One year ago I met Peter Duncan and Mark (W.D. McQuaid) McCann at the Enniskillen Comic Fest and picked up the first issue of Sector 13, a brand new full-sized comic created by a talented group of 2000AD fans. 24 glossy pages full of great strips led on to 36 such pages in #2 last November and now they've rounded that number off at 40 pages for their next issue which was just released last weekend, again at Enniskillen. A recoloured, slicker logo and a darker tone overall than the previous two issues but does darker equal better? Well that's what we're here to find out.
First up, while the team have said before (in an interview here on the blog) Sector 13 isn't a Judge Dredd fanzine/comic, that it's very definitely a more general 2000AD one, this is the third time we've had a Dredd movie-inspired cosplayer on the cover, though I do have to say this is definitely my favourite cover so far and really does make you want to grab it and get stuck in!
LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION, DINOSAURS!
The issue starts off with another photo strip set in the world of the aforementioned movie and it's bigger in scope than any of their previous stories. Do you Remember, written by Laurence McKenna and Peter (Splank!) Duncan, with Laurence on art droid duties, takes place over two different points in time and jumps back and forth to tease the reader with the reasoning behind the action of the Judge at the centre of the story.
It's a basic revenge plot but the way it's told adds intrigue and the only real downside this time around is that the artwork on top of the photos, as well as their layouts, don't seem to be quite as exciting as the team is capable of. There's some really neat touches, like the military-esque craft added in the panels below and the last page is just brilliantly done and looks fantastic, but of course I can't show that and ruin the end of the story. But overall it seems to lack a bit of the gloss and animated feel previous chapters have brought, but it's not a mood spoiler.
Previously I've talked about how I felt the use of bad language in the comic detracted from the quality of the writing. I won't bore you with it all over again but you can read what I was wittering on about in the write-up for #2. I'm happy to say the rest of this issue doesn't use any at all and feels all the more mature for it. However this Mega City One tale goes overboard with it. Yes, it's 'bleeped' out, with only the first and last letter of each instance visible, and I know it's set in the world of the '18'-certificate movie, but it still feels out of place in the comic adaptation of that world to me.
The next strip is written and drawn by John Farrelly, another returning member of the team and I have to say the artwork here is just sublime. This really could be in a professional comic available on the newsstands and the dinosaurs in particular are fantastic. They wouldn't look out of place in something as high profile as a new Jurassic Park comic! Seriously, they are that good.
Flesh Alpha Male is based on the Flesh series from very early issues of 2000AD, set in a future where humans have exhausted their animal resources and are forced to travel back to the age of the dinosaurs and hunt them for food. We were very much not the good guys in trying to dominate these creatures, the human characters often getting eaten and the large companies coming a cropper, with the moral of the stories being that you don't mess with nature.
This is where a bit of confusion comes into play here. In Alpha Male I found myself rooting for the Tyrannosaur and I hated the main character, Earl Reagan, waiting for him to get his comeuppance. But it doesn't happen. I won't ruin the ending for you but by the end I felt sorry for the T-rex and annoyed with the outcome for the Reagan character. If it were to continue on as a series we may see him get what really should happen to him, but as a one-off complete story I'm not 100% sure the writer got the true meaning behind those classic stories. Shame, as up until that final page this was an excellent strip and that artwork is still stunning.
UPDATE: John very kindly commented on this post and I thought I'd reprint it here in the actual write-up:
"Hi Phil, thank you for your review about the Flesh story I did for Sector 13. It was nice to hear my art was appreciated. Just wanted to clarify something though - I do get the premise of the original Flesh story. I know it was an ecological fable where man was pitted against nature and the 22nd century cowboys were often portrayed as the bad guys. I just wanted to do a character study set in that milieu and to make the point that Earl Reagan - a mixture of John Wayne and Jack Pallance's character Curly from City Slickers - was so tough that he was capable of making a T-rex cry! This showed the young guy who was dissing him that he was not one to be crossed. That's all - no judgement to be passed upon him, just that he's one tough son of a bitch. You'd have to be, to herd dinosaurs! It's not a continuing series, though I am working on a Harlem Heroes prequel called Giant: Feat of Clay for Zarjaz. It's a six-parter and it should be in Zarjaz throughout 2019. Thanks again for taking on Sector 13." - John Farrelly
Thanks so much for commenting John, it's very much appreciated. There you go folks, straight from the mouth of the writer/artist himself. So those reactions I had feeling sorry for the T-rex were all part of the experience and my reaction to the Earl character would be a natural thing for me given how John conceived him. Superb stuff. Another reason to pick this issue up! Oh and John, loving your work on Splank! too, which I'm finishing the write-up to right now.
THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY
Last issue one of the highlights was Ragnarok and here we find a surprising sequel strip written again by Peter Duncan, with artwork by Simon McKnight who contributed his own stunningly drawn 2-page strip last time. Here his work is spread over 7 pages instead and he rises to the occasion admirably. Set in the same timeline as the original story, we find ourselves back on earth instead of on a space station, where more of the back story is built up with a good deal of tension to boot. Gloriously atmospheric, it takes place over a long period of time and ends on a cliffhanger which could easily go on to bring these first two episodes together in a thrilling climax, so here's hoping there's more from this world in future issues.
You can see above an example of Ashman Ragnarok II's superb panels; the writing, artwork and even the novel captions all coming together in perfect harmony to create something truly excellent. A real highlight of the issue and the time and dedication put into Simon's artwork can't be overstated, though it's high standard does then highlight a couple of shortcomings in other strips.
Terminal Apotheosis is written by W.D. McQuaid, drawn by Patrick Brown and is an interesting tale about the Dark Judges and, while the ending has some dialogue which just seems very unlike anything Judge Death would say, it's a great wee story and one which shows just how desperate things can get when the Mega City's Justice Department finds itself up against these particular villains from another dimension. Add in the fact this follows their attack from the point of view of a rookie and it's even more chaotic. Trying to find reason and understanding where there is none, overacting and making rookie mistakes all add up to an inevitable conclusion. Her journey is an excellent read and just look at that panel above of a Judge's Lawgiver exploding!
It's a spectacular image but unfortunately it's the exception rather than the rule, with the rest of the 5-page story looking decidedly rushed. In another story, There Was This Irishman (written by Alan Holloway with art by Jawine Westland) I'm still not exactly sure what happens as it's just not clear from what we see. It's only two pages and on the second one I still don't know what the fourth panel actually is. After the sublime artwork from Jawine in #2's first Ragnarok chapter I'm really surprised that this one fell short.
FINISHING ON A HIGH
Travelling Companion, written by Glenn Matchett with art by Damien Duncan looks and feels like a classic Future Shock, the likes of which could easily have been published in 2000AD itself. The set up on the first page will immediately ring alarm bells for any seasoned reader of Tharg's.
You know the phrase "Seems too good to be true"? Well that perfectly sums up the plot of this great 4-page story with the above leading on to, naturally, a bad accident in which there are many casualties. We stick with one survivor, who is pinned down and unable to move, fearing for his life. He's in communication with someone via an audio link, who tries to keep him positive and alive long enough to be pulled from the wreckage. While I found the juxtaposition between reality and what the company portrays and how they can get away with it more interesting than the actual final panel twist, it's still a good little story and I look forward to reading more from the imagination of Matchett, hopefully teamed up again with the talented Duncan.
A 1-page Strontium Mog spoof strip written by W.D. McQuaid with art by Scott Twells rounds off the issue, with the final page count being filled out with an editorial, a page of photos of the contributors' regular meetings in their regular Belfast pub and a few adverts for future fan creations. So how does it stack up altogether?
I will say that while this is the weakest of the three issues so far, that's just a testament to the quality of the previous two! This is still a worthy read and for anyone who is either a fan of 2000AD or just wants some original, compulsive storytelling this is a must buy. The positives vastly outweigh any negatives and it's a glossy ball of great local talent, a brilliant showcase as always. Hopefully next time any rough edges can be ironed out a bit more so that once again it'll be right up there with #1 and #2.
In the meantime it's a third unmissable treat from a truly dedicated team of talented individuals!
SNAP IT UP
#3 of Sector 13 is available now priced £7.00 for UK readers including postage costs, £9.45 for the rest of Ireland, or you can grab all three issues for a combined price of £16.70, £20.00 for the Republic. PayPal details and international costs are available on Peter Duncan's website.
#1 and #2 are also now available with brand new cartoon covers by Andrew Pawley and Cat Byrne respectively, both with a new logo layout so I can only assume #3 will also get the 'second cover' treatment at some point since it's still the older style. #1 also contains a new strip by Peter and Davy Francis explaining the first print run's cover spelling mistake.