4 out of 5
All due credit to Pat Mills, sincerely, as without him, it’s likely we wouldn’t have the legacy 2000 AD has enjoyed – or its existence, of course – not to mention the other rags he started or Kickstarter. But his writing will forever be an acquired taste. The (generally) direct satire / political commentary as brewed through Mills’ very cheek-chewing dialogue would seem like a perfect match for the overblown world of Dredd, and yet… his 25 part Cursed Earth saga, which takes up about half this compendium (minus its copyright-infringing censored chapters, which have since been released separately), is almost a snooze. This is despite some amazingly enthusiastic work from McMahon and a solid premise; the tale just drags us through either too obvious socio-political parallels (ad nauseum) or a somewhat out of place crossover with Mills’ dinosaur strip, Flesh (…which features some of McMahon’s worst work, apparently not very well suited to combining his rough-hewn dystopia stylings with big ol’ organic creatures). Cursed Earth is rightfully a classic for its contributions to the Dreddverse, further establishing the shape of the nation and Mega City -Two, as Dredd and a small crew drive from MC1 to 2 on the other coast to deliver a vaccine for a virus outbreak, sections of the epic dealing with the different mutants and tribes interacted with along the way, as well as underlining Dredd’s superhuman dedication to a cause. And there are good bits with an alien named Tweak (with Bolland art!) and the punctuated battles throughout, but besides its place in history, it reads like a rather average tale.
But it’s only half the book.
The cover price is more than worth it for the latter half, scripted by John Wagner (under various pseudonyms) and drawn by a roster of superheroes: Bolland, Ron Smith, Brett Ewins, Gary Leach, and of course, McMahon. While not given the same shoutout as Cursed Earth, The Day the Law Died – most of this second half – is equally epic in length, and a heckuva lot more bang for your reading buck from episode to episode, as Dredd is framed for murder, escapes custody and leads a rebellion against the hilariously evil Caligula-riff, Judge Cal. Both Wagner and Mills poke at similar targets commentary-wise, but Wagner seems to have more fun with it, and generally tends to follow the needs of his story than arrange it around soapboxes (is my Mills bias showing?), leading us to some great story additions like underground dweller Ferg and the introduction of the Kleggs. There’s also a consistency to the story that’s lacking with Cursed Earth, which is really just a series of isolated events: watching Dredd’s uprising progress and how it. Parallels Judge Cal’s mental degradation keeps the story evolving and interesting.
After Law wraps up (satisfactorily, I add), we get a few short but entertaining Dredd vs. various perps tales as control is reestablished. To Wagner’s eternal credit, the moment he sentences a hostage to jail after rescuing her embodies Dredd in a panel; there’s a reason this dude is able to keep churning out worthwhile JD tales to date: he just gets him.
So I went in a little restless and disappointed by the first major Dredd arc, but was completely won over by the collection’s second major included arc.