1/8/2010. Contributed by Neale Monks
(pub: Prion Books/Carlton Books. 304 page hardback. Price: £20.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-85375-718-1)
check out website: www.prionbooks.co.uk
'Judge Dredd' has been one of the most enduring as well as successful comic strips to come out of the British rather than American comic industry. The titular character has appeared in almost every issue of '2000AD' since 1977 and together with some of the other '2000AD' strips, helped to bring about what's often been referred to as the 'growing up' of comicbooks during the 80s when they went from being cheap juvenile literature into complex graphic novels read by adults. So while the 'Judge Dredd' strip remains as popular today as its ever been, for a generation of British men it's a connection to a time when they were growing up and so were their comicbook heroes.
'The Best Of Judge Dredd' is a compilation volume of strips from between 1977 and 2006. In some cases, the strips are complete stories, but others are excerpts from longer stories. Among the complete stories is the first 'Judge Dredd' story of all, as well as some fun single-episode tales concerning characters like Otto Sump, Tweak and Walter the Wobot. The shorter stories tend to be lightweight affairs, with the accent more on robust humour than satire or social commentary. The three-episode story 'The Fink' exemplifies this, a strange story involving violence, intelligent rodents and human recycling. On the other hand, the seven-episode story 'America' is presented here in its entirety. This story is much darker and essentially a look at the Mega-City police state from the perspective of pro-democracy activists. Although not one of this reviewer's favourite stories, there are a great many 'Judge Dredd' fans who place this story at the top of the pile.
Of course, multi-episode stories are difficult to present in an anthologies because of the limited space available. 'The Cursed Earth', 'Judge Child' and 'Origins' stories feature here only as excerpts, albeit ones that work reasonably well as standalone stories. Those three stories in particular also provide some of the best storylines set outside Mega-City One and while the crazy mutants are often played for laughs, there is a grim side to them that highlights what is that Judge Dredd is defending. Without the law, the civilised if controlled life inside Mega-City One would quickly be destroyed. More than anything else, it's this that makes Dredd a sympathetic character. For all his inflexibility, he is trying to protect the people he governs.
Unlike the paperback 'Judge Dredd: Complete Case Files' series that contain almost every strip ever printed in '2000AD', 'The Best Of Judge Dredd' is a hardback collection printed in both black-and-white and colour, depending on how the original strip was published. The range of artists includes most of the greats, Ezquerra, Dillon et al, and seeing them together here gives a nice sense of how the strip develop both artistically and in terms of characterisation and storylines.
Inevitably, there are some gaps and arguably their absence means that the book doesn't represent 'Judge Dredd' as fairly as it should. Key characters that don't feature at all in this anthology are the Angel Gang, Chopper, Judge Anderson and Judge Death. Leaving out Chopper is particularly sad because he's one of the more likeable characters - a teenage rebel on a flying surfboard - and his run-ins with Judge Dredd are more about authoritarianism rather than simple crime-fighting. But we do get Rico, Judge Hershey and (indirectly) Judge Fargo.
It's also a shame there's nothing from the 'Apocalypse War' story. Featuring a nuclear war and subsequent invasion by the Communists of East-Meg One, 'Apocalypse War' was very much a story of its time, the early 1980s. One of the most characteristic traits of 'Judge Dredd' generally has been its ability to reflect contemporary politics and pop-culture and the stories in 'The Best Of Judge Dredd' aren't necessarily the ones that exhibit this the best. But with that said, these are mostly very entertaining strips well-chosen for their action and humour. In short, while this is a nostalgic rather than an authoritative collection, it's highly recommended nonetheless.
Add SFcrowsnest.com daily news updates to your own web site or blog - just cut and paste the code below...
Stephen Hunt's novels - USA