Still An Arresting Tale
♦Tripwire’s Contributing Writer Tim Hayes takes a look at the latest classic Judge Dredd collection, Judge Dredd Cursed Earth Uncensored by John Wagner, Pat Mills, Chris Lowder, Brian Bolland and Mick McMahon
Judge Dredd Cursed Earth Uncensored
Writers: John Wagner, Pat Mills, Chris Lowder
Artists: Mick McMahon, Brian Bolland
The boundless energy and enthusiasm of everyone involved in creating The Cursed Earth storyline is as galvanising now as it was when the classic Judge Dredd saga was first published in 2000 AD during 1978. Thirty eight years later, the strips still spring off the page and land in your lap. And there’s a few more of them to spring here than in earlier collections, because The Cursed Earth Uncensored includes the handful of occasionally omitted episodes where Dredd encounters some familiar fast-food trademarks and real-life icons of capitalism, most of them revealed as cynical conniving bullies caring for no one but themselves. It also has 2000 AD’s suitably ambivalent semi-apology for any intellectual property damage caused, behind which the magazine can be heard barely stifling an appropriate snigger.
The saga is still a handful. Its world-building template of sending Dredd on an odyssey over the horizon has been bulletproof enough to withstand many repetitions, but this original mercy dash to Mega-City Two with a precious vaccine throws up some wild new radioactive horror with every turn of the page. Pat Mills writes the bulk of it with characteristic compassion for the oppressed and resentment of those doing the oppressing, although he also takes the opportunity to pit Dredd against marauding dinosaurs and the black tyrannosaur Satanus, flamboyantly tying the story back into his own Flesh strip from 2000 AD’s earliest days. John Wagner and Chris Lowder chip in with the spicy anti-corporate episodes that caused the fuss, meshing so well with Mills that the joins hardly show.
Mick McMahon and Brian Bolland’s art is easier to distinguish, and McMahon in particular is in his pomp. Much greatness and an evolving style lay in the artist’s future at this point, but his pencils here are all sinew and gristle, a frantic British energy barely contained by some European-style adventure cartooning. One glimpse of a US heartland submerged in boiling black lava conveys an entire country in ruins even in a single panel, although the real energy is in all those angular human beings. For the image of Dredd battered close to submission, a simian figure stripped of everything but willpower, McMahon was exactly the right man at the right time.
The strip was the right kind of success for 2000 AD too, a boon that it rightly embraced: several distinct flavours of future Dredd storytelling are hinted at in embryo form along the way. Nothing can stop a collection of The Cursed Earth today feeling a bit of a period piece – the oddball rock-eating alien Tweak would summon up 1978 even if the Jolly Green Giant didn’t – but the fizzing pencil-and-ink execution has a loose and lively freedom about it, something distinct from the more lushly engineered and coolly despairing Dredd stories to come. It catches both character and strip in a moment of purity – both going places, very fast and very loud.