Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Restricted Files 04

(Reprints Judge Dredd stories from Judge Dredd Poster Prog #2-5, 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special 1994-1996, Judge Dredd Mega Special 1994-1996, 2000 AD Yearbook 1995, 2000 AD Winter Special 1994 and 2005, Judge Dredd Yearbook 1995, 2000 AD Free Comic Book Day Prog 2012, and Dice Man #1, plus extra material from early Judge Dredd Annuals)

This week we're going a little bit back in the original-publication-dates chronology for a volume that just came out a few weeks ago in the U.K. (and, obviously, even more recently in the U.S.): the fourth and presumably final volume of The Restricted Files, filling this year's third Dredd Case Files slot.

The material here--aside from John Wagner and Rufus Dayglo's throwaway four-pager from the most recent Free Comic Book Day one-shot, and two even more lightweight stories Wagner wrote as showcases for winners of a Stabilo drawing competition in 2005--mostly comes from the mid-'90s, when the Mega Specials and Yearbooks and so on were firmly in the category of "overflow." Before 2000 AD was in full color, the specials were an opportunity to print full-color stories; before the Megazine, they were an opportunity to print stories that wouldn't quite fit in six-page episodes. And once the Megazine was around, they were an opportunity to run material that didn't fit in either of the two regular periodicals. That seems to have fallen into a few major categories in the period covered by this volume:

*Stories that were tonally weird or "off-model" in one way or another. Mark Millar and Peter Doherty's "Mr. Bennet Joins the Judges" is a cute concept, although I'm betting it's based on some bit of kids' entertainment that everyone in the U.K. has grown up with and nobody in the U.S. has ever heard of. (Anyone care to enlighten me?) "Fat Bottom Boys" is really just an opportunity for John Hicklenton to go over the top in his Heavy Metal Dredd mode; I'm not sure who demanded a sequel to "Judge Planet" that wasn't written by Peter Milligan, but hey, there one is, and it's more Shaky Kane. Also, remember how I was going on about "Sin City" last week? I didn't realize that there had already been the not-as-funny-as-it-should-be parody "Sinned-In City" many years earlier, although it reminds me that I'd like to see more of the stories Adrian Salmon drew in his own style reprinted.

*Alternate-universe or out-of-continuity stories. Somehow, those don't work terribly well with Dredd, the cover image of "Dredd of Drokk Green" notwithstanding. It's interesting to see Paul Neary reaching for a new technique for his Dredd-vs.-Al-Capone story "The Incorruptibles," but in the process he seems to have abandoned everything he ever knew about storytelling. And as nicely as Pat Mills' update of "The Return of Rico" had worked, his script for the what-if-Rico-hadn't-had-Joe-around fantasy "Perchance to Dream" is vague and sloppy.

*Stories that were stuck in inventory. It's not too hard to imagine, for instance, that "Raptaur Returns" was meant to be a sequel to the original "Raptaur," and never got completed beyond its first episode--it does rather seem to end on a cliffhanger, and the fact that Tony Luke and Dean Ormston used pseudonyms for it when it ran is a little odd too. But there was a rule in those days that everything that got completed had to get published eventually... I believe the 1995 Dredd Yearbook also included Chris Halls' artwork for his abandoned stab at the first chapter of the Mean Machine serial "Son of Mean," for the same reason. (I'm grateful for that, though!)

*Stuff that was just plain substandard. Roberto Corona is one of the few artists not to get a bio in the back of this volume; his artwork on the Dredd/Missionary Man team-up "True Grit" is poor fake Quitely, and the story's not much to speak of either. (Gordon Rennie had some swell Dredd stories ahead of him, but his three stories from the '95 Dredd Yearbook are nonstop beginners' jitters; even "Through the Peephole," from a bit later, is sturdier.) "Confessions of a Vegetarian" makes no sense at all, its Bob Burden shout-out notwithstanding. "Black Day at Badrock" was one of Robbie Morrison's earliest Dredd stories, and you can see him trying to get a firmer hold on how to write the series, but setting it during "The Pit" just makes it look much weaker by comparison.

Despite all of that, this volume isn't a total wash. A couple of the Poster Prog stories are fun--Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra's "Could You Be Judge Dredd?" is a nice if obvious gag. I groused about "House of Death," from 1986's Dice Man #1, not showing up in the previous Restricted Files collections, and I'm happy to see it turn up here with its splendid Bryan Talbot images of the Dark Judges. The bonus material at the back of the book is entertaining, too; it seems to come from some of the first few Judge Dredd Annuals (the last few pages are post-Apocalypse War, and clearly drawn by Ian Gibson). Anybody want to identify which pages come from what, and maybe even who wrote them?

So what's left to collect in book form at this point? There's the rest of the Case Files, which will eventually cover a lot of long-lost material--well over 400 yet-unreprinted episodes from 2000 AD, a bunch more from the Megazine. (The longest unreprinted-as-books storylines include Mills and Hicklenton's "Blood of Satanus III," Wagner et al.'s "Dead Ringer," and John Smith and Paul Marshall's "Darkside"--although the last of those did show up as an Extreme Edition. And, although it ran under several titles, Rennie's extended sequence involving Giant, Guthrie, Rico and Vienna could really stand to be collected on its own.) It'd be amazing to see comprehensive reprints of the Daily Star strips, although I gather that there are some logistical problems there. There are also the two DC series and Lawman of the Future, but I imagine those are unlikely to see print again any time soon either.

Next week: another newly released book, the Halloween-themed Cry of the Werewolf


  1. Oh man, I bought some of the specials reprinted in this book just yesterday, and they are ugly, ugly comics. Luckily, there is still the odd gem in there, but some of these comics are easily the worst Dredd stories I ever read.

    Mr. Bennet is definitely a riff on Mr Benn, an oddly spooky little kids thing:

  2. There are loads of complete episodes of Mr Benn on Youtube:

  3. And yes, specials and yearbooks in the mid-90s often served as dumping grounds for material deemed not good enough for 2000AD or the Megazine. There were a few gems among the dross - I've a soft spot for Dredd of Drokk Green myself - but the chaff/wheat ratio is not great. Sorry!

  4. I had my interest in Judge Dredd rekindled after watching the recent 3D movie. These critiques of the various collections have piqued my interest for adding some of the original comics to my library.

    A syllogism did come to mind, BTW:

    Judge Dredd says "I am the law."
    Other people say "The law is an ass."
    What therefore follows:

    a) Judge Dredd is an ass?

    b) The citizen who made this syllogism just earned himself six months in an isocell?

    or c) The citizen making this syllogism will be beaten soundly enough by Judge Dredd to make future recidivism unlikely?