Despite Judge Dredd and 2000AD being around since 1977, most comic books fans outside of the United Kingdom are likely to have had their first exposure to Mega-City One after watching Sylvester Stallone and Rob Schneider fool around in the 1995 cinematic let down Judge Dredd. But after having the slate wiped clean with the far superior Dredd movie of last year, the publisher IDW has taken the opportunity to educate the unwashed masses in all things Dredd with Judge Dredd Classics #1.
American comic store visitors would have undoubtedly noticed the appearance of new, Americanised Judge Dredd comic books published by American publisher IDW titled Judge Dredd and Judge Dredd: Year One. Now, a year later, IDW are taking some of 2000AD‘s most memorable Judge Dredd stories, recolouring them and rereleasing them as Judge Dredd Classics.
We at Geek Insider were quite excited to hear about the new Judge Dredd Classics series when its Free Comic Book Day 2013 preview issue was released, but now that Judge Dredd Classics #1 is finally here, is it still worth shouting about?
Judge Dredd: The Story So Far
For those that don’t know, Judge Dredd is a violent, gritty, satirical comic book strip published as part of the British anthology comic 2000AD. Set over a hundred years into a post-apocalyptic future in the gargantuan American metropolis Mega-City One, Judge Dredd the series follows the titular character and his fellow Judges as they bring justice to the city’s crime ridden streets by any means necessary. The Judges act as judge, jury and executioner and exists as the living embodiment of the law.
As the series progressed, Judge Dredd stories eventually moved out of Mega-City One and into the surrounding “Cursed Earth”, the numerous other worldwide “Mega” cities and even into the depths of space and the Judge’s inter-stellar penal colonies it contained. The stories and characters featured also developed over time, covering Judge Dredd’s origins as a clone, the inter-dimensional Dark Judges and Judge Anderson’s existential crisis following her resignation as a Psi Judge.
Considering the series’ ongoing persistence after almost 40 years, the many twists and turns of Judge Dredd are impossible to summarise in one article. That’s the job that has been left to Judge Dredd Classics.
Judge Dredd Classics #1 – Block Mania
A few things become immediately obvious when picking up Judge Dredd Classics #1. First off, the book is comprised of 30, slick, glossy pages all resized to the American comic book standard. The book also has a brand new cover illustration by Jim Fern which also gives credit to the original writers and artists of the 2000AD story contained within. This last part is particularly important considering that British comic book legends John Wagner and Alan Grant were originally collectively credited as “T. B. Grover” It’s reassuring to see that IDW are respectful of the classic comic strips as well as those who worked on them.
Judge Dredd Classics #1 itself contains a hearty chunk of the Judge Dredd classic story “Block Mania” which originally appeared in 2000AD #236-244 back in 1981. Good luck trying to find this information though, as there’s absolutely no details on the origins of the story in Judge Dredd Classics #1. It’s a small omission, but one that most comic book fans would be interested in reading.
“Block Mania” starts off like so many Judge Dredd stories; with a “Block War”. Mega-City One is comprised of thousands of gigantic, self-contained residential blocks that house millions of Mega-City One citizens. Despite each block having it’s own groups of territorial gangs, entire blocks will on occasion engage in full-on war with one another. But when block after block begins heading into the streets to cause mayhem, Dredd and the rest of the outnumbered Judges realise that something much more sinister is at play.
Block Mania is a solid introduction to the world of Judge Dredd which effectively describes the repressive living conditions of Mega-City One citizens, their blatant disregard for law keeping and peace, and the extremely heavy-handed nature of the Judges’ law enforcement. Those who prefer action orientated comic book stories are also in luck as Judge Dredd Classics #1 contains page after page of good old fashioned violence and decadence as millions of citizens attempt to stand up the the Judges’ barrage of riot foam, “stumm gas”, sonic cannons and laser explosions.
Conversely, Block Mania contains little to no character development, but then again old 2000AD stories were all about spectacle anyway, and the fact that each story was broken up into six-page “progs” didn’t help even the spread either. Each of Block Mania’s characters are still well defined and original, but those looking to see the events of the comic book take a toll on these characters will be disappointed.
Resizing Issues Spoil An Otherwise Solid Comic Book
Another source of disappointment comes from the manner in which the former pages of 2000AD have been shrunk down and squeezed into dimensions that suit American comic book racks. 2000AD was originally a much larger publication than American comic books dimension-wise and has since conformed to large magazine sizes. IDW’s reduction in the the dimensions of the 2000AD strips while maintaining the correct proportions has resulted in large empty areas at the top and bottom of each page of Judge Dredd Classics #1.
The size reduction has also resulted in much smaller drawings and equally tiny lettering. So bad is the tiny lettering that any and all emboldened letters blur together into an indecipherable mess. Judge Dredd Classics #1 is a fun comic book, but having to hold it two inches away from your face just to read what characters are saying is nothing short of ridiculous. It makes no sense that IDW didn’t attempt to clean up the text considering the effort spent on colouring the artwork.
Whether or not you enjoy 2000AD‘s low-budget black and white comic strips is down to personal taste, but Judge Dredd Classics #1‘s appeal to many will be the newly added colour that now bursts vividly from each and every page. Colourist Charlie Kirchoff has expertly and lovingly added colour to Block Mania in a manner that suits the gritty nature of Judge Dredd while simultaneously modernising the strip for new audiences. But whether or not Judge Dredd Classics #1 is worth purchasing over the complete, uncut and B&W Judge Dredd: Complete Case Files is an entirely different matter.
Consider Getting Your Judge Dredd Kicks Elsewhere
Your decision on picking up Judge Dredd Classics #1 will ultimately come down to your love, or curiosity of, this old, British comic book series. Despite being an entertaining, original and newly coloured story, Block Mania does feel rather dated in comparison to modern comic books. With this being said, its difficult to recommend Judge Dredd Classics #1 over IDW’s other two Judge Dredd series or 2000AD itself, if available in your region. But anyone with an appreciation of older comic series and a stomach for ambitious levels of dystopian violence should definitely consider having a look at Judge Dredd Classics #1.