As with the previous ten volumes, Case Files 26 separates the material into two sections, one consisting of stories originally printed in the weekly 2000AD, and the remainder from the monthly Judge Dredd Megazine.

The bulk of the 2000 AD section is a series of stories that, from ‘The Hunting Party’ until ‘Trail of the Man-Eaters’, has Judges Dredd and DeMarco lead a bunch of recruits on a Hotdog Run (breaking in new cadets) into the irradiated wasteland that is the Cursed Earth. Their mission: find and destroy the flying dune sharks that had recently attacked Mega-City One.

Over eighteen parts, a selection of artists illustrate John Wagner’s latest Cursed Earth epic, and most are pretty good. Whether it’s villagers who worship strange beasties (in this case, spiders), folk who just ‘love people’ (i.e., they’re cannibals) or just out and out maniacs (a crazed right wing survivalist leading a bunch of kidnapped and brainwashed children), the Cursed Earth manages to throw up lots of weird stuff, although much of this story will feel overly familiar to any long-time readers of Dredd. ‘The Cursed Earth’ was Dredd’s first epic tale, and it was relatively quickly followed by ‘The Judge Child Saga’. Both were outstanding and both covered much of the ground that this now re-treads, although, to be fair, Wagner’s not only recycling Dredd’s past, as he also borrows heavily from the plot of the Kirk Douglas time-travel movie The Final Countdown for one of the better segments: ‘Fog on the Eerie’.

However, in spite of a dramatic trip, the extended tale of who sent the dune sharks to threaten the city just fizzles out. This is clearly one story where it’s all about the journey, and not the destination, something that’s true of many road movies.

The book also contains another four stories from 2000 AD, with all but one written by Wagner. The best is ‘Mad City’, delightfully bonkers and breaking the fourth wall more than once, executed stylishly by Greg Staples.

The Megazine section only features one Wagner contribution among a handful of stories. The longest, at five parts, is ‘Fetish’, written by John Smith and illustrated by Siku. Many artists have drawn Dredd with a big chin, but here he looks like he belongs in The Goon or Dick Tracy, and the artwork is a good example of style over substance, with clear storytelling obviously not a priority.

The remainder of the Megazine section shows the editors still struggling to find people talented enough to handle their biggest character, although this is the first Case Files for a while that doesn’t feature any atrocious art of the type marring previous volumes.

The main story is old school Dredd, which, while it doesn’t do much that’s new, does do what it does fairly well. Wagner, who writes at least half of the book, always provides good value, even if other writers often struggle, and the artists, especially Staples, Flint and Hairsine, are, for the most part, better than those seen in many of the recent volumes: a fairly solid collection, with a couple of outstanding stories.

‘Lonesome Dave’ also appears in Hamlyn’s Judge Dredd: Blind Justice. ‘The Hunting Pack’ storyline is reprinted in Hamlyn’s Judge Dredd: The Hunting Party. ‘Web’ is available in DC/Rebellion’s Shimura, and, from the same publishers, Devlin Waugh: Swimming in Blood features ‘Fetish’, which also appears in Hamlyn’s Judge Dredd: Fetish. Phew!