This isn’t an episode update, although that should hopefully be coming within a week or so. This is more of a “Holy crap, what the heck happened to me?” entry. Long story short: I got busy, I got lazy, I got sick, repeat. Also: my external hard drive crashed so I lost 6 old episodes and have to re-upload all my music from my CD collection and so forth. So not as bad as it could have been but still a pain.
But despite the minor inconveniences I didn’t stop reading comics during that time, no sir and nay ma’am. I read me a bucketload of comic books. So until the time comes that I can once again sit down with a glass of my favourite amber liquor and a stack of funnybooks, I’ll see what I can do to gain a foothold here with a few quick reviews.
I really like Philip K. Dick; my first exposure to him (that wasn’t a movie adaptation) was The Man In The High Castle, which I loved, and when I finally got around to the prose version of Androids I was pleasantly surprised. Blade Runner is a cinematic masterpiece but it was fascinating to see how different the source material was, and still compelling and interesting. So I was looking forward to a comic book adaptation, seeing visions of the dying dust-choked Earth and different interpretations of Deckard, Isidore, and the others strange and wonderful characters.
So imagine how much it hurts me that this was nearly painful to read. It’s not an adaptation so much as an illustrated novel. Which I suppose would be a great thing for literalists, but to me, this is as close to a capital sin as you can get in a comic book. For example: it’s not necessary to have a written description of what a character is doing in a comic book at the same time that there’s a drawing of it. A comic book is a combination of words and images, so when you have a panel where the images and the words are doing the exact same thing, then you have a bad comic book panel. DADES is chock full of panels like this.
The transition between dialogue and narration was clumsy as well. Having narrative boxes breaking up word balloons that add nothing more than “he said” or “she said” was distracting at best and difficult to read at worst. And this happens ALL THE DAMN TIME. I feel bad for the letterer, who did a Herculean job that was also often unnecessary.
I would like to say that Tony Parker does a good job with the art chores, because for the most part he does: the figures are generally well-proportioned, and the scenery and the modern technology looks familiar and alien. There’s a particular double-page spread of dystopian San Francisco that is very effective. But when the art is either redundant or choked up with so many word balloons and narrative boxes as to be unreadable, I can’t say that I enjoyed the comic.
The best part of the book was the collection of essays on Philip K. Dick at the end of the book, written by the likes of Warren Ellis, Ed Brubaker, and Matt Fraction. Those were fun to read. But I’d rather simultaneously watch Total Recall and read a Shopaholic book than read more of this comic series.
(Full disclosure: I really don’t like the 90s version of Total Recall. I haven’t seen the new one, but I doubt it’s much better.)
Knight and Squire from DC Comics
written by Paul Cornell
illustrated by Jimmy Broxton (interiors) and Yanick Paquette (covers)
If you’re an Anglophile and like superheroes, then this is the book for you. (Alternately, if you’re British and like superheroes, I think this is also up your alley.) Basically, Knight and Squire are the English counterparts to Batman and Robin; these particular versions of the characters were created by Grant Morrison, who I rather like but doesn’t have much to do with this particular collection. In this collection Cornell and Broxton manage quite a fantastic juggling act: dealing with over a hundred new characters while balancing a very important piece of DC Comics lore, while weaving stories that are very silly and very touching and also very scary (sometimes in the same issue). The art is not terribly shiny but does a bang-up job of showing superhero action, comedy, and pathos, so good on Jimmy Broxton. But it’s Cornell that makes the book shine for me: the dialogue crackles, the characters are really grounded, and the stories feel familiar and yet odd. It’s a very cool English take on the silliness and splendour of American superhero comics, and one I would happily recommend.
(Footnote: there’s a splash page introduction of a particular character that was so effective that it gave me chills and made me shout “Oh NO!” I won’t spoil who it was, but it was handled absolutely brilliantly. Braxton & Cornell do a great job with that character afterwards too, but the introduction was spectacular.)
Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files Vol. 2
The Cused Earth written by Pat Mills with John Wagner and Jack Adrian; illustrated by Mike McMahon and Brian Bolland
The Day The Law Died written by John Wagner; illustrated by Mike McMahon, Brian Bolland, and Ron Smith
As your average North American comic fan, I was aware of Judge Dredd – and 2000AD comics in general – before I’d ever read a single panel of the comics. In the past two years I’ve been slowly working through portions of the 2000AD comics universe, which spans decades of fine British sci-fi comics history, and after this second volume of The (Nearly) Complete Case Files I have to say that I am a complete and total Dredd-head.
About 90% of this volume is dedicated to two major Judge Dredd epics: The Cursed Earth and The Day The Law Died. These two stories really give the world of Mega-City One a lot more depth and texture, as well as making Dredd more than just a good Judge. By the end of this volume, Dredd is a hero on an almost-mythic scale, and although the stories aren’t perfect, there’s far more to like in them than to dislike.
First of all: The Cursed Earth takes Judge Dredd and a small group of judges across the Cursed Earth to Mega-City Two, where they are supposed to deliver an antidote to a virus that turns citizens into violent brutes. I’ve read people speaking ill of McMahon’s art on a couple of websites, but I’ve always liked his slightly messy and cluttered style for Mega-City One, and it’s a great fit for stories on the irradiated, mutant-infested Cursed Earth. Of course, when Brian Bolland shows up, I’m not going to say no. You don’t say no to Brian Bolland. Brian Bolland will cut you. With art.
The Cursed Earth is a big stewpot for the Judge Dredd writers to throw all their crazy post-apocalyptic ideas into, and what comes out of it is bizarre and delicious and wonderful. Dredd fighting cloned dinosaurs? Sure! Motorcycle death races in Las Vegas? Yes sir! Hillbillies being attacked by vampires? Absolutely! Gang wars featuring fast-food icons (sadly not reprinted in this collection)? You got it! Dredd faces all that and more in his headlong rush through the Cursed Earth, and every concept is fun and big and perfect for Judge Dredd.
The Day The Law Died, on the other hand, is set entirely in Mega-City One. It tells the story of the mad Judge Cal who takes the position of the Chief Judge of Mega-City One and rules it with an iron fist. An iron fist that is attached to a crazy person. It starts out fairly straightforward: Cal is clearly not supposed to be in this position of power, and the things he does are bizarre and wrong but within the bounds of believability. Then, he appoints his pet goldfish second in command, and things take a turn.
Dredd has to hide out and build a resistance to fight Cal, and this is where we meet the worst part of this entire story: Fergee, the giant super-strong Troggie who teams up with Dredd and his motley crew to take Cal down. Fergee is a broad caricature of a big dumb oaf, and when I say broad I mean BROOOOAAAAD. Broad like pantomime or the Beano. It feels like a weird story to shove a character like that, but it also feels a very English thing to do, so while I didn’t love it, I let it be and just accepted it.
As the story continues it gets more and more ridiculous, and every time it leaves Dredd and goes back to focus on Cal it’s just mind-boggling how much further down the spiral staircase he can descend. The Day The Law Died might be a little long but I loved seeing Cal act like a rabid Roman emperor (have you figured out what Cal is short for yet?), behaving like a lunatic and running his city into the ground.
The other stories in the collection are decent Dredd fare, but the two epics really grabbed me and made me a Dredd fan for life. Hopefully they’ll do the same for you.