Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Complete Case Files 07

(Reprints: Judge Dredd stories from 2000 AD Progs 322-350, 353-375)

Once again, there aren't actually stories here from all the issues mentioned on the cover of the book. 2000 AD isn't generally in the habit of reprinting old stories in new issues, but the Dredd stories in 351 and 352 were reprints of "Mutie the Pig" from Progs 34-35. I don't think many people were disappointed, though, given that those issues also featured Alan Moore/Alan Davis "D.R. and Quinch," Mike McMahon on "Slaine" and Carlos Ezquerra drawing "Strontium Dog."

This is a slightly turbulent volume of Judge Dredd, but not what you'd call a transitional period--the feature was on steady ground, and John Wagner and Alan Grant were just trying to keep it rolling consistently, despite the fact that they'd had to go back to constantly rotating artists--eight of them this time. Looks like there were some problems with sequencing, too: "Portrait of a Politician" includes a bit about how "as all Judge Dredd readers know, the Superbowl does not go as expected." That would be all psychic Judge Dredd readers, since the story in which the Superbowl happens didn't run until a month later. (The "orang utan runs for mayor" plot of "Portrait of a Politician" echoes the "goat runs for prime minister" plot that had appeared in Cerebus a couple of years earlier, although I don't expect anyone from 2000 AD at the time had been reading Cerebus. Oh, the pre-global comics economy.)

On top of that, the Dredd reprint machine was starting to kick in. Titan had launched their British "album-format" reprint series in 1981, and midway through this volume, Eagle Comics started reprinting old Dredd stories in the U.S. The American reprints were in full color; they were also badly butchered, sliced up and reformatted to fit U.S. page dimensions. But the early Eagle issues were at least nicely packaged, with original cover art, most often by Brian Bolland. (I particularly like his cover for the first issue, above, and the parody of it he produced for the "Apocalypse War" reprint in #23, below.)

So it's understandable that a handful of the stories here find Grant and Wagner going back to familiar territory. "Cry of the Werewolf," despite its supple Steve Dillon artwork, is another "Judges try to cure plague that brings on transformations" scenario, with elements of both "Block Mania" and "Fungus." It goes on for a while, too, before it peters out; it's fortunate that there aren't a lot of Judge Dredd stories that end with Dredd making a corny pun. What salvages it is the worldbuilding aspects, which by this point were becoming second nature to the series: the "undercity," which would return a few times, as well as the "ten minutes in the sleep machine" bit, which I think first appears here. And is "Norman Pitlik Block" a joke anyone can explain to me?

The other extended storyline this time is another seven-parter, "The Graveyard Shift," which I believe is the longest single Dredd story drawn in its entirety by Ron Smith. (The first chapter might be the initial instance of one of my favorite Dredd clich├ęs: the episode or story that ends with Dredd telling a dispatcher "on my way!") "The Graveyard Shift" seems like a catchall for a bunch of leftover story ideas--premises not quite big enough for their own story but slightly too big for a Daily Star strip, or variations on routines they'd pulled off before: another Boing gag, another "Block Mania"-type showdown.

But it's so packed with witty ideas--Dredd's loathing of paperwork, the left-hand killer, the Carol Monroe Block paragliders, Hershey and Dredd busting down doors for crime swoops to kill some time, "that inconsiderate sniper's made us late for the theatre!"--that it holds together. (Weirdly, the only gag that Smith botches is a big overhead shot of the city--it's the mother of all Dredd jokes that the Statue of Justice is supposed to dwarf the Statue of Liberty in front of it, but here they look about the same size.)

The best joke of all, here, though, is the quietest--the second leaper, at the end of the story, deciding to turn around and go back to bed: "Perhaps tomorrow..." That he's perched atop Arthur Koestler Block is a sly touch--Koestler and his wife had committed suicide in March, 1983, and "The Graveyard Shift" ran from September to November of that year.
Carlos Ezquerra, who'd been such a huge part of the last couple of volumes, turns up only for one four-parter, "Requiem for a Heavyweight." (The ridiculous/awesome image above is featured in a nifty survey of Ezquerra's cover art that just appeared over at 2000 AD Covers Uncovered.) Aside from one two-parter in 2000 AD and a couple of one-offs in annuals and such, it'd be nearly six years before he'd draw Dredd again. Strontium Dog had been lying fallow since Ezquerra had taken over Dredd at the beginning of "The Apocalypse War"; he and Grant promptly picked back up with it (beginning the week after "Requiem for a Heavyweight" ended!), and Ezquerra drew the Strontium Dog feature almost exclusively for the next few years.

"Requiem for a Heavyweight" is another in the "let's do a story about INCREDIBLY FAT PEOPLE" sequence of which 2000 AD seems never to tire. That may have a lot to do with how much artists like drawing them--I seem to remember some interview in which it came out that Bolland has asked Wagner to write him one last Dredd story to draw, as long as it involves the Fatties. I have vivid memories of this story from when it came out--"I said--GIMME THE PIE!"--and note that it predates the rise of serious competitive eating by a decade or so. But it's also worth noting that some hardcore competitive eaters are very, very skinny--Takeru Kobayashi, Sonya Thomas...

Some other well-worn Dredd tropes turn up again this time, too: "Bob & Carol & Ted & Ringo" (and wouldn't that title make a great T-shirt?) is where Wagner and Grant borrow the dinosaurs-eating-people formula from Pat Mills. It also has one of their least likeable tics--minor characters with comedy Spanish accents--and yet another character, this time David Baloney, who's obviously a caricature of some public figure. At least Ron Smith clearly enjoys drawing the dinosaurs, and his design for the little keeper robot Granville is wonderful.

Smith's most... committed work here, though, has to be "Citizen Snork," a fine example of the "mildly silly idea pushed until the extent to which it's being pushed becomes hilarious" Dredd formula. It's also a cute little piece of narrative misdirection: the "Easy Glider" bit in the first couple of pages looks like it's going to be the central joke until the nose routine completely takes over. And the "Robsmith" gag in the final panel is another one I wish somebody would explicate.

As for the other artists in this volume: It'd be hard to take stories that looked like "Rumble in the Jungle" every week, but letting Ian Gibson (once again appearing under his "Emberton" pseudonym) fill 20 pages with crazy mechanical doodles and the occasional personlike form is a fine idea every once in a while. Brett Ewins takes a while to find his feet in "The Haunting of Sector House 9," but the actual horror imagery (like those Ditko-style floating mouths) is pretty effective; you can see why he was tapped to draw Judge Anderson a bit later. And Cam Kennedy's first Dredd story, "The Suspect," is very nicely done for a story that relies very heavily on head shots of the same character looking nervous.

The least effective of the artists this time, at least for my taste, is Kim Raymond-- "Pieromania," in particular, suffers from Raymond's inability to stage comedy effectively. Raymond's also responsible for the four-episode sequence where Cadet Dekker gets evaluated (and then disappears from the series altogether until Garth Ennis takes over). She's one of the less interesting supporting Judges to appear more than once or twice in the series, mainly because she's effectively just Dredd Jr.--there's no disparity between the way she handles things and the way he does, the way there is with, say, Judge Beeny. The end of the sequence is the first mention of "Dredd's Comportment" (a.k.a. "The Comportment of a Judge"), the textbook that Dredd wrote. But when would he have written it, especially considering how much he hates paperwork?

Next week: a break from Dredd proper, as we tackle the first spinoff volume (chronologically), Judge Anderson's Psi Files Volume 1.


  1. Alan Grant has been quite scathing about Kim Raymond's art in a number of interviews, saying Raymond was the one artist he never really liked drawing his scripts, but I personally never minded it. (Probably because Raymond's strips starting showing up around the time I first got seriously obsessed with 2000ad as a kid...)

    David Baloney is definitely a caricature of the British botanist David Bellamy (who is both immensly charming and entirely irritating), but I have no idea what's up with Norman Pitlik Block.

  2. I've always taken the 'Robsmith' to be a harmless in-joke referring to 2000AD lynchpin Robin Smith. Judge for yourself whether Snork's nose of choice matches the original: