Category Archives: john wagner

Review – Judge Dredd Complete Case Files 02 (Rebellion Books, 2006)

This second volume detailing the chronolgical adventures of 2000ADs star in the ascendant is a real eye opener. The shift in quality from the earlier Dredd adventures is powered by one major change – Dredd goes epic. Twice. Consistency is another factor to the rise in quality inside this volume. Just two writers (John Wagner, Pat Mills) and a handful of great artists (Brian Bolland, Mike McMahon, Ron Smith, Brett Ewins and Brendan McCarthy) produce over 300 pages of work, and there is very little in the way of filler.

The Pat Mills epic ‘The Cursed Earth’ (with more than a nod to Roger Zelazney’s ‘Damnation Alley‘) is first, as Dredd and a motley crew of aliens, punk criminals and Judges try to deliver a vaccine to the ailing Mega City 2, and this journey across the radioactive wasteland between the 2 Mega-Cities provides the breadth and scope for Mills imagination to run riot as devastated communities in the wastelands, mutated flying rats, and gambling-obsessed mafia judges are all encountered by Dredd.

By the time of the finale, when a robotic army (a legacy of the Atomic War attacks what remains of Dredds convoy, the pace is relentless and absolutley gripping. This is a tale of heroes and sacrifice, with artists McMahon and Bolland giving this tale a suitably epic feel to match the text. Apart from the ‘Apocalypse War‘ and ‘The Executioner‘ storylines, I don’t think any other Dredd story has gripped me as much.

John Wagner’s immediate follow-up, another epic entitled ‘The Day the Law Died’ puts a (plainly insane) Deputy Chief Judge, Cal, in charge of Mega City One after the brutal assassination of the ailing Chief Judge, Clarence Goodman.

What follows is a battle for the soul of Mega City One as Dredd, a fugitive framed for a crime he did not commit, leading a rag-tag resistance army against the dangerous, murderous Cal and his fearsome SJS troops (an obvious nod to Hitlers SS).

Like ‘The Cursed Earth’, in this second epic it is the most unlikely who step up to be heroes – for Fergee in ‘The Day The Law Died!’, read Spikes Harvey Rotten in ‘The Cursed Earth’.

‘The Day The Law Died’, while not as diverse and without the same amount of all-out action, is as gripping, though it does suffer slightly from the fact that there were several artists working on this arc (some McMahon, some Bolland, some Ewins / McCarthy, some Bolland / Leach, and finally, the introduction of the mighty Ron Smith to the Dredd art roster). It loses a little consistency, especially in the various depictions of Cal (McMahon giving him by far the most terrifying look of a lunatic, whereas Smith made him look dashing in a Frank Hampson / Dan Dare style. The finale, with Cal ready to put the whole City to sleep forever, while Dredd and his gang of resistance fighters race against time to stop him, is a classic.

So, in summary, this second case file is much better than the first compilation – in fact it’s a huge leap in quality, undoubtedly bolstered by the chronology which saw one epic follow another. The world of Dredd expands with the inclusion of some memorable characters – Tweek, Spikes Harvey Rotten, Judge Giant, Fergee, Judge Griffin – and we (thankfully) see a lot less of some others who were heavily featured in Complete Case Files 1 (Maria, Walter). Dredd himself is a lot less whiny, looks more grizzled, and in both epics actually comes across as a proper action hero. How Dredd is placed in these stories – as the saviour / hero of a whole Metropolis – suits the context. Things would change over the years, as Dredds position in his world would shift, but the stories in this volume of Complete Case Files place Dredd firmly as the man of the moment, unwavering in his faith in Justice and the right of the Judges to dispense it. And it really works well in these stories. In fact, it keeps getting better, as further ‘Case Files’ will prove. If you want an introduction to Dredd, and you are not bothered about being completist, then this is the volume to get – skip the first one, it is a bit of a chore to wade through.

My only gripe is that we don’t get the 2 (subsequently) banned episodes from the ‘The Cursed Earth’, or the bizarre, grovelling apology to the Jolly Green Giant in another prog after threats of legal action. We do, however, get a description of the Burger Wars and Green Giant episodes (but here below is the sort of stuff we don’t get to see, and a Dredd cover of 2000AD that details the ‘Burger War’);

The best ever stories in 2000AD part I – Judge Dredd ‘ The Executioner’ (1982)

The Executioner, 4 episodes, 2000 AD progs 291-294 (11/20/82 to 12/11/82). Story by “T.B. Grover” (Wagner & Grant), art by Carlos Ezquerra (source – http://www.2000ad.org/thrillpower/judgedredd1980s.html

‘Justice is done’

Part 1
The murder of reputed crime kingpin Hebby Swarf.A mysterious hooded figure. A note left by the bosy simply reads ‘Justice is done’. Judge Dredd is on the scene and believes (correctly) that a vigilante is on the loose.

Meanwhile, an attractive woman (rendered with some great art from Carlos Ezquerra, really capturing the beauty of woman with a futuristic look) books a table at the ‘Highlight Rooms’, as the TV news plays out in the background with its depressing list of despair and death. Later on, at the Highlight Rooms, the woman explains that she is waiting for her husband, then slips out, as the hooded ‘Executioner’ to deliver justice to ‘Mr Beauty’, a racketeer, and his henchman.

Again, the calling card is left.

Part 2
With the racketeer, Mr Beauty, and his henchmen dead, ‘The Executioner’ returns, plain clothed, to the Highlight Rooms. She explains to the Maitre D, as she leaves, that her husband will not be joining her for dinner. At the crime scene, Dredd leans (literally) on a witness to the vigilante murders. Despite the Judges being ‘Judge, Jury and Executioner’ in Mega City One, Dredds view of vigilante ism is clear;

‘Murder is murder, no citizen can be allowed to take the law into their own hands’.

The investigation quickly progresses with a photofit of the suspect for the Judges to work on. In another plot development we see that the woman (aka ‘The Executioner’) has 2 children. As they watch the news of the killing of ‘nightclub owner and suspected racketeer’ Jack Beauty, the son tells his mother that Beauty was one of the ‘skunks who’.. but his mother hushes him before we learn ‘what’ exactly.
In the City itself, the mood of the citizens is firmly with the vigilante, if we can believe the vox-pop carried out on the tv news. The mother / Execuioner makes her excuses to leave to tend to their fathers affairs. The son and daughter, visibly upset, wish those that caused their Fathers death, dead.

The mother, listening from behind a door, vows to make it so.

Part 3

A TV poll shows only 1% of the population is against the actions of The Executioner. Following the photo fit breakthrough, Judge Dredd harasses a female judge, De Gaulle, who looks similar to the photo fit and could be the ‘perp’. She denies this accusation, and lie detector tests confirm that she is telling the truth. Dredd is called to a suspected Executioner slaying, but a clumsy ‘justice is dun’ note reveals it to be a copycat killing. The copycat proudly owns up to being the ‘executioner’ (which he isn’t), and for his trouble gets thirty years prison time.

Continuing her bloody retribution, The Executioner goes to ‘Chivo Bros Discount Depository of the Semi Dead’, where she books a suspended animaiton vault place for a Nicholas Tatum. As one of the Chivos Brothers recognises the name, the vigilante steps back and blasts him. Rafael Chivo, the other brother, realising that he is in grave danger, but fails to escape. He is knocked out, and when he regains consciousness he finds himself in a vault. Chivos is seen pleading that he did not kill Tatum, and the hooded figure agrees that he didnt pull the trigger, but he was responsible for the death of her husband. With that, she slams the vault shut, and Chivos is quickly overcome by liquid nitrogen fumes. Another ‘justice is done’ note is left at the scene.

Part 4

The Judges find the bodies of Mo and Rafel Chivo. We learn that they were body sharks – so, like the other victims of the vigilante, they were ‘villains’. When Dredd is informed at the scene that rookie Judge had found the bodies, Dredd realises that the killer must have been a rookie at some point, as he had already checked all Judges as possible suspects.
Quickly, Dredds bike computer confirms it – the Executioner is a Blanche Kominsky, a rookie who was expelled for an illegal liason with a non-judge. She later married, and became Blanche Tatum. Her husband, Nicholas, had recently killed himself after getting into trouble with loan sharks. The financiers of the loan were Swarf, Beauty and the Chivos brothers. Elsewhere, the mother and children have a tearful farewell, with the mother ordering the children to go to their grandmothers. It seems as if the children understand that this may be the last time they see their mother.

Judge Dredd, on the trail of Tatum, runs a check on any other people who may have been involved in the loan deal – and Dutch Sagans name comes up. The story then cuts to Sagan, who, fearful for his life, tries to call a henchman, who is already dead at the hands of the Executioner. She catches Sagan, who tries to escape, just as the Judges arrive in force. Blanche Tatum manages to hold off the judges while she corners Sagan, and as he cowers, she kills him, completing her revenge.

As she emerges from killing her final victim, Dredd tells her that it’s all over, to which Tatum agrees. She is brandishing her gun. Dredd responds quickly, shooting her and Tatum drops to the floor.

We learn that her gun wasn’t loaded. She obviously wanted to die, having got her revenge.

This is one of the great Dredd stories in my opinion. Very much a product of the times, when vigilante fiction was mainstream with the likes of the ‘Death Wish‘ sequel and the ‘Guardian Angels‘ were a very real representation of people power, this tale retains its emotional power today. Not because it is epic in scale, which it isn’t (though Mega City One is still coming to terms with the aftermath of The Apocalypse War). It is because the story is small scale and a very human tragedy. It deals with a family torn apart by death. A woman and a mother gets her revenge, but pays with her life. What happens to the children? Is revenge a valid course of action in a world where there are self-appointed Judges, who dispense instant justice? The story is taught and tinged with sadness, such as in the scene at the Highlight Club where Blanche announces that her husband will not be joining her, or when the children are seen, clearly affected by the death of their father. The final twist, where Tatum is revealed to have no bullets in her gun when she confronts the Judges, is a sombre one. Why did she want to die? To be with her husband? Because she couldn’t bear her children seeing her in prison?

The art, from original Dredd artist Carlos Ezquerra, is wonderful, whether it is capturing the idiotic posturing of the ‘wannabe’ Executioner, the tragic beauty of Blanche, or the final desperate moments of Rafael Chivo and Dutch Sagan.

A dark and sombre tale, and in my view, a classic from 2000AD.