Review by Frank Plowright
Given the title, the assumption might be that this 2007 collection is a career-spanning retrospective of Judge Dredd’s co-creator, who, after all, has been a continuing and popular artist on the series ever since it launched in 1977. However, that’s not the case, and the majority of stories here may not have been printed in other collections, but almost all date from the early 21st century, the most recent material only seeing print a year before the collection.
The strips are presented in chronological order, and it might have been better running a shorter collection or finding something to replace opener ‘The Taking of Sector 123’. It predates the next earliest content by six years and is the only example of Ezquerra’s art still being physically pencilled, inked and coloured. Ezquerra was an enthusiastic early adopter of digital art techniques, starting with colour, and while they no doubt saved him time, his art also eventually lost something for no longer being created by hand, but thankfully that’s not evident here. However, the slim homage isn’t Garth Ennis’ finest hour.
Ennis also writes the following ‘Helter Skelter’ in which there’s a dimensional rift bringing variants of Dredd’s long dead enemies to Mega-City One. Very few are anything more than cameos before Dredd mows them down, and the pacing is faulty, meaning repetition is the order of the day. It’s not even the case that everything is drawn by Ezquerra since Henry Flint fills in for a few chapters.
Ezquerra’s left sample art is from ‘Phartz’, which, yes, is an obvious joke on John Wagner’s part, but he constructs an interesting problem from gaseous aliens arriving in Mega-City One before it runs out of steam. It makes more of the central idea than ‘The Girlfriend’, which mixes a sex robot and murder.
It’s a rare Judge Dredd collection where Wagner isn’t the best writer, but the most enjoyable outings here are all written by Gordon Rennie, featuring his character Cursed Earth Koburn. Koburn is more or less Dredd without the stick up his butt, adaptable and invincible and equally good with a dry comment. He’s neither liked by nor intimidated by Dredd, and serves in the mutie-infested radlands outside Mega-City One. Ezquerra is then well into his digital phase, but obviously enjoys recasting James Coburn as an idiosyncratic rebel more inclined to improvisation than adhering strictly to the law as interpreted by Judges, while Rennie successfully transfers the sly humour from the best Dredd material. A succession of smart plots packed with one-liners run out the final third of the collection, with Dredd only appearing in the opener. The final strip may seem an ending, but there is one more Koburn story added to these in the Mega-Collection volume Cursed Earth Koburn.
A Judge Dredd collection being saved by the non-Dredd material is strange, but that’s the case here, with Ezquerra seemingly enjoying something other than Dredd most, but he’s always professional.