Thursday, August 9, 2012
Review: The Complete Case Files of Judge Dredd 01
Writer: John Wagner
Artists: Brian Bolland, Pat Mills, Mike McMahon, and others
June 15, 2010
I've always wanted to read Judge Dredd, ever since seeing the Stallone film as a kid, but 2000AD comics have been hard to come by here in Canada. With the upcoming release of Dredd 3D, I decided to see if any Judge Dredd trade paperbacks were easy to obtain. To my luck, I learned that 2000AD publisher Rebellion has been releasing The Complete Case Files of Judge Dredd here in North America since 2010.
And so, to countdown the days to the release of Dredd 3D, I decided to read and review the first five volumes of the Complete Case Files of Judge Dredd.
There was only one problem: this first volume is a real drokkin slog.
When read in its historical context, the adventures of Judge Joseph Dredd in Mega City One represent a landmark in British comics. It's impossible to understate the impact that Judge Dredd has had on British Comics, and the development of comics in general. But it's one thing to appreciate what these first Judge Dredd stories are and what they represent for that time in comics history, and it's another to actually enjoy reading them.
In this first volume, Dredd is introduced as a futuristic Dirty Harry, and the stories in general are written mostly as satires of American popular culture or stereotypical crime stories transported into a far-future scenario. These stories read best in short bursts, but after reading a lot of them I started getting a general feeling of boredom and disinterest.
The best stories, the ones that kept me reading through this entire volume, were the stories that really manage to add to the mythos that Wagner and co. were building. Keep in mind, that each Dredd story is roughly six pages long, although sometimes those six pages are committed to a single chapter in an ongoing story arc. It is really impressive then, that a six page story like The Return of Rico, in which Judge Dredd's psychotic, exile brother returns to exact revenge on the man who judged him, can still leave such a strong impression after reading this entire 320 page volume.
My favourite story arc by far was The Robot Wars, in which a robot named Call-Me-Kenneth decides to rebel against his human masters and inspires a violent robot revolution. It's one of the only stories in this first volume that really has a lasting impact on the series, and is referenced occasionally in later stories. But more importantly, The Robot Wars arc is notable because it's so damn insane. A Hitler-loving robot kills thousands of humans, and Dredd and his butler Walter the Wobot have to lead the underground revolution. It's a violent, over-the-top scenario with clear parallels to the history of U.S. slavery and the workers rights protests occurring in England at the time.
Speaking of Walter the Wobot. I'm sure he has his fans among 2000AD and Judge Dredd readers, but I hated this character so much. His gimmick is that he's a neurotic robot manservant that pronounces all his R's as W's, and who is so obsessed with serving Judge Dredd that it borders on pathological. Occasionally, Walter's antics inspire a few laughs, but mostly he's just annoying.
I realize now that I've talked a lot about the mixed quality of the stories in this volume, and the context of the comic itself, but I've barely mentioned the art. Well, there's not really that much to say about it except that it's even more of a mixed bag than the stories themselves. Brian Bolland is one of my favorite artists, and even his earliest work in this volume stands head-and-shoulders above those stories drawn by Mills, McMahon, and others. The art in this volume is very rough, especially when compared the excellent mega-arc that begins at the very start of Volume 2, The Cursed Earth.
The Complete Case Files of Judge Dredd 01 is not a good place to start reading Judge Dredd at all. In fact, I wouldn't recommend it to any except completists. For those of you who want to read some old-school Judge Dredd comics, but don't want to trudge through this rough stuff, I would recommend you skip this volume.