The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 59 | “Critical Millennium Vol. 1: The Dark Frontier” and “Judge Dredd: Mega-City Masters 01” reviewed

Leaving Proof 59 | “Critical Millennium Vol. 1: The Dark Frontier” and “Judge Dredd: Mega-City Masters 01” reviewed
Published on Sunday, December 4, 2011 by

Two new “capsule reviews” for today’s column. This week we looked into fictional future worlds as we read Andrew E. C. Gaska and Daniel Dussault’s Critical Millennium Vol. 1: The Dark Frontier from Archaia Entertainment and the multi-author and multi-artist retrospective compilation Judge Dredd: Mega-City Masters 01 from Rebellion/2000 AD.

Critical Millennium Vol. 1: The Dark Frontier
  • (Archaia Entertainment, 2011; 168 pages, collects Critical Millennium Vol. 1: The Dark Frontier #1–4 originally published in single magazine form)
  • Written by: Andrew E. C. Gaska
  • Art by: Daniel Dussault
  • Letters by: Nina Kester
  • List Price: $24.95 (US)
Full Disclosure: This is a review of a press proof digital copy of the book provided by the publisher

From the Inside Flap: Written and created by Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes author Andrew E. C. Gaska, and illustrated by hot new talent Daniel Dussault, Critical Millennium: The Dark Frontier is a disturbing look at a dystopian future society that is frighteningly close to our own. Decadence and overindulgence has [sic] led to the extermination of most animal and plant species, as well as the Earth’s ability to support human life. The only solution is to find a new home for mankind, one that the government is too self-absorbed to contemplate. Critical Millennium is an epic sci-fi romp, rife with brutally realistic and sober portrayals of mankind—not in blacks and whites, but in all its various shades of gray.Critically acclaimed, The Dark Frontier is just the beginning—Critical Millennium is an opus that is en route to becoming a provocative new sci-fi franchise.

What Worked: As a lapsed “hard SF” fan who also happens to dig comics, I’m always interested in science fiction comic books that don’t have the words “star,” “wars,” or “trek” in the title. The fact that Gaska and Dussault go through 168 pages without so much as showing an off-brand lightsaber or a humanoid alien with a weird forehead and/or pointy ears already earns them points in my book. The surreal, cinematic opening to the book is terrifically executed.

What Didn’t: Well, there’s the hilariously self-congratulatory inside flap copy.

Also, the reversal of racial fortunes exhibited in the future Earth of Critical Millennium—a world where the white minority is subjugated by the “ethnic” majority—rings somewhat hollow. Even when attempted by veteran speculative and science fiction writers (such as Robert Heinlein in Farnham’s Freehold, for example), the trope suffers from the fact that it presupposes that racial experiences are interchangeable, i.e., if the ruler-subject relationship of the “White Man” and the “ethnic Other” were to be somehow reversed, the latter would similarly go out of its way to marginalize the former, something which we know just isn’t necessarily true (one only needs to look at post-apartheid South Africa or the post-colonial Bahamas to find relevant counter-examples). It’s an overly simplistic approach to the complex issue of racial politics that mistakes racial equality for cultural and ethical homogeneity. In addition, the Randian bent of the story does nothing for me, as the “government bad, private business good” theme is simply an extension of the moral reductionism that underpins the existential conflict that drives the plot. Despite the inside flap copy’s claim that the book is “rife with brutally realistic and sober portrayals of mankind–not in blacks and whites, but in all its various shades of gray,” I found that this just wasn’t the case.

The main plot unfolds in a somewhat non-linear fashion, with the story constantly switching from the setting’s shifting present, to its past, and back again, akin to the mechanic employed by Alan Moore in Chapter IV (“The Watchmaker”) of Watchmen. But while the cross-cutting in “The Watchmaker” was seamless, the temporal transitions in Critical Millennium are forced and awkward, sapping the tale of its momentum and adding an unnecessary layer of obfuscation in a narrative that is already exhaustingly slow to establish itself. I like it when writers don’t rush plot development, but 168 pages to tell the story of how a space launch has come about is at least 120 pages too many (if you’ve ever watched—and fallen asleep while doing so—the Jodie Foster-starrer Contact, that’s an approximation of my experience with Critical Millennium Vol.1).

Not really helping things is Daniel Dussault’s painted art. I’ve already mentioned my general aversion to fully painted comics art in a previous review. Painted comics art often comes across as muddy and lacking depth due to the distinction between background and foreground being rendered inscrutable by the lack of visual cues traditionally provided by differing ink line widths. The best comics painters are able to create depth by giving objects volume through expert manipulation of lighting and rendering of textures, features that are sorely missed in most of the book’s painted panels.

The Verdict: Critical Millennium holds promise—the elements are in place for it to develop into an updated Lost in Space pastiche at the very least—but it’s off to a very shaky start. There’s always the chance that it will get better with future volumes of course, but I don’t recommend picking up this collection, at least not for the list price.

Judge Dredd: Mega-City Masters 01
  • (Rebellion/2000 AD, 2010; 272 pages, collects various stories published in 2000 AD Progs 130, 205, 342, 374, 375, 435, 456, 472–475, 577, 1012, 1013, 1194, 1214, 1240, 1320, 1600–1603; Judge Dredd Megazine #s 1.14, 1.18. 280, 281; 2000 AD Annual 1982, 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special 1983, and 2000 AD Annual 1989)
  • Features stories written by: John Wagner, Walter Rennie, Alan Grant, and Al Ewing
  • Features art by: Dave Gibbons, Steve Dillon, Brian Bolland, John Byrne, Cam Kennedy, John Higgins, Brendan McCarthy, Kevin O’Neill, Glen Fabry, Alan Davis, Carlos Ezquerra, Simon Bisley, Trevor Hairsine, Chris Weston, Jock, Duncan Fegredo, Charlie Adlard, Staz Johnson, Kevin Walker, Colin Wilson, and Mark Farmer
  • Cover Artist: Tim Bradstreet
  • List Price: $19.99 (US)/$27.00 (CAN)


Featuring stories illustrated by the most revered artists working in comics today, including Dave Gibbons (Watchmen), Brian Bolland (The Killing Joke), and Kevin O’Neill (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) with stories from John Wagner (A History of Violence) and Alan Grant (Batman) amongst others, this is a collection bursting with action, humour, and breathtaking visuals!

What Worked: You can’t really go wrong with a “greatest hits” collection like this. The vast majority of the brief strips (most of which clock in at 10 pages or less) reprinted here are chock-full of the over-the-top action, delightfully morbid humor, and outstanding art (seriously, it’s an all-star cast of artists in this TPB) that helped turn 2000 AD‘s Judge Dredd into the UK’s foremost comic book export.

What Didn’t: I know the editors probably wanted to include stories across the entirety of Judge Dredd’s over 30 years (from 1979–2010) of publishing history, but a number of the newer stories seem like questionable inclusions for the volume (thankfully the “killer-to-filler” ratio skews significantly towards the former). The decision to include two versions of John Wagner and Alan Grant’s “Joe Dredd’s Blues” (the first illustrated by Joe Higgins, the second—officially titled “A Mega-City Primer” but containing an almost letter-for-letter recreation of the “Joe Dredd’s Blues” script—painted by Simon Bisley) is an odd one as well. The sheer thickness of the book also means that the middle sliver of the occasional double-page spread can’t be seen unless you want to flatten the book out and risk damaging the binding.

The Verdict: At $19.99 (US) for the mammoth 272 page softcover, this would be an easy recommendation based on sheer value for money alone. Throw in some excellent art and vintage 2000 AD humor and you’ve got yourself a real winner of a book. Recommended.

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