Saturday, May 3, 2014

Banzai Battalion: Just Another Bug Hunt!

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Banzai Battalion: Just Another Bug Hunt! (Rebellion / Simon & Schuster, 2014).

I haven't checked in with the world of 2000 AD in far too long a time. I'm glad to see that the venerable comic's association with American publisher Simon & Schuster is still going strong, and that they're releasing good collections aimed at this market. One of the most recent is the 160-page complete collection of John Wagner's Banzai Battalion. This reprints every one of the characters' appearances, along with a few somewhat similar Judge Dredd episodes - similar in that they also feature robots - by many of the same creators.

The cover of this collection, originally used for their second story in March of 2000, features a wonderfully old-fashioned composition by Cliff Robinson which evokes any number of 1980s IPC comics. The little gunmen are the action figure-sized heroes of Banzai Battalion, who had two run-ins with Judge Dredd. They are actually semi-sentient pest control droids who keep finding themselves thrown into situations where human criminals become the pests they need to stamp out

A strip like Dredd requires an astonishing number of new concepts and new scenarios thrown at it every week, and every so often the new supporting players take on a life of their own. Wagner and Henry Flint crafted the Battalion's first appearance in 1999, giving the little robots the over-the-top personalities of older war comic heroes. Captain Bug Stomper - "He's a legend in pest control!," people keep telling us - tries to do things by the book, until his men persuade him to charge into glory for the greater good.

A year later, they returned in another Dredd story, this time drawn by the amazing Cam Kennedy. Since their human owners died during one of the Dredd world's occasional catastrophes, and since they keep making themselves useful, the droids are sent by Dredd to join Justice Department in some capacity, but when they reappeared in their own series in 2001, they had to take the initiative to strike out on their own.

Now drawn, brilliantly, by Ian Gibson, the resulting story is a very silly, over-the-top homage to old war comics, with the blustery, true-blue Captain Bug Stomper leading his troops on an expedition through Mega-City One that leads them to a wonderful new garden in which to fight insects. The garden, introduced more than fifteen years previously in a memorable Dredd adventure, becomes the battleground for rival teams of robots and a cute parody of another old comic character, IPC's General Jumbo. As leads, Stomper and the team were kind of limited, and their appearances run to a total of only 19 episodes, but they're clever and hilarious. The artwork is consistently first-rate, and I love the masterful way that Wagner mixes both knowing parodies and old continuity. Neither is essential for following the adventures, but they are mind-blowing little Easter eggs for old fans.

There are many things to love about the Judge Dredd universe, and one of them is the way that the series can wear different hats and be an action strip one week, a grim drama the next, and detective fiction the next. For readers who enjoy the bonkers, oddball comedy of the future, then this is a terrific book, certain to leave you laughing aloud and very impressed with Wagner's skill at making this weird, wild world work. Highly recommended.

A PDF of this book was provided by the publisher for the purpose of review. If you'd like to see your books (typically comics or detective fiction) featured here, send me an email.

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