Friday 2 October 2020

Incoming! Judge Dredd Megazine #424 - 30th Anniversary Special

Hard to believe it's been thirty years since I first got in on a brand new comic featuring all new Dreddworld stories and features, made to run monthly alongside the weekly 2000AD. Kicking off with the mighty America, a harsh, touching, brutal and scathing look at the Mega-City 1 justice system through the eyes of immigrants, it was billed as an adult-oriented comic, designed to bring the characters and stories of the prog back up to the average age of their readership. And what do you know, it survives to this day, and despite multiple changes in its history (fortnightly issues, crossover stories with 2000AD, multiple reprints to save money during the dark days), the current line-up is as strong as anything they've ever put out. So let's have a look and see what treats lie in store for the thirtieth anniversary issue...

So normally I would do a strip run down starting with the headline Dredd story, but I'm afraid we're going to hold the front page on this one... A quick glance at the In This Issue section, and the blurb for the new story Megatropolis reads as follows: "Imagine a Mega-City One from an alternate timeline - less the gleaming metropolis of the twenty-second century but instead an art deco retro-future variation. Joe Rico is one good cop in a police department riddled with corruption, and he's about to get a new partner in the shape of Amy Jara...". I nearly fell off my chair! A steampunk Dredd noir with Joe and the aforementioned America as partners?! Mega City One Elseworlds?! It's a great concept, and the first episode shows a lot of promise, with classic Dredd stories and tropes thrown into a blender and poured out in a grizzled cop smoothie. This is definitely one to watch, and if it's popular who knows what other spins they might take on Dredd's world...

Aaaand I'm deferring the Dredd strip again to sing the praises of Lawless once more. This issue it's a feature length, all singing, all dancing, all rhyming, fiftieth episode musical special! And it still manages to stay in-story! This strip should be winning awards all over the industry (do they even have comic awards any more?), its longevity and consistently high level of quality are a testament to writer Dan Abnett and artist Phil Winslade's commitment to this superb story. I'm pretty sure that even if the rest of the Meg took a massive nose-dive in quality I would still buy it just to read Lawless.

So back to the headline strip, Dredd and Beeny head a squad of Judges and Mark 8 mechs in an assault on Total War terrorists in Bennett Beeny Block (named after Judge Beeny's father/America Jara's husband) as the TW gang begin executing Justice Department supporters. Written by John Wagner, this is a typical MC-1 tear up with, understandably, lots of references to the 1st issue. Including art by Colin MacNeil... hang on... So the first half is by Colin Mac, and the second half is by Dan Cornwell... Now don't get me wrong, I like Dan Cornwell's art, and he's certainly produced the goods here, but swapping artists halfway through a series (never mind a single episode!) is my pet hate. Usually it only happens on American books with an over-ambitious release schedule, so it's a bit disappointing to see in the Meg. This is just episode 1 however, and it could just be a nod to nostalgia to get the Mac involved, so hopefully the rest of the story will be more consistent.

The rest of the anniversary Meg is filled with a fine selection of Dreddworld tales. Dreadnoughts takes us back to the early years of the Justice Department as they begin to take control over the police, the government and the military in North America. A great insight into how the Judges came into being, ably written by Michael Carroll, with art by John Higgins and Sally Hurst. Judge Anderson is back in No Country For Old PSIs, finding trouble at a home for disturbed psychics. Nice artwork from Steven Austin and Barbara Nosenzo, with a solid script by rising star Maura McHugh. The Returners head to Brit Cit in part one of Heartswood, looking for a cure for the curse that left them immortal. Still not sure about this one from Si Spencer, but the quality art from Nicolo Assirelli and Eva De La Cruz will keep me coming back for now... Finally, the story of the Dark Judges continues in Deliverance, as the crew of the Kimodo return to Earth safe in the knowledge that they have destroyed Fear, Fire and Mortis, and fired Death off into space never to be seen again... What could possibly go wrong?! Nick Percival has definitely found a home painting the Dark Judges, his art is perfect for these strips. David Hine takes over from John Wagner in telling their tale, big shoes to fill! A few years ago the Dark Judges were looking a bit stale and no-one really knew what to do with them, but these stories in the Megazine have really turned them around. Not sure if they'll bring them back to Mega City 1, but I'm looking forward to reading more of their return.

Bagged with this months comic is something a little different.... Instead of the usual trade paperback of reprint material we have a brand new encyclopedia of 2000AD! Apparently covering every major character and strip from 2000AD and the Megazine, this will be serialised over the next year starting this month with A-B. A quick scan reveals big names and lesser known characters: Anderson, Armitage, Brink, Bonjo from Beyond the Stars, Abelard Snazz to name but a few. It's about time they did something with the backup book, some of the stories were very recent reprints, and it felt like a bit of a waste for anyone who had been reading the comics for the last few years. Putting some classic british comic strips in there was better, but this is a great idea, looking forward now to rediscovering some forgotten names and stories.

After so many failed UK comics over the years it's great to be celebrating a genuine success. That's not to say there haven't been some low points, but with the support of Rebellion for two thirds of its life the Megazine has grown into an essential comic. Getting the monthly book to run all-Dreddworld strips (with a few months off due to running a computer game advert-strip) is a huge achievement and deserves acknowledgement. This issue includes straight Dredd, Offworld MC-1 colonies, deep space Judges, Psi Judges, Brit-Cit, and Ciudad Barranquilla stories. Unthinkable ten years ago. Running a niche book in a very competitive market is extremely difficult, but with such quality stories inside this one should run and run. Here's to another 30 years!

Issue 424 is out now, and a great jumping on point, if you haven't already, why not climb on board?

By day, David Mustill is a Human Workhorse for a chemical company. Naturally, every possible moment away from this existence is spent gaming and painting miniatures.

A steady diet of rock, metal, punk, comics, gaming, miniatures and genre movies has moulded David into a renaissance geek, for whom no gaming company or genre is too obscure, and no graphic novel is unreadable.

He is currently the Chairman of Milton Hundred Wargames Club, which affords him the privilege of running the Broadside Games Show. He will not let you down. Unless you're after selfies. He is rubbish at selfies...

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