2 out of 5
Dig: I really don’t like the strip ‘Hope.’ I didn’t think much of its premiere, I haven’t really enjoyed Jimmy Broxton’s digitally touched artwork in general, and ‘Under Fire’ – featured in this run of progs – had me eye-rolling hard at its forced narrative and clunky dialogue. This is personal preference, of course, but it certainly tainted my read of these issues. This, combined with a writer I also haven’t had much luck with – Kek-W – and a particular strip of his that I’m realizing doesn’t work for me because I’ve never been sold on the point of it – Deadworld – and then with a new Defoe entry that, though sufficiently bonkers, is not served by the art well at all… means I didn’t have much to look forward to here. Thankfully, I am an Abnett fan, which made the return of Brink appreciated (though to keep the low blows a’rolling, this has been a rather slowburn, underwhelming story), and Wagner turned in a pretty fun Dredd standoff, backed up by a Michael Carroll joint, and I love me some Michael Carroll.
Guatemala, the first of the two featured Dredd arcs, pits Joe against a nation of droids, modeled after any given dictator-ruled country, though I’m sure there are some more specific snipes in there. The droids see it as their right to be able to farm humans for various purposes, and they’ve taken a captive which calls forth the attentions of the MC-1 police. The leader of the droids (and his underlings) are hilarious, given a lot of personality by artist Colin MacNeil. Their machinations are purposefully brewing war… but Dredd is, as always, a few steps ahead. Following this is a four parter from Caroll: an interesting mystery involving swiped body parts. The story is quality, but the painted art from Nick Percival doesn’t quite capture the action beats, and the featured judge besides Dredd isn’t drawn in a distinctive enough manner for us to be able to tell the difference.
In Defoe’s The Divisor, Mills whips up a complete genre shift that has Defoe battling aliens and going in to space. This should be pretty great, given your tolerance of Mills’ in your face writing style; I’m always on the fence with Pat’s stuff, including Defoe, but I like it conceptually and actually dig it when it feels focused, and I found myself leaning toward the ‘dig it’ side of things for most of this run… only to be constantly foiled by the art. Newcomer (to Defoe) SK Mills is just not suited for black and white. It’s a problem when everything on the page is so dense detailed but so flat that you can’t even find the title card; Mills seems aware of the need for depth, adding some computer-tweaked blurring and focus, but the way it’s applied it only ends up making the art harder to parse. His designs for the bad guys (and spaceship) were incredibly cool, which made it more frustrating that I was unable to connect his imagery with a feeling of sequential storytelling. I wanted to like this one, but, like Hope (though for very different reasons), I really ended up not looking forward to it.
In Brink, Bridgett has been demoted / moved to a “regular” position in a crimes unit, again getting used to working the “streets” instead of undercover Sect crime business. Seeing her navigate the politics between her bosses and peers is fun, as is the return to the grimy back alleys in which the strip started, but Abnett rather purposefully buries the lede on what the arc is going to focus on, with the titular Hate Boxes – automated swearing detectors – only becoming essential parts of the story very late on. We like these characters, so it’s still a good read, just slow to the punch.
Hope. Mallory’s supernatural buddy is stolen from him by a gangster, after some of the laziest story padding I’ve read in quite some time, along with plot machinations that feel like they contradict themselves within pages. (Something is “impossible”… except for this really obvious workaround.) To be fairer – because it always sucks to rag on something like it’s inarguably “bad” when it’s just my opinion – if this character or the art style grabbed me more, the “padding” probably wouldn’t feel as such. But the method by which Mal’s Cade is taken from him felt like it went on for too long, and was too predictable. I felt the same when he shifts into remorse over losing Cade; and when he starts his plotting to get it back… A lot is “voiced” aloud that didn’t seem necessary, with a hackneyed backstory to shoehorn in character depth.
In Deadworld, the Sovs attack and get deaded. I get (I think) that the appeal here is watching the progress of the world turn completely over to the Dead Judges, but this has been disappointing me in its application of that from the start. The series kicked off with a promise of showing the downfall, and quickly turned in to The Walking Dead instead, which has a very similar meh effect on me: it’s generic characters doing generic things in a panic, with death at the hands of zombies (or dead judge takeover) used to sprinkle on drama as needed. Dave Kendall’s painted art has gotten better and better at depicting motion, but none of the characters have much personality to engage with, and Kek-W’s writing style is generally sort of an “everything happens at once” approach, which doesn’t leave room for tension to actually rise and fall.
Of course, each of these strips has its fans, and the ratio of what you like to what you don’t is going to determine your success here. For me, it was a pretty slim few months.