Zarjaz 16 review by Steven Denton
Cover: Jon Haward & Nigel Dobbyn
It’s a nice cover. Slaine has been largely painted or computer-generated since The Horned God but for me he will always be a warrior of well-rendered inks. For the most part the colouring is eye catching and dramatic but I think in places it fights the linework for defining the shadows. I would like to have seen a more old school look to complement the old school Slaine feel.
Slaine: Night Moves; by Richmond Clements, Jon Haward & BOLT-01
This simple but effective story has some fine artwork by Jon Haward. There is an impressive level of period detail in the locations and costume design, lending an almost subliminal feeling of historical place. I found myself immersed in the world of Slaine a little deeper with each frame. This is the Slaine of old, the Massimo Belardinelli and Mick McMahon Slaine of my childhood. The script is tight and punchy; my only criticism is that I found some of the dialogue slightly jarring. Not because it was badly-written or out of place, simply because of my familiarity with Pat Mills’ work. Slaine’s voice is hard to replicate and whatever you think of Pat Mills’ writing, his authorial fingerprints are deeply embedded in his work. I was impressed with BOLT-01’s lettering; the sound effects in particular are worth mentioning: they fit the artwork well, so well at times that I found myself wondering if some of the SFX had been drawn as part of the art.
Judge Dredd: Sleepers Awake; By Tom Proudfoot, David Broughton & BOLT-01
Sleepers Awake is an action-packed little strip that wastes no time cutting to the chase. The story is basic but makes sense and the bookend plot device adds a much-needed second perspective to the narrative. David Broughton’s layouts can be cluttered and confusing at times, but for an action romp like this, his energetic art work and busy page designs add to the frenetic feel.
Bad Company: Krool Intentions; by Mark Pexton, James Newel & Meanwhile.TV
I remember reading Bad Company as a child and being completely in awe of the number of well-defined characters and the alarming rate at which they were killed. It set a bar in my mind that no story has since managed to match. Nostalgia is a terrible thing; there is no reasoning with it. The lettering was generally good, if slightly too small in the captions. One of the biggest problems I have with comics is reading lettering that is meant to represent hand writing but Meanwhile.TV managed to avoid that issue and remain legible throughout. James Pexton’s artwork is crazy, but in a good way. The heavy black inks and dancing swirls of lines somehow manage to form perfectly clear images. There is a seductiveness to the grotesque imagery and an inescapable classic horror comic feel, ideally placed for depicting the horror of monsters and the horrors of war. The story is largely told though captions, which seem to be split between extracts from Danny Franks’ diary and a third person narrator, or it could just be Franks writing in the 3rd person. I found it confusing, which is a shame as for the most part the captions are well written. I was not overly keen on the plot however as it seemed to re-tread ground already covered by Milligan in Bad Company. One of the most common pitfalls of fan fiction is attempting to be too faithful to the source material and just remixing something that we have already seen.
The Hills of Hellfire My Love; by Mick Cassidy, Blackmocco & Drokk
The Hills of Hellfire is the tale of a mutie hell trek running into trouble out in the cursed earth. Harried by a gang of slavers, the muties seem to have accepted their fate of slavery or savage death, only for a critically-injured Mega-City One judge to stagger out of a storm and into their camp. Blackmocco can draw, there is no doubt about that; the general style reminded me of Rufus Dayglo but less angular and less finished. It’s loose and sketchy, at times so much so that it comes across as a loose sketch and not a finished strip. The story is told pretty much entirely through captions which can be an effective way of getting a lot of information across quickly but comes with one major drawback. I tend to think that strips with a caption-only narrative read a lot like illustrated prose. The illustrations sometimes repeat the information in the captions rather than add to it; there are also times when the script and art act as complementary narratives. Although not an unqualified success, this is a good read from a promising writer/artist.
Flesh: Future Shock; by Andrew Cheverton and David Frankum
Short, snappy, and beautifully-illustrated by David Frankum, Flesh could easily appear in the 1982 2000AD annual. Flesh was a strip that, along with Shako, would probably have been more at home in 2000AD’s older cousin Action, with its broad crimson strokes and almost comically-violent set pieces. Andrew Cheverton has taken this over-the-top gore fest and shaped it into a tale for 2000AD’s signature sci-fi Future Shock style. Frankum’s art work is reminiscent of Bryan Talbot at his best, with dark, solid shadows and form-defining hatching. If the small press had an A-list of artists then David Frankum would be on it.
Tales of the Genetic Infantry: In the Zone; by Mike Carroll & BOLT-01
The single biggest problem with Tales of the GI is that, although I have read parts one and two, it’s been more than a year since part two. It’s an unfortunate side effect of the small press that there will be long gaps between issues and multi-issue stories will suffer. The recap helped to jog my memory but it still felt very much like viewing the latest instalment in isolation. Part three itself is a well-written action scene. When faced with insurmountable odds, the battle-scarred GI must use his brains and his enemies’ own strength to give himself a fighting chance. The art, from the ever-dependable BOLT-01 is energetic and easy to follow. BOLT’s art always reminds me of 1980’s Marvel UK and although there are rough edges, it’s hard not to be carried along by its charm. Read all at once, I think this will be a very entertaining strip.
Sinister Dexter: Dr Maybe’s Museum Of Death; by Tony Mcveigh, Chris Askham & BOLT-01
To say I am not a fan of Sinister Dexter would be an understatement, so upfront I think it’s important to say I am not the target audience here. The story contains many of the things I dislike about the strip; the joke is old and wasn’t particularly funny the first time, and the word play is weak. The artwork is nice; I do like Chris Askham’s work; and the script and production are of the same quality as the ones that appeared in 2000AD in the 90’s. The jokes may well be knowingly bad like Christmas cracker jokes or maybe just not the kind of thing I find funny.
Anderson PSI Division: I Death; By Lee Robson, Dunk! Nimmo and BOLT-01
Dunk! Nimmo is like a cross between Brett Ewins and Ryan Hughes with a dash of D’Israeli thrown in for good measure. You remember that small press A-list I was talking about? Nimmo is on it. His work here is clean, uncluttered, lively and full of character. If I were to offer any criticism, it would be that Dunk’s layouts could be more interesting, there could be more variation in scale and a more dynamic choice of angle. Lee Robson has done a good job with the script: Anderson sounds right and the story moves along nicely without ever seeming predictable or rushed. One of the problems with short, self-contained stories is that there is only a limited amount of stories you can tell in a certain way in a certain space. It’s easy to reach for too much or too little; this does neither. Robson has crafted a complete and satisfying single-part tale and that is not an easy thing to do.
Whatever Happened to Sancho Panza?; by The Emperor, David Broughton & BOLT-01
David Broughton captures the look of Sancho Panza very well; the characters and the tank are instantly recognisable and constant without seeming forced. The anarchic, frenetic storytelling style seems to suit Broughton’s artistic sensibilities. The layouts are still jumbled, but for this strip it’s the right choice. The script does something I really like every time I see it in the small press. It takes a story that for some finished too soon and shows us there is still fun to be had with these old toys. Sancho Panza never got a second series, but if it had, it could have done a lot worse and maybe not much better than this.
Zarjaz 16 keeps a high standard: the art is never less than fit for purpose and some times it’s as good, if not better, then the art in 2000AD itself. The standard of writing is impressively high as well, never falling below decent. Zarjaz holds up well, not just in the small press but as a comic; its highs are highs by any standard and its lows just aren’t that low. It’s a must-buy for any 2000AD fan, past or present.
You can buy Zarjaz 16 from here.