Judge Dredd: The Daily Dredds vol. 1: 1981 – 1986 – John Wagner, Alan Grant, edited by Keith Richardson

4 out of 5

A little pre-note, for very US readers like m’self: The Daily was the name of the newspaper in which these Dredd strips appeared, on a weekly basis, and weekends, specifically. Not that it changes the content at all, but I had a little wowie-zowie indicator above my head, thinking of a 5- or 7-day Dredd strip (a, y’know, daily one), and how insane that would’ve been from Wags / Grant and artist Ron Smith to handle alongside their work in the progs. Not that a once-per-week strip is any less insane, really, considering how much output they all had in general, but it’s a tad more realistic, and also maybe makes the possibility of consistent quality more realistic.

With that said, the contents of this collection are pretty clear: it’s a horizontally-printed book, one strip per page, collecting the newspaper material from the range mentioned, including the first couple weekday strips that started in ’86, when things switched over to an actual daily format (whaaaat) and more serialized stories. This format is continued in volume 2 of this series. Editor Keith Richardson and designers Simon Parr and Sam Gretton have done an amazing job on this set, putting everything into sequence and listing out alternate title names and credits and when / where / if the strip was reprinted for every single entry, along with a wonderfully clean table of contents that has original publish dates. And this is a very, very complete set, gathering things heretofore not reprinted, and presenting them in order. There are, like, two super minor typos – alignment, caps – but everything about this feels passionately packaged and cared for, from the gorgeous cover (Smith) to the care taken in cleaning up and ordering all the content. Editor Keith Richardson has a foreword in which this passion is clear, and that’s followed up by Richard Burton, who wrote the very first strip – his only credit on them, heh – wihch adapted the first Dredd tale.

As to the material itself, that’s where I’ll allow for some “give” in the ratings. You have to know a bit what to expect, which is a very punny version of Joe. Like, very punny, and with random laws lain down in order to get to those puns, or final-panel zingers, which are often more ridiculous than anything that’s ever appeared in the prog proper. Even the few weekend strips that have continued plot elements are not really plotted as such; there’s no arc here. Interestingly, though, the stuff could be said to be “canon” in that it keeps up to date with what was happening in the main series – the Apocalypse War, Judge Death, Chief Judge changes – allowing for the possibility of some of the many random characters that appear here to maybe pop over to the prog one day (and maybe they did?). And Ron Smith is sincerely an all-star, handling almost all of these early dailies. Given what I didn’t like about how Smith’s style evolved in the prog – that it was too comedic and over-stated – his nigh-Mad Magazine-esque slapstickery is a perfect fit for Wagner’s and Grant’s jocular tone here, and he packs in a ton of visual gags and action into the 2- or 3-row strips. But, yeah, it’s not something you necessarily sit down and read in one go, groaning at the jokes and some of Joe’s rather un-Dredd like behavior, with the writers pushing his characterization into the most cynical and militaristic version possible in order to raise the satire bar nice and high and visible so that the humor is very clear. Fond memories of reading this and wanting to revisit it could put you over the edge to a 5 out of 5, but for those of us who just like Joe and were curious, this is a very casual read, and more something to occasionally flip through again out of curiosity than to need to revisit as a refresher on a favorite storyline… since there are none.