However, with “Closet”, the Dredd story I blogged about last week , seeing print this week as a one-off story, now's a good time to take a look at the current line-up.
After my review of each story, I’ll give details of the first Collected Editions available featuring the characters from that story – the title and ISBN numbers – so (if you’re interested) you can order it and start catching up.
Prog 1817 features five stories:
Strontium Dog “Mutant Spring”
We’re going to start with Strontium Dog . John Wagner’s work on the series has been exemplary for years and this is no exception. Like most of the stories here, it’s currently in the middle, and the instalment you get involves Alpha taking part in a battle in the second Mutant war. It’s fast-paced, action-heavy and has the sort of desperate, bloody-knuckled feel that so many Strontium Dog stories excel at. Carlos Ezquerra likewise turns in fantastic work, as does Simon Bowland on lettering.
(Strontium Dog: Search/Destroy Agency Files volume 1 is available now: ISBN-10: 1905437153 and ISBN-13: 978-1905437153)
The Red Seas
“Fire Across the Deep”
The Red Seas, “Fire Across The Deep” is another story in the middle of a run, and is drawn by one of the best artists 2000AD has ever featured. Steve Yeowell’s clean, crisp artwork helped make Grant Morrison’s classic “Zenith” shine in later volumes, and it does so here. Whilst Yeowell’s style has evolved, becoming far more rounded, it still handles literally massive action with aplomb and grace. Set in 1775, the series follows Captain Jack Dancer, his crew of pirates, and their gradual repositioning as reluctant guardians of the world. This story features them fighting the Devil, who is attempting to unmake everything. So no pressure then. Ian Edginton’s script matches Yeowell’s art for elegant, economic storytelling, although this is the lesser of his two strips this week.
(Volume 1 of The Red Sea: Under The Banner of King Death is available now: ISBN-10: 1905437498 and ISBN-13: 978-1905437498)
Ampney Crucis “The Entropy Tango”
Edginton’s second strip this week, “Ampney Crucis: The Entropy Tango”, is much stronger by simple dint of the fact this instalment isn’t the middle of an action sequence. Crucis, one of the bright young things of pre-war England, was driven temporarily mad by something he witnessed in battle and can now sense unearthly entities. Along with intrepid butler Cromwell, Crucis has been shunted into an alternate dimension where Babbagist terrorists have assassinated the Martian ambassador.
Dispatched with the head of the murderer to Bletchley Park, Crucis and Cromwell meet Alan Turing who is convinced his twin computers Gog and Magog may be able to make the Babbagist’s partially mechanical head talk. One of the two best strips in this issue, “The Entropy Tango” sparks with invention, wit and tension and Edginton fans will love the ongoing subtle connections between this and the rest of his work. Simon Davis’ art is beautiful, painted and precise with just a hint of grotesque and Ellie De Ville’s lettering, as always, impresses.
Special note should also be made of the appearance of Turing in the same issue as “Closet”. A sympathetic portrayal of Turing, a man abysmally treated by the State for his homosexuality, in the same issue as Dredd addresses homosexuality in Mega City 1, strengthens helps both stories immensely, their thematic similarities providing a welcome, subtly different change in tone to the issue.
(Ampney Crucis Investigates: Vile Bodies is available now: ISBN-10: 1907992944 and ISBN-13: 978-1907992940)
Savage, “Rise Like Lions”
This latest instalment of “Rise Like Lions” moves the ongoing story of the world’s angriest cockney trucker and his war against the Volgan occupation of the UK into its endgame. This is, as sometimes happens, exactly the same plot as this week’s Strontium Dog ; a group of insurgents try and hold the line whilst achieving an objective. However, the contemporary UK setting gives Savage an edge that Strontium Dog lacks. This is a grim, nasty chapter in a grim, nasty story that manages to take the buzzwords of modern tech and military fiction (drones, insurgents, etc) and turn it into something recognisably 2000AD -esque. Pat Mills’s script is so tense you can hear its teeth grind, and Patrick Goddard’s burly, chunky lines and expressive artwork are a perfect foil for it. Once again, Ellie De Ville does great work on the lettering.
(Savage: Invasion! Is available now: ISBN-10: 1905437269 and ISBN-13: 978-1905437269)
And then there’s Dredd .
“Closet” explores Mega City 1 through the eyes of Taylor, a gay teenager whose father was unable to deal with his son’s sexuality. Taylor loses his prospective boyfriend to his father’s intimidation, loses his father to the events of recent crossover “Day Of Chaos” and is left to his own devices in a city still reeling from the recent horrifying events. Homosexuality isn’t outlawed in Mega City 1, but impersonating a Judge is, which is why Dredd’s Daystick, the fetish club Taylor is drawn to, is underground.
The rules are simple: everyone is either dressed as Dredd or a perp and everyone has FUN. It’s a fantastic image, the wide variety of body shapes and sizes, many in Judge outfits, all dancing or kissing or playing music. The ultimate symbol of oppression and machismo is repurposed as something fun and playful and sexy.
Which is, of course, when the real Dredd arrives. Rob Williams’ script goes to huge pains to not lecture or proselytise, showing that homosexuality in Mega-City 1 is portrayed as a facet of life rather than a crime and throws some beautiful imagery into the story, especially the massively powerful, subversive moment where two Dredds kiss
What’s really telling, though, is how it ends, with the club being closed down for, as Dredd himself puts it, “Impersonating a Judge and using the uniform for… entertainment purposes.” These people are not being victimised for being homosexuals, and that’s a point that deserves to be made overtly and more than once. This isn’t a story about oppression of sexuality, it’s a story about discovery of self, and the last two panels, where Taylor, given the opportunity to get away scot-free, opts to stay and serve his time with the rest of the clubgoers makes the point beautifully.
Taylor finds strength not through the uniform he’s wearing but the man he is, knowing that running would be denial, and denial has cost him quite enough. It’s a great character beat, empowering and triumphant and completely personal, rounding the story off with elegance and quiet triumph. There’s no huge threat here, no real crime, almost no violence, but there is near limitless courage and, ultimately, happiness. I know there’ve been polite criticisms of “Closet”’s subject matter and, less public, less polite outright attacks, but to my mind this is exactly the sort of story Judge Dredd excels at. It’s early in the year I know, but I can’t see a better single issue Dredd story seeing print in 2013.
(The first of three collections of Judge Dredd: Day of Chaos, called The Fourth Faction, is out now: ISBN-10: 1781081085 and ISBN-13: 978-1781081082)
So there you go. Two running gun battles, some alternate history featuring one of the UK’s greatest, and most abysmally-treated, scientific geniuses, swashbuckling adventure and personal triumph in the shattered future of Mega-City 1. 2000AD is on amazing form at the moment and this issue is no exception, proving that the title is just as willing to take chances and explore society’s attitudes head on as it ever was. Whilst four of the five stories are halfway through, it’s worth picking up not just for “Closet” but for the sheer variety of invention, ideas and art on display here. Here’s to the next 35 years.