Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Judge Dredd: The Garth Ennis Collection review

I keep forgetting Dredd is American.

I like these Judge Dredd collections that focus on a particular writer. I have one of the Mark Millar and Grant Morrison collections. I quite liked it. Have they done the same for artists? I know IDW published a big hardcover collection of Brian Bolland’s Judge Dredd work but do any others exist? It would be interesting to find out. I think it’s a good idea to collect Judge Dredd comics in this way since, to my knowledge, there isn’t a very large amount of longer storylines but I could be very wrong. Judge Dredd’s been published weekly since 1977! No matter, there is a Garth Ennis collection and I’m very pleased to own it.  

Fans of Ennis are sure to like some stories in here but not all. “Emerald Isle” and “When Irish Pies Are Smiling” most resemble the style of writing Ennis has become known for. There are severed body parts, dark humour, death by blunt trauma to the head, plenty of Irish flavour, interesting commentary on a variety of subjects and, even so early in his career, a pretty good grasp for dialogue.

This collect does offer a nice variety of stories. The stories here differ in tone, in artistic styles and, somewhat unfortunately, in quality. Like all anthology, and don’t be fooled, this is essentially what this is, there will be good stories and there will be bad stories. Some of these I didn’t like because of the art, one in particular I thought was borderline terrible, “Almighty Dredd” in which a some lunatics create the Church of Dredd and go about sacrificing people Dredd so that he can transform Mega City One into a crime free paradise. The story itself isn’t great but it does have a few humorous panels. It’s the art that really brings this down to level of throwaway story.

There are a few handfuls of well executed stories that don’t have much weigh to them once you’ve turned the last page. “Snow Storm” is a good standalone story that is well executed but I’m certain I’ll forget all about it once I’m done writing this review. Another standalone, “First of Many” leaves a more lasting impression because of the story being told. Other stories, like “Emerald Isle”, are fun and representative of Ennis as a writer. This collection opens with “Emerald Isle” and it has many of the Ennis staples, including long-time collaborator Steve Dillon who I must say has been a pro from the very start. I remember the first time I saw his art I didn’t have any strong feelings for it, whether good or bad. Over time I’ve come to absolutely love it. I have to look long and hard to find art by Dillon I don’t enjoy. As much as I enjoy the showcase of artists in most 2000 AD/Rebellion collections I’ve purchased, I wish this book had more stories drawn by Dillon.

Death by potato!
I got a little off track there. “Emerald Isle”, its good and fans of Ennis will enjoy it. Judge Dredd travels to the Emerald Isle which is, you’ve guessed it, the Ireland of the future. Ireland has become a theme park filled with Irish stereotypes and the locals hate it. Ennis introduces an Irish Judge and he has some nice back and forth happen between him and Dredd. This is probably one of the funnier stories in this collection and I’ll resist the temptation to share some of the better jokes with you here. It was a great way to start the collection and it’s also one of Ennis’s earlier Dredd stories from what I read online. Pretty great start for a writer who was still very green at the time this story was published.

Ennis’s usual dark and gross sense of humour is present nearly throughout. Only two stories in this collection try for a more serious tone.  The first one doesn’t work, “A Magic Place”. Its and unsuccessful mix of Ennis’s strange humour (there is character called the Blender who, uh, blends people to death) and a romantic story that is more serious in tone. I find serious stories can be difficult to pull off as a Judge Dredd, particularly so when the focus isn’t really on Dredd or even the romantic couple and the Blender’s presence just seems to confuse the whole thing. I guess what this story really lacks is focus.  Another reason why this story doesn’t work well is the artistic shift. The first chapter is expertly drawn by Steve Dillon but the remaining two are by Simon Coleby who’s art is blocky but still retains a cartoonish that wasn’t suited the story Ennis was telling. Still, I did appreciate the effort.
A young Dredd making his first arrest.
The other more serious story is “Raider”. It’s a science fiction noir tale set in Mega City One and staring a former Judge. Raider actually went to the academy at the same time as Dredd! Ennis gives us a story of what a man does after he voluntarily leaves the force. The art and the writing are very moody. I didn’t expect this from Ennis and I’m very pleased to have discovered this little story. It packs a swift, but long lasting, emotional punch and it’s the gem of this collection despite being the least representative of Ennis’s body of work.  

If you’re a fan of Ellis you’re sure to find something to like in this collection. You might be a bit put off by some of the growing pains. This is, after all, a collection of some of his earlier work not only on Judge Dredd, but also in comics. Fans of Judge Dredd may have already read some of these stories in other 2000 AD/Rebellion collections but there are some undeniable classic Dredd stories here. Make sure you don’t own these stories in another trade before you go out and buy this comic. If your Judge Dredd collection is just starting off, like mine, this would make a nice addition, particularly if you like Garth Ennis’s style. It’s on full display here, growing pains and all.

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