My brother gave me this for Christmas a while ago. I hadn't read it until now... but it's fascinating. These are the first ever Judge Dredd stories, printed complete and in order, right from prog 2. I was surprised to see how many quotes and images I recognised from other places, but it's also very different from Dredd's adventures today.
Much of it is Dredd himself. He's not the big-jawed block of granite we know and fear. In his first story, he looks like a woman. He's slim, he seems somehow smaller than his uniform and he reminds me a biker. The leather outfit, the helmet... he seems more vulnerable, I think. He's also capable of being unexpectedly humane (e.g. towards futsies) and there are only occasional flashes of Dredd the Gratuitous Utter Bastard, with the main example being in prog 22 when chasing Mr Buzzz. (He says thanks by reducing a sentence from 40 years to 39 years and 364 days, then burns down a hotel while the distraught owner's standing alongside him. The city will reimburse the chap, but even so...)
Also, bizarrely, he has associates. Maria the Italian landlady is negligible and we lost nothing when she disappeared from the strip, but I love Walter the Wobot. He's a one-joke character, yes, and can get a bit repetitive, but at his best he's magnificent. He adores Dredd. He worships Dredd. He'd have himself crushed into metal sand if it meant Dredd's boots would walk on him. "Oh, thank you, Judge Dwedd! You are the nicest, kindest human in the whole world." "Oh, Judge Dwedd, Walter is so pleased YOU will be ending Walter's worthless life! But do remember your clean socks are in..."
Walter is adorable. Walter is the greatest. He's a genuinely good person in this Dredd-ful future, preaching love and idealism to a mass-murdering robot who wants to commit genocide for fun. He can be extremely funny, while also there are a couple of sweet moments as Dredd defends his irritating robot and/or gives him a happy Christmas.
Max Normal is cool, but only appears once, briefly.
As for the stories, they're leaning hard into future weirdness, mad ideas and worldbuilding. They're rather good, actually. They're full of memorable stuff, from the ape gang to the jolly songs in the Robot Wars, Dredd's first multi-part epic. "Knock those walls down! Squash a judge! Turn him into human sludge!" Interestingly, the early episodes are almost portraying Mega-City One as a utopia. No one works more than a few hours a week, since robots do everything for you. (It's always ultra-violent, though.)
There are story elements here that would soon disappear, but others will become important. Dredd does Judge Giant's rookie exam, as he'd later do for others (e.g. Kraken). There are Sov-Bloc judges on the moon, looking exactly as they would later when invading in the Apocalypse War.
The art's fascinating, too. Ezquerra and McMahon could almost be brothers at first, although this volume later sees McMahon suddenly explode and out of nowhere invent Old Stoney Face as we know him today. Ian Gibson isn't as Gibsony as you'd expect, but he's also the artist with the strongest personality in those early episodes. (Ezquerra and McMahon are so huge and influential that they define the strip's visual identity and pull it into craggy, slightly ugly granite.) And, occasionally, there's Brian Freaking Bolland.
It's amazing. It's history. It's very different from modern Dredd, but it also holds up well and I found myself wanting to see more of some of the things it was doing. Sometimes it's funny. Sometimes it's shocking, e.g. Call-Me-Kenneth's robots who commit suicide. Sometimes it's wild SF and/or no-holds-barred parody. You Bet Your Life is brilliant, while I love the Sov "war". There's a lot to read in here. I'm thinking of buying further Complete Case Files...