The end of the world has appeared nigh on many an occasion for Judge Dredd, but he’s never had to deal with the actual four horsemen of the apocalypse before. As the cliché goes, it seems like things might be about to get biblical.
End of Days is the main story in this collection of tales written by Rob Williams. It feels a bit like it ought to be a Dredd epic, but it only ran to 15 episodes when serialised in 2000AD. Compared to, say, the The Judge Child or The Cursed Earth sagas, which also saw Dredd crossing inhospitable terrain and battling old foes, End of Days is a bit of a lightweight.
Despite that, it still seems to be carrying too much baggage. Clearly, the four horsemen are a biblical threat, who therefore must have been sent by God to bring on the apocalypse and shut down humanity for good. However, God doesn’t really get much of a mention here. Instead there’s another Rob Williams character, Ichabod Azrael, who reminds me too much of the Saint of Killers from Garth Ennis’s Preacher series for me to be entirely comfortable with him. Ichabod turns up with the decapitated but still animated head of an angel in a bag. It’s not completely clear me what’s going on here. It seems like a crossover that didn’t really need crossing, and I have to admit that it lost me.
As a result, what follows is a humdrum Dredd outing. Luckily the four horsemen have split up to bring their individual brands of misery to different corners of the Earth. While some of them give Dredd a bit of trouble, and he often needs to lean on help from Judges Anderson, Giant and some old Sov Block ‘friends’, it’s all resolved in reasonable fashion.
The most disturbing (in a good way) thing about the books is Colin MacNeil and Henry Flint’s art. Both artists go to town on the physical changes that the horsemen bring upon Dredd and his team, such as Famine turning them into spindly wretches as they starve to near death in a short space of time. It’s brutal. We’ve seen Dredd injured before but elements of this are up there with his grimmest moments.
I also really enjoyed Boo Cook’s art in Carry the Nine, the second story in this collection of three, which follows Dredd’s first day back on patrol after he’s returned from fighting the horsemen. This is, in my opinion, probably the best of the stories, where a Judge finds herself pondering over the point of it all and wondering if things wouldn’t be easier if they stopped sticking people in prison and started trying to rehabilitate them. As if that would ever work! Pure madness! It’s light relief after the pain and torture of the horsemen and puts Dredd back on an even keel.
The last story, called They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? is arguably the weakest here, though it serves its purpose of wrapping up a few loose ends from the main event. Did they need wrapping up? I’m not so sure.
So, if you can’t get enough Dredd and enjoyed the previous two collections of Rob Williams stories (The Small House and Control) then you’re probably a safe pair of hands for this book. Personally it didn’t particularly float my boat. I have loved Dredd for a long time and I’m not particularly sure whether it’s the rose-tinted sunglasses through which I view the reading of my youth, or that this genuinely isn’t Dredd’s golden age. Either way, I’d delve back further into the Complete Case Files series before picking this book up.