(2012) Grant Morrison & Mark Millar et al, Rebellion, trdpbk, £10.99 / Can$19.99 / US$16.99, ??pp, ISBN 978-1-907-99267-4
Think of Judge Dredd and what comes to mind is a tough, ultra-impartial lawman, judge and jury in one dispensing justice in the over-crowded, futuristic Mega City One where high unemployment drives many 'cits' (citizens) to become 'perps' (perpetrators of crime). This is as it may be, and indeed very many of Dredd's stories have a focus on law enforcement in Mega City One that spans the eastern seaboard of the former USA next to the radioactive wasteland – the 'Cursed Earth' – created by nuclear war. However Judge Dredd does occasionally leave the City as well as having encounters with the supernatural (or at the very least those with mutant powers that are virtually fantastical). The first story by Grant Morrison and Mark Millar, Crusade, ticks both the beyond the city as well as the border supernatural boxes.
In Crusade an expedition to the far end of the Galaxy fell out of contact with Mega City One 15 years ago. Now a transmission has been received from the mission's commander who claims that he has reached the edge of the Universe and communicated with God! However the spaceship's trajectory will mean that it will land on top of a neutral territory mining facility in Antarctica. With Judges from other Mega Cities on other continents having intercepted the message also after the information brought back by the mission, a race is on with Judge against Judge to get to the spaceship first.
Now, Dredd followers do occasionally get to see Judges from other Mega Cities and other continents, but rarely many different types of judge at any one time. I have a feeling that Crusade is the single Dredd adventure that features the most diverse mix of Judges including those from: Pan-Africa (S. Africa), Luxor (Egypt), Brit Cit (Britain), Emerald Isle (Ireland), Indo Cit (India), the Sov Blok (Russia), Hondo (Japan) and Vatican Cit. Personally, this last is a delight with Judge Cesare who is out to ensure that only the Holy Father will get whatever secrets have fallen from the heavens. (We could do with another Dredd epic that has a sole focus on Vatican Cit.)
Despite the seemingly interesting set up, it is all really an excuse for Crusade to be a mix and match shoot 'em up in a remote deserted complex comparatively free of political repercussions (and indeed, from a writing perspective, free from any possible future impact on Dredd stories). Nonetheless the set up does provide for a colourful grounding to an otherwise simplistic plot, and the peek at Judges from other Mega Cities is as always fascinating.
The second story, written by Mark Millar by himself, Frankenstein Division, concerns an artificially created Sov Blok (Russia) Judge who has gone rogue from an East Meg 2 research facility. This judge was created from an amalgam of body parts from the remains of Sov Judges killed when Dredd (previously) wiped out East Meg 1 to end the Apocalypse War. However this chimera's brain is not what it might be and can dimly remember that Dredd caused East Meg 1's annihilation. This super-tough Judge is literally a one-man army and who decides to avenge the nuclear obliteration of East Meg 1 by Mega City 1. (Remember Mega City One were in turn defending themselves from the East Meg Apocalypse War attack following the Sov-induced Block Mania; all events that took place in the first five years of 2000AD's publication.) The artificially constructed soldier makes his way to Mega City One who are warned of the threat by East Meg 2. And, of course, waiting for the soldier is Judge Dredd…
Crusade and Frankenstein Division were originally serialised in 2000AD's in 1995 and 1994 respectively and so this 2012 graphic compilation is these stories first reprinting as a stand-alone graphic novel for the best part of two decades. This brings us on to the finer detail of this graphic compilation's publication. Though officially published under Britain's Rebellion imprint, this volume was actually printed by Simon & Schuster in the USA and marketed for the N. American market (hence the Canadian and US pricing). Of course you can buy it in Europe from internet book outlets and specialist SF/comics bookshops, but only as an import.
This is actually a little annoying for longstanding British 2000AD's fans. Yes, a few of us have the original comics, but let's face it, it is a pain to read a Judge Dredd story across a dozen or more (now physically fragile original) issues, and far better to read them as a collected graphic novel. Yes, these stories do appear in the Judge Dredd: Complete Case Files series of compilations that re-print all Dredd's stories sequentially. But while these last are useful in an archival way, their paper is of a lower quality and one gets other one-off stories included, some of which are not quite up to scratch be it regarding the story or the artwork. Some mechanism to make US Dredd compilations and their British counterparts easily available on both sides of the Atlantic would be welcome. Nor should this be an impossibility. Given that print-on-demand technology is making low print runs more affordable and also that it is now very easy to electronically transfer high definition artwork via FTP across the globe, the days of actually having to pay for bulk international shipping of books are actually numbered: Rebellion needs to innovate its publishing of all its titles to markets on both sides of the Atlantic.
Bringing us back to Crusade & Frankenstein Division, ultra-serious Dredd devotees will want to know how these stories fit in to the overall Dredd timeline, and who am I to deny Dredd devotees. In terms of the timeline, these two stories are published in reverse order. Both take place after Necropolis. Then comes 'Frankenstein Division'. Following that there are the events of Doomsday for Dredd and Doomsday for Mega-City One diptych, and then we get 'Crusade'.
While 'Crusade' & 'Frankenstein Division' as individual tales are not the best of Dredd stories, they are far from being the worst; importantly, they do provide a rare glimpse of many Judges from outside of Mega City One and as such this is a volume that Dredd aficionados will want (though there are better ones for newcomers to the Dredd universe to get their teeth into first). Finally, while it will be easier to get this title in N. America, serious British buffs might seek this out on this side of the Pond.
Other Judge Dredd graphic compilations reviewed on this site include:-
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