Graphic Novel Reviews

Judge Dredd
The Mega Collection: Mean Machine

(2017) Wagner et al, Hachette Paperworks, £9.99 / NZ$24.99 (inc GST) / Aus$19.99 (inc GST) / S. Africa R109.90,
hrdbk, ISSN 2055-7663

Includes guidance for Dredd collectors.


It is the 22nd century and following a breakdown in law, some N. America (and other) cities adopt a system of 'Judges' who are police, judge and jury rolled into one and capable of dispensing instant justice: only occasionally are their hearings supervised by a senior judge.  This future also saw the rise of a right-wing, isolationist and self-opinionated President who triggered a nuclear war that in turn devastated N. America outside of its now combined east coast cities (Mega City 1), west coast cities (Mega City 2) and major southern cities (Texas City) who had a protective anti-missile shield.  This devastated expanse of middle N. America became the Cursed Earth much of which became irradiated and subsequently the home to mutants (some of whom have psionic powers hence the Judges Psi Division – see The Dark Judges and Judge Anderson - Shamballa). Of the Judges, the most famous is Judge Dredd, one of a few clones of the father of Justice, Fargo.  Judge Dredd follows the law dispensing justice for the good of the people (though occasionally he harbours thoughts that the law may not be perfect even if the (non-democratic) Judge system has been proven to be better than any other in modern history).

The Mean Machine is one of Judge Dredd's most popular foes, arguably after Judge Death and his fellow Dark Judges.  We first encounter Mean in The Judge Child Quest: one of Judge Dredd's early sagas originally published in 2000AD way back in 1980. (2000AD in 2017 celebrated its 40th anniversary.) In The Judge Child Quest Dredd was in pursuit of an abducted telepathic child who was, Mega City 1's Psi Judges foresaw, destined to lead Mega City 1 away from some (unspecified) future disaster.  This Judge Child' had been kidnapped by a gang of a redneck, hillbilly-type Cursed Earth family known as the Angel Gang. The Mean Machine was part of this gang, being Mean Angel.

What distinguished Mean Angel was his head that had brain surgery to make him mean and a dial on his forehead to control his mood. His trademark attack was the head but and his daw gone simple mindedness with zero compassion save for his fellow Angel family members.

And this brings us on to this collection… The Judge Dredd – The Mega Collection: Mean Machine brings together a number of classic Mean Machine stories that took place subsequent to The Judge Child Quest.  The first two of these adventures are in black and white (2000AD was largely black and white its first couple of decades) and three of the four remaining stories that form the bulk of this anthology are in full colour.

Included in the mix are two unlikely team ups. First a hypnotised Mean and Dredd in search of stolen Judge embryos: Mean is hypnotised to think Dredd is Pa Angel. Second, Mean (who was promised freedom for his father, one of his brothers and himself) and Judge Death accompany Dredd to locate nuclear warheads in the hands of Cursed Earth mutants threatening Texas City.  Also included is a wonderful time travel story in which Mean goes back in time to prevent the rest of his family being killed (and later resurrected) in the Judge Child Quest. In the course of this present Mean Machine meets past Mean Machine and one head buts the other clean through the page: you'll have to read the story to find out which did what to whom.

I would say that this collection neatly accompanies both The Judge Child Quest (first collected 1986 but the 2003 'Classic' Judge Dredd hardback is the one the most serious Dredd aficionados will want to get) and the Judge Dredd and the Angel Gang (1995) collections.  Having said that four decades of 2000AD is a long time and some of these early editions are extremely hard to find let alone secure in good condition.  Which brings me on to the current (2016/7/8) Judge Dredd – The Mega Collection series of themed graphic novel anthologies.  Now bear with me on this, as the publishing is a little complicated…

The Judge Dredd – The Mega Collection is a recent (beginning in 2015) venture partnering 2000AD, and it owner gaming software company Rebellion, with Hachette Partworks to produce a fortnightly series of very affordable Judge Dredd graphic collections.  It is denoted in publishing terms as a magazine series (hence it has an ISSN) and not a book series (which have ISBNs); although be in no doubt, in practical terms these are a series of graphic collection books.  This series has been pre-planned and is numbered, but the volume numbering is not in order of publication date.  And so this particular volume is the 57th to be published but is in fact number 26 in the series.  The Mega Collection is truly a giant venture and I have a feeling that it is unequalled in comic book anthology publication in terms of both scope and size.  Each of these fortnightly Dredd graphic anthologies has a distinctive full colour spine so that when all of the books are arranged in order on a bookshelf the spines together form a wide-shot ensemble of Judge Dredd characters.  As indicated from the individual edition cover price of £9.99, these are affordable, and only when one considers the number of these individual publications together does the cost ramp up: by issue 57 collectors will have spent over £500 (~US$600)!  Of course, this last will have been spent over two years (around £20 a month).  The good news for those late to this venture is that currently (2017) back editions are available from Hachette Partworks.  Those comparatively new to the Dredd universe the past four or five years will find this series an invaluable way to catch up.

Dare I say it, this collection rivals that of the other recent graphic anthology series, The Judge Dredd Complete Case Files, which collects Dredd strips in the order that they were published in the weekly 2000AD and the monthly Judge Dredd Megazine, with the comic's graphic book annuals' strips appearing in a shorter (three volume) accompanying series Judge Dredd – The Restricted Files.  The other difference is that the paper quality in this, the Judge Dredd – The Mega Collection series is far better: The Judge Dredd Complete Case Files is printed on standard paper while Judge Dredd – The Mega Collection is printed on gloss art paper. Both series have their own merits.

However, if you are a longstanding Dredd fan who has been following Dredd's four-decade career for at least half or more of this time, then you will undoubtedly have some of the previous collected graphic novels published by either IPC, Hamlyn, Titan and 2000AD/Rebellion, and so will not want to yet again cover the same ground.  Nonetheless, this Judge Dredd – The Mega Collection series will still help you fill any gaps you may have in the more classic Dredd stories.  Importantly, some of the volumes – like this edition – are in hardback while the others are trade paperbacks: the same size but a soft cover.  Personally, I am seeking out some of the hard cover editions and I keep an eye out for these when I visit my local specialist SF bookshop.  If you have missed some of these, or any others you might have liked to have had, the good folk contributing to Wikipedia have a page devoted to this series so you can see what you have missed and, as previously said, Hachette Partworks are currently open to back orders.

And there you have it. A delight for Judge Dredd fans (and indeed Tom Frame lettering).  Splundig.

Jonathan Cowie

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