Monday, 27 September 2010

Review - Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files Volume 01 TPB

Unlike Paul (Rainey, my blog co-conspirator), I have never been a big fan of 2000AD. I bought the odd issue as a kid, but mostly I didn’t like it. I tend to think that this was because I was a loyal Marvel junkie and felt that I was somehow betraying Stan Lee if I bought comics published by anyone else. Also, 2000AD was printed on crappy paper and it was in black and white! I suppose it must have been more than that, though, because I did buy British humour comics and black and white Marvel UK reprints, printed on similarly crappy paper, and it was really just British adventure / action comics that never really appealed to me. Partly, it may be that I have never really been a big sci-fi fan. I know that superheroes are technically sci-fi, but I have never been a big fan of ‘proper’ sci-fi, if you know what I mean (I can take or leave Doctor Who, have never particularly liked Star Trek, and have never bothered with the X-Files). Although even that doesn’t make complete sense, because I was into Star Wars as a kid, and 2000AD started the same year Star Wars came out, when I was most definitely buying comics and should have got hooked on a weekly dose of ‘thrill power’. Looking at this book, though, I think I know why I didn’t like 2000AD. I was into John Byrne and George Perez – artists with a clean style – and the art in here, like a lot of British adventure comics of that era, is quite dark and scruffy.

I’m not saying I don’t like the art in this book now, just that I can see now why I didn’t like 2000AD as a kid. Some of the art isn’t so great, even art by artists I know got a lot better, like Carlos Ezquerra, who hadn’t quite perfected his inked-with-a-potato style at this point (I don’t mean this as an insult to Ezquerra, as I really like his art, I just tent to think that those blocky outlines he puts around his characters look like they were done with a potato – but in a good way!), but most of it is okay and some of it is really good (especially the stuff by Brian Bolland, which stands out a mile – I guess I’m still a sucker for a clean line!). It just wasn’t really the sort of thing I was into back then. I bought some of the Eagle Judge Dredd reprints in the early-‘80s, mainly just the Bolland issues, and even some of the Nemesis the Warlock reprints (Nemesis was the one strip in 2000AD that I did like quite a bit but obviously not enough to get me to buy the comic on a regular basis). I also bought some of the issues of 2000AD that Alan Moore’s work appeared in, but mainly just the ones featuring DR & Quinch. I still haven’t read Halo Jones or Skizz, even though I was / am a big Moore fan (and have had a tatty copy of Halo Jones sitting in my ‘to read’ pile for several years now). The basic point is that, unlike many other British comic readers, I have never really been into 2000AD, for whatever reason. Thanks largely to Paul, though, I now feel like I may have missed out on quite a lot of good stuff over the years, hence my recent purchase of Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files Volume 01 (and Volume 02 and Nemesis the Warlock Volume 1, but I’ll get to them another time).

This book reprints all the Dredd strips from 2000AD issues 2 to 60, most of which I had never read before. I must say that it starts off a bit dull, and I was quite bored for the first half of the book at least. A lot of the time I was just looking forward to finishing it and moving on to something else, although I was fully aware going in that the early issues might not be so great. Had I read and enjoyed these comics as a kid, I may have enjoyed them again regardless – God knows the glow of nostalgia blinds me to the many faults of Marvel comics from the same period – but mostly they just didn’t seem that great. Still, things did begin to pick up a bit by the middle of the book, at around the time Dredd becomes marshal of Luna 1, a colony on the moon, where he remains until near the end of the book. Once based on the moon, the stories become more witty and imaginative, the art slowly improves, and we even get the odd issue drawn by Brian Bolland. It is not until towards the very end of the book that Dredd shows signs of becoming the fascist bastard that everyone knows and loves, though. Mostly, he is just better and more resourceful than the other Judges. He has a cuddly robot called Walter and a ridiculous Italian maid called Maria. He is tough, just not a bastard. By the end of the book, though, he is a complete bastard, obsessed with sticking rigidly to the letter of the law. Just before he leaves the moon, he arrests a man who tries to commit suicide by jumping off a building for attempted littering, and once back on Earth he is a changed character. Did something happen to him on the moon in-between issues? Was he molested? Did hanging out with cultural stereotypes like Judge Tex and Judge Mex drive him insane? More importantly, why are comic readers so obsessed with right wing anti-heroes (see: Batman, Wolverine, the Punisher, and nearly every comic ever written by Mark Millar for further details)?

Interestingly, at the back of the book, along with some Walter the Wobot one-pagers (most of which are drawn by Brian Bolland), we get to see the very first Dredd strip, by Pat Mills and Carlos Ezquerra. In this previously unpublished tale, Dredd is an even bigger bastard than he would later become, cold-bloodedly executing ‘perps’ in the street, so some conscious decision to soften the character must have been made before his first appearance in 2000AD. Even more interestingly, Ezquerra’s art in this strip is done in the inked-with-a-potato style I later came to appreciate, so I’m not sure why his art didn’t look like that in the rest of the book. Did Tharg confiscate his potato? Actually, I think Mike McMahon may have stolen it, as I was initially convinced that the last couple of strips in the book, drawn by McMahon, were the work of Ezquerra. I guess the two must just have very similar styles – blocky outlines and all.

Overall, I’m glad I read this but I certainly didn’t love it. I am, however, prepared to believe that the best of Dredd is yet to come and am looking forward to reading volume 2, which contains the popular Cursed Earth storyline. In fact, I am prepared to stick with this series until at least volume 3, which contains all the Bolland Judge Death stuff, and maybe even beyond, to give the character time to really get going. I may not actually buy volumes 3 and beyond, but if not I know my local library has a lot of them and will make sure I check them out at some point. Like the Marvel Essentials books, these volumes offer an easy, affordable way to catch up with a large chunk of comics’ history. And unlike the Marvel volumes, these have the advantage of containing stories that were originally intended to be published in black and white, so you don’t feel like you are missing out on anything by reading them. This particular volume has a cover price of £13.99 but I picked it up on Amazon for around £8.00, which is very good value for a book containing this many comics, and other volumes are similarly priced.

1 comment:

  1. I didn't know that there's a previously unpublished strip in the back of this. I'll have to check it out next time I'm in Waterstones. Incidentally, I understand that early Dredd artists were encouraged to draw in Ezquerra's style.