Thirty seven years ago, an interesting event occurred in Mega-City 1. To wit: nuclear war. Nine months of increasingly inventive violence followed, until Judge Dredd forced an armistice by shooting the enemy with their own nukes.
Total annihilation, however, is rarely truly total. There were a few who survived Dredd’s retaliation, and they spent the next few decades plotting revenge.
Seven years ago, all the pieces fell into place. A biological weapon was released into the city. Terrorist cells coordinated attacks on the Justice Department’s instruments of control. Sleeper agents among the Judges’ own ranks released the city’s most notorious criminals to add to the chaos. Mega-City 1 had finally met a foe that could not be defeated by a small band of heroes capturing some key location. By the time both virus and violence had burnt themselves out, eighty seven percent of the population were dead. Those still standing surveyed the ruins of Mega-City 1, and knew that they had been defeated.
Judge Dredd: Ghost Town is the story of what came after.
The world of Judge Dredd has long been explored through an expanding patchwork of stories. 2000AD gives him a weekly slot while the Judge Dredd Megazine adds a monthly supplement. Both comics regularly include extra stories about supporting characters. These all hold the potential to become classics; any list of defining Dredd moments will rightfully feature five-page one-shots alongside mega-epics that sprawl over several months. Creators have been free to experiment with the format, style, and subject matter of their stories, causing them all to mesh together into a whole that is greater than its individual parts.
This makes collecting Dredd into small marketable packages somewhat tricky. The Judge Dredd Case Files are collecting all of the stories, in order, from the very start. This is understandably taking a while, so more recent runs are regularly published in their own volumes. That’s great for any story large enough to occupy its own discrete book, but gathering the smaller tales into a cohesive block requires a little more consideration. Past collections have focused on particular artists or villains. This release, Judge Dredd: Ghost Town, is unified by the flawless lettering of Annie Parkhouse and Simon Bowland, but it also relies on subtler bonds…
By John Wagner, Dave Taylor, and Annie Parkhouse.
This first story sees writer John Wagner return to the world he had only just finished destroying. Winding down from the carnage, Wagner throws Dredd into a routine procedural. Yet this is no return to business as usual. Justice Department trudges through the wreckage, forcing themselves to do their job in spite of their all too obvious failings. The pastel colours of Dave Taylor’s art should by all rights inject a little light into the despair, but somehow they just reinforce the grey and gloomy mood. Under Taylor’s pen the city seems to have melted, every surviving surface slick with corpse wax.
By Alan Grant, Michael Dowling, and Simon Bowland.
The muted colours continue as Anderson performs her own flavour of routine investigation. Writer Alan Grant, tasked with portraying Anderson as the compassionate face of justice, has often relied on the moral clarity of rescuing innocent children. Here this plot acts a springboard to look at the emotional toll inflicted on the city. Even the grim crime of slave trafficking struggles to effect those whose life has become an endless, despairing dirge. Michael Dowling’s art emphasizes the new emptiness of the city. Vast spaces that artists would have once filled with a madcap populace now leave the sparse survivors amid a void of textured brushstrokes.
By Ian Edgington, Dave Taylor, and Annie Parkhouse.
Most of the humans might be dead, but that lethal bio-weapon left a whole lot of robots unscathed. Dave Taylor returns for his second story in this collection, revelling in the details of wave after wave of disposable droids. Ian Edgington presents a story that shows the judges searching for ways to regain their hold on the city. It reiterates what the previous stories have already hinted at; the citizens share the judges’ shell-shock and see no other option than to return to their erstwhile oppressors.
The Man Comes Around
By Rob Williams, R M Guera, Giulia Brusco, and Annie Parkhouse
As we draw close to the finish line, Rob Williams takes the reins and drags Dredd out from his woe. This story reminds readers that the citizens of Mega-City 1 are not the most stable of crowds. It tempts the audience to brand the victims with their own balance of the blame, forgetting that it is unquestionably the judges that fuel the circle of vice. Giulia Brusco spurs the colours to bloom once more as Dredd regains his rhythm and starts dishing out violence. R M Guera brings unique and stylish qualities to the art. He twice uses the inspired trick of reflecting other character’s eyes in Dredd’s piebald visor, giving him the impression of emotion. Originally published as a Megazine one-shot, this story canters along with impressive cadence before vaulting us into our final chapter.
By Ian Edgington, Simon Colby, Chris Blythe, and Annie Parkhouse.
Ian Edgington’s closing pages provide a justice department parable. A tutor tells their class of cadets that for as long as anyone remembers, Dredd has spent five minutes each day standing at the city’s busiest intersection as a public icon of the law. If this seems somewhat incredulous, then the cadets don’t seem to care. With the bodies from the last disaster finally cleared away, the mythologizing of the judges begins in earnest. Simon Colby’s heavy blocks of black convey the judges’ restored certainty. Chris Blythe’s colouring adds a golden glow to the armour, reflecting the moral righteousness that has suppressed all memory of existential crisis.
This is the theme that ties Ghost Town together. It is the story of Justice Department regaining control of both the city and themselves. How well this sits as a satisfying arc may vary depending on the readers’ tastes. This book pitches Dredd against disaster capitalists and the immortal rich, with typically satisfying results. At the same time, watching the broken people of Mega-City 1 fall once more under the green jackboots may be hard to stomach.
Judge Dredd: Ghost Town, much like the stories within, is just one part of a bigger tapestry. The years following Chaos Day have been dominated by the Judges’ fighting off various challengers, meaning the civilian perspective has been largely overlooked. Mega-City 1 is currently fertile ground for exploring the social ramifications of recent catastrophes. If those are stories you’d like to see, why not get in touch with 2000ad, and let them know?