4 out of 5
In the post-Wagner / Grant world of Dredd, anything goes. Or so it seems in the annuals / specials from 1990 – 1993 collected in Restricted Files 3, which see entries from Mark Millar, Peter Milligan, Simon Furman, Dan Abnett and others joining our regulars, alongside a ton of new faces on art, and lots of wild visual and tonal experimentation. The Dredd Reckoning take on this isn’t very positive, and suggests readers at the time might not’ve been as well, but while I’d agree that that experimentation leads to a lot of unevenness – and some strips that are almost inscrutably scripted, or just, like, dumb – it’s also kind of exciting, especially when reading chronologically against the seriousness of Necropolis, and the somewhat drab premiere of Garth Ennis in the regular prog.
And Wagner isn’t done – alongside some pretty top (or wildly silly) parodies from Grant, Wags has some interesting callbacks to old characters, as well as some grounding details from Necropolis itself, which helps to “place” these otherwise off-brand tales in time, which was often missing in the specials up to this point. That’s ultimately what gives the collection balance: for every visual assault by Shaky Kane or Richard Preston / Edmund Kitsune – not bad stuff, just way out there – there’s some gorgeous, traditionalist work from David Roach, or a new spin on more expressive fare by Paul Grist. From a writing perspective, you get a sprinkling of history, and comedy, and “classic” Dredd being a bastard, and a Strontium Dog cameo, countering Milligan’s poetry cribbing, and a first-draft vibe from Abnett, and other misses. In other words, the bag is mixed such that any entry that’s a bit off-color is quickly followed by something that’s likely more fun, with constant changes in writer / artist promising a similarly varying tone and look near every thrill.