Judge Dredd has always been a brutal lawman, fighting crime and dealing out punishment without recourse to anything as cumbersome as a trial or a jury. This judicial process puts his Justice Department at the top of the political hierarchy, governing the massive city-state of Mega City One as a fascist dictatorship. The lack of democracy was mostly a given, however, until writer John Wagner decided to explore it in the classic Dredd strip Letter From a Democrat.
In this story, a group of protesters hijack a television station and spark a revolutionary desire to overthrow the Judges and bring back a democratic system of government. It ignites a flame that is as volatile and dangerous to Dredd’s survival as a visit from Judge Death, questions the brutality of his tactics and still mixes up as much of a swirling tempest in the head of the reader as it did when it was first published in 1986.
This book pulls that original story together with its sequels, Revolution, Politics, America (the strip that launched the Judge Dredd Megazine), The Devil You Know and Twighlight’s Last Gleaming. The latter, written by Garth Ennis, pits Dredd against even more right-wing members of the Justice Department, as he allows a pro-democracy demonstration and referendum go ahead, even though it looks set to bring an end to the existing status quo. Most of these stories are Dredd classics and they all sit together perfectly in this collection.
Letter from a Democrat and Revolution are illustrated by John Higgins and are beautiful character pieces. You can see the colouring options available to artists developing as the book progresses, with the first spreads of each chapter of Revolution showcasing Higgins’ painted art to its fullest.
America clearly had a lavish budget and is fully painted by Colin MacNeil. At the time of publication (1990), this was a big deal and it still stands proud today. MacNeil’s tiny-mouthed Dredd is iconic, while his flag-strewn heroine became a symbol of the true horror of Dredd’s dictatorship, launching a new era for the character in more ways than one.
Politics is a bit of a filler, written by Alan Grant and illustrated by Jeff Anderson, but plays an important part, dropping in the suggestion that undercover judges might be infiltrating the demonstrators to stir up trouble and give the Judges recourse to shut them down. Anderson is rewarded with a longer Wagner story, The Devil You Know, which is a good story showing Dredd sailing very close to the wind, but doesn’t have the Higgins/MacNeil magic.
The final story, Twighlight’s Last Gleaming, is written by Garth Ennis and illustrated by John M. Burns. The art isn’t as good but the story is carried along by Ennis’s pace, and it feels perfectly paced as a final curtain for the collection.
As a dropping-in point for Dredd, this collection may not be the best. It’s straight in at the deep end, lacking much of the humour and future-zaniness that characterised many of the strips up until this point. However, for the collector, having this block of stories in a single volume is an absolute boon. If you’re a fan that hasn’t seen this stuff before, you’re in for a rare treat.
If you’re only interested in the core story America, it’s also available as a standalone graphic novel, America:Lost & Found. This version comes complete with the original script, recently unearthed by John Wagner.