Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Mutants in Mega-City One

Mutants In Mega-City One

Santa brought me this collection of Mutant themed Dredd stories ranging from Prog 22 in 1977 right the way through to a story from Prog 2011. It features writing by John Wagner, Al Ewing, Warren Ellis and Michael Carroll; and art from Carlos Ezquerra, Ian Gibson, Henry Flint, Duncan Fegredo, John Burns, Chris Weston and many more.

First of all you shouldn't judge a book by its cover but wow, what a cover. There’s been a lot of tributes to Jack Kirby recently as more comic book fans discover the work of the legendary creator. Ben WIllsher produces one of the best tributes I've seen and delivers it on a lovingly crafted pastiche of a classic Marvel cover. Unsurprisingly someone on the 2000AD forums has already snapped up the original art from Mr Willsher. Pity I can’t vote for this one in the Pete Wells block vote for the best cover of 2013, but maybe it will turn up on the 2000AD covers uncovered blog at some point.

The stories inside start with the earliest days of 2000AD when Mutants were just there for a bit of fun and to allow the artists to draw some weird and wonderful variants of the human form. At the other end of the spectrum we have the Tour of Duty storyline by Wagner and Colin MacNeil, with Dredd responding to a challenge from a Mutants rights campaigner and visiting the Cursed Earth resettlement camps he has been sending Mutants to for years.

The concept of mutation as an allegory for all forms of prejudice and bigotry has been around since the silver age of comics. John Wagner is perhaps unique in that he has told the story from both sides of the coin. In Strontium Dog he has given us the history of oppressed mutants leading right up to the second mutant war that is playing out in the Prog now. But Judge Dredd is all about the oppressor himself, and he is no mere camp guard who was “only following orders”. His very catchphrase tells us that he is the living embodiment of a law that discriminated against one group of humans and exiled them from the city to live in the appalling conditions of the Cursed Earth. This terrible duality has always made Dredd such a fascinating character, we admire his dogged determination and ability to withstand the horrors his city has been subjected to, but at the same time we recognise that he is the red right hand of a police state which delivers plenty of horrors of its own.

John Wagner is the master storyteller who has shown us the slow change of Dredd’s beliefs over 35 years. Because I am a British male of a certain age I am, of course, a fan of the american TV show The Wire. Wagner is the best comic book equivalent I know of the writing on that show. He delivers hints and suggestions and leaves us to fill in the gaps ourselves. In the early 2000AD progs Dredd had thought bubbles to deliver plot points to a younger target audience but as the strip and the readership have matured these have been discarded. Now we only have his words and actions to tell us what he is thinking. The rest is left to the artist and the readers to fill in the gaps. It is tremendous stuff.

While the complete history of Dredd is collected in the Case Files these eclectic collections give us particular story-lines or themes from Dredd’s world. If I wanted to show a new reader how Judge Dredd started out and what he has become since, then I can think of no better introduction than to hand them this volume. Five out five stars from me and thank you Santa. Now if I can just track down Mr Willsher to sign the cover for me.

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