Judge Dredd: Mechanismo
(Art by Colin MacNeil and Peter Doherty)
With the Justice Department under-strength, Chief Judge MacGruder authorises the deployment of ten robotic judges to the streets. However, as Judge Dredd himself predicts, the robots soon begin to malfunction and unleash untempered judgement upon Mega-City One.
The main body of this book is taken up by Wagner's 'Mechanismo' storyline which, with 2000AD's signature mixture of brutality and dark humour, explores the idea that a machine shouldn't be able to sit in judgement over human beings. What I liked most about this was seeing Dredd's reaction to the harsh behaviour of the robot Judges who are, in fact, programmed to emulate his own personal style.
There's also a short extra story, the one by Grant, tacked onto the end of the book (hence me reviewing it as an anthology), which features a street thug out to make a reputation for himself by attempting to kill Judge Dredd. It's neither big nor clever and felt like a real step down from the far more engaging Mechanismo story.
3 out of 5
Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 01
(Art by Carlos Ezquerra, Mike McMahon, Massimo Belardinelli, Ron Turner, Ian Gibson, John Cooper, Bill Ward and Brian Bolland)
The first in a series of graphic novels which gather together Judge Joseph Dredd's stories in chronological order, beginning with his very first appearance published in 1977.
The fact that 2000AD was/is an anthology comic means that the stories published in it cannot be overly long and that brevity is particularly prevalent in these very early stories of Dredd. Sadly, what this means is that much of this book features punchy but underdeveloped stories which do get rather repetetive. Added to that is the fact that the Dredd on offer here is an unfortunately toned-down one to make his brutal form of lawgiving more palatable. So, rather than killing every wrongdoer in sight, we get a Dredd who usually only deals out custodial sentences and a stern telling-off. Don't get me wrong, I don't want a bloodbath, but this early more politically correct Dredd is not one which sits well with someone who grew up reading the far darker 1980s comics.
It is worth noting that in the bonus material at the back of the book there is the first Dredd story which was written, in which he does summarily execute some perps on the sidewalk. It's interesting to see how the character was originally envisioned; very much judge, jury and executioner, and compare it to the softer version who actually made it to publication.
There are a couple of stand-out bits in this anthology and, without fail, they are the stories which are multi-part. Although the first Dredd epic storyline, 'The Cursed Earth' isn't featured here, we do get a few early attempts at making longer, more detailed storylines. I think my favourite on offer here was one in which a robot uprising leads to all-out war on the streets of Mega-City One; an uprising led by a villainous robot with the brilliant name of Call Me Kenneth.
As well as the aforementioned toning-down of Dredd's violence, the other great failing of this book is the 'comic relief' character of Walter the Wobot. Yes, he's a robot with a speech impediment. Walter's constantly irritating presence could well be cited as an inspiration to George Lucas when he created Jar Jar Binks.
Overall, there's plenty to like about this book, particularly if you're a long-time 2000AD fan like me, but these early stories feature a Joe Dredd who hasn't yet developed into the character that truly stands out among comic book characters.
3 out of 5
Judge Dredd: The Mega Collection - America
featuring John Wagner and Garth Ennis
(Art by Colin MacNeil)
The majority of this book is written by Wagner and follows the fortunes of America Jara and Benny Beeny, as well as their daughter. Although Joe Dredd does feature heavily in this group of stories, their focus is actually on what it is like for ordinary citizens living in a world where democracy has died and the often brutal Judges have almost unlimited power. The main character to begin with is Benny and we get to see through his eyes how the woman he loves, his childhood friend America, drifts away from him and joins the terrorist revolutionaries attempting to revive democracy.
Both Benny and America are complex characters and this is a fantastic exploration of moral grey areas. Perhaps most interesting is the latter part of these stories where their daughter, also called America, trains to join the Judges, the very institution which ruined the lives of her parents. What I found most intriguing about America Beeny as a Judge was that she partially adopts her parents' counter-culture perspectives and, by incorporating them into her new role, earns the respect of Judge Dredd for being able navigate emotionally complex situations on the streets that he admits he couldn't understand.
I really enjoyed this family saga, with its unrequited love, tragedy, family dynamics and moral ambiguities.
The book as a whole is let down, however, by the last few stories (one by Wagner, the rest by Ennis). Don't get me wrong, there's nothing especially bad about them, it's just that they are short stand-alone stories with little depth and no relationship to the brilliant America storyline which takes up most of the book. Frankly this book would have been better if it had just been shorter and featured only Wagner's cohesive work on the Jara/Beeny family. We simply could have done without the 'bonus' stories at the end.
4 out of 5
Judge Dredd: The Mega Collection - Mechanismo
(Art by Colin MacNeil, Peter Doherty, Manuel Benet, Jock, Val Semeiks and Cliff Robinson)
A collection of four stories, three by Wagner and one by Rennie, which focus on the idea of robots running amok.
The meat of this book is the first two stories, which are about the titular Mechanismo programme. This involves the creation and unleashing of robotic Judges who proceed to dispense brutal justice with the total lack of empathy you could expect from a rmachine. Robots going off the rails is tried-and-tested territory for science fiction and 2000AD already tackled it in a major way with the Robot Uprising led by Call Me Kenneth. Where these two stories break new ground is in juxtaposing the Mechanismo Judges, who are all designed and programmed to mimic Dredd, with the main man himself. By comparison we actually get to appreciate Dredd's humanity in a way that is hard to do until the robots take his style to an extreme. Except for a few throwaway puns and in-jokes ("Number 5 is alive!") these stories are among some of the most serious Dredd stories I've read.
However, it is Wagner's third story 'S.A.M.' which proves the gem of this book. Here we see the writer fully unleashing his ironic sense of humour as a dissatisfied citizen takes a robot bomb into the Bureau of Creative Bureaucracy, whose motto is 'Saving money for the city by making things difficult for you'.
The final story, by Rennie, features a new batch of medical droids who decide that the only way to cure the people of Mega-City One is to kill them all. This last doesn't have a huge amount going for it to make it stand out from the crowd, with the exception of the art by Jock.
3 out of 5
Judge Dredd: The Mega Collection - The Heavy Mob
(Art by Jim Murray, Clint Langley, Kevin Walker, Brian Bolland, Ron Smith and PJ Holden)
An anthology of stories which focus on various paramilitary groups within the wider world of Judge Dredd's future, including the Holocaust Squad, the Brit-Cit Brute and the Marine Corps.
There's a wide variety of stories, art styles and characters on display in this book, but the truth is that this works against the book as a whole. No sooner have these lesser-known characters started to bed-in with the reader than their story ends. In particular, I was keen to get to know the Holocaust 12, but none of them last long and their story is over fairly quickly. The Brit-Cit Brute stories, however, just didn't click with me and I found myself unable to get to grips with them.
There are some solid outings for Joe Dredd here, but they too are relatively short and, ultimately, I found that disappointing.
2 out of 5
Judge Dredd: Top Dog
(Art by Colin Macneil and John Burns)
Three stories featuring Mega-City One's meannest lawman. In the first Dredd findhimself on the trail of a time travelling bounty hunter; the Strontium Dog Johnny Alpha, the second sees a series of brutal robberies and murders involving the theft of collectable 20th Century garbage and the final story has Dredd being kidnapped by a vengeful assassin.
These three stories are fairly standard Dredd fare, which is to say there's plenty of violence mixed in with just a touch of darkly ironic humour (I particularly liked the mention of a care home for the chronically befuddled). There are two things that are of particular interest, however. The first is seeing Dredd throw down with one of 2000AD's other headline characters, Johnny Alpha, with neither character feeling unjustly treated by the crossover. The second is seeing Dredd actually outmatched by the assassin and having to fall back on sheer bloody-minded determination to win.
3 out of 5
Judge Dredd's Crime File Volume One
(Art by John Higgins, Bryan Talbot, Jose Ortiz and Ian Gibson)
Three stories featuring 2000AD's Lawman of the Future and one starring the Rogue Trooper.
The first story is the longest and best, involving Dredd journeying into the Cursed Earth to confront a group of bandits which includes such villainous characters as Big Guy, Dinky Guy and Dog Guy. The second story has Dredd being attacked by four dwarves with a sad (fairy) tale to tell, out to avenge their three dead brothers. Next up is Rogue Trooper's tale and is focused on the relationship between the intelligences contained in his equipment. The last story has Dredd in hot pursuit whilst detaining another perp over the radio.
All these stories have the dark humour you'd expect but none of them is really outstanding.
3 out of 5
Judge Dredd's Crime File Volume Two
(Art by Mike McMahon, Ian Gibson and Carlos Ezquerra)
Five stories starring Judge Joseph Dredd and one which focuses on Hoagy, the robotic sidekick of Sam Slade, Robo Hunter.
With the exception of the Hoagy story, the tales featured in this book are of a far better quality than those of Volume One, with most of them showing the dark edge which was such an important part of the 2000AD comics in the 1980s.
It is Hoagy story which lets this book down, being fairly lighthearted and goofy, but I have to say that it did at least feature the wry humour so common to Alan Grant's writing, with a nice twist in the tale at the end. Also showcasing the humour which was always an important part of 2000AD is the first story on offer here, 'Anatomy of a Crime', in which a man runs afoul of Judge Dredd when his desire to become Mega-City 1's fattest man leads him into a life of crime. As he furiously tried to pack on pounds, his wife scathingly says "Why don't you get smart and take up a sensible hobby... like spot welding!"
I think the best story in the anthology is 'Compulsory Purchase', although the one with the space vampire comes a close second. In 'Compulsory Purchase' an important Mega-City 1 official needs a heart transplant and Dredd is tasked with tackling the problem that the only compatible donor is still alive. This story finds the perfect balance of gallows humour and grim cynicism and is a real gem.
This book is a great collection of Dredd's adventures by two of his most respected and talented writers (not to mention the fact that Wagner and Ezquerra were the ones who created Judge Dredd in the first place).
4 out of 5