Originally serialised in 2000 AD Progs 39, 184-185, 1189, 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special 1979, 2000 AD Annual 1983 & Judge Dredd Megazine 3.47, 376-377, 386, 392-395.
It’s November 1977. By any measure, this is a pretty odd choice for a collection. Rebellion only put out a few each year, and I can’t imagine there was huge fan demand for all the vaguely-ape related stories to be easily accessible in one book. But, Dredd is a diverse series, and this collection at the very least succeeds in demonstrating that.
Let’s focus first on the best argument for this book’s existence – the Harry Heston stories by writer Arthur Wyatt and artist Jake Lynch. Covering three stories from the Megazine – Monkey Business (2016), Ape Escape (2017) and Krong Island (2018) – it features Dredd-obsessed gorilla Heston and his attempts to emulate his hero and uphold the law. He’s a really great character, and an excellent foil/partner for Dredd. Wyatt takes the utterly ridiculous premise of a gorilla dressing up like a Judge and fighting crime completely seriously, and gives Heston a nobility and sense of duty that puts him in a small minority in Dredd’s world. Lynch’s dynamic portrayal complements the writing perfectly, somehow making the image of a Judges uniform on a gorilla work. There’s a real sense of heart to these stories, informed no doubt by the touching backstory behind Heston’s creation and inclusion in 2000 AD.
The rest of the bunch are pretty hit and miss. The Ape Gang (1977) has that early Dredd comedy madness in spades (Dredd doing paperwork in his office! Ape hoods!), and gives classic artist Mick McMahon a lot to play with thanks to Don Uggie Apelino and his simian gangsters. Don Uggie and Co. get similarly bonkers return engagements with Dredd in Annual stories The Billion Credit Caper (1978) and Law of the Jungle (1982). It seems that Wagner had decided that the forced-evolved apes were a better fit for the Annuals and Specials rather than the main strip, which goes some way to explain why we don’t really see much from them after until Alan Grant’s Apetown (1998). This Megazine one-shot keeps the comedy but adds more violence and some over-the-top artwork from Jason Brashill, but is pretty average.
The collection is rounded out with Monkey Business at the Charles Darwin Block (1980), probably the best of the non-Heston stories here, which features an entire Cityblock devolving into apes (and beyond); and the odd one-shot Pyrokinetics (2000), which really stretches the theme here as it mostly focus on firestarter Juliet November and has a few panels with an ape gangster in it – but is good fun nevertheless.
There’s a certain delight in the fact that Dredd has such a diverse history of stories that you can have a collection entirely devoted to apes – and it pretty much works! This isn’t essential by any means, but the Heston stories are legitimately great modern Dredd and the back-up stories are the strip having lots of fun.
Next time: Best laid plans are always risky, and unfortunately Meltdown Man has not arrived at my local newsagents as planned! So I’ll just have to slot that one back in when I get a chance, and we’ll continue on next week with a focus on Mega-City One in War on the Streets.