Category Archives: John Wagner
What happens when Mega City 1′s coldest, fiercest lawman comes in contact with the galaxy’s coldest, fiercest alien? A winning combination for a story. This graphic novel is not an attempt to say that Mega City 1 somehow exists in the past history of the Alien movies; that would be absurd. But why not take a creature from a popular movie series and drop it into a different mythos? It’s fun.
We begin with a citizen stuck in a traffic jam, desperate to get to hospital because he knows he’s going to die. It’s how he’s going to die that’s the surprising part – at least for the Judges, and those unfamiliar with the Alien movies. The creature bursts from its host’s chest and is on the loose, rapidly growing to adulthood. Where did it come from? How did the man get impregnated? Are there any more of the creatures? The answers come from an old foe of Dredd’s – someone he banished to the Cursed Earth, but who eventually found his way on to a starship. And now he’s brought something back to Earth.
“Incubus” is the name given to the Alien species here. It’s the first time I’ve heard it called this, and it’s a perfect fit, when you consider the historical meaning of the term: a spirit that comes to your bed in the middle of the night and has sex with you against you will. Not dissimilar to a run-in with a face-hugger. And after all, the Alien uses the human host as an incubator.
Incubus was first published as a four-issue comic, and can also now be obtained as a graphic novel. A highly enjoyable rollercoaster ride for fans of either Alien or Dredd. A mixture that’s likely to create a few new fans on opposite sides.
The new Dredd movie resurrected my interest this old comic book anti-hero from my childhood. In the late 21st century, America is a radiaoctive ruin known as the Cursed Earth. In the middle of this wasteland lie three vast sealed cities, one of which is Mega City 1. It’s an overpopulated dystopia of technology and squalour, where unemployment rates are high and crime runs rampant. Order is maintained by the Judges, police officers who act as arresting officer, judge, jury, and sometimes executioner. Crime is far too big a problem for the time-consuming procedures of democracy and trial-by-jury. These elite trained and heavily armoured Judges patrol the streets on bikes (known as Lawmasters). Their main weapon is a side-arm (Lawgiver) that is capable of being switched to a variety of firing modes, including “hi-ex” (high explosive). Judge Dredd is the fiercest and most uncompomising Judge of them all, utterly devoted to keeping the law. In the 30+ years of this character’s existence, from his origin in the early issues of the 2000 AD comic in the late 1970s, no one has yet seen his face (a boundary overstepped thoughtlessly in the the Stallone movie). All that is visible beneath his dark helmet visor is a permanent scowl – an expression that never changes. Fans of the comic will love the new movie, as it maintains the authenticity of the character to a tee.
Judge Dredd is basically a fascist and a fundamentalist in his thinking – traits that would ordinarily cause us to hate a character. But there is just something about Dredd that makes you root for him, and I’m not sure what it is. For whatever reason, the character has endured phenomenally. Perhaps it has something to do with the appeal of westerns. Dredd is basically the sheriff, and there are few, if any, romanticised outlaws in his world. People fit very obvious categories of good and evil. Law-breakers are greedy, murderous, and trigger-happy, while the Judges are an uncompromising force protecting civilisation. They represent a definition of good that is not weak and gentle and fawning. Although Mega City 1 is essentially a police state (which is not the most desirable thing), it’s the sort of place that we know would be hell on earth without the Judges. I’m reminded of the quote: “Evil reigns when good men do nothing.” I think we love Judge Dredd because he represents form of ethics that is happy to justify kicking your ass into next week without a qualm of conscience. Dredd is Lex Talionis, the jaw of the jungle, manifested on the side of civilisation rather than against it.
This volume contains repints of the earliest Dredd stories. There are over 300 pages of short stand-alone tales and multi-issue serials to enjoy, from the first years of 2000 AD. There’s so much material that you inevitably forget a great deal of it quickly after reading. A main highlight is the Robot War, which introduced the frequently recurring character of Walter. We also meet Judge Giant for the first time, graduating from the Academy. And Dredd encounters his clone brother Rico. Highly enjoyable reading, and merely the tip of the iceberg. There are at eighteen subsequent volumes, not to mention many graphic novels in the Dredd universe.
Strontium Dog was one of my favourite characters from the pages of the weekly British sci-fi comic 2000 A.D., which originated in the early 1980s and continues to flourish today. I read the comic erratically in my youth, so until now I’ve only been scratching the surface of the amount of Strontium Dog strips that have been published. In fact, you could say I’m still only scratching the surface, since this mammoth 330-page tome is merely one of four.
The comic is set in the 22nd century, some years after an atomic war on earth – a war that left many people mutated because of a radioactive isotope in the fallout called Strontium 90. Fear of mutants became the new racism among “norms.” Mutants lived in poverty, unable to get jobs. As a solution, the government offered one job to all mutants – a job that no norm would take: Search-Destroy Agent. SD Agents are bounty hunters, scouring the galaxy for the the worst of humanity – sometimes to arrest and sometimes to terminate. But the public don’t call the bounty hunters SD Agents; they call them Strontium Dogs.
Johnny Alpha is one. His mutation left him with the ability to see into men’s minds. He also carries an assortment of weaponry, including a blaster that can fire bullets through solid matter, set to detonate at a specific range, and a range of bombs that can manipulate time itself. Johnny works with a partner, Wulf, a viking warrior from the past.
The stories are wild and wacky, even going as far as sending Johnny on a mission to earth’s past, to bring back Hitler to pay for his crimes against humanity. The one thing I noticed, as an adult, reading this stuff, is how unafraid the writer was to wreak havoc. Often, the innocent are slaughtered along with the guilty, with reckless abandon. If memory serves, I think that’s something you would rarely see in 2000 A.D.‘s 1980s rival The Eagle. Heroes were also allowed to have a darker side, seen in Johnny’s willingness to fulfill a contract without asking too many questions about the target.
The writing credits in this volume go to T.B. Grover and Alan Grant (I’m assuming T.B. Grover is a pseudonym for John Wagner). Both writers are highly imaginative. Carlos Ezquerra quickly finds his feet as the principal artist. (I think this trio are also responsible for a lot of early Judge Dredd, too.) The only place the volume falters is with the inclusion of a few Strontium Dog strips that came from 2000 A.D. annuals of the period. These were written and illustrated by outsiders, and are amateur by comparison. But I guess they had to be included for the sake of completeness.
I wasn’t awed by Strontium Dog, but it was an entertaining and imaginative set of stories, worth reading.