As a general rule, magazines are distributed in Northern Ireland a day or so later than the U.K mainland. Bearing that in mind, okay, I picked up the latest copy of Rebellion's JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE (#240). The big meg has been going from strength to strength these last couple of years, and the reprint material that seemed to be in danger of killing it at one point has dwindled down to just 12 pages (of 84, including covers and advertising). And even then, the reprints are now of relevant material (2000AD creator Pat Mills' CHARLEY'S WAR); as opposed to the bad years, when the reprint material always seemed too recent or not particularly well-matched (NECROPOLIS, PREACHER, SIN CITY, HELLBOY, etc). It's a great issue, and it's got me right in the mood for 2000AD's xmas special, prog 2006, due out tomorrow (review to follow towards the weekend, I'd guess).
The meg has managed to hit top form again recently by balancing original strip content with some great text pieces: this issue features a fine and frank interview of Brian Bolland by Joel "Tripwire" Meadows. In fact, the frankness of the megazine's text pieces are quite disarming, such as admitting the debt 2000AD owes its founding fathers such as Bolland, or the editorial mistakes of the past (in Dave Bishop's ongoing history of the 15 year history of the title). On the strength of the first part of his Bolland interview, I'd advocate any commissioning editor at any publisher should hire Joel Meadows to write a definitive history of 2000AD immediately. It's that good.
Though the opinion column section can be hit-or-miss, depending on your level of sympathy with the writer's P.O.V. I thought Jonathan Morris' hatchet job of SPACE 1999 was hilarious, bearing in mind it was a tremendous act of biting the hand that feeds - in the same issue, the megazine is running a competition giving away three boxed sets of the series; Scott Gray's piece on Wally Wood has just about persuaded me to hunt down a copy of Fantagraphics' CANNON reprint. While sometimes disagreeing with individual columnist's tastes, I do believe this "Heatseeker" section is a great addition to the megazine, in the sense of U.K comics being largely short of any ongoing critical context (god, I miss ESCAPE). That was a really ungainly sentence. My sympathies go out to any of my readers who stuck with it to the end.
The strip content of this issue is practically faultless. John Wagner has been universally praised for the consistent high standard of his Judge Dredd work this year, and I'm not about to be the first dissenting voice. This issue kicks off a multiparter, WARZONE, that's right up my street: I've always loved Dredd stories where he assembles a team of misfits to help him on a mission (see also: THE CURSED EARTH, JUDGE CAL, THE JUDGE CHILD). It's always worthwhile to see the austere Dredd interact with less virtuous (if more sympathetic) types. This story features great art by Northern Ireland's very own P.J. Holden (enter his christmas competition here). The detail on the first splashpage is breathtaking in its Geoff Darrow-esque detail, but what really impresses are the character designs for the misfit unit of mandroids Dredd teams up with (my favourite being Drucker, one part Rogue Trooper to one part M.A.C.H. Zero). Holden draws a mean Dredd, too, but then I'm a sucker for any artist who gives Ol' Stoney Face a super-deformed chin.
Next up, more mutant Scottish nationalism in Alan Grant's YOUNG MIDDENFACE, which I must admit to liking more now that Shaun Thomas is the regular artist. I'd rather have another Dredd-verse strip in the meg than a STRONTIUM DOG spin-off, though. Grant is also battin' up for the next strip, JUDGE ANDERSON with the ever-faultless Arthur Ranson. The strip doesn't really progress the storyline much further, but it sure looks purdy.
After that, it's SHIMURA by Robbie Morrison and Colin Macneil. Shimura and Inaba are two of my favourite aditions to the Dredd mythos native to the Megazine, so this was singing to the choir, too, I'm afraid. Great art again, though I'd have loved to have seen Macneil's Godzilla riff in colour (I still reckon the ongoing editorial desire to cling on to keeping some black and white in 2000AD and The Megazine is some kind of sop to the unholy alliance between the nostalgists and the luddites). Then comes DARREN DEAD by Rob "CLASSWAR" Williams and John Higgins. Higgins is another classic old-hand we don't see enough from, and his work here completes the five-out-of-five batting average for the original strip content in this issue (the outgoing eitor Alan Barnes played a blinder). I'll forgive the atrocius pun, as the strip is a nice commentary on that awful modern disease, the quest for fame for fame's sake, and a well-aimed gag at the new phenomenon that is the "celebrity psychic" (that tit Derek Acorah and his UK LIVING-borne ilk).
Then the reprints: when I was a kid, my cousin Geoff used to keep his stash of BATTLE and ACTION comics hidden in a drawer in his dresser, and we used to treat them like contraband dutch hardcore: I can see why, reading this. CHARLEY'S WAR is brutal, cynical, but brilliant stuff. The reprinted Dredd newspaper strip is just a daft gag, given undue polish by Andy Clarke, who in another dimension is a comics superstar for his Travis Charest-meets-Brian Bolland stylings.
Anyhow, if you haven't bought a copy of the Megazine in a while, give it a go. This 'un was a cracker, worth the money for the Bolland interview alone. John Wagner nails it on his importance to the development of 2000AD when he's quoted to say: "Brian brought depth to Judge Dredd. There was a clarity and strength to his art that no-one else could match. It seemed to glow on 2000AD's bog-paper pages and made Dredd's world more real."
Bravo: he just seemed to sum up my unarticulated childhood feelings towards an old favourite with one insightful statement. And the piece is full of stuff like that. Write that book, Meadows!