2 out of 5
While the overall balance of stories in this collection probably isn’t horrible, thanks to some pretty funny, quality Meg entries, the extra negative hit is to note how poorly the Mark Millar and Grant Morrison material fares in their first big stabs at the character.
Millar’s habit for childish piss-takes was prevalent even here, and while Ennis had already been doing that to a degree, for the most part you could at least sense Garth’s fandom for the character, and for Wagner. With Garth, it was more that his desires were at war with one another – live up to the character’s history; turn him into his own version – until, in my mind, The Apocalypse War killed his spirit, and then he just started phoning in goofy Ennis stuff. With Millar, though, the “Summer Offensive” move in 2000 AD of bringing in bright and punky-tailed writers seemed to encourage Mark (and Grant) to – I guess I can’t blame them, then – go with the vibe of that title, and write Dredd like they don’t give a fuck about him. For Mark, that turns into dumb crims and Joe as a careless mass murderer, every strip featuring multiple maimings (with no warning – this is just the first reaction from Judges in Mark’s Dreddverse) and not-even-approaching-funny puns and one-liners to wrap up that week’s half-hearted kill spree. Grant’s take, in the rather pointless Inferno epic, is maybe even worse, because he can’t even bring himself to differentiate Dredd in any significant way from the most banal of tuff cop types, but then also from any other judge on the streets. Inferno starts out moderately interestingly, with some Titan escapees terrorizing MC-1, but it’s not enough to support an epic 12-parter, and so it lurches along without any sense of consequence or much logic, Grant caring less and less as the thing builds towards an underwhelming “climax.”
In the Meg stuff, a couple of underwhelming stories start us off, which doesn’t help the Millar / Morrison lead-in, but things pick back up with some followups on stray or reoccurring characters: The Branch Moronian return, impossibly idiotic in their backwards terrorist tactics, and it’s a lot of 3 Stooges style (with explosions and blood) silly fun. A story on good kid Al Capone and his father, Thug, who wishes his son was more of a deviant, somewhat botches its punchline, but it’s another funny one overall, followed up by fancy-dressed killer Slim Pickens again going against Dredd (last appearing once in vol. 10, I believe), with Wagner proving he’s the only one thus far who can write Joe with a kind of Elseworlds vibe and get away with it; no other scribe could make Joe getting pissed off at himself for not dressing up to Slim’s standards and make it work within the context of the story.
Closing things out is another Mechanismo-related tale, which hits some familiar beats, but is still very satisfying, again showing the strength of the Dreddverse in how arcs that would likely be ones-and-dones at Marvel and DC stick around and evolve here. The ending is also quite interesting, perhaps showing how the doubting Joe of Necropolis is still kicking around.