I was pretty dubious about this latest Judge Dredd collection from 2000 AD. I love the Mega City-One lawman, but Judge Dredd and the supernatural don't really mix. And are there really enough Dredd werewolf stories to justify an entire themed collection?
It turns out there aren't. Only two of the four tales in Judge Dredd: Cry of the Werewolf actually involve werewolves, and even those are more like Part 1 and 2 of the same story. But even if the theme isn't perfect, the fine folks at 2000 AD gathered up four solid "Judge Dredd vs the Supernatural" progs to make for an excellent collection. A Judge Dredd Halloween delight.
The werewolf tales kick off with "Cry of the Werewolf" (Progs 322-328, 1983) by John Wagner and Alan Grant, with art by Steve Dillon of Preacher fame. This was a badass story, with werewolves escaping from the concreted-over Undercity to ravage the people of Mega City-One. There is a bit of science fiction fluffery thrown in to cover up the out-of-place supernatural monsters, but no matter the origins it is all the same beast. Judge Dredd teams up with Undercity lawman Judge Prager who took the Long Walk four years ago to bring law to the lawless.
Judge Prager makes this story. The Long Walk is a retirement of sorts for Mega City-One Judges who have been disgraced and lost their judgment; they head into the Cursed Earth — or the Undercity in this case — bringing only what they can carry and spend the rest of their short lives dealing out law to the lawless. For Prager to have survived four years of his Long Walk puts him on a toughness par with Dredd. It isn't often Dredd is impressed by fellow Judges, especially disgraced ones.
Steve Dillon's art in "Cry of the Werewolf" is eye-opening. I didn't even know it was him. This is from pretty early in his career, and his figures don't have that "Dillon look" yet. In fact, with the amazing line work going on here I thought this might be a rushed Brian Boland job. That's how good Dillon's art is. This story is mostly black-and-white, except for the intro pages of each chapter, and Dillon's line work carries the story. Beautiful.
Prager is back again in "Out of the Undercity" (Progs 1313-1316, 2001-2002) by Wagner and artist Carl Critchlow. He has been on his Long Walk for close to twenty years now (because 2000 AD happens in real time), which makes him a legend. He comes out of the Undercity looking to resupply his ammo and get some medical attention. Dredd goes back into the Undercity with Prager, where they uncover and put down an mutie rebellion. And it looks like the werewolves aren't as dead as Dredd thought, and that Prager might be getting a supernatural assist to his law-dealing. Will Dredd need to take him down too?
The next story, "Dog Soldiers" (Judge Dredd Megazine Prog 405, 2010), pushes the werewolf theme by bringing Dredd up against assassins based the legends of Navajo skin-walkers. Story by modern 2000 AD superstar Robbie Morrison (No relation, ya know?) who writes up a brilliant Old West tale that perfectly suits the skin-walker theme. This is Dredd at his Clint Eastwood best, complete with gritty one-liners and gunfighter wisdom. Dredd gets to show his heart a little in this tale too — away from his jurisdiction, application of the Law gets a little more flexible. The art by Leigh Gallagher is fantastic. Gallagher knows how to carve Judge's jaw right from the granite it comes from, and his face shoes the weight of age on a Judge as old as Dredd.
The final story, "Asylum" (Judge Dredd Megazine progs 293-294: 2012) by Gordon Rennie, is an oddity. Here we have the Wurdolak, an centuries-old European vampire that came over with Sov refugees after the Apocalypse War. "Asylum" was interesting, but read more like Hellboy in Mega City-One than a Dredd tale. Frazer Irving's art boarders on the psychedelic. It looks great, but lacks that 2000 AD feel. Still, a good compliment to the other stories in the collection.
I was surprised how much I liked all of the stories in Judge Dredd: Cry of the Werewolf. It goes to show that solid storytelling and art are what make a comic great, not the theme. I'll be keeping this one on my shelf to pull out at Halloween.
Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the '90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack’s reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.