Friday, July 8, 2011

2000ad: Still surprising after 34 years

It wasn’t easy, but I swore off reading anything on the internet about 2000ad about a year ago, and that decision is still paying off handsomely.

It might take ten weeks to get around to this side of the world, but I manage to avoid almost any indication of what is coming up. I still pick up certain bits and pieces of information – I know Nikolai Dante is back very soon because Tharg told me and Colin has been raving about its brilliance again – but I generally have no idea what is going to be in any individual prog until I grab it from a shelf at the Victoria Street Newsagent in Auckland.

And so it was a genuine pleasure to crack open the latest issue of 2000ad the other day and discover an episode of Judge Dredd that has been drawn by Bryan Talbot.

I’m a fiend for Talbot’s work – I feel in love with Luther Arkwright at a worryingly impressionable age, adored the Nemesis The Warlock stuff he did after Kevin O’Neill bailed and look forward to his next Grandville comic with great enthusiasm – but I didn’t know he had drawn a new Dredd, his first work with the character in a quarter of a century. (He did do more Dredd after that story, but it was in Diceman, the 2000ad ChoseYourOwnAdventure spin-off, where he got the chance to draw Judge Death and his black-hearted cohorts.)

His latest work - Caterpillars - is a lovely little story with a great emotional twist in 2000ad prog 1730, written by Michael Carroll. It features Talbot’s usual sharp line, but has a new feel with Talbot’s son Alwyn supplying some distinctive inks and colours. That detailed Talbot art that looks like it was etched into the paper by hand is smothered in Talbot Jr’s fading haze, but it works really well for the story.

And at least it is something different. Talbot has been a ruthless fan of experimentation throughout his comics career, even if it hasn’t always been incredibly obvious. To see his art with a new sheen and a new glow is delightful.

New blood is the best blood, so it’s also worth noting that writer Michael Carroll has been doing some splendid stuff in Judge Dredd in recent months. The comic has certainly be suffering with a lack of stories by John Wagner so far this year, but Carroll has contributed several fine one-off stories that have been much better than expected.

It’s deceptively hard to get the Dredd tone right, Robbie Morrison’s Nikolai Dante is the best character in 2000ad these days, but his Judge Dredd is always a bit off, and the less said about the efforts of Mark Millar’s Dredd, the better.

But there are still those who play the right tune. Gordon Rennie’s stories can pass for a Wagner tale in the dim light, and Al Ewing is another writer to quickly merge his own style with the rigorous demands of Mega-City One.

Carroll has only contributed half a dozen stories so far, but there hasn’t been a clunker among them. They are short little tales that usually come with a nice twist and some small emotional resonance, along with the required amounts of gunplay humour and deadpan action.

It remains to be seen if he has anything to say beyond this, but he’s off to a fine start.

All in all, it’s a terrific reminder why 2000ad is still my favourite comic, and something I genuinely enjoy getting every week. There are still plenty of things I don’t like about the current comic – Flesh is another glorious Pat Mills mess that isn’t quite hanging together and things like Dandridge, Necrophim and Ampney Crucis do nothing for me – but there is always something worthwhile to find in every issue.

Whether it’s the return of a goddamn comics legend like Talbot with something new and interesting to show off, or the gradual development of a new talent, or even something as energetically idiosyncratic as Bob Byrne’s Twisted Tales, every single 2000ad – all 1730 of them – has something worthwhile.

And Dante is back next week. Diavolo! That’s always good news!

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