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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars From hinterlands to Wilderlands, 12 Oct 2013
Spring-Heeled Jim (London, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Judge Dredd: v. 21: The Complete Case Files (Paperback)
The early 90s found the weekly Judge Dredd in a peculiar place. Following 1990's "Necropolis", collected in Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 14, writer John Wagner focused his efforts on the nascent Judge Dredd Megazine while a variety of different writers took the reins at 2000AD. The results were mixed (perhaps that's a charitable assessment), and previous volumes in Rebellion's Case Files reprints show the schism in quality between the two publications' Dredd stories.

What a joy it is, then, for us to catch up with this volume, collecting the "Wilderlands" story arc in its entirety. Serving as a conclusion to the "Mechanismo" stories from a few years previous, this story saw John Wagner return to 2000AD and also represented a major change in how Dredd was written.

In other writers' hands, "Wilderlands" could have simply been "Judge Dredd in Space". Although the story does borrow elements from fantasy, the overall feeling is one of claustrophobia, with Dredd and fellow judges marooned on the planet Hestia. In this environment, the story allows other characters to come to the fore (most notably Judge Castillo, whose characterisation throughout the story is what really holds it together). The story leans heavily on themes of paranoia and loyalty, and though considered a minor entry in the Dredd canon alongside the likes of "Necropolis" and "The Apocalypse War", serves as a signpost to how Wagner would further develop the character of Dredd and the world of Mega City One, as the focus widened to encompass a broader ensemble of characters.

The story brought other changes too. Split between the Megazine and 2000AD, the weekly's instalments were largely illustrated by Carlos Ezquerra and it served as his first foray into computer colouring. The art is still incredible but comparing ca. 1994 Photoshop colouring to the lush watercolours earlier in the volume is still as jarring as it was on first publication. The fantastical setting allows Ezquerra's imagination to really shine through as Hestia's flora and fauna become integral to the story. The Megazine contributions were handled by a then fairly unknown Trevor Hairsine. His style is still exquisite, echoing "The Cursed Earth"-era Mike McMahon; the Judges all boots and elbow pads.

The book is also very well produced. The much-needed contents and credits page introduced in the last volume returns, and the "Wilderlands" issues have their own separate contents page. The collection is rounded out by a small cover gallery. I should also note that the collection includes a number of entertaining one-offs and two-parters by Alan McKenzie, Dan Abnett, and Chris Standley.

I only give the collection 4 stars because there are a couple of short post-"Wilderlands" stories that I would have liked to see collected in this edition, dealing with the immediate fall-out of the story's conclusion. However, they will be found in Judge Dredd: v. 22: The Complete Case Files. As it stands, this is an essential purchase for any fan of 2000AD, and although a hard sell for newcomers, represents some of the best writing found in the Dredd strip.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I voted for him myself, 15 Oct 2013
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This review is from: Judge Dredd: v. 21: The Complete Case Files (Paperback)
This is the latest of the Complete Case Files series and for most 2000ad fans the main event will be the complete Wilderlands saga which has been collected from both the galaxy's greatest comic and the Judge Dredd Megazine. Wilderlands is a bit of an oddity as Dredd epics go -its essentially a small scale character piece with an epic backdrop. It brings to a conclusion the Mechanismo saga and the long running plot point of Dredd's growing dissatisfaction with the erratic leadership of Chief Judge McGruder. I must admit I was not a fan of the rather comical version of McGruder which returned from the Long Walk but this story successfully makes her a real danger to Dredd. Carlos Ezquerra starts to use computerised colouring for Dredd stories starting with this collection and seems to be having fun playing with the potential of this technique, particularly on the stunning and surreal prequel 'the Tenth Planet'. The Megazine Wilderlands episodes represent the bulk of Trevor Hairsine's work on the Dredd strip (along with 'the Three Amigos' which we should see in a future Case Files collection). He has a pleasing, loose-limbed style which is reminiscent of Mike McMahon's early Dredd work. Its a real loss to the comic world that Hairsine mostly works on computer games now.
The other stories in this collection are a mixed bag. Highlights include the Ezquerra drawn 'the Time Machine" and Ian Gibson's work on 'Judge Death-the True Story'. 'Casualties of War' is a fun oddity. This story originally filled the entirety of prog 900 of 2000ad and is a crossover with the much-maligned Friday aka Rogue Trooper mk 2. The two characters actually work well together and the story gives the lie to Friday's joke status in the comic's history. Other stories are less successful and, in particular, long running Dredd artists Ron Smith' style, sadly, does not seem to suit full colour stories.
This collection should find a well-deserved home on the book shelf of any Dredd fan
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "What's crazy old McGruder going to do next?", 23 Mar 2014
G. Meldrum (Scotland, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Judge Dredd: v. 21: The Complete Case Files (Paperback)
Hallelujah, we're back on track! Yep, this is the volume where Dredd-creator John Wagner makes his triumphant return as full-time chronicler of Old Stoney Face's adventures. Cue wild applause.

The bulk of this volume is devoted to `Wilderlands' and related stories, in which Dredd's attempts to dethrone Chief Judge McGruder backfire spectacularly. Instead of immediately ending ol' Hilda's reign, Joe's own falsification of anti-Mechanismo evidence is revealed, earning him a trip to the Titan penal colony. But McGruder combines the journey with a diplomatic stop-over at Hestia, the `tenth planet' - a stop-over that leads to sabotage. With the cast marooned in Hestia's hostile Wilderlands, danger lurks at every turn - and not all of it is Hestian...

This particular arc begins with `Conspiracy of Silence', in which Dredd discovers that the Mechanismo programme is still on-going, despite his best attempts to stop it. Art is by Mark Harrison and is a bit of an acquired taste - some of my fellow reviewers seem to love it, and I quite enjoyed it at the time, but looking at it now, I don't feel the story-telling is up to scratch (and the judicial shoulder-pads don't look right, either!) We eventually move on to the Wilderlands prologue, a perfect match for Peter Doherty's characterful art (he does a great McGruder) and then `The Tenth Planet', which introduces hostile Hestia and its native Dune Sharks. Wagner clearly loves these beasties - they make a magnificent return to the strip under the penmanship of Henry Flint a couple of years later, and serve as focus of subsequent epic `The Hunting Party.' Ezquerra also has fun with them, though their introduction coincides with his permanent shift to computer colouring his art. The results are exactly the same as the first time you or I had a go of an art package in the 90s - filters, textures and fills turned up to 11, all competing in a luridly brain-melting melange.

Next stop is `Wilderlands' itself. It isn't the greatest Dredd epic - it falls pretty squarely into the second-tier category along with `Doomsday' and `The Hunting Party' - but it is a good story, and serves as culmination of plot-threads that have been simmering ever since `Mechanismo' began. Furthermore, it works much better read in one go than it ever did split across 2000AD and the Megazine - the idea was that those who read only one of the two titles would still get a complete story, resulting in a fair number of duplicated scenes. The Megazine half, drawn by then up-and-coming art-droid Trevor Hairsine, is told from the perspective of Judge Laverne Castillo, McGruder's adjutant, a character who to me seems a bit of a dry-run for Judge De Marco in `The Pit'. Indeed, `Wilderlands' sees Wagner experimenting with number of the techniques that would come to fruition in that later masterpiece - not least the use of an ensemble cast. The story is also Wagner's second crack at the `dodgy Chief Judge' tale, one that at time of writing he's tried three times. Each has been very different - Judge Cal was a flamboyant lunatic and Judge Sinfield illustrated the banality of evil, whereas McGruder retains a number of admirable qualities and is never an actual baddie, just pig-headed, unbalanced and misguided. Her darkest moment (ordering the execution of an alien native) is accordingly pretty shocking, particularly when you consider she was once amongst the greatest of MC-1's Chief Judges.

As for the non-Wilderlands content, there's some perfectly enjoyable tales by `Sonny Steelgrave', Dan Abnett and Chris Standley, whilst on the Wagner front, we have a mixed bag. `The Time Machine' is great fun (and an interesting study in contrast - first episode traditional Ezquerra colour, second episode computerised), whilst `A Guide to Mega-Speak' sees the final ever appearance of the legendary Ron Smith in the prog. `Casualties of War' is a crossover with Friday-era Rogue Trooper, and originally occupied the whole of prog 900 - the John Higgins art is smashing. Unfortunately, `Judge Death: The True Story' continues the denigration of Dredd's one-time nemesis into a comedy figure - the nadir comes when we discover that the Dark Judges stole their dimension jumps from a reality-hopping race who stopped off on Deadworld to use the toilet.

Overall though, the quality has soared since Case Files 20 - if you've been skipping the Wagner-lite Case Files (16-20), you might want to get back on-board here. (Though as a word of warning, the next one is a bit wobbly...)
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5.0 out of 5 stars A great read, 18 Nov 2013
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This review is from: Judge Dredd: v. 21: The Complete Case Files (Paperback)
Read it for Wilderlands alone, with art by the greatest Dredd artist of all time Carlos Esquerra. It's Dredd at his best
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Judge Dredd: v. 21: The Complete Case Files
Judge Dredd: v. 21: The Complete Case Files by Dan Abnett (Paperback - 10 Oct 2013)
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