Judge Dredd: ‘Ghost Town’ Explores Age And Legacy In Mega-City One

by Richard Bruton

In Judge Dredd: Ghost Town, the latest digest title from 2000 AD, you’re getting five different short or shorter tales, from some great creative talent, featuring Judge Dredd and Psi-Judge Anderson. But there’s something here in each tale that elevates it above the norm; every story dives deep into the issues of legacy, of ageing and just how badly it affects the characters. It’s a perfect example of just how good, how important any Dredd tale, long or short can be.

One of the big problems with Judge Dredd is just how do you collect the tales together? One way, with the Complete Judge Dredd volumes, is to simply publish in strict chronological order. Or you can collect the big stories, such as Trifecta, Day Of Chaos, The Small House, in their own, individual volumes. But, when it comes to the shorter tales, these can all too often get lost. And they shouldn’t be, because as good as those longer epics are, the nature of Dredd is such that the short tales are often just as important, to show us both the man and his world.

And when you do it right, when you put together the right combination of short tales, the cumulative effect is to give the reader an insight into Dredd’s world.

Here, in the Ghost Town digest collection, that connecting thread is all about age and legacy. All of the strips, in one way or another, deal with something unique in Dredd, the idea of ageing. Dredd happens in real time, always has. Every year in real time, another year passes in Dredd’s world. And although the tech of MC-1 manages to keep Dredd, Anderson and all the Judges relatively youthful, there’s no shying away from the fact that they are getting older. The stories in here all come at that in different fashions, whether it’s the idea of Justice, in Dredd, as a legacy for MC-1, Anderson’s struggles with the weight of all she’s experienced across her long career, or Dredd’s own reflective moments on his life and the increasing realisation that he’s far closer to the inevitable end, however that comes.

These five strips represent something very special. They might be seen, at first glance as the in-between strips, filling the gap between the next mega epic. But that misses the point of Dredd and everything in his world. The stories, at least the best of them, all contribute so much to the legacy of Dredd, of his world, of 2000 AD itself. And in Ghost Town, there are five perfect examples.

WASTELANDS – John Wagner and Dave Taylor, letters by Annie Parkhouse

In the aftermath of Chaos Day, the city struggles to survive, with the Judges exhausted, stretched too thin. Wagner writing Dredd is always a joy, never more so than in these post-Chaos Day tales, where he paints the perfect portrait of an old man, dedicated, occasionally doubting, the years weighing heavily upon him. And with Dave Taylor’s sumptuous artwork, all beautifully done, Moebius-esque Euro style, it’s a perfect opener.

Even in amongst all the disaster and devastation, there are always men who see opportunity, and a way to make a killing. But, in Wastelands, property developers take things too far, bringing down the full force of Dredd’s law. The beauty of this is seeing Wagner and Taylor slowly unfold the story, as Dredd investigates, doing what he does best, slowly piecing together, zeroing in on the crime.

DEAD END – Alan Grant and Michael Dowling, letters Simon Bowland.

When a routine stop turns into an investigation into the 20 dead kids found on a bus for Anderson, it leads her down a dangerous and deadly path. The investigation that turns nasty, slavery, rad-poisoning, kids forced to work in dire conditions, it’s no wonder Anderson’s feeling near suicidal. But are these her own, understandable thoughts? Or is someone getting into her head?

The later parts of the story are impressive as all hell, with Anderson going deep into psychic warfare. But it’s those first couple of episodes that hit the hardest, with Anderson’s doubt, the guilt, all coming to a head. Low key writing from Grant, but the emotional power he pulls out is so impressive.

Again, Dowling’s channelling the same Euro influences as Taylor, albeit with a spot of Arthur Ranson… never a bad thing and looking absolutely gorgeous here, with plenty of glorious opportunity to spread his artistic wings and go deep into Anderson’s psyche.

GHOST TOWN – Ian Edginton and Dave Taylor, letters Annie Parkhouse

With the city still reeling from attacks, there’s only so much the Justice Department can do, which leaves many sectors away from the Halls of Justice no more than the ghost towns of the title.

Hershey’s solution, to draft in ex-Judges, older Judges, cit-def members, all to patrol and police the outlying sectors. Dredd, as you’d expect, is far from happy with these “has-beens and wannabes”, as he so cheerfully puts it, especially as he’s overseeing the first patrol and has the final say on whether the programme is rolled out city wide.

All of which means Edginton and Taylor get to deliver a Dredd masterclass, as he leads the Rangers, dispensing brutal justice and lessons as he goes. And alongside him, one of those ‘has-beens and wannabes’ is the dissenting voice, questioning everything Dredd and his legacy stands for.

THE MAN COMES AROUND – Rob Williams and R.M. Guera, colors Giulia Brusco, letters Annie Parkhouse

Yeah, a bit of Johnny Cash is the perfect soundtrack for Dredd, maybe with a bit of Tom Waits thrown in for good measure.

This is Dredd doing the internal monologue thing, a meditation on ageing carried out as he attempts to fight the effects of toxic gas and kill the madman behind the attack.

Williams’ voice works perfectly for the Dredd of now, older, past actions coming back to haunt him, a lifetime of service in every scar. And Guera, with a really beautifully distinctive look, captures all that so well.

It’s a fabulous short, with Williams proving, yet again, that he’s a writer capable of sitting into the Wagnerian writing style with ease.

300 SECONDS – Ian Edginton and Simon Coleby, colors Chris Blythe, letters Annie Parkhouse

The title refers to the five minutes each day that Dredd finds to stand at one particular intersection in MC-1. Now, once you get over the slightly preposterous idea that he does this, we can get on with what’s a damn fine tale. He does it, we’re told, to be seen, to be the image of justice, preventative, all-seeing, ‘reassurance and fear in equal measure’.

Another short tale done well, going the complete opposite way to The Man Comes Around, minimising Dredd’s active involvement to focus on his legacy effect on his city. But that demonstrates a couple of things – that Edginton has a great voice for the character as well and how adaptable Dredd is, how many different tales, short and long, are possible for his future.

Judge Dredd: Ghost Town
Features stories by John Wagner, Alan Grant, Ian Edginton, and Rob Williams. Art by Dave Taylor, Michael Dowling, R.M. Guera, and Simon Coleby. Cover by Cameron Stewart

Originally serialised in 2000 AD Progs 1837-1841, 1922, & 1948-1949, and Judge Dredd Megazine 343-349.

Published by Rebellion on 25 July.

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