Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files vol. 11 (SC Rebellion US edition) – John Wagner, Alan Grant

5 out of 5

I realize that Oz – the 26-part epic that consumes the last half of this volume – may be uneven, and that the scattered bits preceding it are a mix of silly and maybe short-sighted, but I also found the exact blend of everything in this run to be wholly representative about what I love seeing in 2000 A.D. Oz would also prove to be the straw that broke the Wagner / Grant writing bond, and perhaps that fraying thread is what pushed the series to some fun and fascinating extremes here. Deadline dooms also encouraged a roundabout of some great artists; I might pick at a long-form tale for switching things artistically up as often as Oz does, but I actually also think it works in its benefit here, using specific looks for specific ends.

Leading into Oz, we have some weird but entertainingly isolated stuff with mutated rats and superheroes, but then we start to dip into tales which, to me, have a bit more resonance, either in terms of world-building or concept. There’s The Raggedy Man, which goes into the effects of The Long Walk on judges, kinda sorta, and the very heavy – and scary! – Revolution, which picks up on an earlier thread regarding fomenting citizen discontent, and shows how far the Judges are okay with bending the law to maintain their police state. This is Wags and Grant throwing down the gauntlet a bit: to hopefully make sure no one is mistaking Dredd for a hero. Much less heavy is (I think?) the first appearance of a Simp, and that’s pretty funny, and then a random one-off with rough but notable Liam Sharp art that introduces kid killer P.J. Maybe… Before shifting to Oz, there’s the 5-part Alabammy Blimps, which is totally filler, but of the hilarious variety, and allows Dillon to pretty much do a sizzle reel for the style and humor he’d bring to Preacher.

Oz concerns the return of Chopper, who makes a break for it during a prison transfer so he can cut across The Cursed Earth and compete in “Supersurf 10” in the titular land – our Australia proxy. I have enjoyed how Wagner and Grant have allowed for this one, persisting rebellious character in the Dreddverse, and it’s made clearer here that he has some grudging respect from Dredd – even if the Judge isn’t going to hesitate locking the surfer back up once he’s recaptured. However, there are two wrinkles there: the first is the interruption by the B-storyline to this – the Judda. These are some wildly designed (by Brendan McCarthy) baddies who dress similar to judges and share their clone DNA, and who’ve sneaked in to MC-1 to start eradicating some key judges, Dredd also being targeted. We learn how they’re tied into MC-1’s past as things go on. While McCarthy has been a little too unleashed on some previous strips, he really nails a balance here between solid action and wild design; just the look of the Judda-featuring bits are fun, and while it’s definitely a change when Will Simpson steps in on the back half of those, I actually think that was for the best to capture some of the larger scale fisticuffs, lending them weight of McCarthy’s more surrealistic style. The other wrinkle is when Dredd actually gets to Oz, and finds that the Oz judges are not only much more accepting of Chopper’s sassitude, but they’re also in favor of letting him compete – Dredd is put on ice to let Supersurf 10 happen, uninterrupted. This whole stretch of storytelling is interesting because I feel like it’s the first other city to actually feel like it’s own world. Luna-Cit, Tex-Cit, and however briefly we’ve seen MC-2 are all just extensions of MC-1. We’ve barely touched on Brit Cit at this point (at least in the Dredd strips), and Sov-Cit is just a political riff; Oz is unique. The Oz serial itself is an odd duck, very much focusing on Chopper – as in, not Dredd – for much of its run, and allowing his travels to drift into some more contemplative territory on occasion, not all hijinks. The focus is still on throwing roadblocks Chop’s way week by week, but it feels like much more of a character-driven story than any of our previous epics, and while the Oz / Judda storylines feel like they easily could’ve appeared separately, I liked bouncing back and forth – it prevented either half from ever needing to slow down or bloat.

Color was becoming more prominent in the mag at this point, and the Case Files are still in black and white, but I think the gray tones used for the color pages seem sufficient, for the most part, but it’ll be cool to get into color next volume.