Review by Ian Keogh
It was established in the very first Judge Dredd story that Mega-City One was built on the remains of cities existing in the 20th century, and every now and then Judge Dredd or one of his colleagues pays a visit down below. That provides the theme for a selection of stories set there as a variety of creators investigate what lies beneath.
A third of the book is occupied by ‘The Creep’ by Si Spencer and Kevin Cullen. In an interview ending the collection Spencer admits the series was divisive, and that’s perhaps because there’s little motivation for the strange, cackling Creep himself. His mutant mind-controlling abilities coupled with a sadistically unhinged nature provide several gruesome episodes, all very atmospherically drawn by Cullen, but the monstrous happenings are repetitive. He’s at his best when wandering up to the light for a meeting with the Dark Judges, as the comedy is more apparent.
Despite the presence of work from 2000AD Gods Alan Grant, Pat Mills and John Wagner, the most engaging story here is from Michael Carroll. Over a serial he gives a distinctive narrative voice to an East-Meg defector who’s among several candidates being trained and supervised by Judge Dredd when their trail leads below the city where the Goblin King is uniting the assorted misfits. Paul Davidson concentrates on the storytelling and puts the effort in, supplying detail and long views in what’s a good mystery. Are we dealing with an unreliable narrator, and who is the Goblin King?
Some of the art will be as divisive as ‘The Creep’. Grant has been forthright in interviews about what he thought of Kim Raymond’s efforts on what’s the oldest story reprinted here, and Tiernen Trevalion on another of Grant’s stories applies a very stylised look to Rat Fink. It’s a case of an artist whose style wouldn’t fit everywhere given a script ideally suited to his strengths, as he brings the environment, the rats and Fink’s odious personality to life. John Burns is generally an amazing artist, so he doesn’t turn in poor pages, but the opening chapter of ‘First Blood’ appears to have been drawn quickly by his standards.
Mills writing Judge Dredd is rare, and the idea behind his plot is clever. We’re shown a man sentenced to 150 years imprisonment for horrifying crimes committed in 1980. Strangely, he’s still alive without showing signs of ageing when he’s released into Mega-City One. Mills and Vince Locke keep the mystery going, but the revelation of what the man is up to is disappointing.
As a collection Into the Undercity doesn’t quite look to have been affected by the thrill-suckers, but neither does it show Dredd and his world at their best.