3 out of 5
I normally take these in six issue batches, but everything wrapped in ish 399 as a precursor for a bumper mag, so that’s that, m’dears.
Time to fess up: I was going to rate this lower until I went back over the contents of each issue and realized that the quality was actually pretty dang good! Like: better than average! Alas, it seems that I had such distaste for two of the strips that it really weighted my opinion, leaving a lingering sense of unenjoyability. That’s rare for the 2000 AD mags; I can normally mentally separate what I dig and don’t. So maybe that’s an accomplishment in itself: for something to break that ability?
The strips in question were: David Baillie’s Chopper, with art by Brendan McCarthy. I adore McCarthy, even if his work tends to very much look the same time and again, but he either needs to be his own scripter or be paired with someone with a keen sense of drive. I’m not a particular fan of Baillie’s, finding his writing both too wandering and too specific (plots wander; dialogue drills down distractingly), and for Chopper – a strip with which I have admittedly zero familiarity and still don’t, after this confusing entry – I feel like he attempted to mesh that same style with a purposefully surreal tale in order to have something suited for Brendan. Instead, it was just an unpleasant, uninteresting, nigh unreadable mess of psychedelic imagery and Aussie slang. I can’t even attempt to summarize this one, but a strip about a vigilant dream surfer set in Judge Dredd continuity should be a heckuva lot more fun than this was.
The second offender was Si Spencer The Returners, with art by (I believe) newcomer Nicolo Assirelli. This was equally unpleasant as Chopper, but for different reasons; something of a horror tale told within the South America of the Dreddverse, Assirelli’s art was moody but created zero sense of space, and Spencer’s characters – something something conjuring a dead soul to gain powers and I’m butchering the plot but I was not engaged – are all rather obnoxious. As with Baillie, I’m admittedly not a Spencer fan, though I have enjoyed some of his previous stuff. But Returners just never found a footing, plot-wise – we seemed to jump right in while at the same time never feeling like we were really “in” anything – and was too much of a dredge through bland panels and blah characters to pass muster in that state.
…There was also the DREDD movie-verse Judge Death take, by Alex De Campi and Henry Flint, which I didn’t enjoy because I find the DREDD stuff an uncomfortable fit in the mag, but I appreciate that it has its fans, and I think this was a valid attempt to stuff the Dead World into that “more grounded” timeline. And I probably appreciated it more than the Deadverse painted stuff in 2000 AD.
To the good stuff:
A string of quality Dredds, with the willfully goofy Krong Island from Wyatt and Flint, and two of our best, current 2000 AD / Meg writers, Michael Carroll and Rory McConville, backed up by John Higgins and Staz Johnson, respectively. McConville is what helped to really keep the mag afloat in this run, pulling triple duty on an interesting Cursed Earth Koburn strip, in which the titular judge applies his laid back swagger to quell the actions of a more vigilant (and crazy judge), and a second Devlin Waugh strip, which pulls a Grant Morrison in its final act and creates an entire universe of stories between issues. In 398 and 399, the Absalom gang of Rennie and Tiernen Trevallion give us a prequel to the Rennie-written Strange Brigade video game coming up. A crackerjack team of explorers, fending off curses and spirits and the like, it’s Rennie in ridiculous overdrive, and it was severely more hilarious than it had any right to be, given that it’s tied to a video game. But heck yeah, mission accomplished: I’m buying.