3 out of 5
Over the course of 8 or 12 part thrills, the exceptions are the ones that are awesome from start to finish. Generally, you’ll get some wandering or misfires during the thrill, but as long as those moments from each thrill aren’t happening at the same time, you can still come out with a prime monthly bundle. Unfortunately, while all of the tales in this month’s collection start off great – including Slaine, which is never to my tastes – the only one that ends up holding out week to week is Wagner and Ezquerra’s Strontium Dog, making it an average set of progs overall. However, of note is Matt Smith’s continual conquering of marketing: the jumping-on prog (1924) has some nifty summary pages to get new readers caught up on pertinent details for the featured thrills.
For our Dredd story, we get ‘Enceladus: New Life’, which follows up on a thread involving disgraced judges who were jailed on Titan and escaped to ice planet Enceladus. As mentioned, the opening chapter is interesting, giving us enough background in case we’re not familiar with the prior incident (which I’m not), leading up to a ship targeting Earth seeming to come from the planet and Dredd’s overzealous response to it… and then everyone’s troubled confusion when the ship appears empty. We then logically flip to Enceladus for the other side of the story, and here is where Rob Williams’ script loses steam, as it begins to hop back and forth within a timeline and it’s a tad confusing nailing down the order of events, especially when his narrative requires withheld information from hop to hop for its twists and turns. Once the timelines catch up to each other (which I suspect will happen in the next batch of thrills), things should bubble up nicely, but it’s a bit off-putting for now. And Henry Flint seems to be trying out a slightly slicker look with his art; it’s becoming more clearly Ezquerra influenced, but it feels less imbued with personality than his previous Dredd work. I’m probably making this up, of course, but I just didn’t get a nice ‘wow’ from the art and I’m supposing when Flint feels comfortable with whatever changes he’s attempting that sensation will come back.
Orlok returns via Arthur Wyatt and Jake Lynch for a caper involving the kidnapping of an important artist: Rasputin. This arc appears more strictly humorous than Wyatt / Lynch’s last go, which is to its benefit, featuring the hilarious ‘Black Widower’ as a competitor for ownership of Rasputin. Lynch’s art is stronger than the previous Orlok series; much more confident and reminiscent of Yeowell when he’s at his best – easy characterizations; excellently choreographed action and smart and concise panelling. But while the individual elements of this bit are funny, the caper is derailed early by a trip to a robot town and it feels a bit like Wyatt’s trying too hard to swerve to get some extra yuks in there (along with a way too timely Mad Max: Fury Road nod). As with the Dredd story, it looks like things will be back on track next month, though.
Slaine. My problems with Slaine are probably more about Pat Mills’ writing style not being to my tastes, and the character in general seems prone to wandering storylines… ‘Brutania Chronicles’ Book Two, though, has some great opening chapters with eye-popping layouts by Simon Davis, as Slaine escapes from Lord Weird and the Drunes with Sinead, and tries to ‘cure’ her of some brain washing while dealing with his own ghosts. I just can’t get a read on the tone Mills goes for with the strip: for every moment that it’s campy fun, there are moments of dreadfully drecky dramaturgy. Even trying to take it for what it is, like the thrills mentioned above, this storyline seems to wander as soon as Slaine gets Sinead away, and the peaceful countryside through which they wander is, I’m supposing, meant to be a nice juxtaposition to the building (next) fight with Lord Weird, but, dunno, for me drops a sense of stillness on the proceedings.
Grey Area by Abnett. After the last storyline left off with a killer cliffhanger – the gang takes a bomb inside an attacking planet and disappears – this chapter starts off with an awesome premise and then squanders it on prison-drama yuks, all of it again mired by Mark Harrison’s sludgy coloring and blurry backgrounds. The gist is that their disappearing has landed them in a Grey Area on a different planet, or perhaps dimension. It’s a spin on a parallel universe trope, but it’s still a fun concept (prison guards become the detainees), and sets us up for a prison break. And then we are put on hold for some two-part “life inside the alien Grey Area” thrills. They’re fun, but holding with the pattern of everything else, feels besides the point.
And then a Strontium Dog strip by Wagner and Ezquerra. As with a lot of Wagner’s 2000 AD creations, SD Johnny Alpha is sort of just another Dredd tuff guy, but the spin here is that Alpha is tired of life and doesn’t care much about what happens to him. That gives him a fun recklessness for a manhunt to which he’s tasked. Ezquerra is drawing here in a more formalized mode, where his work (and paneling) starts to align with Steve Dillon… and Wagner’s writing here feels very Ennis-esque as well, with the diminutive, violence-prone boss and Alpha’s devil-may-care anti-hero stance. But either way, all five entries of the SD story are straight-forward 2000 AD fun, and I’m sure Wag’s got some good twists for the story coming up.