Thursday, October 23, 2014

Apocalypse Now

IDW's licence to produce Judge Dredd comics for the US market includes some reprint material. They have produced a number of impressive hard backed volumes including this one which collects the classic Apocalypse War story. The creators involved represent most of the 2000AD hall of fame: it's written by John Wagner and Alan Grant, the artists are Mike McMahon, Ron Smith, Steve Dillon, Brian Bolland and Carlos Ezquerra, and the letterers are Steve Potter and Tom Frame. The majority of the original pages were black and white so here they have been sensitively coloured by Charlie Kirchoff and Tom Mullin, and the whole thing is topped off with a striking new cover image by Jim Fern and Charlie Kirchoff.

The large format allows the pages to be reprinted pretty much in their original Prog size instead of the reduced format of the black and white Case Files, and they certainly look fantastic. Kirchoff and Mullin have done a lovely job with the colouring. They have clearly taken their palate from the original colour centre-spreads so that the colours perfectly suit all the different artists. And the artistic lineup is unbeatable: McMahon begins the Block Mania story and then Ron Smith takes over before Steve Dillon and Brian Bolland introduce the character of Orlok and reveal the truth behind the craziness afflicting the citizens of Mega-City One. And then in steps King Carlos Ezquerra returning to the character he co-created for the first time since his original designs. He drew all 25 successive parts of the Apocalypse War and it's an absolute artistic tour-de-force, and his pages beautifully coloured by Tom Mullin are worth the price of admission alone.

Wagner and Grant wrote an intense story line which swung from some typical Mega-City madness to the overwhelming devastation of nuclear war and then the resistance fight back led by Dredd. My memories of this epic were mainly about the Block Mania episodes and then Dredd's mission to East-Meg One. I had forgotten the horrors that Wagner, Grant and Ezquerra depicted in the middle section when the nukes fly back and forth. It is strange to think about now but in 1982 we were living in the shadow of the Cold War and the real possibility of nuclear war. The protest at Greenham common had started in 1981 and membership of CND was almost compulsory for me and my fellow students at university. It seemed an inevitability that one of the two super powers would at some point be pushed to the brink of war. Wagner and Grant took all of this unease and gave us a devastating portrait of a nuclear holocaust in the pages of a simple comic book. Two years later television viewers would be terrified when ITV broadcast the film Threads. And in 1985 the BBC finally had the guts to release Peter Watkins' The War Game which it had kept on a shelf for 20 years. But before all that 2000AD showed us the full horrors of nuclear war in the Judge Dredd strip. Reading it now is a genuinely unsettling experience and it really makes this epic tale stand out from the crowd.

And that is all before Dredd gets to do his stuff and save his city in his usual stoic and unstoppable fashion. Dredd is particularly brutal in this story as he wipes out Sov Judges, dying citizens and collaborators alike without even a flicker of emotion crossing his stony face, And of course his no negotiation policy with his retribution would return to haunt him in later life as that faithful button push would lead to the events of Day of Chaos. There's also a disdainful attitude to the citizens of the opposing Mega cities as both the East-Sov leader and then Dredd are asked about making announcements to the public about the war. Their replies are remarkably similar along the lines of "What has it got to do with them?". This is despite knowing that millions of the citizens were going to die as the missiles flew.

There is a long running debate about which book is best to hand to a new reader who wants a good introduction to the Dredd character. This beautiful hardback gives us the artwork at pretty much the original size and with the colouring job that the artists themselves would have done, and it has Wagner and Grant writing the epic tale against which all future Dredd epics would be judged. All this is available on Amazon for a mere £16 so this is the book I will be recommending to new readers from now on. Well done to IDW for a beautiful presentation of an immense story. Five stars to everyone involved.

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