering ever since `Mechanismo' began. Furthermore, it works much better read in one go than it ever did split across 2000AD and the Megazine - the idea was that those who read only one of the two titles would still get a complete story, resulting in a fair number of duplicated scenes. The Megazine half, drawn by then up-and-coming art-droid Trevor Hairsine, is told from the perspective of Judge Laverne Castillo, McGruder's adjutant, a character who to me seems a bit of a dry-run for Judge De Marco in `The Pit'. Indeed, `Wilderlands' sees Wagner experimenting with number of the techniques that would come to fruition in that later masterpiece - not least the use of an ensemble cast. The story is also Wagner's second crack at the `dodgy Chief Judge' tale, one that at time of writing he's tried three times. Each has been very different - Judge Cal was a flamboyant lunatic and Judge Sinfield illustrated the banality of evil, whereas McGruder retains a number of admirable qualities and is never an actual baddie, just pig-headed, unbalanced and misguided. Her darkest moment (ordering the execution of an alien native) is accordingly pretty shocking, particularly when you consider she was once amongst the greatest of MC-1's Chief Judges.

As for the non-Wilderlands content, there's some perfectly enjoyable tales by `Sonny Steelgrave', Dan Abnett and Chris Standley, whilst on the Wagner front, we have a mixed bag. `The Time Machine' is great fun (and an interesting study in contrast - first episode traditional Ezquerra colour, second episode computerised), whilst `A Guide to Mega-Speak' sees the final ever appearance of the legendary Ron Smith in the prog. `Casualties of War' is a crossover with Friday-era Rogue Trooper, and originally occupied the whole of prog 900 - the John Higgins art is smashing. Unfortunately, `Judge Death: The True Story' continues the denigration of Dredd's one-time nemesis into a comedy figure - the nadir comes when we discover that the Dark Judges stole their dimension jumps from a reality-hopping race who stopped off on Deadworld to use the toilet.

Overall though, the quality has soared since Case Files 20 - if you've been skipping the Wagner-lite Case Files (16-20), you might want to get back on-board here. (Though as a word of warning, the next one is a bit wobbly...)


Judge Dredd: v. 22: The Complete Case Files
Judge Dredd: v. 22: The Complete Case Files
by John Wagner
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.58

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Pax vobiscum, creep!, 22 Mar. 2014
Another schizophrenic Dredd collection from an era in which the strip was dragging itself out of the darkness and into a bright new dawn - but in the tradition of the best horror movies, there's an unexpected grab of the ankle by a threat thought dead, before the series makes its final escape. Short review - not a bad collection, but not as good as CF21. Long review? Read on...

The volume kicks off well with `The Candidates' / `Voting Day' - a brief but superb piece of prime Wagner, in which Dredd finally runs for Chief Judge. Art is by Mick Austin and Carlos Ezquerra - the latter seems to have sorted out some of the computer colouring issues that made `The Tenth Planet' and `Wilderlands' so garish, and has opted for a more muted, rather bleached approach. He's not quite there yet, but it's a definite improvement on his man-gone-mad-with-filters period.

After that, though, is a protracted period in which the series fails to shine. First comes Pete Hogan's lengthy but completely inconsequential `The Big Sleet', in which Dredd is relegated to bystander in his own strip by Norse god Odin. And then we're into `The Exterminator', which sees Dredd time-travelling to 2001 to prevent a space-plague from decimating his own era. `The Exterminator' is that rarest of things - a lengthy John Wagner story that doesn't really work, though it works a damn sight better read in one go than it ever did in drawn-out weekly instalments. Apparently it was a rewritten script for a `Terminator' story - a bystander even describes Dredd as looking like Arnie's famed cyborg, which of course, he doesn't. Consensus seems to rate John Burns's art for the first two parts as superior to Emilio Frejo's for the rest - personally, I'd say Frejo's energetic work was the best thing about the story.

A rare misfire from Wagner then - but hot on its heels is the real dreck. Yup, you thought you'd seen the last of the Morrison / Millar Dredd with Case Files 20, but here they are, back for one long, unwelcome encore with `Crusade'. True, `Crusade' is by no means as dire as `Inferno' or `Book of the Dead', but still contains the usual mischaracterisation, cultural stereotypes and disastrous plot holes, along with the faint whiff of school-boy misogyny which dogs most of the duo's work on Dredd. The plot concerns judges from around the world duking it out at the South Pole, with custody of a transmogrified Tek-Judge (who may have spoken to God) as prize. Mick Austin's art is good - his design for Vatican Judge Cesare is suitably vampiric - but the story pays little heed to Dredd-world continuity, almost thumbing its nose at `Shimura' and `Devlin Waugh'.

The 2000AD half of the volume (and it is around half - there's a lot of Meg material in this collection) finishes with a wild upswing in quality with `Escape From Kurt Russell', showcasing some brilliant Paul Marshall art over a solid Wagner script, and then we're into the Meg. There's a few good Wagner character pieces in here (`Crash Diner', `Poor Johnny', `The Strange Case of Bill Clinton' and best of all, `Terror With Mrs. Gunderson') and a couple of extremely forgettable Si Spencer tales - `A Very Creepy Christmas' shouldn't be a Dredd story at all, and will make no sense unless one has read Spencer's `Creep' series. More notable is `Skar', which is a fairly straightforward Wagner monster yarn, but with very distinctive and likely fan-polarising art by Ashley Wood. The highlight for me though is `The Secret Life of Judge Pal', in which we learn of the special leeway given to Mega-City One's most effective Judge - and it's not Joe Dredd!

Overall, this volume probably averages out at about three-and-a-half stars - `Crusade' drags it down, `The Exterminator' doesn't help on the buoyancy front, and whilst the Megazine stuff's mostly good, there's nothing to match `Giant' or `Howler' from CF 20. Worth a buy though, provided your expectations aren't too high, but a slight dip compared to CF 21.
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