This fourth volume in The Complete Case Files – the series of books that chronologically collects all the Judge Dredd stories originally printed in 2000AD – kicks off with another epic quest. Similar to The Cursed Earth storyline, The Judge Child sees Dredd embark on an intergalactic odyssey to find a mutant boy with special telekinetic powers.
A psychic Judge with an impressive ability to predict the future believes the child is the only one who can save Mega City One from a foreseen future apocalypse, but the young mutant has been sold to off-world slave-traders, leaving Dredd following a trail that’s rapidly going cold.
As with The Cursed Earth, Dredd’s journey is broken into a series of encounters, though this time he’s planet hopping rather than trekking through mutant-infested desert. Some of these stops advance the plot, while others feel more like ‘alien of the week’ fillers. Some of the filler episodes offer interesting diversions (such as The Jigsaw Man where a man with an alien disease is slowly disappearing, bit by bit; and Battleground, set on a planet where competitive war is waged for televisual entertainment), while others you could happily leave.
The truly lasting legacies of the series are the introduction of the Angel Gang, a deranged family of brutal Texans who are only topped in the all-time best-ever Dredd villains list by Judge Death and his cronies; and the dramatic ending, which we won’t spoil for you if you don’t already know it.
About half of the book is devoted to The Judge Child, while the rest of the book returns to short stories, some of which are run-of-the-mill. But there are at least three stand-outs, largely because of the extraordinary characters they introduce. The best is undoubtedly Dredd’s run-in with Fink Angel, the fifth member of the Angel Gang, who comes to avenge his family’s treatment at the hands of the Judge. There’s also Chopper, the graffiti artist who’ll go on to plague Dredd with his illegal hover-boarding in future volumes; and Otto Sump, who starts a fashion of getting ugly plastic surgery.
These are classic Dredd stories, the impact of which has resonated through the comic. While the whole book doesn’t maintain this unfeasibly high quality, it’s worth it for the moments that do. Wagner and Grant’s solid ability to create odd-ball characters with lasting appeal is on full throttle, and artists McMahon and Smith transform them into icons. With impressive work by Brian Bolland and Steve Dillon filling gaps, it’d be greedy to ask for much more from a collection of Dredd stories.