Friday, 8 June 2012

‘Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 19’ (Rebellion)

I’ve been waiting something like eighteen years for this book to be published. Kind of puts the whole ‘Dance with Dragons’ thing into perspective doesn’t it…? ;o)
It was way (way) back in 1993 that I followed the ‘Inferno’ story line (and the ‘Titan Prison Break’ plot that ran just prior to it, anyone know where that’s collected?) in a series of lunchtime reads, at the local newsagent, when I was at sixth form. I know… It’s not good but comics came a poor last behind running a car, buying books and those really nice fruity sweets that I can’t remember the name of. A holiday meant that I missed an episode and once the story was up… that was it. I kept an eye out for the trade but there wasn’t one and so the wait began. Until now, a chance trip to Forbidden Planet set me straight and I managed to get hold of a review copy. It was like I’d never been away but a few years between reading and re-reading showed up some flaws as well.

What I loved about ‘Inferno’ back then, and now having read it again, is how it really ups the ante on previous story lines and sets the Judges of Megacity One against their renegade counterparts. Judge Dredd can deal with zombies and aliens but how is he going to cope with psychotic Judges running wild with all the training that has made him so feared? If that wasn’t bad enough, Dredd and his team have two weeks to solve this pressing problem before an alien virus literally strips the meat from their bones. The stakes are high and the only thing that might work in Dredd’s favour is the madness of Grice, the renegade Judge behind the invasion…
For me, this inevitable conclusion kind of took the edge off things and this was a real shame as ‘Inferno’ is one hell of a story, full of real power and energy. You know that 2000AD has a real story on it’s hands when Carlos Ezquerra does the artwork and it really shows here with some really striking scenes of violence and destruction. Grant Morrison sets things up for an intriguing tale, with possible ramifications that could echo a long time into the future, but (in a way) it feels like he wrote himself into a corner and had to rely on something utterly implausible to get himself out of a spot. That’s ok though as Grice was mad and would do something like that. I don’t know… There is still a lot to recommend ‘Inferno’ but I think that these days I’m about a little more than just the (admittedly gorgeous) artwork…

Onto the rest of the book…

What I love about these collected editions is that you get a whole load of little stories surrounding the ‘main event’. Volume 19 is no different in that respect and while things were a little hit and miss for me I managed to lose a couple of hours trawling through the adventures of Mega City One’s finest. Stories like Ennis’ ‘Enter Jonni Kiss’ are there purely to set things up for a tale that you won’t see until Volume 20 or 21 and feel a little disjointed as a result (some lovely artwork from Greg Staples though, really atmospheric). Not the best choice to open the collection with then but Ennis promptly makes up for it by giving us ‘The Judge who lives Downstairs’, a tale that manages to be comedic, slightly tragic and more than a little bit forbidding all at the same time. Ennis shows that this wasn’t a one off by rounding off the opening chapters of Volume 19 with ‘The Chieftain’ where he shows that he is more than capable of blending trademark violence with some of the more surreal aspects of Megacity life.

While I had a lot of fun reading Volume 19, I think the big issue that I had with the book, as a whole, is that a number of the stories don’t actually have titles to go with them. This makes it kind of difficult to write a review when you’re stuck with saying things like ‘I really liked the story of the psychotic amputee looking for a new arm, don’t ask me who wrote it though…’ It was a great story actually, as was the brief epilogue to the ‘Mechanismo’ storyline (although I couldn’t tell you who wrote/drew that either) ;o)
I guess this won’t be such a big deal to long term fans that know these tales inside out and are just looking to replace worn out original comics. If you’re someone like me though, who wants to know what they’re reading, it’s a different deal altogether. Just enjoy the ride I guess, there is a lot to enjoy despite a few false starts here and there (I’m looking at you, story about the ‘Branch Moronians’ that doesn’t have a title either, same deal with the ‘Madonna’ story). There’s just enough weirdness and action to ensure that I’ll be back around about the time Volume 20 turns up on the shelf.

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

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