One of the great things about the Judge Dredd comics is how the dystopic setting has evolved over its almost forty-year run. The 2011-2012 epic Day of Chaos saw a brutal virus kill off ninety percent of Mega-City One’s population, and the consequences are still seen in the strip today. 2014 Judge Dredd Megazine story Dead Zone, now reprinted in graphic novel form, uses the Chaos Day fallout to nastily good effect.
John Wagner’s story opens with Yodie and Belle Planchet, two poor wastelanders hoping to be allowed a new life in the city now there’s suddenly a lot of free living space. Unfortunately, they’re nabbed by a criminal gang, who force Yodie to work in the body mine – where millions of dumped, rotting Chaos Day corpses are looted for valuable possessions. Meanwhile (bear with us, it gets complicated), Judge Dredd’s investigating a suspicious death at the nearby memorial centre. Oh, and then Yodie finds a bracelet that gives him the power to turn invisible, teleport, or shoot giant lasers from his hands. This has been one hell of a plot synopsis, and we’ve not even got to the robot bishop yet.
Yes, it sounds all over the place, and indeed it is, as what begins as a murder mystery becomes a fugitive thriller, leading to a daft sci-fi action climax. The gritty opening is its strongest section, where the scenes in the body mine really are gruesome – Henry Flint draws decaying corpses like no other, with careful use of blood reds and sickly greens against the dark background really amping up the horror. The story falters when the characters behind the mysterious bracelet enter the fray – their identity is too big a twist to reveal, but suffice to say they seem to have jumped from a different comic, and indeed another sci-fi sub-genre entirely, which can seem jarring.
Nevertheless, all the ludicrous tangents of Dead Zone are unified by Yodie and Belle’s struggle to survive, with the stakes always about whether they’ll be able to find the new life they need. It’s an ultimately optimistic tale of finding hope among the ruins, and is engaging enough to cover up any cracks in the plot.
This volume also includes Breaking Bud, a shorter story carrying on the tale of the incredible bracelet. This follows Bud, a laid-off Justice Department employee who vengefully steals the bracelet in order to rebuild his shattered life. After the optimistic tone of Yodie’s story, this is back to typical 2000 AD cynicism. Though it has neither the emotional nor the brutal impact of Dead Zone, it’s an enjoyable enough thriller, which makes good use of the bracelet’s abilities and gives Dredd a unique case to solve.
JUDGE DREDD- DEAD ZONE / AUTHOR: JOHN WAGNER / ARTISTS: HENRY FLINT, RICHARD ELSON / PUBLISHER: 2000 AD GRAPHIC NOVELS / RELEASE DATE: 16TH FEBRUARY