5 out of 5
The Cursed Earth is not my favorite Judge Dredd epic by any stretch, but it’s certainly important in the strip’s history, if only for being the first long-running tale. But it also gave us some feelers for what the ruined wasteland beyond the walls of MC-1 might be like, and in that sense, provided some guidelines for what works and what doesn’t work. Muties; isolated societies; gangs – a future Wild West makes sense. A Dr. Moreau locale with over-sized marketing figures (e.g. The Jolly Green Giant) and an overlong excuse to call back to Pat Mills’ Flesh strip – not so much. But by limiting (most) of the interactions down to 2-prog mini-arcs, Cursed Earth is still generally entertaining, fueled by, if anything, tons of imagination, and allowing for some pretty fun and exciting riffs of violence and weirdness along the way.
My overall feelings on the epic are more rightly rated in my review of Case Files volume 2, which was where I first read it. Here, the rating is reflective of the quality of what was reprinted: the entire saga, which previously had had 4 progs’ of material cut out due to copyright issues – featuring Burger King and McDonald’s in a two-part “Burger Wars” tale, and the aforementioned Jolly Green Giant and others in another two-parter. Reinstating this stuff is great just from a completionist perspective, and they’re both fun additions, even if I’ve criticized the latter for not really being a good fit for the Cursed Earth in terms of setting or within the scope of the larger tale. Addressing that first, acknowledging that that arc was entirely filler so Mills could catch up (written instead by Chris Lowder), it makes a bit more sense as to why it sticks out, but it’s also just more willfully goofy than anything else. Reading it as an isolated piece makes the tone go down easier, though, and you get another dose of early Bolland art. The Burger Wars bit is a much better fit for CE’s various antics, and more naturally blends the commentary jabs at the burger chains with an actual storyline.
Adding to these appreciated inclusions: CE Uncensored is printed on glossy paper versus the Case Files thin stock, allowing for true blacks and whites which makes McMahon’s art – particularly crowded at this stage in his career – much more readable. It also means we get the full-color for each thrill’s opening page, which adds a lot of splash to the readthrough. And a nearly full range of covers for all of the included progs (perhaps the missing covers didn’t feature Dredd / Cursed Earth on them…?). The set may be a bit pricey ($25 US) in comparison to other collections of a similar length, but it was a long wait for this stuff to get reprinted, so the concept feels “prestige” enough to merit that, backed up by a very solid, durable, oversized presentation from Rebellion.