Sunday, August 28, 2011

Judge Anderson: The Psi Files Volume 01

(Reprints: Judge Anderson stories from 2000 AD Annual 1984 and 2000 AD Progs 416-427, 468-478, 520-531, 607-609, 612-622, 635-647, 657-659, 669-670, 712-717 and 758-763, plus Judge Corey from 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special 1989)

Well, at least it's not called The Complete Psi Files. This big ol' collection--which somehow isn't listed in BARNEY--came out in late 2009, and it appears here in our sequence (as opposed to following Case Files vol. 8) on the strength of the final story reproduced in it: the first Judge Anderson solo story, from the 1984 2000 AD Annual, published around the time of Prog 327.

Beyond that, it collects most of the Anderson stories that ran in 2000 AD between May 1985 and December 1991, after which she moved over to the Megazine for a few years. (The "most of" is because "Shamballa," from #700-711, ended up in the Arthur Ranson-drawn collection of the same name.) But there were also Anderson comics in 2000 AD Annual 1987 and 1990 and Judge Dredd Annual 1985, 1986 and 1988, and 2000 AD Winter Special 1988, as well as a couple of text stories; none of those appear here.

The welcome anomaly that does appear here is the one and only Judge Corey solo story, "Leviathan's Farewell," by Alan Grant and Mick Austin, a.k.a. the one in which Corey sees the last humpback whale die and then kills herself. It initially appeared in the 1989 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special, published at the beginning of May 1989, i.e. around the time of Prog 624--as Grant put it, "it was an important story in Cass's ongoing saga, and the asshole editor of 2000AD stuck it in a special where nobody's ever seen it." (Curiously, Corey's still alive and well as of the end of "Triad," from Prog 644.)

Anderson was very popular as a supporting character, obviously--of all the supporting characters in Dredd's stories she was the one who most seemed like a natural to spin off into her own feature. (It may be less that she's a great character on her own than that she's a great foil for Dredd: irreverent, inexact, emotional, and totally on the same page as he is.) Still, it's not clear to me as a reader why it initially seemed like having a second Judge-based series in the weekly was a good idea. It might have been a way of dealing with reader demands for more Dark Judges and more Anderson without having to do another "Dredd fights Judge Death" story--the stakes for the first two were pitched high enough that it couldn't have been easy to find another angle.

The question Alan Grant (and sometimes John Wagner) faced after that, though, was what kinds of stories it was possible to tell with her that it wasn't possible to tell in the context of Dredd's own series. Supernatural stuff, obviously, and squishy psychic phenomena, since those are hard to square up with the Dredd premise of "contemporary American cultural trends taken to outlandish extremes in a sci-fi context." (But that means they're also hard to square up with the Mega-City One setting.)

One other answer was that Judge Anderson could simply act as a second channel for Judge Dredd: adding to the backstory and moving characters into position. Anderson's first full-on serial, "Four Dark Judges," followed up on "Judge Death Lives," and established a basis for future Judge Death plots; "The Hour of the Wolf" set up the idea that the Apocalypse War wasn't so much the conclusive end of a cold war as the instigating event of a very long chain of resentment and revenge.

"Four Dark Judges" seems to have been a late enough addition to 2000 AD's lineup that three different artists worked on its twelve chapters. It's interesting to see how they each dealt with Brian Bolland's legacy of drawing Anderson and the Dark Judges. Brett Ewins pretty much goes his own way (and takes pains to show us how tight Anderson's outfit is whenever he can get away with it), but draws the Dark Judges very much on Bolland's model; Cliff Robinson takes his cues from Bolland all the way, right down to the way he draws shading and textures (he's always sort of done that, but more so than usual here), and emphasizes McGruder's Dan Dare eyebrows; Robin Smith follows Robinson's example, rather than Ewins' or even Bolland's--the look of his chapter is sort of Bolland at two removes, with a much shakier grasp of anatomy. (And Kevin O'Neill's cover for Prog 419, above, is an intriguing what-might-have-been.)

"The Possessed" is a much less focused story, though it has one terrific switcheroo: the familiar formula its first few chapters invoke is "hero goes into terrible place to rescue an endangered innocent," and Wagner and Grant crumple up the formula and throw it away halfway through. Also, one of its throwaway jokes (the "freeplumber" bit in the third episode) seems to be a callback to a gag from a Daily Star strip a few years earlier.

"The Hour of the Wolf" is probably the most dramatically effective single story here, although it's more an "ensemble of Judges who aren't Dredd" story than an Anderson feature proper--Anderson spends half of it unconscious and barely on panel. But it does establish Orlok as a significant presence in Anderson's life (that would be followed up on later) and East-Meg's exiles as an ongoing threat, and the ending reveals Cass to be a lot colder than we'd understood her to be before.

After Wagner's departure from the Judge Anderson feature, though, Grant's writing takes a significant dip. It's hard to make Anderson the focal point for satire like Dredd, so the stories don't tend to be particularly funny (the demon ram in "Triad" seems to have wandered over from a Dredd story, and seems far out of place). Anderson's not an action hero most of the time, either, and "very serious police procedurals about a psychic future cop" isn't a particularly exciting hook. And the flashes of sexiness don't quite fit either: Cass's shower scene in "Engram" just comes off as pandering.

Still, the back half of the book has its moments, especially "The Random Man," which owes its premise to Luke Rhinehart's The Dice Man (there's a "Luke Reinhart Alley," sic, mentioned near the end of it). This particular story was published in 1989, three years after the unsuccessful Dice Man spinoff from 2000 AD. It was also initially published in painted color, which means the black-and-white reproduction of Carlos Ezquerra's artwork is murk city.

In other later stories, Arthur Ranson and David Roach both do nice-looking, serious-toned variations on photorealism; that school of artwork would look out of place in a Dredd strip, but effectively establishes that "this isn't a Dredd strip." One problem with both of their serials in the context of this big black-and-white omnibus, though, is that they're clearly working from photo-models for Anderson--and their models simply don't look like the character Brian Bolland first drew, and whose basic look stays much the same in Brett Ewins' and Barry Kitson's versions, and even Ezquerra's. (It's also kind of hard to believe that she's aging in real time: the character in "Engram" really doesn't look twelve years older than the character in "Judge Death." At least Hershey's been aging somewhat convincingly over time.)

And I really have a grudge against the final chronological story here, "Engram" (initially serialized in two halves with a 41-week gap between them). Not only does it reuse the weary old Child Abuse Is Bad And Has Terrible Effects Later On plot device from "Triad," but its title is a very dodgy piece of rhetoric. The word "engram" doesn't seem to appear in the story itself, but it's got a very specific resonance here. In neuropsychology, "engram" is a term that's not used very often, but it refers to the idea that memory is stored in the brain in some kind of physical (biological/chemical) form. The meaning of "engram" that applies to this story, though, is the one that's basically only used in Dianetics/Scientology: a repressed, painful memory that exerts power over the subconscious mind, more or less. I don't know if that's what Grant intended, but it's what he ended up with.

Next week: back to the Complete Case Files with Volume 8, in which Dredd suffers a failure of nerve, and Wagner and Grant take a stab at another mega-epic, then think better of it. 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Complete Case Files 07

(Reprints: Judge Dredd stories from 2000 AD Progs 322-350, 353-375)

Once again, there aren't actually stories here from all the issues mentioned on the cover of the book. 2000 AD isn't generally in the habit of reprinting old stories in new issues, but the Dredd stories in 351 and 352 were reprints of "Mutie the Pig" from Progs 34-35. I don't think many people were disappointed, though, given that those issues also featured Alan Moore/Alan Davis "D.R. and Quinch," Mike McMahon on "Slaine" and Carlos Ezquerra drawing "Strontium Dog."

This is a slightly turbulent volume of Judge Dredd, but not what you'd call a transitional period--the feature was on steady ground, and John Wagner and Alan Grant were just trying to keep it rolling consistently, despite the fact that they'd had to go back to constantly rotating artists--eight of them this time. Looks like there were some problems with sequencing, too: "Portrait of a Politician" includes a bit about how "as all Judge Dredd readers know, the Superbowl does not go as expected." That would be all psychic Judge Dredd readers, since the story in which the Superbowl happens didn't run until a month later. (The "orang utan runs for mayor" plot of "Portrait of a Politician" echoes the "goat runs for prime minister" plot that had appeared in Cerebus a couple of years earlier, although I don't expect anyone from 2000 AD at the time had been reading Cerebus. Oh, the pre-global comics economy.)

On top of that, the Dredd reprint machine was starting to kick in. Titan had launched their British "album-format" reprint series in 1981, and midway through this volume, Eagle Comics started reprinting old Dredd stories in the U.S. The American reprints were in full color; they were also badly butchered, sliced up and reformatted to fit U.S. page dimensions. But the early Eagle issues were at least nicely packaged, with original cover art, most often by Brian Bolland. (I particularly like his cover for the first issue, above, and the parody of it he produced for the "Apocalypse War" reprint in #23, below.)

So it's understandable that a handful of the stories here find Grant and Wagner going back to familiar territory. "Cry of the Werewolf," despite its supple Steve Dillon artwork, is another "Judges try to cure plague that brings on transformations" scenario, with elements of both "Block Mania" and "Fungus." It goes on for a while, too, before it peters out; it's fortunate that there aren't a lot of Judge Dredd stories that end with Dredd making a corny pun. What salvages it is the worldbuilding aspects, which by this point were becoming second nature to the series: the "undercity," which would return a few times, as well as the "ten minutes in the sleep machine" bit, which I think first appears here. And is "Norman Pitlik Block" a joke anyone can explain to me?

The other extended storyline this time is another seven-parter, "The Graveyard Shift," which I believe is the longest single Dredd story drawn in its entirety by Ron Smith. (The first chapter might be the initial instance of one of my favorite Dredd clichés: the episode or story that ends with Dredd telling a dispatcher "on my way!") "The Graveyard Shift" seems like a catchall for a bunch of leftover story ideas--premises not quite big enough for their own story but slightly too big for a Daily Star strip, or variations on routines they'd pulled off before: another Boing gag, another "Block Mania"-type showdown.

But it's so packed with witty ideas--Dredd's loathing of paperwork, the left-hand killer, the Carol Monroe Block paragliders, Hershey and Dredd busting down doors for crime swoops to kill some time, "that inconsiderate sniper's made us late for the theatre!"--that it holds together. (Weirdly, the only gag that Smith botches is a big overhead shot of the city--it's the mother of all Dredd jokes that the Statue of Justice is supposed to dwarf the Statue of Liberty in front of it, but here they look about the same size.)

The best joke of all, here, though, is the quietest--the second leaper, at the end of the story, deciding to turn around and go back to bed: "Perhaps tomorrow..." That he's perched atop Arthur Koestler Block is a sly touch--Koestler and his wife had committed suicide in March, 1983, and "The Graveyard Shift" ran from September to November of that year.
Carlos Ezquerra, who'd been such a huge part of the last couple of volumes, turns up only for one four-parter, "Requiem for a Heavyweight." (The ridiculous/awesome image above is featured in a nifty survey of Ezquerra's cover art that just appeared over at 2000 AD Covers Uncovered.) Aside from one two-parter in 2000 AD and a couple of one-offs in annuals and such, it'd be nearly six years before he'd draw Dredd again. Strontium Dog had been lying fallow since Ezquerra had taken over Dredd at the beginning of "The Apocalypse War"; he and Grant promptly picked back up with it (beginning the week after "Requiem for a Heavyweight" ended!), and Ezquerra drew the Strontium Dog feature almost exclusively for the next few years.

"Requiem for a Heavyweight" is another in the "let's do a story about INCREDIBLY FAT PEOPLE" sequence of which 2000 AD seems never to tire. That may have a lot to do with how much artists like drawing them--I seem to remember some interview in which it came out that Bolland has asked Wagner to write him one last Dredd story to draw, as long as it involves the Fatties. I have vivid memories of this story from when it came out--"I said--GIMME THE PIE!"--and note that it predates the rise of serious competitive eating by a decade or so. But it's also worth noting that some hardcore competitive eaters are very, very skinny--Takeru Kobayashi, Sonya Thomas...

Some other well-worn Dredd tropes turn up again this time, too: "Bob & Carol & Ted & Ringo" (and wouldn't that title make a great T-shirt?) is where Wagner and Grant borrow the dinosaurs-eating-people formula from Pat Mills. It also has one of their least likeable tics--minor characters with comedy Spanish accents--and yet another character, this time David Baloney, who's obviously a caricature of some public figure. At least Ron Smith clearly enjoys drawing the dinosaurs, and his design for the little keeper robot Granville is wonderful.

Smith's most... committed work here, though, has to be "Citizen Snork," a fine example of the "mildly silly idea pushed until the extent to which it's being pushed becomes hilarious" Dredd formula. It's also a cute little piece of narrative misdirection: the "Easy Glider" bit in the first couple of pages looks like it's going to be the central joke until the nose routine completely takes over. And the "Robsmith" gag in the final panel is another one I wish somebody would explicate.

As for the other artists in this volume: It'd be hard to take stories that looked like "Rumble in the Jungle" every week, but letting Ian Gibson (once again appearing under his "Emberton" pseudonym) fill 20 pages with crazy mechanical doodles and the occasional personlike form is a fine idea every once in a while. Brett Ewins takes a while to find his feet in "The Haunting of Sector House 9," but the actual horror imagery (like those Ditko-style floating mouths) is pretty effective; you can see why he was tapped to draw Judge Anderson a bit later. And Cam Kennedy's first Dredd story, "The Suspect," is very nicely done for a story that relies very heavily on head shots of the same character looking nervous.

The least effective of the artists this time, at least for my taste, is Kim Raymond-- "Pieromania," in particular, suffers from Raymond's inability to stage comedy effectively. Raymond's also responsible for the four-episode sequence where Cadet Dekker gets evaluated (and then disappears from the series altogether until Garth Ennis takes over). She's one of the less interesting supporting Judges to appear more than once or twice in the series, mainly because she's effectively just Dredd Jr.--there's no disparity between the way she handles things and the way he does, the way there is with, say, Judge Beeny. The end of the sequence is the first mention of "Dredd's Comportment" (a.k.a. "The Comportment of a Judge"), the textbook that Dredd wrote. But when would he have written it, especially considering how much he hates paperwork?

Next week: a break from Dredd proper, as we tackle the first spinoff volume (chronologically), Judge Anderson's Psi Files Volume 1.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Complete Case Files 06

(Reprints: Judge Dredd stories from 2000 AD Progs 271-321)

As one of our commenters guessed correctly last week, the short story in this volume that I particularly love is "Blobs," from Prog 290, a six-pager that exemplifies everything I love about this era of Judge Dredd. It's a formula that John Wagner and Alan Grant leaned on rather heavily at the time: new cultural development leads to criminal activity; Dredd finds a way to clamp down on it. (It's also the first appearance of a more specific formula that Wagner and Grant invented in this volume--the "top criminals meet every month to plot the perfect crime" thing--and then dispensed with as of its third appearance, "Prezzel Logic," whose first two pages are a particularly great example of Dredd cutting a Gordian knot.)

But what's amazing about "Blobs" is only partly the nature of the cultural development itself: a new fashion craze that requires people to be surgically altered to look both bizarre and identical, and to wear identical outfits ("dungarees, glitter shirt, black toe boots and one kneepad, luminous green, worn low on the left knee! An exciting change from all that drab variety!"). It's pretty close in some ways to the sort of gags Devo had been pulling off a couple of years earlier, with the additional explicit suggestion that a cultural craze that erases people's visual identities is way more sinister than you'd even guess. And the punch line is that the fascist state not only suppresses individual identity, it suppresses individuals' attempts to not have an individual identity.

What really puts it over the top is Ron Smith's artwork: his design for the Blobs is unbelievably creepy. Just look at this thing:

This is not just a unifying costume, this is a modification that removes any possibility of expression. Which of course is the joke. "Blobs" is a broadly funny story, and Smith plays it as a comedy--see, for instance, the MAD-worthy caricature Lola Pastramy, a couple of pages in--but it's a comedy that's got a sick, scary McGuffin being framed as something everyone finds somewhere on the spectrum between mildly irritating and desperately desirable. The total erasure of visual expression of the self is just another wacky fad here. That's haunted me for close to thirty years now. (As much as I generally prefer to the Dredd pages that were originally printed in color reproduced that way, Smith's Blobs look even more unnerving in black and white, too.)

There's a lot to like in this volume on the visual side in general; this is one of the most consistent-looking eras of Dredd, since Smith and Carlos Ezquerra were drawing nearly every episode between them. (Jose Casanovas, whose sub-Will Elder approach to comedy was probably more appropriate to the Max Normal strips he drew a few times, draws "The Game Show Show"; John Cooper, whose art had something of an old-school boys' comic look to it, drew "The Last Invader"; and Steve Dillon drew "Trapper Hag.")

Smith generally gets the jokey/grotesque stuff ("The Stupid Gun," "Gunge," "The League of Fatties"), and runs with it--the slightly more serious "Shanty Town" isn't as much his speed. Ezquerra is more suited to gritty action, and he gets a lot of it here, especially "Destiny's Angels"; he gets to stretch himself a bit, too, especially in the sci-fi/Lovecraftian horror of "The Starborn Thing" and the tragic-romantic tone of "The Executioner." And he has to have been racing to meet some of these deadlines. Dredd's head looks totally wrong on the cover of Prog 288, for instance:

There are some kinds of swaggering comedy Ezquerra is really good at too, it turns out. The Mean Machine sequences of "Destiny's Angels," in particular, are so gruffly funny it's hard to believe he didn't design the character. But imagine, for instance, a Smith-drawn version of "Condo": it's easy to see how it'd be much more about the characters' reactions than about the grand-scale kaboom of Ezquerra's version, and probably a lot funnier in practice.

Wagner and Grant spend the early part of the volume assessing the pickle they've gotten themselves into--having spent the past six months on "The Apocalypse War," they've now forced themselves to deal with the aftermath of a war that's destroyed half of their setting. It's telling (and also kind of great) that their first impulse is to go straight for the giggles: the immediate follow-up to "The Apocalypse War" is "Meka-City," a story about evil robot wrestlers. (Dredd's "next time we get our retaliation in first" wisecrack appeared here before the Daily Star strip I mentioned a couple of weeks ago.)

Nearly every other story in here mentions the effects of the war at least in passing, or acts as a riff on some kind of post-war cliché. Food shortages? "The League of Fatties" and "Gunge." Scavengers? "Rabid." Contamination? "Night of the Rad-Beast." Crazy holed-up soldier who won't believe the war's over? "The Last Invader." And so on. "Fungus" (could it be a riff on PTSD?) seems to have a lot of admirers, although the fantastic cover (above) that Brian Bolland did for the first American reprint just makes me wish he'd drawn it instead. I do love the cynicism of that ending, though.

Then there's "Destiny's Angels," in which Grant and Wagner resurrect the character they really shouldn't have killed in "The Judge Child" (Mean Machine Angel, who promptly demonstrated that he had a whole lot of mileage left in him--his explanation of his dial's settings is one of the funniest moments in this volume) and kill the character they really should've gotten rid of the first time around (the Judge Child himself, who is powerful, menacing and boring as toast, despite the fact that he provides an excuse for Ezquerra to draw the hell out of the Grunwalder). That still left open the dangling plotline of Judge Feyy's prediction, which they'd have to deal with later on in "City of the Damned" and eventually "In the Year 2120."

A lot of Wagner and Grant's victories here are small ones, perfectly turned bits of language or gags or observations of character: Fink's "general purpose pizenin' pizen," Dredd giving the never-before-seen Judge De Gaulle the third degree in "The Executioner," the Resyk benediction of "as he was useful in life, so let him be useful in death," the Prankster's artificial chin, "I'm... going to have... a baby!" They weren't about to plunge back into epic-length stories for another couple of years. But you can see them starting to play the long game, reaching back for stories a few years earlier that might have more repercussions and setting up little bombs they could detonate later.

Next week: we move onward to Volume 7 of the Complete Case Files, featuring a whole bunch of short stories and "The Graveyard Shift."

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Judge Dredd Mega-Collection

(Reprints: Judge Dredd weekly strips from the Daily Star, Sep. 5, 1981-Dec. 14, 1985, with some omissions)

A little history, pieced together from the invaluable Barney: The weekly Judge Dredd strip, written by John Wagner and Alan Grant and initially drawn by Ron Smith, launched in the British tabloid newspaper Daily Star on August 29, 1981. (For historical reference, that would've been the same cover date as Prog 227, smack in the middle of "Judge Death Lives." The first, never-reprinted strip is called "Devil's Island," which makes me suspect it was a reworking of the story in 2000 AD Prog 2. Anybody got a scan of it I could see?) Smith drew it from the beginning until August 1986, when Ian Gibson took over; the weekly strip ran until the end of 1986. Barney claims that Wagner and Grant wrote it together for its entire run, but the later strips in this volume are just credited to "John Wagner and Ron Smith."

Judge Dredd was also a daily continuity strip in the Daily Star from the beginning of 1986 until May 1998; that one was initially written by Wagner and Grant and drawn by Smith too, but Gibson took over drawing it in mid-1986 and drew it until September 1987 (and intermittently thereafter). Subsequent Wagner/Grant storylines were drawn by Barry Kitson, Steve Dillon and Mike Collins. Wagner and Grant left the strip in March, 1991, around the time the Megazine must have started demanding a lot more attention; for its final seven years, the Daily Star daily was variously written by Mark Millar, Alan McKenzie, Gordon Rennie and Andy Diggle, and drawn by Collins, Carlos Pino, Smith again, Sean Phillips, Dylan Teague, David Bircham, Charlie Adlard and Andrew Currie.

Various weekly strips and daily continuity sequences have been reprinted in scattered Dredd and 2000 AD specials, as well as a few issues of the Megazine and 2000 AD itself, but none of them are currently in print, and the great bulk of the Daily Star strips have never been reprinted. (I gather from the 2000 AD message board that the publishers would like to see them all collected eventually, but it isn't likely to happen soon.) The better part of Smith's weekly strips--but not by any means all--are collected in this 1990 volume, a Fleetway hardcover with U.K. and U.S. prices listed. If you'd like to see what they were like, there's a pretty good one reprinted here.

The weekly Daily Star Dredd is a very peculiar strip, partly because Wagner and Grant almost always tried to fit an entire story, with a punch line at the end, into nine or ten panels; that has the odd effect of tipping the thrilling/satirical balance of Dredd to straight-up comedy. Smith draws it in a slightly wackier variation of the style he used for 2000 AD--there's a hint of Mort Drucker about it sometimes--with a lot of faces that I'm guessing were based on British celebs of the time. (I only get a few of them, like the tantrum-throwing "target ball" player who's clearly drawn as John McEnroe.)

A few times, there's a multi-episode story, but never more than four episodes, each of which ends with its own gag. Occasionally (but not often), they'd rewrite a Dredd story that had already appeared in 2000 AD as a single strip, as with that "Apocalypse War" episode I mentioned last week. (It's followed by a series of post-"Apocalypse" strips, including one in which Sector 403--blown up in both "Pirates of the Black Atlantic" and "The Apocalypse War"--gets nuked a third time. "Oh, well, back to the drawing board," goes the dialogue in the final panel.)

And sometimes the newspaper strip riffed off the comic in subtler, satisfying ways. There's one strip I cracked up at twice, called "Alphabet Killer": somebody's murdered Aaron B. Aardvark, Abigail Aardvark, Abner Aardvark and Ace K. Aardvark. (Dredd shoots the killer before he can get to Adolf Aardvark.) I won't spoil the actual punch line, but the extra joke is that it's Aaron B. Aardvark because Aaron A. Aardvark was first on Judge Cal's death list. There's also a 1985-era strip involving "sky surfing" that predates "Midnight Surfer" by a few months: maybe it gave Wagner and Grant ideas.

In general, it's pretty amazing how much worldbuilding Wagner and Grant were able to squeeze into every strip--it was effectively a weekly advertisement for 2000 AD (the final tier almost always ended with a plug for the comic, replaced here by a head-shot of Dredd), for an audience that didn't read it already. That meant that a lot of initial captions had to mention that this was happening in the 22nd century, but also that more generally a lot of real estate every week had to be devoted to explaining the idea that "this is a science fiction comedy involving the crazy residents of a gigantic future city who run afoul of a badass, grim-faced supercop."

So everything else had to be squeezed into relatively little space: the plots get straight to the point, and Smith had to draw a lot of very complicated, very tiny images. A panel in one strip I just opened to at random, for instance, involves Dredd sternly addressing a crowd of chastened-looking bald people while, in the background, enormous flying vacuum cleaners suck up a thick coating of shaving cream that's covering a group of buildings in the MC1 landscape. That is a lot to ask somebody to draw into a 3-inch-by-2-inch panel that's a twelfth the size of the strip, and somehow Smith pulls it off.

These strips do have a lot of charm--the maximum-story-in-minimum-space effect is impressive, and Wagner and Grant pull off a lot of hit-and-run gags ("Kentucky Fried Algae," various apropos block names, favorite words like "winkling"). For the most part, though, they read like what they basically were: clever weekly ads for the real thing, a hint of a few aspects of what Dredd's creative team could do, rather than a full-fledged example of it.

A small commercial announcement: I've written a new Kindle Single that's up over at Amazon (yes, you can apparently buy it in the U.K., too)--Comic-Con Strikes Again!, an essay about Comic-Con International San Diego and what happens when fan culture meets marketing money. Readers of this blog might enjoy it.

Next week: back to the Case Files beat, with Volume 6, featuring one of my all-time favorite short Dredd stories (anyone want to guess which one?), as well as "Destiny's Angels" and "Starborn Thing." Also, it features rather a remarkable number of episodes drawn by Ron Smith, considering how much time the Daily Star strip must have been taking him to draw.