Graphic Novel Reviews

Judge Dredd
The Life and Crimes of P. J. Maybe

(2016) Rebellion & Hachette Partworks Judge Dredd The Mega Collection no. 28,
£9.99 / NZ$24.99 / Aus$19.99 / S. / Africa R109.90, hrdbk, ??pp, ISBN 977-2-055-76602-6


Judge Dredd (summary backstory here) has had many foes from his brother Rico, the cyborg Mean Machine and his fellow Angel gang family members, to the mad Chief Judge Cal, the supernatural Judge Death, the last President of the U.S.A., democracy terrorists, and Sov Bloc judges among many others including Cursed Earth mutants, aliens (including the 'Alien', and super-intelligent and powerful robots, let alone your average burglars, fraudsters, corrupt businessmen, mobsters, Jimps (Judge impersonators), futsies (those psychologically damaged by their 22nd century MegaCity citizen lifes) and the like.  But none have had quite the charisma, brio and style of P. J. Maybe.

P. J. Maybe has become one of Judge Dredd's most popular adversaries despite his not having any special powers and being a perfectly 'normal' human being.  O.K., well perhaps not quite 'normal' as he is dyslexic and is a decided psychopath.  But do not let this last put you off: P. J. Maybe is a perfectly likeable sort of guy, that is provided you do not cross him or get between him and wealth or power. Other than that he is downright decent and even for a while the judges themselves (not knowing who he was at that time) quite liked him…

Philip Janet Maybe (his parents wanted a girl) began his occasional appearances in the weekly 2000AD's Judge Dredd comic strips back in 1987 (coincidentally the same time as SF² Concatenation began as a fanzine). Back then he was barely a young teenager whose father worked for the Yess Trouser firm owned by P.J.'s mother's side of the family: Yess Trousers were big and they even supplied trousers for the Justice Department. But P.J.'s father was only a junior executive in the firm and his in-laws were never going to allow him to rise up in the firm. So P. J. Maybe decided that his mother's side of the family were the problem and had better die. Of course, an overt murder would be too crude and P. J. wanted to be around to reap the benefits of his father's success, and so he arranged things to appear to be either an accident or suicide.  Though educationally P.J.'s spelling was not that hot, he was quite bright and even something of a whiz at chemistry and cybernetics: he was very inventive. Besides which nobody – not even the Judges – would suspect a 12½ year old and Judge Dredd seemed to have met his match…

P. J. Maybe had appeared in ten, darkly comic stories between 1987 and 2005 and these have been previously collected in the oxymoronically titled The Complete P. J. Maybe (2006) during which time we get to see P. J. Maybe grow up to lead an extraordinary life through a series of identities (along the way he even covers his DNA trail).  But since that anthology there have been further adventures. This collection contains all those that appeared in The Complete P. J. Maybe (2006) plus there are two extra stories that see P. J. Maybe rise to his most exalted state.

Having said all that, these P. J. Maybe stories end with one first published in 2007. Since then – if you have been following the weekly 2000AD and the monthly Judge Dredd Megazine – you will know that there have been other P. J. Maybe stories and so perhaps a second volume will be forthcoming.  P. J, Maybe is one of the longstanding, occasionally recurring, elements of the Dredd universe and Mega City One would not be the same without him.

Finally, a word or two about this graphic collection's production values. The artwork is by a variety of artists all of whom have drawn Dredd a number of times, and so this collection is fairly representative of the range of artistic styles in which Dredd has been portrayed over the decades. Notable art inclusions are those stories illustrated by Carlos Ezequerra, Dredd's co-creator with comics writer John Wagner. Lettering for most of the stories is by that early 2000AD stalwart the late Tom Frame: the last two stories are lettered by Annie Parkhouse who effectively inherited Tom's mantle.

But the most notable thing about this collection is that it is part of the new Hachette-Rebellion partwork series Judge Dredd: The Mega Collection: Rebellion being the software company run by 2000AD fans that bought 2000AD over a decade ago, and Hachette a huge over-arching publishing company (that includes the SF book imprints Gollancz and Orbit).  The Judge Dredd: The Mega Collection began in 2015 and is a fortnightly series of reasonably-priced hardbacks of Dredd anthologies thematically packaged: the theme for this one being P. J. Maybe but others include the Angel gang, Dredd horror stories and so forth. They are a great new way to collect Dredd but their overlap with the previous (and continuing) 2000AD / Rebellion graphic novels and anthologies means that longstanding collectors will only want to fill the notable gaps in their collections. However, for newcomers who do not already have that many Dredd graphic novels and collections, this is a great way to read Dredd. Indeed, a number of the Judge Dredd: The Mega Collection editions are hardback (including this one) and all are printed on quality art paper. As such The Mega Collection scores over the Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files volumes that are soft-bound and use lower quality paper and whose attraction is that they contain absolutely all the Dredd stories from 2000AD in sequence (but not stories from the annuals and summer specials that have their own companion short run of collected volumes): conversely, The Complete Case Files are all paperback and all printed on poorer quality paper.  One other minor benefit of this new Judge Dredd: The Mega Collection series is that its individual titles' spines each feature a sliver of a bigger picture, so that when you arrange these numbered volumes in order on your bookshelf a broad panorama of Dredd characters is revealed. Splundig (to coin a 2000AD term).

So there you have it: a decided thumbs-up for The Life and Crimes of P. J. Maybe.

Jonathan Cowie

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