(Reprints Judge Dredd stories from 2000 AD Progs 1289-1299, 1303, 1317, 1336-1337)
The "most awesome overall progs of 2000 AD" question comes up from time to time. Besides a couple of earlier issues (503! 662!) and later ones (1633!), I'd have to nominate Prog 1289, which only included three stories, but what stories they were--the opening episodes of "My Name Is Death," "Thirteen" and "Sin City." (Okay, fine, I hadn't actually read "Thirteen" until last week. I don't know what took me so long. It's really good!)
Using the title "Sin City" in 2002 must have been a deliberate tweak at Frank Miller (although this collection got a different title, presumably to avoid confusion). Miller had been doing his own Sin City comics since 1991, and "The Babe Wore Red" had been reprinted in 1998's Judge Dredd Megazine #3.42-3.44. In 2000, as David Bishop noted, Andy Diggle commissioned the Miller cover that appears above for the tenth anniversary issue of the Megazine; it ended up not running. (See the link for the longer version of that story.)
What Kev Walker's artwork looks like here, though, has much less to do with Miller than with Hellboy-era Mike Mignola and Dave Stewart. See, for instance, the image of the New New Kremlin below: almost nobody but Stewart uses that particular palette that much! "Sin City" is an attractive story, consistent-looking, a reasonably suspenseful thriller with a big multiple-pronged payoff. John Wagner's clearly having some fun writing it (not least because it lets him write a bunch of scenes of people enjoying the opportunity to do horrible things: "For our entree, we will be serving slices of tender young boy. Those who do not wish to partake will be offered an alternative"). And it ties in with past and future storylines in a satisfying way--it's fun to see what Guthrie's up to at this point, for instance, and Dredd being insubordinate to Hershey is part of the long-simmering conflict that bubbled over in "Bullet to King Four" last week.
That first, double-length episode of "Sin City" is particularly sharp. I love Mr. Sin's song of greeting (any time there's a musical number in Dredd, it's a fine thing), El Muerte's companion announcing "El Muerte said a kind word once and cut out his own tongue to punish himself!," the idea of "de-Megification"... The "Dredd pretending to rough up the informants" scene in the following episode is pretty great too, although the presence of Sin City police does make me wonder what laws they're there to enforce. If it were all that good, it'd be one of the best Dredd serials, but as so often happened in this period, it starts wobbling partway through.
The plot against the Big Meg is wildly and unnecessarily convoluted: the Sovs get Orlok, for whom they know the Judges are on permanent alert, to deliver the plague to Ula Danser, who can in turn release it in Sin City, so that it can infect people in Mega-City One. Why not simply use an agent nobody's heard of to deliver the bug directly to the Big Meg? (Which, of course, is what happens some years later in "Day of Chaos.") "The Doomsday Scenario" had very strongly implied that Dredd destroyed the entire New Kremlin, but apparently they've somehow gotten a new version up and running. And El Muerte being a Judge gone bad, and Dredd's personal responsibility (in his mind), would be a bit more dramatically effective if we'd seen him before, which I don't think we had--please correct me if I'm wrong.
The three follow-ups are all smart and surprising, though, and densely packed in that uniquely Wagnerian way. "Case for the Defence" reopens the very good question of whether Dredd's genocide of East-Meg One was necessary, or even did any good for his cause. ("Day of Chaos" is a pretty convincing argument that it did vastly more harm than good even for a best-case scenario.) Setting up some sort of equivalency between Dredd's actions and Orlok's is a fair point, but "you did the same thing!" is hardly a defense. It finally establishes something like the long-missing motivation for why the Sovs would have launched a biological attack and land invasion of Mega-City One in 2104--they'd seen a (contingency?) plan for a first strike from MC1. But it sure didn't look like that at the time, and it's also not clear what either side would have stood to gain from attacking the other.
(The questions of proportionality and discrimination are also swept away from the discussion as soon as they're brought up. Looking at the end of "The Apocalypse War" now, everyone's actions are dramatic but borderline nonsensical. How, for instance, do you accept surrender from a state that you've literally bombed to a cinder? What does surrender even mean under those conditions?)
"Reprisal" is an odd duck: it picks up on a thread its artist Paul Marshall and writer Garth Ennis had established eight years earlier in the not-very-good spinoff "The Corps," concerning the Space Corps and its genetic infantry. (Which hints that Dredd is in the same universe as Rogue Trooper, an idea that's never struck me as particularly useful.) Has anything been seen since of Commander Kreig, who doesn't seem to be any relation to Harmony Krieg?
It's nice to see a Brian Bolland cover on the first half of "The Trial of Orlok"--his first in almost nine years--but the really extraordinary thing about that story is what doesn't happen in it. The formula for every "archvillain taken into custody" story ever is that the villain makes some kind of last-minute escape, or there's some legal technicality that forces the villain to be set free, or something along those lines. So when Orlok's escape attempt at the end of the story fails and is followed by an on-panel execution, it's a genuine shock: this never happens. It's not "realism," exactly--asking for realism in science fiction always seems like a dubious proposition--but a very smart snapping of genre conventions, and a reminder that the stakes in Judge Dredd stories tend to be pretty high.
Next week: Restricted Files Vol. 4, wrapping up the "stories that appeared in British comics that weren't 2000 AD or the Megazine" sequence.