Life brings hardships in all manner of shapes and sizes.
What They Say:
Mega-City One, 2130 AD. This vast urban nightmare on the east coast of post-apocalyptic North America is home to 400 million citizens, every one a potential criminal. With lawlessness rife, only the Judges can prevent total anarchy. These future lawmen are judge, jury and executioner. Toughest of them all is Judge Dredd – he is the Law!
The Review: (please note that content portions of review may contain spoilers)
Judge Dredd shows that the more things change the more they stay the same in some ways as a young man, Taylor Cook, finds himself questioning his sexuality and exploring just what that means to him but that doesn’t mean those around him will approve as he comes into conflict with his father. In the wake of the Chaos Bug he finds that his opportunity to work through things with the people important to him is lost but perhaps he will find some measure of peace and a place to feel welcome as he discovers a bar dedicated to the city’s most feared lawman…but exactly how long can one basically speak the devil’s name before he appears, and when he does what price will he extract?
In Savage the force lead by the main character learns that their hoped for bombing run isn’t going to come which leaves the team to have to ferret out the Volgs from their barricade the hard way- and things get even harder for Savage as his men have orders to keep him from leading the assault and so he has to watch as his troops attempt to take a secured location and suffer enormously for it. In the heat of battle loses will accumulate incredibly fast and fans will discover that no one may be safe from meeting a grisly end.
Meanwhile Ampney Crucis Investigates finds that it is the title character who is facing a bit of the investigation as his exploits in catching the Martian Ambassador’s assassin (more or less) has earned England some big points with the aliens but the fact that he was meeting with the Ambassador at all has Britain’s Prime Minister trying to pry the secret about what they talked from Ampney, putting him in a situation that takes as much skill to maneuver in its own way as he needed to bring down the assassin with failure perhaps carrying a higher price. Elsewhere The Red Seas finds its lead under a very large type of assault as the Morning Star’s surprise weapon takes the field but even a fallen angel may find that he has greatly underestimated his opponents though Strontium Dog may go the other way as a brash attempt from Alpha to help some fellow mutants under fire may provide the military their greatest chance to take out the mutant leader and stop the revolution before it gains any more ground using overwhelming force.
Having read comics for close to three decades (and reading reprints of some of the older titles) when the talk about The Big Question of this issue started circulating because of some art that was released as a tease it was difficult to get into the pre-release debates simply because I’ve gotten so used to the idea that comics love a big splash and the publicity it brings be it through a provocative cover, art released early or leaking of a story event to create a buzz. One might even go so far as to say I’ve become cynical to the whole thing as so many times these leaks have been much sound and fury that often fail to live up to its promise in that issue and over time the event often gets lost in either a retcon attempt or the latest big idea to capture eyes and dollars from wallets which changes the result.
As a result when the art came out that appeared to show Dredd kissing a young man I declined to get worked up in the “Is Dredd gay?!?” discussion that broke out in a few places that I saw as I frankly doubted that the publishers would go for a bold move like that without having a whole lot of build up for an event that would likely change how a lot of fans looked at what may be Britain’s most popular comic character. I actually had a bit of fear as to how it would play out as the use of homosexuality in comics has a rather uneven past with some comics creating stories that treat the characters and stories as honestly as it does its more traditionally sexually oriented cast (or poorly as the case may be) but there are more than a few stories where the characters were used in a way that made them more a plot device than a character inserted naturally into the cast.
Luckily it turned out that the author of the story here posses the ability to make a story that is respectful of the character it creates and his issues while also having the courage to treat him as it would pretty much any other character of any other sexual orientation who might engage in similar behavior in the Dredd universe. The story does a fairly good job of trying to explore what effects the events the story presents might impart on someone who has to live through them from first the unknown suspecting of being different than other to having to deal with rejection by his father and the fall out that that rejection and its violent outburst plays on a young man’s psyche in a way that feels far less exploitive than one might fear. The author seems to have a genuine concern to present his protagonist as someone that is relatable to the audience even if they haven’t had the same experiences and whose plight can’t help but resonate with all who have felt different and perhaps persecuted for it, be it for sexual preferences or anything else. Of course the story being a Judge Dredd tale means that the whole focus won’t be on feelings exactly and there are a couple of humorous scenes in the book that play off the “Dredd” character seen in the initial art and which allow for some moments that look to even cause the city’s number one lawman to pause and which also allows for some banter that would be unthinkable in almost any other story with him. It is the mixing of a heartfelt struggle with the cold environment of Mega-City One that causes the story to really shine to its potential and makes it a tale that is likely to speak to far more than just those current fans of Judge Dredd.
Of course being an anthology title Prog 1817 doesn’t shut down just because Judge Dredd figures out a way to draw all the attention to itself but neither do many of the other stories really find themselves in a position to take advantage of the new eyes that the lead in title’s marketing and teasing will likely bring in either. Probably the series that best makes use of the chance offered is Savage as its story part here lends itself well to being understood even by people who have never read one of the previous parts before as the tale of battle and strife is one that relates well and so the loses can still be felt, even if one doesn’t get the full effect that comes from knowing the characters and now seeing them go. Ampney on the other hand largely makes little use of the opportunity to gain new followers as it continues its story point which unabated which leads to pages filled with exposition and some wry dialogue that may leave new readers nonplussed given they don’t know the set up while much of the material plays to current fans.
Strontium Dog fares a bit better on the action front but the page count available makes the text boxes promise of this featuring a major fight feel less than fully accomplished as events happen at such a pace it almost appears that a number of scenes were removed for space and as such the chapter moves too fast to really give weight to the events to say nothing of the promise, though the strong action still might hold a bit of appeal for new fans as well as old. The Red Seas on the other hand feels like it got keelhauled in the process as its very limited page count gives the title very little time to build up real sense of danger or action to serve as a rewarding experience in its own part and the issues attempt to negate Satan’s latest trump card play feels underwhelming which feels unsatisfying in its own right. The way it played out reminded of something I read in a Transformers comic in the late 80’s which was trying to save space in introductions and seriously undercut the tension to say nothing of feeling like a half hearted gimmick that is just thrown out to even the odds again rather than introduce a really clever way of taking out a real cool- but apparently too powerful- idea that had been just introduced in the comic before.
The entirety of the Prog comes across as one that is willing to sacrifice some of the other titles a bit for the buzz that Judge Dredd alone can bring and it feels like the other titles in the issue wind up getting shafted a bit in being able to seize on Dredd’s story as the places where many of the other titles are in their story arcs just don’t lend themselves as well to trying to capture any momentum from it. While Savage probably has a chance to try to capitalize on the controversy, Ampney is most likely going to just appeal to fans who are already on board while Strontium Dog feels like a bit off in its outing and which isn’t as rewarding as it could have been while The Red Seas fares like a ship thrown against the rocks in a hurricane and so not every title’s fan is going to really love this issue as much as some of the others.
This is the Prog whose initial tease had Judge Dredd fans talking and worked up and which manages to provide a bit of a payoff to the hype- if not necessarily the way everyone involved in the arguments will love- at least it will probably be respected by the majority as the main issue raised is done in a fairly tactful way that feels natural (mostly) for the character introduced. Fans of other titles in the book may not find themselves as happy as Savage and Ampney carry themselves well but Strontium Dog feels less special than it should and The Red Seas gets tied to the mast and lashed with a small page count and the introduction of a ham fisted equalizer to try to one up the previous installment. Still the issue is one that current fans likely will enjoy the stories they already love while the tease in Dredd may give people who haven’t touched many (or any) comics before a reason to pick this one up and give it a look to see how it delivers on its big hook.