Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth – Pat Mills and John Wagner

Cursed EarthThis was the longest Dredd story to date and one of the longest in his history spanning 25 issues or six months of comics. Dredd must cross the whole of America, which has been turned into a radioactive wasteland called the Cursed Earth, to deliver lifesaving vaccine to Mega City Two. He can’t fly because the city’s spaceports are in the hands of infected cannibals. A flimsy premise that clearly stops him flying and landing outside the city. Or maybe hovering for a bit.

It is actually a collection of standalone stories set in the Cursed Earth where Dredd and his companions do good for those they meet on their travels, much like the TV shows Highway to Heaven or the Littlest Hobo. Some of these are quite thought-provoking and really touching. Dredd enters in his mission log about how “the human race makes me sick.”

The story does a lot to expand the Dredd world. We learn more about the Megacities, the desolation of America, what caused the Atomic Wars, and how the Judges came to power. We see more of Dredd’s compassion and mercy and at the same time witness his dedication to the law.

One of the interesting points about this massive epic is that four issues are missing from the reprints. They have not been lost like Dr Who episodes but because they feature fast food brands a legal settlement prohibits them from being reprinted. This is a shame as having read them they present valuable social satire against the rise of the fast food culture that has its roots in the 1970’s and pervades our entire world today. The story doesn’t suffer their absence but they would be nice to see. You can find them online and in a future release of this story.

The portmanteau style means sometimes we are following Dredd, sometimes we are listening to stories told by other characters and sometimes we are embedded in the consciousness of a dinosaur. This is a rambling and eclectic tale but with enough room to tackle serious, emotional, light-hearted, action or adventure themes.

Such a long story means a lot of switching between artists, notably Bolland and McMahon. These two styles are remarkably different but they are such regular contributors to Dredd that you don’t mind. The fragmented nature of the storyline also means when you change chapter you change artist making the transition much more acceptable. What is missing is the colour as the entire work has been reproduced in black and white.

There is a short introduction that adds some background but not much. The book is rough around the edges but solid gold at its core.

Thumbs Up!

Defoe 1666 – Pat Mills

Like much of Britain’s great comic literature this first appeared in the pages of 2000AD and was written by one of its most prolific and well respected writers Pat Mills. Its premise is that in 1666 there was a zombie uprising in England. The great people of the age such as Sir Issac Newton, King Charles II, Robert Hooke and many more familiar names put their heads together to save the day. Science, Alchemy, Devilry, Popery and the drawings of Leonardo Da Vinci are all pressed into service together with a lot of gunpowder. It’s like steampunk but without the steam.

Period London isn’t the background for this story it is the star. The language is a real delight to behold with familiar but long dormant words, phrases, titles and curses all resurrected to breathe life into a truly authentic setting. This is in fact the “Sandman” of zombie comics. You keep wishing you paid more attention at school so that so much of the detail isn’t going over your head. Like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings these pages contain a living, breathing world not just a two-dimensional stage. At the least this will give you a gripping action story, at the most this will have you jumping on Wikipedia or heaven forbid going to the library to look up Levellers, Papists, Linkboys and the Invisible College. As it is written by a Brit there are no jarring Mary Poppins manglings of the language

The art is black and white line that 2000AD is well known for. It is used to great effect here to portray the murk, squalor and grime of 17th Century London. The darkness, rain, fog, underground crypts and oppression of the settings are realised superbly. This is an age before electricity or even gas lighting so all that stands between you and the darkness is your hearth or candle. It is hard to imagine this work functioning as well if it were in colour.

This volume contains the first two of four stories. The second introduces a bigger troupe of zombie hunters and so there isn’t as much time to flesh out the characters. It feels like the ABC Warriors (another Pat Mills creation) with too many faces unnecessarily competing for screen time. You definitely want to know more however and I am looking forward to the next trade paperback. Absolutely Thumbs Up!

81/284.

Tomorrow:  Bram Stoker’s Death Ship – Gary Gerani