Monday, 29 June 2015

Megacity Undercover 2: Living The Low Life (Judge Dredd Megazine #271-274, 2000AD #1624-1631, 2000AD 2010 Special, 2000AD #1700-1709)

"A mad city sometimes needs a mad Judge" - Thora via Dirty Frank's Journal.

Alert readers might notice that I never did volume one of Megacity Undercover.  There is a reason I have jumped to the second volume and that reason is "Dirty Frank".  The Megacity Undercover stories are about the undercover "Wally Squad" of Judges who operate in the Low Life the most deprived and crime ridden parts of Megacity One, written by Rob Williams and drawn by a variety of artists.  The first book started with a Wally Squad character called Zero stealing a large quantity of cash and escaping from his job and the clutches of the Judges.  Then the rest of the strips concentrated on the adventures of female Wally Squader Aimee Nixon, the stories although decent, were nothing special just fairly run-of-the-mill gritty cop drama.  Then one of the other Judges in the squad, Dirty Frank, drawn to look like Alan Moore and always referring to himself in the third person started stealing some of the lime-light.  And with the second volume, we get three arcs, one about Aimee, a character who I find somewhat... boring.  And two fantastic ones featuring Dirty Frank which I shall look at in more detail, plus a festive one-off.  The Dirty Frank stories also have the advantage of being drawn by D'Isreali, an utterly fantastic artist who has a very distinct style well suited to black and white artwork and adds much to the enjoyment of the escapades of the disreputable Mr. Frank.

 In Aimee's story - WAR WITHOUT BORDERS - she uncovers a plot to smuggle "Sov" citizens (Russians) into Megacity One in an operation disguised as a pro-democracy union one.  She angst a lot about her existence in the Low Life and accidentally compromises herself so she can't tell the other Judges about the Sov angle.  But really this is Dirty Frank's book, so lets begin with his first arc collected in this volume.

CREATION - The story begins with a Judge with a stomach wound crawling through a snowy landscape.  He ends up lying on his back looking at a glowing snowflake on his glove.  Then the action returns to what I assume is the present and Dirty Frank, the tramp like Wally Squad member is talking to a child and telling him to be wary of him.  The child wants to know who he is:

Child: "Judge Dredd!"

Dirty Frank: "No".

"Chief Judge Hershey!"

Dirty Frank: "No"

Child: "Robo-Wing, night glider of awesome!"

Dirty Frank: "You just made him up."
Introducing Dirty Frank
 The childs mother calls the kid away, and Thora - the head of the Wally Squad - arrives with a thuggish looking fellow called Cameron.  He's Dirty Frank's replacement.

Thora: "There's only so much crazy the badge can take.  It's over."

Back at Wally Squad HQ they discuss a new drug called "Creation" which allows people to imagine they are God's of their own private universe.  Frank wants to know if he should infiltrate the Creation network.  Thora says there has been some discussion about keeping the drug legal as it's sedating the populous of the Low Life. So for now he and Cameron are to do some street digging.

Aimee Nixon turns up to see Frank off on his last case.  Frank calls her the best Wally Squad Judge he has ever worked with and he and Cameron leave.

Dirty Frank: "Thankyou for coming Aimee.  Now Dirty Frank and his replacement Bertrand Russell here must away."

Cameron: "Nice ass."

Later we are privy to Dirty Frank's journal where he notes Cameron is at least useful for physical intimidation.  They chase after a Creation dealer which leaves Dirty Frank out of breath and seriously pondering if this is over for him.  Cameron has caught the man and they ask him what he knows about Creation.

The action cuts to two men admiring a billboard advertising household products with a biblical theme.  One man says he did good right?  Pushing through all the permits.  The other person says he can tell the "Big Man" himself and a person who looks like a demon shows up.
This won't end well...
We are then introduced to Thadeus Manning III a fussy little man in a bowler hat who works for the planning permission bureau and is investigating why permits were allotted that gave one company a monopoly over one city sector.  He discovers the man who pushed the permits through hanged in his own home.

The action then moves back to Dirty Frank and Cameron.  Cameron says Dirty Frank gives him a headache "everytime you open your crazy mouth".

Dirty Frank: "That implies brain function at least."

Cameron points a gun at him and tells him to stop talking.  He wants to know if Dirty Frank even carries a weapon.  Dirty Frank doesn't.  He then tells Frank that they're supposed to be able to go back into uniform tommorrow if needed.
Cameron has some harsh words.
Cameron: "Do you honestly think you could do that Frank?"

He than says Dirty Frank is crazy and he's going to hit some drug dealers.  He busts in on a bunch of people nodding out on Creation.  Suddenly Cameron sees a cherub floating in front of him.  He freezes up and leaves the scene.  Dirty Frank meanwhile ponders the Biblical billboard outside.

Later he and Cameron get caught in a rain of frongs, localised to the Low Life. They then chase a drug dealer who escapes via boat, but then a huge whale appears and swallows him up.  Cameron freaks out and says it's somehow Dirty Frank's fault.

Cameron: "You're a drokking disease!  You're infecting things!  You're turning me crazy!  You make everything around you crazy!"

Dirty Frank has a small flashback to being the Judge with the stomach wound and the snowflake on his palm.  Then he and Cameron escape the whale.
Not an everyday occurance in MC1
We then see a motley collection of villains and a man with his back to the reader who says they've all had a glimpse of what's going on out on the streets.  The demon man says "It's time to turn up the heat."

Meanwhile Dirty Frank and Cameron are hit by a huge tidal wave racing through the Low Life.  before they can get into real trouble, the fall out of the water into the bit where the waters have parted.  Dirty Frank's case notes wonder who is to profit from all this chaos?

Various Biblical scenes are occuring in the Low Life.  Joseph's are singing and burning bushes are giving out celebrity gossip. Thora has gathered the Wally Squad to find out how they can "turn off the crazy".  Then her finger creates a powerful energy projectile and unable to control it she blows a hole in Wally Squad HQ and everyone gets separated.
A serendipidous meeting.
Dirty Frank and a catatonic Cameron are floating on a makeshift raft and discover Thaddeus holding onto a spire.  He joins them on the raft and yells about the billboard monopoly.  Back with the demon-man.  He says all the villains have paid half a million cred each to take advantage of the choas and plunder the Low Life.

Dirty Frank reaches one of the billboards, he smashes it and as the billboard flickers off, the water ceases to exist and Dirty Frank, Cameron and Thaddeus go plummeting towards the ground.  The billboard flickers back on long enough to create more water to slow their descent so when it finally breaks for good they hit the ground not too hard.  They are all still briefly knocked out.

Dirty Frank remembers the snowflake on his palm again.  Then as he recovers, he asks how Thaddeus has been able to keep his sanity in the face of the chaos.

Thaddeus: "This city.  She sustains and tethers me.  Even in what appears to be her most disorderly, most hopeless state, I see order."

Dirty Frank sees a huge snowflake in the air and says he knows what Thaddeus means.  Dirty Frank punches Cameron a couple of times to bring him round, then tells him to go with Thaddeus to disable all the billboards.  Cameron apologises to Dirty Frank:

Cameron: "Frank, I'm sorry I lost it there for a while.  This type of stuff... it's not me.  Maybe, maybe this shouldn't be your last case after all."

Dirty Frank: "Maybe.  We shall see."

The demon-man and the assorted villains are cuasing mayhem.  The demon-man says the "Big Man" has shown them the future.  Dirty Frank arrives alone and says he's going to put a stop to it.  He is mocked by everyone, but ploughs on asking why the Big Man has targetted the Low Life.  The demon-man says he has "vested interests" in the area.  Dirty Frank then tells the criminals to do what they must, he's "just an unwanted redundant man on his final job". The criminal's all shoot at him and he blocks their shots with his hand saying "ah it works".  Then he turns into a shining, winged hero and starts to fight the demon-man.
Take that demon-man!
Dirty Frank says that it took a needlessly ambiguous flashback and a blow to the head to realise the billboards were projectin nano-technology that reacts to the Creation drug.  They put it in the water supply to infect everyone and the criminals got the antidote and access to a crime jamboree.

As they fight, Dirty Frank says "where there are nightmares, there are also dreams and the power of belief."  When the demon-man demands to know how he is doing this Dirty Frank says he "sees order where others see chaos."  He smashes a fist through the demon-man then turns his attention to the other criminals.  Unfortunately the billboard effects wear off and he is back to normal.

The villains all point guns at him, but then get blasted into little bits by Cameron who has arrived on the scene with a massive gun.

Cameron: "Guess everyone has their own roles in this world, huh, Frank?"
A happy end for Frank.
And with all the billboards turned off and things back to normal it's decided to let Dirty Frank stay on as a Judge.  The story ends with a flashback to Frank in the snow being rescued, imagining he is on a beach somewhere.  Dirty Frank muses that he is not mad:

Dirty Frank: "Dirty Frank is just more.. imaginative than most, that's all.  And sometimes that's just enough to save the day."

And so ends the first Dirty Frank arc.  There is a one-shot that follows called JIVE TURKEY in which the dreadfully hungover members of the Wally Squad meet on Boxing Day and discover Dirty FRank isn't there.  He's infiltrated a criminal organisation of fatties and is presented with a huge turkey he must participate in eating to keep his cover.  The rest of the Wally Squad go to rescue him, but find him merrily eating the turkey even though the rest of the criminals have shot each other and Dirty Frank has arrested the ring leader.  There is a lot of spewing.  This is a nice bit of fun because the next Dirty Frank arc, Hostile Takeover is very dark and serious indeed.

HOSTILE TAKEOVER - The story begins with a Japanese geisha looking woman staring out of a top floor office window.  A man comes over to her and says "Nixon, he is ready for you now".  Then the action moves to Dirty Frank who has supplied a giant robot in ladies clothes for a bank robbery plan.  "Cross dressing Trev" is defended by Frank for his gender expression and the gang leader shrugs and says as long as it gets the job done.

Dirty Frank: "You are a man of honour and rare wisdowm, crazed gang leader Jay."
Cross Dressing Trev in action.
He and Jay storm a bank on top of Trev and break in through the ceiling.  With corrupt Judge Stewart letting them be.  Inside the bank Frank asks if he has done enough to meet the Big Man.  Jay says he'll get to meet him soon.  Dirty Frank makes a note that this brings him closer to his overall goal of taking the Big Man down...

We then jump forwards thirteen days.  Dirty Frank meets with his Wally Squad boss Thora.

Thora: "Have you decided?"

Dirty Frank: "Dirty Frank has.  It's a no".

Thora: "I'm really sorry about that."

She pulls a gun but gets shot dead by a sniper bullet.  "So am I" says Frank to himself.

Back in the present a horder of samurai burst into a Low Life casino and masscare everyone then rob the place.  "The Big Man is gonna be pissed" when news of this is bought to him by corrupt Judge Stewart.  An angry Dirty Frank is there, describing in his notes the actions of Stewart as "a betrayal of the badge."  Jay goes to meet the Big Man alone, leaving Frank still desperate to meet him, hiself.
Aimee Nixon.
Aimee Nixon shows up on her motorbike and offers Frank a life.  She says the Big Man is turning into Dirty FRank's White Whale.  Suddenly a man steps out in front of them and holds out a katana.  It severs Aimee's good arm and she crashes the bike.  Samurai's appear and start to beat Dirty Frank. Aimee saves him from a killing blow and says "I'll help you.  A show of goodwill, please."  Dirty Frank is allowed to live although they knock him out.

When he comes too, he is surrounded by Judges and on a medical trolly.  He jumps off and rushes over to corrupt Judge Stewart and attacks him, telling him to tell him where they took Aimee.  But Stewart doesn't know.  Dirty Frank reveals his corruption and Stewart is arrested.  Stewart is taken to a place where Cameron can work him over.  Stewart sneers, saying the bruises will show and torture is illegal for Judges.  But they are going to beat him, put him in a turbo-heal tube, take him out rinse and repeat. 
Cameron has his uses.
Outside the room, Thora, Eric (a man stuck in the body of a toddler, long story) and Frank discuss this new faction making a play for the Big Man's turf.  Eric wonders why they've bothered coming all the way from Japan, Frank says the Big Man makes serious money from the Low Life.

Dirty Frank: "And where there is money.  There is the desire to take money.  Violently."

The story then moves to some scumbag rich men who are sniping random Low Lifers with tranq bullets.  A samurai appears and says they'll allow them to do it with real bullets at one million creds per shot.

Samurai: "The Big Man no longer runs this trip.  The Big Man no longer runs the Low Life.  There is New Management".

Aimee Nixon is strapped to a gurney and asks to make a phonecall.  She calls Thora and says one word "Akeldama".  Thora grimly says "Got it" just as Stewart breaks from his torture.

A full on gang war erupts in the Low Life.  Jay's gang is wiped out, only Jay survives.  He comes to Dirty Frank hoping for some help.  Dirty Frank says the best way to win this gang war is to use the Big Man's location to flush them out and into a trap.  Judge Stewart will back them up with a big gun.
Corrupt Judge Stewart.
Later Dirty Frank meets Thora in a bar, and she says the Judges are springing the trap now.  Thora says whoever has Aimee is cutting a deal with her.  Dirty Frank says the actions of her abductors aren't those of friends.

Thora: "No friends out here know that.  Only angles."

Dirty Frank then goes to where the trap will be sprung.  Jay heads up the steps to the Big Man's house but gets decapitated.  The samurai and the Judges get into a fire-fight and in the confusion Dirty Frank goes into the Big Man's house, only to fin he hasn't been there for over three days.

Dirty Frank witnesses Thora blowing the head off one of the Samurai, who says to her before she does it that "he wil kill her for this."  Two days later, Eric and Cameron are trailing Dirty Frank and a bored Eric starts talking about killing himself and Cameron.  Dirty Frank notes that Stewart is still in the field thanks to Thora and he can't trust her now as he saw her commit murder.  He then spots Stewart speaking on a non-Judge comm device (a cellphone).  Dirty Frank just doesn't know who to trust anymore.
Not the most comforting conversation ever.
A gang of Japanese business on a plane are welcomes to Megacity One by a posse of Judges with heavy weaponry.  Dirty Frank witnesses this and is shot at by one of the Judges.  He falls through a hatch and Stewart looks down on him saying he'd be dead of not for the fact "she" wants to make him an offer.

There is a quick cut to Cameron leaving Eric's dead body in the car they were in.  The corrupt Judges take Dirty Frank to the top of a tall building.  Thora appears and sends the Judges away.  Dirty Frank ask if they work for her now.  She recuited Stewart after the torture session and now she wants Frank to join them.

Thora says they are just trying to keep the yakuza (Japanese mafia) out of the Low Life - "protecting what's ours".  Dirty Frank wants to know why they don't just arrest them.  Thora says that's "a little old fashioned."  She gives him several days to think things over.  As she leaves Dirty Frank asks if she knows where Aimee is.  She doesn't.
Thora pleads with Frank to join her renegade Judges.
Dirty Frank then discovers Eric's body and confronts Cameron about it.  After a scuffle which takes out some more samurai's, Cameron says Eric was going to kill him on Thora's orders and he acted in self defence.  With him and Cameron the only non-corrupt members of the Wally Squad, they wonder what to do next.  We then see that it was Cameron who sniped Thora in the flash forward.  He deals with the Judges bar Stewart who he shoots to disarm.  Dirty Frank looms over Stewart who also gets his finger sniped off to show no messing about, and asks him to tell him about the Big Man.

The action cuts to the Judges warring in the streets with the samurai and their giant robots.  Suddenly Frank appears with the huge Cross Dressing Trev and saves some Judges lives by crushing their opponents.  Then the shooting stops.
Trev says the day!
Dirty Frank is interviewed over the events by some Senior Judges.  The yakuza violence has stopped because they have what they want, they have the Low Life.  The yakuza fought the Bog Man who is probably dead now, who ran organised crime in the Low Life and enforced it with a large scale force of corrupt Judges defending his interests.  "Who was the Big Man" one of the senior Judges asks.  Dirty Frank does not know.

Two weeks later, Dirty Frank is neatly trimmed and back in uniform.  The Wally Squad's been put on hold for now and Frank is to behave like a normal Judge.

Dirty Frank: "Limitations and rigid definitions are his.  Neutered...Defeated."

He travels to a secret location where Stewart is strung up and being beaten by Cameron.  He admits Thora was taking orders from someone via cellphone. 
Some enhanced interrogation..
Frank finds the cellphone hidden in Thora's room at the sector house.  The memory has been wiped so he gets them from the cellphone company.  One number was registered to an penthouse rented by a Hondo company that doesn't exist.  He also found a recording on the phone:

Dirty Frank: "One word.  An instruction to warfare.  To protect the Low Life.  Akeldama.  Translation from Aramaic:  Field of Blood.  A field in Jeruselem bought with the money Judas earned by betraying Jesus.  And where he is said to have hanged himself.  No friends, just angles.  Aimee... where are you?"
A neat and tidy Frank looks way wrong.
And that brings "Hostile Takeover" to an end.  A real twisty-turny, urban thriller in which Dirty Frank is forced into a far more serious role than normal and proves well up to the challenge with his street honed instincts doggedly following the various trails being thrown up in front of him.  It's a shame the story ends on the downer of him being forced back into uniform, how long will he survive the restrictions of the normal Judges life?  I know there has been a further story in this series, so I am keeping an eye out for it being collected because I love Dirty Frank and want things to work out well for him.  His day in the limelight during the "Creation" storyline works on the wonderful conceit that one day trapped in the chaos of a snowy landscape, Frank found order in it through a snowflake and that was how he was able to transform himself into a superhero using his ability to discern order out of the chaos the drug and billboards were conjuring up.  It goes without saying D'Israeli's artwork is superb and Rob William's writes a fine example of the future police prodedural.  Come on Rebellion, release the next Megacity Undercover/Low Life book, I need to know what happens since you left us trade-waiters hanging!

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Ampney Crucis Investigates... Vile Bodies (2000AD #1611-1616, #1666-1671) NSFW

NSFW:  Warning, bare boobies on show!

"It's time to show these cornershop Napoleons the true meaning of fear" - Ampney Crucis

Not just one foppish occult detective this month, but two. Ampney Crucis Investigates... Vile Bodies is a slim volume containing two arcs, "Vile Bodies" which introduces Ampney, his manservant and his background and "The End Of The Pier Show" which showcases his intelligence and abilities in greater detail.  Ampney Crucis Investigates is set between the wars in the 1920's.  Ampney's background is that he's a member of the upper classes who fought in World War One.  During his time there he saw something grotesque, huge and demonic looming over a battlefield that basically broke his brain.  On returning home with severe PTSD and bouts of full on madness, he found he had the ability "sense the prescence of beings beyond imagining" and along with his trusty and gleefully stereotypical working class butler Eddie Cromwell he begins to investigate various magical threats to the Britain of all classes.  The writer is Ian Edginton and the art is by Simon Davis, and once again I am forced to admit this painted artwork looks lovely with Davis being able to switch between mundane normality, fantastically expressive portraiture and freaky magical goings on with equal ability. This book was also a gift from my good friend Lucy.  Cheers Lucy! Anyway let's begin.

VILE BODIES -  The story begins with a woman being chased through some corridors by a giant wasp like creature, which she then blows away with a shotgun.  Then we're thrown into the nightmare that was The Somme in 1916 World War I.  A soldier missing a leg is trying to crawl to safety when suddenly a huge, repulsive monstrous, lamprey like creature appears, towering over the battlefield and it sucks the soldier up and spits him out as a skeleton.  We see Ampney screaming his head off as he witnesses this, then cut to him in the now, screaming as he wakes from his nightmare.
Ampney's recurring nightmare.
His loyal manservant Cromwell greets him and tells him he's had a phonecall from "the Lady Wykes", Ampney wonders what "Calliope" wants with him:

Cromwell: "She's fine, guv.  In the pink.  Well apart from the fact she's just topped her husband!"

So they drive to Surrey, to the local police station.  Before Ampney can enter he's greeted by a portly chap called Ambrose Chutney, a school mate Ampney looked out for during their time then.  He jovially takes his leave and Ampey enters the police station and greets Lady Wykes who turns out to be the woman being chased by a monster at the start of the story.
Ampney meets with Calliope Wykes.
She says she worried that Ampney wouldn't come because they were engaged to each other before the war, but she broke things off when he came back a raving madman, and married the much older Lord Wykes instead.  She didn't have to sleep with him much until his cousin "Sir Devon Redvers" gave Lord Wykes an aphrodisiac to boost his libido and he started wanting it all the time, keeping her a prisoner in the house before finally turning into a literal moster.  She killed him out of fear of what he might do to her.

Calliope: "I can't tell anyone - they'll think I'm mad.  It's the gallows or the asylum.  You're the only one I can turn to save me Ampney. My life is in your hands."

That night Ampney and Cromwell break into the Wyke's manor for a look around.  Suddenly a huge bee-like creature bursts in.  They battle with it, Ampney manages to break off it's stinger, but the bee-creature seems more intent on something else, and vomits an acid substance over a pile of papers on the table, before departing.  Ampney says it was sent to try and cover something up and notes what's left of the papers is a correspondence between Lord Wykes and Sir Redvers regarding the Wyke's sex life.  With not enough evidence to help her Ladyship they decide to go and confront Redvers.
Humungous Mutant Bee's.  The worst kind of bee.
As they drive, Cromwell notes there are two guns in the glovebox, meaning they'll be "in for more of yesterday's fracas".  Ampney believes his senses which are tuned to the prescence of "unnatural things" in the world are telling him that they need to be ready for something even more abnormal that what they have so far experienced.

They arrive at Redver's estate and everything is covered in thick vines and foliage.  They drive right up to the manor house and go inside.  There is a room full of billions of bees and then they bump into a nude lady.  She has a bowl of fluid which she drinks from then uses her mouth to pass the liquid into the mouth of a man hanging upside down from the ceiling, bound tightly in vines.  There are quite a few other women feeding similarly trapped men.
I have nothing to add to this image.
Then some giant bee-men attack Ampney and Cromwell.  They fend them off with their guns but are son out of bullets.  Just when it seems they'll be killed, Redvers appears and calls the be-men off.  Redvers says to Ampney he heard whta happened with Wykes, who was an idiot with his brain in his "John Thomas" as far as Calliope was concerned.

Ampney: "Your aphrodisiac turned him into a monster!"

Redvers: "He already was.  I simply let what was inside, out!"

He then realises Ampney was the war hero who came home "broken and barking".  He tells Ampney to come with him and "please don't be so vulgar as to make me resort to threats."  Ampney doesn't want to leave Cromwell, but Cromwell, now surrounded by nude women, says he can "handle this lot".  So Ampney follows Redvers further into the house.

Redvers say he's spent the last ten years in search of some "higher truth".  He says nothing has changed in the wordl after the Great War.  "This species is no longer fit to steer it's fate". Ampney wonders who Redvers wants in charge.  Redvers introduces him to a huge, tentacled cactus thing.  He say he is her prophet and Ampney can be her first apostle as he is the first person to lay eyes on her and not go mad.
Redvers the loony.
Redvers tells Ampney he has "the touch of God upon you" and then gets a glimpse of the lamprey thing Ampney saw during the war, and says that Ampney was choosen to be it's vassal. "I am no monstrosity's pawn" retorts Ampney.  But Redvers open his shirt and reveals a mass of writhing vine-like tentacles and says Ampney should embrace his destiny.

He tells Ampney he was travelling across the South Pole when he had an accident that lead him to an altar with seeds upon it.  He ate the seeds and they took root in him, showing him the truth of the Old Gods.

Redvers: "They're not evil, but some abstract other.  They can guide us, make us one mind, one purpose".

He says the whole world would be at peace and with just a few people needing to be sacrificed to the God to appease it (which does sound a lot like the "Jasmine" plotline in Angel season four...).  Crucis disagrees with Redver's plan for mankinds and as he tears the vines out of Redvers chest he yells:

Ampney: "You're right, things must change. But not to kow-tow to a bloody aspidistra!"

Unfortunately he has no idea how to deal with the cactus plant God and it grabs a hold of him and opens its "mouth".  Suddenly there is an explosion and Ampney is thrown free.

He lands close to Cromwell, who is hanging from the ceiling.  Ampney helps him down and they hear artillery fire.  They escape outside and find Ambrose Chutney overseeing the clearing of the estate with gasmasked troops killing and burning as they go.  Ambrose tells Ampney they'd been watching the house for a while, but Ampney's involvement forced them, ie: The Government, to act.  The soldiers finish things off by setting the manor house on fire.
Time to kill it with fire.
Ambrose tells Ampney that Calliope has had the charges against her dropped in exchange for her silence.  As Ampney and Cromwell leave, Ambrose speaks to a mystery man who says:

Mystery Man: "For now Lord Ampney Crucis has the potential to become our greatest ally or enemy.  We must wait and see what he chooses".

And on that sinister note, the arc ends.

THE END OF THE PIER SHOW - The story begins with Ampney playing host to his three aunts who nursed him back to sanity after his experience seeing the lamprey God thing during his time in the trenches.  Cromwell brings the post and there is a postcard for him amongst the letters. It's from an old army buddy called Fred Chipps who has been dead since his first day on the front when he was shot in the eye.

The action then moves to Blackpool and over an image of people enjoying themselves on the pier is a voice over of a spell being cast, a chant to "Hecate".  Rising up from everyone is black smoke which turns into ghostly forms that congregate over a house with four naked women in it performing the spell.
The inciting incident.
We then cut to Ampney and Cromwell also in Blackpool now.  Ampney says he owes it to Cromwell to investigate this strange postcard from a dead man.  Cromwell says there is no chance Fred is still alive as he was there and witnessed Fred's death up close.  They go to the house of Fred's mother, Cromwell shows her the card and Mrs. Chipps faints.  They take her inside and Ampney says he can smell "sorcery" in there.

Outside a couple are walking down the street and the woman starts to say she feels "queer".  Her boyfriend thinks she's drunk, but she says she hardly had a drop.  Then she takes out a hairpin and stabs him in the neck with it and begins to speak in German.  Meanwhile, Mrs. Chipps has recovered and admits what she and her friends did.  They didn't think it was fair or right their boys mouldering away overseas.

Mrs. Chipps: "So we decided to do something about it.  Me and a few friends, lost mothers to lost boys.  We decided to bring them home."
Mrs. Chipps.
Ampney says it took "potency and power" to bring it about.  Mrs. Chipp's says she's always had "the sight" and she took her nan's old spellbooks and found a plea to Hecate to restore their sons.  They stole time from the living and sticthed together a patchwork of days to make new lives for their children.  But their sons didn't want them.  They wanted to keep fighting and what's worse, when they opened the door, others came through "by the score".  And the women couldn't stop them.

And the action cuts to outside where the previously happy crowds are fighting each other with rage.  Ampney says they've been "torn from whatever peace the afterlife gave them" and returned to all they know, raw hatred and fear.  "What have I done?" says Mrs. Chipps.  But Ampney kindly doesn't accuse her.  She asks what she can do to make it right and Ampney says he wants her to assemble her "cosy coven" again.  Two are nearby, but Francis is on the pier at the coconut shy.
I've been to Blackpool, I've seen Hen parties more violent than this.
Ampney decides to go and fetch Francis and he and Cromwell take a shortcut via pedalo to the pier to avoid the warring crowds.  They ascend the peir via hook and rope and clear a path using Ampney's explosive snuff.   They arrive at the coconut shy but Francis has been beheaded and her head placed on one of the stands. Waiting is a blood soaked female, stripped to the waist.  Who greets Cromwell thus:

Fred: "Hello Eddie-boy.  See you got my card.. Don't remember saying y'could bring a chum though."
Nice tits Fred.
Cromwell tries to explain that he and Ampney are here to help.  But Ampney realises Fred killed Francis so the spell that bought them here couldn't be reversed.  Fred rages that the whole world needs to be punished for what happened to them during the war.  Cromwell asks why?  Isn't he sick of all the killing?

Fred: "War's what makes us human!  Animals don't do it.  It weeds out the weak.  Makes you red in the bone.  Only the strongest can come back."

Fred wonders why Ampney and Cromwell haven't changed, then realises Ampney is immune somehow.  Fred goes to attack him and in the ensuing punch-up, Ampney and Cromwell dive back into the sea and return to their pedalo.

Back on dry land they walk back to Mrs. Chipps.  Ampney wonders if the souls haven't been "infected" somehow.  The trauma of a violent death led the souls to have less resilience and somehow an "abstract form of infection" a need for war has taken hold.  They reach Mrs. Chipp's house but it is now on fire.
Bye Francis!
Mrs. Chipps is still alive.  She had got the girls together and was returning home when she saw her house was burning and a woman (Fred) throwing Francis's head into the fire.  Then the fighting hordes stopped and dropped their weapons and started marching off somewhere.  Ampney asks to be shown where they went and the hordes are headed towards a pink dome.  As the possessed reach it, they get absorbed by it.  Ampney muses:

Ampney: "Suppose the diseased souls, now in infected flesh. Start to build the body of a beast not meant for this world.  A being that is war incarnate."

Ampney says he knows from first hand experience that when such beasts breach our dimension they can only exist here for a short time.  But this one is having a body built for it so it can survive and thrive here.  The others wonder what can be done against it.  Ampney says they must make it afraid and to do so, he needs the help of the remaining women of the coven,  oh and they all need to be naked.
War.  What IS it good for?
The other two women are a bit reluctant to get naked in front of a man.  But Mrs. Chipps bullies them into it.  They are hiding in the local brothel which is the one place their sons wouldn't think to look for them.  With all of them nude, Ampney begins to cast a spell.

Fred realises what is happening and the embryonic "War Child" hatches out.  Fred leads it to where Ampney and the others are and he and Cromwell get into a fight.  Ampney and the women finish the spell and conjure up a vision of the huge lamprey-God that was Ampney's original battlefield vision.  This terrifies the War Child and it breaks apart into the humans that made it up.  It also cleanses the people of Blackpool of the savage souls possessing them.
War Child goes to pieces.
Cromwell wonders how all the carnage will be explained.  Ampney cynically says it probably won't even make the papers.  A terrible fire, a riot fuelled by drink and loose morals.  The truth will be "too terrible to recall."  Mrs. Chipps reappears now fully clothed and asks Ampney about the thing they conjured up. 

Ampney says the "lightless worlds" have a pecking order and the War Child was a minor being compared to the lamprey God.  Ampney thanks Mrs. Chipps for her help and says he's placed a "hideously large amount" in her post office savings account and she should use it to have some fun.  And with that Ampney and Cromwell depart and this arc comes to an end.
Ampney explains... stuff.
Ampney Crucis Investigates, is on the strength of these two arcs, an extremely entertaining series.  The second arc is the stronger of the two, as it allows Ampney to take a much more active role in the defeat of the monstrous being and uses his bravery and intelligence to do so.  He is also a kind man, envinced by him refusing to point the finger of blame at Mrs. Chipps and rewarding her for making things right instead.  Loyal Cromwell is everything you need in a man servant when you fight Lovecraftian horrors, down-to-earth and asks all the questions that need to be asked so Ampney can explain things to the reader. The art is excellent and the stories zip along in the way all the best 2000AD series do.  I'll certainly be checking out more Ampney Crucis Investigates, if and when they get compiled and released that's for sure.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Young Death: Boyhood Of A Superfiend (Judge Dredd Megazine #1.1-1.12, #2.15, 2000AD #1114-1115, #1168)

"Let people know my ssstory I want them to underssstand there is an alternative" - Judge Death

Judge Death is arguably the most iconic adversary Judge Dredd ever faces.  He comes from a parallel earth which had a Judge system similar to Dredd's earth but he had come to the conclusion that because crime was committed by the living, life itself was a crime.  He and three other "Dark Judges" - Mortis, Fear and Fire - carried out judgement upon their world until no one was left alive.  They then turned their attentions to other worlds and that's where they tangled with Judge Dredd and the psychic Judge Anderson.  The Young Death storyline comes after the Dark Judges most effective attack upon Dredd's world. With the help of the two sisters Phobia and Nausea they corrupted Judge Dredd's replacement (The real Judge Dredd was off larking about in the Cursed Earth having grown a conscience and quit in the build-up to the epic plotline that followed) and waged war on Megacity one killing millions upon millions in a year long storyline called "Necropolis". The real Judge Dredd then returned and, with the help of Judge Anderson and some trainee Judges, they wrestled back control of the city, but Judge Death himself managed to escape.  That's the background to the Young Death storyline in which Death recounts his lifestory and philosophy to a terrified journalist in the hope he can bring people around to his way of thinking.  This storyline ran in the first twelve issues of the Judge Dredd Megazine and is collected in the trade paperback "Judge Death: The Life and Death Of..." along with several related one-shots and other post-Necropolis Judge Death series. But it's the twelve part Young Death I will be covering today, (with a quick look at the following one-shots) returning to the rest of the volume as a later date.

The story begins with Judge Hershey overseeing the picking up of a naked, chemically burned corpse.  Apparently they were alerted as to its location by a phone call from someone claiming to be Judge Death.  They find an electronic device in his hand and call it a "hackers licence".  Hershey advises the other Judge there to get an ID quickly just in case Judge Death really is involved.
Oh he's involved alright.
The story then flashes back to a journalist called Brian Skuter.  He is phoned up by someone claiming to be Judge Death, who gives him an address and time for them to meet up.  Later Brian arrives at a flat owned by a Mrs. Gunderson.  She has appalling eyesight and describes her lodger "Mr De'ath" as a "handsome devil".  Brian wonders how she can be unaware of the atmosphere of evil in the place.  She then shows him into Mr De'ath's room and he is revealed, of course, to be Judge Death.  He assures Brian he won't hurt him.  "Thesssse dayssss, I wouldn't hurt a fly."

Brian gets out his recording device and asks Judge Death to "hiss into this".  Judge Death gets irritated and says Brian should not abuse his tolerance.  Brian kicks off his interview by asking him how he escaped during the last days of Necropolis.  Death says he just lost himself in the piles of bodies and was buried in a mass grave.  Then sometime later two grave robbers started digging them up to steal from the dead and unearth Judge Death.

Judge Death:  "You dare disturb be from my resssst?"

He kills them, although he says he saved them from their wickedness and gave them peace.  Brian says he thought Judge Death wouldn't hurt a fly.  "They weren't fliessss" Judge Death says ominously.  Hurriedly Brian asks him what it was like down amongst the corpses.  "Mossst comfortable" muses Judge Death:

Judge Death: "Asssleep with the pure and the purgggged for monthsss, it wasss my refuggge.  A sssafe, comfroting cocoon.  Hidden from the preying eyesss of the Mega-City.  The probing tendrilsss of the cursssed Psssi-division."
Death takes lodgings in his own style.
Once woken up, he decided maybe it was time to restart his mission and took lodgings with Mrs. Gunderson.  He introduced himself to her as "Jay De'ath".  She took him to have supper with her other lodger Mr. Peel who freezes in silent terror when he sees Judge Death.  Judge Death sat down to table and pushed his arm through Mr. Peel, killing him.  Back with Brian Skuter, Judge Death wordlessly points to Mr.Peel's coprse stashed under the bed.

Brian: "But you said you were sick of killing!"

Judge Death: "Sick of killing and not being appreccciated for it!"

Brian tries to halt the interview but Death threatens him, saying whose wrath does he fear more, his or the Judges?  Mrs. Gunderson opens the door to check everything is OK and to let Judge Death know the rent is due the next day.
Brian gets a lesson in the facts of Death.
Judge Death tells Brian he will do Judge Death's bidding or die, simple as.  Brian asks why he called him.  Judge Death rants that Megacity One has been ungrateful for all his efforts to save it. He intends to leave, but before he goes:

Judge Death: "The world ssshould known my ssstory Mr. Ssskuter.  You will tell it."

Brian: "An 'Origins'.  Oh wow.  Ulp."

In the present The Judges have identified the burned body as Brian Skuter.  He apparently had a massive heart attack before being dumped in the chem pit.  Hershey asks if there is any trace of Judge Death but the body was too badly damaged.  They look him up on the computer system and find an article he wrote entitled "Judge Death Lives!  Is Judge Death Your Next Door Neighbour?"  Hershey sends the Psi-Division to his flat and says Dredd should be notified too.

Back in the recent past with Brian and Judge Death, he manages to get Judge Death to tell him his first name - "Sidney". But further probing about his age gets an angry response.  Death starts his tale by saying he lived on a similar world and his first kill was the family dog who he had been abusing.  He tossed "Woofie's" ball off a cliff and Woofie leapt off the cliff after it and was killed.  "Good boy" said young Sidney as he looked down to where Woofie's body was.
His first kill.
He goes on to tell Brian that he got his own back on his sister as well, who had reported on his mistreatment of Woofie.  He place a poisonous creature on her face as she slept.  His dad ripped it off while his mum called him "wicked, wicked boy!".  She didn't die, but suffered prolonged hospitalisation and on-going side effects afterwards.

Judge Death says he learned two things from all this.  First that once Woofie was dead he never got Sidney into trouble again and he was never a bad dog again.  And two:  "Don't get caught".  Other people were not as enlightened.  His parents watched him shooting birds from his confinement in his room.  His mum says he ought to see a doctor, his dad says he's just a normal healthy growing boy.  His mum said she didn't like being left alone with him and had a terrible feeling he'd one day kill them all.

Sidney's dad said he'd take Sidney to work with him.  Brian notes a wistfulness about Judge Death when he speaks of his father.

Judge Death: "He wasss consssumed with hate and loathhhing for people.  He lovvved to caussse them pain.  To torture them ssslowly and hear their sssilent ssscreamsss of agony... He wassss a denstissst."

And we get a rather in-depth look at how his travelling dental practice mistreated people.  His dad allowed Sidney to partake in some "Dentistry" telling him how to cause the maximum amount of suffering in a horrifying Marathon Man stylee.
Brian asked how he got away with it.  Judge Death says that people are afraid of dentists and perhaps people thought his father might come for them if they raised a fuss.  Soon just torturing people didn't suffice and his dad started flat out murdering people.  Judge Death said his father gave him his philosophy of the inherent corruption of life and the forgiving nature of death.

His father told him that everyone's heads are filled with worms.  "Only the dead are truly without worms."  Judge Death says this was a metaphor for sinfulness.  Sidney then reported his father to the Judges, having decided to join himself seeing it offering ample scope to apply his ideas.  His father was sentenced to death and as a special favour, Sidney was permitted to throw the switch on him. After admitting his own head was also filled with worms he said "Good boy" to Sidney and then he fried.
Sidney takes out his father.
Judge Death called executing his father a "cherisshhed memory".  Sidney was then an immediate success at the academy.  He was able to find sympathic ears for his philosophy.  Some thought him "sick" and would succumb to unfortunate "accidents".  When the Senior quarters caught fire, Sidney managed to shift the blame to a student who had been annoying him. He suggested they be allowed to hunt the unfortunate boy and their tutor agreed.  A pack of students then chased their victim through the snow and blasted him to ribbons.

Brian: "I gather life was uh.. fairly cheap on your world?"

Judge Death: "It wass not the ssacred insstitution it iss here.  In that way we were more enlightened than you."

Mrs. Gunderson interrupts and clumsily serves them tea.  Back in the present Judge Hershy breaks into Brian's flat and a phone message leads her to the tapes of the interview with Judge Death.

A bad day in court for the defendents.
We return to the story of Sidney.  He was allowed one day to run a court the way he saw fit.  Twenty seven people were bought in front of them with trivial charges against them, and he executed every one of them.  There were a lot of complaints and the Principal called Sidney to account.  Sidney tells him "only the dead are innocent" and he's reduced their chances of reoffending to zero.  The principal sends him away telling him he be the death of them all.

He was now being known as "Sidney Death", which he knew was a jibe, but he took it upon himself to make it a badge of honour, he even adopted it as part of his name shield.  In the present, listening to Brian's tapes he finds out where he was going and tells control that Judge Anderson should be notified and unites sent to Mrs. Gunderson's flat in Sylvia Plath block.
He wore his nickname with pride.
Judge Death continues his story.  He had graduated with top honours.  His mother and sister were not there to witness the ceremony.  They had run away from him and not told him where they were but he tracked them down, arriving at the lighthouse they were staying in, the rain pouring down.

His sister asks if he's come to kill them.  Sidney says no, "merely to judge you".  He decides the wheelchair marks on the floor are a breach of health and safety and the larder is overstocked so they are guilty of hoarding and the sentence for both of these is death.

His mother tries to escape with his sister, pushing her wheelchair at speed.  But Sidney shoots his sister through the head and keeps chasing his mother up the lighthouse. At the top and with nowhere to run, Sidney explains to his mother what he's doing is an act of love as he grabs her and dangles her over the edge.  She shouts that he's "stark, staring mad" and he lets go and she is dashed on the rocks below.
And there goes the rest of his family.
Brian says his family got unlucky, having a psycho among them.  Judge Death gets angry saying he was not a psycho, he acted out of love like a dutiful son should.  Now Sidney saw things clearly:

Judge Death: "I musst dessstroy the world - evvery livvingg thhingg in it.  I mussst return the world to a ssstate of perfect innocence."

He was being followed by three other like minded Judges.  They found crime everywhere and one day, one of them found an entire school guilty and killed them all with a flamethrower.  Sidney nicknamed him "Judge Fire".

Brian wonders how the Judge's ended up the way they were.  Judge Death says it was a stroke of good fortune.  He found the two sisters, Phobia and Nausea who had been preying on a town.  They had a temple devoted to death.  He saw the sisters and it was "love at firsst sssight."

Judge Death: "Asss I gazzzed upon the divine madnesss in their eyesss - I felt a sstiring in my breasst and lloins ssuch as I had never felt before.  Ffrom that moment on, I was theirsss." Squick.

In the present, Dredd and Anderson are outside Mrs. Gunderson's block.  Anderson can pick up something faint, but she is sure she should have picked him up before.  Dredd calls for his back-up to move in.

Dredd and Anderson are on the case.
Back with Judge Death and Brian, Judge Death tells him that he and the sisters got up to acts of "unssspeakable deprravvvity."  The sisters however reminded him of a flaw in his philosphy.  He was alive himself and possibly the greatest sinner.   The sisters said he must die, but that they can bring him back once he is dead.  For weeks they let his body rot and rubbed him with "foul-sssmelling unguants and corrossive fluidsss".  Finally he became a spectral form.  Using "dead fluids" they prepared a new body for him, of which he took possession.  Impressed his three leiutenants asked if they could go through a similar transformation.

Immediately Judge Death began putting his plan into action.  He first killed the Chief Judge and then the four of them went to war on the world until it was completely and utterly dead.  His tale told, Judge Death lets Brian go, much to Brian's relief. In the present the Judges crash into Mrs. Gunderson's flat and find that although Death has been there, he's not now.
The Dark Judges triumphant.
Mrs. Gunderson is interviewed by them and says "Mr De'ath" made an angry phonecall to Brian the previous night.  We then cut to Judge Death confronting Brian with the tabloid headlines relating to his story.

Judge Death: "Trivvvia Mr. Ssskuter!  I give you my lifffe and you givvve me trivvia!"

Brian says the quality papers wouldn't believe him, they thought he made it all up.  So an infuritated Judge Death slowly kills Brian and as he does so, the action cuts to the present with Dredd and Co. listening to Judge Death killing Brian on the recorder.

The Judges decide to cover up the tapes and leave Mrs. Gunderson alone.  Judge Anderson is concerned that Judge Death has found a way to block her.  Dredd tells her to to get to work on finding him as Judge Death could "still be the death of us all."
And that's how Brian died.  Slowly and painfully.
And so finished the twelve part, Young Death: Boyhood Of Superfiend.  But there were some short stories that were related to it that came in later progs.

TEA WITH MRS. GUNDERSON - In this strip, Death has been recaptured and is imprisoned in his spirit form.  Mrs. Gunderson has been wanting to meet with him and this time has been allowed to.  She wants to know what he'll do about the rent he owes her. Then his containment is removed.  The Judge in charge is testing a hypotheses that Judge Death likes Mrs. Gunderson and is her friend.
Death's spirit form.  Awful artwork.
Judge Death takes control of Mrs. Gunderson and threatens to sequeeze her mind until it pops unless they let him go.  Inside her mind is a little girl having a tea party to which she invites Judge Death.  He grabs the girl by the throat, she says he is wicked, but that she forgives him.

Judge Death: "Nooooooooo!  I cannot execute - ssshe is innocccent!"

And he leaves her body and goes back into his cell.  The Judges lead Mrs. Gunderson away and cover her missing rent from the petty cash.

DEATH BECOMES HIM - This strip shows how Mrs. Gunderson's place has become a stop on a tour of Megacity One's spooky places.   A man dressed as Judge Death attacks one of the tourists.  The tour leader later tells Mrs.Gunderson to get rid of the man as he is starting to "go like the rest".  The man later grabs a knife to kill Mrs. Gunderson but fights the urge and drops it and leaves.
Imaginary Death goads on the actor playing him.
Dredd arrives at Mrs. Gunderson's flat saying one of her previous Judge Deaths has comitted suicide in a Iso-Cube and died making threats against her.  Dredd picks up the knife and muses over it.  The man begins to imagine Judge Death telling him to kill and he goes to his agent and murders him.  Then the imaginary Judge Death tells him to kill Mrs. Gunderson so he goes to the bar she drinks at, but before he can hurt her, Dredd arrives and shoots him.  Mrs. Gunderson takes this all in her stride, saying he was the best Death she had.

A NIGHT WITH JUDGE DREDD - This strip begins with a drunken stag do deciding to leave the passed out groom overnight in Mrs. Gunderson's flat.  They place him under the animatronic Judge Death and leave.  Unfortunately that night the second robot war broke out and his friends were killed, and the terrified man spent five days trapped with the animatronic Judge Death.
Worst Stag Do Ever.
He turns it off, but it keeps speaking to him, telling him to kill.  He ends up putting the model's uniform on and killing several people before being gunned down by Judge Dredd who says he's one of Gundersons for sure.  And that seems to be the last of stories featuring the erstwhile Judge Death's haunted lodgings.

Young Death is an excellent piece of story telling by John Wagner and Pete Doherty.  I'm usually a little wary of projects that demystify a force of nature villain like Judge Death. But the backstory here really works, especially thanks to Doherty's queasy artwork which renders sequence like the dental torture and the tranformation of Sidney into Judge Death, profoundly hard to read through.  Judge Death's philosophy is cleverly developed as the warped philosphy of a disturbed child given free reign by the brutal society he was growing up in.

The framing sequence of the investigation into Brian Skuter's death dooms him in retrospect from the start, but leaves you wondering how things'll get there.  And the idea of Judge Death lodging with a little old lady too blind to see his inherent evil is a wonderful collision of the mundane and the grotesque.  The fact his presence there leaves a mark and attempts to turn the flat into a tourist attraction keep going horribly wrong is also a fun idea.  All-in-all "Young Death" is well worth seeking out, it's been collected in various trade paperbacks (these scans came from Judge Death:  The Life and Death Of... which was a gift from my very good friend Lucy) and back in the day it helped kick the Megazine off with a quality storyline and I'll be returning to more of his post-Necropolis adventures at a later date.