3 out of 5
A somewhat underwhelming and tonally uneven followup to the Necropolis arc, volume 15 feels split between some interesting conceptual plot-threads post that epic from Wagner, and Garth Ennis’ – the first post- Wags / Grant Dredd writer – somewhat more mean-spirited and humorous take on the world. Toss in the first few entries from the Judge Dredd Megazine, which feature some fantastic art but are very much typical tales, not so much on the world-building or philosophizing tip, and we have a pretty average collection.
Wagner’s Necropolis codas kick things off, and are the best part of the book. It shows Joe finding his way back into the temperament of the judge system, as well as following up directly with Yassa, and returning once more to P.J. Maybe, who, no surprise, loved Necropolis. Ennis comes in after this for a couple of arcs – Death Aid and Emerald Isle. While the latter is notable for introducing the Irish judges, Dredd feels mostly back to business-as-usual, disrupting some of the more cautious re-integration Wagner was doing in the weeks prior (and that he would explore mid Death Aid in some “interludes”, though the Case Files rearrange the order so that Death Aid is all together and the interludes appear afterwards). To be clear, Garth’s work here is totally fine, it’s just a return to the status quo for the most part, albeit with Ennis’ particular sense of humor – heavy on violence and punishing to its characters, though sans the gross-out liberties imprints like Vertigo would later allow.
The Megazine stuff, as mentioned, is sort of a similar ilk, but it looks really good – Jim Baikie, Dean Ormstom, John Hickleton. The latter two go really stylizied, Hicklenton covering up a fairly clunky story from Wagner that keeps up his obsession with spider-mutants, though it’s also possible that that over-stylization hinders the flow somewhat.
On the flipside, all of these strips have a sort of gritty look to them that might be preceding 2000 AD’s “dark” period, which I believe is forthcoming in the Case Files, but at this point, it’s mostly accompanying pretty fun, lightweight stories.