The Best of John Wagner’s Judge Dredd
by John Wagner & Various artists
Review by Luke Williams
2000AD’s 45th anniversary celebrations continue apace, the latest release in this anniversary year is this hardcover collection, grandly and ambitiously titled “The Best of John Wagner’s Judge Dredd”.
Really? Can this relatively slim volume collect the best of Wagner’s Dredd? This is probably misleading by omission. For reasons of space and economics this eschews some great Wagner Dredds. Clearly they were never going to include the epics uch as “Necropolis” and “The Pit” in this volume, or the acclaimed medium length ones such as “Mandroid”, the ones that are long enough to warrant their own collection, and doubtless Squaxx will be writing to Tharg complaining of the omission of their favourite wagner Dredd. Perhaps a series of volumes of the greatest Wagner Dredd would be better, a filleted version of the Mega Collection? ……But I digress.
So, no. This isn’t the ”Best of John Wagner’s Judge Dredd”. What it is, is a collection of some of the best sub 6 episode John Wagner Judge Dredd stories. It has a good range from the three periods of Wagner Dredd, the early boys science fiction adventure strip period of “Father Earth” and “The Battle For The Black Atlantic”, the post Alan Grant break up of “A Letter To Judge Dredd” and “In the Bath” and the latter period where he contributes less frequently, but still makes an impact, as in “Class of 79”.
The volume also demonstrates the versatility of the strip and Wagner as a writer. The affecting “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee” and Death of Legend” will have you wiping the “dust” from your eye, there is bawdy humour in “The Finger”, and a conspiracy / procedural in “The Cal Files”.
As much as this is about Wagner, there is an impressive collection of artists, on top of the ones already listed, there are contributions from Cam Kennedy, Liam Sharp, Jim Baikie, Will Simpson, John Burns, Ian Gibson, Arthur Ranson, Peter Doherty, Ron Smith, Brian Bolland, Duncan Fegredo and an unusual Steve Parkhouse / Jim McCarthy combo and lots from Carlos Ezquerra.
It’s a beautiful looking book and a great showcase for British (and Spanish) comic art talent. It’s just a shame that the reproduction of the some of the black and white work is sorely lacking. Bolland’s fine lines in the early Dredd Strip “Father Earth” are occasionally reduced to magic markers splodges.
There is also the danger of presenting fragments of extended storylines in these collections, particularly with Wagner, master of the long game. Rebellion comes perilously close with the PJ Maybe Sequence, leaving out PJs debut “ Bug” seems an odd misstep and “A Letter to Judge Dredd” was the prologue to the whole “Dead Man” / “Necropolis” but happily they stand up well enough on their own without the added context.
This is a fantastic Dredd primer, a neat and handy representation of the variety and scope of the strip. A great “gateway” volume for newcomers to Dredd a handy compendium of great Dredd’s for veteran readers and more to the point a worthy tribute to a British comic great.