4 out of 5
A really interesting tonal leap forward for the Dreddverse.
Wagner and Grant have settled into their separate writing roles by this point, both fully capable of still doing “classic” one-off gag strips, where the joke is that it surely sucks to be a cit in the MC, but both also moving ahead with their takes on more nuanced material: Wagner focusing on the effects of such rampant (legal) police brutality upon both Dredd and the population; Grant with a more internalized focus of the depersonalization and depressions of this future city. I still admittedly prefer John’s approach, which remains very tied to comic storytelling and the world he’d been creating, whereas Alan’s more poetic, what-am-I-reading/listening-to-today approach sometimes feels like a mismatch – see focusing an entire strip around John Cassavettes. But either way, it’s fascinating “feeling” the prog open up to these darker tones in full.
But it doesn’t always feel like the art is ready, or, to be more balanced, that Wagner’s more complex narrative approaches were the easiest to navigate in 6-7 page scripts. Will Simpson’s painted style hasn’t really found a match in the strip yet, for example; Liam Sharp has staked a claim on the PJ Maybe character, and John definitely love those strips – and they are a lot of fun – but Sharp’s style is this weird mix of being too comical and too severe, though he starts to find a better middleground towards the end. The most notable (and maybe disappointing, unfortunately) example of this is the return of Carlos Ezquerra on a multi-part strip – Young Giant. This is an important enough story milestone for Giant Jr. to have made the cover of the US edition of this collection, but John’s flash-forward / flash-back structure doesn’t set up the young judge enough for his first cadet outing with Joe to really land, and Carlos can’t quite manage divvying up the timelines effectively, or meet the needs of the subtleties of emotion for the strip. This is also where John kinda steps over the line with turning Joe into something of a softie; while he’d been doing an excellent job of slowly massaging Dredd’s doubt into the strip – and I think we actually benefit from the publishing schedule which would require stepping away from this storyline for one-offs here and there, and so it’s not all jammed into our face at once – in the Young Giant serial, Joe just shows way too much concern. I get that the link here is his personal connection to the Giant family, but he really does deliver, like, moral-of-the-week style dialogue; some restraint – and more in sync art – could’ve made this really affecting. That being said, leading out of the Giant serial is where the tonal shifts become jarring, with Dredd nearly affectionate at one point and then calling perps creeps with zero fucks given the next, then a ‘Tale of the Dead Man’ set-up strip going all contemplative again – noting that that latter example is an excellently written story, though, and a great use of Will Simpson’s painted art.
Anyway, on the whole, we are seeing the world of Dredd mature in leaps and bounds across these progs, which also has the effect of paying off world-building with deep cut stories such as Giant’s, and other returning characters / concepts that aren’t just of the most obvious tier.