4 out of 5
Having joined the Dredd comic brigade somewhere post the 2012, while weekly 2000 AD / Megazine publications mean a fair amount of exposure to ol’ Stoney Face, I’m still woefully lacking in knowledge of classic Dredd storylines. And thus I’m digging through the Case Files. That being said, I feel like I have my feet fairly muddied in Mega-City 1 by now to explain the gist of the book to people, and knowing how both large and small that topic is (the concept of a police state and an unbudging judge is simple; the slow but notable evolutions the strip has gone through since the 70s are not), I’d still be hard-pressed to say where to start. Currently I’d offer that the best method may be what I did, and to just jump in where we are currently until you feel compelled to read the history. I know, now, that I wouldn’t say to start with Case Files 01.
Leading up to what I believe is the first major Dredd storyline, Cursed Earth, this collection of JD material from progs 2 (his first appearance) through 60 – covering, since the uniqueness of the Dredd storyline is to proceed in real-ish time, the years 2099 and 2100 – show creator Wagner and a few other writers slowly finding the beats for the book, ping-ponging between gag strips and heavy pulp “I am the law!” kinda bleating and the world-building that would start to creep in thereafter. And part of the longevity of the title is its ability to still encompass all of these styles to a certain extent, though different parts of the world have stabilized a little more (the Judge structure, the tech available), so it’s all comprehensively one story instead of bits and pieces that mostly summarize a whole.
Your main artists here are Ian Gibson and Mike McMahon – the former reliably fluid, the latter forever changing but a bit more exciting than Gibson, and apparently responsible for some key elements of the Dredd design – and Brian Bolland for a few strips (including the appreciably included Walter the Wobot backups). Co-creator Ezquerra is definitely here, but before the strip started its “credit card” with the creators names, so I’m not pro enough to say when he appears and doesn’t (since Gibson and McMahon certainly follow his lead at points). Even at this raw stage the look of the book is impressive. I think when people look at 40s – 80s American comics (approximately golden to silver age, is what I’m saying), it’s hard for them to appreciate the artistry if they haven’t been given some context, but the detailed world of Dredd is already there from the first prog on.
While there aren’t any really grabbing tales, historically the collection is important (besides it being the start of things in general…) for introducing the Lawgiver and its different ammo, Dredd’s bike, riot foam, mutants, and just laying down the groundwork. It’s interesting watching the character get slightly more dimensional than just a stone cold policeman, as well as the city evolve from a future New York into part of a remapped world. Longer storylines that do appear include a robot rebellion (a frequent theme at this point), a killer car, and a 6-month journey to the moon to be the marshal of Lunar City 1. Again, this is notable for its realtime occurrence – we don’t get to go back to MC1 for about 6 months of progs.
So the content is stirring, but moreso if you’re already a fan of the style. The cheap printing stock is balanced out by a durable cover and just how much content you’re getting for 20 bucks, despite it all being b&w (these are like Marvel’s older Omnibuses), though I’m always miffed by when words and art goes to deep into the binding to read. It’s a splash page, and you can’t make this book affordable with a woven binding (so it can sit flat), but… I dunno. There’s not a great solution, I get that, but I’d maybe print the page sideways? I also wish there had been some notations to make it clear as to who worked on the uncredited strips.
But those are obviously for minor niggles, and they might not bother you. End of the day: if you’re a Dredd fan and you don’t own / haven’t read these early stories, the book is essential, and looks mighty cool next to its mates on your shelf.