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Pax vobiscum, creep!
on 22 March 2014
Another schizophrenic Dredd collection from an era in which the strip was dragging itself out of the darkness and into a bright new dawn - but in the tradition of the best horror movies, there's an unexpected grab of the ankle by a threat thought dead, before the series makes its final escape. Short review - not a bad collection, but not as good as CF21. Long review? Read on...
The volume kicks off well with `The Candidates' / `Voting Day' - a brief but superb piece of prime Wagner, in which Dredd finally runs for Chief Judge. Art is by Mick Austin and Carlos Ezquerra - the latter seems to have sorted out some of the computer colouring issues that made `The Tenth Planet' and `Wilderlands' so garish, and has opted for a more muted, rather bleached approach. He's not quite there yet, but it's a definite improvement on his man-gone-mad-with-filters period.
After that, though, is a protracted period in which the series fails to shine. First comes Pete Hogan's lengthy but completely inconsequential `The Big Sleet', in which Dredd is relegated to bystander in his own strip by Norse god Odin. And then we're into `The Exterminator', which sees Dredd time-travelling to 2001 to prevent a space-plague from decimating his own era. `The Exterminator' is that rarest of things - a lengthy John Wagner story that doesn't really work, though it works a damn sight better read in one go than it ever did in drawn-out weekly instalments. Apparently it was a rewritten script for a `Terminator' story - a bystander even describes Dredd as looking like Arnie's famed cyborg, which of course, he doesn't. Consensus seems to rate John Burns's art for the first two parts as superior to Emilio Frejo's for the rest - personally, I'd say Frejo's energetic work was the best thing about the story.
A rare misfire from Wagner then - but hot on its heels is the real dreck. Yup, you thought you'd seen the last of the Morrison / Millar Dredd with Case Files 20, but here they are, back for one long, unwelcome encore with `Crusade'. True, `Crusade' is by no means as dire as `Inferno' or `Book of the Dead', but still contains the usual mischaracterisation, cultural stereotypes and disastrous plot holes, along with the faint whiff of school-boy misogyny which dogs most of the duo's work on Dredd. The plot concerns judges from around the world duking it out at the South Pole, with custody of a transmogrified Tek-Judge (who may have spoken to God) as prize. Mick Austin's art is good - his design for Vatican Judge Cesare is suitably vampiric - but the story pays little heed to Dredd-world continuity, almost thumbing its nose at `Shimura' and `Devlin Waugh'.
The 2000AD half of the volume (and it is around half - there's a lot of Meg material in this collection) finishes with a wild upswing in quality with `Escape From Kurt Russell', showcasing some brilliant Paul Marshall art over a solid Wagner script, and then we're into the Meg. There's a few good Wagner character pieces in here (`Crash Diner', `Poor Johnny', `The Strange Case of Bill Clinton' and best of all, `Terror With Mrs. Gunderson') and a couple of extremely forgettable Si Spencer tales - `A Very Creepy Christmas' shouldn't be a Dredd story at all, and will make no sense unless one has read Spencer's `Creep' series. More notable is `Skar', which is a fairly straightforward Wagner monster yarn, but with very distinctive and likely fan-polarising art by Ashley Wood. The highlight for me though is `The Secret Life of Judge Pal', in which we learn of the special leeway given to Mega-City One's most effective Judge - and it's not Joe Dredd!
Overall, this volume probably averages out at about three-and-a-half stars - `Crusade' drags it down, `The Exterminator' doesn't help on the buoyancy front, and whilst the Megazine stuff's mostly good, there's nothing to match `Giant' or `Howler' from CF 20. Worth a buy though, provided your expectations aren't too high, but a slight dip compared to CF 21.