Judge Dredd Megazine (#424 – 431) – Various

4 out of 5

Two powerhouse strips drive these months’ Megs: Kenneth Niemand and Dave Taylor’s Megatropolis, and Michael Carroll and John Higgins’ Dreadnoughts. Backing that up we have consistent, solid Dredd entries, then varying levels of visual gusto and entertainment from The Returners and Deliverance.

To the latter, Si Spencer’s Returners never quite landed with me, its odd-couple magic-adjacent storylines a bit too abruptly executed for my tastes – jumping from big moment to big moment without a sense of consequence or payoff; assuming character endearment before we’ve had time to really get to know anyone – but artist Nicolo Assirelli really became an asset with this entry, rendering page-filling, emotive works that were fun to look at.

And Deliverance – a Dark Judges’ story – is indicative of writer David Hines’ style to me, which is often bursting with cool concepts but then dialogued rather clunkily. That holds true here: the weirdnesses and creepinesses of the tale’s cult dedicated to Judge Death, and the mutants trying to team up with a deranged Judge Whisper and Rosco to fight him, are a lot of fun, juxtaposed to the gruesome spectacle of the strip, but those sensations never truly cross some immersive line. I also remain a tough sell on Nick Percival’s painted art, which really has to stretch to some weird concepts here that I think would work better with a style capable of more motion.

Preceding the two strips I called out, we have Dredd: first starting with a several part Total War followup by Wagner, which is a little stiff – like it’s written to fill a publishing slot – but certainly on par with the writer’s reliable quality, and with great Dan Cornwell art, and then weeks of sometimes quirky, sometimes somber, and always fascinating and inventive one-shots from Rory McConville and Kenneth Niemand.

So: Megatropolis, which is, to put it simply, a noir take on the Dreddverse. Learning the ins and outs of how the world has been retranslated by Niemand – and then given a cold, Blade Runner-esque take by Taylor – is certainly part of the strip’s fun, which I think is still wholly accessible to newbie Dredd fans as an incredibly solid mystery/murder tale, with perfect noir counterparts to the usual Mega-City business, and dashes of sci-fi nuance throughout. But then this effect is increased moreso by all the extra winks, which definitely work for mid-tier fans like m’self (i.e. I’ve only been reading for a decade or so), but also seem to expand beyond that, with references for hardcore initiates as well. I think what I liked most about this, though, was that Niemand and Taylor, winks aside, did not remain beholden to already-told stories. This is truly a ground-up take on the Dreddverse, and it will be exciting to see how it develops, as I’m sure there will be more entries.

And Dreadnoughts: this goes in to the pre-Year One “Judges” work Carroll has been doing in text, and I’m just so floored by it. It’s a simple idea – showing the fomenting Judge concepts, and the fine line between one-man Judge and Jury and violence seekers, and the public’s resistance to the whole project – but the author’s balance in creating the atmosphere from which Mega City’s future is believable, and also injecting humanity into that formula, is awe-inspiring stuff. This also has to be one of the best realizations of John Higgins’ gritty, realist art. I’ve read him as paired with “serious” writers who tend to encourage his style down some unnecessarily extreme lines, but he’s fully in sync with what Carroll is doing here. I hope this gets collected.

Special shoutout to the Lawless musical in issue 424. I kinda sorta hate musical comics, but I also kinda sorta actually massively respect the craft and effort for when they’re legit, and this one totally was.