Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Book of Dredd

Judge Dredd Complete Casefiles Volume 4: written by John Wagner, Alan Grant, and others; illustrated by Ron Smith, Mike McMahon, Ian Gibson, Brian Bolland, and others (1981-82; collected 2012): The long-running Judge Dredd comic series exists in a sub-genre the British seem to do better than anyone else -- action-satire. Set in a post-apocalyptic 22nd century, the Dredd comics follow their titular hero as he seeks to keep law and order maintained in the American East Coast's MegaCity One, home to 800 million citizens and protected by the radioactive wasteland beyond by a giant wall.

For more than thirty years, Dredd -- one among thousands of MegaCity One's Judges -- has acted as judge, jury, and often executioner to those who threaten the peace. This can result in battles with gangs, mobsters, aliens, and seemingly supernatural beings. The body count is high, the punishments severe, and the smell of fascism almost overwhelming. Dredd is fair within the bounds of MegaCity One's laws. But you sure wouldn't want to live there.

This volume collects a lot of truly bizarre stories, including a story about how hideous ugliness becomes fashionable and chic which remains as biting in its critique of fashion and body-standards now as it must have been in the early 1980's. The volume also collects the entire epic Judge Child arc, as Dredd and a handful of other Judges journey into the nuclear wasteland (dubbed The Cursed Earth in) and into interstellar space to find the eponymous child, whom a dying precognitive Judge has claimed is the only hope for MegaCity One's survival.

Throughout, writers Alan Grant and John Wagner keep the action and the satire flowing. The stories, originally serialized in very short episodes, seem almost Silver Agey in the density of their plotting, but still very much contemporary in their sensibilities. As a science-fictional hero, Dredd is very much a dark mirror to that other British sf perennial, Doctor Who.

The art, from a rotating group of artists, is mostly solid and clean-lined throughout. Dredd is an art book, but one that stays steadfastly within the more conservative elements of comic-book layout. The reproduction of the pages looks great for the most part. The only problem is really that the volume would be better with a slightly larger page size, as the Dredd stories originally appeared in something closer to magazine than comic-book format. This really only means that the lettering can get a bit difficult to read at certain points. But it's a minor caveat. Recommended.

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