Judge Dredd Megazine # 396
Judge Dredd vs Razorjack “This Corrosion” Part 1 by Michael Carroll, John Higgins, Sally Hurst and Annie Parkhouse
The John Higgins-devised Razorjack crosses over into Dredd this month. Or rather she doesn’t. The writers wisely keep her in the background as a malevolent force that is so remote and alien as to be beyond our ken. This allows unfamiliar readers to get a feel for who or what she is without the tale feeling like clunky exposition. It’s a neat trick, especially as most of the readers will be unfamiliar with Razorjack and her minions.
The Judges get a brutal introduction however as Carroll and Higgins present a strong showing from the invaders, setting them up as a credible threat to Justice Department’s firepower. The Judges’ response (sans Dredd) is a refreshing change to the infighting and foul-ups that have made them look so vulnerable recently. Carroll shows us the best of the Judges. Efficient, well-organised, pragmatic first responders risking their lives to uphold the law and protect the citizens. It’s more like the classic tales of the noble Judges rather than the venal, self-serving Judges that have been evident of late.
Higgins’ depiction of the Veiled Loop is gloriously atmospheric. Its vast empty spaces are filled with a maelstrom of colour by Sally Hurst. The bloody frenzy of the initial skirmish gives a fine contrast between the indiscriminate spree of the invaders and the Judges controlled, disciplined response. Blood and flames dominate the scene in eery silence but there are wonderful details in every panel. An eviscerated judge torn in half almost out of shot. Glee on a metal face as a citizen is bisected. The reflection of the Parvanu rushing to save a juve. Higgins and Hurst have partnered in excellent fashion.
It’s a well crafted first episode. The greater length of the Megazine allows the scene to be set in a way that the Prog wouldn’t have managed anywhere near as effectively. It introduces the protagonists, establishes the rules of the game and sets the goals. It may not even be a bad thing if we never get more than a glimpse of the Queen herself.
The Returners “Irmazhina” Part 3 by Si Spencer, Nicolo Assirelli, Eva de la Cruz and Simon Bowland
We move from sci-fi to all out horror in The Returners. Miniero has her work cut out for her with a team that’s so divided you couldn’t even call it a team.
The traps, pitfalls and chasms that Spencer creates for them may feel a bit Indiana Jones for some tastes admittedly. It’s not entirely clear what they’re trying to achieve other than progressing to the next area. This lack of narrative push is more than compensated for by the weirdness pervading the story. Chavez in particular has some memorably unsettling dialogue. Once you forgive the cheesy “Kitty’s got claws” line (copyright every Catwoman story ever) that is. Assirelli pull out the stops for a rendezvous with Correia which presses all the creepy buttons.
Although the episode ends with a slightly weak cliffhanger, there’s enough here to whet the appetite for more next time.
Chopper “Wandering Soul” Part 2 by David Baillie, Brendan McCarthy, Len O’Grady and Ellie de Ville
You could be forgiven for ignoring the story here and just basking in the gloriously mad dayglo visuals for McCarthy and O’Grady. But if you did that, you’d be missing a real treat.
David Baillie manages to lift us out of the hippy-dippy mire that Chopper’s been in since Supersurf 10. He even obliquely addresses the criticism that he should have remained dead after Supersurf 11 with the appearance of some unwelcome ghosts and one welcome one. The psychedelia is offset with earthy dialogue, particularly as Karadgi Wally’s successor berates Chopper for his role in things. There’s a serious point being made here. A white man floating in, untouched by the chaos around him, causing carnage for the (mostly) people of colour around him. The fact that it’s unintentional on Chopper’s part doesn’t help. There’s always been an uncomfortable element of cultural appropriation to Chopper’s Radback adventures. Karadgi Wally is less of a caricature than Smokie, almost certainly as a result of the 20 years separating when they were written, but there’s still the worry that it could turn into yet another white saviour drama.
Serious stuff aside, just sit back and bask in the energy of McCarthy and O’Grady’s visuals. The Radback gang are straight out of Fury Road, we revisit Supersurf 11, Sonny Williams and even The Phantom. The standout moment is when he drops back to reality with a stillness that gives rise to a realisation that there are real-world events occurring. The colouring in the brief jump to Oz Tek-Ops jars slightly though and feels out-of-place. Something a bit more ‘real’ would have arguably created a better contrast to the rest of the tale.
Cursed Earth Koburn “The Law of the Cursed Earth” Part 5 by Rory McConville, Carlos Ezquerra and Simon Bowland
Koburn concludes this issue with a good old-fashioned riot. As the dust settles we get something we don’t see very often in comics. Someone actually considering the aftermath.
The prog has dealt with the destabilising of communities recently with the Dredd story “Flaws” and McConville takes it further here. There are clear parallels here with the racial tensions in the US and UK. Koburn is realistic enough to know what’s coming. His community style of judging seems guaranteed to fail by the actions of rogue elements and the subsequent Justice Department coverup fomenting greater tension. The idea of the self-governing townships with intermittent Judge involvement was a progressive step and seemed to formalise the role and responsibilities for the Cursed Earth Judges. Boyle’s made their job much more difficult and that can only be an interesting thing for the readers.
Ezquerra is in his element with this sort of thing. Big fleshy claymation muties brawling in desert towns are right up his street. He catches the chaos of the fighting along with the uncertainty of each side with a perpetual dust bowl confusion. It’s great spaghetti western stuff and wouldn’t look out-of-place if he recycled it for a Strontium Dog story.
Dredd “The Dead World” Part 5 by Arthur Wyatt, Alex de Campi, Henry Flint, Chris Blythe and Annie Parkhouse
Wyatt and De Campi close off The Dead World with something we’ve never seen before. In this episode we get to see Dredd experience real despair. Dredd is seized with the absolute and terrible knowledge that his task is futile. He even concedes that it’s not the first time he’s felt that way. Movie Dredd is arguably a much different character than Judge Dredd. There is a sense that we know very little about him. He has many of the traits that we associate with old Joe but his dogged stoicism lacks the iron certainty of the classic Dredd. This imbue him with a certain vulnerability. We know old Dredd will never crack, bend or doubt his own ability. We don’t know that about this Dredd so it’s genuinely dramatic to watch him struggle in a hopeless situation. Wyatt and De Campi concede that his despair could be an effect of being in the entropic universe. Given the way it ends, that could be problematic for future Dredds.
The story deviates sufficiently from canon to be fresh but manages to not take so many liberties that old purists writing in to the letters page to complain. The nature of Judge Death/De’Ath is chillingly nihilistic rather than the schlock-horror of the classic version. He’s reduced to a bit of a movie monster in this episode but the underpinning ideas from previously are well enough formed to mitigate that. If anything, the idea that the entropic universe is the real enemy, with its cold indifference to humanity, is a much more terrifying prospect.
Dredd has drawn some criticism from some quarters for the grey, blocky, dystopian look. More Airstrip 1 than Mega-City 1. Given the budgetary constraints of the movie it draws on, this is unsurprising. It fits in with the real-world take on Dredd. Look at the seriously practical uniform/body armour the Judges wear. The look also enhances the distinction between Dredd and Judge Dredd. The city is unmistakably not the MC1 we know and love. There’s not much difference between the ‘real’ city and the dead one. Both are brutalist nightmares. We rely on Blythe’s palette to distinguish between the two. Brown supplants grey as the rot sets in.
We’re treated to some classic horror moments too. Spidery death looms up like an HR Giger Alien. Dredd passes a half-headless corpse who revisits him 2 pages later. There’s a vertigo-inducing shot of Dredd falling that catches the reader’s breath, fearful that Dredd will not make it this time. It’s cleverly positioned at the end of a page and preceded by Dredd’s lowest ebb. It makes the reader question whether or not Dredd even wants to survive it.
The final shot makes you sit back, drop the issue and exhale. You didn’t even know you were holding your breath. Applause to all involved. This was very special.
Supplement: Judge Dredd “Block Judge” by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra. Cover art by Greg Staples
After the Nemesis monograph and a few questionable choices in the Meg supplement we get a real treat this month. ‘Block Judge’ is worth the price of the Megazine in itself. It’s a classic Wagner Judge-procedural story. Dredd takes over the duties of managing a single city block in disarray. Like The Pit, Wagner excels at showing the rigid Dredd dealing with the perps, gangs, juves and crazies who populate Mega-City One.
Dredd throws himself into his work and Wagner drags us along in his wake. For an old man he really moves, busting heads and cubing perps as he works his way up to the bosses. He’s not a one-man mission though. He has Beeny on his team as a safe pair of hands (Hershey/Dekker 2.0). He also has Judge Corrigan, who’s so expendable he may as well be wearing a red shirt. It’s always a treat to see Dredd’s opinion of his fellow judges expressed through his inner monologue. His division of worth is entirely binary and strangely non-judgemental. You either have it or you don’t, no hard feelings either way.
For all the focus on low-level crime there’s still the reminder that Dredd’s a bastard at heart. Provoking a citizen into throwing a punch so he has an excuse for a beat down with daysticks may seem harsh. But it’s arguably no worse than we see on the news every day.
Ezquerra’s artwork gives us the citizens as rats in a trap. The block is cramped, the locations deliberately interchangeable. The characters are fantastic though. Goons that would in lesser hands be interchangeable are distinctive and fit the limited interaction we have with them.
Wagner’s pacing rattles along, leaving the reader as breathless and overwhelmed as the gangs. It has plenty of time for his dark humour though. Robot teachers complain about their students; Witness poor Beeny’s stint in Block Court for a vision of her own private hell. And the finale? Well, life goes on…