Progs 545 to 570 – Oz

Story: Oz
Appears: 2000AD Progs 545-570
Issues: 26
Writers: John Wagner and Alan Grant
Art: Cliff Robinson, Jim Baikie, Gary Leach, Brendan McCarthy, Will Simpson, Steve Dillon, Barry Kitson, John Higgins
Dated: 24 October 1987 to 16 April 1988

There is no doubt that Wagner and Grant do their best work in the longer format and this is a real beauty. It has been a while since we have seen an epic length tale. Not since we last saw Chopper in the Midnight Surfer in fact.

Marlon Shakespeare makes a superb protagonist because he is the closest thing to normal the mega-city has. He isn’t a criminal but is criminalised by the system he lives within. He makes a superb point of view character for the reader and it is so easy to empathise with his struggle. There is no time-travel, alien, supernatural gimmick in his stories and as such we can easily transpose his struggles to our own.

Just like the Midnight Surfer we have a slow build up with plenty of room to let the story breathe and grow. The narration is superbly poetic and there are plenty of human touchstones along the way from his childhood friend to fans on the street.

It is not all rosy however. There are number of racial stereotypes ranging from the lazy to the offensive. At one point there is even a note from the editor to explain that these views do not represent 2000AD. The injection of the second storyline, the Judda, seems unplanned and uncoordinated, possibly as a filler for some delayed script or art, even though it is quite a significant addition to the Dredd canon.

The ending itself is just breath-taking. The actual race is sustained over six nail-biting issues with a spot-on commentary that reads like the greatest Derby ever seen. Best of all Chopper doesn’t have the trite hero’s victory you would expect from a kid’s comic. And the last few pages where he faces death are absolutely electric.

This is probably the most sophisticated and greatest Dredd story to date.

Progs 540 to 541 – The Return of Death Fist

Story: The Return of Death Fist
Appears: 2000AD Progs 540-541
Issues: 2
Writers: John Wagner and Alan Grant
Art: Barry Kitson
Dated: 19 September 1987 to 26 September 1987

Oh no, more racism. It is quite a reasonable story, despite poor dialogue, and does have a spot on ending. But the racial slurs make it toxic. In what is becoming a trend they hint at a future follow-up story so it looks like we won’t get to put this unpleasantness behind us.

Prog 493 – Dead Ringer

Story: Dead Ringer
Appears: 2000AD Prog 493
Issues: 1
Writers: John Wagner and Alan Grant
Art: Barry Kitson
Dated: 25 October 1986

Potentially a juicy little mystery but sadly it is given away on the third page. With some restructuring this could have drawn the suspense out for longer. But it ends up more of a crime documentary albeit with a strong ending.

Prog 491 – The Peeper

Story: The Peeper
Appears: 2000AD Prog 491
Issues: 1
Writers: John Wagner and Alan Grant
Art: Barry Kitson
Dated: 10 October 1986

If you are going to borrow, then borrow from the best, and Hitchcock’s Rear Window is just that. The real meat of the story comes as it ends with the narrator telling us about “…the secret army of criminals sanctioned by the Justice Dept to ply their trade.”

Prog 484 – Fists of Stan Lee

Story: Fists of Stan Lee
Appears: 2000AD Prog 484
Issues: 1
Writers: John Wagner and Alan Grant
Art: Barry Kitson
Dated: 23 August 1986

For a single issue story this causes a lot of fuss. Once again we see the return of Dredd’s racism against those of Far Eastern descent. Obviously you expect Perps to show such behaviour as it is a shortcut to telling you they are the bad guys. A technique slightly better than making them have a black hat or a disability. But Dredd is famously neutral in his treatment of all criminals and citizens. How does calling people Charlie Chan as a denigration reflect this? If it is revealed later that Dredd has some bias about a particular ethnic group this would make an interesting story but I suspect that won’t be the case.