Looking For America
Tripwire’s contributing writer Tim Hayes takes a look at Rebellion’s America Lost & Found…
America Lost & Found
Writer: John Wagner
Artist: Colin MacNeil
Since the Judge Dredd America storyline was deliberately created to make a splash—launching the Judge Dredd Megazine for then-publishers Fleetway and marking a step change in the character’s visibility—the fact that it remains the go-to recommendation for readers new to Dredd thirty years down the line would have to be called a success for current publishers Rebellion. Only Slaine: The Horned God, which had a year’s head start in 1989, rivals it for a place on the podium as the designated high water mark for that era of 2000AD, carefully tended and kept in print by various routes ever since. Part of that longevity comes from America‘s clarity about the moral quagmire of the Judges and Mega-City One law, an aspect of Judge Dredd never out of relevance and certainly not today—although claiming America as the quintessential Dredd story on that basis requires manoeuvring around the number of times that other stories have taken subtly different views of the same picture, especially ones by other writers. John Wagner has always been the scriptwriter in the Dredd stable with the clearest focus on the strip’s societal aspects, on the difference between totalitarianism and fascism in the Judges or anywhere else. And Wagner is still the one most likely to show the Judges as competent and in control rather than oblivious or comically incompetent, finding other ways to get his point across than that.
All of which was right there in plain sight three decades ago in America and is now on show again in America Lost & Found, a new reprint of the arc accompanied by Wagner’s scripts for the seven-part story. Colin MacNeil’s lush painted art has a period feel of its own, both as a blast from 2000AD‘s past era of European-influenced painted sci-fi art and a reminder of how MacNeil himself has evolved his style in the digitally-enabled years since. His Mega-City One visuals are immersive cityscapes of threat and unease, glittering neon lights reflected on the meanest of mean streets, with all the graphic violence that the Megazine format allowed. America isn’t even focused on Dredd, being instead the entirely doomed story of Bennett Beeny’s love for America Jara; he a middlingly famous pop star, she a first-generation immigrant and fiery revolutionary out to throw a Molotov cocktail or two at the Judges. The story allows multiple different readings, including one from a very current perspective on gender and trans rights, but at the time Wagner was surely thinking of heterosexual mad love, the obsessive blinding foolishness of a weak man entranced by a strong woman of principle, an eternally relevant theme of its own.
If he wasn’t, you won’t get a solid pointer from the scripts. John Wagner is approaching retirement, at which point his titanic body of work and colossal impact on comics will need to be properly assessed; but the new reprint bears out the conventional wisdom that Wagner scripts are terse, functional, and leave matters of interpretation up to the artist first and then up to the reader later on. Scripts for parts two and six having vanished—lost and not found in fact—Wagner supplies new commentary on them instead, which provides more perspective on the work than the scripts themselves but still doesn’t give future scholars much to go on. In some ways this is perfect—you could make a good case for readers’ interpretations outranking authors’ intentions every time—although since Rebellion has simultaneously published Essential Judge Dredd: America, collecting the Wagner story again alongside related tales by Alan Grant and Garth Ennis, the Wagner scripts could have profitably gone into that volume instead. But as a spotlight on an influential story from influential creators that will never fall out of fashion, America Lost & Found gives America and America their due.
America Lost & Found is out now from Rebellion Publishing