Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 12 (SC Rebellion US edition) – John Wagner, Alan Grant

3 out of 5

A notable, but uneven collection, still showing the growing pains of the Wagner / Grant split.

Judge Dredd Case Files vol. 12 is the first of the Case Files to be printed primarily in color. The coloring process of the time seemed to encourage a lot of painterly stuff, which definitely looks cool but is also very “heavy,” and not necessarily suited to all artists. While this means we get a growing crop of more detailed stylists – Chris Weston, Glenn Fabry – some more cartoony types don’t work as well in the form, such as Gibson and MacNeil, who will benefit from more formalized coloring later on. But the change is overall beneficial, as it feels like we’re getting further experimentation and confidence with world-building; various people feeling comfortable putting their own stamps on the Dreddverse.

Storywise, things are more fits-and-spurst-y. Wagner returns to the thread of Dredd as an old man, doubting his abilities and Meg policies to an extent. This is surely a fascinating turn, but it’s executed a little roughly – Joe doesn’t sound like himself at some points – and a very pivotal strip in which Joe meets a clone of himself confused the heck out of me; it’s one of the first JD strips where I feel like you have to know your past material to make sense of it, and even then, I had to reread it a few times to say I confidently understood the flow. There are some other great lore expansions and minor tales with further narrative experimentation: the fleshing out of the PJ Maybe character is fantastic, very creepy stuff, showcasing how to write a tale where Joe isn’t the star; and though the Hondo-Cit arc has me wishing we could jump ahead a couple decades to when stereotypical foreign accents aren’t a thing in comics anymore (Why would characters think / speak to one another not in their native tongue? Why narrate in fortune cookie-isms?), seeing Wagner further think through how these other Cits and their judge-ships interact with MC-1 is definitely cool.

Grant interestingly takes up the comedy reigns in his solo appearances here; the juggling between the two authors is well done so we get a good mix of more sober stuff from John (still with occasional humor, of course) and some sillier stuff from Alan.

While the lead-ins to volume 12 were choppy as well, this feels like we’re on the upswing – still feeling out a new era for the strip, but over the hump.