Review by Roy Boyd
Case Files 13 is written entirely by John Wagner and Alan Grant, so we know straight away that we’re in safe hands, with both writers proving time and again that they’re among the few who really ‘get’ Dredd. This collection consists mostly of one-part stories, with a handful of two and three-parters and one thirty pager extending over five parts. Some of the stories are black and white, though most are colour.
The short episodes, usually six pages, demand a condensed storytelling style, and Wagner and Grant are both masters of the form, tearing through ideas at a rapid pace, many of which are so good that other writers would think them deserving of multi-part epics. Judge Dredd is perfect for this format. While Dredd himself isn’t the most nuanced of characters, the strip has long been one of the most versatile in comics, and works equally well in horror, adventure, comedy, tragedy, musical and just about every genre one can possibly imagine.
The first outstanding tale, by Wagner and Jim Baikie, is ‘In the Bath’, what happens when two punks ill-advisedly try to rob Dredd’s apartment. While Dredd’s in the bath. Baikie works around the limitations of never being able to show Dredd’s face, and the story is a delight. The following two, also by Wagner, feature two Colin MacNeil art jobs, one thoughtful followed by one that’s funny, a whiplash change of tone that mattered less when these stories first appeared weekly, and one you get used to while reading these collections. MacNeil has long been one of the best and most consistent Dredd artists, winning readers’ choice awards for his work. And he draws a mean Strontium Dog too.
‘Accidental Death of a Citizen’, drawn by Cliff Robinson, would bring a tear to a glass eye. P. J. Maybe returns for a three-part story that contains some nice artwork by Liam Sharp, though the less said about the Freddy Kreuger-inspired ‘An Elm Street Nightmare’, the better, with Mick Austin’s artwork amongst the poorest in the book.
‘Cardboard City’, with superb art by Cam Kennedy, is a great-looking three-parter, reminiscent of Mike McMahon’s legendary work on the character. Kennedy does draw an odd looking visor on Dredd’s helmet, which is his prerogative, with a character for whom there’s never been a style ‘bible’.
Carlos Ezquerra illustrates the longest story in the collection, ‘Young Giant’, introducing the child of Giant, a Judge that Dredd was close to until he was rather unspectacularly killed by Orlok in Block Mania. The character, a rookie Judge, would return time and again, effectively replacing his father.
Jim Baikie does it yet again with ‘Spuggy’s Christmas’, and the following tale, ‘A Family Affair’, with art by Steve Yeowell, is surprisingly excellent for an artist whose style isn’t always a good fit for Dredd. The final story, ‘A Letter to Judge Dredd’, with art by Will Simpson, touches upon the harsh rule of the judges, which leads neatly into ‘Necropolis’, which comprises the bulk of Case Files 14.
The finest Dredd writers, artwork that ranges from mediocre to excellent (though sadly too much of the former and not enough of the latter), and a plethora of versatile tales – some of them superb – combine to make this a fairly solid volume.