Judge Dredd 26 is the eighth book in this series to feature the artwork of Ron Smith, by far the most prolific Dredd artist of the early to mid-1980s. As ever, the stories are written by the team of Alan Grant and John Wagner.

The single chapter ‘Death of a Judge’ opens this collection, showing how dangerous life as a judge can be, and what happens when you forget you’re a judge. The following tale, ‘Loonies’ Moon’, is another slice of Mega-City One life that’s just as violent as the first, the black and white artwork perhaps being more forgiving of bloody violence than colour would be.

‘Battle of the Black Atlantic’ is a two-part story that features Dredd at his most commanding and forbidding. A random crime blitz eventually leads Dredd to a spy selling secrets to the Soviets, and demonstrates that Dredd will go to any lengths to protect his city. When Dredd is poisoned by the filthy water of the Black Atlantic, one suspects that it contains nothing but testosterone, as Dredd proceeds to deal with the Russians in a manner that’d be hard to beat for pure machismo.

The sequel, ‘Pirates of the Black Atlantic’, is the book’s longest story. It ramps up tensions between the Sov-Blok and Mega-City One, in a smashing tale involving mutie pirates, monstrous sea creatures and a nuclear attack on Dredd’s beloved city that sees four million killed.

‘The Lemming Syndrome’ is a silly little one-part story based on the notion – thoroughly discredited – that lemmings take part in mass suicides. It’s followed by ‘Hell’s Packers’, another slight tale that at least features lots of aerial action when Dredd has to take to the skies to quell an airborne rumble that’s out of hand.

The front cover by Simon Bisley is a strikingly modern design and execution that sits somewhat uncomfortably with the more traditional drawing style inside, though it is very nice. The book also contains a superb 2000 AD Brian Bolland cover featuring Captain Skank, the mutie pirate from ‘Pirates of the Black Atlantic’.

Smith’s artwork is always very professional, though it looks dated, and did even when these stories first appeared. The two Sov-Blok stories are both outstanding, and are far and away the strongest in this collection. They would lay the foundations for the later epic Block Mania/Apocalypse War, which in itself would have ramifications that would be felt in Dredd’s world for many years. Sadly, the other stories don’t always measure up to the quality of these longer tales.

The stories in this collection can also be found in the Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 03, 04, 09 and 10.