Judge Dredd: The Judge Child by John Wagner, Alan Grant, Brian Bolland, Mick McMahan and Ron Smith (graphic novel review).
‘Find the Judge Child!’ Those are the dying words of Judge Feyy, a pre-cog with 88.8% accuracy who has foreseen a ghastly war which destroys Mega-City One and leaves foul creatures to prey on the survivors. Only the Judge Child can prevent this! Owen Chrysler is the name of the Judge Child and on his forehead is a mark shaped like the eagle of justice. Records show that the boy and his family left Mega-City One four years ago to settle in the New Mutieland territories. Dredd goes off to find him but the boy is kidnapped by the Angel Gang and taken off Earth, so he and a small crew set off in pursuit. The crew includes Judge Hershey, who he seems to meet here for the first time, and Judge Lopez.
This quest takes them to a number of interesting planets. Lesser Lingo is a world where the rich can get their personalities put into a chip which is then implanted in a young body that they hire for a few hours at a time. In the Hadean system, the Judges encounter a living planet and it’s hungry. Then on to Necros, a sort of gothic horror world ruled by Murd the Oppressor. Xanadu is a distant frontier outpost, a wild west world that’s ideal for the final showdown. Of course, the Judge Child is a MacGuffin, an Alfred Hitchcock style plot tool to give the hero an opportunity to chase around having adventures. This framing device gives Wagner and Grant a chance to tour the galaxy and show off a variety of planets, as well as their own imaginative talents.
There’s a running joke about the 1970s style disco dancer moustache sported by Judge Lopez. Dredd doesn’t like it. ‘Don’t like to see a Judge with facial hair’, he notes in his log. There are also gags for an English audience about well-known television adverts in the ‘Battlefield 8’ segment. A good story is not just about plot but about the extras the writer puts in to add soul. It’s these kinds of ruffles and flourishes by John Wagner and Alan Grant that make ‘Judge Dredd’ such fun. There’s no telling who did what exactly because the story credits all give the pseudonymous John Howard as script robot. Unreliable online info suggests that most of it was by Wagner with Grant contributing near the end. It doesn’t really matter.
The art, on the other hand, is clearly credited and all of it is great. Brian Bolland’s work is the prettiest. Mike McMahon’s style is more unconventional but he does very good detail work and the slightly rough look is particularly apt for the gothic horror Necromancer sequence. If I had to pick a favourite it would be Ron Smith, whose art falls somewhere in between the other two and is not as neat as Bolland but just as detailed as McMahon. To be fair, he was the most experienced of the three with a career stretching back to the fifties. (Before that, he was a spitfire pilot in the war!) It’s all great, even at this paperback size and a fine example of how good black and white can be.
A good chunk of comics at an unbeatable price but you do need a good light to read it by. I found strong daylight best. These stories originally appeared in 2000AD progs 156-181. Art aficionados and older readers might prefer larger size reprints which are available in Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files Volume 4.
(pub: 2000AD. 176 9age graphic novel paperback. Price: £ 6.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78108-109-9)
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