3 out of 5
By this point, I do think Ennis had mostly given up trying to make his mark on Dredd, and instead mostly just acts true to what would become his form: mean-spirited humor, often very bloody, and / or of the toilet variety; easy target commentary – big corporations are bad!; poking fun at manly men and hero stereotypes. That’s a very snippy summary of a writer’s (still evolving) career, especially considering I do think Garth has had some very serious, very masterful work in there, and also that some of his “true to form” stuff has been massively entertaining, but there’s also a kind of paint-by-numbers Ennis, and that’s the majority of the strips featured here.
Although I feel like I’m in the minority in having enjoyed Judgment Day, this kind of abandoning of any sense of Garth trying to craft a legacy within the Dreddverse was admittedly present towards the tail end of that epic, when the writer just shrugged his shoulders and started getting loopy. This is the overriding tone at play in most of volume 18: typical dunderheaded villains; lame gross-out gags with future Unfunnies co-conspirator; and a wasted appearance by P.J. Maybe – probably the wrong character for Garth to take up, as his go at him turns things toward these generic applications of violence, instead of the darkly funny character study of a serial killer that Wagner has previously given us.
Raider is the sole remaining solid tale of this batch, focusing on the vigilante pursuits of a former judge; perhaps there’s something to this story’s quality and that it doesn’t focus on Joe. Because when Ennis does put Dredd forefront, he keeps falling back on the shoot-first, last-panel-quip formula, across several one-shots. These things are funny enough, just pretty predictable, and tiring when a lot of them are in a row.
Thankfully, the Meg entries have linearity: the start of the robot judges in Mechanismo, by Wagner, Colin MacNeil, and (I think) Pete Doherty. While the concept of robots-gone-rogue isn’t new – not even within the Dreddverse – it’s the way which Wags makes it make sense within the world’s timeline, and then sticks to it that makes it worthwhile. Yeah, the “joke” that a killer robot would be put back into production as soon as it’s fixed isn’t wholly original satire, but John keeps harping on it; we still have Mechanismo today. This has been the great benefit of the tone of the world he helped craft: the way its concepts have a lasting impact. (Also why it’s disappointing when Ennis isn’t able to sustain the vibe, even though his clear fanboyism gives him a mess of legacy references to populate his strips with.)
There are a couple other one-shot Megs, that are generally more solid than the progs: a Christmas Carol riff that’s quality; and one grisly bit that probably sticks out more for John Hinckleton’s art, but the writing syncs with the style really well.
The set also features Mark Millar’s first Dreddverse entry, also Christmas themed, and a fun showing for a debut.