Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Judge Dredd: The Restricted Files 02

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Judge Dredd: The Restricted Files Volume 02 (Rebellion, 2010).

This is the second in a two-volume set that covers all of the various Judge Dredd episodes of the 1980s that did not originally appear in the weekly 2000 AD comic. The publishers, at the time IPC, used to release various annual hardbacks and special editions where additional adventures of the lawman of the future could be found, and these stories, long desired by fans to be collected alongside the weekly episodes, have finally found a home in these two books.

Honestly, there isn't anything in book two as wild and fantastic as the better moments in the first volume, but there isn't anything as dire as that book's first ninety-odd pages, either. As I mentioned in my review of that book, the first several annuals and specials for 2000 AD were compiled by various editorial staffers working anonymously, few of whom had a grasp on the still-developing character of Dredd and his growing world. Until John Wagner became interested and took control of those projects, they were patchy at best.

With Wagner, joined in 1983 by Alan Grant as co-writer, in charge and defining a clear world, and worldview, for Dredd, the one-shot episodes maintained a consistent tone. True, with only a handful of pages per story, they couldn't really dig into things with the detail afforded a multi-week serial in 2000 AD itself. In some cases, like a Mike Collins-illustrated episode about a heat wave, the plot is given over to fantasy. But with a consistent approach, a dry wit and a taciturn leading man, the stories are uniformly entertaining, with few or no fumbles across close to 400 pages.

As usual, there's a pile of really great art from many Dredd regulars. Cam Kennedy is well-represented with one of my favorites of his many times drawing Dredd, "I, Beast," and he's in good company with Carlos Ezquerra, Ian Gibson, Arthur Ranson and others. I think my favorite story in the book might be one of the longest, "Last of the Bad Guys," which was painted by John Higgins. Honestly, there's not a bad-looking page in this book, but I think that Higgins, one of the title's unsung heroes of the period, might have done the best work in the collection. Bryan Talbot illustrates a really funny story that shows what happens when Justice Department's undercover division can't rustle up enough female judges for a case, and Brendan McCarthy is psychedelic, wild and mind-blowing on a couple of very colorful episodes.

Again, nothing in these pages is as completely breathtaking as some of the Mike McMahon material in volume one, but that's not to say anything here is lacking. It's a really terrific reprint, full of clever, surprising plot twists and it's long overdue. It's presented on nice paper, chronologically, and very well designed. Darned if I can find a flaw in it at all, to be blunt. Highly recommended!

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