Review by Frank Plowright
Brendan McCarthy hasn’t drawn vast amounts of Judge Dredd, and there tend to be considerable gaps between his contributions. He’d drawn a few episodes in 1979, and then concentrated on other work until these stories, which all saw print first in 1986.
The greytoned reproduction of the opening colour spread is necessary in an all black and white collection, but it also removes a considerable strength of McCarthy’s art: his magnificent sense of colour. The original spread thoughtfully reflected the light sources in the slashing rain, largely blue with splashes of yellow, but the Judge caught in emergency red lighting. The great rictus grin design for the lead biker still resonates, but much is lost. The remainder is atmospheric, but also cluttered and too dark. McCarthy’s a thoughtful artist, so it’s initially tricky to work out if that’s deliberate intention to convey the conditions and the difficulty of seeing in them. Later pages show that it’s not. They’re equally crowded and there’s a lack of depth perception to them. Alan Grant and John Wagner’s story features a motorcycle vigilante gang with a quick escape method, but for them it’s standard.
‘Atlantis’ is more ambitious on their part. They’d long previously established the Atlantic Ocean as an irretrievably polluted home to monsters in Dredd’s world, and here introduce the idea of seabed floor service tunnels running beneath, doubling as tourist attractions, and the undersea Atlantis base. They also introduce the Brit Cit Judges, whose jurisdiction extends under portions of the Atlantic. McCarthy still has problems with too much clutter on the darker pages, but in places this is nicely drawn and more representative of his style. The plot concerns dead bodies turning up in the sea, the writers revealing the who and why to readers almost immediately, and then leaving Dredd to piece the clues together. It’s a neatly worked to a bleak and poetic ending.
‘The Witness’ almost sees McCarthy working against the script. It seems a straightforward tale of Dredd tracking down a killer, but has a melodramatic twist that McCarthy oversells. He also keeps distracting from what we should be following via less than sympathetic layouts that constantly draw the eyes to somewhere unnecessary.