Tooth Review: 1551 (obligatory spoiler warning)

Cover to Prog 1551Spoilers below…

The Cover: a beautiful picture of Blackblood (A.B.C. Warriors) by Clint Langley.

Judge Dredd: Time’s Squared. Edginton and D’Israeli are a creative powerhouse, so it is a shame this is such a duff strip. Well, the conceit is cute enough – basically 19th century time traveller tussles with the Law. Indeed, this is the third outing for “Herbert George Sewell” – but that is part of the problem. First of all, it’s hard to remember what happened in the last prequel to this strip 18 months ago, let alone what happened in the first strip of this series 3 years ago, so the motivations of the main characters (basically 3 future versions of Sewell and Sewell himself who spring him from prison) are largely lost on me. Secondly, the conceit has been used before – not just here but dozens of times. It’s a sci-fi staple and while it can be diverting if done well, it isn’t a strong enough concept to keep returning to with the same character again and again.

Still, I enjoy D’Israeli’s style so no complaints there. It is also fun having them go back in time through Dredd’s history (but will new readers understand the references to Judgement Day, the Apocalypse War, the Cursed Earth, the Robot Wars and Origins? I think not). Overall though, this is filler work by creators who can do much better.

Caballistics, Inc. Ashes Part 1. Again, this strip suffers from having been away for a while and relying on the reader to recall the backstory. Even a fan of the series such as myself struggles in places – the occasional background page would be appreciated folks!

In this case, however, it is worth the effort. Caballistics, Inc is – fundamentally – what Torchwood ought to be but isn’t. It’s a great mixture of classic Quatermass-style sci-fi horror and more contemporary, transatlantic schlock (via pretty much every single British horror staple you can think of). Although Gordon Rennie assures us in Thrill Power Overload that he’s making the strip up as he goes along, it seemed to spring into life fully formed when it started a few years ago and, alongside Nikolai Dante, is in my view one of the few series created post-1986 that really holds its own against the classics.

This new story starts at Jonathan Brand’s funeral (Brand was the main character at the start of the series, so perhaps Rennie really is making it up as he goes along) and quickly gets into the main plot which concerns a mega psychic baddie (who was the subject of a one-off a few years ago) being on the loose and the team having to track him down. A Brigadier – who looks distinctly Leighbridge-Stewart like – makes a cameo appearance, and we get to meet the owner of Caballistics, Ethan Costabi – possibly for the first time (or possibly not – I can’t remember – you see my problem?).

The last page of this week’s episode is the best, a simple scene with the Big Bad casually using his psychic powers to manipulate a couple of police officers. It’s understatement makes it all the more powerful, with the reader left in no doubt that the officers are about to go off and commit the most appalling acts, yet it is talked about in the most casual of ways. Chilling and funny at the same time.

A big shout to Dom Reardon whose art very much makes this strip. Yes, he evokes Mike Mignola, but he’s made the two-tone style very much his own. Apparently the strip was originally pigeon-holed for Frazer Irving (see below), who would have been great, but rather more cartoony. I don’t think anyone could top Reardon’s Demon Jenny and I’m pleased that he hasn’t been snapped up by better paying US comic companies (yet).

A.B.C. Warriors. The Volgan War V.2 E.2. Not much to add about this that I didn’t say last week. I have to admit I like Clint Langley’s depiction of Blackblood, who is in many ways the most fun A.B.C. Warrior (well, at least when Joe Pineapples isn’t wearing women’s frilly knickers). Joss Whedon should be taking notes – Pat Mills’ characterisation of Blackblood is a great example of how to do an emasculated evil character who is forced to work for the good guys (I’m watching Buffy Season 5 at the moment and finding the scenes when Spike gets all mushy hard to take).

Nice touches: the way the Hammersteins literally ‘drop arms’ (this was in volume 1 as well, but I wasn’t reviewing back then); another name check of Howard Quartz which hopefully suggests we’ll be seeing him again for the first time in decades; the insertion of the BEAR robots was surprisingly contemporary (while given a sci-fi spin, these are actually currently in development for the US military, but the media only picked up on them a couple of months ago). On the downside, the dialogue between Blackblood and the Colonel about “General Public” was clumsy and annoying. Still, it’s all humming along nicely.

Stone Island: The Harrowers Part 2. We’re definitely still in video game territory here, with the main protagonists captured by the military and asked to take the fight to the nasty aliens in their own dimension. A bit of a weak episode which didn’t live up to the promise of last week’s for me.

Button Man IV: The Hitman’s Daughter, Part 1. Annoyingly, this is wrongly credited to Ian Edginton and Simon Davis, the Stone Island creators. In fact, the art is clearly Frazer Irving and one can infer that the script is John Wagner (since he co-owns the copyright!).

Surprising to not see Arthur Ranson drawing this. Button Man was, for me, his finest hour and again, he co-owns the copyright (people confused why this is the case when most 2000AD stuff is work-for-hire should understand that Button Man was one of several strips which made it to 2000AD when the wholly creator-owned Toxic! folded). Still, Frazer Irving is hardly a poor substitute. I’ve always been a big fan of his and I’m frankly amazed he hasn’t already been ‘discovered’ by America (he has an Image comic out at the moment with Si Spurrier which is advertised on the back page, but personally I haven’t even seen it in comic shops).

The great thing about Irving is his willingness to experiment. His style here is worlds apart from the style he adopted in Necronauts, which in turn was wildly different from Storming Heaven and the Simping Detective. Here he adopts a much more naturalistic style, which of course fits with the more mundane setting.

Button Man is the everyday story of hitman-folk, specifically ones who partake in a bizarre bloodsport in which they hunt each other for the enjoyment of rich, mysterious men. The lead character was one Harry Exton (think Get Carter – the good Michael Caine one), who when we last saw him was butchering his way through the people who ran the Killing Game after being dragged back in.

This strip starts as a flashback through a child’s eyes, in which her hitman father is murdered in front of her by Exton and other Button Men. It doesn’t take a genius to work out what’s going to happen next.

Button Man 3 was, in my view, fantastic, told in the same taut writing style that Wagner used for A History of Violence (which, as you should know has been filmed by David Cronenburg). Not surprisingly therefore, this strip has also been auctioned. The earlier stories however were a little perfunctory and humourless. So far, the fourth volume is also rather gag-free, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This is likely to be a slow burner, so it is too early days to see how it is likely to turn out.

Next week: more of the same. Judge Dredd apparently will involve something to do with ‘trial by Dury’ which – if we’re really lucky – will be something to do with rhythm sticks and reasons to be cheerful.

Oh, and a quick plug for the Megazine, also out this week, in which the latest P. J. Maybe story is coming along nicely. I’m not reviewing the Megazine for the rather prosaic reason that I rarely get around to reading all of it in one go. Monthly anthologies are really hard to follow as your memory goes cold by the time the next issue is out. On the other hand, maybe that’s a good reason to review it, so I can remind myself what happened the previous month. One step at a time.

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