|While I was looking forward to 'Hondo City Justice' because it offered me something old and new all at once, I was looking forward to this volume out of sheer nostalgia. It's the eighth in an ongoing collection of all the Judge Dredd stories to appear in either '2000 AD' or 'The Judge Dredd Megazine', presented in a chronological fashion. The series was begun by Rebellion in 2010 and Volume 09 is due in January.
I grew up reading 'Judge Dredd;’ but, for the most part, through the collected stories in 'The Best of 2000 AD Monthly', which had a very different aim to this series of books. It didn't only cover Judge Dredd for a start, introducing me to many of the other great '2000 AD' characters too, like Slaine, Nemesis the Warlock and Strontium Dog, as well as particular favorites like Halo Jones, Robo Hunter and the fabulous double act of DR & Quinch.
I knew that Judge Dredd, by far the most popular strip in '2000 AD' almost from its inception, has never left print since 1977 and I knew that I was massively out of date with his exploits, which have always run chronologically, in that each year that passes means that Dredd is a year older.
What I hadn't realized was that the stories in this volume, originally published in '2000 AD' between 1984 and 1985, are actually after my time and all are new to me. While I've read a few stories from later on, almost everything I know came before this, all the way up to 'The Wreckers' in June 1984, which was the last Judge Dredd story before this book picks up from Volume 07. Clearly I have a lot more catching up to do than I thought!
So even though this is book eight, this volume kicks in relatively early on, after a set of major early stories framed a good deal of the Judge Dredd universe. At this point, we've already learned about the Cursed Earth, Judge Cal, the Judge Child, the Dark Judges, the Angel Gang and the Apocalypse War, though none were too far distant at this point. Many were still fresh enough to be referenced here in new stories that were easy for me to immerse myself in.
For instance, 'Dredd Angel,' a seven-episode story from late 1984, features Dredd pulling Mean Machine Angel out of his iso-cube to serve as his guide through the Cursed Earth to rescue some judge clones that were shot down on their way to Texas City along with the contents of Liberace's tomb. Of course, to make such a trip viable, he had to disguise himself as Pa Angel through burning out some of Mean Machine's neural links, a ruse that only lasted so long, with inevitable consequences.
The most substantial story here is 'City of the Damned', which ran for fourteen episodes across the turn of the year from 1984 to 1985, and sent Judges Dredd and Anderson thirteen years into the future so they could investigate premonitions of disaster by Mega-City One's precogs. It also marked the return of the Judge Child, but it's more memorable for other reasons. How can any fan resist a battle between a blinded Judge Dredd and his resurrected future corpse? Even the glorious sight of future vampire judges known as the Hell Street Blues pales compared to that.
Other notable multi-episode stories include 'The Wally Squad,' which uses the movie 'The Sting' as a basis for a tale about judges who go too far deep undercover and lose their integrity; 'Sunday Night Fever', about the one day a week all the crazies come out to cause chaos in Mega-City One; and 'The Hunters Club', a thriller about a secret organization whose members take it in turns to select a citizen at random to hunt down and execute.
Few of these stories are as historic as the major ones that went before them, the most important event added to the Judge Dredd universe here being Dredd's receipt of bionic eyes at the end of 'City of the Damned.' Instead they merely continue to develop it, though perhaps with a little less fun involved than usual.
I felt that, in the main, these stories were darker in tone than those I'm used to from the previous few years, something notable especially in the one-shots. The most memorable single episode stories from my youth involve wild technology like 'Boing' or 'The Stupid Gun' or wild fads like 'The League of Fatties' or 'Unamerican Graffiti,' all very light hearted social commentary. Here, the standouts are much darker in tone, like 'A Case for Treatment,' which sees Dredd undergo a psychiatric evaluation to verify his fitness to continue his service as a judge, or 'Hagatha Smeld' in which Dredd solves a murder mystery by using robotics to turn the corpse into a walking surveillance device.
I had a blast visiting a couple of early years in the career of Judge Dredd and I'll certainly be picking up the previous seven volumes to fill in all my other early gaps. This is an invaluable volume in an invaluable project, though it does come with a couple of flaws. Some, though by no means most, of the pages seem to have been scanned in lower resolution than they should, resulting in minor blurring of the art and slightly hard to read text. A few pages reproduce gatefolds that are less successful in a book of this thickness than in a comic book that can be opened all the way and laid flat on a table. Perhaps that is inevitable but there are a couple of points where I struggled to read speech bubbles that spread across both pages.
These are not major concerns compared to the value of seeing all these stories reproduced in chronological order. I look forward to going back to the very beginning with Volume 01 and working forward to this point through all the stories I've read and re-read for years and filling in many little gaps as I go. By my reckoning, Volume 08 hasn't even reached a quarter of the way through Judge Dredd's history yet, so it should keep us busy and entertained for years to come. ~~ Hal C F Astell