Wednesday, October 19, 2005


Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth

Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth
Written by Pat Mills, John Wagner and Chris Lowder
Illustrated by Mike McMahon and Brian Bolland
(Titan Books/2000AD)

In the 22nd century much of the world has been destroyed, what remains of civilization has gathered in various "mega-cities" where hundreds of millions of people live. In Mega-City One crime is rampant and on the streets the Judges act as judge, jury and executioner. Judge Dredd is the best there is: he is The Law.

Judge Dredd is a character I go through phases with. I think he's awesome and read piles of comics about him. I read about his history. I look at websites. And then... I burn out. I get sick of him. For a while. Six months go by and I see some other Judge Dredd comic and I get excited again. (Now, admittedly I've only actually been reading Judge Dredd comics for like two years, but I do regret passing up lots of cheap back issues when I had a chance earlier this year. Oh well.)

When I found that one of the comic stores in St. John's was selling off some Judge Dredd trades cheap I got pretty excited. Dredd is, to me, a character who I've read...entirely in cheap bin comics or in stuff I borrowed off friends (who I think got it out of cheap bins). And one of the novels (which I bought for like $1.30 or something). The only Dredd related comic I've ever bought for full price was the DC/2000AD trade of Red Razors, which was fucking terrible. But I digress.

The Cursed Earth is old Dredd, from the second year of 2000AD's publication (which was 1978 for those who didn't know). It was the first epic Dredd story, spanning half a year and twenty five issues of the weekly 2000AD comic. Up to this point all the Judge Dredd comics had been one and two parters. A crime happens, Dredd busts the perp. Rince and repeat. This was different.

In The Cursed Earth Dredd is sent across the vast radioactive wasteland that is the Cursed Earth to deliver a vaccine and hopefully stop the plague that is ravaging Mega-City Two. Thankfully Dredd has three other judges, a pile of robots and Spikes Harvey Rotten (the best biker in all of Mega-City One) on his side and the Land Raider, the Killdozer and some quasar bikes for everyone to ride on (and I do mean on, I found it hilarious how Dredd and Spikes would invariably ride on top of their impervious motor vehicle, you can go inside Dredd...). Along the way Dredd fights the Brother of Crazy Mutants, flying rats, dinosaurs (Satanus), robot vampires, the Alien Catcher General (who has the head of a goat), and countless other creatures. He also befriends an alien, condemns the speciesism that is rampant on Earth and finds the last president of the United States of America.

Now admittedly The Cursed Earth isn't an epic like some of the later Dredd stories. It isn't one long story, but rather a series of picaresque adventures (hah, take that English class). After the two opening chapters the next twenty chapters are broken into nine stories (I think), each a few chapters long. These are just "crazy things happen to Dredd as he crosses America" stories and for the most part they could happen in any order. You could not read most of them and it wouldn't affect the story.

This is proven by the fact that the collection I read (and every collection of the story that exists) is missing two of the stories. Burger Wars featured two famous burger chains fighting a war with each other to see who would be the sole burger server in America. While Mascotomania featured a certain colonel and many different products mascots in a negative light. 2000AD was sued, and they've promised to never republish them. Damnit. Thankfully they can be found online if you know where to look (here's part of them). I read both and found Mascotomania (by Jack Adrian aka. Chris Lowder) to be pretty weird. However Burger Wars (written by John Wagner under his T.B. Grover pseudonym) is really good. Wagner wrote another two parter concerning corrupt Judges in Las Vegas and while good, it isn't as fun as Burger Wars.

However, the writing of most of this volume is done by Pat Mills (creator of Marshal Law, Slaine and the ABC Warriors, which is in my pile of things to read) and it's good stuff. You can't expect "the best thing ever," but if you want Dredd fighting a semi-sentient tyrannosaurus that escaped from an amusement park or other, similarly, ridiculous things then Mills delivers.

On the art side of things most of this collection was drawn by Mike McMahon, who's art is pretty good for the most part, though his Dredd is incredibly scrawny looking in the first few parts. Still, no matter how good his art was McMahon can't compare to Brian Bolland who drew about a third of these comics. Bolland's art and design in these comics is just amazing, really top notch.

Overall I think this is a pretty awesome package (especially since I got it cheap). I only wish that it included the Burger Wars and Mascotomania chapters and the Cursed Earth boardgame that was included in a few issues of 2000AD at the time. (Oh some of the boardgame is online, issues 75-80. Who wants to play?)

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Tuesday, October 11, 2005


A History of Violence

A History of Violence
Written by John Wagner
Art by Vince Locke

This is the second title from Paradox Press’s short lived Paradox Graphic Mystery line that disappeared utterly when it was first released but has now probably sold a boatload of copies because of it being made into a movie (the first one being Road to Perdition).

John Wagner has had a massive influence on modern British comics and British comic writers through the 2000AD comic magazine. Wagner has written for this weekly anthology title since it started in the 1970s, creating or co-creating several of it’s best known characters (Judge Dredd, Stronium Dog) and writing some of the best stories the magazine has published. However Wagner hasn’t really had much of an effect on American comics directly (though in doing some research I’ve discovered he’s done far more work for American publishers then I’d realized, including writing a Xena comic of all things), this is probably due to his lack of interest in superheroes.

However he did write this comic which is now a “major motion picture” (and really, that’s the only reason I have this comic (well, that and because a friend gave it to me). And while it doesn’t feature superheroes it isn’t really something that could have been published in 2000ad either.

When I first heard of this title I thought, for some reason, that it would actually be a history of violence. Start off when one caveman hit another caveman or something and continue on through various wars (too much exposure to the Big Books that Paradox published I guess). “Why would someone want to make a movie out of that?” I thought.

Needless to say, I was completely and utterly wrong about what this comic was about. I went in having almost no idea of what it was about, and the only reason I knew anything about it at all was that I read the back of it when I got it. However reading the back of the comic actually decreased my enjoyment of the comic somewhat (I really need to stop doing that). It ruins some plot points that should be surprises. Interestingly, Wager refuses to tell the reader anything about the plot in the introduction because he hates it when people give away plot points.

So I’m not going to say anything about the plot.

What I will tell you is that A History of Violence is a crime comic. A violent crime comic (as if you couldn’t tell from the title). I can see why it was optioned to be a movie because it doesn’t really seem like a comic book story. It seems like a story that would work better as a movie. Does it work better as a movie? I don’t know, and in fact I don’t want to know.

Why? Not because this comic isn’t good (because it is good), but because there is some horribly violent and gross imagery in this comic that I don’t want to see represented by real life people (or close facsimiles). I’m squeamish. I don’t like gross stuff.

In fact I was going to criticise Vince Locke’s art (it’s scratchy and messy and I really don’t like it that much). But it is exactly this scratchy messiness that manages to deflect some of the grossness that would have been more evident if someone with a cleaner style had drawn the book. So, uh, top job Locke!

Overall though the comic is good. The story is interesting and flows well. So if you can deal with the uberviolence I’d say check it out.

Coming soon:
Reviews of Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth (by John Wagner and others) and Green Candles (another Paradox Graphic Mystery graphic novel).

(An aside:

Paradox Press seemed to have died off around 2000. Then Road to Perdition happened and that graphic novel was reprinted through the imprint and then the sequel comic was published through it as well. My copy of A History of Violence was published last year I guess (it has “Soon to be a major motion picture!” on the cover) and it was still Paradox Press then. But a new edition is out and I’m pretty sure it’s published through Vertigo. It’s sort of sad as I feel that books like this (and Harvey Pekar’s new book The Quitter, also coming out from Vertigo) don’t really fit in with Vertigo that well. The point of imprints sort of fail when you just seem to publish things in them randomly, which is often what DC seem to be doing these days.)


Friday, October 07, 2005


Naruto vol. 7

Naruto vol. 7
Story and Art by Masashi Kishimoto

Naruto was one of the launch titles in Viz’s Shonen Jump magazine several years ago. Thus it comes out maddeningly slowly compared to some of the other manga series that come out (less then three volumes a year, compared to others that come out monthly or bimonthly). It’s up to volume twenty something in Japan (and Korea) and is really popular. It’s been doing pretty well in North America, and the debut of the anime on tv this fall only increased it’s popularity (hell, you can already buy Naruto stuff in Hot Topic).

It’s also really, really good.

Now, I’ve read a bunch of the Shonen Jump titles Viz is putting out. Some of them are really good and I want to buy more volumes (Bleach), some of them are good, but I preferred to read them for free from the library (One Piece and Hikaru No Go) and some of them I just couldn’t get into at all (The Prince of Tennis). Naruto is better then all of the others (though I will admit Bleach is a pretty close second). This isn’t to say that Naruto is the best comic ever, or even the best manga ever. It’s not, and it doesn’t aspire to be. What it is is a really, really good ninja comic.

Naruto is a trainee ninja, and not a very good one. In fact, he messes up all of the time and is constantly being mocked and made fun of by his classmates. Despite this he is determined to become the best ninja in the world ever! (If you read a lot of shonen, ie. boys adventure, comics you realize that the plot of most of them is about someone trying to become the best something ever.) This isn’t as farfetched as it seems, because despite his generally incompetence Naruto has some serious power inside him. Now if only he could figure out a way to tap into that power when he wanted to…

Volume 7 (Orochimaru’s Curse) is more of the same ninja action (!) I have come to expect from Naruto. Amusingly Naruto is unconscious until about page 50, leaving the ninja action (!) to be between a lot of other trainee ninja and the big evil guys. And the evil guys are evil. They’re shifty and double crossing and powerful and mysterious and everything bad guys should be (at least in kids adventure comics). Plus they look really cool. In fact all of the characters in this comic look really cool. They don’t dress in black like “traditional” ninja (Naruto wears bright orange), but each character that’s introduced has a style of their own. When there’re several dozen characters this is pretty impressive.

I really don’t have anything negative to say about Naruto. It’s pretty light, but it doesn’t cost much, and it gives me action and adventure in a way that North American comics don’t really seem to. Also knowing about Naruto (and other manga) has impressed the kids I teach to no end. They ask who my favourite character is and despite them being like twenty volumes ahead of me I can still say that Sakura is my favourite and they know what I’m talking about.

Now all I need to do is learn Korean so I can read the next volume…

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