We continue with Fentor Coulthurt’s review of 2000AD stories:
The Small House is the culmination of an ongoing plot that’s been building for some time. Dredd has discovered the existence of a black ops squad run by the clandestine Judge Smiley. He has only a handful of allies he can trust to take Smiley and his shadow organisation down.
There are indeed some flaws in the series. There are too many minor characters filling space and contributing nothing. Worse the clarity of the storytelling becomes muddled in what is not an over-complicated plot. Early on we learn of a mole in Dredd’s ranks. Writer Rob Williams misses the opportunity to sustain a mystery by revealing their identity early. Nor do we get a game of cat-and-mouse as Dredd and the mole try to outmanoeuvre each other. In fact, the art suggests that Dredd has sussed the infiltrator out and yet does nothing. A missed opportunity and a surprising hiccup.
Despite these issues, I have to commend the strong theming of the story. It very much poses questions about Dredd’s ethos and his relationship to the development of Megacity 01. Smiley directly addresses how much Dredd has drifted from his defining principle, the one this comic is meant to parody: “I came to you today to remind you of something inherent in our core that you seem to have forgotten… we are fascists.”
In the end a thematically thought-through story but a regrettably uneven one.
Fiends of the Eastern Front
This represents the return of what was thought a concluded run for Fiends and it is a welcome return. Now moving to the Napoleonic Wars after the first outing in WWII, we follow a young French officer who meets the insidious Captain Constanta and his blood-thirsty platoon. The appeal of this series is comparable to Hellboy: a mixture of light horror with pulpy adventure invading an otherwise mundane reality. If the concept alone did not appeal, Fiends has consistently captivating art courtesy of Dave Taylor. It’s moody and takes advantage of shadow and lighting to great effect, not to mention the visceral creature design. All told a great treat and happily returning through 2019 for another story of Captain Constanta in WWI.
When this series debuted, I chastised it for not standing out from the pack. Another strip about a sci-fi manhunter. Yawn. With this latest story Legion, I feel vindicated by that assessment. Skip Tracer has nothing to distinguish itself.
Legion involves a wholly unoriginal and uninteresting villain. The art is vague in defining the space the story takes place in and captures little in the way of mood. The story promises more insight into Nolan Blake’s (ufff… that name) relationships and history but delivers nothing beyond cliché. There’s also more emphasis on battling with psychic powers, so now he reads as a bland knock-off of Judge Anderson rather than of Dredd, Durham Red or Johnny Alpha.
I don’t take any pleasure in saying this about Skip Tracer, but I have to because I take no pleasure in reading it.
I’m glad to see Sinister Dexter back on form. The last outing felt rather rushed with its production values and less substantive material. We’re back to a very parodic feel for the two gun-sharks in The Sea Beneath the City, as the pair become ensnared by an ambitious nautically-themed Bond villain. Steve Yeowell’s art brings both detail and scale to the hijinx, and I was genuinely laughing consistently at the gags and quips throughout this little stint. I hope we’ll see Sinister Dexter delivering like this consistently in the future.
Alongside Sinister Dexter, Dan Abnett has a smattering of other series in the final roster of 2018. The second is the latest instalment in his post-apocalyptic anthropomorphised-dog battle saga, Kingdom. What I find most interesting about Kingdom is Abnett’s enthusiasm for utterly destroying and rebuilding the status quo of this comic with every new run. There is continuity, of course, and we are still following Gene the Hackman as he fights tooth and claw for survival, but the context in which he does this continues to change radically and regularly.
As a result, certain elements of the story never get a chance to bed in, and interesting developments may be terminated abruptly before their impact can really be felt. Despite this, Kingdom remains an engaging read, not least because this iconoclastic approach means we know the decisions of the characters – both good and bad – have stakes. There will be no cheap get-out if the heroes fail to stop a nuclear strike: we know what the writer is capable of.
The last of Dan Abnett’s series to fill out the roster this time is Brink, returning to its world of police procedural intrigue, space-bound dystopia, and the soft sinister suggestion of truly dark goings on just beyond the borders of our perception. If you couldn’t tell, I adore this series. Brink excels because it places the value of its storytelling on several pillars and each one is solidly built.
As a procedural, it is thorough, logical and satisfying, with each run tackling a different type of investigation to keep the plots varied. In this case, we follow Bridget on an undercover operation within a corporate enclave. This provides ample chance for delving into corporate espionage too.
The dystopian setting is integral to the story which could only work in a universe where humans are pressed tightly into overpopulated space stations. The pressure, psychological toll, and premium on space all weigh on the story, and naturally distil a sense of claustrophobia and entrapment, so wonderfully captured by Inj Culbard’s stylised art.
Stories with a Lovecraftian influence can suffer because the prime threat is nominally unknowable, yet Lovecraftian horror is thoroughly chartered at this point. In Brink, the nature of what exactly is going on remains always at a few points of remove. It is looming but veiled and indistinct. Although Cthuloid overtones are present, Abnett and Culbard have done nothing to tie themselves to any particular resolution to the great overarching mystery of Brink. And that forbidden knowledge is forever teasing the reader and drawing them in.