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Home ¦ Reviews ¦ Judge Dredd - Total War

2000 AD - Judge Dredd Total War
Judge Dredd - Total War
by John Wagner, Colin MacNeil, Henry Flint, Chris Blythe, Jason Brashill

Buy this book from Amazon.co.uk

What to Expect: The terrorist democratic fringe group Total War resumes hostilities against the judges in spectacular fashion...

Review by Gavin Hanly
7th January 06

It seem apt that Total War should be the next Dredd collection to be released after Satan's Island (AKA Sin City). Between that epic and this one, Dredd had been going though some hard times. There was something of a lack of continuity in the strip - something to get our teeth into. The only "epic" of note in that period was Dredd Vs Aliens - something which really doesn't count given its lack of lasting impact on Dredd's world. The other was the disappointing "The Satanist" - although this tale did set up the return of Vienna Dredd to the fold.

But it wasn't really until the story Brothers in the Blood (to be collected in March) where Wagner really seemed to be getting his mojo back. Following this up with Terror, the first tale collected here, he established himself once again as the undisputed king of Dredd writing. That this renaissance came along at about the same time that Gordon Rennie was proving to be a very capable Dredd scribe may well have been a coincidence, but it certainly seems to have spurred Wagner onto raising his game.

2000 AD - Judge Dredd Total War

Terror starts with the latest work of terrorist faction "Total War", a group dedicated to bringing democracy back to Mega City One through the expulsion of the judges. Any available means are deemed acceptable to achieve that goal. Total War first came to prominence in what is widely regarded as one of the best Dredd stories ever told, America, also by Wagner and MacNeil. In many ways, Terror is the spiritual successor to America (while we try to forget about the poor actual sequel). Looking at the two books side by side, they are quite similar structurally. As the main tale moves along, told mainly from the perspective of Sonny Castilenno, we occasionally get a spread where Dredd "tells" us his view of terrorism - a format also used in America.

The artwork is also comparable, with MacNiel using painted artwork as opposed to the linework currently seen in Shimura. Indeed, this is possibly MacNeil's best work in years and really makes up for the lack lustre job on the former America sequel. Topping even his recent work in Devlin Waugh, there are a wealth of touches that make Terror particularly impressive, such as the clever use of colour to differentiate between the viewpoints of Castilenno and how the judges watch his actions through the recording devices. As with America, MacNeil also isn't afraid to shy away from some brutal violence, which in this case is used to emphasise the brutality of Total War.

2000 AD - Judge Dredd Total War
Perhaps where this story differentiates from America is the firm grounding into regular Dredd continuity. Total War is set up as a credible threat and is clearly gearing up to more atrocities. In the past Dredd epics have been curiously unrelated, and after the last episode, things quickly revert to the status quo. While terror is a self-contained tale, its repercussions spill out into the main event collected here - Total War by Wagner and Flint.

Flint and Wagner last worked together (alongside Andy Diggle) on the aforementioned Aliens crossover. However, without the need to break the overall plot down into easily reprintable four chunks for the American market and with a much stronger place in Dredd continuity, this is a far better Dredd epic. Wagner effortlessly sets the agenda in the first few pages and keeps the pace breakneck all the way through. The countdown to the first bomb in the boingbowl is extremely well paced, effectively ramping up the tension on every page (the constant view of a clock helping this enormously). The rest of the tale carries on in suitably bombastic fashion, with Total War managing far more damage than many readers expected. Wagner does manage to balance this action with the search for the Terrorists behind the scenes, as well as further laying the groundwork between Dredd and his Niece Vienna. Indeed, it's with this detective/surveillance work in Total War and Terror that particularly sets up the basic workings of the Mega City One judicial system. It's certainly not a one-man show where everyone from PSU through to the Texas City judges having a hand in the operation.

2000 AD - Judge Dredd Total War
This tale feels like a high class Hollywood action picture - and much of this is down to the visuals of Henry Flint. In recent years, no one has managed to match him on the spectacle front and he certainly gets room to show off here. He really manages to pull off the devastation inflicted on the city and its people - especially with the first huge explosion seen from Dredd's perspective. He also has fun in designing new uniforms for each justice department - the jagged eye pieces on the bomb disposal judges being a nice touch. But just as much as Wagner, he contributes to the pacing of the story - with highly detailed smaller panels in the "detective" scenes and expanding to widescreen mode when the action takes off. This is possibly Flint's best work to date.

Much of Flint's success here is also down to Chris Blythe's colouring who once again proves why he's such an asset to the comic on either these showy scenes or on other dark basements where the judges are trying to defuse another bomb..

After Total War concludes, we are also treated to a final storyline "After the Bombs" from Wagner and Brashill. This short story reminds us that, just when we were starting to feel sympathy for the judges, they really are a bunch of fascist bastards when it comes down to it. An ideal way to end the collection, and helped by Brashill's art being extraordinarily good, and showing vast improvement from the last time we saw him in the comic.

2000 AD - Judge Dredd Total War
As for the collection itself? Reproduction qualities are flawless, especially in Brashill's work which shines on the much clearer stock. My only complaints, and this is one that echoes down the rest of the 2000AD collection line, is that it could really do with an introductory page to help set the scene - especially with regards to the character of Vienna. Also - the back cover blurb only talks about the main attraction and doesn't mention "Terror" at all. Given that Total War doesn't start till a third of the way through the book, something a little more all encompassing would be better. Finally - some behind the scenes work from either Wagner or any of the artists would have been a good touch - or at least some original covers. But these are small concerns given that the overall presentation is so impressive and that it's also so affordable.

So, should you consider getting this? Unequivocally yes. If you've got the original comics, it's still a worthwhile purchase to have the tales in one collection and on much better quality paper. If you haven't read it yet - then you have no excuse but to go out and buy one of the best Dredd tales ever created.

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Original content (c) 2002 Gavin Hanly (contact 2000AD Review).