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’);