3 out of 5
Some great artists show up in this collection, with Ian Gibson making more frequent appearances, and the debut (I believe) of Cam Kennedy, initially doing a Gibson-riff, but then immediately coming into his own, but the progs themselves feel like a crossroads of tones, with Wagner and Grant maybe disagreeing on how serious or silly to take things. As such, our mini-epics – the reappearance of Mean Machine; travelling to the damn future to fight vampires! – feel only half-committed, and some interesting story elements are wholly abandoned.
Things start out strong, with ‘Dredd Angel’ pitching the odd couple of a confused Machine seeing Dredd as Pa Angel, and the latter using that to get a guide through the Cursed Earth to rescue some important Judge stuff, but for all the buildup around Mean being unstoppable, the strip seems to wrap up rather quickly. After that, there’s an intriguing bit about Joe starting to question the severity of the Law – something we certainly haven’t seen at this point – but then it gets sidelined for our introduction to the undercover Wally Squad, and not only do we not return to this plotline, but the Wally Squad strip itself (beside including some great Brett Ewins art) feels like one of those ideas that’s intended to be bigger than it’s actually presented. Like, undercover cops should be a cool angle to explore in the Dreddverse, but similar to the first appearance of Judge Death, it’s treated like a one-off.
Croc has got to be one of the laziest strips yet – giant alligators in the sewer? That ol’ yarn? – but I might be like the only fan of artist Kim Raymond, whose chunky, heavy-lined style I quite enjoy. Thereafter is the strange ‘City of the Damned,’ which is bonkers time travel stuff with a pretty great twist, but its rotating cast of artists is already suspect, and the choice to not number the parts of any of the multi-parts stories is also odd. It makes the length of the strip interminable; the writers themselves apparently got tired of it and wrapped it up sooner than expected. The ending doesn’t necessarily reek of that, but it’s definitely not a very tight story overall.
Lots of shorter tales thereafter, and generally pretty solid, if unremarkable – Ian Kennedy’s drawn strip is a highlight, returning to the bleak, dark humor that Wags / Grant had more recently been nailing.
This collection has the unfortunate frequency of a lot of opening splash pages with word bubbles right in the dang middle of the spine, so there’s zero visibility there. And it might just be my copy, but the reprintings of a couple of the strips were really murky, to the point that some of the font is essentially unreadable.
So lower tier stuff, but still maintaining a baseline of entertainment, if nothing that amounts to a lasting Dreddverse impact.