Sunday, September 16, 2012

Judge Dredd: The Day the Law Died

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 Day the Law Died (new edition, Rebellion, 2012).

I must admit that I am of two minds about this new collection of this lengthy Judge Dredd story, first published in 1978-79. "The Day the Law Died" is a pretty over-the-top epic in which a powerful senior judge who has completely and absolutely lost his marbles takes control of the city. Thousands of judges, brainwashed and bent to his will, go right along with him. Dredd, who had been out of the city for several weeks on a major mission across the country, had been missing out on the early stages of the brainwashing treatment and needs to be taken out. Soon, the city's top lawman is a wanted criminal, waging a guerilla war against a wild lunatic who gets advice from a goldfish.

Two years previously, the actor John Hurt had portrayed the insane Caligula in the BBC-TV adaptation of I, Claudius, and this, naturally, was the inspiration for this story. Chief Judge Cal - never "Judge Caligula," although that was the name of the original Titan Books repackaging of this story - instantly became one of the all-time great Dredd villains, with his every macabre and ridiculous whim passing into legend. At one point, Cal decides that he wants to make sure one of his lackeys is always there to please him, so he has him pickled. Somebody at the original publishers, IPC, was infuriated by this, fearing that children might attempt to copy it, somewhat missing the point that children have limited access to eight-foot tall jars or quite that much vinegar.

Rebellion's newest packaging of this story is in a new line of "manga-size" reprints, proving that there's no trend that can't be jumped upon six years after the iron is hottest. While I applaud the publisher for branching out and looking for attention outside the traditional comic audience, with our expectations for how reprints should be packaged, and genuinely hope that Barnes & Noble's buyers can be persuaded that this line can easily, and should be, shelved alongside everything else in the "manga" section of their stores, it is not a format that flatters the artwork. Digest reprints have always been tricky things since the artwork is shrunk down so much. With much more detail, and more panels per page, than American comic books of the period, these really lose some luster shrunk down so very small. It's certainly true that art by Brian Bolland, Brett Ewins or Ron Smith looks at least pretty good at any size, but you may need to have a lens ready to read the lettering. Or perhaps I'm just getting old.

This edition is recommended for newcomers or for completists. As the story is available in a larger format in the second volume of The Complete Case Files, however, I'll stick with that when I wish to return to it.

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