Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 17 (SC Rebellion UK edition) – Garth Ennis, John Wagner

3 out of 5

It seems that Garth Ennis’ first Dredd epic, Judgment Day, generally gets ragged on – including by Ennis himself – as a bit of a copy of both The Apocalypse War and Necropolis. I can see the comparisons – an undead foe; the mass destruction via nukes – but I’d also say those are very general, with the latter bit being pretty common in most of the Dredd epics from Apocalypse War onwards. I ended up enjoying this a whole lot more than most of Garth’s preceding Dredd run, actually, because it no longer felt like that writer was trying so hard to mix in his brash style with Dredd fanboy references – he just kinda settled in to writing the strip in a more standard, weekly format. This goes for the minor tales directly before and after Judgment Day, and then for the epic itself. Sure, this means we’re not even trying to pretend like the Democracy / America stuff happened at this point, but it’s also not a complete reversion: here, Dredd just reads like Dredd, and that’s fine by me.

And Judgment Day – right until it’s fart of an ending – is a lot of fun! “Zombies overrun MC-1” may not be the most creative pitch, but it’s new for the Dreddverse, and Garth plays it up with some silly lore regarding a ley lines-tapping being named Sabbatt that gives the event further classic JD vibes. This is paired with a brash clearing of the decks – lot of named judges die – and an ante-up that maybe isn’t as intriguing as Necropolis’, but feels more accessible, since it’s a very linear idea (zombies wake up, take over) and not requiring back-and-forths with Psis and Juddas.

Throwing Johnny Alpha into the mix is, admittedly, just because Garth thinks he’s badass, but it works.

The silliness does start to overtake things towards the end (a little past the point when Dredd suits up in a mecha-suit), and some half-assed Sabbatt origins and a too-easy conclusion are suggestive of what we saw way back in The Cursed Earth – the writer got tired of what he was doing, started messing around, and then just decided to end it ASAP. The solution to besting this undead enemy makes approximately no sense, and then, insult to injury, there’s almost no fallout in next week’s prog. So not the most graceful conclusion. But the bulk of this story – and thus the bulk of this collection – is pretty fun.

Art-wise, it also mostly works, jumping between Peter Doherty and Ezquerra in the progs, and (I think?) Dean Ormston and Chris Halls in the Meg, the strip cross-cutting between the two megazines every couple weeks, which was probably hell to read at the time. Doherty’s good at the start, when it’s a bit darker, but not so great at the more ridiculous stuff later on. Ormston and Halls, similarly, handle the menace and goop of zombies well, but the humorous beats as it goes on aren’t great fits for their chunky, painted style.

It’s surely telling of my tastes that what I’d consider the best thrill in here is the lone Meg strip scripted by Wagner; John just inherently has a better grasp on balancing the humor with enough sense of a personality for Joe to make the strip seem like it belongs in a post-Dead Man world, while also being totally ridiculous. Garth might have resolved to writing Joe in a more typical “cool” hero format here, but it’s a casual style he handles well, and it gives him enough room to execute some quality action tales, while also lampooning some of his favorite topics, but minus the scatology and forced bad-boy natured stuff that was present in many of his prior Dredd works.