Review: 2000AD Prog 1900: Dredd, Stickleback, and Kingdom

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The most recent prog of 2000AD, the weekly sci-fi-y comics anthology, is billed as being a jump-on issue. Periodically the prog makes a point of noting that all the current storylines are concluding simultaneously, leading to a next issue where each of the short stories inside is a new one. So, as #1900 proves to be another one of those jump-ons, I thought I may as well jump on and see how well I fare.

The prog has three stories in it – something I’ve not seen before, actually, as usually there’re four or five strips running each issue. The first here is a Judge Dredd reset storyline by original creators John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, followed by a ‘Stickleback’ story from Ian Edginton and D’Israeli, and finally a story called ‘Kingdom’ from Dan Abnett and Richard Elson.

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When I say a ‘reset’ storyline for Dredd, what I mean is that this strip very firmly disconnects itself away from previous stories with the characters, and forcefully puts him into a new situation, new status quo, and leaves him to it. The new focus for the character will be on him as officiant for a ‘block’ of MegaCity One, essentially making him the sheriff for a population of 60000 people living in one giant apartment block. This will, you’ll have noticed, also have the result of tying him a little to the storyline of the recent Dredd movie, as now the character is confined in a tight space and forced to do more impact policing than he has in the past.

For a kick-off into this new circumstance for the character, it’s decent enough, if a little confused. We get a look at all the supporting cast, but not a very definitive one – perhaps not surprising for a Dredd storyline, this is focused on the man himself, but it does mean we don’t really get a grasp on who is in the block with him. He has a handful of fellow Judges running around with him – I think maybe three of them, with one being a woman who at one point appears to ram a knife into somebody’s mouth just because they make a lewd comment at her. It’s a little confusing, and I couldn’t properly grasp who was who.

This is perhaps more laid at the feet of Ezquerra, whose work is a little simplistic here and doesn’t distinguish the characters far apart from one another. When asked to take on a somewhat ambitious sequence where he has to fit over twenty panels in two pages, things dissemble rather quickly and I completely lost track of what was going on.

The concept of this new direction for Dredd seems promising: this first part of the strip is not.

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Stickleback is a stronger return for a familiar face, as the hunchbacked cockney weirdo once more tackles some of the stranger things floating around London. Drawn distinctively by D’Israeli in white over black, each page looks like a lightshow brought to life during a seance, with white wispy smoke settled over every other panel and lots of unsettling white shading sinking into the black landscapes. It could look confused, but feels hugely confident and sure at each step – D’Israeli manages to convey a surprising and effective amount of intent through using this style, and creates a tone which Edginton ably steps into.

Things don’t particularly kick off as a story with this piece, which is more focused on setting a scene, tone, and establishing the main character for readers. But it does all three with a real sense of style, making this the best story of the issue.

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The prog ends with Kingdom from Dan Abnett, Rich Elson and Abigail Ryder, with letters from Simon Bowman. That’s a very strong creative team, there, telling a story about a big hulking type who wanders around in the wilderness of Australia and fights some bug monster things. This is, again, an issue more focused on set-up than anything else, although the key to this one is how Abnett lets readers assume how the lead character operates. There’s a complete absence of ‘tell’ here, and it’s all about ‘show’. I don’t hold any interest in the idea that you should only show and never tell – it’s a nonsense writing theory which everybody should ignore – but here it does make for a compelling introduction to the lead.

As the story never gives away the upper hand, that means there’s a real sense of unpredictability at play – literally anything might show up here, because we don’t know any of the rules of this world. It’s entertaining rather than frustrating, however, with some predictably great artwork from Elson. His is the work most like conventional comics out of the three artists in the prog, and it’s canny of 2000AD to put Stickleback on just before this one – emphasising the differences in style to the hilt. Kingdom is a slow-burner sort of tale, I reckon, but this is a decent start for the story, and seems to be heading in an interesting direction.

All in all, this is pretty much a standard 2000AD issue. There’s some stuff which really hits home, some stuff which doesn’t quite work – but the stuff which falls short does, at least, fall short in an intriguing manner. It’s a good place to jump on, and a real mixed collection of storytelling styles.

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