(2013) John Wagner et al 2000AD, £17.99, trdpbk, ??pp, ISBN 978-1-781-08108-2
In case you are not aware of Judge Dredd, and for the sake of the few today in the Anglophone world who are not, Dredd is a Judge who are a combination of policeman, judge and jury in the late 22nd century Mega City One that runs down the eastern seaboard of the former USA and which borders the radioactive 'Cursed Earth' that resulted following nuclear war. Mega City One is a high tech, high unemployment society rife with crime that is only maintained due to Judicial control with a faux mayor-led civil council providing a superficial democratic façade.
Judge Dredd: The Fourth Faction on one level is the start of what looks like will be a graphic novel duology and so a reasonably good place for newcomers to jump in. And what with last year's cinematic release of Dredd it is likely that some will want to jump in with Judge Dredd: Day of Chaos – End Game (and then Trifecta to follow on as more a stand-alone subsequent adventure) coming out later this year (2013).
All this may make you think that The Fourth Faction is itself a single tale. Actually it is a series of five separate stories each of which is loosely connected and taken from around a dozen editions of the weekly 2000AD and monthly Judge Dredd Megazine spread over 2010 and 2011. What this does is to provide a story arc, in fact two intertwined story arcs.
The principal one concerns a terrorist threat from a former Sov Block (former Russian) Mega City that was destroyed many years ago by Mega City One when the Sov Judges tried to invade it. A terrorist cell seems to be trying to get hold of a bioweapon and so create a devastating pandemic. A trainee psi Judge, Judge Hennessey, has a vision of this cell's preparations and Dredd investigates. The second plot thread concerns the former mayor Byron who was in fact the disguised warped youngish, self-tough genius and serial killer P. J. Maybe. P. J. Maybe is now languishing in an isocube and facing possible execution. But do not count Maybe out just yet…
All the stories are scripted by Dredd co-creator John Wagner, which means that we are bang-on target with the Dredd backstory and set-up (a few Dredd stories go off piste or include minor incongruities). The full-colour artwork is also above average with especially solid contributions from Colin MacNeil and Henry Flint. Annie Parkhouse provides the lettering and over recent years has admirably taken over the Tom Frame torch.
Though newcomers will enjoy this collection and the story, they will be aware from a few passing comments that there is some history to the story. Here 2000AD aficionados will have much in which to delight. Obviously there is the P. J. Maybe continuation and if newcomers want that dark humour thriller arc then they need only get three graphic novels: Judge Dredd: The Complete P. J. Maybe, Tour of Duty – Backlash and Tour of Duty – Mega-City Justice. The other plot thread stems from the 'Block Mania' and 'Apocalypse War' story arcs originally tol a third of a century ago now in the weekly 2000AD back in 1981 and 1982 respectively. These were collected in The Apocalypse War graphic novel as a wonderful 'Classic Judge Dredd' Titan/2000AD published graphic novel hardback in 2003 (collectors seek this out) as well as paperback in 2004. (I do wish we will see another airing of these classic hardbacks.) They have also more recently (2010/11) been reprinted in the 'Judge Dredd Complete Case Files' series but as these are strictly sequential reprints of Dredd stories in the order they were first published, the story spans more than one volume and, as useful as these Case Files are for real die hard 2000AD and Dredd buffs, the paper quality is not so good.
It is here, with the continuation of the The Apocalypse War plot arc, that Dredd fans will rave. And what we get, among other things, with The Fourth Faction are echoes of this early Dredd epic with Hennessey taking the place of Judge Anderson who prior to Block Mania had visions of the then Sov Block spy cell preparing to release the Mania. In short the Fourth Faction is rock solid core Judge Dredd including Dredd's angst at the proposal to kill an innocent to save the many millions of Mega City One citizens, face changing and Mega City fatties for good measure. This is a must for Dredd fans and a sound toe-dipping start for newcomers wanting a taster of the rich Dredd universe.
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