3 out of 5
The thrills are all sorts of promising, but ultimately short. …Excepting Dan Abnett’s and Mark Harrison’s The Out, which is the most amazing thing ever written besides all of Dan Abnett’s other 2000 AD masterpieces.
To start: Rob Williams takes us on a long Dredd ride – still going beyond these progs – which has Dreddy facing off against the four Biblical horsemen. This setup is akin to the other grand, (generally awesome sounding) ideas Williams has been scripting across his last few Dredd tales, but there’s an unfortunate parallel here with The Dark Judges that never allows the threat to feel like its own thing. And then on top of that, Williams does this wacky, meta crossover with Ichabod Azrael, which I have to admit had me mighty impressed at the ballsiness of such a move (mixing one’s own mythology with the Dreddverse), and I really liked the concept of Azrael, even if the execution was ultimately iffy… but after the initial shock of the move, it doesn’t feel like it adds enough to the story. So this is the “falling short of its promise” part 1.
The Caballistics-verse continues in ‘The Diaboliks,’ in which Solomon Ravne and Jenny are waylaid into putting their demonic powers to use for some secret agency or another, at first gathering like-minded individuals to their cause in La Vita Malvagia, then going demon hunting in Profondo Rosso. Gordon Rennie’s script is punchy as all heck; you get the sense he loves these two characters, and their dialogue and the way Rennie hops into and out of bloody action and horror is generally a fun time, but… unfortunately, original artist Dom Reardon, handling the Malvagia arc, has lost a step or two over the years. His pages are rather clunkily choreographed and laid out, making a lot of the beats fall flat. Promise-shorting #2. Thankfully, Antonio Fuso comes in on the Rosso half of the tail and it’s a complete 180: wild page designs, tons of personality, and a thrill that had been an aw-shucks bit of a slog flips on the lights to become something for which I’m impatient for the next installment…
The Order continues. I’ve expressed my resignations with the way this strip works, and they’re still firmly in place. I admittedly have completely lost the thread of this story, which I’m sure doesn’t help, but I blame the way Kek-W lurches between scenes, with artist John Burns either embellishing that with layouts that suggest scene and character changes when non have occurred, or perhaps it’s that he’s just following Kek’s already conflicted directions, which stagger from conversation to conversation in a manner where it’s unclear if anyone is actually speaking to anyone else, or just pontificating randomly. My bias is clear. I should love a story on alternate timelines and weirdo time worms and thinking robots and something else, but I just feel punished whenever I try to follow the story.
Alex De Campi’s Full Tilt Boogie makes the leap from Regened to the weekly. I’m half-and-half on this: this was a strip I wanted to see more of, and I think it’s really cool that Tharg / Matt Smith is so attentive as to his readers’ feedback that he’s flexible enough to make moves like this, but the serialized version of our space-faring bounty hunter (and her ghost grandmother, talking spaceship, and mutant cat) seems to jump right into world-building stuff, which thus loses the kind of straight-forward charm the Regened entry had. The strip also sort of puts the main character off to the side in favor of focusing on a familial war involving a bounty our lead has picked up, undercutting a lot of potential tension… I didn’t unenjoy the story, as I like De Campi’s offhand dialogue style, and the ease with which the strip incorporates a lot of kooky ideas, but: promises, promises #3. However, I hope we get another shot at the strip.
SinDex bounce along here and there in this run of progs, with Abnett really leaning in to the alternate timeline / reality stuff in a fun way. I do hope these get collected, though, as the short 2-parter way this strip tends to run reads better when you can get a whole chunk of story / stories in one sitting.
And: The Out. The Out is worth a yearly subscription all on its own. The Out is a perfect match for Mark Harrison’s busy, layered art style, and the perfect middlepoint for Abnett between the tone of Lawless, and Brink, and Grey Area. It’s such a simple idea but it’s so dang human and yet so dang weird at the same time as to be genius: imagine a Natural Geographic-esque photographer… but in space. That’s your elevator pitch. But now said photographer, Cyd, has gone so far into the outer-reaches that Earthlings are an unknown entity, and she no longer really knows how to get back home if she wanted to – like, where Earth is at this point. Also, her publisher isn’t responding to her messages anymore.
It’s a cool enough idea on its own, but Abnett’s tweak on it presents it as this super heavy contemplation on identity – heavy, and yet with the same sort of bounciness of the Harrison-era of Grey Area – which just gets more and more engaging as Dan continues to edge Cyd’s adventures into compelling and surprising directions. Harrison’s occasionally overwhelming miasma’s of pencils and digitals and weird color blends has either been purposefully toned down, or he’s just adapted a slightly less busy style for this strip, but the art just comes to life here; Cyd – and all of her alien associates, and the various settings – have an immediate presence. Every entry of this has been stellar.
Not a bad batch of progs, despite the disappointments. I mean, some of that is just my expectations getting the better of me, and with Full Tilt Boogie, I’m planning on giving it another read, so it can’t be such a bad thing overall. And for every Order, you have an Out, so… we’re doing okay, leading in to next prog’s next Regened entry.