Story: The Cursed Earth
Appears: 2000AD Prog 61-85
Writers: Pat Mills, John Wagner, Jack Adrian
Art: Mike McMahon, Brian Bolland, Dave Gibbons
Dated: 22 April 1978 to 7 October 1978
This is the longest Dredd story to date and one of the longest in Dredd’s history. Dredd must cross the whole of America, which has been turned into a radioactive wasteland called the Cursed Earth, to deliver lifesaving vaccine to Mega City Two. He can’t fly because the city’s spaceports are in the hands of infected cannibals. A flimsy premise that clearly stops him flying and landing outside the city. Or maybe hovering for a bit.
Actually a collection of standalone stories set in the Cursed Earth where Dredd and his companions do good for those they meet on their travels, much like the TV shows Highway to Heaven or the Littlest Hobo. Some of these are quite thought-provoking and really touching. Dredd enters in his mission log about how “the human race makes me sick.”
The story does a lot to expand the Dredd world. We learn more about the Megacities, the desolation of America, what caused the Atomic Wars, and how the Judges came to power. We see more of Dredd’s compassion and mercy and at the same time witness his dedication to the law.
One of the interesting points about this massive epic is that four issues are missing from the reprints. They have not been lost like Dr Who episodes but because they feature fast food brands copyright law prohibits them from being reprinted. Although presumably they were fine with being printed in the first place. This is a shame as having read them they present valuable social satire against the rise of the fast food culture that has its roots in the 1970’s and pervades our entire world today. The story doesn’t suffer their absence but they would be nice to see. You can find them online.
The portmanteau style means sometimes we are following Dredd, sometimes we are listening to stories told by other characters and sometimes we are embedded in the consciousness of a dinosaur. This is a rambling and eclectic tale but with enough room to tackle, serious, emotional, light-hearted, action and adventure themes.
Such a long story means a lot of switching between artists, notably Bolland and McMahon. These two styles are remarkably different but they are such regular contributors to Dredd that you don’t mind. The fragmented nature of the storyline also means when you change chapter you change artist making the transition much more acceptable.
It is rough around the edges but solid gold at its core.