I wasn't too thrilled with the previous Grant Morrison/Mark Millar 2000AD collection, Judge Dredd: Crusade. The story was uninspired and forced, and the best thing you could say about it is that the story served as a sort of prototype for Morrison's later work on Batman: Incorporated. That was my first comic with Morrison writing the home-grown hero Judge Dredd, and I left thinking that maybe he just didn't have the same connection to British heroes that he has to American heroes.
Judge Dredd: Inferno proved me wrong. This is Go-Big-Or-Go-Home Grant Morrison. This is a total, balls-out masterpiece that is one of the best of the modern Judge Dredd stories I have read. This is a story to rival some of the great Judge Dredd stories from the past, like the Apocalypse War or The Day the Law Died. With every page the story kept escalating and escalating until the page that is a full-on, jaw-dropping moment. I kept re-reading the page, thinking "Can he really fucking do that? Did the editors at 2000AD really let him get away with that? But the repercussions!"
And then! And then! Grant Morrison pulls his favorite trick, digging deep into Dredd-lore and pulling up someone I never thought I would see again. I don't want to ruin the surprise, but to any old school Dredd fans I just say I was weally happy to wead him again. Care for a nice cup of synthcaffe?
I may (and this is unconfirmed) I may have even shouted "No way? Fuck yeah!" out loud on the bus when I turned to that page.
So what's the story? Judge Dredd: Inferno collects Progs 834-853 (1993), covering a prison break from the Titan penal colony, where all the Judges gone bad are kept. A whole army of bad Judges is something to shake even the Mega Ciy-One Halls of Justice, but to top it off they are armed with an experimental alien Meat Bomb. They come raining down from the skies like judgment, and it is up to Joe Dredd and the few loyal Judges he can must to repel the attack.
The story is a lot of fun, but isn't flawless. I can't help but compare the bluntness of the attack to the mechanizations and infiltrations of the Sov Block during the Apocalypse War. Instead of careful chess-like maneuvering, Inferno has all the subtlety of a drunk sucker-punching you at a bar. And there is zero characterization. Morrison just smacks rock against rock to see which breaks first. I missed the camaraderie of Dredd's misfit band that repelled the insane Judge Cal during The Day the Law Died. Judge Dredd works best when it is humor, characterization, and over-the-top violence, and Morrison focuses too much on only the latter.
I also thought there was a missed chance with the prison break. When Arkham Asylum blows, you want all of Batman's famous villains to come pouring out. I though Morrison could have included some of Dredd's old foes, like the ruthless Judge Manners who showed up in Judge Dredd: When Judges Go Bad. (If he had even appeared by then. Continuity is loose with these Judge Dredd collections).
The art is awesome, by the way. This is original Judge Dredd artist Carlos Ezquerra, and few people alive can draw the world of Mega City-One as well. After all, this is a world that Ezquerra invented.
There are two Mark Millar back-up stories in Judge Dredd: Inferno. The first, I Hate Christmas, is just a funny little eight-page joke on Judge Dredd at Christmas time. The next, Top Gun, has Dredd field-testing some new equipment. And you don't want to be the Tek Judge that slips Dredd faulty equipment. Both of Millar's stories were a lot of fun, and a good antidote to the heaviness of Morrison's Inferno.
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.