Thursday, September 28, 2006

Joe Rice Media Review 9/28/06

First off, I just started Satsuma Gishiden, but it's so far frickin' awesome. It's a dirty, grimy, gory samurai manga. It opens with a convict being torn to pieces by samurai as part of a game to take his liver. That right there's enough to tell you if you'd like this 70s bloodsterpiece. So far I obviously do.

I also tried Silent Ghost, which seems to be another old-school kung fu epic, but I couldn't finish it. The art was sketchy, that I don't mind. But the coloring was so weird and muddy that the combination of the two (added to very wordy dialogue) made it a chore to get through. So I didn't.

Daredevil was good and kickass and perhaps the only time a matador has been threatening to anyone other than a PETA member. Uhh, that metaphor didn't work. I'm tired and not on my game tonight, folks. But Brubaker's on his game, Lark's on his game, and we get a Matt Murdock as James Bond kinda riff here with some interesting stuff going on behind the scenes. Also, very glad that Michael Murdock was a red herring. Good comics.

Eternals sported a twist I should have seen coming but didn't. This is fun adventure comics, a decent b-movie that you'd rent and not feel bad about. The art, however, is just beautiful. If I seem underwhelmed, I'm not, really. I look forward to this book. I'm just too tired to be too enthusiastic, I think.

I'll be honest, I'm having trouble remembering where all the characters in Punisher came from. I remember Rawlins, I remember the Russian hardass, but Yorkie . . .the IRA thing? And O'Brien? Not sure which girl she is. Nonetheless, it's a hell of a story. I don't get the people that don't buy the Punisher because he's morally abhorrent to them. That's the point. He's supposed to be. But the stories are good. Are fake people's morals more important than stories?

Batman. Christ. I dunno. This issue had none of the formal experimentations or twists that made the last so delightful. The art is very hard for me to look at. There were a few cool touches, like the Batcostumes and Batman's dressing down of his son (dishonored your sensei, etc). But I wasn't really feeling this book like I wanted to. It felt like . . .more current DC superhero melodrama. I dunno, man. That's sad to me. Last issue was so awesome. This one's just good at best, I think. Maybe I need to read it again.

I watched that Heroes show. What a lazy, easy-way-out show it seems to be. Sure, one episode, but . . .it seems so EASY. "We need sex appeal!" "Make a character a stripper!" "We need schlub appeal!" "Make characters 'lovable' losers the fatass nerds at home will love!" Some of the acting's OK, but I found myself agreeing with the "mean" brother about his dipshit little brother. The cheerleader I found interesting, some of the Japanese fella's dialogue was cute (but, really, "Hiro"? Ugh!), but I didn't really give a crap otherwise. Lisa might be hooked so maybe I'll see next week's episode, but I certainly wouldn't seek it out.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Judge Dredd has been a constant figure in nearly every issue of British science-fiction comic 2000ad over its 30-year history. For a character who pretty much started out as Dirty Harry in the future with a bucket on his head, this is really quite remarkable.

What is even more remarkable is that while a number of high profile creators have had their crack at writing Dredd, one writer has consistently written the best Dredd tales throughout the strip’s history and has, over the last decade, taken it to a whole new level.

In his time, Scots writer John Wagner has crafted literally thousands of different Dredd stories, from six-panel morality plays to six-month sagas with body counts in the hundreds of millions. The format can change, but the basics are always there – clear, crisp storytelling with a minimum of bullshit and just enough humour, getting straight to the point without skipping on the action.

Although he essentially created the character with artist Carlos Ezquerra, Wagner actually briefly left the strip before pre-publication, but soon returned. He still shared scripting duties over those first years, with Pat Mills writing much of the initial mythology that surrounded Dredd.

But after a couple of years, Wagner’s imagination went into overdrive, building up Dredd’s world with dozens of short, snappy tales and fleshing it out further in epics that ran for months in the weekly publication.

The initial clumsiness of the concept behind Dredd was burned away in this fire of storytelling. Over the years, Wagner further deepened the storyline. The fascist angle behind the whole judicial system of Mega-City One was fleshed out, eventually filling Dredd with so much doubt he walked off into the Cursed Earth to spread law amongst the lawless, never to return.

But, of course, as he always does, Dredd came back to save his city. In this, Wagner has followed in his greatest creation’s footsteps. Like many of his peers, he followed the money all the way to America, but his style and sense of humour never really caught on. Frequent collaborator Alan Grant did rather better with long runs on DC’s Batman and Lobo, but almost all of Wagner’s American efforts, such as the Outcasts and Last American mini-series, both written with Grant, along with the short-lived Chain Gang War, are now mostly forgotten.

At about this same time, Dredd was turned over to other writers such as Garth Ennis and Mark Millar. These writers would find much more success across the Atlantic, with most of their stories badly received by Dredd fans.

But when Wagner’s attentions moved back to Dredd, the quality of the stories shot through the roof. Beginning with The Pit saga, which saw Dredd take over the running of a Mega-City sector house, Wagner started building up a vast cast of characters to support the big man. With the notable help of fellow Scots writer Gordon Rennie, Wagner has put so much effort into these supporting characters, including his niece Vienna and fellow Judges Guthrie, Giant and Dredd clone Rico, that they have become a family around Dredd, able to point out his flaws while still standing beside him to the death.

And now, 30 years on, Wagner has gone right back to the beginning with the Origins epic that has just started in 2000ad, a story that promises to combine the usual huge action with the final look at where Dredd actually came from.

It is just so rare to see the same writer stick with the same creator for more than three decades, but it is even rarer for that writer to steadily improve over that time to this point, where Wagner’s work is greeted with almost pure joy by loyal Dredd readers.

In the past Wagner has said that Dredd’s origin will be the last Judge Dredd story he will ever write. It is a story that I personally can’t wait to see unfold and would mark the very best way for Wagner to move on and leave the character behind. But I hope there is still some more Dredd to come from Wagner, because he is, quite simply, an absolute fucking legend.