If you haven’t noticed by now, there are a lot of volumes of Judge Dredd the Complete Case Files. And they just keep growing. Which makes sense because these volumes collect the Judge Dredd stories found in the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic, 2000AD. Now, if Volume 01 introduced us to the character, and if Volume 02 gave us our first big storyline, AND if we could agree that Volume 03 was basically one big fill-in, then I would say that Judge Dredd The Complete Case Files 04 is when ole stoney face finally arrives in full. Hiya big fella.
What’s really nice about this volume is that this is the ground level for the foundation of its future greatness. Alan Grant jumps on it for the first time, and you can see the beginning of the fruitful partnership between him and John Wagner. The two of them really make Judge Dredd what he is today. In fact, after reading the fourth volume you understand why we get the stories that we do in our present time. Their influence and contribution to the character cannot be understated. Yes Wagner is the co-creator of Dredd, but you could probably put Grant under Wagner and Ezquerra’s name and a lot of people would be fine with it.
The big story in this volume is The Judge Child that spans a whopping twenty-five stories. At times it does feel like it prolongs itself for prolonging’s sake but when you step back and look at it, it is a defining moment. The Judge Child basically expands the scope of the Dredd universe. It’s Judge Dredd in space, visiting other civilizations as he goes on a quest to find the Judge Child. In short, it makes the thing quite epic. And it shines the most when you see Dredd transplant himself in these societies as he attempts to lay down the law of Mega City One. Yes, he’s out of his jurisdiction but did anyone tell him that? Also did I mention that the fourth volume also serves as the first appearance of Judge Hershey? Another pin in your hat of significance.
One part of the story that really put a smile on my face was Dredd chiding Judge Lopez for wearing a mustache. It’s something that you can see Dredd doing. And as Lopez refuses, Dredd decides that he’s a good candidate to take the Oracle Spice, an unknown substance that could prove fatal if taken incorrectly. Sure enough Lopez dies and it’s another example in this cold world that Judge Dredd is the law. And you better believe it.
My only gripes with the story is nothing new. When British authors try to incorporate American slang in their stories it puts me off. Yes, I understand this is meant to be a parody of sorts of American culture and a commentary on the political situation of the time. But by golly the dialogue sucks. There’s too much hillbilly bumpkin’ to it. It’s nothing against Wagner or Grant. They were writing to a British audience after all. But it still sticks out like a sore thumb. I’m sure many American readers would agree with me.
But as we are introduced to the one-two-punch that is Wagner and Grant we also continue the magnificent trio that is Brian Bolland, Ron Smith, and Mike McMahon. Seriously, these three on art duties make Judge Dredd The Complete Case Files 04 worth the price alone. You get the crispness of Bolland and Smith with the zanziness of McMahon. I can’t imagine what it was like reading these things when they came out. But when you put this in context to some of the other stuff that came out in British publications at the time, it’s no surprise that 2000AD has survived as long as it has.
And that’s really the point of this volume. We’re now in the weird sci-fi world with aliens mixed with fantasy elements. It’s psychedelic drugs fueling a crazy world while also stacking up the building blocks. It’s also an attempt to create consistency. We have a nod to Judge Cal in Volume 02 at one point, an introduction to the concept of a Block War, and what looks like a prelude to the oncoming epic, Apocalypse War.
The production value is good. There are only a few instances where it’s very noticeable that the pages were copied from the actual prog. But other than that you’re treated to rich, big art that gives these artists justice. And another special treat from Volume 04 is that you get Steve Dillon’s first contribution. Another pin!
Judge Dredd The Complete Case Files 04 is Judge Dredd as we know it. It’s 2000AD as we know it. And it’s all rock and roll from here. If you don’t care for introductions, or historical character development, and you’re looking for a place to start with these things, then I would start here.