Judge Dredd 1 (December 2015)

JudgeDredd_MC001_cvrJudge Dredd is a venerable British pop culture icon who’s only recently grabbed a toehold in American pop cultural consciousness. Doctor Who, another sci-fi icon as British as The East India Tea Company, has made far more progress towards American popularity. The two couldn’t be further apart in terms of personality, although the stewards behind both franchises have made worthy efforts over the decades to use the sci-fi genre as an exploratory tool for ideas and satire, in addition to being a platform for fantastical adventure. One entirely valid explanation for the disparity in popularity is that Dredd is an inimitable archetype while The Doctor is, superficially, more relatable to an audience despite his not being human. Dredd is both a hypermasculine power fantasy and self-reflexive critique of that fantasy’s fascist authoritarianism – not unlike the American film he inspired, Robocop, whose darkly humorous irony is also often lost on audiences taking the premise at face value.

Doctor Who, despite hefty volumes of back story across decades of adventures, is nonetheless what he appears to be: a nerd in a scarf. His cosplay won’t deplete your bank account, and his esoteric, extraterrestrial lack of communication skills are a gentle reassuring nod to the socially withdrawn. He is a genteel aspirational role model of science and justice, whereas Dredd is a living setup to rude and irreverent punchlines about how life in a dystopic future metropolis isn’t all that different from the present day.

The most significant cause of Doctor Who surpassing Judge Dredd in an American popularity contest, of course, is that today’s nerds have never been less likely to read a comic book. The BBC continues to produce Doctor Who shows. Dredd 3D tanked because 1995’s Judge Dredd was so bad that the stench lingered for almost 20 years. Word of mouth gave it enough of an American cult following that the character was no longer a joke, but short attention spans still dictate the consumption habits of geeks. If it’s not a TV series or movie franchise in 2015, it doesn’t exist. Witness the multitudes who’ve never read The Killing Joke blowing Heath Ledger’s mummified member, or the middle management drone who couldn’t tell you Judge Death from Judge Judy informing me that Dredd 3D “finally got it right.” I don’t expect people to pass some bullshit nerd test designed by the Eltingville Comic Book, Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Horror and Role-Playing Club before being allowed to have an opinion – but could everyone please stop pretending to be an informed longtime fan just to state that they enjoyed some recent movie or Netflix original series?

IDW, admirably, grabbed the post-Dredd surge of interest in the character with both fists, publishing Dredd artist collections, colorized reprints of classic stories like The Dark Judges and The Apocalpyse War, and most excitingly, a new regular title and various mini-series for the new American audience. The range of success has been inconsistent – Anderson, Psi-Division and Judge Dredd: Year One were forgettable, while Mega-City Two and Mars Attacks Judge Dredd were fun romps. The flagship series was a platform for selectively incorporating pieces of favorite storylines and characters, like Marvel’s “Ultimate” reboot, and maintained a fairy consistent level of quality across 30 issues from writer Duane Swierczynski and Nelson Daniel. Its only real shortcoming was the absence of variety in artists or writers that 2000 AD enjoyed; an unavoidable production difference between a weekly-produced strip and a monthly book.

When a series is relaunched, it’s sometimes hard to tell if the move is an act of desperation in the face of sluggish sales or affirmation in good faith of continued success – number one issues tend to sell well either way.

The all-new Judge Dredd 1 is a competently made, narratively risky point of entry for any new reader not already following IDW’s revival. It’s unclear if there’s meant to be continuity from the previous regular series (probably not) but it wouldn’t matter at the offset of this initial storyline anyways: Ulises Fariñas, the excellent illustrator of Mega-City Two and his co-writer Erick Freitas have gone all Crossed +100 on Dredd and flung him into the post-post-Apocalpse, a storyline entitled Mega-City Zero, where he finds himself at the moss covered remains of what might be the last Mega-Block on Earth. The concept is certainly intriguing, as is the business calculation that a casual fan of Dredd 3D will feel familiar enough with the character to begin investment in a story where he’s out of his element.

Or rather, it’s a refutation of what had to be a really underwhelming response to 2000 AD‘s own attempt to appeal to Dredd 3D fans directly.

The proposal is thoughtful insofar as Dredd 3D also stranded him without support from the Justice Department, though it also stands to reason that anyone picking up this comic in lieu of a Dredd 2 would want to see more of Mega-City One, rather than Dredd again bringing The Law to another block under control by a despotic ruler. Granted, the issue ends before any major antagonist is revealed, so it would be nice if the storyline isn’t as predictable as it seems. Anderson makes a pointless cameo at the beginning of the story, hopefully this tossed-off introduction isn’t solely so she can later save Dredd’s hash as she’s often done when Old Stony Face gets stranded in another time or dimension.

Plot aside, Fariñas & Freitas’ script has some nice contrast between Dredd’s by-the-book proceduralisms and the slang of the kid hoodlums he first encounters outside the perimeter of the lone Year Zero block. There are some world-building details in spite of the usual rules not applying – robot judges guard the block, humanoid animals are seen outside (the Mutant/mutie slur goes unuttered) and Dredd reviews the ammunition of his Lawgiver – as did Dredd 3D. I’m a little irritated that the trio of ragamuffin savages who are arrested by Dredd and thereby taken under his protection get almost as much of the spotlight as he does, in this new debut.

Dan McDaid’s art is less clean and precise than Nelson Daniel’s, which at least fits the grunginess of this particular story. The lack of detailing only really hurts peoples’ faces – it feels even sparser than Mega-City Two. His figure composition has a nice Mike McMahon-esque dynamism, including during the action sequences. Ryan Hill’s colors bring an appropriately lush earthiness to the outdoor meadows – I’d just like to know what their Mega-City One will look like.

The new Judge Dredd’s opening arc might not turn out to be the best initiation for new fans, but as Dredd adventures go, this one seems to have serviceable talent behind it.

CREDITS

Mega-City Zero: Part One, writers, Ulises Fariñas and Erick Freitas; artist, Dan McDaid; colorist, Ryan Hill, letterer, Chris Mowry; editor, Denton J. Tipton; publisher, IDW.

The Black Hood 1 (April 2015)

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Michael Gaydos is the wrong guy for The Black Hood, just because he’s so perfectly the “right guy” for it. The series is Archie Comics’s attempt to do something knew with their superhero properties (they’ve been trying to do something with them for a couple decades now). Duane Swierczynski writes a tough story, Gaydos does tough art. It’s all realistic, set it modern Philadelphia, very depressing.

So why’s Gaydos wrong? Because he doesn’t bring anything to the comic. Swierczynski doesn’t have an appealing protagonist or a compelling setup–a cop gets injured (and disfigured); he eventually gets hooked on painkillers and then assumes the identity of the Black Hood, a vigilante he himself killed in the incident where he got disfigured.

It’s all so clean it’s pointless. Swierczynski is going through the motions; make this comic tough. Gaydos is doing the same thing.

Whether it’s tough isn’t important at all.

CREDITS

The Bullet’s Kiss, Part One; writer, Duane Swierczynski; artist, Michael Gaydos; colorist, Kelly Fitzpatrick; letterer, Rachel Deering; editors, Vincent Lovallo, Paul Kaminsky and Alex Segura; publisher, Archie Comics.

Bloodshot 13 (July 2013)

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Swierczynski takes a peculiar approach to dealing with Bloodshot’s side of the final Harbinger Wars issue. He makes it as lame as humanly possible.

It’s actually not even Bloodshot’s issue, it’s his sidekick Kara’s issue and his sidekick Kara hasn’t had much presence during the crossover event. She’s his voice of reason, not much else. Babysitter for the kids too.

Speaking of the kids, after spending a couple issues establishing them, Swierczynski dumps them to instead focus on really bad dream sequences. They’re an afterthought to the issue. Valiant must have really wanted to do a crossover special, but by not doing it straightforward, these issues are weak.

The art’s also got problems. Kitson’s has three inkers (himself included) and each of them makes the finished art look different.

It’s a bad issue and left me wondering why anyone would ever want to read another one. It’s rough and pointless.

CREDITS

Living the Dream; writer, Duane Swierczynski; penciller, Barry Kitson; inkers, Stefano Gaudiano, Kitson and Mark Pennington; colorist, Brian Reber; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Jody LeHeup and Warren Simons; publisher, Valiant Entertainment.

Harbinger Wars 4 (July 2013)

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Dysart brings Harbinger Wars into the station and it’s entirely unclear why they bothered with the trip at all. Besides–apparently–cutting down on cast members, the crossover event did very little. Dysart doesn’t even seem to pretend it did anything. He leaves a lot unresolved so readers have to keep going with the main series (the point of a crossover book after all); it means there’s nothing to do the story itself. Dysart can’t fake it and make Wars seem worth it.

There’s some decent art; it’s a whole lot of action. There’s not even time for character moments, especially since Dysart only gives his regular Harbinger cast the slightest attention. Even the idiotic H.A.R.D Corps guys get more attention and they’re indistinguishable, despite codenames and different physical characteristics.

Dysart tries hard to keep the battlefronts clear, but it still doesn’t work.

I’m just glad the series’s finally over.

CREDITS

The Battle for Las Vegas; writers, Duane Swierczynski and Joshua Dysart; artists, Clayton Henry, Pere Perez and Mico Suayan; colorist, Brian Reber; letterer, Dave Lanphear; editors, Josh Johns Warren Simons; publisher, Valiant Entertainment.

Bloodshot 12 (June 2013)

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I’ve only read a few issues of Bloodshot but it seems like a big part of what Swierczynski does is have contrived scenes with Bloodshot and the men who wrong him in the past. It’ll seem like Bloodshot is finished, his nanites unable to repair him, but then he’ll magically come through thanks to the perseverance of the human spirit.

Especially against the very evil bad guys.

It’s really boring, especially since Swierczynski never comes up with good places for these action sequences. This issue’s takes place in a mechanized slaughterhouse. Feels a little like the end of the first Terminator movie, only without any drama.

Meanwhile, the kids and their babysitter are under siege in their transportation vehicle. The bad guys can remotely control the vehicle’s auto-lock system. It’s real silly and really dumb.

The art from Kitson and Gaudiano is quite good. Swierczynski’s script not so much.

CREDITS

Writer, Duane Swierczynski; penciller, Barry Kitson; inkers, Stefano Gaudiano and Kitson; colorist, Brian Reber; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Jody LeHeup and Warren Simons; publisher, Valiant Entertainment.

Harbinger Wars 3 (May 2013)

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Why am I reading this comic book? I mean, Dysart does script a good issue. It’s a little light, he’s split between way too many things and the issue isn’t oversized, but why am I reading it? It’s not escapism. It’s painfully realistic superhero comics. Introduce this likable character to kill them–seeing terribly abused kids murdered by paramilitary, blood hungry goons–fun times.

Dysart’s relentless with it too. He gets in one joke, from Bloodshot. Otherwise it’s all set up for something terrible to come, with the bad guys revealing in their badness, then showing it off as they kill kids. Then there’s the regular Harbinger duped into attacking Bloodshot and his gang of kids. Awesome.

But there isn’t an inherent seriousness to the series. It’s still kind of an X-Men knockoff, just a desperately upsetting one. Bad corporations killing dumb teenagers. Rock on.

It’s just too much.

CREDITS

Writers, Duane Swierczynski and Joshua Dysart; artists, Clayton Henry and Pere Perez; colorist, Brian Reber; letterer, Dave Lanphear; editor, Warren Simons; publisher, Valiant Entertainment.

Bloodshot 11 (May 2013)

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I like the way Valiant–or Swierczynski in this case–is handling the Harbinger Wars crossover. He’s using this issue of Bloodshot to flush out the relevant scenes in the main book; it’s expensive if a reader buys all the issues, but it also means it doesn’t have to be expensive. Each piece of the puzzle isn’t integral to getting a story.

As for the story here? There’s not a lot. It’s an all-action issue, though Bloodshot is also arguing with the evil little boy who lives in his head and tells him what to do. The art from Kitson and Gaudiano is so downbeat, the scenes don’t even play goofy.

Speaking of the art, the savage action violence gets a lot of focus here. Swierczynski seems to go for the grossest scenes possible for Bloodshot and he’s regenerative powers.

There’s not much to the comic, but it’s fine.

CREDITS

Writer, Duane Swierczynski; penciller, Barry Kitson; inkers, Stefano Gaudiano and Kitson; colorist, Brian Reber; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Jody LeHeup and Warren Simons; publisher, Valiant Entertainment.

Harbinger Wars 2 (May 2013)

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I love how Dysart makes sly jabs at the Valiant Universe (or whatever they call it), pointing out how bad ideas are from the nineties. It’s a weird thing, which doesn’t break the story–possibly because he’s already got the debriefing framing and it allows for a lot of colorful commentary.

It’s pretty much an all action issue, only split between the two different groups. There are the New Mutants–or whatever the kid-lead group of escaped psiots should be called–and Bloodshot and his charges. There’s also the big fight scene with Harada, which proves more entertaining than one might expect. Maybe I’m just not familiar enough with Bloodshot to know his powers are specifically designed to provide for awesome comic book action scenes. Odd science that.

The stuff with the renegade kids has more depth, but only a little.

Good stuff; Dysart ably handles a huge cast.

CREDITS

Writers, Duane Swierczynski and Joshua Dysart; artists, Clayton Henry and Pere Perez; colorist, Brian Reber; letterer, Dave Lanphear; editor, Warren Simons; publisher, Valiant Entertainment.

Bloodshot 10 (April 2013)

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Stefano Gaudiano is a great inker, though not really one I think of for action comics. Barry Kitson is a great action penciller, but not one I think of for a lot follow through. Together… together they make a very nice pair, especially since this comic takes place entirely at night so everything’s very dark.

Writer Duane Swierczynski figures out one way to make an all action issue take a while to read. Lots and lots of characters–talkative little kids, an annoying female sidekick–even though Bloodshot does talk quite a bit, he mostly just has to react.

Swierczynski only has one big action set piece, even though technically it’s all action–they’re walking through the desert after all. The action sequence has a lot of conflict and character moments.

For an all action issue, in other words, it doesn’t feel empty. There’s a lot of personality.

It’s good.

CREDITS

Writer, Duane Swierczynski; penciller, Barry Kitson; inkers, Stefano Gaudiano and Kitson; colorist, Brian Reber; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Jody LeHeup and Warren Simons; publisher, Valiant Entertainment.

Harbinger Wars 1 (April 2013)

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I’m not sure what I should be getting out of Harbinger Wars. Dysart thinks things out–he structures the issue around some government types interrogating some bad corporation types. Some psiot kids got free or something, kind of has to do with Harbinger–oh, right, the good guys from Harbinger need to protect the kids from the bad guy. Bloodshot is in it too, working for the bad guy right now but I’ll bet he switches sides eventually.

It’s all prologue to something, which is pretty much the problem. It’s all setup. The Bleeding Monk tells Peter to save the kids, there’s a lot of flashbacks with the kids being mistreated, Harada pops in, but it’s mostly exposition scenes. Exposition scenes under an already expository structure.

Dysart’s writing is good, the art’s all generally fine, but there’s nothing going on yet. The first issue grabber is missing, which is unfortunate.

CREDITS

Writers, Duane Swierczynski and Joshua Dysart; artists, Clayton Crain, Clayton Henry and Mico Suayan; colorist, Brian Reber; letterer, Dave Lanphear; editors, Josh Johns and Warren Simons; publisher, Valiant Entertainment.

Birds of Prey 3 (January 2012)

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I feel like Saiz must have coordinated with colorist June Chung, like he let her know he was going to go light on detail and she’d need to shade in what he should have otherwise been drawing. The art on Birds of Prey feels rushed and only the occasional Saiz greatness shines through.

It’s upsetting. The book at least had good art.

Swierczynski brings Poison Ivy onto the team–though it’s hard to figure out when everyone votes her in–and it does add some flavor to the story. There’s such a lack of personality, Ivy can’t help but spruce it up.

Get it? Spruce?

Anyway, the standard problem is still extant. Swierczynski’s creation for the series, Starling, is still without personality and just a blah character. Oh, wait, she makes fun of Katana and then Swierczynski chickens out of Katana’s reaction.

Besides the occasional signs of life, it’s lame.

CREDITS

You Might Think; writer, Duane Swiercynski; artist, Jesús Saiz; colorist, June Chung; letterer, Carlos M. Mangual; editors, Bobbie Chase and Janelle Asselin; publisher, DC Comics.

Birds of Prey 2 (December 2011)

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Swierczynski’s Birds of Prey shows exactly why the comic needs two strong leads. Having Dinah partner up with some lame brained new character devoid of personality just shows all the cracks in the concept. Even having Katana, who Swierczynski writes better than anyone else, show up doesn’t help things. Swierczynski’s set the book up with Dinah deceiving everyone, just so he can have soft cliffhangers with Poison Ivy.

But Saiz’s artwork is so great this issue—there aren’t many stupid looking bad guys this time, just one it seems—I’m finding it difficult not to support the book. Saiz has a nice way of not objectifying the characters. Though the costume designs might force him in that direction. Black Canary looks more and more like Brubaker’s Sharon Carter all the time.

There’s no compelling villain, which the book definitely needs. But Swierczynski’s improving and his writing is getting reassuringly mediocre.

CREDITS

Trouble in Mind; writer, Duane Swiercynski; artist, Jesús Saiz; colorist, Allen Passalaqua; letterer, Carlos M. Mangual; editor, Janelle Asselin; publisher, DC Comics.

Birds of Prey 1 (November 2011)

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It’s been a while since I’ve read a Duane Swierczynski comic book, so I forgot how badly he writes dialogue. He should teach a class in verbose declarative statements.

That defect—and his interesting comfort having a female character refer to herself as “bitch”—aside, Birds of Prey isn’t terrible. Jesus Saiz is a good artist. In some ways, of the good artists DC has on these relaunch titles, Saiz is the only one who doesn’t let himself get lazy. He does his work.

There’s a fair amount of new origin stuff here, but Swierczynski’s a deceptive writer—one who doesn’t have enough faith in the material being good so he has to pace out revelations to keep up interest. I mean, Black Canary’s a fugitive. Batgirl doesn’t want to be her partner. Instead, the new partner’s Starling, which is pretty dumb superhero name.

It’s without value, but not worthless.

CREDITS

Let Us Prey; writer, Duane Swiercynski; artist, Jesús Saiz; colorist, Nei Ruffino; letterer, Carlos M. Mangual; editor, Janelle Asselin; publisher, DC Comics.

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