If you have read any of my previous reviews you will know that I had a long break from the galaxy's greatest comic and only took out a subscription about five years ago.Yes I was a black sheep but now I have returned to the fold. So I have been using Rebellion's fine collections to fill in some of the gaps, and here we have a trade full of Wagner stories with the common theme of Dredd's family, or what passes for family in the disordered world of Mega city One.
The opening stories are about the clone who takes the name of Dredd's brother Rico and who seems most likely to replace the old man if and when he finally retires. Dredd supervises him as a rookie and sees echoes of his own younger self. Rico then joins his first sector house and gets involved in an investigation that recalls the police procedural style of The Pit. Rico's introduction is followed by some stories about Dredd's niece Vienna and how she comes back into his life. Finally we have the introduction of cadet Dollman as he tries to decide whether to leave the Justice department.
The theme of identity runs clearly through these tales. Dredd muses on his eventual replacement by a clone and wonders how many versions of himself are out there now. Rico learns about his heritage and questions what made the original Rico go bad and whether the same flaw exists in all the clones. Dollman has probably the most extreme response to the knowledge of what he is and the future that his creators planned for him, and he really struggles to come to terms with who he is. Even his name suggests he is merely a synthetic representation of a real person.
And then there is Vienna who sits calmly at the centre of it all. Much of her identity and memories have been taken from her by a satanic cult, as she rebuilds her life she acts as an almost matriarchal presence for Dredd and the two younger versions of himself. The old man find this relationship awkward while Rico and Dollman seem much more at ease with the notion of family in Vienna's presence.
Androids may dream of electric sheep but do clones think for themselves or are they just literal carbon copies of the great.man? Rico tells his sector house colleagues that he gets occasional flashes of what Dredd is doing although it is not made clear if this represents some paranormal telepathy or just the fact that he acts and thinks like the younger Dredd so can intuit what his clone father might be doing. This works for the story but does not address whether a clone can be their own individual person or if they will just always be just a slightly different version of another person.
This is more classic stuff from Wagner and I am more and more impressed with the way his writing matured from those early kids' stories, and how he brings in these subtle themes of family, or looks at the issues of celebrity and human rights in other tales from the big Meg. Of course there is plenty of action with the clones breaking heads on the street in their usual brutal style. There is also the detective story of Rico's investigation of another corrupt sector house. But I found these elements secondary to the clones' dilemmas and their one link to a real human family member.
Artwise there are expected star turns from Ezquerra and MacNeil but the real surprise of the collection for me was Charlie Adlard's dynamic work on one of the stories. Like many others I have recently jumped off the Walking Dead book and apart from that I had only seen his art on a couple of 2000AD covers. His work on Dredd is totally different from his style on walking Dead and it was revelation. I wish we could get him to do some more.
Overall this book is another top thrill from the house of Tharg. Wagner and his artists are on top form and the characters are fascinating, particularly Vienna and the disillusioned Dollman who I hope returns to the Prog soon. Recommended reading.