Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 21 (2013 SC Rebellion UK edition) – John Wagner, Various

3 out of 5

While Wagner never quite went away from Dredd, keeping his hand in some Megazine stuff, which eventually became the Mechanismo material that would firstly become the main repeating storyline in the Meg, and then start to cross over to 2000 AD… coincidentally (not at all) when Wags took the reins there again.

But just as the post-Wagner writers – Ennis, Millar – had trouble finding the rhythm of the strip, now that John is back in full, the transition feels a bit bumpy as well, finding that balance between light-hearted Dredd and the more linear, weighty material that Wags had been working on prior to his initial departure. This is compounded by the over-half-of-this-collection The Wilderness epic, which jumps back and forth between the Meg and prog, and even though it’s all scripted by John, the change in formats, the potential change in audience, and the change in artists makes the switching rather incredibly distracting – the pace of Wilderness is hindered every time we make the move from one magazine to another. Ezquerra, working in the Meg, also went very digital and photo reference with his colors / backgrounds, and, frankly, it doesn’t work. The colors are garish – regardless of this being an alien planet on which a Titan-bound Dredd, Macgruder, and others have crashed, it just is not appealing to look at – and the overly digital vibe mixed with Carlos’ character work is incredibly discordant, to the point where it’s sometimes hard to tell what’s happening panel to panel. Early Trevor Hairsine art pops on the prog, and these are much better, and are interestingly very Gibson inspired; not a look I would’ve guessed at for Hairsine.

Wilderness itself also wanders, starting with an odd prologue that really just feels like an excuse to get to Wilderness – CJ is transporting Dredd, and wants to stop on “Hestia,” a recently (re-)discovered and mostly inhospitable planet that the kooky Chief thinks could benefit from his Mechanismo’s, the dismantling of which – and lying about doing so – being the reason for Joe’s impending incarceration. The time we spend on Hestia prior to the main storyline feels like so much padding; and when we finally get to the epic itself, there are the aforementioned art / pacing woes which make it hard to judge the effectiveness of the tale. There are definitely good bits – John’s character work is still aces; his scenarios are inventive; and you can just tell this is important, as another big Judge change occurs as a result – but I wish the Mechanismo buildup had been concluded (in this iteration) in a more fittingly impressive conclusion.

Prior to this, some very average work from Alan McKenzie, Chris Standley, Dan Abnett, and Wags himself. McKenzie’s oner is typical, inoffensive Dredd tuff guy stuff; Wags’ The Time Machine is a goofy bit of – you guess it – time travel hijinx, but his conspiracy of silence followup is key groundwork for The Wilderness, and features the consistently excellent art of Pete Doherty. Some other Wagner oners – one very unfunny (A Guide to Mega-Speak), one very fun (Judge Death: The True Story), and then the draaaging extra-length Casualties of War Rogue Trooper crossover. Chris Standley’s two additions are on part with McKenzie’s, and our next sampling of early Abnett: still kind of writing above his capabilities at this point, though it’s more interesting, and with mixed-bag art from Ron Smith, as the art is great, I’m just not sure it was a great match.