Steve Dillon
The Complete Judge Dredd in Oz
Medium: comic
Year: 1988
Writer: Alan Grant, John Wagner
Artist: Barry Kitson, Brendan McCarthy, Cliff Robinson, Dave Elliott, Garry Leach, Jim McCarthy, John Higgins, Steve Dillon, Will Simpson
Country: UK
Keywords: Judge Dredd, 2000 AD
Format: 2000 AD #545-573, 232 pages
Website category: Comics
Review date: 25 November 2021
This is the 1994 Titan Books collection, containing:
(a) Judge Dredd in Oz (26 issues). Chopper (aka. Marlon Shakespeare) flies to Oz solo on his powerboard, which is a near-suicidal feat that no one (including Chopper himself) had thought possible. He crosses the Cursed Earth. Then, while he prepares to compete in Supersurf 10, Dredd fights the evil Judge-cloned Judda.
(b) Hitman (3 issues). Dredd returns to Mega-City One, where a serial killer is waiting for him. This contains no plot links to the Oz storyline, but it's unusual in being a character examination of Dredd and his decisions at the end of Oz. He gets hospitalised, so can't do much except talk.
That's six months of a weekly strip. That's not uncommon for Judge Dredd mega-epics, but this isn't one. It's more personal and small-scale than that, despite the shoehorned-in Judda storyline to give Dredd something to do. Chopper flies. That's about it. 2000 AD readers liked Chopper. He's an ordinary bloke with one talent (powerboarding) and a lot of guts. Even Dredd himself ends up having some admiration for Chopper... but that doesn't mean he won't try to shoot him.
Chopper's storyline works. He's an engaging character. He starts out in prison and the Judges don't like prison escapes. They try to kill him with bullets and laser cannons. On the open ocean, though... "One thousand kays out and no way back even if he wants. Strangely, once he'd made the decision to surf on, to strike out across the Pacific, a heavy weight has lifted from his shoulders. He knows he is going to die and he doesn't care. Out here where the vastness of the Pacific has almost washed away the ravages of man's wars and the sea is blue and the air is almost clear... for the first time in his life he feels really free."
He's going to let nothing stand between him and his arbitrary, pointless goal, yet he's also capable of being calm, philosophical and even zen. Supersurf 10 is also quite exciting, despite being just a sporting event. It's a race... but it's a ludicrously lethal one, where competitors fly at top speed around, under or through lots of instant death opportunities.
As for the Judda, they're pretty good too. They're freaky to look at, designed by the terrifying Brendan McCarthy. (His art can sometimes be hard to read, but there's no one better at creating monsters to make you wonder if someone's spiked your drink.) Dredd teleporting solo into their HQ is alarming, even for him. The main problem with the Judda is how dissociated they are from the main storyline, but I was fine with that. It's Judge Dredd. The strip's standard format is lots of unrelated, episodic shorts. It would almost be more surprising if six months passed without some unrelated menace almost killing everyone.
This is a low-key, modest epic. It's six months about an ordinary bloke who flies a powerboard. (The Judda appear in less than a third of the episodes.) It's fairly unexciting by Judge Dredd standards, but I think it works. I like its character focus. I particularly like our glimpse of the human side of Dredd himself, which oddly was part of what led to the break-up of the long-running Wagner/Grant writing team. This was their last story together. Wagner wanted more realism and to examine Dredd's human side, while Grant wanted ever more grotesque parody. Here, Chopper and Dredd end up being capable of talking almost like friends ("that'll be the day"), which is something I don't associate with old stony face.
Then, later, when hospitalised, he has a heart-to-heart with Judge Hershey. It's about shooting people in the back, but still. For Dredd, that's soft and fluffy.
Are these 29 episodes great? Absolutely not. Are they a must-read? No, despite employing a crazy number of artists. This story doesn't really matter, although one might perhaps argue that it's a stepping stone in the path to Dredd's resignation two years later in The Dead Man (progs 650–662) and the democracy tragedies (A Letter to Judge Dredd, The Devil You Know, Twilight's Last Gleaming, America). That's debatable, but the Judda storyline is directly connected to (Countdown to) Necropolis (progs 669-699) via Judge Kraken.
It's a gentle, character-based piece (by Judge Dredd standards), though, and that's why I quite like this anti-epic.