We continue Fenton Coulthurst’s review of 2000ad stories:
Special mention before anything else must go to the delightful one-shot Commuter Pain. I adore Dredd stories that give us glimpses into the day-to-day life of Megacity 01, especially its quotidien indignities. The ones that serve as absurd elaborations on our own misery are particularly pithy.
The rest of Dredd’s run was split between A Better Class of Criminal and The Booth Conspiracy. The former was a tale of action-packed superpowered crooks. Functional but not altogether that memorable.
The Booth Conspiracy was the culmination of the ongoing conflict between the Justice Department and the Sons of Booth, a group of reactionary neo-Conservative conspiracy theorists accelerating their schemes through unethical news platforms. Where do the writers get their ideas?
The Sons of Booth plotline is one I have been enjoying as the writers have steadily built it up over the last year and this is a fitting finale. There’s some nice and unobtrusive callbacks to vintage Dredd material at the very end and the promise that the impact of events here will still be felt. It’s a example of continuity-driven storytelling done well, all layered over with 2000AD’s brand of social commentary.
I’ve commented previously that Kek-W’s pieces tend to be denser in terms of continuity, to the point where readers need some prior exposure to grasp what is going on. Kek-W’s techno-mystical time-travel saga The Order is the ur-example, and I think the latest storyline The New World is the most impenetrable yet.
I’m usually a champion of The Order despite the hurdle of getting into it because the story is so wonderfully weird: a mishmash of paranormal characters from across the centuries defend reality from temporal-parasite-worms with the aid of organic technology, robot men and mysticism. On top of this you have John M. Burns’ painterly aesthetic which sets the comic apart in a very appealing manner.
However, The New World has problems. The Order has been known to progress the story through poorly-established developments and twists, here this is the hard rule rather than an intermittent habit. Things just turn up and happen. The lack of a working plot means characters have no grounds for development so simply regurgitate their motivation instead. Burns’ art and panel compositions are great but he gives much less attention to the overall layout. The storytelling has a poor flow as a result and there’s a lot of dislocation between actions. This is very apparent in fight scenes where the relative position, comprehensibility or even logic of the combat is lost.
I think what irks me is that I have seen this series do so much better before (even if the plotting has been a bit lumpen at the best of times). The New World starts promisingly with an internecine struggle between factions of the Order itself. This is swiftly abandoned for a clumsy story involving shadow-worms and a randomly appearing giant robot. The opening act, it turns out, was in fact set-up for the conflict of the next series. This feels like a messy holding pattern so the writer could get all the pieces on the board for the story they do want to tell next time. Let’s hope that run will show more care and attention.
Tharg’s 3rillers: Appetite
This round of issues saw a smattering of smaller pieces amongst the programming, the cornerstone of which was a the 3riller Appetite. For the uninitiated: 2000AD occasionally publish single-episode self-contained stories called ‘Future Shocks’ or horror-themed ‘Terror Tales’ which are handy to slot between runs and sometimes serve as pilots. ‘Tharg’s 3rillers’ are the big brothers to these, being three-parters that provide more breathing room for the creators without the need to forge huge serial storylines.
Appetite was a grisly jaunt told through the lens of low-brow celebritainment. Writer James Peaty has some significant tenure with the Doctor Who comics so it’s little surprise he’s at home with a plot where the characters stumble unwittingly from the mundane to the gruesome. It’s underpinned by solid artwork from Andrea Mutti and Eva de la Cruz who really sell the obligatory science fiction twist in an otherwise plausible setting. All told, a pleasing bite-size entry.
On the heels of the larger Geek-Con story told in the previous programme of series, the Survival Geeks were back for a mini-stint with Slack n’ Hash. Taking aim at the conventions of slasher films, this proved a gory outing for the gang’s brand of irreverence. Compared to other runs of Survival Geeks, this was centred entirely on genre gags with little in the way of advancing the characters. But I will emphasise again that this was a handful of issues, not a full run. Perfectly fine given its scale. I do think writers Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby could have spent longer skewering the puritanical paradigms of teenage behaviour championed by slasher flicks, but it was still funny throughout so it’s a petty gripe.
Gordon Rennie had much on display this time. Besides Survival Geeks, this co-creation with his brother Lawrence got its first full series after a pilot last year. Rennie’s premises are often a demonstration in immediate appeal. In Mechastopheles’ case, the last remnants of mankind travel across a ruined earth beset with hellspawn in a giant demonic robot.
You can see artist Karl Richardson’s time spent illustrating for Warhammer in the design of the titular monster-mech and legions replete with bulky armour, though this is more heavy metal Renaissance than heavy metal medievalism.
The characters and dynamics for this new series are still emerging so the Rennie brothers have kept things simple for the plot of this outing. There is clear set up for more elaborate stories of treachery and revelation to come which I find promising. Mechastopheles strikes me as having much potential with its landscapes of grunge and hellfire, and I hope we see increasing ambition as this monster lumbers forward.
In a broadly strong programme of series, there has to be a winner, and I had no trouble settling on one here. Dan Abnett and Mark Harrison’s Grey Area succeeds on the basis of its slowly ratcheting tension and the nuance to its subject matter. This comic follows the tribulations of a squad of law-enforcers operating in the Exo Segregation Zone, the so-called ‘Grey Area’, which is a customs-and-detention ghetto designed to regulate extra-terrestrial immigrants.The whole thing revolves around a group of people trying to do good in system that makes it nearly impossible to do so. They’re endeavouring to see arrivals treated fairly and humanely, in an organisation beholden to vitriolic, two-faced and xenophobic politicians. They’re on Earth but in a section dominated by alien cultures and inhabitants. The pun of the title refers to the fact they operate in both a physical, cultural and moral grey area.
I don’t want to make this series sound like hard-going social commentary. As with all these series, the emphasis is on engaging stories, but Grey Area works because it’s themes, plot, and characters synergise so well. Harrison’s art contributes no end to this as well. I will freely admit that the visuals of Grey Area can be hard to parse but that is intentionally so. The images are overlaid with digital projections and displays that cluster around the characters. Firefights descend into incomprehensible light-shows. Even alien anatomy can be hard to read. The point being that the characters exist in setting with beings they cannot always understand, with both too much and too little information to make an informed decision, and without a clear way forward. I can’t wait until it comes around again.