Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 22 (2014 SC Rebellion UK edition) – John Wagner, Various

3 out of 5

Aaand we’re back. Judge Dredd now feels like Judge Dredd again. Even when Grant Morrisson and Mark Millar step in for their (I believe) last long run – Crusade – it feels like a guest spot, instead of “The Summer Offensive” attempts at changing the whole approach to the character and comic. And over in the Megazine, Si Spurrier starts to emerge as someone to watch, again working within the Wagner confines, but showing how this strip will evolve in the future – respecting the voice of JD and the world John (and Alan Grant) created, but populating that world with traits and a tone particular to the writer. For Si, that wraps the tales around a more fantasy-esque, sci-fi / horror vibe which is pretty cool; a writer to be excited about rather than just wade through while we get back to Wagner.

Regarding Wagner: we’re back, yes, but the material is made more uneven by the art in some spots, with a Paul Marshall illustrated two-parter (Escape from Kurt Russell) whiffing almost all of its action and comedy beats due to Paul trying way too hard to go for funky angles and layouts, and Ashley Wood a complete mismatch for the three part Skar in the Meg – Wood’s painted, McKean-esque style practically unreadable. To be fair, I’ve never been a fan of Ashley’s style, but I’ve seen it mapped to writing more effectively; no such pairing here, and I mostly ended up skimming the pages and making assumptions instead of trying to figure out what was actually being depicted.

Aside from those blips, and the good-idea-but-oh-so-dumb Crusade – Vatican judges are a cool concept, but Millar and Morrisson waste it on obvious religion jabs, then completely illogically effect their potentially cool story about multiple countries’ judges descending on the location of some potentially volatile info with over-violence and one-liners and an out-of-place talking cart; but great Mick Austin art! – Wags returns to serial storytelling with a chief judge election in the excellent Candidates / Voting Day, and a fun, noirish time travel yarn in The Exterminator, primarily (fantastically) illustrated by Emilio Frejo.

The Meg stuff is fascinating: some classic irony (Crash Diner); total weirdness (The Strange Case of Bill Clinton); and John playing around with his lore (Addiction; The Secret Life of Judge Pal; Terror With Mrs. Gunderson). While most of this is fairly average, it is so, so nice to be back to the “average” of Wagner, which almost always hits at least a baseline of being entertaining, and in no ways a slog. Even the art woes I’ve mentioned above have their place, as it feels like the magazine’s editors at the time – John Tomlinson (2000 AD), David Bishop (the Meg) – we’re trying to find new ways to stretch what the publications were capable of, and the experimental art styles were part of that. Sometimes you get a Skar, but overall, I’m for it.