(2006) John Wagner, Henry Flint et al, Rebellion, £12.99, trdpbk, pp unnumbered, ISBN 1-904-26591-X
The 22nd century city of Mega City One stretches down the eastern seaboard of the US. To its east is the Black Atlantic, to its west the Cursed Earth. The Cursed Earth is a desolate zone covering central US that became this way after the atomic war of the 21st century. It is home to few. These include a handful of settlements consisting of humans and sometimes mutants, as well as small groups of outlaws, both humans and mutants.
One day out of the Cursed Earth come dune sharks. These are flying sharks (kept in the air by a mysterious buoyancy sack) that equally can swim through sand. Originally found on the planet of Hesta (Judge Dredd: Wilderlands (2001) or the sequence in 2000AD progs 891-894 and 904-918 together with Judge Dredd Megazine vol 2, 57-67 (1994)). How the dune sharks got to Earth is a mystery but they are here and headed for Mega City One. Breaching the wall they go on a killing spree before being driven back. Dredd along with Judge De Marco and some young apprentice judges (it is their 'hot dog' training run in the Cursed Earth) set off into the wasteland to track down the dune sharks. On the way they encounter its strange settlements, mutants and outlaws.
This full colour adventure is a collection from 2000AD originally published in 1996-7 and so it has taken nigh on a decade before it has appeared as a compilation. In one sense The Hunting Party is a thematic re-working of Pat Mill's and Wagner's own The Cursed Earth that was originally published nearly two decades earlier in 2000AD (Progs 65-85) in 1978. This earlier saga was in black and white with just the occasional colour page (back then 2000AD only had colour on the cover and centrefold), however it too saw a trek across the Cursed Earth, this time to deliver a vaccine to Mega City Two. This earlier saga also saw Dredd's party encounter mutants and outlaws, there are other similarities too. Importantly both have an adventure that touches upon President Both and the atomic war of 2070 that not only saw the creation of the Cursed Earth but the end of democracy and the rise of the Judges. As such these sagas touch upon the broader canvas of the Dredd cannon of work and so relate to other story arcs such as those of democracy and 'total war' as well as 'origins' which is currently (2007) running in 2000AD.
All well and good, but how does The Hunting Party stack up as a read? Well it certainly delivers the goods, but in my view is not Dredd at his very best. What it does do is to give newcomer readers an introduction to the Cursed Earth. Of course old hands will get this collection regardless. There is an ending and the dune sharks' source on Earth does indeed somehow stem from events surrounding Dredd's earlier adventure on the planet Hesta. Regulars will have guessed this (if not having read it in the comic prior to this collection) but for me to say any more would constitute a spoiler. For me the high point was the President Booth related story, while the 'Lost in America' chapter was both politically ironic and really captured the flavour of Dredd's 1978 Cursed Earth Adventure.
Other Judge Dredd graphic collections reviewed on this site include: Goodnight Kiss, Judgement Day, The Art of Kenny Who?, Brothers of the Blood, The Complete America, Judge Dredd Featuring Judge Death, The Chief Judge's Man, Satan's Island, Total War, The Complete P. J. Maybe and Dredd vs. Aliens.
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