Judge Dredd the Complete Case Files 02 kicks off Judge Dredd as we know him today. This collection largely consists of two major storylines: The Cursed Earth by Pat Mills and The Day the Law Died by John Wagner, writing as John Howard. If you’re not so much interested in his beginnings and the history of 2000AD then this is a good place to start. It’s a whole lot of dishing out the law without prejudice. But I would still recommend The Complete Case Files 01, because it’s still a fun ride. Now, let’s get on with it.
The Cursed Earth
The Cursed Earth serves as the second major storyline in the series, after The Robot Wars. Pat Mills, the creator of 2000AD, is the main writer on this one. The story finds Judge Dredd on a mission to deliver an antidote to Mega City Two, in an attempt to stop a virus that turns people into violent lunatics. And of course Judge Dredd needs to deliver this by going through the same territory that the Atomic War destroyed. The Cursed Earth.
And of course it’s classic Dredd. It’s a critique of the time, it’s very punk, and it starts to establish Judge Dredd as we know him. There are parts that are missing due to copyright issues, which serves as a reminder where 2000AD was at the time in pop culture. It criticized the mainstream, capitalism, and anything that was popular at the time. Also it was ridiculous. Dredd faces giant rats, dinosaurs, and an alien slave trade. And he can only survive with his trusty The Killdozer, which is a decked out military tank and plows over the radioactive wasteland. George Miller was definitely a 2000AD fan.
The Cursed Earth is significant because it establishes who Judge Dredd is. When we, as individuals, travel around the world and expose ourselves to different places and cultures, we grow as human beings. When Judge Dredd travelled from Mega City One to Mega City Two he realized just how important the law is. And how much he needed to protect it. He came back from this journey a changed Judge.
He is the law and everyone better believe it. And it brought a tear to my eye to see this happen in real time.
The Day the Law Died
But before Dredd has time to breathe to put immediately into effect his new found resolve in upholding the law, someone puts on a Judge Dredd uniform and kills someone, framing Dredd for the murder. The Day the Law Died by John Wagner is delightful and is my favorite of the two major stories in this collection. And the main reason for that is Judge Cal. You see him evolve and descend into complete madness and he becomes the first major antagonist against Dredd that is a real and dangerous threat. If you had any doubts about Wagner as a writer, then The Day the Law Died puts those fears to bed.
And the Day the Law Died cements once and for all what Judge Dredd is and how he will move forward in the stories to come. It’s also a conflicting story because you get, for the first time, the idea that the Judges aren’t exactly the good guys. They’re there to keep the population under control and will use any means necessary to do so. And what makes this story so brilliant is the decisions Cal makes as a Judge. One of his best ones by far was making a fish the Chief Judge.
And Judge Cal obviously had a vision, but the questions remained: How far do you want to go to bend a society’s will to your vision, especially if they don’t agree?
To kill everyone in Mega City One.
But if you killed everyone then there would be nothing left to judge. So why have Judges?
And there you have it. The best outcome for Mega City One is for everyone to be dead. And Judge Cal was right.
The Judges aren’t the good guys. Not at all. Judge Dredd has arrived.
As an American I’m still astounded that it took me so long to get to know these British masters. Yes, Brian Bolland and Dave Gibbons are well known. But I wish I had known more about Mike McMahon, Brendan McCarthy, Brett Ewins, Garry Leach, and Ron Smith. The writers are brilliant but the artists brought these stories to life.
Brian Bolland solidified Dredd’s chin and frown and it’s fun seeing it emerge through this set.
Brett Ewins is pure punk and Ron Smith (who sadly recently passed away) brought, oddly enough, a clean line, American feel to it.
But what’s really interesting is how all these artists worked in tandem with one another. Many jump in mid story and you don’t really miss a beat. Though I wonder if Wagner mentioning that Cal had a different haircut was a way to correct an inconsistency. Who knows and who cares.
Either way, one of the great pleasures in this selection is the art. Pure and simple. If you get the chance to find this book in your hands, flip through it and you’ll see what I mean. It’s a wonderful collection of art.
When I read The Case Files 01, I did a lot of reflecting. With Judge Dredd The Complete Case Files 02, I reflected a lot but I also enjoyed a lot. If you want to jump into Dredd with a clean, solid beginning then pick up Judge Dredd The Complete Case Files 02. It’s a gorgeous collection and treat yourself to some wonderful world building from the great Dredd masters.