2000 AD (progs #2234 – 2245) – Various

4 out of 5

Obviously I’m not the only 2000 AD reader out there, so while I might have occasional “outsider” opinions that aren’t carried by the mag’s readers on the whole, I’m certainly never alone, and then there’re going to be those great times when my takes sync up with the ones that gain traction: namely my love for recent writers Kenneth Niemand and Rory McConville, and so heck yes is it a good week when both writers appear with strips wholly credited to them. That’s certainly enough to make this run of progs worthwhile, but then we also get some very solid Dredds from Wagner, the Rennies adding to Mechastopheles lore, replaced by Gordon continuing with more Aquila goodness, plenty of SinDex from Abnett, and a tolerable and competent – because it’s not my favorite strip – Skip Tracer.

Kicking things off in the Dredd slots, our every-now-and-then appearance from Chris Weston on writing and art, bringing down Rowdy Yates block! When Weston has time to bring his talents to bear, it’s generally with an eye on fun, and this strip doesn’t disappoint in that regard, feeling both celebratory of past history and also adding a new notch to it. After this, Niemand stops in for a oner, with Dylan Teague on art. This is a great pairing – Teague has a very European look to their art, and I hope we keep seeing their appearance – and Niemand, as usual, has a great take on the Dreddverse, focusing his narrative on some perps in holding to do the Wagner trick of juggling humor with a reminder that the authoritarian MC-1 kinda sucks. Colin MacNeil and Chris Blythe art up on Wags’ Removal Man after that; interestingly, both this and Wagner’s following strip are about assassins, with this former one a more humorous take – a hitman has to keep killing random marks who’ve seen his previous murders – versus the much heavier ‘Now That’s What I Call Justice’. Removal Man wins out for me, with MacNeil and Blythe keeping a moody noir look to the art, paralleling some of the humor, and sticking with the killer’s narrative throughout gives it an eventually strongly emotive throughline. Followup ‘Justice’ features some of John Higgins’ best art yet. Higgins has been around a long while, and I’ve enjoyed his efforts, but lately – starting with his work on Carroll’s Judges entry – he’s been able to combine his terseness with more appropriately “comic book” layouts, while maintaining his cinematic stylings and digital touches. The story, though, concerning a killer masking his revenge-geared motives under Justice Watch killings, was maybe poorly timed – I kept confusing it with something similarly structured being published concurrently in the Meg – and also tapped into that occasional feeling of my not having the whole story; that there were previously Dredd events being referenced that would’ve made the tale click. It’s still a good read, even if the titular show that calls out top Judge killings (which is used as something of frame for the story) feels a little dated, and certainly wholly understandable even without knowing what (if anything) is being referenced.

Chimpsky’s Law from Ken Niemand and PJ Holden. This was ambitious. Chimpsky has been an awesome addition to the Dreddverse, with his occasional appearances quite a hoot. Can he carry his own title? Yes, absolutely: he follows some clues to a spacecraft / living quarters for a rich family, who exclusively employ apes as their servants, with the lead that something devious is going to happen. Going undercover, it turns into a mix of a rescue operation as well, wanting to release his mates from servitude, while also solving the “mystery” of who summoned him there and why. It admittedly gets a little cluttered going into its final stretch, adding in a fight when more intellectual Chimpsky antics might’ve been more entertaining, but I also bet this will be a great first chapter in a trade, should more Chimpsky happen and get collected.

A similar plus / minus occurs with McConville’s Department K, which immediately made the crossover from the Regeneds into the prog, which is super awesome. Arted by another emerging fave, Dan Cornwell, K – and Justice division dedicated to multiversal fare – is all super bright colours (Len O’Grady) and Kirbyisms, as our group of judges and robots and aliens travels to a realm with a dead god, and gets involved in a scuffle with the race responsible for it. The dialogue and pacing of this is a great mix of the intelligentsia and who’s-on-first patter Rory can bring to his writing, and just the imagination of the story (and beautiful visuals) make it a fun read. But it’s also a lot of ideas, reminding me somewhat of the first, overwhelming entry of Proteus Vex, and so I’m again looking forward to reading a (hopefully) collected version.

Gordon Rennie / Lawrence Rennie on Mechastopheles, Boo Cook arting. Smartly (and I’m sure uncoincidentally) coinciding with a Meg floppy reprinting the previous Mecha strips, that sort of proved the case of the above two strips – Mechastopheles was an awesome concept of demon-infused kaiju, but it also felt like a lot packed into minimal space (appearing in 3rillers), and so gave me that tinge of “I love this but I don’t understand it;” reading it collected cleared all that up, paving the way for me to really enjoy this new entry, which has Mecha engaged in underwater fisticuffs while there are battles raging within its confines for its control. Boo would’ve seemed like such an odd match here, but the art ends up being perfect, as though the option to go buck wild with demon designs encouraged the artist to find balance, leading to a much more solid, unbouncy look than I’ve seen Cook previously offer. Right after this, Rennie goes to Aquila’s continued travels through Hades, with gorgeously brutal art from Patrick Goddard. On the one hand, I suppose this is more of the same – Aquila has some end goal, and slaughters his way there – but we’ve built up enough of a cast to be able to add plenty of dimension to that, and we’re also deep enough into Aquila’s trek that he’s not just a Kratos spin-off, but has some personality. The setting here also gives Rennie room to bring in a ton (more) mythology references. And to be more clear: I’ve enjoyed Aquila throughout, when it’s been at its most brutal up through now, but it’s succeeded because Rennie has tweaked its tone slightly to lean more into story, humor, or horror as appropriate.

SinDex – man, I was thirsting for this, wanting to know where we were going after Finny’s apparent death. We can assume, because comic books, that he’s coming back, but then again… there aren’t as many rules in 2000 AD’s-verses demanding as such. The route Abnett ends up taking here – with Yeowell on art, and the strip just called “Sinister” – is logical, with the rogue AI plotline, but nonetheless interesting, as Abnett knows to dive fully into it: Sinister is now essentially a bad guy, and there’s no asides suggesting otherwise. Yeowell, while classic, is traditionally a bit too loose and streamlined for my tastes – sometimes he’s perfect, but more often than not it doesn’t hit all marks for me – and now that our lead characters look pretty similar from afar, that simplisticness doesn’t help. When the strip transitions to “Dexter,” Tazio Bettin’s art and John Charles’ colors blow me away in comparison. Bettin has Higgins’ weight, but panels feel a bit more spacious, and then Charles lifts them up even more with solid colour blends and very defined choices – each element of each panel pops. Because SinDex moves quickly, and in short arcs, some of this story feels underserved, but that doesn’t make it unexciting, and assuming one’s investment in the characters, Abnett really is a pro and making each week end on a stinger, requiring next week’s read to come as soon as possible.

Skip Tracer. Nolan has a daughter, some baddies return, and there’s a fight. Yes, I’m short on description because the strip doesn’t interest me that much, but I’d also say part of the reason for that is because it’s so generic. Nolan is a generic dude who spouts predictable lines; the bad guys are similarly generic mustache-twirlers who spout their predictable lines; and the plots tend to be pretty action-flick standard. Not that “future cop in dystopian society” is all that original, I suppose, but obviously many of the sci-fi tropes in Dredd and its spin-offs are enlivened by their casts and the world-building that’s gone on over the decades. Writer James Peaty wants to color in lines that’ve already been made, and there’s really nothing wrong with that, especially if that’s what you’re looking for – solid, satisfying actionry. Previous Tracers have left me cold because there were touches of Peaty wanting to make the strip into something “more,” and that didn’t sit well with its genericness, but this set of thrills came across as willfully happy to lean into its normality. It doesn’t linger in any one moment for too long, or pretend like its twists are especially twisty, and Paul Marshall has really settled into the world – the art looks great. I’m positive there are readers digging this more (and appreciating nuance I’m not seeing), given its repeated appearances; this was, for me, the best Tracer yet, if still not especially exciting or original.