RIP Carlos Ezquerra

Carlos Ezquerra passed away today. This is a loss not just personally to his family and friends as Carlos was a profoundly decent man, but to comics where in terms of influence, ability and creativity Carlos ranks up with the best so there’s a place next to Steve Ditko, Moebius and Jack Kirby as this was someone who co-created not just one classic character in Judge Dredd, but two in Strontium Dog.

Carlos was one of those Spanish artists in the 1970’s that IPC would use because he was quick and cheap, but he had a style unlike many of the older artists who were sometimes elegant, and smooth. Carlos’s art was heavy blacks and sketchy lines which made his work, well, edgy to pre-teen boys like myself who found his Major Easy character the entrance to his work.

And of course, his Action cover which wasn’t just as Punk as fuck in 1976, but it also helped the comic get banned.

However the minute you saw his splash page for the then new Judge Dredd strip in the new 2000AD in 1977, you knew you were seeing a talent erupt.

That one page still sums up what Judge Dredd is. Dredd is a fascist keeping law in a spectacular future city which doesn’t look like a dystopia, but is very much one because there’s cameras watching your every move when the Judges aren’t. Even in the design Carlos makes clear what Dredd is by slipping in symbols of fascism he lived with in the Spain of the fascist Franco.

Thanks to scripts from co-creator John Wagner, not to mention Pat Mills and Alan Grant, Dredd’s fascism wasn’t just a thing of black and white as weekly the Dredd strip ensured kids around the UK were exposed to intellectually and moral grey areas which for me hit a height with the superb Apocalypse War.  Dredd’s Mega City One and the remnants of the Soviets battle it out with the spectre of nuclear destruction being there on the page at all times as the reader battled with the prospect of real life nuclear destruction.

Carlos didn’t just work on Dredd; as said, he co-created Strontium Dog, but he also drew covers and strips at an enormous rate  never dipping in quality and we as readers probably took his work for granted as he was consistent.

By the 90’s Carlos saw Dredd on film, which we’ll draw a line under however he was now working in American comics mainly working with Garth Ennis and getting the sort of credit and recognition outwith of the UK and Europe he deserved while still working and producing lush work. In more recent years his son was helping him as he struggled with poor health thanks to cancer, and only a week or so ago was posting on his Facebook that he’d come out of a major operation and was in recovery. Sadly he lost this last fight and passed away at 70.

He is irreplaceable. There is nobody out there able to do what he did.I met him a few times at various comic conventions over the decades and he was always charming, if somewhat overawed that his work is so appreciated and loved but this is a man who saw his work shape lives, and culture, so he’ll be missed for the artist, and human being, he was.

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Happy birthday 2000AD

40 years ago this week I had in my hands the first issue of a new weekly boy’s adventure comic called 2000AD. It had a shite free gift as was the way with comics back then.

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The first issue featured Flesh!, a story about time-travellers coming from the future to harvest dinosaurs to help feed the future population’s desire for meat which was eagerly lapped up by me who’d lapped up the gore-soaked pages of Action. Excitement had been built up for some time as after all, Action had been neutered, and thanks to some gloriously cheesy adverts I was dying to get my hands on 2000AD.

It may look cheesy to jaded 21st century eyes but this was brilliant and along with thousands of other kids we enjoyed the first issue, and looked forward to the second which promised a new strip called Judge Dredd which surely couldn’t be as fun as Flesh! or as bizarre as the revamped Dan Dare which was no longer tired and old, but a bit disco.Whatever it was, it looked like no other comic out there in 1977.

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Of course Judge Dredd was an instant favourite as what boy wouldn’t love an ultra-violent fascist as a role model?

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1977 was a transformational year for the UK as the Queen’s silver jubilee rubbed against the growth of the Punk movement, while in the background Thatcherism bubbled away Sauron-like waiting for its moment to strike. Thanks to Pat Mills (who acted as father and midwife to 2000AD) Punk was very much written into the DNA of 2000AD and new, younger artists like Mick McMahon epitomised that new ethic.

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The Golden Age of 2000AD lasted years. For me the first 500 issues are brimming with creativity and I can’t think of a comic ever published that was so consistent in what was still basically children’s comics.

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Yet as I got older I drifted from 2000AD, especially in the 1990’s when the comic published some utter shite like Mark Millar’s Robo-Hunter. Possibly some of the worst comics I’ve ever read. In the 90’s the comics seemed burdened with bad editorial decisions or more realistically, the editors in the latter part of the 1990’s didn’t have a clue how to do their jobs hence why the comic came close to extinction.

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Yet it was saved thanks to Rebellion who cleared out the baggage, stripped the comic back to something it was previously and was left facing the 21st century looking positive. 2000ad2000 So happy birthday 2000AD. You’ve seen me through most of my life and in your own way have helped shape it and all the bad days are hopefully behind you now, and here’s hoping for another 40 years of thrills.

What I Thought of Judge Dredd: Superfiend

This new web series is produced by Adi Shankar producer of the 2012 Dredd film which was actually very good indeed, if somewhat lacking in the sort of humour you’d find in Dredd’s stories in 2000AD, and indeed much of the satire was missing but Dredd was a great action film that at least tried to tell a stripped down Judge Dredd story.

Judge Dredd: Superfiend is Shanktar’s thank you for fans of the Dredd film and it’s an unauthorised adaptation along the lines of the quite excellent Punisher film he did with Thomas Jane and Ron Perlman. Dirty Laundry is probably the best of the ‘bootleg’/fan films that are around because it’s suitably grim and depressing, because, well, it’s the fucking Punisher!

Superfiend suffers from taking a needlessly grim take on Dredd while at the same time trying to be flippant along the lines Alan Grant and John Wagner would manage with what looked like ease, but I know involved a lot of working out so they’d get the tone right. The story centres round Judge Sydney, a psychopath when we’re introduced to him kills a rape victim so he can kill the rapist legally under the law of Mega City One. Right away the tone is astonishingly jarring for what has been billed as a Judge Death versus Judge Dredd story, and from there we’re launched into a flashback in Sydney’s life where we see his father was a mobile dentist who would torture and kill people with young Sydney’s help.

After an encounter with the Judges, young Sydney decides to become a Judge, and one of his early tests is to execute his father. This really is all setup so we can see Sydney to be a bastard who we don’t really care about, in fact, most of the characters in this we couldn’t care about. When Sydney is taken over by Judge Death even Death seems like he’s going through the motions and Dredd himself doesn’t even show up for the first few episodes and then he feels like a cardboard cut-out of the 2000AD Dredd or that awful version of Dredd that pops up in American comics that’s supposed to be Dredd but isn’t.

And here’s the problem with Superfiend. It’s fun but it only really feels like Dredd by using the characters from the comics, but turns them into echos of what they were, or are introduced and dumped so quickly their introduction seems fairly pointless. It’s a fun series of films but it’s really for newer fans brought on after the Dredd film, or indeed, anyone not 100% familiar with the nearly 40 year history of Judge Dredd.

It’s a pity as there’s potential with Judge Dredd to do more than just fights and violence which is what writers like Pat Mills, Alan Grant and of course, John Wagner have done, but this is really for passing a spare 30 minutes or so if you’ve got nothing else to fill it with.

 

My top 20 Comic Book films-7-Dredd

I did my top 20 horror and SF films last year, and found doing the lists to be more fun than expected, so in a massive bit of logic here’s my top 20 films adapted or inspired from comics. I need to point out I mean comics, not ‘superhero comics’ which is a lazy, and incorrect way to describe a wonderfully varied medium and it’d also cut out some bloody good films!

Previously, in this list at #20, X Men19The Crow18Heavy Metal, 17, Spider Man ,16The Avengers, 15Danger: Diabolik, 14The Dark Knight Trilogy , 13A History of Violence12Kick Ass , 11,Spider Man 2 , 10, Barbarella9, Batman Returns and 8, X Men 2.

The streets of Mega City One are a hard place in Dredd.

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This is the second attempt to bring John Wagner and Carlos Esquerra’s strip from 2000AD onto the screen and the Sylvester Stallone Judge Dredd film, which frankly, isn’t bad if you ignore Stallone as soon as he takes his helmet off. Thankfully no helmets of any shape or description come of Dredd’s head in this film, though heads do suffer a number of various injuries in the film.

Thankfully Karl Urban isn’t as vain as Stallone so he keeps the helmet on and does a virtually perfect job as Dredd, though the problem is that the film doesn’t have the satire on modern society that Wagner and other writers, chiefly Pat Mills and Alan grant, have filled the strip with over the years. In fact, Dredd feels in places a little bit like a John Carpenter action film which is a compliment, but again there’s none of the humour you’d see there. The first Judge Dredd film may have been mainly bollocks, but it at least captured the sense of fun of the comics and of course, the production design was vastly superior to Dredd, but that film had the money to spend, even if the script was awful.

The lack of humour and satire in Dredd aside, the film works perfectly as a Carpenter-esque stripped down action film with Judge Dredd and his rookie Judge Anderson trapped in a Cityblock (a skyscraper holding millions of people) fighting to get to the top and stop an evil drug lord. That’s the plot. It’s thin but it’s enough to hold down the film and get it to do what it needs to which is introduce a stripped down Judge Dredd for an international audience and it, mainly, works.

Sadly although it did well in the UK and some other parts of the world, the Americans went in their droves not to see this which is a pity considering the frankly awful action films that do well there.

Anyhow, it’s unlikely we’ll see a sequel, or indeed any future film featuring Judge Dredd, so enjoy this one.

Next up, have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?