Graphic Novel Reviews

Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth Saga

(1978 / 2012) Pat Mills & John Wagner, 2000AD / Rebellion, 7.99, pbk, 160pp, ISBN 978-1-781-08008-5

See also Uncensored 2016 update below


This is one of the early classic Judge Dredd graphic novel stories from the first days of 2000AD & Starlord back in 1978. It is the early 22nd century and following a global atomic war instigated by the US President, the survivors build the Mega Cities with the two largest being Mega City 1 & 2 on the east and west coast of the former US respectively. With the majority of the population unemployed, the law is enforced by the Judges who have the combined powers of police, judges and jury. Judge Dredd is one of these judges.

In The Cursed Earth (the word 'Saga' appended with this 2012 edition) a deadly plague that turns its victims into violent cannibals takes hold of Mega City 2. A flight with a vaccine from Mega City 1 finds the airport overrun and so has to return. The only option is to send the vaccine by land. Unfortunately this means taking it through the 'Cursed Earth' radioactive wasteland largely inhabited by bandits and mutants. It is a job for Judge Dredd.

Dredd takes with him a three other Judges and some cannon-fodder war droids. (This story was originally written before 2000AD created the ABC warriors though the design of these battle droids is very vaguely reminiscent of ABC Hamerstein's original Ro-Busters design as that strip had been inherited from Starlord.) Accompanying the team was reluctant recruit Harvey Rotten (loosely based on Sex Pistols Johnny Rotten), a violent young delinquent, but excellent, bike rider.

And so off they go in Roger Zelazny Damnation Alley (1969) style with a detachable combined K2001 Land Raider and Killdozer.

The journey is an epic one with many two-part episodic adventures to fit the original weekly 2000AD comic format in which this graphic novel was originally serialised. One of their first was an encounter with a band of mutants not far from Mega City 1 whose leader's image was carved into a face on the relocated Mount Rushmore Presidential Memorial. (The memorial was geographically relocated from its factual position to fit the story under the thin premise that it was easier for tourists to visit if it was closer to Mega City 1.) Another adventure was coming across a small settlement that was under occasional vampire attack. It transpires that the 'vampires' were in fact droids seeking blood to keep the former US president in healthy suspended animation (and we get more of these in Judge Dredd: Origins).

Numerous adventures later and the mission is accomplished. Yet along the way we have seen a fair bit of the Cursed Earth and this saga helped shape future sojourns into this post-apocalyptic landscape.

Originally published in 2000AD in 1978 in 25 parts, The Cursed Earth was the first Judge Dredd story (or, to be more accurate, story arc) to last more than two or three issues of the comic. Subsequent years would see a number of similarly long story arcs that would help define the Dredd universe and ultimately provide depth to the Dredd character. Indeed, some of these long story arcs featured elements of this The Cursed Earth saga and notably the last US President, the power mad president Robert L. Booth who sought world domination and initiated the nuclear war that created the Cursed Earth. He reappeared in a number of stories either in flashback or in Dredd's time in the Judge Dredd: Origins story.

This compilation of the story is in black and white, as were all the early Dredd stories apart from those pages that made up the colour centrefold of the comic in the 1970s and '80s before the comic subsequently became colour throughout. This compilation is also in a reduced-size format, which explains the low price. The trade-off here is that the artwork really does look a little compressed but this is arguably a fair exchange if it introduces people who otherwise might not fork out double or more the price for the full-sized version. (However we do get page numbers which the usual 2000AD graphic novels normally eschew: probably something to do with the editor's numeracy.) This reduced-size format edition is one of three early Dredd sagas 2000AD/Rebellion have produced this year to mark 2000AD's 35th anniversary.

It should be said for completeness' sake that this is not the first time that the The Cursed Earth has been collected together as a graphic novel. In 1982 Titan published the first collection in two parts and which included three pages of specially drawn (by Brian Bolland) continuity material. The definitive compilation edition for collectors has to be Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth 'Classic' edition part of the 'Classic' Dredds published by Titan Books together with 2000AD in 2002. This edition was an A4 format hardback with a varnish, silver leaf dust jacket cover and printed on matt art paper: a 'must have' for serious collectors and 2000AD fans.

In addition it also should be said for completeness' sake that all the pre-2016 various The Cursed Earth compilation editions are incomplete. The original weekly 2000AD story arc contained two adventures (four parts in total) that made allusional reference to two fast-food chains: MacDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Sadly US fast food chains have no sense of humour (or can contemplate that the Dredd use might even be promotional for them perish the thought) and so they threatened IPC (the original publishers) who agreed never to re-publish them again. A shame as these were cracking yarns. (See also below.)

And so there you have it. Those who have only come to Dredd in recent years and want to catch up with the early classics, and those who have never tried Dredd but do not want to fork out the price of a full-size graphic novel, can now do so, and in these senses this small format graphic novel is highly recommended. One minor word of warning, Judge Dredd has matured both as a fictional character and in his depiction over the years. This early Dredd story arc presents a simpler character that is younger and less questioning of his role and the justice system than the Dredd we know today. Nonetheless I, and I dare say many long-in-the-tooth 2000AD aficionados, remember these early tales with a certain fondness. Splundig.

Jonathan Cowie


Update:  Following a European Court ruling Rebellion/2000AD published Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth Uncensored with the burger chain franchise episodes restored.  Apart from the restored completeness of the original saga, the other plus point of this new, 2016 edition (trdpbk, 19.99 / Can$34 / US$25, ISBN 978-1-781-08596-1) is that it restores the full-colour pages. Remember, when Dredd was originally published, in the early days of the weekly 2000AD and 2000AD & Starlord, each week's episode consited of a full-colour centrefold plus five or six black & white pages.  The previous Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth collections were black & white (mono) reproductions.  Conversely, the down side -- and there is a down side -- is that while this edition has a couple of half-page introductions by two of the writers, the 'censored' aspects, while referred to, are not fully explained. This is a tremendous shame (2000AD has a bit of an afficionado blind spot when it comes to the finer points of its graphic novel editing) as it assumes that all of this new edition's readers will be very familiar with the self-censorship due to fear of litigation, let alone the details of the European ruling (which came about due to a similar but unrelated case) that meant that 2000AD / Rebellion could publish without fear of prosecution.  Would that the 2000AD/Rebellion commissioning editor thinks a little before assembling the graphoic novel colections.  Nonetheless, new readers can now enjoy the complete story as can older, longstanding readers who would have had to read each of the original 2000AD weekly editions in which this story first appeared.


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