Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 16 (SC Rebellion UK edition) – Garth Ennis, Alan Grant, John Wagner

2 out of 5

I’m sure that the experience of reading these Dredd thrills would’ve been smoothed out a bit by having the rest of every week’s prog to compare and contrast with, but as collected together, Case Files 16 brings us the era when Garth Ennis really began stepping out on his own on the title, and… it just feels like we regressed about 15 years. Not that “going back to basics” isn’t a valid approach, and you can tell there’s a Dredd fanboy within Ennis that just wants to make call-outs to all the storylines / characters he loved, but his particular sense of humor – juvenile as ever – and tendency to poke fun at big tuff dudes and sad-sack types is a very surface level read of the type of satire Wagner and Grant used to offer, not to mention a somewhat ignorant reversal of the threads woven through Necropolis and America. There are / were ways to maintain Joe’s new point of view with the strip’s sense of humor – see Wagner’s few entries here, and Grant’s Megazine contributions – and Garth does feed off of that in spots, but on the whole, his desire to make Dredd “his” sets it all aside for gross-out gags and punchlines involving lots of violence. Bundled together in one read, it’s disappointingly limited, and rather boring, as the joke gets repetitive. I don’t mean to glorify old Dredd as the pinnacle of satire – a lot of that was surface level as well – but when Wags and Grant were in full gear, the world building and creativity they stuffed into the strip gelled perfectly with their jokes; here, it feels too mean-spirited too often, and reduces Dredd to a one-note bogeyman. Dialing it back a bit, having quite appreciated much of Garth’s writing over the years, he’s shown these ruts elsewhere, just as he’s shown the ability to write more traditionally, or more varied works. And there’s evidence of that here as well, like actioner Justice One that closes out the prog part of the set – a pretty standard action piece, but one that allows for more character expression, and an appreciation for the larger Dreddverse beyond offhand nods. So again, week by week, I bet this stuff would be more tolerable, but treating it like an ongoing narrative on the back of the heftier stuff of recent past is a bummer.

The Megazine stuff is sort of similarly bland, with Grant’s multi-part alien riff Raptaur almost all filler, and some of the subsequent strips notable for their art (Sam Keith!!) but rather flighty in content as well.

As to the art, there’s plenty of funky stuff in here, as part of this era of experimentation an oft-painted art – John Burns, Glenn Fabry, lots of early Simon Coleby – and while not all of that “works,” necessarily, it’s still fun to see.

The rating is perhaps unfair, suggestive of “bad” material when it’s mostly just average, but this is the first Case Files (for me) that was really somewhat of a drag to get through.