COMIC BOOK REVIEW: JUDGE DREDD: THE MEGA COLLECTION VOL 01 – AMERICA / AUTHOR: JOHN WAGNER, GARTH ENNIS / ARTIST: COLIN MACNEIL / PUBLISHER: REBELLION/HACHETTE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
One of British comics’ most iconic characters, Judge Joseph Dredd has been appearing weekly in 2000AD’s pages since 1977. Now with his own Megazine as well, it’s not easy to catch up on the guy’s story so far. New partwork series The Mega Collection aims to solve this problem by reprinting a classic Dredd story every fortnight.
Volume One features Dredd creator John Wagner’s favourite story, America, plus its three sequels. The story that kicked off the more adult Megazine in 1990, America follows two ordinary citizens of Mega-City One; America Jara is the headstrong, idealistic daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants, Bennett Beeny is the timid but musically gifted neighbour she befriends. Their relationship is a love story, but not of the Richard Curtis kind; they grow further apart as America becomes increasingly irate at the fascist authorities Beeny’s happy to submit to, and by the time they’re brought back together, America is a hardened member of activist group ‘Total War’.
It may seem an odd choice to begin a Dredd collection with a story in which Dredd is the villain; he’s a representation of the oppressive, uncaring establishment that America rallies against. The opening image is Dredd standing triumphantly atop an American flag, only that flag is wrapped around a bloody corpse, and behind him, the terrifying Statue of Justice overwhelms the defaced Statue of Liberty. It gets more brutal from there – the action scenes are not cartoonish, they’re nasty and shockingly believable.
No, the ironically-titled America is not an odd choice, it’s a perfect choice. A subversive exploration of the line between activism and terrorism, of police brutality, and of the need for anger against the system. It’s one of the most political, emotional Dredd stories there is – important reading in a world where we far too often find ourselves questioning the behaviour of those who supposedly protect us.
Where the volume loses marks, however, is in America’s sequels, which carry on the story of some of its characters but lose the political charge and place too much action back in the hands of the Judges. The Fading of the Light sees the horrid brutality of America replaced with a rather silly plot to blow up the Meg’s equivalent of the Oscars, while Cadet and Judgement Call take a relative of Beeny’s into a disappointingly over-optimistic direction.
Also included are three short strips bearing no relation to the America storyline. Blood and Duty features Dredd paying a visit to his niece Vienna, which adds some depth to his character, while Garth Ennis’ Firepower and Snowstorm are rather forgettable one-shots.
While The Mega Collection will put you back £9.99 a fortnight, the first volume is available for only £1.99, which, underwhelming follow-ups aside, is a remarkable price for a classic which is powerful, heart-breaking, and subversive – sci-fi storytelling at its best.
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