The second volume of complete Judge Dredd reprints from 2000AD sees something of a watershed for the series – the point at which it moved from a series of short inter-connected but mostly self-contained stories, into a full, grapic novel-length epic.
The breakthrough story is The Cursed Earth – Dredd’s ambitious trek across a post-apocalyptic wasteland to hand-deliver a vaccine to plague struck west-coast neighbour Mega City 2. It’s Dredd’s version of Mad Max but better, because as well as tackling fuel hungry punks, he also takes on a stray tyrannosaurus, a cabal of blood-sucking robots and an assortment of mutated and genetically messed-up baddies.
Typically for writer Pat Mills it’s dripping with politics, tackling some sophisticated concepts, despite its roots in simple sci-fi adventure for boys. Fortifying his position as a key player in the creation and further development of 2000AD, Mills was throwing down a gauntlet of quality that influenced his fellow writers and helped lift the quality of the comic beyond expectations.
This reprint is missing two episodes that got the comic into legal trouble and have never been reprinted – Burger Wars and Soul Food. Both tackle food manufacturers and are banned from being reprinted by legal agreement.
The other epic in this volume is The Day the Law Died, John Wagner’s take on what might happen if an insane Judge managed to take over the position of Chief Judge. Brainwashing the judges to enforce his vision, judges Dredd and Giant, along with a handful of tutors from the Academy of Law, must battle to win back the city before Judge Cal destroys it.
This is less accomplished, feeling more contrived and, in places, veering towards the ridiculous, particularly when contrasted with Mills’ earnest Cursed Earth. Cal is too much of a clown to be properly horrific, undermining the death and psychosis of real dictators and playing it too much for laughs. In isolation it might not seem so weak but reprinted here next to Mills’s classic, it just looks a bit feeble.
If it contained The Cursed Earth alone this might have got a higher score, and it’s certainly worth investigating for this story alone. However, The Day the Law Died dilutes the mix a little, while the necessity of chopping and changing artists through both stories is occasionally grating.
This doesn’t put down some excellent artwork by the likes of Brian Bolland and Mike McMahon, but the tightness of the deadlines had some impact on the quality of this book, and most of the featured artists look like they might have rushed the occasional panel or two.