2000 AD has always been the proving ground for British comics talent. Almost every British comic book superstar has at least a few Judge Dredd stories under their belt by the time they make the leap across the pond. Recently, the wise folks at 2000 AD have been collecting these superstar stories, like the Grant Morrison/Mark Millar collaborations Judge Dredd: Inferno and Judge Dredd: Crusade, Frank Quitely's Hondo City Law, and The Complete Alan Moore Future Shocks. The collections are always hit-or-miss — the stories are raw and unrefined, and the writers and artists haven't yet found the voices that will make them famous. But they are always good fun.
Judge Dredd: The Garth Ennis Collection is one of the best I have read. Even from the start Ennis had something special. His love of over-the-top ultra-violence and buffoonery fits right in with the world of Mega-City One and the Judges. The stories here are by no means "Classic Ennis;" don't expect The Preacher or The Boys. He plays heavy on his Irishness, introducing the Emerald Isle and Judge Joyce, a stereotypical Irishman who would rather knock one back at the pub and chat up a pretty girl than hunt down criminals. And yes, he goes there; the most dreaded weapon in Ireland is the feared Potato Gun.
There are eight stories in total, ranging from the lengthy "Emerald Isle" to the seven-page "When Irish Pies are Smiling". This collection is bigger than the usual 2000 AD collection. I doubt it is all of Ennis' work for the Galaxy's Greatest Comic — he must have done more than this. But if they were picking the best, then they did a good job.
"Emerald Isle" (Progs 727-732; 1991) is the earliest and longest story. With his Judge Joyce character, Ennis packs as many Irish jokes as possible into the story. There's some funny bits ("The device at the Guinness brewery mysteriously fails to explode…") , but it isn't as good as what is to come. He does some standard issue Judge Dredd one-shot stories like "First of Many" (Prog 775; 1992) about Dredd's first arrest as a Cadet, and the cartoony "Almighty Dredd" (Progs 780-782; 1992) about a Judge Dredd religious cult. In "A Magic Place" (Progs 783-785; 1992) he teams up with his future partner Steve Dillon for a love story, a rarity in Dredd's world. "Innocents Abroad" (Progs 804-807; 1993) he returns to his Irish judges for more buffoonery. "Snowblind" (Prog 819; 1993) is just a little throw-away piece.
The real jewel of this collection is "Raider" (Progs 810-814; 1993). This story about a Judge who left for the love of a women, then sees his life torn from him, has an emotional depth and maturity not found in the other stories. It has a brilliant Film Noir feel, complete with dangerous dames and villains — it feels almost like Blade Runner set in MegaCity-One. Judge Dredd plays the inevitable straight man to the chaos of human emotion swirling around him. I have never seen Ennis do something quite like Raider before. To be honest, I didn't think he had it in him. An amazing story that should show up in any Best of Judge Dredd compilation.
Ennis and Dillon teamed up for one other piece, "When Irish Eyes are Smiling" (Judge Dredd Yearbook 1993). If you are a big Garth Ennis fan, this is the one you are going to love. It is pure Ennis, full of bizarre, grotesque comedy violence that stretches the boundaries of taste. It's a short little black-and-white piece, but damn is it funny.
"I love doing the ones with the faces, don't you?" — I'll just leave it up to your imagination as to what is going on when that line is said. Or better yet, buy the book.
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.