Tooth Review: 1567 & 1568

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Prog 1567One of the many things I’ve struggled to get around too after the New Year break is my weekly Tooth Review. A double helping here, and I think I may continue doing them in clumps as I’ve found I tend to repeat myself a lot.

Quote of the fortnight: “Great steamin’ arse’oles!” Stickleback in Stickleback.

Contents: Both issues feature a Judge Dredd one-off and the continuation of Shakara, Kingdom, Stickleback and Strontium Dog from Prog 2008.

Prog 1058Covers: 1567 – Cliff Robinson draws a dramatic Johnny Alpha fron Strontium Dog, being lowered into prison to set Billy Glum free. 1568 – Nick Percival (is he still alive?) draws Shakara. Of the two, I prefer the Nick Percival, mainly because it is something different and I love the EC-style lettering. Still not convinced by the new “double” logo which now fills a fifth of the whole page; we’ve gone down this road before and each time the logo has been scrapped because the editor found it too limiting.

Judge Dredd: In Magic Moments (1567), a magic using private detective helps Dredd dispatch a demon. In Gorilla/Z (1568), Dredd tracks down a Gorilla on the rampage. These two strips mark the return of Alan Grant to the strip after a period of more than 3 years. Sadly, it wasn’t worth the wait. And having followed his Anderson work over at the Megazine, sadly that comes as no surprise either.

The private detective in Magic Moments, Toots Milloy, appeared in an equally-forgettable Grant-penned one-off in Prog 1407. She’s basically brunette version of the early incarnation of Psi-Judge Anderson, all cheesecake and wacky one-liners. An adolescent boys’ wet dream, but not exactly substantial. Credit to David Roach however for illustrating the cheesecake (this strip also revolves around the very literal “Naked Ladies’ Club”) with such style.

The art by Mike Collins and Cliff Robinson is also the best thing about Gorilla/Z. The script here is, if anything, weaker than Magic Moments, revolving around a semi-intelligent gorilla (apes have been genetically modified in the world of Dredd to have roughly human intelligence) who takes offence at his elocution teacher’s rudeness and decides to remove a lot of people’s brains for no particular reason other than that he’s pissed off. Ho. Hum.

The real problem with both strips, and Grant’s post-Wagner-partnership Dredd in general, is that he just gets the character so wrong. In many ways he’s just as bad as Grant Morrison and Mark Millar, who never wrote the character as anything other than a one-dimensional bootboy. If that was all the character had going for him, he would have been quietly retired decades ago. When you’re used to Wagner’s more rounded version, and even the approximation that newer pretenders such as Gordon Rennie, Si Spurrier and Robbie Morrison can pull off, it just comes across as crass and unoriginal. Yes, we’ve seen Dredd arrest someone who seconds later had saved his life before Alan. We’ve moved on.

But the most unforgivable thing about Magic Moments is that he treats Dredd like he’s an idiot. The guy spends the entire strip gawping while Toots does all the hard work.

Alan Grant is not a bad writer, and I still enjoy his Robo-Hunter strips. I can’t help but feel though that he is better with 21 pages than when he is stuck with just 6. It’s a crying shame DC sacked him from Batman, but I’m not convinced Dredd suits his style. It would be nice to see him try his hand again at Strontium Dog (so long as he promised not to kill any main characters off again!).

Shakara: The Defiant, parts 2 and 3. The Psico Hierarchy decide to mass-lobotomise the frog-like inhabitants of Nirvanna, but Shakara is having none of it. Cue: lots of wonderful weirdness from Robbie Morrison and Henry Flint.

It isn’t difficult to detect the political subjext of this strip as it has been written in foot-high letters with a particularly thick marker pen: deny people freedom in the interests of “security” and you will end up with neither. So full marks for political correctness.

But of course, on another level this is a strip about a bunch of eyeballs fighting a load of frogs and a lunatic bondage freak who only says one word, so a desire for subtlety is perhaps misplaced. Overall, it is a visual feast with a well-judged sense of humour.

Kingdom: The Promised Land, parts 2 and 3. Gene The Hackman continues his journey. Severely wounded and near starvation, with the unexpected return of the “Urgings” (voices in his head from who he assumes are his creators), he discovers a farming community. There, he befriends a young girl called Leezee.

This is a fascinating strip as I genuinely don’t know where it’s going. Is Gene the key to this community’s salvation or destruction? Are they are as human as they look? Are the Urgings really his creators or Something Else? Every new episode seems to pose more questions than it answers.

It’s also a perfect blend of artist and script. Richard Elson is a remarkably versatile artist, capable of pulling off both space opera and Little House on the Prairie with equal aplomb, and that range is very important here. The reveal at the end of part three, with Leezee petting a seven foot tall dog soldier gorging himself on raw meat while asking her father “can I keep him?” is fantastic.

This is my favourite strip of the comic at the moment.

Stickleback: England’s Glory parts 2 and 3. Another strong writer-artist team up. Stickleback continues with the eponymous crimelord striking a deal to find a missing crown jewel in exchange for “an honest answer to a single question at a time and place of my choosing.” His gang tracks the jewel down to antique shop whereupon they encounter a Annie Oakley-alike with an assortment of supernatural creatures at her disposal.

Stickleback is a weird blend of Victoriana and fairy tale in which the monsters are the anti-heroes. Stickleback himself – a monstrously crippled Fagin – makes for an engaging character, although his supporting cast tend to be visually interesting cyphers.

As is par for the course with an Ian Edginton strip, much of the fun of the script revolves around his love of obscure and old fashioned dialect. D’israeli’s art is filled with detail for you to pore over. There are little details in the script as well, with sly references to Steptoe and Son, Only Fools and Horses and Porridge.

Whereas the first Stickleback strip was about exploring the mythical origins of London, this strip is about London versus the Other. But of course London is a city of immigrants, reflected by Stickleback’s own ethnically diverse group, so whether it will be as simple as Yanks versus Brits remains to be seen.

On a personal level, it is nice to see it revolve around Buffalo Bill’s circus as my great-grandfather worked for it. Couldn’t spot him in the crowd scene though.

Strontium Dog: The Glum Affair parts 2 and 3. Johnny rescues Billy Glum with an unwilling Wulf going along with it. Glum proves at first to be an uncooperative fugitive but eventually settles down enough to offer Johnny terms for his forgiveness (following his torture and Johnny’s apparent betrayal in “Traitor to His Kind”): they must raise a million creds to save an orphanage. All this while remaining on the lam of course.

I’ve been reading the early Strontium Dog strips during the Christmas break and thus far this strip is starting to remind me of Mutie’s Luck (Prog 189) in which Johnny and Wulf help Glum raise money for his residents’ association in a casino. It will be interesting to see to what extent this will continue.

As for the strip itself, it has been cracking along at a fair old pace. But thus far it has been lacking an edge. I sometimes wonder if Wagner is scared of making his Strontium Dog strips too dark as his Dredd output has darkened considerably in recent years. Traitor to His Kind was an exception to this, but this feels like the screwball heist sequel.

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