Jimmy The Hand
by Raymond E. Feist & Steve Stirling
Part of the Legends of the Riftwar series. Jimmy is a very likeable character, but his ability to do just about everything does get annoying at times, so I had mixed feelings when I began this book about his first adventure outside of Krondor. The story begins within the time-frame of 'Magician' and, following Prince Arutha and Princess Anita's escape from the city, there is a crackdown on the Mockers. Jimmy then disobeys the orders of the Upright Man in order to rescue his friends from prison, an act that leads to his temporary exile.
I won't reveal too much of the story, but the sinister plot isn't particularly original, although it's given a bit of depth and tension as Baron Bernarr's dreams reveal the dark history preceeding the events in the story. The twists and turns of the plot aren't all that surprising and the 'revelation' about the Baron's son made me roll my eyes.
Putting all that aside, the book is well written, with good flow and clever structure. Also, it is raised up by the quality of the characters although fans of the series will find Jimmy is just the same as always, with no major development. Of the new characters the best are the contrasting girls Flora, a protitute trying to leave the game behind, and Lorrie, a farm girl whose world is turned upside down, and the way in which they interact.
When all's said and done, this book isn't groundbreaking, but it is an enjoyable and well-written story.
4 out of 5
JLA: Crisis Of Conscience
by Geoff Johns & Allan Heinberg
(Art by Chris Batista and Mark Farmer)
Part of the Countdown to Infinite Crisis series. The secret that certain members of the JLA used their powers to lobotomise the Secret Society of Super-Villains begins to tear the team apart.
Batman, having suffered the same treatment as the Secret Society, has quit the League. Superman and Martian Manhunter are appalled at the behaviour of their teammates. It is then that Despero restores the memories of the Secret Society. The JLA then find themselves caught between their consciences and the fact that the Society is aware of their secret identities and the names of their loved ones.
As well as those mentioned above, this book features Green Lantern Hal Jordan, Hawkman, Flash, Green Arrow, Black Canary, Zatanna and Wonder Woman. There is some great character-based tension in this book particularly between those involved in the lobotomising and those not. I also enjoyed seeing the continuation of the sexual tension between Batman and Catwoman, which has been their trademark since the characters first met, and also Bruce's fear that their friendship may not have been Catwoman's choice.
There's plenty here for action fans, but I liked this book for the morality issues dealt with by the main characters.
4 out of 5
JLA/JSA: Virtue And Vice
by David S. Goyer & Geoff Johns
(Art by Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino)
A crossover between the Justice League of America and the Justice Society of America. The two teams come together intending to build a partnership but are immediately thrown into disarray when several of the heroes are possessed by a mysterious outside power. With the League and the Society both scattered, their members must form new and unlikely partnerships in order to save not only their teammates, but the Earth itself.
Plotwise, this is a fairly cliched and unremarkable 'heroes getting mind-controlled by villains' setup but that's not to say that there's not lots here to enjoy. For starters there's seeing a number of heroes possessed by the Seven Deadly Sins, which leads to things like a very angry Batman, Kyle Rayner going green with envy over the memory of Hal Jordan and a super-horny Power Girl (because, of course).
What I found most enjoyable about this book was seeing the jumbled up teams of JLAers and JSAers who have to work together, with unlikely pairings that lead to newfound respect between the two teams. The biggest downside, on the other hand, is not the fault of this book; it's simply that there exists a superhero called Mr. Terrific.
4 out of 5
Judge Dredd: The Mega Collection - Hondo-City Justice
by John Wagner & Robbie Morrison
(Art by Colin MacNeil, Frank Quitely, Andy Clarke, Neil Googe, Mike Collins and Cliff Robinson)
In the rigid culture of Japan's Hondo-City the Judge Inspectors are daily forced to deal with the clash of their duty and the entrenched corruption of the Yakuza. Into this phallocentric society comes Aiko Inaba, the first woman to take to the streets as a Judge Inspector.
This book opens with something of a prologue, by Wagner, in which we find Judge Dredd forced to diffuse a potentially devastating political timebomb whilst on a visit to Hondo-City. Surprisingly, considering how much I usually like Wagner's writing, I found this by far the worst part of this book. Perhaps it's because the story is Dredd-centric, we get a distinctly uncomfortable representation of Hondo-City, filled with Japanese stereotypes and mockingly-bad grammar in the narration bubbles.
However, once Morrison's writing takes over the book jumps up several notches in terms of quality. The futuristic Japanese culture presented from there on has a great deal of depth and, in fact, a very Japanese feel to the storytelling. We get to see the peculiarly Japanese mixure of cultural fascination with both technology and spiritualism; with cases ranging from cyborg megalomaniacs to undead samurai.
This book's greatest asset by far is Aiko Inaba. When we first meet her she is a mere cadet and considered unsuitable for being a Judge Inspector on the basis that she's a woman. However, her uncompromising mentor Inspector Shimura molds her into a Judge to be reckoned with. As the book continues we see Inaba's work as a smart-mouthed irreverent street Judge, crossing paths with the now-disgraced Shimura, as well as with Joe Dredd. Finally we get a completion of the cycle as Inaba takes on a cadet of her own, the super-powerful psi Junko Asahara. The older/younger sister dynamic of Aiko and Junko is great and they're a team whose adventures are a pleasure to read. Particularly when a giant Godzilla-esque behemoth attacks Hondo-City.
Overall this book is at its best when not trying to link into Mega-City One and its denizens and instead truly embracing the Japanese style of storytelling.
4 out of 5
Judge Dredd: The Mega Collection - Oz
(Art by Cliff Robinson, Jim Baikie, Garry Leach, Will Simpson, Dave Elliot, Brendan McCarthy, Steve Dillon, Barry Kitson and John Higgins)
The skysurfer counter-culture icon Marlon 'Chopper' Shakespeare escapes from custody with the intention of making his way from Mega-City One all the way to Australia's Sydney-Melbourne Conurb to participate in Supersurf 10, supported all the way by fellow skysurfers and his adoring public. Hot on his heels, however, follows Chopper's nemesis Judge Dredd. However, the Justice Department is under attack by a cult of pseudo-Judges called the Judda and there may be more to Dredd's mission that meets the eye.
There are basically two main plot threads running throughout this book and the first is, obviously, Chopper's epic saga. We follow him from his breakout, through the wastes of the Cursed Earth, across the Pacific Ocean where his board runs out of power and he has to battle a psychotic robot and finally we see him in action in the Supersurf competition. Chopper is a brilliant counter-culture character and, as such, is the perfect counterpoint to Dredd's representation of authority. I particularly liked how positively the laid back Australian Judges react to Chopper and how negatively they react to the tightly-wound Dredd. The ending of this story actually caused a rift between Wagner and Grant and ended their legendary collaborative storytelling partnership.
The second major plot thread is that of the Judda. I really liked their design as wacky and exaggerated but ruthlessly terrifying Judges, but it was their history that really proved a high point for me. Here we get another rare glimpse of the days of Chief Judge Fargo's reign and see how division among those early Judges leads to the founding of the Judda.
Overall, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this story, considering how much of a back-seat Dredd takes for much of it. I particularly liked the spot-on Australian dialogue such as "You know what a roo is? You know what a poo is? Put 'em together and an' what've you got? I'll tell you - New Zealand!".
4 out of 5
Judge Dredd: The Mega Collection - The Apocalypse War
(Art by Mick McMahon, Brian Bolland, Ron Smith, Steve Dillon and Carlos Ezquerra)
Mega-City One erupts in turmoil as its citizens develop 'block mania' which turns into full-scale civil war. But this is merely the opening gambit in a war which sees Mega-City One and its arch-enemy East-Meg One unleashing their full war arsenals against one another in a storyline which forever changes Judge Dredd's world.
This book is fairly slow to start, with the block wars actually being a bit repetetive and tedious. However, that in itself proves to be a masterstroke on the parts of the writers because it lulls you into thinking that there's no surprises coming and then, when things seem at their worst, Grant and Wagner jump the stakes and the tension up another notch.
What I particularly enjoyed was the fact that almost the entire way through this book, Mega-City One is clearly on the losing side, suffering devastating setback after setback. However, at the end it is a crack team of Judges led, of course, by Dredd and featuring familiar faces like Hershey and Anderson, who undertake a desperate last-ditch mission to change the course of the war.
Another great element to this book is that we see that, in war, no-one is entirely innocent and even the Mega-City Judges, the supposed heroes, are capable of some pretty grim acts. I'm thinking specifically of the scenes where they unleash potentially fatal nerve gas on their own citizens, where they round up and summarily execute collaborators and, of course, where Dredd makes the most devastating decision of all.
This is a really good book. Definitely 2000AD at its best.
5 out of 5
Judge Dredd: The Mega Collection - The Cursed Earth
(Art by Mick McMahon, Brian Bolland and John Higgins)
Originally serialised in 1978 'The Cursed Earth' was the first epic storyline of Judge Dredd's comics career. When Mega-City Two is infected with a terrible plague and air transport is cut off, Dredd must lead a team through the irradiated wastelands of the Cursed Earth to deliver a vaccine. On the epic journey he encounters relgious zealots, mutants, vampire robots, dinosaurs, mafia, robotic soldiers and the Last President of the United States.
This is a road-movie of a storyline, with each chapter finding Dredd and his cohorts in a bizarre new situation as they move implacably westwards towards Mega-City Two. Balancing Dredd's familiar personality are a couple of less heroic Judges, the criminal punk biker Spikes Harvey Rotten and the alien Tweak. Oddly enough it is the latter two who become Dredd's staunchest allies in the end but that feels entirely natural to the story, even if the inclusion of the characters in the first place is pretty contrived.
Interestingly, we also get some exposition of the backstory to Dredd's dystopian future as the protagonists encounter numerous remnants of the nuclear war which created the Cursed Earth in the first place; not least of which is the U.S. President who pressed the Big Red Button. I really enjoyed this exploration of the events which led from our world to that of the Judges.
I also feel the need to mention Satanus, a tyrannosaurus rex whose pathological hatred of humans leads him into conflict with Dredd. Whilst the idea of Judge Dredd fighting a T-Rex is cool in and of itself, it was the backstory to Satanus which really caught my interest. You see the reason there are dinosaurs running around is because someone cloned them in order to create a visitor attraction. Sound familiar? Well this was published more than a decade before 'Jurassic Park', so I think someone at 2000AD should have had a serious talk with Michael Crichton's lawyers...
Overall this is a classic Judge Dredd story with the essential mix of square-jawed righteousness, horror, violence and wry humour. This latter is best evidenced by the fact that Jimmy Carter's face has been added to Mount Rushmore.
4 out of 5
Judge Dredd: The Mega Collection - Total War
(Art by Colin MacNeil, Henry Flint, Jason Brashill, Anthony Williams, Carl Critchlow and D'Israeli)
The terrorist group Total War, dedicated to ridding Mega-City One of the Judges and reinstating democracy through any means necessary, becomes active once more. This time, however, they have become far more ambitious in their plans; detonating a nuclear weapon in the city and killing thousands before promising more of the same to come. Time is running out and the Judges have to either catchs the terrorists, find the bombs or face the possibility of standing down to protect the citizenry.
Occasionally and, it has to be said, usually under the pen of John Wagner, 2000AD steps out of it's pulp sci-fi/dark satire safe-place and becomes pure science fiction. For me the distinction is made by stories which use the grim future of Dredd's world to comment on or examine the world around us today. This is one such story.
Here, much as in the excellent 'America', we're taken into the moral morass that is terrorism. The Total War organisation is dedicated to restoring democracy and ending the fascistic rule of the Judges, but in attempting to achieve those ends they take the lives of millions of innocents. Here, whilst Dredd implacably tracks the terrorists down, we're introduced to some of Total War's members themselves and see how each is coping with the twisted morality that their cause forces upon them. These days in the West we're taught to hate terrorists (quite rightly - there's no excuse for mass murder) which sometimes leads us to forget that these are real people who, mostly, believe they are doing what's right for the greater good. This story uses the framing of Mega-City One to explore these themes and shows a depth and maturity that is sometimes lacking in Dredd's adventures.
After the main event of the Total War uprising, we then have a series of shorter vignettes focusing on life in the aftermath of the attacks, including one in which an amnesiac terrorist slowly comes to remember the terrible acts her cause has led her too.
4 out of 5
Judge Dredd Vs. Aliens: Incubus
by John Wagner & Andy Diggle
(Art by Henry Flint)
It was inevitable that the xenomorphs would one day make it to Mega City One and, frankly, I ain't complaining! The two franchises work perfectly together, making for a story full of brutal horror and dark humour.
Dredd is on unsually humane form here as he acts as mentor to Sanchez, a rookie Judge, which provides an interesting emotional connection that might not otherwise be there.
As you can imagine, this book is a visual feast, absolutely bathed in Lawgiver rounds and acid blood. My favourite element, however, is something that definitely has its origins in Dredd's franchise. The villain, who unleashes the Aliens, is a mutant, but in true 2000AD style, his mutation isn't physical but is rather a genetic 'predisposition to doing evil'. Great concept!
4 out of 5