Wednesday, 30 June 2010
‘Judge Dredd: The Restricted Files 01’ (Rebellion)
Have you ever suddenly realised that you’ve read far more books in a series (or about a particular character) than you thought you had previously? After a couple of years of saying that I hadn’t read all that many 2000AD comics (always difficult when you’re sneaking them off the shelves for a read before the newsagent notices...) I suddenly remembered that this wasn’t the case at all. My best mate had a whole stack of 2000AD annuals, and holiday specials, that I would read round his and it was ‘The Restricted Files’ that reminded me of Judge Dredd and some of his holiday related crime solving...
‘The Restricted Files 01’ collects a whole bunch of ‘Judge Dredd’ comic strips from various annuals and holiday specials that came out in the seventies and eighties (spanning the years 2099-2106 ‘in world’). Not all of the comic strips I’d venture to say, the title suggests that there will be more of these volumes in the near future. I’m cool with that, this first volume of ‘The Restricted Files’ was very much a fun way to spend an afternoon and I’d be happy to see more along the same lines.
That’s not to say that we have a perfect read on our hands here. The strips from the seventies, and early eighties, show the character of Dredd as very much a ‘work in progress’ without the background detail that makes his stories so rich. To be fair, the comic itself had only been out a few years at that point so there hadn’t exactly been much time to establish the setting! The end result is the same though, Judge Dredd solves crimes but we don’t really know much about who he is and where he is doing his policing. Stories such as ‘The Judge’s Graveyard’ and ‘Videophones’ suffer for this (although Kevin O’Neill and Mike McMahon provide quality artwork for both stories) as they feel disconnected from the larger setting...
There is also a sense of disconnection arising from the way in which this volume has been assembled. This arises from the stories themselves though and can be easily forgiven. The bulk of the stories have no real connection to events in Mega City One that took place in the weekly issues of 2000AD, they’re snapshots of daily life if anything. The only stories that have any connection to established events are Alan Grant's ‘Law of the Jungle’ and ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’ (at least as far as I could see). That’s the nature of the book though. What we have here is a collection of ‘one shot’ tales, nothing that will add anything meaningful to the established history of Mega City One. If you bear this in mind then you’re ok, most of the stories are very entertaining in their own right (even ‘Christmas Party’ which is fun but totally breaks the fourth wall in the worst way). If you’re looking for something that links things up a little tighter then you’re going to be very disappointed... Take the book as it is and you won’t go wring at all.
Even though these stories are all ‘one shots’, the writers still manage to find time and space to inject some of the social commentary that makes the stories of the ‘Big Meg’ really stand out from the rest. John Wagner’s ‘The Alien Zoo’ is an example of inner city boredom taken to spectacular levels while ‘It’s happening on Line 9’ shows the reader only too well what happens when living in the Big Meg gets to be just that little bit too much. Along the same lines, Alan Grant’s ‘The Beast in 24B’ shows the kind of things that can happen in Mega City One, on a daily basis and the mentality of the citizens who just accept these things as normal. These three stories are fun to read with a slight undertone of the tragic that makes you stop and think after you’ve finished them...
I came to this volume looking to read more stories from John Wagner and Alan Grant, two writing stalwarts of 2000AD. I was surprised then to see that all my favourites (both from this read and reading the stories in the past) were written by one T.B. Grover. ‘The Other Slab Tynan’ offers a unique fix to dealing with a time travelling criminal while ‘Tarantula’ offers us a look behind the scenes of Mega City life that just happens to be action packed at the same time. ‘Beat the Devil’ is a Halloween based tale that succeeds where ‘Christmas Party’ totally bombed and ‘Halloween’ shows us what might be lurking in the shadows on the last day of October... A little bit creepy but still enjoyable.
The artwork is consistently good throughout with nothing at all that lets the side down. Top of the pack though are Carlos Ezquerra and Ian Gibson, two artists that typify 2000AD and ‘Judge Dredd’ in particular. Even if you don’t read the comic their work is still worth checking out.
There is a lot more to ‘The Restricted Files’ than I’ve had time to cover, I chose instead to go with the stuff that leapt out at me for one reason or another. The book as a whole is an entertaining affair (once it gets going) and worth picking up. If you’re a fan looking to replace old back issues then this is just what you’re looking for. If you’re just after a slice of life in the ‘Big Meg’ then you can’t go too far wrong here.
Eight and a Half out of Ten