JUDGE DREDD: THE MEGA COLLECTION Vol. 56: BEYOND MEGA-CITY ONE Art by Brendan McCarthy, Steve Dillon, Dermot Power, Charlie Adlard and Inaki Miranda Written by John Wagner, Alan Grant, Garth Ennis, Mark Millar & Grant Morrison and Gordon Rennie Lettered by Tom Frame, Mark King, John Aldrich, Annie Parkhouse and Simon Bowland Colours by Wendy Simpson, Chris Blythe Eu de la Cruz Originally serialised in 2000AD Progs 485-488, 727-732, 859-866, 1382-1386 & JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE 246-249 © 1986, 1991, 1993, 2004, 2006 & 2016 Rebellion A/S Hatchette Partworks/Rebellion, £9.99 (2016) JUDGE DREDD created by Carlos Ezquerra & John Wagner
ATLANTIS Art by Brendan McCarthy Written by John Wagner & Alan Grant Lettered by Tom Frame & Mark King
Have you ever seen a British Bobby’s helmet? Ooooh, don’t! Get you! Stop it! OoooOOOOooooOOOOOOh! No, really, back when they walked the beat tipping the wink to the ladies, dispensing directions and gruffly moving on the ruffians and all that, before they became swaddled in bullet proof jackets and started cradling matt black engines of death while licking their chapped lips, back before that, did you ever seen a British bobby’s helmet? We used to call them “tit heads”, because kids have no respect and, also, they were a pretty ridiculous bit of gear. And yet thoroughly British in their ridiculousness, due to their air of wonky pomp. Brendan McCarthy’s design for the Brit Judge embraces this tradition and carries it into the future like a sheikh carrying a blonde lady on the cover of a Mills & Boon romance. Smoothly, that is. It also suggests he is the only person in existence who ever looked at Calos Ezquerra’s original Judge design and thought, “Hmmm, pretty impractical, but not impractical enough!” Pity the poor sap who has to patrol the mean streets of Future Little Tidworth in this get-up.
It works on the page though because Brendan McCarthy is a design genius, and part of that genius must be due to his total refutation of physical practicalities. Not only is the Brit Judge get-up visually delightful it is also very British, what with its lion(s) rampant and multiple Union Jacks (The Royal Union Flag, to any Canucks out there). All the kind of garish tat in fact which symbolises the overcompensation this nation makes for its reduced circumstances and present global irrelevance. I wouldn’t be surprised if the kneepads alternated playing the national anthem and Churchill’s speeches, and the belt pouches contained the fixings for a nice cup o’ char. Preposterously impractical and ostentatiously nationalistic, like fascism filtered through buffoonery Brendan McCarthy’s design captures the British character to a tee. I like it. Other than that though we learn little as Brit-Judges just act like Judges and the strip isn’t set in Brit-Cit but instead in Atlantis, which is not a mythical sunken city but a way station on the sea bed. The strip is a shaggy mutie story that earns its length by introducing Atlantis and Brit-Cit judges, and by being drawn by Brendan McCarthy; it’s worth reading just to see McCarthy’s giant manta rays alone. Throw in the bumptious bobby design to boot and it’s GOOD! Stuff.
EMERALD ISLE Art by Steve Dillon Written by Garth Ennis Coloured by Wendy Simpson Lettered by Tom Frame
Bejabbers! If and it isn’t the quare man hissownself now, Garth Ennis! To be sure, and there’s been many a pot o’ gold at the end o’ his rainbow o’writing! To be sure, to be sure! Oho, oho, oho! But this’ll no be one of ‘em! See and if he’s not brought his sense of humour with him! Ah now, ‘tis a turrible, turrible ting his sense o’ humour is. Aye now, ‘tis a sorry tale indeed. In the immortal words of Alan Partridge, “Der’s more to Oirland dan DIS!” What? Oh, it’s racist when I do it is it? I see. I better stop then. When Garth Ennis does it it’s satire. Except it isn’t. Unless you are a lot less demanding than me. You know that particularly poor satire that’s so bad it is actually indistinguishable from what it purports to satirise? Well, after reading Emerald Isle you will. I guess it’s a satire of people’s ideas about Ireland but it’s kind of painful. Mind you, me and Garth Ennis’ sense of humour will always at odds. Mostly because I have an outdated belief that humour should be funny. A little bird tells me though that different people find different things funny, so if you think having a Guinness harp© on a Judge’s helmet and potato guns that you can set to “chips” are funny, then you tuck in!
Unconvincingly mixed into this hilarious stuff is a more grounded tale of a M-C1 hitman who hides out with a bunch of terrorists. Terrorism is apparently just a bit of a jape until the proper crook turns up, then things get heavy. The insouciant Emerald Isle Judges are unprepared for the sudden explosion of pitilessly thuggish activity. Luckily Judge Dredd lends a hand. Personally I’m a bit unconvinced that terrorism in Ireland and organised crime were not inextricably linked but I’m not going to argue that point with anyone from Ireland. Say, has anyone else seen that crackin’ John Boorman movie THE GENERAL (1998)? Brendan Gleeson’s in it and it’s well good. Based on Dublin Crime Lord, Martin Cahill, it probably soft soaps the harsher reality but still, Brendan Gleeson. Lovely, lovely Brendan Gleeson. ORDINARY DECENT CRIMINAL (2000) stars Kevin Spacey and apparently covers the same ground. I’ve not watched that one so I’d not know. Meanwhile, back at the point, the late, great Steve Dillon draws “Emerald Isle” in his usual sturdy fashion whereby he avoids drawing anything too demanding but his stylistic charisma prevents it all getting too bland. He’s also wise enough to know that Dredd’s the star, so he’ll ensure at least one really great image of Dredd being Zarjaz! He’s a right good choice for such a whipsaw mix of comedy larks and brutal violence given his style can accommodate both at the expense of neither. It may not be the craic it thinks it is but “Emerald Isle” is GOOD!
BOOK OF THE DEAD Art by Dermot Power Written by Mark Millar & Grant Morrison Lettered by Tom Frame & John Aldrich
I’m stretching charity to its limits when I say that Mark Millar and Grant Morrison’s Judge Dredd work is the high point of neither of their careers. Considering how little I rate anything by Mark Millar this should be warning enough. At this stage of their careers (the crazysexyfuntime ‘90s!) Millar & Morrison had teamed up and were giving interviews like they were pop stars in the vein of Pepsi and Shirley or something; they seemed pretty committed to the novel artistic approach of just telling people they were awesome without actually making any decent comics to back that up. A right self-promoting pair of capering mountebanks they were. Preening narcissists, some might say, because people can be very cruel. Morrison and Millar were all mouth and no trousers, as we say over here. Morrison would eventually snap out of it and lower himself to write some decent comics, which very clever people would read a great deal more into than was actually present. I don’t know what happened to him after, because the last thing I read by him was something odious about Siegel and Shuster’s treatment by DC which, while I can’t remember the specifics, certainly sounded like “Goodbye, John” to me. Apparently, because I ceased paying attention long ago, Millar would just defiantly plod on regardless, cultivating his lucrative furrow of thundering chicanery and creative impoverishment to spectacularly rewarding effect. Financially, not creatively rewarding, obviously. Before that though, the team were steadfast in their belief that if they reduced Judge Dredd to the level of a shit ‘80s straight to video action twat, this would be a good thing. At no point in their complacently leaden tenure on the strip would their approach bear any fruit other than arse grapes.
“Book of the Dead” is a pretty representative bunch of those very arse grapes. Here the legends in their own minds send Dredd to the city of Luxor in Egypt, where they can’t be bothered to invent a future society, because they are busy modelling Speedos© for Deadline, or taking about being punk while actually being about as punk as Barry Manilow, or whatever and who cares, so they just make it a really superficial idea of how Ancient Egypt was, you know, pyramids, pharaohs, mummies, etc. but with hover cars, energy staffs and Resyk. Given the amount of thought involved we’re lucky the Judges don’t ride about on robot camels and Dredd doesn’t come home with a rug from a mega-bazaar. Whenever Dredd’s abroad some folk’s antennae start twitching in case any casual racism slips in, but I think the mental sloth on show here is damning enough. It’s just a multi-part punch-up and a piss poor use of Dermot Power’s not inconsiderable talents. Power fully paints the strip with a level of skill and artistry better suited to a script where someone was, you know, actually trying. There’s some lovely muscle work on show reminiscent of the master of muscle magic, Mr Glenn Fabry, and at no point does Power succumb to the twin pitfalls of fully painted 2000AD art: drab colours and visual inertia. His work here is so lovely for seconds at a time I forgot how insultingly contemptuous the writing was of its audience. It’s only because of Dermot Power that this gets OKAY! rather than CRAP!
GULAG Art by Charlie Adlard Written by Gordon Rennie Coloured by Chris Blythe Lettered by Tom Frame
Charlie Adlard draws this one. Charlie Adlard is famous for drawing The Walking Dead, which is itself famous for being successful and unerringly mediocre. You knew that, but did you know that Charlie Adlard is now the UK Comics Laureate. Disappointingly, unlike the Poet Laureate, this does not mean that he has to produce comics on the Queen’s birthday or royal births and marriages, and public occasions, such as coronations and military victories. Her Madge’s Royal God-appointed face as she opened up her birthday card to find a picture of a rotting corpse tottering around a valiantly nondescript America would be quite the thing! No, it seems it’s more of a charitable position whereby the noble art of The Comic is promoted with the hope that one day it will be as popular as poetry. (<--- joke!) If you didn’t know that, then it probably evaded your attention that Dave Gibbons was the last UK Comics Laureate. As part of his promotional efforts I like to think The Gibbons used to squeeze himself into his Big E leotard from his Tornado days and leap into libraries scattering comics like startled gulls into the receptive faces of the next generation of comics’ readers. And old people sheltering from the cold. That probably didn’t happen but I think we all feel a bit better having imagined Dave Gibbons dressed as Big E. Take your pleasure where you find it doesn’t just apply to Wilson Pickett fans.
The story? Oh, “Gulag” is about Judge Dredd getting a bunch of stubbornly unmemorable Judges together to rescue some POWS from a Siberian Gulag. Yeah, by the way, in case it hasn’t become obvious these reviews aren’t the kind which tell you significant character appearances (e.g. here: Psi Judge Karyn), who created them (Dean Ormston and Alan Grant), which story they first appeared in (Raptaur), where that story first appeared (Judge Dredd Megazine #1.11-1.17) and when (1991). No, these are just what an old man of questionable lucidity manages to crank out in the time allotted by circumstance. Reviews, but not as we know them. There’s little rigour or design to them. It’s less Douglas Wolk and more a shaky old gent muttering to himself in a library (Dredd…zarjaz!...Rico…BAD! Pat Mills…lovely teeth! Space Spinner…Big news for readers inside! Etc etc), before Dave Gibbons unwisely clad in the rags of yesteryear, bursts in and causes me to vapor lock in shock. Prone to divergence at no notice, yeah? Particularly when dealing with Gordon Rennie, who here writes about Judge Dredd and chums in Siberia. In “Gulag” Sibera is less than rewarding as a locale as it is just full of snow and bits of barbed wire, and the differences in the Sov Judges’ uniforms is minimal. It’s not worth the trip really. Rennie huffs and puffs about the stakes at, er, stake but I could never rid myself of the impression that it was all just a big fight over an empty shed in a snowy field. Charlie Adlard fails to ignite events, but everything he draws looks like what it’s supposed to be. I mean, it certainly wasn’t worth a butt of sack but it was OKAY!
REGIME CHANGE Art by Inaki Miranda Written by Gordon Rennie Coloured by Eua de la Cruz Lettered by Tom Frame, Annie Parkhouse & Simon Bowland
“Regime Change” is the second Rennie penned tale and had an equal impact on my memory as that one in the snow, what’s it called? The one with, uh, the snow and, uh...Anyway, Dredd goes to Ciudad Barranquilla (AKA Banana City) which spawls over most of Central America like a gaily coloured, city shaped metaphorical sombrero. Pretending to give a shit about missing cits Dredd and a multi-national “peace keeping force” show up and nose about. Turns out though, in a twist that could only surprise a Daily Mail reader, that they are actually just there to depose the Judge Supremo and install someone more to M-C1’s liking. When the corpses of fourteen M-C1 citizens are found in a mass grave they have all the excuse they need. What shocking cynicism! The sheer gall of Gordon Rennie to even suggest to imply such a thing! It’s fine. It’s drawn by Inaki Miranda whose art I don’t like because everyone is drawn with a tiny wee head like Thrud The Barbarian, and it’s all just a bit too busy for me. One of the problems with comics is that you can come up against a style you just don’t like. It doesn’t mean it’s “bad”, it’s just not to your taste. Guess what? That’s right. So, “Regime Change” is OKAY!
It was a bit dull that wasn’t it, a bit normal. Sometimes I’ll do that, sometimes I’ll just start on a craven apology for not having done these sooner. Because, yeah, I started writing up these Dredd partworks in 2015 and then…I stopped. A lot of that was down to apparently I like to make promises I can’t keep. That way I think I get to keep the guilt up. I’m still feeding off the guilt of not carrying on with the Planet of the Apes Weekly, but that was a lot of work to be fair, I kind of aimed to high on that one. Not doing the Dredds as well was too much guilt though. It was getting oppressive. Mind you, about two write-ups in, when I first started, it was pointed out to me that Douglas Wolk had written up every Judge Dredd strip ever so…I felt a bit like a spare prick at a wedding. If Gus van Sant had been halfway through making PSYCHO when someone told him this guy Fred Hitchcock had already had a go, I like to think he would have had the sense to stop. It’s about knowing your place, innit. Alas, that didn’t stop me feeling bad; yes, I felt bad, and I still feel bad because “Drac” in the comments was all gung-ho about following along from his Australian location. And I just pisseded off and left him or her hanging. That’s shabby behaviour. So, too late to make up for it, I’ve started again. I’m banging them out now but that won’t always be possible (because, life), but as slow as the flow may become I’ll carry on. Sometimes I’ll try and do a proper job and sometimes I’ll just amuse myself, depends. Personally I find it difficult to say much about Gordon Rennie, so it’s unfortunate that we have two of his storylines in this book. Bit of a mixed bag this book, to be fair the Rennie ones are part of a longer uberplot involving the machinations of an embittered Sov, so they lose out by being isolated here. BEYOND MEGA CITY ONE is a GOOD! Read overall, I guess.
NEXT TIME: I haven’t thought that far ahead. So surprises in store for us all!
BONUS: A NO DOUBT OUTDATED MAP OF THE WORLD OF JUDGE DREDD!