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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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.

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.

Judge Dredd’s Crime File 2 (September 1985)

Judge Dredd's Crime File #2

Again, it’s an excellent issue. Eagle really puts together a great combination of Dredd–though it isn’t hard with the Smith art. He just gets better and better throughout the issue; the third manages to have almost Eisner-esque thugs, the ultra-realistic future, but then the slightly cartoonish Dredd. It’s awesome.

Alan Grant joins Wagner on the scripts. The first one is a longer story involving Dredd going undercover and a bunch of other stuff. It’s going into space, it’s introducing aliens real quick and criminal interstellar shipping activities. The scenes are good–especially with the aliens; Grant and Wagner don’t hesitate to use them as a mean punchline–but the overall story is a little broad.

The second story, involving alien mobsters wrecking havoc on Mega-City One’s underworld is goofy but the storytelling is really tight. The first story is from two issues of 2000 AD and they aren’t paced well together. The second and third story are so much stronger.

The third story’s sort of the best. It’s just a Dredd action story with great Smith art. There’s some future details, but it’s like Grant and Wagner apply all their action experience, usually done in broad strokes, finely.

It works out.

CREDITS

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

Judge Dredd’s Crime File 1 (August 1985)

Judge Dredd's Crime File #1

Judge Dredd’s Crime File has three stories in this first issue, all written by John Wagner. They all have good art–John Byrne, Ron Smith, Colin Wilson–they all have slightly different art. Wilson’s future landscape is more stylish than Byrne’s, for example. Ron Smith is the most rounded for what Wagner’s trying to do with the differing stories.

The most significant thing about these stories in relation to Judge Dredd is the lack of Dredd. The second story, with the Smith art, has the most Dredd–it’s about these alien plants people are growing but the plants turn into little alien monsters. Dredd is investigating. But in the first story, the one with the Byrne art, Wagner goes way more into the game of the future than Dredd’s quelling of a footballer-like riot.

The third story–Wilson’s–has some guy going crazy and shooting up civilians. It’s about urban plight in the future. It’s not Dredd’s story (even though the guy ends up gunning for Dredd in a very cheap action movie revenge manner).

For the unfamiliar Dredd reader, Crime File might seem an odd collection of stories but it’s actually some of Wagner’s best work.

CREDITS

Writer, John Wagner; artists, John Byrne, Ron Smith and Colin Wilson; colorist, John M. Burns; letterer, Tom Frame; editor, Nick Landau; publisher, Eagle Comics.

Judge Dredd 35 (September 1986)

Judge Dredd #35

This issue has two stories–a long feature (or a combination of at least three 2000 A.D. chapters) and a backup. Wagner and Grant write both, Ron Smith does the art on both. Smith’s an interesting artist for Dredd because he doesn’t take any time with the judges. Both stories require judges to be distinguished, Smith doesn’t care. But he does care about the rest of the story.

The rest of the story–for the feature–has to do with a town of refugees and what happens when Dredd brings the law. Lots of big action and small future post-apocalyptic stuff. Wagner and Grant do a whole exile thing with the criminals; it’s fairly awesome Dredd. Once one gets over Smith’s inability to draw Dredd.

The backup has judge impersonators (while the feature just has lots of judges). The scheming criminals distinguish it (in their silliness) most of all.

CREDITS

Writers, John Wagner and Alan Grant; artist, Ron Smith; letterer, Tom Frame; editor, Dave Elliot; publisher, Quality Periodicals.

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