Comic Review: Judge Dredd - The Complete Case Files 05 / Writer(s): John Wagner & Alan Grant / Art: Brian Bolland, John Cooper, Steve Dillon, Carlos Ezquerra, Ian Gibson, Mike McMahon, Barry Mitchell, Ron Smith & Colin Wilson / Publisher: Rebellion / Release Date: June 19th
From Body Sharks to Dark Judges and from Block Mania to the Apocalypse War, don’t let the title of this book put you off. Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 05 is more than one instalment in a series of reprints, this is the collection that crystallises everything that Judge Dredd represents, told stunningly across a series of stories that include what might be Brian Bolland’s most impressive sequence of comic-book illustration.
Serialised in the pages of 2000 AD since 1977 (making him one year older than Starburst Magazine!), Judge Dredd has became synonymous with British comics, subjecting contemporary issues to unrelentingly savage satire in a dystopian world that amplifies all of our worst societal traits. Enforcing the law in a brutal future where life is cheap, Judge Dredd sets the standard for the Judges in Mega-City One, a police force that combine the powers of judge, jury and executioner over the unfortunate populace. If you’re more accustomed to reading classic American comics then the tone of 2000 AD will surely shock you, because nothing is sacred in the pages of Judge Dredd and the inhabitants of Mega-City One have some of the shortest life-spans you’ve witnessed in any medium of entertainment before or since.
Volume 05 of the Judge Dredd Case Files drops us straight into some of Dredd’s most memorable storylines, including the benchmark-setting Judge Death Lives, which features work of such staggering realism and clarity from Brian Bolland that no accolade could do it justice. He might be better known to American readers as the artist of Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, but British readers will always remember “that panel” with Judge Fear as being one of the greatest moments in comic-book history. Judge Death Lives would be worth the price of admission alone but afterwards the pace picks up when warfare between neighbouring tower blocks escalates to Block Mania, filled with bizarre behaviour, copious bloodshed and Dredd’s unflinching adherence to the law. The real reason to own this book follows in the form of The Apocalypse War, an epic, unflinching tale of nuclear warfare that echoes and amplifies Cold War tensions to catastrophic levels, setting the tone for decades of stories that followed it. Carlos Ezquerra’s artwork for the entire Apocalypse War storyline is superb, bringing exactly the right level of grit and ugliness to the proceedings and planting you right there on the ground with the unfortunate denizens of a city under siege. John Wagner and Alan Grant’s scripts throughout combine just the right levels of satire and sincerity, creating a nightmarish world that exaggerates all of our worst features and some of the most compelling ever published. Forget Smilin’ Stan Lee and Jolly Jack Kirby, their hipster superheroes and human concerns might have been a breath of fresh air when compared to Superman’s optimism but for real action and adventure you should look to the works of John Wagner, Alan Grant, Brian Bolland, Carlos Ezquerra and Mike McMahon. These are truly essential comics, bundled up into a package of massive value that acts as the perfect primer for the upcoming Judge Dredd movie.
Do yourself a favour, forget any misguided notions you have about reading from the start, if you’ve never read Judge Dredd before pick up his collected Case Files 05 and read a selection of some of the greatest comics bearing his name. These are some of the most vital, energetic and heartfelt comics ever created in the UK and they can go toe-to-toe with any mild-mannered superhero that Marvel or DC want to throw at them.