Monday, 29 June 2015

Megacity Undercover 2: Living The Low Life (Judge Dredd Megazine #271-274, 2000AD #1624-1631, 2000AD 2010 Special, 2000AD #1700-1709)

"A mad city sometimes needs a mad Judge" - Thora via Dirty Frank's Journal.

Alert readers might notice that I never did volume one of Megacity Undercover.  There is a reason I have jumped to the second volume and that reason is "Dirty Frank".  The Megacity Undercover stories are about the undercover "Wally Squad" of Judges who operate in the Low Life the most deprived and crime ridden parts of Megacity One, written by Rob Williams and drawn by a variety of artists.  The first book started with a Wally Squad character called Zero stealing a large quantity of cash and escaping from his job and the clutches of the Judges.  Then the rest of the strips concentrated on the adventures of female Wally Squader Aimee Nixon, the stories although decent, were nothing special just fairly run-of-the-mill gritty cop drama.  Then one of the other Judges in the squad, Dirty Frank, drawn to look like Alan Moore and always referring to himself in the third person started stealing some of the lime-light.  And with the second volume, we get three arcs, one about Aimee, a character who I find somewhat... boring.  And two fantastic ones featuring Dirty Frank which I shall look at in more detail, plus a festive one-off.  The Dirty Frank stories also have the advantage of being drawn by D'Isreali, an utterly fantastic artist who has a very distinct style well suited to black and white artwork and adds much to the enjoyment of the escapades of the disreputable Mr. Frank.

 In Aimee's story - WAR WITHOUT BORDERS - she uncovers a plot to smuggle "Sov" citizens (Russians) into Megacity One in an operation disguised as a pro-democracy union one.  She angst a lot about her existence in the Low Life and accidentally compromises herself so she can't tell the other Judges about the Sov angle.  But really this is Dirty Frank's book, so lets begin with his first arc collected in this volume.

CREATION - The story begins with a Judge with a stomach wound crawling through a snowy landscape.  He ends up lying on his back looking at a glowing snowflake on his glove.  Then the action returns to what I assume is the present and Dirty Frank, the tramp like Wally Squad member is talking to a child and telling him to be wary of him.  The child wants to know who he is:

Child: "Judge Dredd!"

Dirty Frank: "No".

"Chief Judge Hershey!"

Dirty Frank: "No"

Child: "Robo-Wing, night glider of awesome!"

Dirty Frank: "You just made him up."
Introducing Dirty Frank
 The childs mother calls the kid away, and Thora - the head of the Wally Squad - arrives with a thuggish looking fellow called Cameron.  He's Dirty Frank's replacement.

Thora: "There's only so much crazy the badge can take.  It's over."

Back at Wally Squad HQ they discuss a new drug called "Creation" which allows people to imagine they are God's of their own private universe.  Frank wants to know if he should infiltrate the Creation network.  Thora says there has been some discussion about keeping the drug legal as it's sedating the populous of the Low Life. So for now he and Cameron are to do some street digging.

Aimee Nixon turns up to see Frank off on his last case.  Frank calls her the best Wally Squad Judge he has ever worked with and he and Cameron leave.

Dirty Frank: "Thankyou for coming Aimee.  Now Dirty Frank and his replacement Bertrand Russell here must away."

Cameron: "Nice ass."

Later we are privy to Dirty Frank's journal where he notes Cameron is at least useful for physical intimidation.  They chase after a Creation dealer which leaves Dirty Frank out of breath and seriously pondering if this is over for him.  Cameron has caught the man and they ask him what he knows about Creation.

The action cuts to two men admiring a billboard advertising household products with a biblical theme.  One man says he did good right?  Pushing through all the permits.  The other person says he can tell the "Big Man" himself and a person who looks like a demon shows up.
This won't end well...
We are then introduced to Thadeus Manning III a fussy little man in a bowler hat who works for the planning permission bureau and is investigating why permits were allotted that gave one company a monopoly over one city sector.  He discovers the man who pushed the permits through hanged in his own home.

The action then moves back to Dirty Frank and Cameron.  Cameron says Dirty Frank gives him a headache "everytime you open your crazy mouth".

Dirty Frank: "That implies brain function at least."

Cameron points a gun at him and tells him to stop talking.  He wants to know if Dirty Frank even carries a weapon.  Dirty Frank doesn't.  He then tells Frank that they're supposed to be able to go back into uniform tommorrow if needed.
Cameron has some harsh words.
Cameron: "Do you honestly think you could do that Frank?"

He than says Dirty Frank is crazy and he's going to hit some drug dealers.  He busts in on a bunch of people nodding out on Creation.  Suddenly Cameron sees a cherub floating in front of him.  He freezes up and leaves the scene.  Dirty Frank meanwhile ponders the Biblical billboard outside.

Later he and Cameron get caught in a rain of frongs, localised to the Low Life. They then chase a drug dealer who escapes via boat, but then a huge whale appears and swallows him up.  Cameron freaks out and says it's somehow Dirty Frank's fault.

Cameron: "You're a drokking disease!  You're infecting things!  You're turning me crazy!  You make everything around you crazy!"

Dirty Frank has a small flashback to being the Judge with the stomach wound and the snowflake on his palm.  Then he and Cameron escape the whale.
Not an everyday occurance in MC1
We then see a motley collection of villains and a man with his back to the reader who says they've all had a glimpse of what's going on out on the streets.  The demon man says "It's time to turn up the heat."

Meanwhile Dirty Frank and Cameron are hit by a huge tidal wave racing through the Low Life.  before they can get into real trouble, the fall out of the water into the bit where the waters have parted.  Dirty Frank's case notes wonder who is to profit from all this chaos?

Various Biblical scenes are occuring in the Low Life.  Joseph's are singing and burning bushes are giving out celebrity gossip. Thora has gathered the Wally Squad to find out how they can "turn off the crazy".  Then her finger creates a powerful energy projectile and unable to control it she blows a hole in Wally Squad HQ and everyone gets separated.
A serendipidous meeting.
Dirty Frank and a catatonic Cameron are floating on a makeshift raft and discover Thaddeus holding onto a spire.  He joins them on the raft and yells about the billboard monopoly.  Back with the demon-man.  He says all the villains have paid half a million cred each to take advantage of the choas and plunder the Low Life.

Dirty Frank reaches one of the billboards, he smashes it and as the billboard flickers off, the water ceases to exist and Dirty Frank, Cameron and Thaddeus go plummeting towards the ground.  The billboard flickers back on long enough to create more water to slow their descent so when it finally breaks for good they hit the ground not too hard.  They are all still briefly knocked out.

Dirty Frank remembers the snowflake on his palm again.  Then as he recovers, he asks how Thaddeus has been able to keep his sanity in the face of the chaos.

Thaddeus: "This city.  She sustains and tethers me.  Even in what appears to be her most disorderly, most hopeless state, I see order."

Dirty Frank sees a huge snowflake in the air and says he knows what Thaddeus means.  Dirty Frank punches Cameron a couple of times to bring him round, then tells him to go with Thaddeus to disable all the billboards.  Cameron apologises to Dirty Frank:

Cameron: "Frank, I'm sorry I lost it there for a while.  This type of stuff... it's not me.  Maybe, maybe this shouldn't be your last case after all."

Dirty Frank: "Maybe.  We shall see."

The demon-man and the assorted villains are cuasing mayhem.  The demon-man says the "Big Man" has shown them the future.  Dirty Frank arrives alone and says he's going to put a stop to it.  He is mocked by everyone, but ploughs on asking why the Big Man has targetted the Low Life.  The demon-man says he has "vested interests" in the area.  Dirty Frank then tells the criminals to do what they must, he's "just an unwanted redundant man on his final job". The criminal's all shoot at him and he blocks their shots with his hand saying "ah it works".  Then he turns into a shining, winged hero and starts to fight the demon-man.
Take that demon-man!
Dirty Frank says that it took a needlessly ambiguous flashback and a blow to the head to realise the billboards were projectin nano-technology that reacts to the Creation drug.  They put it in the water supply to infect everyone and the criminals got the antidote and access to a crime jamboree.

As they fight, Dirty Frank says "where there are nightmares, there are also dreams and the power of belief."  When the demon-man demands to know how he is doing this Dirty Frank says he "sees order where others see chaos."  He smashes a fist through the demon-man then turns his attention to the other criminals.  Unfortunately the billboard effects wear off and he is back to normal.

The villains all point guns at him, but then get blasted into little bits by Cameron who has arrived on the scene with a massive gun.

Cameron: "Guess everyone has their own roles in this world, huh, Frank?"
A happy end for Frank.
And with all the billboards turned off and things back to normal it's decided to let Dirty Frank stay on as a Judge.  The story ends with a flashback to Frank in the snow being rescued, imagining he is on a beach somewhere.  Dirty Frank muses that he is not mad:

Dirty Frank: "Dirty Frank is just more.. imaginative than most, that's all.  And sometimes that's just enough to save the day."

And so ends the first Dirty Frank arc.  There is a one-shot that follows called JIVE TURKEY in which the dreadfully hungover members of the Wally Squad meet on Boxing Day and discover Dirty FRank isn't there.  He's infiltrated a criminal organisation of fatties and is presented with a huge turkey he must participate in eating to keep his cover.  The rest of the Wally Squad go to rescue him, but find him merrily eating the turkey even though the rest of the criminals have shot each other and Dirty Frank has arrested the ring leader.  There is a lot of spewing.  This is a nice bit of fun because the next Dirty Frank arc, Hostile Takeover is very dark and serious indeed.

HOSTILE TAKEOVER - The story begins with a Japanese geisha looking woman staring out of a top floor office window.  A man comes over to her and says "Nixon, he is ready for you now".  Then the action moves to Dirty Frank who has supplied a giant robot in ladies clothes for a bank robbery plan.  "Cross dressing Trev" is defended by Frank for his gender expression and the gang leader shrugs and says as long as it gets the job done.

Dirty Frank: "You are a man of honour and rare wisdowm, crazed gang leader Jay."
Cross Dressing Trev in action.
He and Jay storm a bank on top of Trev and break in through the ceiling.  With corrupt Judge Stewart letting them be.  Inside the bank Frank asks if he has done enough to meet the Big Man.  Jay says he'll get to meet him soon.  Dirty Frank makes a note that this brings him closer to his overall goal of taking the Big Man down...

We then jump forwards thirteen days.  Dirty Frank meets with his Wally Squad boss Thora.

Thora: "Have you decided?"

Dirty Frank: "Dirty Frank has.  It's a no".

Thora: "I'm really sorry about that."

She pulls a gun but gets shot dead by a sniper bullet.  "So am I" says Frank to himself.

Back in the present a horder of samurai burst into a Low Life casino and masscare everyone then rob the place.  "The Big Man is gonna be pissed" when news of this is bought to him by corrupt Judge Stewart.  An angry Dirty Frank is there, describing in his notes the actions of Stewart as "a betrayal of the badge."  Jay goes to meet the Big Man alone, leaving Frank still desperate to meet him, hiself.
Aimee Nixon.
Aimee Nixon shows up on her motorbike and offers Frank a life.  She says the Big Man is turning into Dirty FRank's White Whale.  Suddenly a man steps out in front of them and holds out a katana.  It severs Aimee's good arm and she crashes the bike.  Samurai's appear and start to beat Dirty Frank. Aimee saves him from a killing blow and says "I'll help you.  A show of goodwill, please."  Dirty Frank is allowed to live although they knock him out.

When he comes too, he is surrounded by Judges and on a medical trolly.  He jumps off and rushes over to corrupt Judge Stewart and attacks him, telling him to tell him where they took Aimee.  But Stewart doesn't know.  Dirty Frank reveals his corruption and Stewart is arrested.  Stewart is taken to a place where Cameron can work him over.  Stewart sneers, saying the bruises will show and torture is illegal for Judges.  But they are going to beat him, put him in a turbo-heal tube, take him out rinse and repeat. 
Cameron has his uses.
Outside the room, Thora, Eric (a man stuck in the body of a toddler, long story) and Frank discuss this new faction making a play for the Big Man's turf.  Eric wonders why they've bothered coming all the way from Japan, Frank says the Big Man makes serious money from the Low Life.

Dirty Frank: "And where there is money.  There is the desire to take money.  Violently."

The story then moves to some scumbag rich men who are sniping random Low Lifers with tranq bullets.  A samurai appears and says they'll allow them to do it with real bullets at one million creds per shot.

Samurai: "The Big Man no longer runs this trip.  The Big Man no longer runs the Low Life.  There is New Management".

Aimee Nixon is strapped to a gurney and asks to make a phonecall.  She calls Thora and says one word "Akeldama".  Thora grimly says "Got it" just as Stewart breaks from his torture.

A full on gang war erupts in the Low Life.  Jay's gang is wiped out, only Jay survives.  He comes to Dirty Frank hoping for some help.  Dirty Frank says the best way to win this gang war is to use the Big Man's location to flush them out and into a trap.  Judge Stewart will back them up with a big gun.
Corrupt Judge Stewart.
Later Dirty Frank meets Thora in a bar, and she says the Judges are springing the trap now.  Thora says whoever has Aimee is cutting a deal with her.  Dirty Frank says the actions of her abductors aren't those of friends.

Thora: "No friends out here know that.  Only angles."

Dirty Frank then goes to where the trap will be sprung.  Jay heads up the steps to the Big Man's house but gets decapitated.  The samurai and the Judges get into a fire-fight and in the confusion Dirty Frank goes into the Big Man's house, only to fin he hasn't been there for over three days.

Dirty Frank witnesses Thora blowing the head off one of the Samurai, who says to her before she does it that "he wil kill her for this."  Two days later, Eric and Cameron are trailing Dirty Frank and a bored Eric starts talking about killing himself and Cameron.  Dirty Frank notes that Stewart is still in the field thanks to Thora and he can't trust her now as he saw her commit murder.  He then spots Stewart speaking on a non-Judge comm device (a cellphone).  Dirty Frank just doesn't know who to trust anymore.
Not the most comforting conversation ever.
A gang of Japanese business on a plane are welcomes to Megacity One by a posse of Judges with heavy weaponry.  Dirty Frank witnesses this and is shot at by one of the Judges.  He falls through a hatch and Stewart looks down on him saying he'd be dead of not for the fact "she" wants to make him an offer.

There is a quick cut to Cameron leaving Eric's dead body in the car they were in.  The corrupt Judges take Dirty Frank to the top of a tall building.  Thora appears and sends the Judges away.  Dirty Frank ask if they work for her now.  She recuited Stewart after the torture session and now she wants Frank to join them.

Thora says they are just trying to keep the yakuza (Japanese mafia) out of the Low Life - "protecting what's ours".  Dirty Frank wants to know why they don't just arrest them.  Thora says that's "a little old fashioned."  She gives him several days to think things over.  As she leaves Dirty Frank asks if she knows where Aimee is.  She doesn't.
Thora pleads with Frank to join her renegade Judges.
Dirty Frank then discovers Eric's body and confronts Cameron about it.  After a scuffle which takes out some more samurai's, Cameron says Eric was going to kill him on Thora's orders and he acted in self defence.  With him and Cameron the only non-corrupt members of the Wally Squad, they wonder what to do next.  We then see that it was Cameron who sniped Thora in the flash forward.  He deals with the Judges bar Stewart who he shoots to disarm.  Dirty Frank looms over Stewart who also gets his finger sniped off to show no messing about, and asks him to tell him about the Big Man.

The action cuts to the Judges warring in the streets with the samurai and their giant robots.  Suddenly Frank appears with the huge Cross Dressing Trev and saves some Judges lives by crushing their opponents.  Then the shooting stops.
Trev says the day!
Dirty Frank is interviewed over the events by some Senior Judges.  The yakuza violence has stopped because they have what they want, they have the Low Life.  The yakuza fought the Bog Man who is probably dead now, who ran organised crime in the Low Life and enforced it with a large scale force of corrupt Judges defending his interests.  "Who was the Big Man" one of the senior Judges asks.  Dirty Frank does not know.

Two weeks later, Dirty Frank is neatly trimmed and back in uniform.  The Wally Squad's been put on hold for now and Frank is to behave like a normal Judge.

Dirty Frank: "Limitations and rigid definitions are his.  Neutered...Defeated."

He travels to a secret location where Stewart is strung up and being beaten by Cameron.  He admits Thora was taking orders from someone via cellphone. 
Some enhanced interrogation..
Frank finds the cellphone hidden in Thora's room at the sector house.  The memory has been wiped so he gets them from the cellphone company.  One number was registered to an penthouse rented by a Hondo company that doesn't exist.  He also found a recording on the phone:

Dirty Frank: "One word.  An instruction to warfare.  To protect the Low Life.  Akeldama.  Translation from Aramaic:  Field of Blood.  A field in Jeruselem bought with the money Judas earned by betraying Jesus.  And where he is said to have hanged himself.  No friends, just angles.  Aimee... where are you?"
A neat and tidy Frank looks way wrong.
And that brings "Hostile Takeover" to an end.  A real twisty-turny, urban thriller in which Dirty Frank is forced into a far more serious role than normal and proves well up to the challenge with his street honed instincts doggedly following the various trails being thrown up in front of him.  It's a shame the story ends on the downer of him being forced back into uniform, how long will he survive the restrictions of the normal Judges life?  I know there has been a further story in this series, so I am keeping an eye out for it being collected because I love Dirty Frank and want things to work out well for him.  His day in the limelight during the "Creation" storyline works on the wonderful conceit that one day trapped in the chaos of a snowy landscape, Frank found order in it through a snowflake and that was how he was able to transform himself into a superhero using his ability to discern order out of the chaos the drug and billboards were conjuring up.  It goes without saying D'Israeli's artwork is superb and Rob William's writes a fine example of the future police prodedural.  Come on Rebellion, release the next Megacity Undercover/Low Life book, I need to know what happens since you left us trade-waiters hanging!


  1. Dirty Frank is the coolest! i wanna know what happens next now as well!

  2. Hopefully my friend and 2000AD expert Lucy will know... or at least draw my attention to when the next collection comes out.

  3. Um... did I lend you Trifecta? I forget. That has Dirty Frank in it too, you see, and a bit more about snowflakes. We still haven't got a resolution of his story, though.

    I really enjoyed this review. Reminded me all over again why I like D'Israeli's stuff.

    Did Stewart ever get his pie?

  4. No you didn't lend me Trifecta, I'd love to borrow it, because Dirty Frank is win.

    D'Isreali has definitely hot up as one of my favourite artists. I like how he can tailor his work to different storylines, like Leviathan. Which I am saving for the next UK comics month :)

  5. I'll lend you Trifecta when I next see you, with Shimura and Hondo-City Justice (the two Japanese comics set in the Dredd-verse).