The third volume of Judge Dredd’s The Complete Case Files is a book of two halves, marking a real turning point in the series.
The first half is run of the mill. There are more single issue stories that, like much of the early Dredd in the first volume, and the non-Cursed Earth stories in the second, hold little of the spark of what has gone on to make Judge Dredd a classic.
Then, about half way through this book, something happens. There’s a sea change in quality, like someone flicked a switch or writer John Wagner found a new gear.
Suddenly we’re faced with classic Dredd stories in quick-fire succession, as Wagner drops in new characters that will go on to become icons in their own right: Otto Sump, Judge Anderson, the return of Satanus, and the first appearance of Judge Death, masterfully illustrated by Brian Bolland. These come in a variety of stories that mix mutant plague, evil science, inter-dimensional travel, the paranormal, the undead – a plethora of sci-fi and fantasy tropes blended to perfection under Dredd‘s sci-fi umbrella.
The art, too, breaks into a sprint. Bolland we’ve already mentioned but Ron Smith also does stunning work here, creating a living metropolis for Dredd to stomp through, and seemingly channelling the great Westerns for his forays into the Cursed Earth.
With a weaker first half of lacklustre stories and half-hearted art, it’s hard to give the entire book the star ratings that the second half deserves. However, the importance of this moment to the development of Judge Dredd cannot be underplayed – this book, really, is where it all kicks off. It’s a pivotal moment in British comics’ history, and while it may not be the best collection overall, it’s got so many stand-out moments it deserves a place amongst the classics.