Friday, June 29, 2012

REVIEW: Judge Dredd - The Complete Case Files Volume 19

Oddly enough, this is my first substantial foray into the world of Judge Dredd. I've read a couple of 2000AD issues, I've read the short stories contained in the Sweet Justice collection, but I've never really had a good solid story to get into until now, thanks to winning a Twitter giveaway.

The Complete Case Files 19 contains stories from Mark Millar, Garth Ennis, John Wagner and John Smith, as well as the debut of Grant Morrison. Most of these authors have since become big names in comics - Morrison, Ennis and Millar are all very well-known - whilst Wagner, I believe, is known as one of the better Dredd writers. These stories all come from roughly 1993, somewhere around the halfway mark of 2000AD's life (at the time of this release and review).

The writing in this volume isn't that bad, and it's certainly the strongest and most solid element. The jokes, subtle and otherwise, can be good (such as a judge with 'Lardas' as his name badge) and you will get a few little laughs, yet there's no real laugh-out-loud moments here. Inferno, the story that takes up a large chunk of this volume, is Grant Morrison's debut and it concludes an arc from a previous volume (one I've obviously not read), which sees the return of an exiled Judge with a bunch of dangerous criminals and a highly dangerous virus. It's something like 11 or 12 parts long, and it sadly outstays its welcome within four or five issues. It teases the reader by making you think the end is about to come but it's quickly apparent it won't, and this happens numerous times, driving me to the point of annoyance rather than excitement.

This isn't a book with any sense of consistency. Characters almost die in one issue and are fine within the next. The Judge's base of operations will be ablaze in one story, and then get blown up the next, and then appear fine straight after. That constantly changing aspect is either a blessing or a weakness depending on how it's used. It stops poor stories completely changing the universe, but it can mean the larger effects of bigger and better stories never really come into play.

The art constantly changes due to the different artists, and it never quite becomes enjoyable. There are some excellent panels within stories, but often it seems to be a little... odd. In one story, we have two male Judges (Dredd and another) and a female judge, and the uniform is form-fitting but slightly loose on the male judges whereas the female judge has a supermodel figure, a rounded bottom and a large chest, all contained within a more-than-skin-tight suit. How is that even close to 'fair'? The racial depictions also leave a lot of questions hanging in the air, many of them being grotesque and almost offensive. This would be almost understandable if we were talking about comics from the late seventies or early eighties, but judging by the copyright notices in the book, these comics are from the early-to-mid nineties which makes the art very worrying indeed.

Rebellion and the 2000AD team have also dropped the ball with the credits. Only about half of the stories have credits, so once you get beyond Inferno the stories tend not to be credited, meaning you don't know who worked on most stories, nor are the stories even named! There are also no breaks between the majority of stories so it's possible to start reading the next without realising that you've moved on to another. This means there's no pacing to the volume, nor are the stories introduced with any sort of information relating to where these characters have appeared before. A simple title page between each story would have sufficed to break it up into easier chunks, but also to allow the appropriate credits to be given.

The Complete Case Files Volume 19 is really only something hardcore Judge Dredd fans will find any enjoyment from. Newcomers or part-time fans may end up questioning the potential of the comics if this is a jumping on point for them, as it's a collection of weak stories that aren't particularly enjoyable or that even make sense. There are some moments of strength and hope, such as the arc with the Jigsaw Killer, but these are few and far between. For a volume with a shelf price of £23, the lack of information or credits is questionable and leads one to wonder just how much effort Rebellion are putting into these volumes. It's dampened my interest in Dredd a little, but nowhere near enough to put me off.

Not recommended unless you're a big, big Dredd fan.

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