Review: 2000 AD Humble Bundle (Part 2)

Welcome back to the 2000AD Humble Bundle round-up! I’ve finally gotten a chance to sink my teeth into the rest of this comic book overload and have plenty of thoughts to share. If you missed part one then I would definitely recommend checking it out before reading this. With that said though, let’s dive right back in with a real banger…

Judge Anderson: The Psi Files

Judge Dredd may be the poster-boy for 2000AD but I’d argue that Judge Anderson is the far more compelling judge character. Bizarrely, the Humble Bundle only includes volume two of Judge Anderson: The Psi Files, but luckily it is a compelling snapshot into what makes this character so great. The volume picks up in the wake of the tragic suicide of one of Judge Anderson’s friends and her final words haunt her throughout the entirety of the book: “People with gifts like ours shouldn’t use them for ugly things.” Unlike Dredd, Judge Anderson sees the judges for what they really are, oppressive fascists who make life worse for everyone and questions her role in propping up this system. The social commentary is pointed, including a story which is a blatant Rodney King analogy and which is just as relevant today and another which equates the judges with the Roman legionnaires who persecuted the early Christians. This refusal to just play along makes Anderson a far more radical and personable character, to the point where she abandons her post and goes on a soul-searching journey for the rest of the book. Anderson and the villainous Orlok the Assassin start to have a complicated relationship during this period as well, which is as unlikely as it is intriguing to see play out. The lengthy, serialized nature of the stories makes The Psi Files less focused than, say, Halo Jones (for example, the first third of the book is steeped in Christian imagery before suddenly switching to a story about freaking ancient aliens), but it’s still impressive that this collection is as coherent as it is.

Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files

Of the books included in the Humble Bundle, the Judge Dredd case files were the only ones I had already read and I knew that they, by themselves, were well worth the $20 asking price several times over. The bundle includes the first five volumes and there are several all-time classics in these pages. While there are far two many good stories to list them all, especially notable are the series’ signature “mega-epics”, including such monumental stories as “The Cursed Earth” and “The Day the Law Died” in volume two, “The Judge Child” in volume four and the eye-wateringly epic “Block Mania” and “The Apocalypse War” in volume five (an event so momentous in the history of Judge Dredd that we’re still feeling the effects of it over 40 years later). Honestly, I’m underselling just how amazing these stories are because I just want you to go ahead and get them for yourself – they’re seriously that good!

Kingdom

Oh hey, another story from the mind of Dan Abnett! Kingdom is a far different beast than Abnett’s other story in this bundle, Brink. Set in a world where giant insects have taken over the world, most of humanity has gone into cryo-sleep to allow genetically modified dog soldiers to win the war in their stead. We follow Gene the Hackman, an alpha male dog soldier who loses his pack and begins wandering around the world trying to repel Them. As you can probably tell, Kingdom is full of dog/soldier pop culture references, to the point where the giant insect antagonists are literally called “Them“. The story is also loaded with dramatic irony, largely revolving around the fact that Gene is kind of an idiot – like, he’s cunning but his understanding of the world is incredibly limited and he generally doesn’t bother to expand his horizons. In a particularly funny example, one of his dog soldier companions is put down for being too old to fight and a human tells Gene that he was taken away to a nice farm where he can run around and enjoy himself, a lie which Gene references throughout the series as a place he’d like to visit someday. This wry humour helps to keep Kingdom from getting too grimdark and makes it consistently enjoyable, while Abnett’s writing keeps the story engaging. There are four whole volumes of Kingdom in this bundle and by the time I got to the second one I was hooked. The scope becomes more expansive and complex as it goes, but my one main complaint would be that Abnett has a bad habit of resetting the cast of supporting characters at the start of each volume, which is more annoying and frustrating than anything.

Mazeworld

Mazeworld is an intriguing self-contained story from Alan Grant and Arthur Ranson, the duo responsible for some of the best stories from volume two of Judge Anderson. Mazeworld largely succeeds due to its protagonist Adam Cadman, an unrepentant asshole on death row who learns to work with others and become a hero when he is transported to the titular Mazeworld. Cadman himself doesn’t change that much, merely his perception of himself – in Mazeworld he’s seen as a hero and so he attempts to live up to that reputation. The world itself is interesting, being built up of several mazes which the local populace lack the complete (or true) maps to, which helps the maze-lords keep control over them and Arthur Ranson’s art utilizes Aztec architecture which gives it an exotic and unconventional feel. However, the world itself isn’t particularly well sketched out, especially compared to a similar sort of high-concept fantasy setting like Brass Sun. The finale is also pretty underwhelming, it feels like Alan Grant wanted to make this a limited series and as a result rushed the ending instead of getting there naturally. The ending itself is certainly appropriate, but I feel like it could have been more satisfying if they had given it a bit more room to breathe. Still, Mazeworld‘s a fun, short read that leaves you feeling better about the potential of humankind.

Scarlet Traces

We’re back with another Ian Edginton story, one which I’ve actually read a bit of in 2000AD already – Scarlet Traces, which acts as a companion piece, and eventually sequel, to The War of the Worlds. Featuring art from D’Israeli (for my money, one of the most distinctive artists at 2000AD), the humble bundle collects the first volume of the story along with Edginton and D’Israeli’s graphic novel adaptation of The War of the Worlds. This adaptation is fairly faithful to the source, if somewhat truncated, although it loses a lot of its literary significance in translation. That said, the first part of Scarlet Traces captures the sinister anti-colonial elements of the original novel far better, giving us a nice little pulp mystery which takes on a shockingly bleak and tragic tone as it goes along. Unfortunately, volume one ends just as things are getting truly interesting. There is a second volume available which I’ve purchased and I’ve already followed some of the newer issues in 2000AD, so I know this is a story that I’m really into but just be aware that the single volume in the bundle is but a tease of how good Scarlet Traces really is.

Shakara

Shakara is bonkers. To set the tone, the first page of the book has humanity and the Earth being destroyed unceremoniously, while the last surviving human, a defiant, would-be “hero”, has his head crushed in humiliating fashion just pages later. That’s barely scratching the surface of how insane Shakara gets though. The story follows a bio-mechanical alien who is basically John Wick in space, cranked up to 11. Like… seriously, everything about Shakara is so over the top that it’s brilliant. I’m talking over-the-top aliens (one species is basically a spinal column in a vat, another is a gaunt creature with a giant floating eyeball for a head, while yet another is a sentient dwarf galaxy), impossible planetoids and imaginative spacecraft (one psionic species literally flies around in giant brains). The out-there denizens of the story match just how insane the story itself is. The first act follows the titular Shakara as he interrupts galactic-scale atrocities and takes on entire armies single-handedly in his quest for vengeance. The second act has a team of equally over-the-top assassins being brought together to hunt down and kill Shakara. The third act has every mercenary in the freaking galaxy coming after Shakara… again, it’s basically like John Wick, with the story and world slowly being doled out over time. I love it, it’s such a joy to read and each panel just gets more and more imaginative as it goes along. Like many of these stories there’s a second volume available outside the Humble Bundle and you know I snatched that up before I had even finished the first volume.

Sláine

From what I understand, Sláine is something of a big deal in 2000AD, to the point where he has his own entire tab in the graphic novels section of the webstore. He’s basically an Irish version of Conan the Barbarian and has been with 2000AD since the 80s. I’ve never really read any of his stuff before now and… hoo boy, I have to say that I was really not into it. The Humble Bundle has two Sláine graphic novels included in it. The first is Warrior’s Dawn, a collection of Sláine’s original adventures which sees the titular character and his dwarf companion Ukko trying to make their way back north to reunite with Sláine’s love, Niamh. Warrior’s Dawn is… fine. It’s typical barbarian fantasy fare, with most of the entertainment coming from the constant bickering between the meat-headed Sláine and the unscrupulous Ukko.

If Warrior’s Dawn was the only Sláine story in the Humble Bundle then I would have been unimpressed, but the graphic novel entitled Book of Invasions vol. 1 completely turned me off all things Sláine. Set sometime looong after Warrior’s Dawn, Sláine has gone from a pulpy adventure story to thoroughly-unenjoyable, grimdark seriousness. It’s just so damn cliché, basically coasting off its grimdark tone and art style to try to appeal, but it did not work for me at all. Clint Langley’s art really leaves me mixed – on the one hand it has some of the most detailed and impressive work in the entire bundle. Langley’s style reminds me of Chrisopher Shy’s gorgeous work on the Dead Space graphic novels, not to mention that his work for Warhammer 40,000 is some of my favourite and really captures the horror of that setting well. However, there are times in Sláine where it is just ugly and feels like too much. When Sláine has a “warp-spasm” (translation: he hulks out) his muscles are exaggerated to such a ridiculous degree that I had to laugh at how stupid his tiny torso looked in comparison. To be fair, his warp-spasms have always looked stupid even in Warrior’s Dawn, but here they really clash with the more serious tone. It also does not help that the story itself is just a bunch of boring, grimdark barbarian clichés. Like, oh no, the demon army is only invading because they delight in raping the women and killing the children, how awful! The council of elders are dumb cowards, the only power that matters in this world is the sword and overwhelming violence! And spoiler alert, can you believe that Sláine goes on his quest for vengeance because the demons rape and murder his wife, Niamh? To make matters even worse, Ukko is basically shunted away in this story, so we don’t even get any sort of entertaining banter. Maybe Book of Invasions is just a shitty starting point to get into Sláine, but frankly I’m completely turned off by it. Like… at least I turned around on Bec & Kawl a bit by the end, Sláine was just a slog for me from start to finish. Book of Invasions is easily the worst story in the bundle and Warrior’s Dawn wasn’t much better. Maybe it’s just a matter of taste, but Sláine did not work for me at all.

Zenith

Oh hey it’s another comic from an industry legend, Grant Morrison (who, I was recently informed by some dumbass on Twitter, sucks donkey balls… oh hey, and then another Twitter user informed me Morrison recently came out as non-binary, cool! As a result, I will be using they/them pronouns as they have requested). Zenith is a straight-up superhero comic, which is very unusual in the sci-fi and fantasy-dominated pages of 2000AD, and the Humble Bundle collects all four volumes of the story. It’s obvious that Phase One was written in the wake of industry titans Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, having been published just over a year after both landmark comics came out and shook up superhero narratives forever. It bears some resemblance to Watchmen in its narrative, taking place in an alternate-history timeline where superhumans fought on both sides of World War II, where an atomic bomb was dropped on Berlin and where the superheroes of the 60s have become washed-up shells of their former selves. The only hero still active is the titular Zenith, the only third-generation superhuman who happens to be a selfish, yuppie arsehole more interested in furthering his music career than helping people.

The most interesting thing in Zenith is the world Grant Morrison has created for his story. Finding out about the backstory of the first superhero, Maximan, learning about the second generation of heroes who refused to be tools of the government and instead joined the hippy movement, discovering that the second generation of superheroes have been lying about losing their powers, etc – personally I found this more interesting than the actual A-plot about Zenith dealing with life as a reluctant hero. The side-characters tend to be more interesting than Zenith as well. Washed-up superhero Siadwell Rhys (aka Red Dragon) spends most of Phase One an alcoholic, but Zenith helps to get him off the bottle and into fighting form to deal with a superpowered Nazi… only for him to instantly get one-shotted when they finally do battle. It’s a shocking and tragic moment because by that point Morrison had really gotten me to like Rhys before cruelly snatching him away. Peter St John (aka Mandala) is also fascinating in what he represents. Powers-wise he’s basically Mysterio and he was the ultimate hippy figure during the 60s. However, by the time Zenith takes place, he has fallen so far from his ideals that he has become a key politician in Margaret Thatcher’s conservative government! These generational commentaries are very clear throughout Zenith and are perhaps the most interesting aspect of the stories in my opinion.

All that said, the story starts to go a bit off the rails by the end of the second volume. Suddenly the story involves superheroes from hundreds of alternate dimensions teaming up to defeat the Lovecraftian Old Ones (literally, they name-drop them on a few occasions) and there are several dimension jumps, entire universes being destroyed and a bunch of new characters to keep track of. The art can also make it really hard to understand what’s going on, but Phase Three does give us a couple good twists and a brilliant splash panel of a robot riding a smiley face dinosaur into battle (which is as awesome as it sounds, even if it’s basically pointless in the actual story). Unfortunately, it also ends with an awful trans panic joke, which isn’t unusual for a comic written back in the 80s, but it’s disappointing none-the-less. Meanwhile, Phase Four is a disappointing conclusion. It finally reveals “The Plan” which has been teased for four whole volumes and it’s far more conventional than I had expected. This volume also tease a End of Evangelion-style apocalypse but doesn’t commit to it. Perhaps worst of all, Phase Four continues to just have Zenith as a passive actor within a story that is obstinately his own, making the whole endeavour feel kind of pointless. Zenith is just… strange. If you already know and like Grant Morrison then it might resonate with you, but I find it to be more interesting as a curiosity of a bygone era and a writer stretching himself rather than as a piece of entertainment on its own merits.

Zombo

Zombo wastes no time. Within a couple pages it has already set up its world, story and demonstrated its morbid sense of humour… which is to say that I dig it. The deadpan, dark humour is what really makes Zombo stand out. Sure, like any good piece of zombie media it’s loaded with gore, but how many other zombie stories have a half-human, half-zombie who asks if he can eat you? Zombo scratches the same sort of itch that Metalocalypse does for me, with stories about people getting stranded on a death world getting eviscerated in humourous ways, a suicide cult trying to make their deaths trend on a snuff version of Youtube, a half-zombie, half-bee hybrid called… Zom-bee, and Zombo having to fight his evil twin using the backup brain that’s been built into his ass. For all its dumb thrills though there’s some interesting commentary about putting too much trust in the government and an intriguing concept about the universe consciously pushing back against unchecked human expansion. The Humble Bundle collects the two volumes of graphic novels which have been released so far. I liked the first quite a bit and the second is also good but the second story in the second volume leans way too heavily on the same sort of referential humour that I hated in Bec & Kawl and really soured me on the whole thing. That said, if there was a third Zombo volume I probably would have bought it, so they clearly are doing something right.

And that does it for the stories in this Humble Bundle! There are definitely some great stories here and even at full price I’d recommend several of them wholeheartedly. That said, because I have an obsessive compulsion with ranking the things that I consume, here’s how I’d rank each collection in this bundle. Think of it as a quick-and-dirty recommendation list:

  1. Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files
  2. The Ballad of Halo Jones
  3. Shakara!
  4. Brink
  5. Judge Anderson: The Psi Files
  6. Absalom
  7. Brass Sun
  8. Kingdom
  9. Scarlet Traces (This rank based purely on the limited volumes in the Humble Bundle; if I was counting the continued volumes then this would surely rank higher.)
  10. Defoe 1666
  11. 2000 AD‘s Greatest: Celebrating 40 Years of Thrill-Power!
  12. Zombo
  13. Aquila
  14. Mazeworld
  15. Zenith
  16. Age of the Wolf
  17. Counterfeit Girl
  18. The Best of Tharg’s Future Shocks
  19. Hope… For the Future
  20. Bec & Kawl
  21. Sláine
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Review: 2000 AD Humble Bundle (Part 1)

I like checking in on the Humble Bundle store every once in a while, sometimes there are amazing deals on things I’m interested in. Back in August/September one of these deals was on comics from 2000 AD. Already being a big fan of Judge Dredd, I knew that this was going to be a total steal so I decided to drop $20 for the tier 3 rewards and have been gorging myself on quality comics ever since (in fact, I’ve since gotten a monthly subscription to 2000 AD to stay on top of their ongoing storylines). After getting a few volumes in I decided that I wanted to document my feelings on these stories, since I don’t really have anyone else to talk to about these things and I have thoughts, dammit! So, without further adieu, let’s get into it…

2000 AD‘s Greatest: Celebrating 40 Years of Thrill-Power!

If you were looking for an introduction to 2000 AD then this collection is the perfect primer. It features several short stories from the publication’s long history, many of which I would agree are among the absolute best of 2000 AD. “Meat” is a particular highlight (which you can read in its entirety on 2000 AD‘s preview page!), with fantastic writing and art which shows off just how brutal the world of Mega-City One is. “The Forever Crimes” is similarly grim, but it is also a very early comic in the publication’s history, so it’s interesting to see just how much the comic medium has evolved in the past 40 years. Also worth highlighting is “The Heart is a Lonely Klegg Hunter”, one of the funniest comics I’ve ever read. Simply put, if you’re curious about getting into the stories of 2000 AD, then this is an ideal starting point.

Absalom

Absalom was a real treat – the three volumes included in the bundle would have been worth the $20 that I paid alone. Set in a world where the English nobility made a secret pact with the forces of hell, the story follows a cantankerous investigator named Harry Absalom who secretly upholds the laws of The Accord and slays demons who break it. The main thrust of the story revolves around Absalom’s attempts to get a team together in order to break into the demons’ realm in order to save his kidnapped grandchildren. Absalom succeeds thanks to Gordon Rennie’s entertaining writing and Tiernan Trevallion’s distinctive and evocative art style. The characters are particularly great, from the titular Harry Absalom, to the lawful-evil Guv, to the cyborg demon servant Mr. Critch. The world itself is also fascinating, creating a rich world with distinctive elements (especially the freaking steampunk demons) and the story moves at a good clip. My only complaints are that it can be a bit difficult to follow the story at times, because Rennie will often drop you right into the narrative with little explanation (necessitating multiple readings to really appreciate), and that the story feels like it wasn’t explored to its fullest. In a foreword, Gordon Rennie says that he doesn’t like to stretch a story out beyond the character’s natural arc and in that way it succeeds, but there are so many more stories that could be told in this world beyond Harry Absalom himself. In addition, several plot-beats feel under-utilized. Still, Absalom is a great read and well-worth picking up, especially if you’re into the paranormal and steampunk stories!

Age of the Wolf

Oh shit, a story about a werewolf apocalypse featuring a badass, redhead female protagonist? You’ve got my attention, Alec Worley and John Davis-Hunt. Unsurprisingly, Age of the Wolf is a really fun read, featuring plenty of werewolf carnage and magical elements ripped directly from Norse mythology. The first two parts follow a fairly typical apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic storyline, with protagonist Rowan discovering how to use Nordic rune magic to fight back against the werewolves and various evil humans. The third part though… hoo boy, the third part makes the strange decision of having the werewolves evolve from mindless beasts into… furries. It’s a weird turn to say the least and I’m still not sure if it was brilliant or terrible.

The main issue though is that Age of the Wolf doesn’t explore its intriguing world nearly enough, nor does it have a lot of time to give its characters much personality. Rowan is the only character which gets any sort of development, but even she has her issues. In the foreward, Alec Worley states that he doesn’t like “strong female characters” and instead believes that we need “interesting characters” instead. However, I feel like Rowan falls on the “strong female character” side of things, as she is mainly defined by her strength rather than any sorts of conflict or development (this becomes especially notable as we get further on in this Humble Bundle and meet several much better-written and more interesting female characters). While I agree with Alec Worely that the trend of “strong female characters” is a problem, I feel like the solution is ultimately just to have more women writers and artists within the comics industry. In a lot of ways, Rowan feels like a man’s ideal woman moreso than a truly compelling female character in her own right.

The plot also zips along in unsatisfying ways, feeling like Worley and Davis-Hunt were constrained by a tight page limit to tell their story. For example, a Nazi kills Rowan’s lover and throws her into a pit of werewolves and she swears bloody vengeance against him. That’s the sort of set-up that drives entire narratives, but here it only takes like a page before she escapes the pit and then a couple more before she tracks him down and kills him. Being limited to under 150 pages to tell the entire beginning and end of the werewolf apocalypse is quite restrictive and leaves tons of unexplored territory. Don’t get me wrong, Age of the Wolf is a fun read, even one I’d give a tepid recommendation to read, but could have been a lot better.

Aquila

Gordon Rennie makes his second appearance on this list with Aquila, a comic series which follows a Roman slave who was crucified for partaking in Spartacus’ rebellion. Dying, he calls out for any god to spare his life, and a bloodthirsty deity known as The Devourer answers, granting him boons by which he can slay the wicked. Aquila is notable in part due to its unique Roman historical-fantasy setting, which sets it apart from anything else in 2000 AD‘s catalogue. The story plays out like a grimdark Forrest Gump as Aquila encounters contemporaries such as Boudicca, Saint Peter and Nero, while also shaping the course of history as we know it. Aquila himself isn’t particularly compelling, but the story is entertaining and very well-suited for episodic adventure. If you’re into history then you will probably find Aquila interesting, as it is fun to see just how it stitches events together with its more fantastical elements. It doesn’t break new ground, but I really enjoyed Aquila, it gets another hearty recommendation from me.

Bec & Kawl

Bec & Kawl is the first book in this collection that I’m a bit “meh” on. It follows the titular Bec and Kawl as they get into supernatural mishaps, usually through their own stupidity (for example, in the first story they summon a demon to intimidate Bec’s college professor into giving her a better grade). The stories are drenched in irreverent, tongue-in-cheek humour (and are often straight-up stupid). I found the constant pop culture references in the first few stories to be grating and dated, these feel very much like a product of the mid-2000s (hell, they remind me of shit that I was writing at that time, in a bad way). Special shout-out to the tooth fairy storyline for being extra insufferable with its forced pop culture references. Luckily, the stories get a bit better as it goes along and as Bec and Kawls’ characters are better-defined. There’s something endearing about Bec’s psychotic narcissism and Kawl’s slacker stupidity which makes their misadventures entertaining even if the stories themselves aren’t particularly compelling.

The Best of Tharg’s Future Shocks

Tharg’s Future Shocks is a long-running, stand-alone, short story anthology which has been running in 2000 AD for decades now. Naturally, The Best of Tharg’s Future Shocks collects several of these stories into one big collection. All of the “Future Shocks” are sci-fi, Twilight Zone-esque stories, featuring some sort of twist in the final panel. By their nature, Future Shocks are simple, disposable and (given their structure) a bit predictable, but they’re still fun. Trying to guess the twists can be an enjoyable activity in itself, and I found myself even trying to come up with my own “Future Shock” stories because the formula is so simple and structured. The Best of Tharg’s Future Shocks is a fun, pulpy collection, but I’d say it’s one of the more inessential books in the bundle.

Brass Sun

Oh hey, it’s a series by IC2S veteran Ian Edginton (last seen during the Dead Space EU Love/Hate)! Edginton had taken over as the writer for Dead Space: Liberation, which made me wonder if the action-heavy narrative shift in that comic was on him or EA. Well, having read Brass Sun I’m confident that any shortcomings in Dead Space: Liberation were down to EA’s interference, because Brass Sun is easily one of my favourite books in this collection. Brass Sun is clearly an excuse for Edginton to go wild with creative worldbuilding ideas. Here he crafts a steampunk adventure story set in a unique, clockwork solar system. The plot itself is a very standard hero’s journey – chosen one protagonist Wren has to find pieces of a nebulous key to restart the sun and save the entire clockwork solar system. The narrative bears more than a little resemblance to modern concerns about climate change, which gives it a bit more resonance. The imagination on display and the unique worlds that we experience make Brass Sun an enthralling adventure, although Wren isn’t a particularly compelling protagonist in her own right. That said, my only real complaint is that the whole story isn’t out yet, this is only the first volume. You know I’m going to be hunting down issues of 2000AD to find the next chapter!

Brink

Holy shit, Dan Abnett! As a long-time Warhammer 40,000 fan, seeing his name always fills me with excitement (Prospero Burns is, in my opinion, a legitimately great novel, especially considering that Black Library novels tend to be little more than bolter porn). Not only did Brink not disappoint, but it even surprised me in several ways. First of all, it draws attention for its protagonist, Bridget Kurtis, who is a wildly unconventional female character (I mean… just look at her, she clearly isn’t Abnett’s imaginary girlfriend). She’s great and has a no-nonsense attitude which gets her through plenty of scrapes. Speaking of which, Brink‘s story revolves around Bridget Kurtis’ investigations into cult activity on various “habitats” – corporate-owned space stations which hold the remnants of humanity after the evacuation of Earth after it is rendered inhabitable. The setting is very rich with themes and parallels to reality as well, such as the dangers (and short-sightedness) of unregulated capitalism, religious fanaticism, wealth inequality, and facing ecological disaster. Abnett’s writing is solid, focusing on character and story over non-stop action (a trap many similar serialized stories fall into), and Culbard’s art compliments it well, being strikingly, grotesquely beautiful at times. The Humble Bundle came with all three currently-released volumes of Brink, with more potentially coming in future. I’d definitely recommend picking them up, I know that I’ll be eagerly scanning 2000AD for future installments!

Counterfeit Girl

Counterfeit Girl is one of the shortest books in this collection at a mere 68 pages and doesn’t feel like only the first volume in an ongoing series. That said, what the story lacks in length it makes up for in personality. Counterfeit Girl is drenched in cyberpunk style and philosophy, raising questions of identity in a world where personas can be downloaded and stolen at a moment’s notice. The titular “counterfeit girl”, Libra, navigates the underbelly of a pulpy, dystopian sci-fi society as she tries to bring down the villainous Albion Corporation. Rufus Dayglo’s art really enhances the punk themes as well (appropriately, he is one of the artists responsible for Tank Girl). All-in-all, Counterfeit Girl isn’t exactly breaking new ground (its themes of identity are very well-trodden territory for cyberpunk narratives, especially by 2016), but it’s still an enjoyable, breezy sci-fi tale that’s worth diving into on a lunch break.

Defoe 1666

Defoe 1666 is a bit like Absalom meets Aquila – a grimdark, historical fantasy, proto-steampunk story about a fanatic who hunts zombies after an infernal disaster resurrects the dead in 1666 during the Great Fire of London. While the story itself is entertaining and engaging (although it can be told in a confusing manner at times), the main draw is the amount of research which has gone into its creative arsenal. Basically every wild, zombie-killing invention in the story was designed and/or prototyped during the time period, from the multi-barreled shotguns, to the Renaissance-era tanks, to the square bullets designed to kill infidels (as opposed to the circular bullets for Christians). The art is also worth highlighting, being strictly black and white and with very gritty, grimy lines bringing this dangerous world to life. It’s also worth noting that the Humble Bundle only has volume one of the story, but there’s a second volume available on the 2000AD store. As is, volume one feels very much like a first act, but I liked it enough that I’m definitely going to purchase volume two to find out what happens next, so you can’t get much more of an endorsement than that.

The Ballad of Halo Jones

I figured that Halo Jones was going to be good just because it was written by Alan freaking Moore, but I really wasn’t expecting just how much I was going to love it. At the beating heart of the story is Halo Jones herself, who is remarkable as a comic book heroine in that she really isn’t that remarkable at all. She’s an everywoman who isn’t particularly good at anything, but who does what she can to survive in an uncaring galaxy while desperately dreaming of a way to escape the confines of her life. In the process, Alan Moore and Ian Gibson slowly introduce us to a universe which is rich and intriguing, while also being pulpy fun at the same time. The Humble Bundle collects three volumes of this classic tale and I definitely recommend reading them all – it’s so well-written and unconventional (the conflict in volume one literally revolves around navigating traffic!) and there are so many heartbreaking moments throughout.

My only have a couple of niggling complaints about Halo Jones. Bolume one drops you right into the universe and it’s not until the very beginning of volume two that they bother to explain all the intricacies of Halo’s home, The Hoop… and by then it’s kind of pointless because she’s already left it. Honestly, this information should have just been appended to the start of volume one. Another minor issue is that Ian Gibson is clearly an ass-man because he loads the panels with womens’ shapely asses every chance he gets. Again, it’s not exactly a major problem but it kind of undermines the story’s efforts to elevate women. And finally, the most galling problem about Halo Jones – it was never finished. In classic Alan Moore style, he lost the rights to his characters to the publisher of 2000AD at the time and then never finished the story as a result. Moore himself has said that he wanted at least three more volumes and as a result the story is clearly incomplete. I was devastated when I realized that I couldn’t continue the story, which is both something worth knowing going in and a testament to how good this story is.

Hope… For the Future

Hope is definitely one of the more “meh” inclusions in the Humble Bundle. While the idea of a magical detective with a demon companion is cool, the actual story fails to do much to excite. For one thing, that demon companion? Completely silent the entire time, so you don’t even get any fun banter. Instead, we just get Hope himself, who is about as generic a hardboiled detective as you could possibly ask for. And the case that makes up this story? Also very cliché for a supernatural detective story, even down to Hope’s primary motivation being that his son was kidnapped by demonic forces. Unlike most of the stories in this collection, I can’t say I’d even bother to find out if there are any other volumes available, let alone spend money on them. I’ll probably check new issues of Hope out in 2000AD if they show up and maybe I’ll grow more interested as the story goes, but as is I was unimpressed by Hope.

And that’s it for part one of this rundown of the 2000AD Humble Bundle! Tune in again soon when we take a look at the books in part two (after, y’know, I get a chance to read through them all)!

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Quick Fix: Multi-media News

Hello fine readers, thanks for coming back for the weekly update! I was going to write on something more… controversial to say the least, but it’s just not coming to me. Maybe I’ll find the words for it next week, but for now it’s on the back-burner. Anyway, that means that we get to talk about the generally less-heavy news in pop culture instead! As most nerds will tell you, San Diego Comic-con just ended and brought with it some major entertainment news. Probably foremost amongst these is the announcement of a Superman vs. Batman movie. Clearly this is DC’s attempt to kickstart a shared universe much like Marvel studios is enjoying now. Of course, this brings with it its own problems… like how Batman could possibly win against Superman… *SPOILER* especially now that he is willing to kill for the greater good. Again, I’m not entirely sure how this is going to get worked out, but it could be potentially monumental if it can all come together.

Next on the agenda are a couple of potential movies that I’ve been following for some time which are looking for support. The first of these is Dredd 2, the proposed sequel to a movie I’ve been gushing about since it came out. Seriously, if you haven’t seen it yet, do so. It’s amazing, and deserves a sequel. The official news is that DVD and Blu-ray sales of the film have been through the roof and fan support is overwhelmingly high. This means that the likelihood of a sequel being made have skyrocketed. Back around December when I saw the box office figures for Dredd I was aghast – I was certain a sequel would never get made, with a status as a cult classic in a decade or two being the film’s best bet for success. However, it’s now looking quite likely that we’ll see a sequel, maybe 50/50. I just hope the same minds are behind it so we won’t get let down!

The other potential film I’ve been following is a Warhammer 40,000 fan film, The Lord Inquisitor. It was announced shortly after the official 40k movie, Ultramarines was released (to tepid reception) and looks like it will blow it out of the water. The movie’s being made by Erasmus Brosdau, one of the designers at Crytek (a video game studio famous for Crysis and originators of the Far Cry series). The only sad thing about The Lord Inquisitor was that it looked like we were going to be waiting a couple years for a 15 minute short… until now anyway. Brosdau is looking for financial backing to get The Lord Inquisitor turned into a full-length CGI animated movie. I first got into 40k 10 years ago and back then I thought the setting would make for an awesome movie. In fact, I can’t believe it took until 2010 before we saw an official 40k movie… unfortunately that movie, Ultramarines, was a pretty bland representation of the universe. If The Lord Inquisitor receives its backing, it should be a faithful version of what makes the 40k universe so awesome. I’m really looking forward to seeing where this goes in the future.

Finally, the biggest piece of pop culture news all week for me is this picture:

YES. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is well underway and I have little doubt that it is going to be amazing. Matt Reeves directing? YES. Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver are back writing? AWESOME. Andy Serkis is back as Caesar? HELL YES. Hell, even the supporting cast looks good with such big names as Gary Oldman and Kerri Russell. I loved Rise of the Planet of the Apes – hopefully this one will be even better!

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Hulk, Genital Mutilation and Iran, Oh My! Some Garbled Commentary

Hey, it’s been a while since I did a non-movie related post so I figured it was about time for a bit of personal commentary. I’ve actually got a few random things to comment on which occurred part-way through the retrospectives series, but I didn’t want to interrupt the series for them. Hopefully you find them interesting.

First of all, during the Final Destination retrospective, I was checking some of the sites which have apparently been driving pageviews here. I’m really popular with German Google for whatever reason. One refferant in particular seemed very strange since it was a file sharing site with no actual link to I Choose to Stand (from here on out, I pronounce IC2S the official abbreviation). However, some of the “most popular” searches on the site caught my eye: check ’em out.

So, umm… yeah. Totally random. The Internet is a dark place. A very funny, dark place.

On a related note, I’ve recently gotten a pageview EXPLOSION. Normally I average 25-50 pageviews per day, but over the last couple days I’ve been suddenly getting 125+ pageviews. I’m not entirely sure why, but I get the feeling it’s because of my Hulk review. The Hulk review has always been my most-viewed post, it has almost 800 views right now, almost double my next most-popular post (and around 100x more views than most of my posts). I think that the cause of this Hulk exposure is because of Google Images. Recently, IC2S has been anywhere from the #1 to the #3 image when searching for “Hulk Movie 2003”. Hardly an uncommon string of words, so that’s very impressive (and unexpected!):

Hmm… maybe I’ll have to do a review of The Incredible Hulk soon… It seems that movie reviews are basically all that’s giving me exposure, so a bit more focus on that area is probably a good idea. I might spam IMDb with some links to my reviews too.

And speaking of IMDb, next thing of note is a really stupid (and therefore hilarious) post I read on the message board for The RuinsCheck it out here for a good laugh. If you didn’t bother to, then I’ll summarize really quickly: in the unrated cut of The Ruins, one of the characters randomly gives her boyfriend a handjob, to which the first poster asked why she’d do that to him without any lubrication. Then the very first commenter launches into a tirade about circumcision, and it all goes downhill from there as people start quoting totally biased sources… if they even quote sources at all, that is. Most of them just said you were a horrible girlfriend if you preferred mutilated male genitals, and that if male circumcision is fine then we might as well circumcise all the women as well. The degree of ignorance and stupidity in the thread made me laugh for a good ten minutes as I read the comments.

In response to all that silliness, I have a few things to say. First, studies have pretty conclusively shown that circumcision is not bad. However, it’s not vastly superior to non-circumcision either. People throwing around a stat that it does such-and-such are ignoring the big picture, because circumcision and non-circumcision both have their benefits and drawbacks. I read a very interesting article about it, I recommend checking it out. Second, people turn it into a human rights issue. “Let the baby decide!” they’ll argue, which, of course, is just a rhetorical flourish. Prior to the message board posting, I had seen anti-circumcision propaganda thrown about on Facebook which said similar things (I have strange friends-of-friends). To this, I say that babies and children are the wards of their parents, and circumcising a baby is far preferable and easier than doing it later when they’re actually going to remember it. Furthermore, there is evidence which points to circumcision helping to reduce HIV rates, and considering that the spread of HIV actually is a human rights issue, I think they cancel each other out at the very least. Third, male circumcision is in no way comparable to female circumcision. There’s a reason why the World Health Organization has officially dubbed the practice as female genital mutilation – it’s rather perverse. Like I have said, circumcision has health benefits beyond its cultural significance, whereas female circumcision largely takes away a woman’s ability to enjoy sex. As far as I’m concerned, that’s just wrong. If someone wants to decry a practice as barbaric, they should focus on female genital mutilation first and foremost.

On a somewhat related note, I don’t exactly support abortion on a moral level (and had some difficulty keeping it out of the “let the baby choose!” argument), but at the same time, as a male I do not believe I should dictate what a woman may do with/to her body. Oddly enough, it seems to me like the majority of anti-circumcision proponents I’ve seen are female… just an observation and might not even be true of the greater population, but I just wanted to throw that out there. Wow, I didn’t expect to write 3 paragraphs on sticking knives near penises and vaginas. I hope that was more comfortable for you than it was for me.

To bring back the happy thoughts, here’s a picture of my dog. Awwwwwww.

Next, I want to advertise a movement I’ve recently joined on Facebook. Yes, the humanitarian effort I’ve aligned myself with is… a call to make a Dredd sequel. Ok, maybe it’s not that important in the grand scheme of things, but if you’ve read by review of the movie, you’ll know that I loved it. In an age where the shoddiest movie can get a sequel if it made somebody rich, a truly deserving effort shouldn’t be left out. I sincerely doubt that the Facebook group will have any effect, but I’m willing to do whatever I can to see Karl Urban and company come back for a Dredd sequel.

Finally, I was originally going to end this post with the previous paragraph, but a friend of mine on Facebook drew me to this article about a war simulation between Iran and Israel. Suffice to say, it was chilling. I really recommend reading it, it is quite frightening in its realism and intensity.

Anyway, that’s it for this post. Be sure to come back soon – I recently saw a movie that I absolutely hated (yes, more than Noobz) and am looking forward to tearing it apart with brutal glee.

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Movie Review: Dredd

When I reviewed Judge Dredd, I promised that a comparison-review would be coming in regards to its successor, 2012’s Dredd. Naturally, with the DVD/Blu-Ray now out, I am delivering on that promise. First off, a bit of background information. I personally had very little interest in the 2000AD universe before seeing the film, and based on the trailer I figured it was going to be a generic action movie. However, about a week before its release, I noticed that Dredd had a staggeringly high rating of 94% on Rotten Tomatoes. This score would dwindle down to about ~75% around the release date, but by then I was sold – I had to see Dredd to get my fill of adrenaline-pumping action.

First off, we’ll focus on just the most important element of an action film, and that is the action itself. In this sense, Dredd delivers from the opening scenes with a blistering car chase which sets the bar for the action and extreme level of violence that is to come. The meat of the film basically revolves around a single set-piece, Die Hard style, as the characters fight their way to the top level of the Peach Tree block. Lamentably, while Dredd came up with this idea first, The Raid: Redemption was released earlier and stole a great deal of thunder for the concept. That said, it certainly is a fantastic set-up for an action film, and works to great effect here.

Dredd punctuates its action sequences with some impressive uses of super slo-mo footage. Normally I dislike slo-mo in action movies because it is either a) gratuitous, b) cliche or c) all of the above (eg, 300 or House of the Dead). Some movies manage to overcome this hurdle because they work the slo-motion sequences into the story (such as Sherlock Holmes), and Dredd is definitely an example of this. In the film, some of the characters take a drug which causes the brain see the world at about 5% its normal speed, and the results are quite striking… especially when the bloodletting begins. Bullets fly and explosions go off in super slo-mo, causing quite the visceral spectacle for the viewer. These sequences also made the 3D used by far the best in any movie I have seen to date.

The integration of spectacle and story are some of the most impressive elements of Dredd actually. The film doesn’t waste time using exposition to set up “Chekhov’s Gun“. Rather, it integrates elements in naturally. For example, foundational world-building is done very quickly at the beginning of the film, but is expanded throughout the run-time: an unobtrusive shot of the sheer, overwhelming scale of the crimes occurring across Megacity 1, Dredd informing his superiors that the bodies in a shootout need pickup to be “recycled”, little snippets about mutation, etc. The script does a great job of pulling us into an incredibly grimdark universe without doing so bluntly (unlike, say, Inception). Anderson’s psychic abilities are another example of this, which we discover ourselves rather than have listed out to us so we know what exactly it is she is capable of. Perhaps my favourite example in the entire film is how we discover that the guns used by the Judges have “special” features… I will say no more, because to ruin the surprise(s) would be an injustice to the script and destroy some truly badass moments.

In terms of characters, Dredd is much stronger than its predecessor. Judge Dredd himself, played by the always-badass Karl Urban, is very true to his character – constantly scowling, morally inflexible and devoted to the law (and no, he doesn’t take his bloody helmet off). Dredd is a force to be reckoned with, an unstoppable embodiment of the law. He is difficult to relate to, but this is part of his character – he is intentionally impenetrable, basically a sci-fi Harry Calahan. While you may not relate to him, you’ll certainly find yourself grinning with glee at the acts of mayhem he produces. I also appreciated that the costume department did not do a literal translation of the comics like they did in the previous film, because the result was pure camp. Instead, they opted for a more practical (and far cooler) costume design which suits his character and the darkness of the universe.

The counter-point to Judge Dredd is the rookie, Judge Anderson. I’ll admit it here and now: I fell in love with Olivia Thirbly’s portrayal of Anderson. Dredd’s the unstoppable badass, but Anderson is the human connection, and Thirbly did a great job of this. Unlike some sidekicks that we could name, Anderson isn’t a burden either – she can keep up with Dredd most of the time, and actually exceeds his abilities in others. Most impressively, this all happens without falling into the usual Hollywood cliches – Anderson is not a love interest (see any boy + girl pairing in an action movie), she is not a man written as a woman (eg, Sarah Connor in Terminator 2) and she is not an aggressive attempt at shoehorning in feminism (eg, The Enforcer). Instead, she is a very natural addition and feels like a real, identifiable character.

Finally, rounding out the important characters is Lena Headey’s sadistic villain, Ma-Ma. The way in which Headey chooses to play her is as a very subdued, but sinister manner. She rarely outwardly displays any signs of aggression, but there is a palpable sense that she would willingly carve up any of the thugs she surrounds herself with should it please her. It might have been interesting to see how a hammier villain would have been in this film, Ma-Ma is certainly a distinct threat to the heroes throughout their ascent to the 200th floor of Peach Trees. One of Ma-Ma’s underlings, Kay, is also given a bit more of a background than you would expect for a common thug, but Dredd, Anderson and Ma-Ma round out the important characters in the story.

While I have given nothing but overwhelming praise for Dredd thus far, I must admit it is far from the best film ever (or even of 2012). However, in a year where many of the biggest films had some major flaws (eg, Prometheus, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hobbit, etc), Dredd stands as one of the few in which its inner-workings are damn-near flawless. While it’s not exactly lofty or revolutionary, its individual components are greased to perfection, making Dredd a great example of why a well-polished work can be better than a intriguing failed experiment. If nothing else, Dredd harkens you back to 80s-style action films with its sheer amount of violence, badass-ery and one-liners, while marrying itself to modern conventions in the process. It’s truly a tragedy that it under-performed at the box office and will likely not see a sequel, but one can always hope.

8/10

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Movie Review: Judge Dredd (1995)

One of my favourite movies of 2012 is the criminally under-performing, modern-cult-classic, Dredd (which I will review as well when I get my Blu-Ray/DVD copy). I honestly didn’t have any interest in the 2000AD universe before I saw Dredd, but the film completely sold me on it (I’m currently eyeing some Block War minis and Dredd/Anderson omnibuses). However, after seeing it I knew I now had to see the original, oft-derided Stallone vehicle, Judge Dredd. Obviously I had heard the fan complaints (“he takes off his helmet? OMGWTF!?!”), but as an extremely casual fan of the universe I will review Judge Dredd with a bit less of a bias. Also, note that there are some spoilers in this review.

First off, despite its lack of authenticity in terms of character and tone, the Judge Dredd Megacity One strikes me as more faithful to the source material than the Dark Knight-esque, reality-grounded city that appears in Dredd. In fact, the first 5 minutes alone are dedicated to establishing the world, which was a great idea. That said, as an adaptation, the movie comes across exceptionally cheesy and tacky. I guess that’s a side-effect of the pre-Nolan era of comic book movies, but the sets and costumes all looks really plastic and are hard to take seriously in any way. The costumes are straight out of the comics, but just don’t make sense… the Judges are supposed to be fighting crime, so they choose to do so with a giant eagle on their shoulder and spandex? It may look cool in a comic, but this just doesn’t traslate well into movies at all.

Another good thing I can say is that Stallone certainly looks the part of the gruff and grizzled Dredd… sure, as soon as he opens his mouth he isn’t exactly convincing, but in terms of physicality, he’s a good fit for the role. Of course, Stallone completely overwhelms the role, supplanting Dredd as a character and replacing him with your typical Stallone action-vehicle, but we’ll get into that soon. As for the other cast members, Armand Assante as Rico was very enjoyable as the hammy villain-type and seemed to be having a blast. Diane Lane was also serviceable as Judge Hershey. Rob Shneider’s Fergee is the one that is derided most though, and rightly so. He is one of the most absolutely useless characters I have ever seen in a movie, and it boggles my mind why they ever chose to include him in the film at all. He literally does nothing, and just serves as an irritating tag-along and mouth-piece… I guess he disables a robot near the end, but it’s not like Dredd couldn’t do that himself (and in much more spectacular fashion too). Shneider alone screws his movie A LOT.

The entire plot just becomes a way to service yet another Stallone actioner, and one of the cheesy 90s ones at that. It feels a lot like Demolition Man, and while a lot of people like that movie (I’m not among them), it’s not even as fun as that movie was. The plot’s pretty typical: Dredd, the upstanding lawbringer, is arrested for murder… and then proceeds to fight this charge with a hell of a lot more murder, resisting arrest, etc. Obviously, this is completely against character and unintentionally turns him into a massive hypocrite. If there were some sort of irony to this it would make more sense, but the film doesn’t suggest that at all. In fact, it serves to glorify the justice system, rather than satirize it like the comics do. The ending, where Dredd drives down the street with his motorcycle to the cheers of the assembled crowd was just too ridiculously/senselessly patriotic to fathom… also why does the base start to blow up at the end? Maybe I wasn’t paying attention, but it seems to me that it literally just self-destructed for no reason.

In all honesty, I’m making it sound like I hated Judge Dredd, but I didn’t really. I’ve seen way worse movies than this within the same week. In fact, it wasn’t bad for the first half of the film (in part because Rob Schneider was sidelined), but it was the second half where I really started to dislike it, and where the negative points I have mentioned creeped in. There were some good lines too, such as:
Fergee: 5 years? No! No! I had no choice! They were killing each other in there!
Judge Dredd: You could have gone out the window.
Fergee: 40 floors? It would have been suicide!
Judge Dredd: Maybe, but it’s legal.
However, these funny bits are juxtaposed with some absolutely abyssmal lines, which are further brought down by horrible delivery, such as:
Judge Dredd: There is a way in. 10 years ago, 2 refugees figured it out, through the city’s incinerator, there’s a flame burst twice a minute, that means they have only 30 seconds to run through before it flames again.
Seriously, who wrote that? Don’t tell me that was actually in the script? Was Stallone even awake when he said that? In any case, guess which half of the movie those 2 bits of script were from. Shouldn’t be too hard.

I AM DER LARRR!!!

Bottom-line: Judge Dredd was just a bad movie, even for a casual movie-goer. For a full-blown Judge Dredd fan, it must have been torture. As far as cheesy actioners go, you could probably do worse, but if you’re that easy to please then you probably don’t even read reviews anyway.

4.5/10

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