Progs 545 to 570 – Oz

Story: Oz
Appears: 2000AD Progs 545-570
Issues: 26
Writers: John Wagner and Alan Grant
Art: Cliff Robinson, Jim Baikie, Gary Leach, Brendan McCarthy, Will Simpson, Steve Dillon, Barry Kitson, John Higgins
Dated: 24 October 1987 to 16 April 1988

There is no doubt that Wagner and Grant do their best work in the longer format and this is a real beauty. It has been a while since we have seen an epic length tale. Not since we last saw Chopper in the Midnight Surfer in fact.

Marlon Shakespeare makes a superb protagonist because he is the closest thing to normal the mega-city has. He isn’t a criminal but is criminalised by the system he lives within. He makes a superb point of view character for the reader and it is so easy to empathise with his struggle. There is no time-travel, alien, supernatural gimmick in his stories and as such we can easily transpose his struggles to our own.

Just like the Midnight Surfer we have a slow build up with plenty of room to let the story breathe and grow. The narration is superbly poetic and there are plenty of human touchstones along the way from his childhood friend to fans on the street.

It is not all rosy however. There are number of racial stereotypes ranging from the lazy to the offensive. At one point there is even a note from the editor to explain that these views do not represent 2000AD. The injection of the second storyline, the Judda, seems unplanned and uncoordinated, possibly as a filler for some delayed script or art, even though it is quite a significant addition to the Dredd canon.

The ending itself is just breath-taking. The actual race is sustained over six nail-biting issues with a spot-on commentary that reads like the greatest Derby ever seen. Best of all Chopper doesn’t have the trite hero’s victory you would expect from a kid’s comic. And the last few pages where he faces death are absolutely electric.

This is probably the most sophisticated and greatest Dredd story to date.

Prog 89 to 108 – The Day the Law Died!

CF02Story: The Day the Law Died!
Appears: 2000AD Prog 89-108
Issues: 20
Writers: John Wagner
Art: Mike McMahon, Brett Ewins, Brendan McCarthy, Brian Bolland, Gary Leach, Ron Smith
Dated: 4 November 1978 to 14 April 1979

This is another of those classic epics that make Judge Dredd such a joy to read. Following straight after the mighty Cursed Earth saga this tale put Mega City One well and truly through the wringer.

The three issues preceding this, in which Dredd is framed for murder but catches a robot duplicate of himself, are part of this story but are given separate titles. Maybe no one knew how big this story was going to get.

A new chief judge takes over who happens to be a raving lunatic styled in the vein of the Roman Emperor Caligula. He is the perfect villain. Wielding authority over the whole of the city he has infinite resources at his disposal, including the Judges. If Dredd has a weakness it would be the law and turning the law against him is an emotionally brutal weapon. Forcing Dredd to rebel against the city he loves and kill his fellow judges is the ultimate test of his character.

Because Chief Judge Cal is raving mad he is totally unpredictable. You can’t anticipate his methods, his goals or his strategy as it changes from moment to moment. He can’t be reasoned with as he has no reason. This also adds a wonderful surrealism to the whole storyline as a goldfish is made deputy chief judge, judges are forced to perform their duties in their pants and Cal makes many of his proclamations from the bathtub. There is a beautiful Monty Python vibe about the whole thing.

It makes great use of existing characters such as Judge Giant and the one-eyed principal of the Academy of Law who is finally named as Judge Griffin. We are also introduced to another of Megacity’s classic personalities, Fergee.

The tone of the piece is perfect and Dredd is constantly on the back foot waging a desperate resistance fight against overwhelming odds. But even in the midst of a life or death struggle he still makes time to stop and arrest petty criminals showing that Dredd truly is the law.

There are six different artists working on the 111 page spectacular. Whilst the transition could be jarring you are so engrossed in the story and so familiar with many of the names and styles that it does not trouble you. We do see the first appearance of Brett Ewins who has an ultra-clean style similar to Bolland’s which contrasts with the traditional rugged look of previous Dredd artists. There are a lot of powerful expressions, particularly from the contorted scowl of Cal as his madness twists him.

One of the best villains and best storylines ever seen.