15 May 2008

The Simping Detective (Rebellion, 2007)

I was gonna write a long winded review about why The Simping Detective is awesome and should be read by all comic book readers...but I won't. Not because these stories which first appeared in Judge Dredd aren't a joy to read, they are. I'm just not one of those who can write long winded reviews. All I can say is, "I like the book. Here's why."

The protagonist is Jack Point, a Mega City One Judge working undercover as a private detective who dresses up as a clown. A simping detective ("simp" is someone who dresses up like an idiot or a simpleton). In Mega City One, walking around dressed like a clown is normal. You don't get much respect but no one thinks it's strange either. Oh, in case you're not familiar with Mega City One, Wikipedia is your friend. It's Judge Dredd's hometown don't you know?

Jack's beat is Angeltown, a corrupt sector in Mega City One complete with a corrupt sector chief, a mysterious crime boss and lots of femme fatales. If this sounds like something Dashiel Hammett cooked up or the next vehicle for Humphrey Bogart to star in if he was still alive, then you'd be right. Simping Detective is written in the style of a Film Noir albeit with a guy in a ridiculous clown getup as the main character. It's also written in a noirish style: lots of narration and one liners. A wordy comic is an oxymoron some might argue as all those balloons and captions will crowd the page. True, so writer Simon Spurrier gives entire panels to Jack's words and it works. It doesn't distract the reader away from the art and in fact enhances it. Also, with a limited page count to tell a story (8 pages...2000AD is an anthology magazine y'know?) Spurrier needs all the space he can get to deliver the plot and hook the reader and make them come back for more.

Jack Point is a conflicted Judge. He's one of the good guys working undercover but the temptation to chuck it all in and go native is a strong one and we see him struggle with that thought frequently in this collection. It doesn't help that his immediate boss is a bent Judge out to get him (and Jack's scheming to expose his boss as well) and some rogue Judges are asking him to quit and go freelance with them. He likes the vile underbelly he calls his home but his loyalty to duty reminds him that he's only there under false pretenses and when the time comes he has to do what's right. Jack Point is definitely not a one dimensional, obey-the-law-or-die-creep character like Dredd. Kudos to Steve Spurrier.

He is ably assisted by Frazer Irving who manages to translate Spurrier's plot into beautiful art in the limited space given to him. Irving doesn't bother with the setting preferring instead to concentrate on the characters. If you see the setting included then you know it's important. Otherwise, it's just a pair of talking heads (sometimes three) talking against a black background. This is a 2000AD comic so it's in black and white but occasionally colours do appear for a panel or two and when they do, they pop out.

When Spurrier's plots are added with Irving's art the result is a very good collection of stories. I would even recommend this to fans of classic noir who wouldn't touch a comic book or a sci-fi book with a ten foot pole. You don't need to know anything about Mega City One or "Ol' Stony Face" Judge Dredd (who makes a cameo) to enjoy The Simping Detective.

There are some loose ends left unresolved by the end of the book and I hope there'll be a future collection to address these threads. Besides, I like to read more of Judge Jack's adventures. My favourite story in the collection: No Body, No How. Jack wakes up and discovers that he'd been sharing his bed with a dead woman who had been shot through the head. No sign of forced entry and the bullet came from his gun but he doesn't remember anything. Then his date shows up. Cracking story.

There is also an all-text story included along with a cover gallery and some sketches by Irving.

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