This week 2000 AD commemorates the life and work of one of the comic’s most important creative voices in a beautifully appropriate way with their latest Sci-Fi Special turned over to the great man’s stories and characters. And amidst the sometimes almost overwhelming poignancy that inevitably permeates every single page there’s also a welcome and fitting sense of joy and celebration to the proceedings.
The first story – a Judge Dredd entry titled ‘A Night at the Museum’ (below left) by Alan Grant and Robin Smith – is essentially an unrepentant meta framing device that reminds us of some of Ezquerra’s finest moments. Pursued by Dredd, a group of fleeing criminals decide to hide in Maga City’s Sci-Fi Museum. Within, the unfortunate villains soon find themselves caught up in an interactive gallery of Ezquerra’s greatest hits in an affecting tribute that is nonetheless still wrapped up in the dark humour of Dredd’s world. In many ways it’s a fitting farewell piece in and of itself, with Smith’s art deftly capturing the pure essence of Ezquerra’s fictional realities as his original artistic vision acts as a backdrop to events.
But there are more revisitations of Ezquerra’s signature characters to come. Wulf Sternhammer (below right) stars in a solo tale that sees the chronologically displaced Strontium Dog returning to Earth centuries after his time. Mike Carroll and Patrick Goddard’s story could certainly be read as an allegorical commentary on legacy, and ends with a piece of symbolism that will doubtless bring a tear to even the most jaded of readers’ eyes.
As a reader who was there for the very first Fiends of the Eastern Front run it’s always felt like a strip that has never quite managed to have the same impact under other artists. Maybe that’s childhood nostalgia coming into play but the original incarnation was all the more horrific for its visual understatement; Ezquerra creating a moody narrative landscape without the need for explicit gore. Guy Adams and Dave Kendall (below left) fill in some gaps in the history of the malevolent Captain Constanta and Lieutenant Gorgo in a prequel that explores the earlier days of the characters. It’s macabre, visually chilling and, if bleakness is something to revel in, then it’s also wonderfully nihilistic.
The centrepiece is of course John Wagner and Ezquerra’s unfinished Spector (above right) of which the early parts are on show here, with reproduced script pages revealing how the story would have developed. There’s an unavoidable feeling of what might have been to this tense and moodily coloured tale of a robot detective rooting out corruption in a society in which his status ensures his alienation. It’s particularly notable for Ezquerra’s visual characterisation; that ability to tell you everything you need to know about his characters, their personality and their motivations from their body language alone.
Wrapped up in a striking Mick McMahon cover, this year’s 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special is a comic we obviously never wanted to have to read. But as a tribute issue to the genius of its irreplaceable subject it’s a most apt reminder of the great gift that Ezquerra was to both the form and the industry. Those wanting to read more about the “heart and soul” of 2000 AD can do so in our own Tony Ingram’s piece on Carlos Ezquerra last year here.
Alan Grant, Guy Adams, John Wagner, Mike Carroll (W), Carlos Ezquerra, Robin Smith, Dave Kendall, Patrick Goddard (A), Matt Soffe (C), Annie Parkhouse, Ellie De Ville, Jim Campbell, Simon Bowland (L), Mick McMahon (CA) • Rebellion, £4.99
Review by Andy Oliver