Tuesday Review: 2000AD Prog 1812 – An Overture

Pedro Bouca writes for Bleeding Cool;

Trifecta, the sole story on 2000AD prog 1812, is a landmark for a lot of reasons, not just for being one of the exceedingly rare issue-length comics ever published on the magazine, but also because it’s the last part of an unprecedented 2000AD crossover.

For those who are unaware of the magazine structure, I’ll offer a quick explanation. Jump to the next paragraph if you already know the magazine and just want to go on with the review. Unlike your average US comic, 2000AD is a weekly comics anthology composed of, most of the time, five short stories (6 pages on the average). Most of time these stories are chapters of longer serials, which can be quite lengthy (25 parts or more). The magazine has many recurring characters, but only Judge Dredd is present every week, the other series usually being unrelated properties like Slaine or Strontium Dog. There are a bunch of Dredd universe spin-offs (Psi-Judge Anderson being the most famous and long-lived), but they are mostly published in the appropriately-named Judge Dredd Megazine. Furthermore, and that will be the strangest thing for US readers, some of those comics are in B&W, not color. Yes, 2000AD could publish all its series in color (and does, frequently), but some of them are in B&W by choice, creative or otherwise.

Well, about a couple months ago, no less than three “Dreddverse” series were running concurrently on the magazine. Judge Dredd itself, with a new, much ballyhooed storyline named Cold Deck, Simping Detective (a fan-favorite Megazine story that had been MIA for about half a decade now) and the popular Lowlife series, starred by crazy Alan Moore-lookalike undercover judge Dirty Frank (the Sensational Character Find of 2004!). All had different writers and artists. Of the three, only Dredd was in color. And they seemed to have unrelated storylines (Lowlife in particular happening on the Moon, quite far from the other characters).

That’s, of course, until the cliffhanger for the Dredd chapter in prog 1807 was continued (in B&W, no less!) on the Simping Detective story immediately following, surprising the heck out of the readers. Now, 2000AD has a tradition of surprising readers. More than once, what seemed a new character (and series) was revealed as an amnesiac Judge Dredd/Finnegan Sinister/Lobster Random (yeah, amnesia runs rampant among 2000AD characters), but that’s the first time that established, long running series crossover like that.

And, boys and girls, that’s the way to do a crossover! Suddenly, the stakes on all series got higher, the plots got deeper and reader interest went through the roof. This was not one of the mechanical, almost routine Marvel/DC crossovers that super-hero readers are forced to endure with increasing periodicity. This came as a surprise, evolved naturally from long term storylines instead of disrupting them (very important!) and consequently was fresh and entertaining. US publishers should take note of that if they want to keep forcing those “events” down readers’ throats!

And it all culminates on prog 1812, which concludes the story in an all-issue stravaganza drawn by the talented Carl Critchlow (if you only know his art from the third, least interesting Dredd/Batman crossover, I’m glad to say he is now much better!). And he has a lot to draw! Evil corporate raiders that are literal sharks! A riff on the Church of Scientology that has people who dress as clowns instead of celebrities! Spacefaring cities from the Moon! It’s a magnificent blockbuster of a comic, as “widescreen” as any modern-day super-hero comics, but at the same time finishing a lot of long running subplots for all series and introducing a series of concepts (most important being Judge Smiley, more on him later) that will certainly affect their future stories. The dream of every crossover event, now realized.

A lot of the merit belongs to current Tharg the Mighty (2000AD’s fictional “alien editor”) avatar Matt Smith, which has now been 2000AD editor for over a decade and is still able to unleash such a tightly-plotted, well-coordinated storyline event on unsuspecting readers.

But, of course, we must not forget that it was written by three young, up-and-coming (all started in the 21st century!) writers: Dredd writer Al Ewing, Simping Detective writer Simon Spurrier and Lowlife writer Rob Williams. I will call them Al, Si and Rob from now on, because I’m lazy.

Al is the least experienced of the lot – and the one who has the hardest responsibility, having to replace Judge Dredd creator John Wagner (who is taking a sabbatical). That’s not an easy job; just ask guys like Garth Ennis, Mark Millar and Grant Morrison, who have all failed at it in the past. Al, however, excels at the task, revealing himself an adept of even the difficult art of byzantine plotting and long-term payoff that has made Judge Dredd such an enjoyable strip throughout the decades.

Si, on the other hand, is skillful with the tortured prose of Simping Detective, a hardboiled detective series starring Jack Point, a judge who is undercover as a private detective that dresses like a clown (dressing like a clown being what one does to pass unnoticed in Mega-City One’s crazy underworld). Its clever mix of pulp crime prose and deadpan humor having been much missed (well, by me at least) during the many years the series was on hiatus. Let’s hope it returns for good, although since the story closed most (if not all) of the series’ outstanding subplots, that may not be the case.

Rob, on the other hand (three hands, get over it), brings out the funny. HARD! Dirty Frank is a brilliant comedic character, stealing every scene he appears on (not an easy task when one has to trade quips with Simping Detective’s Jack Point!). He has the best lines, even if the very best one (“Justice!”) only makes sense in the context. My only complaint about Rob’s writing is that the definition he gives to Portuguese word “saudade” (the title of Lowlife’s storyline) isn’t correct. Wikipedia, of all places, has a better one:

I should know, since I’m Portuguese myself.

That’s not too bad, Wolverine: Saudade writer Jean-David Morvan made the same mistake. It must be a European comic writer thing.

That’s not my only complaint, mind you; the whole story is plotted around a clear Deus Ex Machina character, Judge Smiley, that won’t be an easy pill for old-time readers to swallow. It does have a lot of promise for future storylines, at least as long as John le Carré’s lawyers remain unaware of him…

But if it does make the story resolution a bit awkward, it doesn’t make it any less exciting or fun. One of the previous, failed Judge Dredd writers I mentioned above once said that he didn’t any see relevance on the character except as a Hollywood blockbuster protagonist. And went on to write a “Dredd-as-Hollywood-blockbuster” story, which was a complete failure. Now, almost 20 years later, a team of younger writers did their own Dreddverse “blockbuster”, much more successfully, while at the same time keeping the character relevant. That’s why we are still reading 2000AD after all those years, I guess.