Dark Future! (Krysler’s Mark)

Judge Dredd: The Mega Collection #35. Originally serialised in 2000 AD Progs 193-196, 281-288, 393-406 and 1077.

It’s January 1981. So this collection is really about how the series resolved some of the questions left hanging by the somewhat perfunctory conclusion of “The Judge Child (1980)”. It’s fascinating how despite Dredd’s blunt decision to just walk away from the mission, its legacy remains a part of his world for decades. Krysler’s Mark is a very appropriate title, given how much of a mark “The Judge Child” left on the series. The Angel Gang have a level of popularity that definitely transcends the story they first appeared in, even though it was clear from the final parts as they are picked off by Dredd one-by-one that Wagner and Grant weren’t planning on them returning.

dfbd3f6a-2487-4dd4-9c54-97f6043b055e-1“The Fink (1981)” attempts to answer the question of how to bring back the Angel Gang by introducing another member of the family that didn’t sign up to the doomed Judge Child caper. This little four-parter is a sharp exercise in horror and tension, with Mick McMahon’s brilliantly disturbed rendition of Fink Angel prowling the pages hunting down the Judges who took part in “The Judge Child”. Leaving victims aware and paralysed really highlights the nastiness at play here, and there’s a real sense that Hershey in particular is at real risk of this creature.

Speaking of Hershey, it’s great to see her back as she was one of the best new elements of “The Judge Child”, even if she is underused there. That’s a bit of an issue as she spends a lot of time paralysed and being dragged around by Fink, but at least John Wagner and Alan Grant are displaying a commitment to keeping her around as a character – and of course we know she has a long future with the series ahead of her.

But by the time “Destiny’s Angels (1982)” rolls around, Wagner and Grant had obviously decided to bow to the inevitable and just bring at least one of the Angel Gang back. Wagner and Grant obviously aren’t too stressed about making Mean Machine’s resurrection that believable – The Grunwalder has regeneration elixirs just lying around, I guess? – as it’s only the means to a rematch between the bokking menace and Dredd. It’s interesting that we still have “City of the Damned (1984)” still to come as this feels a lot like Wagner and Grant trying once again to close the book on “The Judge Child”, given it ends with what seems like a pretty terminal conclusion for Owen Krysler.

“Destiny’s Angels” runs for 8 episodes, but it felt a lot longer after reading it. There’s a lot packed in here – Mean Machine’s resurrection, Owen’s revenge-fuelled scheming, Fink Angel, Judge clones (another plot thread that will leave a big mark on the series) and another Cursed Earth romp. The plot-heavy story is held together by the usual steady hand of Carlos Ezquerra, who captures the manic energy of the Angel brothers well. The final (?) inclusion of Dredd’ landlady Maria is bizarre, but then you could say that any time she appears.

The centrepiece of the collection, “City of the Damned”, attempts to address the dangling threads of Judge Feyy’s prediction. Given Wagner and Grant famously became bored with this planned epic partway through and hurriedly wrapped things up in 13 episodes, there’s obviously the risk that readers would feel the same way. It’s true that “City” isn’t a classic, but it’s enjoyable enough as an action- and plot-driven adventure, and it does have some truly great individual moments: the Mutant rising over the City, Zombie Dredd and Vampire Hershey to name the obvious ones. Steve Dillon handles the majority of the artwork and is particularly strong with the monstrous images, but the story’s trouble production means we also get artwork from Ron Smith, Kim Raymond and Ian Gibson for random episodes. All those artists are great individually, but the chopping and changing does make the collected story a big tricky to full engage in.

It’s a bit tough to get to grips with reviewing “City of the Damned” as well. It’s hard to know exactly what Wagner and Grant where going for – they could have left “Destiny’s Angels” as the wrap-up to the Owen Krysler story, but they clearly felt they hadn’t completely ended things. Travelling into the future is a decent change in storytelling for the Dredd series, but it’s hard not to avoid the sense that they don’t really do much with that idea beyond a wrecked city and lots of monsters. Sci-fi ideas like time travel and other dimensions are a great opportunity to take a warped look at familiar characters and situations, but it feels like we only get glimpses of that. Vampire Hershey is awesome – but gone in a couple of pages. Zombie Dredd is a great idea, but he ends up just really being a lumbering bad guy chasing our heroes. The lack of commitment that Wagner and Grant apparently felt with the story does appear a bit on the final pages – I suppose we should at least be grateful they realised this and pulled the plug early! Another 10 or so episodes this would definitely have dragged.

Jumping ahead 14 years from “City of the Damned”, Wagner and Grant can’t resist adding one more nail into Owen Krysler’s coffin. “In the Year 2020 (1998)” gives us a psychological two-parter that has Dredd falling victim to some kind of psychic remnant force left from that possible future. The biggest success of this story is really just acknowledging the longevity and creative consistency of the Dredd strip overall – what other series could do this kind of thing, arriving at an event predicted in story originally published 17 years earlier? There was no way the 2020 date couldn’t be acknowledged somehow, and Wagner and Grant sensibly do it in one hit – according to the all-knowing Barney this 24-page story was published by itself in Prog 1077 as a bit of a relaunch of 2000 AD. Exactly what force is possessing Dredd and making him live the aborted Mutant timeline is a bit unclear, but as a re-hash of “City of the Damned” from inside Dredd’s head it works fine. Jason Brashill provides some suitably creepy and dark artwork that really pushes the visions beyond what we saw in the earlier 80s strips.

As follow-up stories that try to deal with the questions raised by “The Judge Child”, each story in this collection works fine – in the case of “The Fink” in particular, really well. But the core story issues with that epic hang over Wagner and Grant’s attempts to ‘solve’ them, and by “City of the Damned” it almost feels a bit like they’re picking at a sore. The stories are OK – and if we’ve seen the final end of Owen Krysler, that’s OK too.

Next up: Gather round the campfire for a tale of young Johnny Alpha as we hit Strontium Dog: Volume 2.

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