Jean Grey: X-Men Origins - Jean Grey/Here Comes Yesterday
(Art by Mike Mayhew, Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger and Craig Yeung)
Marvel's Mightiest Heroes Book 22. Two stories, the first of which reveals details of Jean Grey's youth and how Professor X was forced to block her access to her telepathic powers to save her sanity. In the other story Beast, desperate to halt Cyclops' mutant revolution, brings the original five X-Men out of their teenage years and into the future to revive the ideals of Xavier's dream.
McKeever's story of Jean's youth isn't anything particularly ground-breaking, but it does serve to explain why, in her early appearances, Jean had no telepathic powers. We also get to see her behaving like a real teenager, as opposed to the 60s pretty girl cliche that she was in the early days of the X-Men comics.
The other story, by Bendis, is much more engaging. It has to be said that this is one of the sillier ways to enact the comic book trope of returning to the status quo, however. All superheroes get regularly rebooted back to their most famous incarnation but the idea of simply bringing that incarnation forward through time to current continuity feels very cheap and, honestly, robs these characters of the decades of development they've had. Instead of taking the effort to give Cyclops a proper redemption story arc, they've just decided to bring classic Cyclops back in his entirety.
Despite my annoyance at how this story has been conceived, obviously for real-world reasons, it's delivered with genuine conviction and heart. I particularly enjoyed seeing the older and younger versions of Hank McCoy working together to solve the problem of their latest stage of mutation. I did feel that young Scott Summers got a bit of an unfairly rough ride of it, not only having to deal with his own knowledge of what he becomes, but also being blamed by everyone else for the older Scott's actions. It's good narrative tension, but just feels a bit mean-spirited. Seeing young Jean try to deal with sudden complete knowledge of her complicated life story (alive, Dark Phoenix, dead, cloned, alive again, dead again etcetera) makes for interesting reading too.
4 out of 5
JLA: Earth 2
featuring Grant Morrison and Gardner Fox
(Art by Frank Quitely, Carmine Infantino and Joe Giella)
Part of the DC Comics Graphic Novel Collection. The main story in this book is the titular 'Earth 2' which sees the Justice League of America discovering a parallel world where they have villainous counterparts called the Crime Syndicate of America. Heeding a plea from help from Alexander Luthor, they journey into the parallel world but inadvertantly unleash the CSA on their own. The other story on offer here is 'Flash of Two Worlds', a groundbreaking story which saw Barry Allen entering a parallel world where he meets the Silver Age version of the Flash, Jay Garrick.
Parallel worlds had passed out of DC's regular story pool following the 'Crisis on Infinite Earths' (reviewed here) in the 1980s, so by the time Morrison revisited the concept in 2000 it would've been something of a novelty. And there is a really entertaining aspect of seeing how the parallel Earth is different from the more familiar one, as well as seeing psychotic villain versions of familiar heroes. I also liked that Morrison doesn't just make the characters the same but evil, presenting Superman's counterpart as a human astronaut who was changed by encountering Kryptonian technology and Batman's counterpart actually being Thomas Wayne Jr.
Despite all of that, for me, there just wasn't enough that was new and interesting to really engage me. It's basically just a mirror universe story and I've seen that story play out many times before (in Star Trek in particular).
The second story, from 1961, is really interesting and actually created the concept of so-called 'legacy' characters within comic canon. Having the two Flashes meet was also the beginning of a long-running series of crossovers between DC heroes of different ages, which ultimately fed into the aforementioned 'Crisis on Infinite Earths'. For me the most intriguing part of the story was how meta it is considering that term probably hadn't even been coined back then. In it Barry Allen's Flash reveals he was inspired by comics written by Gardner Fox about the Jay Garrick version of the Flash and, at the end, goes on to say he'll encourage Fox to write a comic about his adventure with Jay. So it's a comic book story written by Gardner Fox, supposedly retold by a fictional Gardner Fox about a superhero meeting a real life version of the comic book superhero that inspired him. Wheels within wheels.
3 out of 5
JLA: The Nail
featuring Alan Davis and Jerry Siegel
(Art by Alan Davis, Mark Farmer, Leo Nowak and Joe Shuster)
Part of the DC Comics Graphic Novel Collection. In 'The Nail' we see an alternate world without a Superman, where the JLA are fighting an uphill battle against rising hostility in the media and the machinations of a mysterious foe. Also included here is 'Superman #13' from 1941, wherein Superman has to hunt down The Archer and where Jimmy Olsen is first featured by name.
I first read just the middle section of 'The Nail' (reviewed here) when it was three separate parts and, whilst I found the premise intriguing, there wasn't enough there to really engage me. Here, however, with the full set-up of this alternate world, it's definitely more compelling. What we see here is a very familiar DC Universe, but one which is also inescapably bleaker due to the lack of Superman. Wonder Woman does what she can to fill the role of icon of truth and justice, but her warrior nature means that she's not always the right person to do so. We also see a Batman who is even more on the fringes than normal without Superman there as the bridge between him and the rest of the Justice League. The twist reveal of the villain behind everything was also suitably surprising, in a way that felt earned.
The classic Superman story in the back half of the book is fine as far as it goes but it probably goes without saying that comicbook storytelling was relatively unsophisticated in superhero stories of the 1940s.
3 out of 5
JLA: Tower Of Babel
featuring Mark Waid, Dan Curtis Johnson and Gardner Fox
(Art by Howard Porter, Pablo Raimondi, Steve Scott, Mike Sekowsky, Bernard Sachs, Joe Giella and Murphy Anderson)
Part of the DC Comics Graphic Novel Collection. The title story sees the Justice League brought low by Ra's Al Ghul who employs tactics perfectly designed to neutralise each of them individually. The JLA soon learns that the tactics Al Ghul is using were originally designed by none other than Batman. Desperate to prevent Al Ghul's latest attempt at wiping out the majority of humanity, the JLA is nonetheless crippled by distrust of and anger at one of their most important members. The other story here, Gardner Fox's 'Starro the Conqueror' reprints the very first story to feature the Justice League of America as they unite to defeat an extraterrestrial menace.
'Tower of Babel' is an interesting story which sees the JLA fighting not only the usual supervillain plot but also division within their own ranks. It's really fascinating to see how each of the League reacts to the knowledge that one of their colleagues has been spending his time planning how to defeat them in very personal and brutal ways. Whilst Batman's not necessarily wrong, the fact that he has hidden all of this from the others shows just how isolated and paranoid a character he is. The most emotionally resonant reaction is that of Superman, whose obvious hurt at being betrayed by his friend makes you want to give him a hug.
There was one significant problem with this story for me, however, and that is that it's not an original idea. Marvel already covered this exact territory during the mid-90s Onslaught event, wherein the X-Men discover that Professor Xavier has been building up dossiers on how to kill each of them. So, whilst this is good, Marvel did it first.
The throwback story here is a bit disappointing. Although it's the first JLA story ever, it throws the team into the story fully-formed, so there's no build-up to the heroes coming together to fight what would be beyond them individually. Which leads me to the second problem with the story; it immediately splits the League up so that they do have to fight individually. Doing it that way round makes no sense. The other big problem with this story is the villain of the piece, Starro the Conqueror, who is a giant starfish from Outer Space. Just because, I suppose.
3 out of 5
JLA: Year One - Part 2
featuring Mark Waid, Brian Augustyn and Edmond Hamilton
(Art by Barry Kitson, Michael Bair, Mark Propst, John Stokes, Sheldon Moldoff and Charles Paris)
Part of the DC Comics Graphic Novel Collection. Here we have the second half of the retroactive look at the early days of the Justice League of America. Having formed their team Green Lantern, Black Canary, Flash, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter begin to realise that perhaps they don't know each other as well as they should. Their loyalty to each other is tested to the limit when they are confronted by a full-scale alien invasion. Also included in this book is a story called 'The Strange Experiment of Dr. Erdel' from 1955 which features the first appearance of the Martian Manhunter.
It took me a while to get into the main 'Year One' story here because we see all of the characters not knowing much about each other and not convinced they can be a team. Decades of reading Justice League stories meant that I knew very well all of their secrets and that they make an iconic team. However, once I'd gotten used to the setting I began to enjoy the book a lot more. I've always liked underdog teams and it was really interesting to see the JLA be those underdogs, lacking the membership of DC's top trinity of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.
The story builds nicely to an epic conclusion which sees the nascent JLA have to take charge of all of the world's heroes in order to fight off an alien invasion. I particularly enjoyed the 'passing of the torch' feel generated by the inclusion of the older superhero teams like the JSA, the Doom Patrol and the Metal Men.
Although the extra story featuring J'onn J'onzz's first appearance is as lacking in complexity as you'd expect from a 1955 comic, it was interesting to see DC's move away from superheroes into the newly popular post-war science fiction genre. Ironic too, since the rest of the book is all about J'onn becoming an iconic member of DC's most famous team of superheroes.
4 out of 5
Judge Dredd: Mechanismo
(Art by Colin MacNeil and Peter Doherty)
With the Justice Department under-strength, Chief Judge MacGruder authorises the deployment of ten robotic judges to the streets. However, as Judge Dredd himself predicts, the robots soon begin to malfunction and unleash untempered judgement upon Mega-City One.
The main body of this book is taken up by Wagner's 'Mechanismo' storyline which, with 2000AD's signature mixture of brutality and dark humour, explores the idea that a machine shouldn't be able to sit in judgement over human beings. What I liked most about this was seeing Dredd's reaction to the harsh behaviour of the robot Judges who are, in fact, programmed to emulate his own personal style.
There's also a short extra story, the one by Grant, tacked onto the end of the book (hence me reviewing it as an anthology), which features a street thug out to make a reputation for himself by attempting to kill Judge Dredd. It's neither big nor clever and felt like a real step down from the far more engaging Mechanismo story.
3 out of 5
Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 01
(Art by Carlos Ezquerra, Mike McMahon, Massimo Belardinelli, Ron Turner, Ian Gibson, John Cooper, Bill Ward and Brian Bolland)
The first in a series of graphic novels which gather together Judge Joseph Dredd's stories in chronological order, beginning with his very first appearance published in 1977.
The fact that 2000AD was/is an anthology comic means that the stories published in it cannot be overly long and that brevity is particularly prevalent in these very early stories of Dredd. Sadly, what this means is that much of this book features punchy but underdeveloped stories which do get rather repetetive. Added to that is the fact that the Dredd on offer here is an unfortunately toned-down one to make his brutal form of lawgiving more palatable. So, rather than killing every wrongdoer in sight, we get a Dredd who usually only deals out custodial sentences and a stern telling-off. Don't get me wrong, I don't want a bloodbath, but this early more politically correct Dredd is not one which sits well with someone who grew up reading the far darker 1980s comics.
It is worth noting that in the bonus material at the back of the book there is the first Dredd story which was written, in which he does summarily execute some perps on the sidewalk. It's interesting to see how the character was originally envisioned; very much judge, jury and executioner, and compare it to the softer version who actually made it to publication.
There are a couple of stand-out bits in this anthology and, without fail, they are the stories which are multi-part. Although the first Dredd epic storyline, 'The Cursed Earth' isn't featured here, we do get a few early attempts at making longer, more detailed storylines. I think my favourite on offer here was one in which a robot uprising leads to all-out war on the streets of Mega-City One; an uprising led by a villainous robot with the brilliant name of Call Me Kenneth.
As well as the aforementioned toning-down of Dredd's violence, the other great failing of this book is the 'comic relief' character of Walter the Wobot. Yes, he's a robot with a speech impediment. Walter's constantly irritating presence could well be cited as an inspiration to George Lucas when he created Jar Jar Binks.
Overall, there's plenty to like about this book, particularly if you're a long-time 2000AD fan like me, but these early stories feature a Joe Dredd who hasn't yet developed into the character that truly stands out among comic book characters.
3 out of 5
Judge Dredd: The Mega Collection - America
(Art by Colin MacNeil)
The majority of this book is written by Wagner and follows the fortunes of America Jara and Benny Beeny, as well as their daughter. Although Joe Dredd does feature heavily in this group of stories, their focus is actually on what it is like for ordinary citizens living in a world where democracy has died and the often brutal Judges have almost unlimited power. The main character to begin with is Benny and we get to see through his eyes how the woman he loves, his childhood friend America, drifts away from him and joins the terrorist revolutionaries attempting to revive democracy.
Both Benny and America are complex characters and this is a fantastic exploration of moral grey areas. Perhaps most interesting is the latter part of these stories where their daughter, also called America, trains to join the Judges, the very institution which ruined the lives of her parents. What I found most intriguing about America Beeny as a Judge was that she partially adopts her parents' counter-culture perspectives and, by incorporating them into her new role, earns the respect of Judge Dredd for being able navigate emotionally complex situations on the streets that he admits he couldn't understand.
I really enjoyed this family saga, with its unrequited love, tragedy, family dynamics and moral ambiguities.
The book as a whole is let down, however, by the last few stories (one by Wagner, the rest by Ennis). Don't get me wrong, there's nothing especially bad about them, it's just that they are short stand-alone stories with little depth and no relationship to the brilliant America storyline which takes up most of the book. Frankly this book would have been better if it had just been shorter and featured only Wagner's cohesive work on the Jara/Beeny family. We simply could have done without the 'bonus' stories at the end.
4 out of 5
Judge Dredd: The Mega Collection - Mechanismo
(Art by Colin MacNeil, Peter Doherty, Manuel Benet, Jock, Val Semeiks and Cliff Robinson)
A collection of four stories, three by Wagner and one by Rennie, which focus on the idea of robots running amok.
The meat of this book is the first two stories, which are about the titular Mechanismo programme. This involves the creation and unleashing of robotic Judges who proceed to dispense brutal justice with the total lack of empathy you could expect from a rmachine. Robots going off the rails is tried-and-tested territory for science fiction and 2000AD already tackled it in a major way with the Robot Uprising led by Call Me Kenneth. Where these two stories break new ground is in juxtaposing the Mechanismo Judges, who are all designed and programmed to mimic Dredd, with the main man himself. By comparison we actually get to appreciate Dredd's humanity in a way that is hard to do until the robots take his style to an extreme. Except for a few throwaway puns and in-jokes ("Number 5 is alive!") these stories are among some of the most serious Dredd stories I've read.
However, it is Wagner's third story 'S.A.M.' which proves the gem of this book. Here we see the writer fully unleashing his ironic sense of humour as a dissatisfied citizen takes a robot bomb into the Bureau of Creative Bureaucracy, whose motto is 'Saving money for the city by making things difficult for you'.
The final story, by Rennie, features a new batch of medical droids who decide that the only way to cure the people of Mega-City One is to kill them all. This last doesn't have a huge amount going for it to make it stand out from the crowd, with the exception of the art by Jock.
3 out of 5
Judge Dredd: The Mega Collection - The Heavy Mob
(Art by Jim Murray, Clint Langley, Kevin Walker, Brian Bolland, Ron Smith and PJ Holden)
An anthology of stories which focus on various paramilitary groups within the wider world of Judge Dredd's future, including the Holocaust Squad, the Brit-Cit Brute and the Marine Corps.
There's a wide variety of stories, art styles and characters on display in this book, but the truth is that this works against the book as a whole. No sooner have these lesser-known characters started to bed-in with the reader than their story ends. In particular, I was keen to get to know the Holocaust 12, but none of them last long and their story is over fairly quickly. The Brit-Cit Brute stories, however, just didn't click with me and I found myself unable to get to grips with them.
There are some solid outings for Joe Dredd here, but they too are relatively short and, ultimately, I found that disappointing.
2 out of 5
Judge Dredd: Top Dog
(Art by Colin Macneil and John Burns)
Three stories featuring Mega-City One's meannest lawman. In the first Dredd findhimself on the trail of a time travelling bounty hunter; the Strontium Dog Johnny Alpha, the second sees a series of brutal robberies and murders involving the theft of collectable 20th Century garbage and the final story has Dredd being kidnapped by a vengeful assassin.
These three stories are fairly standard Dredd fare, which is to say there's plenty of violence mixed in with just a touch of darkly ironic humour (I particularly liked the mention of a care home for the chronically befuddled). There are two things that are of particular interest, however. The first is seeing Dredd throw down with one of 2000AD's other headline characters, Johnny Alpha, with neither character feeling unjustly treated by the crossover. The second is seeing Dredd actually outmatched by the assassin and having to fall back on sheer bloody-minded determination to win.
3 out of 5
Judge Dredd's Crime File Volume One
(Art by John Higgins, Bryan Talbot, Jose Ortiz and Ian Gibson)
Three stories featuring 2000AD's Lawman of the Future and one starring the Rogue Trooper.
The first story is the longest and best, involving Dredd journeying into the Cursed Earth to confront a group of bandits which includes such villainous characters as Big Guy, Dinky Guy and Dog Guy. The second story has Dredd being attacked by four dwarves with a sad (fairy) tale to tell, out to avenge their three dead brothers. Next up is Rogue Trooper's tale and is focused on the relationship between the intelligences contained in his equipment. The last story has Dredd in hot pursuit whilst detaining another perp over the radio.
All these stories have the dark humour you'd expect but none of them is really outstanding.
3 out of 5
Judge Dredd's Crime File Volume Two
(Art by Mike McMahon, Ian Gibson and Carlos Ezquerra)
Five stories starring Judge Joseph Dredd and one which focuses on Hoagy, the robotic sidekick of Sam Slade, Robo Hunter.
With the exception of the Hoagy story, the tales featured in this book are of a far better quality than those of Volume One, with most of them showing the dark edge which was such an important part of the 2000AD comics in the 1980s.
It is Hoagy story which lets this book down, being fairly lighthearted and goofy, but I have to say that it did at least feature the wry humour so common to Alan Grant's writing, with a nice twist in the tale at the end. Also showcasing the humour which was always an important part of 2000AD is the first story on offer here, 'Anatomy of a Crime', in which a man runs afoul of Judge Dredd when his desire to become Mega-City 1's fattest man leads him into a life of crime. As he furiously tried to pack on pounds, his wife scathingly says "Why don't you get smart and take up a sensible hobby... like spot welding!"
I think the best story in the anthology is 'Compulsory Purchase', although the one with the space vampire comes a close second. In 'Compulsory Purchase' an important Mega-City 1 official needs a heart transplant and Dredd is tasked with tackling the problem that the only compatible donor is still alive. This story finds the perfect balance of gallows humour and grim cynicism and is a real gem.
This book is a great collection of Dredd's adventures by two of his most respected and talented writers (not to mention the fact that Wagner and Ezquerra were the ones who created Judge Dredd in the first place).
4 out of 5