2000AD Prog 1817 Review
Could Dredd Be Gay?
Prog 1817 has been surrounded by what you might charitably describe as a “media storm”. Prior to it's publication, articles were written about the upcoming edition of the Galaxy's Greatest Comic in papers as diverse as The Sun and The Guardian. Regardless of whether it was the trashiest tabloid or a hulking lefty broadsheet, one question remained the same.
Could Judge Dredd be gay?
This in and of itself seemed to be too much for some “2000 AD fans” who, as the Telegraph put it, “threatened to burn their copy of the comic” if true. (Which doesn't seem to make all that much sense. If you're homophobic enough to be that angry about even the possibility that a fictional character might be anything other than a red meat eating, chest pounding, fiercely heterosexual man's man then... er... just don't buy the Prog. Seriously. All you're accomplishing by burning a copy is giving your money to Rebellion to voice your displeasure. It's a bit like stumping up the cash for a lap dance only to storm out of the club shouting “Disgusting! Filthy! You should be ashamed!” the moment the stripper arrives. The point is, why bother paying for it in the first place if you know you're going to hate it? Why not save the time, effort, and matches and just wait for the next issue instead?). Others were overjoyed that Tharg and his droids were actually tackling a sensitive and mature subject head on, using the epitome of testosterone fuelled masculinity Joseph Dredd to wave a flag bedecked with all the colours of the rainbow.
Now that 1817 is finally here, there is a chance that both the books burners and the flag wavers may be terribly disappointed. Because it turns out that not only did Dredd fail to burst out of the closet, but he's barely featured in the strip carrying his name at all this week. Instead it centres around a young man named Taylor Cook, a chap who is struggling to come to terms with his sexuality after being disowned by his father. After the week long hype machine had stomped its way through the British media, hinting that the toughest law enforcer around might just enjoy relationships with members of his own gender, this awkward bit of “bait and switch” marketing might leave some feeling a bit let down.
And it would be a shame if it did because the truth is that Closet is a delicate, considerate, and moving stand alone story. Throwing out the usual staples of Dredd's blood and bullet style, instead what we have here is something all too rare in 2000 AD's back catalogue. While The Galaxy's Greatest Comic prides itself on - and is indeed very successful at - taking satirical swipes at long held tropes of the comic industry, it's not often that a single strip strives to not only make a statement, but also delivers a strong emotional impact. But thanks to a tightly and beautifully constructed narrative from Rob Williams, a man who is arguably one of the finest contributors this anthology has seen in its entire 35 year run, and some striking art work from Mike Dowling, this succeeds on both counts. It's a serious study of what being a young gay man means when trying to find not only your place in society, but also some peace of mind as well.
The astonishing thing is just how effective Williams and Dowling are at making their points using the minimal amount of space. Weighing in at a sprightly eight pages, which is approximately the same length as a Chinese take-away menu, at no point are you bludgeoned over the head by a pair of creators trying to talk about “serious issues”. Instead they simply state the case and move on, and this lack of melodrama and hand wringing makes Closet seem all the more honest in its intentions. The brevity also makes the character of Taylor Cook an engaging personality with a believable and detailed history, as opposed to a cardboard cut out collection of clichés and stereotypes. A perfect example would be the panel showing Taylor's emotionless face, only for that lack of emotion to be betrayed by a single tear rolling down his cheek. In the end Prog 1817's edition of Judge Dredd manages to be challenging and inspiring at the same time, thanks to some tremendous work by both artist and scribe. So our advice is don't listen to the hype. Closet is too special to be bogged down by wild speculation about Dredd's romantic leanings. It deservers to be recognised as a powerful and wonderful slice of comic book brilliance in it's own right.
Outside of Closet it's pretty much business as usual. In The Red Seas we're slap bang in the middle of an action set piece, with Dancer and chums still going toe to toe with a horde of giant golems. It's fine for what it is, but you can't help but feel that Ian Edginton might want to start putting his endgame in motion sooner rather than later, lest this become too drawn out. Steve Yeowell's chaotic brush strokes are also satisfying, but the panels do have a tendency to get a little clustered and confusing. In Savage, Pat Mills seems to be pursuing his crusade to make the former truck driver as unlikeable as possible, which is a curious stylistic choice. Still Patrick Goddard's artwork is scintillating, with explosions fizzing from the page, and Savage could certainly never be accused of being boring. Strontium Dog finds the second mutant war in full swing and Johnny Alpha fighting both the monster inside him as well as the norms. John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra have concocted yet another strong episode in this thoroughly enjoyable series, and even if you are still unsure that the retcon for SD was a good idea, it would be to tough to argue that Chapter Three of The Life and Death of Johnny Alpha has been anything less than great so far. And in what would be the highlight of any other Prog, Ampney Crucis is summoned for a meeting by the PM after successfully bagging a Babbagist. Ian Edginton's script includes some delightful historical references and the dialogue flows superbly, while artist Simon Davis adds some deliciously neat touches such as talking heads and light effects, all while never sacrificing ACI's unique style.
However the reality is that Prog 1817 is, unusually for 2000 AD, very much a one strip issue. And despite the press sensationalism surrounding it, this week's Judge Dredd is a subtle reminder that sometimes the best yarns aren't necessarily the aggressive and action packed ones, but instead the quieter and more personal tales.
So please if you do pick up this issue of 2000 AD, don't burn it. Instead enjoy it for what it is. What it certainly isn't is some sort of shocking reveal of Joseph Dredd's sexual history. Instead it is a profound and elegant piece, one that those folks at Rebellion should be very proud of.
Two metres high and rising. - Chaos Hour Writer
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