Release Date: 7th April 2016
The Brit-Cit is always a fascinating place to explore – the UK’s answer to Mega City One, infused delightfully with British sensibilities, their Judges serving as The Avengers (the old school British ones, not the ones with the green angry guy) to Judge Dredd’s Dirty Harry.
It seems only right – given that this here collects two distinct stories, thematically linked by an air of the supernatural – that we separate this here review into two parts. So! Here goes:
STRANGE & DARKE
Writer: John Smith
Artists: Colin MacNeil, Len O’Grady, Dee Cunniffe
Original characters are always a tough sell, particularly in a universe as idiosyncratic as 2000AD’s Dreddverse (is it called that? Is now). One can either spend time on an origin story – which, if not the subject of a whole comic, takes up valuable pages pace that could be reserved for your story proper – or you can just dive into your story and have your character reveal they nature through their actions and reactions to whatever crazy situation it is that you’ve chucked them into.
Smith here opts for the latter, introducing us to Psi-Judge Becky Darke as she is in turn being introduced to Detective Inspector Jericho Strange of the Endangered Species Squad. Her: a psychic tumour that voices both her and other’s inner monologues. Him: a dude with a horse’s skull for a head. So far, so very British.
Whilst there is an argument to say that reading DI Strange’s previous outings, it’s almost more fun to go into this story completely blind – with Smith doing a terrific job of capitalising on the particular mystery surrounding said horse’s skull, blending a slow reveal with the unraveling main story rather beautifully. There’s also a lovely lilt to his dialogue, with no two characters sounding the same as their voices sound in your head. The story is a touch on the ‘absolutely insane’ side, but it’s easy enough to follow, and come the end, reaches a conclusion that’s satisfying, if perhaps a touch on the telegraphed side.
The art is pretty decent, too – MacNeil’s solid linework brought to life by O’Grady and Cunniffe’s stellar colour-work. Gloomy church scenes, smoky offices, blasted waste-lands – each is given a particular and precise tone that beautifully sets the mood of each. There are some great one-page spreads distributed evenly through the story, and whilst MacNeil isn’t the flashiest of artists, there’s terrific consistent to his rendering of each of his characters, which is particularly impressive, given that one of them does have…y’know, a horse’s skull for a head. Did I mention how weird-slash-awesome that is? I did? Okay fine.
A fun wee ride – strange and dark, exactly as promised, but with lashings of sly laughs, it certainly sets up both headline characters as cool prospects for future endeavours.
Writers: Leah Moore, John Reppion
Artists: Tom Foster, Kirsty Swan
There’s a curious reversal that happens as you transition from Strange and Darke – whilst MacNeil’s piece proffers a darkly comedic vibe, Storm Warning is something of a somber affair. Not only that, but it opts to present us with an origin story for our titular(-ish) new creation, Psi-Judge Lillian Storm.
It’s certainly an engaging story from Moore and Reppion – well crafted to the point where it’s almost clinically refined, with occasionally a little too-terse dialogue providing precise measures of exposition as and when it’s needed. Judge Storm’s origin story is weaved throughout the tale of stolen psychic artefacts painted as WMDs, with a crackingly nefarious villain that nicely offsets Storm’s stoicism. The Judge herself is a pretty terrific character – born of a failed sacrifice to summon ungodly creatures from the nether realm, she’s sharp, capable, and somehow manages to hurdle the usual obstacle of ‘physical toughness is what makes female characters strong’ obstacle. The fact that her eyes are a constant motif throughout serves to emphasise this point.
Which brings us to the art of this piece, which is almost the polar opposite of its predecessor. Here, Foster’s linework is the star of the show – the level of detail present is mind-boggling, from the tiniest of paint splatters on graffiti in the background of a riot scene, through to one of the most painstaking, gorgeous renders of the classic slow-motion jowl-wobble as a character gets hit in the face. This gives the Brit-Cit that surrounds our characters a lived-in, breathing quality, that imbues the relatively serious storytelling a believable quality that might otherwise have escaped it. It’s a shame then that Swan’s colouring here is a little shaky – on occasions threatening to drown out Foster’s immaculate lines with some strange lighting choices. The colours certainly improve as the series progresses, so much so that there’s a marked difference between the opening and closing pages in terms of quality. Still, if the artist’s sketchbook – included as an appendix – is anything to go by, the story might well have been even more satisfying had it simply been his lines in the stark black-and-white they were originally rendered in.
Still, it doesn’t even come close to rendering the story unreadable – quite the opposite, with Foster’s deliciously flowing layouts compelling your eye ever-forward, to the point where you may find yourself powering through this story a little faster than Strange and Darke, despite it ostensibly being the lengthier of the two tales.
A fine read, despite the plateau of excitement that strikes midway through the story, showcasing an incredibly exciting set of a new creatives, from both the script and art perspective.
As a whole, this book smacks of remarkably good value, particularly given the talents on display, as well as the fact that it’ll like-as-not prove difficult these days to acquire the exact issues of the Megazine within which they appeared. Terrific stories, with only minor hiccups in both narratives – though there is a curious juxtaposition between each of the stories’ merits, which could potentially be a little jarring.
Given that both stories are great jumping-on points for anyone searching for a reason to get into the Dreddverse – and in particular, the British side of things – the reasons to not pick this up are dwindling unto naught. It’s more than worth the asking price. Nuff said. The mathematically-proficient among you may have guessed the overall score already, but it’s…
Overall Rating: 4/5.
The Writer of this piece was: Ross Sweeney
Ross tweets from @Rostopher24