2000 AD (progs #2281 – 2286) – Various

3 out of 5

Kenneth Niemand and Dredd, really carrying the show. This was a really punishing arc, carrying through with something thematically Niemand has done in a few of his Dredd tales: really making us care about the also-rans in the Dreddverse. These become not just temporary side characters, rather, fully lived-in people we hope find some peace in MC-1. But that’s… difficult to do. “An Honest Man” follows on A Penitent Man, ex-Judge, Titan-term survivor Kyle Asher’s tale continuing, as he tries to make good – in a not necessarily legal way, unfortunately – on the crimes that sent him to Titan. This is very much a twist-the-knife noir, fittingly somberly arted by Tom Foster, with humanistic coloring from Chris Blythe, and has a pitch-perfect ending, which leaves us teetering between bleakness and hope. I wonder if we’ll see more of Asher…

Brink’s arc continues (at 16 parts and going!) to be very, very talky. That doesn’t make it uninteresting, with reporter Maz finding deeply concerning connections between sect activity and HabSec and more, his investigations happening concurrently to (I think) the original Brink arc, but it’s been a bit unclear what Abnett has wanted us to get from each individual part of this story, making it a slow roll-out. I believe, whole-heartedly, that this will be of great importance and impact once its completed, and can be considered in context with the whole tale, but week to week, the high level is: very talky.

Hope offered some focus, at first, with magic-using PI Mallory trying to assist on a cursed film production, but the usual problems I have with the script have crept up: artist Jimmy Broxton’s weird digital layering and propensity for celebrity-infused character work is just distracting (the movie setting allowing him to go especially overboard on the latter), and Guy Adams’ story goes almost immediately off-track, to the extent where it’s completely unclear what we’re investigating, and why. A good example of Adams’ approach is in prog #2286 – we spend the whole prog on a confusing gambit for Mallory to procure a particular item, and nothing specific about the gambit itself matters, just the endpoint. And that endpoint is again just used for a single beat in the following week’s strip. This is the nature of Hope: it never quite feels like what we’re reading is of consequence to the story, except in the most fleeting fashion.

Fiends of the Eastern Front mostly holds on until its last couple of entries. I really liked advancing Constanta’s story to a later age – 1963 – with the vamp doing a form of undercover work, but Edginton kept working in other occult angles that started to confuse me, and this really doubled and tripled down the further along we went. Part of this was due to my expectations, for sure: I wanted this to be a more focused espionage affair, and it became much more action oriented, with lots of Ultimate Showdowns between creepy creatures. Tiernan Trevallion’s angular, black-and-white stylings continue to be a perfect match, though, and I absolutely didn’t mind reading this, I just wanted something different from it; Edginton’s stuff tends to expand in giant steps like this did, and, for me, that reads better when collected.

Filling in the extra slots, we got an amazingly tight Sin-Dex arc, with wonderfully horror-ful, shadow-dripping art from Tazio Bettin. I love how flexible SinDex has become, with Ramone on the run and taking us through worlds far removed from the cityscape of Downlode. Here, we get Southern gothic: our runaways hide out in a tech-adverse, religious commune. But, y’know, there’s a locked barn, and there can’t be anything bad in there, right? Lots of fun.

After this, John Tomlinson commits several really cramped-for-space Future Shocks / Terror Tales. I will say that the two shocks were fairly awful: very try hard for “edgy” humor and commentary, and not edited such that they read too clearly – page flow and the “point” of much of the dialogue felt off. His Terror Tale was better, but still suffered from similar pacing issues.