Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 23 (2014 SC Rebellion UK edition) – John Wagner, Various

3 out of 5

Now a seasoned reader of 2000 AD, going over the Dredd legacy via the Case Files has shown why the weekly format of the magazine can be beneficial, as opposed to these collected versions: seeing / reading so many different art styles and story tones separated out by seven days makes the differences less disruptive – it makes reading individual stories (when they are one-shots, or shorter thrills) more immersive and rewarding. Which isn’t to say that you can’t have standouts in Case Files that compile such things, but during this era, when I think Wagner was still trying to figure out what the general pitch was going to be – more serious tales, like America? Sillier explorations of MC life? – the entries are often entertaining but not particularly noteworthy, making the constant changes in artist equally interesting, and then you’re left adrift if you liked one or the other, not knowing when they’ll return. So it’s an experience that almost encourages you to shut off a bit. It doesn’t help that the set starts off particularly uninteresting, with one of Garth Ennis’ last hurrahs at the title, a followup on Jonni Kiss, a character who maybe only had importance in Garth’s memory in the first place, and doesn’t present as much of a foe for Dredd, fit into the cowboy mythology Garth kept trying to hang on things after his tributes to / mimicry of Wagner. (Which is overly critical of Garth’s Dredd offerings – he had a very tough job of trying to shape the strip after Wags, and I honestly think he did “right” in kicking it over into a new age, even if it takes quite a while for it to really find its way after that.)

Thereafter, it’s a lot of one shots, with the constants art changeups previously mentioned. These are fun! Just, again, the balance of funny to serious isn’t quite mastered yet, and so it all has a somewhat ephemeral feel.

The Megazine entries are much more successful, perhaps due to the extra pages of some entries allowing room for more story development, and, I suppose, the general feel of the Meg as being somewhat standalone versus the progs. We get more work from Robbie Morrison and Gordon Rennie, their voices on the character / world already well-developed, and if the collection starts off slow with Jonni Kiss, Wagner’s several part “team-up” of Mean Machine, Judge Death, and Dredd – yup – is a great, fun way to go out, very much showing off the sense of history of the Dreddverse while also displaying John’s continual inventiveness, and the ways in which he’s able to explore and push things along while still giving us a good time.