The Weekly 2000 AD Prog 2200: Jumping On Prog – Stickleback’s Back! Sinister Dexter Hit 25! And A Strip You Never Saw Coming!

by Richard Bruton

It’s the Weekly 2000 AD and, as is its way, every half year or so, everything is made new in the pages of the Galaxy’s Greatest in the intent of giving new readers a chance to jump on board. So it is, sort of, with Prog 2200…

Cover by Tim Napper

The cover is by Tim Napper, concept artist and creature designer for the likes of Star Wars, Dark Crystal, New Mutants et al. It’s a strange one for sure – a combination of out-there freakshow and nightmarish sci-fi experience. One thing’s for sure, it’s going to jump out at you on the shelves.

Prog 2200 came out in the UK, yesterday, 23rd September on digital and from newsagents and comic shops. You know the drill by now – hand sanitiser, masks, watch out for the murder hornets. Just because it’s been here a long time, doesn’t mean you can get complacent!

Now, on with the Prog…

Inside, there’s four new serials, a Future Shock, and the third and final part of the Ghostlands chapter for Sinister Dexter, what may well be a major turning point in the Bulletopia saga. And also marks the 25th anniversary of Sinister Dexter – quite an achievement!

So, those new serials… a new Judge Dredd, obviously, sees the old bloke coping with being back in MC-1 after literally becoming the Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse. Then there’s more bounty hunting shenanigans with Skip Tracer on the beat in Hyperballad. But if you want major event series, there’s two in here. Firstly, we have the return of Stickleback – not seen in the Prog since 2014, with Ian Edginton and D’Israeli bringing back the Napolean of Crime… but after the events of the last adventure six years ago, things are very, very different now!

And finally, kept under wraps for a while, we have all-new adventures for a character made famous in the pages of Action, with Alec Worley and Leigh Gallagher bringing us the return of the world’s angriest shark – oh yes, HOOKJAW is back!

JUDGE DREDD: CARRY THE NINE – PART 1 – Script by Rob Williams and Arthur Wyatt, art by Boo Cook, letters by Annie Parkhouse

First day back. First patrol. After everything.

That’s the opening line. Of course, the everything is being inhabited by the Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse – yep, Death. That’s definitely going to stay with you, don’t you think?

It’s just not that easy being Dredd is it? And this latest thing, being literally the body for the spirit of Death, fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse, is perhaps the worst he’s had it yet.

So, here we are with the strange circumstance of Williams and Wyatt credited as co-scripters here. Perhaps it’s Wyatt’s story, repurposed after the events of ‘End of Days’? But anyway, what we have here is a truly wonderful opener to something VERY different.

How different? Well, if I told you that it’s an episode of meetings and Judge Maitland (of accounts) is definitely the star of the show – does that give you an idea?

Yes, it all starts off with the fallout from ‘End of Days’, Dredd back on the streets, dealing not too well with the punks out there. But by page two, we’re onto finance meetings, where money has to be pulled from everywhere just to make the necessary repairs to MC-1. That means Maitland gets to run budget scenarios. And that’s when it gets really interesting.

I loved this one. Loved the use of Maitland, loved seeing how she worked things out, loved seeing her changing the figures around.

Whatever she does, things got to Hell. City repairs have got to be paid for, street judges have to stay on the streets, which always means health, education, everything else has to go down.

And then she looks at a model where less spending on education sends crime rocketing. And then she … well, that’s the final page. But trust me, it’s a spectacular twist on things and is exactly the great Dredd strip I love seeing.

FUTURE SHOCKS – OMNIDETECTORISTS – Rory McConville, Joel Carpenter, letters by Annie Parkhouse

Rory McConville has, for quite a while, been hot on the done in one Dredds. So it’s a weird thing reading a FS here that just doesn’t really connect all that well.

As for the art, Joel Carpenter’s last 2000 AD was the cover to Prog 2168 – you can read about his process putting that together at the 2000 AD site.

His art does the job here, that’s not the problem, the problem was my complete lack of engagement with the FS. I don’t know, it happens sometimes, my brain seems to simply seize up and almost refuses to read them. And this was one of those. Anyway, just for you, I forced myself. And what this FS is is just another FS. No more, no less, alien races, archaeology going on, looking for hidden treasures from a civilisation that just seemed to vanish in some devastating planet-wide event.

It’s fine, it really is, the twist works, the ending gets nailed. But all in all, I just found myself idly scrolling the pages rather than really taking it in. Like I say, happens sometimes.

HOOKJAW – PART 1 – Alec Worley, Leigh Gallagher, letters by Simon Bowland

Well, we really weren’t expecting this. An all-new Hookjaw, a reimagined Hookjaw for the now. Yep, that one was a surprise.

A salty old sea dog spins a tale every Friday down the local pub. A tale of a terrifying shark, the scourge of the Cornish seas back in the 18th Century. And a witch stepped out to fashion a fisherman’s wand, a harpoon of cold iron and spells, to make the beast leave the Cornish waters.

And lo’, that witch died as she pierced the beast’s jaw with that harpoon. All she seemed to do, in her dying act, was to give the beast a name – Hookjaw.

Fast forward to now. The pub where that salty sea dog tells the tales, in the pub manned by the witch’s descendants. A mysterious redhead appears and then swiftly vanishes, just a scratch in the bar top showing where she was.

And then, later the same night, the landlord’s out emptying the bins. A flash of teeth. And the landlord ain’t going to be doing anything anymore.

Yes, new Hookjaw, a meta-fiction thing going on where the current tale references the original tales re-told in Action, where the modern Hookjaw is, just as all the best sharks are want to do, not appearing anytime soon – all we get is a quick panel of jaws and that’s it.

Fascinating to see just how this one develops. And damn, that Leigh Gallagher artwork is just great to see once more.

SINISTER DEXTER – BULLETOPIA CHAPTER 3 – GHOSTLANDS – PART 3 – FINAL PART – Dan Abnett and Nicolo Assirelli, colours by John Charles, letters by Jim Campbell

Well, for a 25th anniversary, things aren’t exactly cards and pressies for the boys. And the first page below gives it away – something deadly is up with Finn. And it doesn’t end well, not at all.

Now, I’m going to assume it’s Downlode possessing Finn, so there’s a definite out there somewhere – maybe it wasn’t really Finn to start with? Maybe the real Finn is being held somewhere? Or maybe, just maybe, Abnett means it – maybe it’s a final shock for the strip?

Whatever it is, it’s certainly a bit of a shocker done here for the 25th anniversary for the strip – 1996-2020. And it’s not finished – oh no, there’s definitely more to come. It’s been a strip I didn’t like all that much when I first encountered it, but it’s one I’ve grown to really enjoy, even rather love at times. Personally, I can’t wait to see Abnett bring us the next instalment, even though I’d prefer to see it with Steve Yeowell’s artwork. Sure, Assirelli’s work has sort of grown on me here, but it’s no replacement for the gorgeously done Yeowell line.

SKIP TRACER – HYPERBALLAD – PART 1 – James Peaty, Paul Marshall, colours by Dylan Teague, letters by Simon Bowland

The next outing for Nathan Blake, the Skip Tracer, begins with Blake in trouble (so, nothing new there!).

There’s a mention of the huge changes that have gone on, with three billion souls moved across space, millions of them taking up residence and citizenship rights on Balbuena below the Cube. And the cube is locked down thanks to that exodus – sounds a little familiar to us, right?

All of which means Skips finding work a little hard to find. Not impossible though, as he’s currently under fire and on the run with the young girl called India. She’s been described as a highly valuable intergalactic commodity – an almost 18-year-old recording star. And Blake’s really in no position to turn down a quarter of a million creds for what was meant to be easy babysitting money.

All said and done, solid opener with some great looking Paul Marshall artwork.

STICKLEBACK – NEW JERUSALEM – PART 1 – Ian Edginton, D’Israeli, letters by Jim Campbell

Okay, this is the big one here for me – the return of Stickleback, the Napolean of Crime, last seen in these parts in 2014, Progs 1900-1911,’ The Thru’Penny Opera’.

And oh boy, there was a pretty huge reveal at the end of that series that Edginton and D’Israeli have been sitting on for these past six years.

I could tell you, but far better to show you… meet you after these pages from Prog 1911, where we finally get the big reveal of who Stickleback really is…

Oh yes. Sherlock Holmes. Wow.

Seriously, NO-ONE saw that one coming, no-one at all.

The revelation was one of those moments where I just sat with the comic open, amazed at what Edginton and D’Israeli had done. Stickleback the arch-villain turns out to be Holmes? What? How? Why?

And then they made us wait six long years for the big follow-up. The swines.

But, now we’re back, we’re right into it all, with Holmes writing a letter to never send to his old friend, Watson. It tells the tale of the Reichenbach Falls and the fall that surely killed both men.

But, of course, we know different, even if poor Watson does not. Holmes tells of sustaining some form of trauma, being lost to himself for years, and deciding to rebuild a broken mind and a broken frame with the guise of Stickleback.

So, that’s the tale of how Holmes became the villain he’d always despised, filling the vacuum in London left by Moriarty. He imposed order on London’s underworld and, more importantly, found a love he never dreamed of – with first the White Lotus Empress and then with their child, Holmes’ son.

All of which brings us pretty much up to date. Holmes/Stickleback is lining up against the Suspira de Profundis – the three Sorrows – Lady Penelope, Red Penny, and Penny Dreadful. It’s the sort of supernatural threat he would, previously, have scoffed at. Yet they exist, their aim is to reshape London to accommodate their monstrous parent.

And so, the game is afoot. And we’re definitely back in the game. How Edginton is going to go with the continuing adventures of Stickleback, I have no idea, but I know I’ll be here to love the tales of a strip I love that’s finally back where it belongs. And the artwork, oh the artwork. D’Israeli’s style on Stickleback is a wonder all in itself, the complexity of what he does with a line, how it’s manipulated and given all of the subtle effects – it’s just a delight to see again.

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