Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth
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Judge Dredd: The Cursed EarthIt's the short Judge Dredd stories that have built up the mythos of Judge Dredd in British weekly comic 2000AD, covering the varied walks of life that inhabit the mammoth future city he patrols. Yet it's the epic stories that go on for weeks, which remain the most popular, often triggering life-changing events on a global scale in the lawman's distopian world. The Cursed Earth was the first of these longer stories, published back in the late '70s and mostly written by Pat Mills, then editor of the comic.
The story spans 25 chapters, 21 of which are reprinted here: the remaining four suffered from threat of legal action when first published due to the use of recognisable trademarks in a derogatory fashion. You can read excerpts from these stories at the Judge Dredd - Banned in Britain website. However, the overall story doesn't suffer from these missing sections as the story itself has less of a novel-like approach, but more that of a collection of short stories with a common over-riding theme.
The plot concerns Dredd leaving the relative safety of his home city and trekking across the Cursed Earth - a radioactive wasteland that is all that remains of the US between New York and Los Angeles. Dredd's mission: to save his neighbouring city on the west coast by delivering the vaccine to a deadly plague that's taken route in the city.
As with much of Mills' work, The Cursed Earth carries some overtly political themes: racism and slavery are tackled on an inter-planetary level; while gambling, religion and fiddling with genetics and DNA all get their kickings too. This is done without being overly preachy, with decent stories to back up the moral grounding. If anything, many of these themes are well ahead of their time - just as relevant today as they were in the '70s.
Art duties are fulfilled by Mike McMahon, with Brian Bolland filling a few issues here and there. The difference in style between the two is phenomenal, which can detract from the flow of the story when a Boland issue pops up. McMahon's rough-edged, craggy style is probably better suited to the hellish radioactive wasteland that is the backdrop to this book - Bolland's far cleaner images work superbly in the city but are perhaps a little too clean for the chaos outside.
The book suffers most from the choppy nature of the original publication schedule, offering short chunks of story in bite-size pieces - usually little more than a handful of pages for each chapter. This makes it an easy piece read but isn't necessarily the most pleasant way of sitting down and reading it in a single chunk.
When it comes down to it, this is still an early Dredd finding his feet. Mills wasn't the regular writer on the book and the character differences between his Dredd and that of regular writer John Wagner's are easily detectable, creating a kind of mini-mythos within the overall Dredd that just stands in this story. However, it sets the tone for some of the best work done with the character and certainly shouldn't be missed by any fan, though there are later epics that will perform better than this one for the casual reader.
Originally published in
Banned in the UK
Mike McMahon fan site