Review by Ian Keogh
Had it ended the series, Ashes to Ashes would have been a fantastic closer to a fantastic series. We can all be grateful Dan Abnett and Phil Winslade saw possibilities beyond their three volume arc.
And why not? If the town of Badrock has changed somewhat, it still hosts a strong, diverse and interesting cast, and those changes make for an interesting shift in the power dynamics. The deal Marshal Metta Lawson negotiated allowed for peace between the assorted factions inhabiting Badrock and most crucially prevented a second war with the complex Z’inn race (see Insurrection, connected but not essential reading for Lawless). The changes mean Badrock is now set up as an initial trading post with the Z’inn, supervised by the SJS branch of the Mega-City Judges, yet importantly under Lawson’s control with some leeway given when it comes to the strict imposition of the law.
In the years to come, years after Lawless is finished, future generations will look at Winslade’s art and rank him alongside the all-time British greats, so why not recognise that now? We now look back on the likes of Don Lawrence’s Trigan Empire with dropped jaws at the sheer beauty and effort, and while the covers show Winslade isn’t in Lawrence’s class as a painter, his black and white art is right up there. Look very closely and there’s an occasional misproportioned person, but Lawrence wasn’t the world’s greatest designer. Winslade has an amazing work ethic, producing pages that are extremely crowded without ever interfering with the storytelling, and the visual imagination behind those pages is first class. There’s never a dip from conversation to drama to action. Winslade makes it all look spectacular.
That’s not to downgrade Abnett, whose creations the fascinating cast are, after all. He generates the surprise returns of two threats Lawless appeared to have dispensed with, and one who’s hung around. The tension is kept boiling via behind-the-scenes conniving as Badrock moves into a new phase, and there’s progression for almost everyone, some perhaps not in the direction they’d want as several dangers are unpredictably overcome before the towering final chapter.
Other comic creators have attempted to produce musicals, and they’ve never quite worked, with possible exceptions granted for Kaijumax Season Three and The Last American. Not only do Abnett and Winslade make it work, they move plots forward during a Badrock musical with several switches of tone, and incorporate a viable reason for what’s happening. That alone would be ambition successfully realised, but this goes a stage further. Abnett’s lyrics are expanded into actual songs by Lily Vincent-Frankland and Jim Gray, also ambitious in straddling multiple musical genres from barbershop quartet through gospel, country and pop to metal. They can be heard on 2000AD’s Soundcloud page (along with a lot of thoughtful interviews with 2000AD creators).
Boom Town is largely an arc setting up the problems to come, but there are so many, and this is so well achieved, there’s no dip in enjoyment.