Prog 236 to 244 – Block Mania

CF05Story: Block Mania
Appears: 2000AD Prog 236-244
Issues: 9
Writers: John Wagner and Alan Grant
Art: Mike McMahon, Ron Smith, Steve Dillon, Brian Bolland, John Cooper.
Dated: 31 October 1981 to 26 December 1981

It has been a while since the Big Meg faced a citywide threat. Here is a real treat.

This is an excellent story. It builds slowly and methodically ramping up the stakes and delivering twists and shocks with rapid and deliberate precision. The antagonist and the motivation is hidden right up until the final page when it launches an even more epic tale.

Prog 193 to 196 – The Fink

CF04Story: The Fink
Appears: 2000AD Prog 193-196
Issues: 4
Writers: John Wagner and Alan Grant
Art: Mike McMahon
Dated: 3 January 1981 to 24 January 1981

The Angel gang were too good to die and it is nice to have another helping. The previously unknown extra son doesn’t feel contrived and the flashback to his childhood allows us to see all the Angels in action as well as learn Mean Angel’s origins.

Likewise it is good to see previous judges in addition to Giant once in a while. Shame Hershey still doesn’t get much to do. We see Resyk for the first time and it is a great sci-fi concept and cool backdrop for a fight scene.

The art is strong with Fink Angel having a distinctive and dramatic look. Some of the strip’s pages were in colour and unfortunately don’t come out very well when reprinted in black and white. We are very far from the early days of Dredd and its crazy layouts. Straight edges are king and the only regular bleeds are the sound effects and speech bubbles. There is one incredible panel where the smoke from a chimney below rises to the frame above and cracks Fink’s face in two just as he is remembering his childhood. Genius!

There are lots of neat little touches in art, ideas, and dialogue. Including the killer line “”Pa! Fink’s gone! He’s taken his hole with him!”

Prog 184 to 185 – Monkey Business at the Charles Darwin Block

CF04Story: Monkey Business at the Charles Darwin Block
Appears: 2000AD Prog 184 to 185
Issues: 2
Writers: John Wagner and Alan Grant
Art: Mike McMahon
Dated: 1 November 1980 to 8 November 1980

At first glance this is little more than an excuse for the funny title and a picture of three judges in the three wise monkeys pose. But it is not a bad little adventure and certainly well structured. A pleasing touch is the occupations of the citizens in the block that raise a smile, and which all have the prefix “unemployed.”

Prog 156 to 181 – The Judge Child

CF04Story: The Judge Child
Appears: 2000AD Prog 156-181
Issues: 26
Writers: John Wagner & Alan Grant
Art: Brian Bolland, Ron Smith, Mike McMahon
Dated: 15 March 1980 to 11 October 1980

Welcome to another epic Judge Dredd story lasting six months of weekly issues. Having introduced Psi Division they can now play about with prophesy. A vision of doom now clouds the city and the only saviour is a kid with a funny birthmark. Typical stuff.

This is basically the Cursed Earth Saga all over again but in space. Dredd stops off at random planets, which all have some wacky theme, and plays hero. You could cut most of these side-tracks out as padding or “Future Shocks” that didn’t make it and you wouldn’t notice. It’s almost as if Wagner went on holiday and the people in the office filled in.

But having said that it is a good story. We meet the Angel gang for the first time and see how villains should be done. We see the recreation of Ancient Egypt in the Cursed Earth. We also meet Judge Hershey for the first time but she is allowed precious little to do.

The planet-of-the-week isn’t all bad. There is a story of a primitive alien race that is told entirely through rhyme and is possibly a reworking of the song “Ernie” as devised by Benny Hill. The jigsaw disease is a real sci-fi masterstroke and brought to life spectacularly by Bolland.

We also meet the Judge Child and like Dredd we are unsure of his motives. This saviour Dredd has risked everything for disappoints him, and he must make a decision for the good of his city. A decision that will bring him into conflict with his superiors. This is real character making stuff.

There is humour here. Dredd’s personal logs and his disdain for facial hair are very well done. There is also darkness with the Angel gang indulging in murder and worse still torture. This is quite a shocking theme particularly for a younger reader and I know it left a profound mark on me.

It is a good story, and minus the padding, is a thrilling ride, with strong characters and a superb ending.

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.

Prog 61 to 85 – The Cursed Earth

CF02Story: The Cursed Earth
Appears: 2000AD Prog 61-85
Issues: 25
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.