Al Ewing’s hardly the most prolific of Dredd writers, but the little he did, collected here, makes a damn fine collection of all that is so wonderful about one of the greatest characters in comics.
In just a short 140-ish pages of Blaze of Glory, Al Ewing manages to show us all that you really need to know about Dredd – the thrills, the bizarre, the funny, the poignant, the darkness, it’s all here on show…
We previewed this a little while back, but it’s one of those that demands a closer look, collecting all of Al Ewing’s Judge Dredd stories in one nice little collection. Sure, he might be better known these days over in the world of Marvel but as this collection should show you, although he wasn’t the most prolific of Dredd writers over the years, Ewing’s Dredd’s encapsulate so much of what’s so great about the character.
It’s the great thing about these sort of author collections, they capture one writer’s vision of Dredd. Much like The Complete Case Files, they allow the collection of the shorter stories, the done-in-one, done-in-two Dredds that have always been the staple of the character and they’ve always been some of the best Dredds. All too often, the collections focus, understandably, on the big epic Dredds, but seeing one author’s Dredd tales like this gives you a much better idea of the character and the Dreddworld.
And so, in Blaze of Glory you get Ewing’s unique take on old Joe Dredd. And so, without fanfare, without the epic, longer stories, you get a measure of all that makes Dredd great, all the quirky stuff, all the quiet stuff, the stories that put Dredd in the background and turn the focus on just how crappy it is to live in Mega-City One.
The other thing you notice with this, as Ewing himself notes, is that there’s a twin streak of darkness and bawdiness running through the work. There’s plenty of darkness and plenty of the sillier, more ridiculous tales, along with the sort of suggestive, naughty stuff bringing seaside postcard titters and a burlesque sensibility to MC-1. It’s something that’s always been a feature, to some greater or lesser extent, through the history of 2000 AD, and Ewing shows just how good he can write it here.
Before we really get into it, a word on the artists in the volume. Unlike most reviews here, I might not pay them as much praise as they rightfully deserve. It’s no disrespect on them, merely a by-product of reviewing a work designed around the writer’s contribution. But although I might skate over them, the artists here – Simon Fraser, Paul Marshall, PJ Holden, Leigh Gallagher, Andrew Currie, Patrick Goddard, John Higgins, Liam Sharp, Ben Willsher, and Jake Lynch are ALL doing quite magnificent work. 2000 AD‘s never been short of the greatest artists and you’ll see some excellent examples of that in Blaze of Glory.
Let’s start with the most recent of his work, from 2020’s Sci-Fi Special, ‘The Immigrant‘, with some typically great artwork from Jake Lynch, one of a whole raft of great new Dredd artists. It is, without doubt, the funniest thing I’d read at the time for many years. And nearly a couple of years later, that still stands.
When Dredd walks into the interrogation room of Detention Block 100, we’re not sure what to expect, only that it’s a place reserved for dimensional immigrants. And then we get the most wonderful few pages of absolutely brilliant comedy, as Dredd comes face to face with Ewing’s greatest 2000 AD creation… Zombo. Cue page after page of the utmost idiocy, perfectly done, comedic timing you won’t find done better.
All right then, comedy gold over and done with, let’s go back to the beginning of the volume and ‘Mutopia’, with Simon Fraser on art, showing 10 very tight pages of siege, hostage, Dredd, resolution. Yet it’s so much more than that, Ewing giving us a treatise on society and fitting in, on those who adopt causes and become far, far too embedded for their own good.
And then you get The Performer with artist Paul Marshall. You remember what I was saying about the bawdy nature of some of Ewing’s Dredds? Well, this is exactly that, out and out wonderful 2000 AD smut, never explicit in the art, yet always so great in the idea and the wording.
With the Sex Olympics in a few weeks, Hardy Dix has big, big problems – after all, what good is a performer is he can’t, well… perform? It’s one of those stories where the meat is in the detail, where Ewing delights in packing it full of gags. And never better than this one, the uptight son of Dix and his co-performer and wife, Annette.
C’mon – ‘Unsullied Ring’? Really, tell me you can’t see that and not have a giggle? (Oh, and another great thing about Ewing’s Dredds – he does like to run threads through his work, so it’s not the last time you’ll hear of the Unsullied Ring, along with some other familiar names and themes that run through some of the strips in here.
And then comes Beaker Jones and his partner in sex, about to become the new big thing in the Sex Olympics… smut, silliness, and a great moment of comedy timing in the art from Marshall. Fabulous…
‘A Home for Aldous Mayou’ is one described by Ewing as one of his favourites and a particularly poignant story. And it really is, the sadness and the inevitability runs through it, along with some gorgeous PJ Holden artwork.
Switching between the then and the now, it’s an ever so sad tale, perfectly told, poignancy that reveals one man’s torment living in this terrible world of MC-1.
The then is when a Uni Prof gets headhunted by Tek-Div back before the big one dropped, he’s got it all – the wife, the child, the newborn, a wonderful life. He’s pleased to be going over there and telling an old friend he can’t possibly join him in the Justice Department. And the now – well, that’s when Dredd gets called to Tek-Div when Judge Mayou, the greatest theoretical physicist of his generation, inventor of the time stretcher, the very reason Dredd’s managed to be so active all these years, appears to be losing the plot.
It’s the to-and-fro of the then and now, plus the heart-breaking final moments of this one that deliver the brilliance, plus Holden deftly handling the two very different art styles so well.
I could go on and on with examples of what makes Ewing’s Blaze of Glory collection work, what makes it a perfect little distillation of all the great and the strange and the excitement of Dredd – comedy, social commentary, pure silly smut, poignancy personified, bawdiness, there’s even a guest appearance from Hitler, well, sort of, and a plot to kill Santa to boot.
But we’ll simply end this with one with the collections title track, as it were, Blaze of Glory, a magnificently ridiculous thing, Ewing’s grand James Bond thing by way of a long-running movie franchise called John Blaze , tongue firmly implanted in cheek all the way through. And all in doggerel verse to boot.
So we’ll watched as four ex-Blazes’ get trapped in a lair, dying one by one to join the other two minor James’ already dead there.
Oh God, I’m doing it now.
Anyway, it’s a bloody silly thing but it’s also one of those great silly Dredds, with some particularly great artwork and absolutely character-true renditions of all those Bonds by Liam Sharp.
AL EWING – JUDGE DREDD: BLAZE OF GLORY
Written by Al Ewing, art by Simon Fraser, Paul Marshall, PJ Holden, Leigh Gallagher, Andrew Currie, Patrick Goddard, John Higgins, Liam Sharp, Ben Willsher, Jake Lynch.
Published by 2000 AD & Rebellion on 1st March 2022.