Monster (2016)

Monster

Monster is a strange comic. It’s British, was serialized weekly, running a couple years in a couple different comics magazines–Scream then Eagle–and there’s a very British comics storytelling sensibility to it. There’s also the reality of a weekly four-to-five page chapter and how doing recap–doing some really effecient recap too, using repetitive dialogue to force events into memory. It’s also about a kid who discovers his deformed “monster” of an uncle locked in the attic and has to take care of him. But it’s still a little strange on its own.

First, because it never becomes a morality tale. Second, because the twelve year-old kid goes from being a protagonist to the subject of the adults’ attention. Cops, doctors, lawyers, social workers, all talking down to the kid. Because the kid thinks his uncle shouldn’t be hunted down like a monster.

It takes a long, long time before the kid even gets one adult to agree. The writers–and especially the artist–aren’t really interested in making the uncle a comfortable presence. He’s always extremely dangerous.

Alan Moore writes the first installment. Not sure his name deserves top-billing; I get it from a marketing standpoint, but seriously… four pages? He wrote four pages on Monster. Most of the writing is John Wagner writing solo, but there’s also some with he and Alan Grant sharing duties. They take a single pseudonym, Rick Clark. Wagner continues using it alone. Wagner’s workman. He’s good workman. But the writing isn’t the draw on Monster (though, when the book seems like it’s going to be a riff on Frankenstein, maybe it could’ve been).

The draw of the book is the art. Jesus Redondo black and white horror art. It’s magical. The first strip has a different artist, Heinzl, who’s got some great gothic detail going but Redondo makes it into a gothic horror action comic. He definitely does the Frankenstein riffing, even if the writing doesn’t keep it up.

Because eventually the kid–Kenny–stops being the protagonist. And the protagonist becomes the uncle, Terry, who’s never going to stop killing people even though Kenny tells him not to kill anyone ever again and Terry promises. Terry always promises, but then Terry gets mad. And, really, it’s nearly always self defense. Or defending Kenny. There’s the occasional rage attack, but by the end of the book, Terry’s fairly in check.

Because Terry gets all the character development. He doesn’t really realize it because he’s three, but he goes from being confined to an attic for thirty-two years-old to traveling the British countryside, Scotland, Australia, whatever else. There’s definite development. There’s also the constant danger, constant threat.

The book has three text stories from a later Scream series where Terry is basically a hero. Clearly, over the run of the strip, there were some changes made to the trajectory.

Even with every fifth page effectively being a repeat of the previous page, Monster is a good read. Kenny’s not the best lead, because Wagner and Grant have zero interest in writing a kid, but Terry’s great.

And the art. The gorgeous, beautiful, haunting, horrific, glorious art.

Not quite the “Alan Moore’s Monster” I was expecting, however.

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Secret Origins Special (1989)

Secret Origins Special

I always forget how much Neil Gaiman threw himself into the DC Universe when he’d write in it. This Secret Origins Special is all about Batman’s villains; a TV investigative journalist has come to Gotham to do a special. Gaiman seems to enjoy writing those scenes–the ones with the behind the scenes, the Batman cameo, the anecdotes about living in Gotham City and the DC Universe in general. He doesn’t do well with the characters though, not the TV reporter and his crew. These framing scenes have art by Mike Hoffman and Kevin Nowlan. They do better at the start than they do the finish. By the finish, they’re getting tired and the detail from the opening isn’t there anymore.

Alan Grant writes the Penguin’s origin story, which isn’t a straight origin. There’s something modern to all of the Secret Origins here. Penguin’s grabbed a childhood nemesis–who just happened to grow up to be a gangster too–and Batman’s trying to find the guy while the Penguin’s torturing him. It’s an okay script, not great, but the Sam Kieth artwork is gorgeous. Kieth does action, he does Batman, he does Penguin, he does gangsters–he does kids. The best part of it is the tenderness Kieth shows when he’s doing the kids. I always forget Kieth really does know what he’s doing.

A self-reflected Riddler. Art by Bernie Mireault and Matt Wagner.
A self-reflected Riddler. Art by Bernie Mireault and Matt Wagner.

Gaiman handles the Riddler’s origin, which ties in a lot to the framing plot. The TV crew goes to interview him. Bernie Mireault on pencils, Matt Wagner on inks. Gaiman’s enthusiastic but misguided. Lots of monologue from the Riddler, but never particularly interesting. The details about the giant objects used in Gotham’s advertising in the past is more interesting than the Riddler teasing the TV crew with the truth. The art’s solid though and gets it over the bumps.

Then there’s the Two-Face story. Mark Verheiden writing it, Pat Broderick and Dick Giordano on the art. Broderick’s pencils are full of energy and light on restraint. It’s a messy story and a fairly cool one, focusing on Grace Dent (Harvey’s wife) and her side of the story. Verheiden doesn’t write the TV crew well and Grace Dent’s a little too slight, but it’s a solid enough story. The art is brutally violent and full of anger. Everyone looks miserable and angry about it.

Harvey Two-Face and Batman graphically wail on each other. Art by Pat Broderick and Dick Giordano.
Harvey Two-Face and Batman graphically wail on each other. Art by Pat Broderick and Dick Giordano.

The issue would’ve been better with stronger art throughout from Hoffman and Nowlan and either more or less from Gaiman. The TV crew ceases to be characters after the introduction, like one of the stories came in a page or two short and Gaiman was padding it out. But the Penguin story is good, the Riddler story could be a lot worse and is technically strong, the Two-Face story is super-solid mainstream DC eighties stuff. It’s good stuff.

CREDITS

Writer, Neil Gaiman, Alan Grant and Mark Verheiden; pencillers, Mike Hoffman, Bernie Mireault and Pat Broderick; inkers, Kevin Nowlan, Matt Wagner and Dick Giordano; artist, Sam Kieth; colorists, Tom McCraw and Joe Matt; letterers, Todd Klein, Albert DeGuzman, Mireault and Agustin Mas; editor, Mark Waid; publisher, DC Comics.

World’s Funnest (April 2016)

 worldsfunnestMr. Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite are arguably DC’s greatest creations. As respective foils to Superman and Batman they’re perfect critiques of the characters: Mxy the childish trickster-god to a godlike man, and Bat-Mite a child playing god with the man he worships…who is still a child inside, at least emotionally. They’re both insanely powerful and also stand-ins for any precocious young comics readers, trying to imagine the most impossible situations to challenge these men who can do virtually anything. Bat-Mite’s version of the routine underscores the irony with an ill-fitting fan costume – he’s the original comicon cosplayer. World’s Funnest collects Evan Dorkin’s one-shot of the same name from 2000 along with the imps’ first Golden Age appearances and several other quality stories, and it’s a nearly perfect greatest-hits showcase for these uniquely irreverent characters.

The titular story alone is worth the price of admission. With a stunning list of guest artists doing either parodies of their own style (Frank Miller re-creating The Dark Knight Returns) or perfect imitations of classic styles from DC history (David Mazzucchelli doing Jack Kirby’s New Gods), Evan Dorkin sends Mxyzptlk on an apocalyptic death hunt for Bat-Mite across the DC Universe, offhandedly obliterating continuities and timelines with all the slapstick ferocity of Milk and Cheese filtered through an Eltingville Club level of inside-joke comics geekery. Arguably the only flaw is how some of his best jokes rely on the reader’s familiarity with obscure DC references like Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew, but Dorkin goofs on so many other, better known targets like Superfriends and Kingdom Come that there’s something for everyone Like Eltingville Club, this is Dorkin spinning his fanboy self-hatred into comedy gold, subversively under the official DC banner – Batman and Superman are literally murdered within the first few pages, and then murdered several more times before the story is finished, as the Brian Bolland cover promises. It’s a breathtakingly hysterical, once-in-a-corporate-lifetime event that seems even more audacious sixteen years later.

mxy-first
Note the early alternate spelling

This is followed up by the first appearances, with Siegel and Shuster’s “The Mysterious Mr. Mxyztplk” from 1944 and “Batman Meets Bat-Mite” from 1959, written by Bill Finger and drawn by Sheldon Moldoff. These stories have been reprinted a lot over the years but are obviously essential to an official Bat-Mite and Mxy compendium. Joe Shuster’s original design for Mxy is the most adorable he ever looked, as if a 1920s newspaper comic strip character came to visit Superman’s (slightly) more realistically-rendered world. Bat-Mite skirts the uncanny valley a little closer, resembling a midget in a Batman costume rather than a child – which is technically correct, since as he points out, he’s not an elf but comes from a dimension where all men are his size. This explanation is preceded by one of the greatest panels in comic book history:

batmite
HI!

Their debuts are followed by another oft-reprinted but essential landmark: Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite’s first crossover story together from a 1960 issue of World’s Finest with art by Batman luminary Dick Sprang, by which point Mxyzptlk was redesigned to be an uglier imp, something more akin to Coiley the Spring Sprite. The story by Jerry Coleman is an inconsequential spectacle, but established the dynamic between the two pests for every subsequent meetup: Bat-Mite as the annoying goody-two-shoes to the more malevolent Mxy. Sightings of either character were pretty scarce afterwards, as the collection’s next story is plucked from nearly 20 years later – an odd six page back-up story from a 1979 Detective Comics entitled Bat-Mite’s New York Adventure! In what’s basically just an excuse for some DC staff to put themselves in a comic, Bat-Mite poofs into the offices of, yes, DC Comics and cajoles the vintage 1979 nerds (not a one without glasses, several with sideburns) to put him in Detective Comics. Which is the comic you just read. Get it? While the joke fails to have a punchline, at least the art by Michael Golden features a disgustingly cute version of Bat-Mite. And to give credit writer Rob Rozakis, while his story fails to be funny it may be the first to realize the self-referential, fourth-wall breaking possibilities of Bat-Mite as a fifth dimensional imp, and by corollary Mr. Mxyzptlk.

batmitegolden
Michael Golden’s Bat-Mite is just too adorbs

DC wasn’t yet ready to full dive into post-modernism, however, as Bat-Mite’s sole appearance in the 80s was a one-page cameo in a 1983 anniversary issue of The Brave and the Bold. Just as in his prior outing, he demands recognition from the corporate overlords (this time breaking the fourth wall outright by addressing the reader) only to be erased by a giant pencil a la Duck Amuck. The art is by Stephen DeStefano, although it’s such early work in his career that his personal style isn’t yet recognizable – unlike the page he contributed 16 years later to Dorkin’s World’s Funnest. While not quite a hidden gem, the inclusion of this forgotten rarity is definitely the kind of bonus indicating the volume’s organizers relished their task. The next two stories are Mxyzptlk tales from the late 80s era of Superman, first with writer/artist John Byrne’s re-introduction of the character and then a later appearance by writers Roger Stern and Tom Peyer, with art by Paris Cullins. Byrne’s story is as exemplary of high quality mainstream superhero comics as anything else he was doing during the 80s, while Stern & Peyer pit a fun novelty matchup of Mxy against Lex Luthor for a change. Cullins, whose art I wasn’t previously familiar with, has a style similar to John Byrne’s only more unhinged – he gets some wild expressions into his human characters, while Mxyzptlk often looks like a demonic gremlin. In other words, cool stuff.

mxy
The gloriously gross 80s: Paris Cullins’ Mxyzptlk

The second best comic in the collection after Dorkin’s is Alan Grant & Kevin O’Neill’s post-Crisis reintroduction of Bat-Mite from 1992, Legend of the Dark Mite, which I cajoled Andrew into reading and reviewing here. Surprisingly, generously also included is Grant & O’Neill’s perennially unpopular follow-up from 1995, Mitefall (it’s great, but shops are still trying to get it out of their discount bins to this day) which continues the adventures of Bob Overdog and Bat-Mite in order to take the piss out of Knightfall storyline. Between this and Dorkin’s story, Bat-Mite really achieves his full potential as an avatar for writers seeking to mock DC from within. Sandwiched between these tales is a more sedate 1999 World’s Finest meeting of Bat-Mite and Mxy, which actually isn’t out of order thanks to an opening caption declaring it to take place “five years earlier” so the continuity commissars can’t complain. The Imp-Possible Dream has a humdrum plot but a surprisingly wry and snarky script by Karl Kesel – only Mxy could really get away with a Batman/Robin gay joke, right? Artist Peter Doherty’s versions of the imps kind of resemble Sylvester P. Smythe of Cracked magazine, while his human figures and faces are unfortunately stiff by comparison. Overall, it’s okay. Really, the book’s sole offensive inclusion is the concluding two-parter from 2008, Lil’ Leaguers, from the series Superman/Batman. In what Mxyzptlk admits to be a sales-generating gimmick (the most crass use of fourth wall breaking), superdeformed chibi versions of the DCU invade Batman and Superman’s world to run around being cuter, more marketable versions of them. Bat-Mite shows up for two pages at the conclusion to explain his collusion in the prank. It’s not a Mxy story, it’s not a Bat-Mite story and there’s a creepy lolicon vibe when lil’ Catwoman jumps on regular-size Batman. While not a bad comic – Rafael Albuquerque’s art is certainly appealing – it feels like unnecessary filler.

batman-legends
Alan Grant & Kevin O’Neill’s Legend of the Dark Mite: comics in the 90s assumed you’d read the classics

Born of the era in comics when superheroes excelled at flights of fancy, Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite’s history is almost as long as Superman and Batman’s. In 1986, the year of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns when superheroes were being put to bed, Alan Moore’s revelation of a malignant Mxy as Superman’s ultimate nemesis in Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow spoke slyly to the genre’s sea change; that powerful forces once joyful and innocent were degenerating into something sinister. Bat-Mite has enjoyed renewed popularity in recent years, with media such as the animated Batman: The Brave and the Bold employing him as a post-modern mouthpiece for multiple generations of Bat-fans, with the inspired casting of Paul Reubens. As superheroes are ultimately creatures of the comics medium no matter how many movies and cartoons are shoveled out for the illiterate masses, Bat-Mite and Mr. Mxyzptlk are creatures representing the medium’s unlimited possibilities for pure anarchic imagination. The talents who contributed to this book are many of the greatest in the industry. World’s Funnest  both the Evan Dorkin story and now the expanded collection bearing the same name, is an absolute must-have.

CREDITS

World’s Funnest; writers, Evan Dorkin, Jerry Siegel, Bill Finger, Jerry Coleman, Bob Rozakis, Stephen DeStefano, John Byrne, Roger Stern, Tom Peyer, Alan Grant, Karl Kesel, Michael Green, Mike Johnson; artists, Mike Allred, Frank Cho, Stephen DeStefano, Dave Gibbons, Jaime Hernandez, Stuart Immonen, Phil Jimenez, Doug Mahnke, David Mazzucchelli, Frank Miller, Sheldon Moldoff, Glen Murakami, Alex Ross, Scott Shaw, Jay Stephens, Ty Templeton, Jim Woodring, Joe Shuster, Dick Sprang, Michael Golden, John Byrne, Paris Cullins, Kevin O’Neill, Peter Doherty, Rafael Albuquerque; collection editor, Robin Wildman; publisher, DC Comics.

The Batman/Judge Dredd Files (1991-99)

The Batman/Judge Dredd Files

Batman. Judge Dredd. They ought to be an interesting team-up, right? Judge Dredd is the law, Batman isn’t. There’s a lot of gristle for competing philosophies, if one wanted to do a story with a lot of gristle. The Batman/Judge Dredd Files consists of three one-shots and a two-parter. It took DC eight years to get these comics out. The first one-shot, Judgment on Gotham came out in 1991 (I remember buying it, my first exposure to Dredd). The second issue of the two-parter, Die Laughing, came out in 1999. The first one-shot still stands out. It’s an interesting mix of a 2000AD Dredd adventure with a Batman comic, with some truly beautiful art from Simon Bisley. The rest of the Files is a waste of time (through it varies depending on the one-shot).

Since Judgment’s the only one worth spending much time on (or reading at all), I’ll go through its “sequels” first.

Glenn Fabry paints the Joker and friends for DIE LAUGHING.
Glenn Fabry paints the Joker and friends for DIE LAUGHING.

Each of the included issues–including both parts of Die Laughing–have different artists. They have the same two writers, Alan Grant and John Wagner, who both wrote a lot of Dredd and a lot of Batman. It seems like they should be the perfect creators for these team-ups, but things go dreadfully wrong with the second special and never get any better.

Vendetta in Gotham, with some rather light art from Cam Kennedy, is mostly about Batman and Dredd fighting while Scarface and Ventriloquist kill some kids. No, really, they’re going to kill some kids. It’s a good Scarface and Ventriloquist story from Grant and Wagner, but it’s a terrible comic. Batman and Dredd’s issue long fist fight is a bore. The whole thing is a setup for the next special, which promises something interesting given the title–Die Laughing.

From Dermot Power's half of THE ULTIMATE RIDDLE.
From Dermot Power’s half of THE ULTIMATE RIDDLE.

Only the next special is The Ultimate Riddle, with some incredibly wanting painted art by Carl Critchlow and Dermot Power (they split the special). Judgment on Gotham, with that glorious Bisley, shouldn’t have been the visual standard for the team-ups. Before I forget, it’s interesting how the Batmobiles in each series look like whatever’s in the movies at the time. It’s like DC wasn’t sure a 2000AD reader coming to the team-up would be familiar with the latest Batman continuity.

Except there’s a terrible tie-in to Zero Hour in The Ultimate Riddle, which has Dredd and Batman trying to get out of a Most Dangerous Game-type situation. It’s dramatically inert and often really dumb, but Dredd’s got a criminal along with him and it does provide some comic relief. There’s very little for 2000AD fans in Riddle, so it helps a lot.

Then comes Die Laughing, with the Joker. DC published it as two issues, each with different artists. One wonders if Ultimate Riddle originally had a similar publishing plan. Anyway, Glenn Fabry does the art on the first issue, Jim Murray does the art on the second. Both painted; it’s Batman/Judge Dredd after all. It needs to be painted.

Jim Murray paints Batman getting his reward for a job well done in DIE LAUGHING.
Jim Murray paints Batman getting his reward for a job well done in DIE LAUGHING.

Fabry’s painting is okay. Murray’s is bad. Murray’s is a little more ambitious though. Fabry’s just churning it out as fast as he can. There’s no enthusiasm to Fabry’s issue, just magnificent competence. Murray flops, but he tries for some humor, which is important since the story’s so strange. It’s like a 2000AD Dredd story, with the Dark Judges trying to take over a hedonist biodome (or some such location), but Batman’s around. And he gets together with Judge Anderson. He seduces her, rather creepily. It’s disappointing. (For her; Batman’s a bit of a tool in Die Laughing).

Oh, and the promise of the Joker and Judge Death and Dredd and Batman and so on? It’s lame. Wagner and Grant have no story involving Joker and Batman going to Mega-City One. Did they sign a deal for these series with DC after the success of Judgment and spend almost a decade churning out lame scripts?

Simon Bisley knows what Judge Death fears in JUDGMENT ON GOTHAM.
Simon Bisley knows what Judge Death fears in JUDGMENT ON GOTHAM.

Now for Judgment on Gotham, which features Dredd in Gotham hunting down the Scarecrow. Judge Anderson’s along. Bisley’s Anderson is a lot different than Murray’s. She gets to be just as iconic, as a female Judge, as the boys do in Bisley’s Gotham, whereas Murray tries for cheesecake in Die Laughing. Fabry does a little better, but not much. Her writing is terrible in Die Laughing. It’s great in Judgment. Judgment is this great Judge Dredd 2000AD story where Batman guest stars.

JUDGMENT ON GOTHAM: Bisley imagines Batman's rogues gallery.
JUDGMENT ON GOTHAM: Bisley imagines Batman’s rogues gallery.

The comic has that early nineties Batman enthusiasm–after the movies, DC thought they’d get new readers and went all out creatively. Bisley’s perfect for it. His Gotham is nightmarish but incredibly realistic. It’s scary because Bisley’s got so much reality to the physicality of everything, he can sell the darkness. This approach to the painting is what the other team-up specials choke on (and what Vendetta doesn’t even attempt). Bisley’s engaging in the characters’ iconic natures every page. Even Scarecrow. It’s glorious to behold.

At the time Judgment on Gotham came out–and I was thirteen years old–I remember Scarecrow seemed a strange villain choice for a team-up. But having since read some 2000AD–by Grant and Wagner–Scarecrow makes such a better villain for Dredd. Mean Machine Angel shows up too, facing off against Batman, who’s hilariously out of place. Judgment has the humor of a Dredd comic. The rest of the collection doesn’t.

JUDGMENT: Bisley illustrates the fast friends.
JUDGMENT: Bisley illustrates the fast friends.

I didn’t even know there were subsequent Batman/Judge Dredd team-ups. I’ve always had a decent memory of Judgment (Bisley’s art is fantastic), but it’s better than I remember. Even when compared to its entirely lacking follow-ups, Judgment on Gotham is a high point for “event” crossovers.

CREDITS

Judgment on Gotham; writers, Alan Grant and John Wagner; artist, Simon Bisley; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Kelly Puckett and Dennis O’Neil. Vendetta in Gotham; writers, Alan Grant and John Wagner; artist, Cam Kennedy; colorist, Digital Chameleon; letterer, Ken Bruzenak; editors, Jordan B. Gorfinkel, Dennis O’Neil and Richard Burton. The Ultimate Riddle; writers, Alan Grant and John Wagner; artists, Carl Critchlow and Dermot Power; letterer, Richard Starkings; editors, John Tomlinson, Jordan B. Gorfinkel, Dennis O’Neil and Steve MacManus. Die Laughing; writers, Alan Grant and John Wagner; artists, Glenn Fabry, Jim Murray and Jason Brashill; letterer, Ellie de Ville; editors, Andy Diggle, Jordan B. Gorfinkel, Dennis O’Neil and David Bishop.

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight 38 (October 1992)

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #38

Kevin O’Neill doing Batman is already a thing on its own, but O’Neill doing a “realistic” Bat-Mite story. Writer Alan Grant is perfect for the material–a criminal recounts his crime to Batman, this time explaining how he wasn’t hallucinating on peyote, but he was actually attacked and then somewhat befriended by an inter-dimensional elf in a Batman costume.

There’s constant drug use from the narrator so it’s never exactly believable, but there’s so much muted enthusiasm in the way Grant presents the story, the reader wants it to be real. More than just real, the reader wants Batman to discover Bat-Mite, even though they have two very separate storylines.

Grant opens the comic with a humorous tag–“this is not an imaginary story”–it’s just the ramblings of someone whose brain has been destroyed by hallucinogens. It’s really strong work from Grant–the art is outstanding and all, but Grant finds the right angle to tell the story. He plays with the Batman mythos without having to address Batman the character at all. This story belongs to the icon, not a man.

And the dimension of elves dressed up as DC superheroes fighting–with the O’Neill artwork (not to mention it being early nineties DC superheroes)–is just wonderful.

Excellent stuff.

CREDITS

Legend of the Dark Mite; writer, Alan Grant; artist, Kevin O’Neill; colorist, Olyoptics; letterer, John Workman; editors, Bill Kaplan and Archie Goodwin; publisher, DC Comics.

Judge Dredd’s Crime File 6 (January 1986)

Judge Dredd's Crime File #6

Gibson finally gets a story with content matching his style to my liking–lizard-men aliens who zap you and make your worst fears attack you so you lose your mind. Very fantastical stuff in a very fantastical setting–a housing block designed to be a maze, only its abandoned because no one could find their way around (thanks to hoodlums pulling off the directional signs).

Oddly, after coming up with such a strange setting, Grant and Wagner don’t do anything with it. It’s a lame shoot out and then a “rah rah” Judge Dredd twist at the end. It makes a fine final panel for the comic (in its last issue here), but the story’s a flop. Except for that Gibson art.

Gibson illustrates the other four stories in the issue to various effect. Grant and Wagner cowrote all of them as well. There are the humanizing ones–like when Dredd’s got to save his niece or when Walter gets into trouble (I missed Walter)–and the funnier ones–Dredd and a fascist alien, Dredd and, oddly, a dirty judge (it’s funny by the end), so it’s a good mix of what Grant and Wagner do with the character and setting.

I’m just upset Mazny Block wasn’t better utilized.

Writers, Alan Grant and John Wagner; artist, Ian Gibson; colorist, Janet Landau; letterer, Tom Frame; editor, Nick Landau; publisher, Eagle Comics.

Judge Dredd’s Crime File 5 (December 1985)

Judge Dredd's Crime File #5

Some real good art from Dave Gibbons closes this issue of Crime File. His story is the least in terms of writing–Wagner’s script is rushed–but it’s very cool to see young Gibbons on Dredd. Unlike the rest of the issue, which has good (though awkwardly not great) art from Barry Mitchell, Gibbons even keeps the Ian Gibson chin for Dredd. It’s just not so cartoonish.

Mitchell has some great panel composition and layouts, but his judge figures seems out of place. They seem a little too small, a little too static for the panels, which are rather detailed otherwise. Still, he knows how to tell a story and it works.

There are four stories in this Crime File. The first might be the best–irresponsible kids bouncing around the city in giant plastic pinballs–though the showdown between Dredd and a psychic insurance criminal is pretty cool in the second. Mitchell does better with Mega-City One from the rooftops than the streets (it feels too reserved).

It’s a solid issue. Very readable, some good Dredd punchlines, even if Wagner and Grant (who co-writes on one of the stories) aren’t trying very hard.

CREDITS

Writers, Alan Grant and John Wagner; artists, Dave Gibbons and Barry Mitchell; colorist, Janet Landau; letterer, Tom Frame; editor, Nick Landau; publisher, Eagle Comics.

Judge Dredd’s Crime File 4 (November 1985)

Judge Dredd's Crime File #4

Ron Smith only illustrates a fourth of this issue. Then “big-chin” Ian Gibson takes over for the rest. Something about Gibson’s cartoony style doesn’t work for me on Dredd. He goes too obviously to the humor and if Judge Dredd is nothing but a laugh, it can’t sustain itself past a punchline.

The writing–of three stories–in this issue is decent. Not so much the last story, which has to do with a game show where contestants try to top each other’s couples’ confessions to felonies. Something about it doesn’t work. Writers Wagner and Grant don’t give it any charm and Gibson makes everyone so visually repugnant, there’s no sympathy to it. There’s no hook.

The first story is the best. And not just because it has the Smith art. It’s Dredd hunting down dirty cops in the candy trade. All of a sudden Crime File has the problem of too much picking and choosing on the 2000 AD source material. The assembled stories for this issue don’t go together well. They seem too forced a compilation.

The second story, with Dredd defending cute aliens slaughtered for part of their brains, is okay. Gibson does real well on the cute aliens. Wagner and Grant are a tad too cynical for the story though. It goes for an ironic cheap cuteness; it gets there, but another creator team could’ve gotten it further with sincerity.

CREDITS

Writers, Alan Grant and John Wagner; artists, Ron Smith and Ian Gibson; colorist, Janet Landau; letterer, Tom Frame; editor, Nick Landau; publisher, Eagle Comics.

Judge Dredd’s Crime File 3 (October 1985)

Judge Dredd's Crime File #3

It’s an okay issue. It’s just too uneven.

The first story, with art by Ian Gibson, is a flop. Gibson’s style might be how I always think of Judge Dredd–visibly British, visibly stilted. Such long faces. Literally.

Grant and Wagner’s script is about a Block War, sort of. There’s a simple explanation though and a moral to the story. Dredd might even get touchy-feely at the end. It doesn’t come off with the Gibson art.

But the second story is a major improvement, with Colin Wilson taking over. Wilson makes one bad style choice–he casts one character as a noir villain instead of a luckless sap, which is more appropriate; I think an evil mustache is involved. The story’s solid. Dredd versus loan sharks who keep your loved one in suspended animation until you pay.

The last story, again with Wilson art, isn’t particularly good. It’s better than the first story, with Wilson showing how the right artist can make anything in a Grant and Wagner story work, but Dredd versus hackers is boring. Except how well Grant and Wagner forecast cybersecurity threats.

CREDITS

Writers, Alan Grant and John Wagner; artists, Ian Gibson and Colin Wilson; colorist, Janet Landau; letterer, Tom Frame; editor, Nick Landau; publisher, Eagle Comics.

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