Reviews: Judge Dredd – Day Of Chaos – The Fourth Faction (Richard’s Take)
By John Wagner, Ben Willsher, Staz Johnson, Colin Macneil, Henry Flint
Rebellion / 2000AD
My decision to join the weekly readers of 2000AD for the very first time back in February 2012 meant I came to John Wagner’s status quo ending Day Of Chaos roughly halfway through. Perhaps not the best place to start, but it could have been worse – I could have missed it entirely.
With the collections I get to go all over again from the very start. Coming in halfway through was a great experience, coming in from the very start feels magnificent.
This is John Wagner’s Day Of Chaos and it starts right here.
Mega City really wont be the same at the end of it.
(Judge Dredd – The Skinning Room – art by Ben Willsher)
It’s election time in Mega-City One, and the people seem determined to replace the much loved Mayor Ambrose. They had no idea he was secretly mass murdering PJ Maybe, although even Dredd admits Maybe made a damn good Mayor. There’s a hint of change in the air right now, the Judges can feel it, that sense of the people pushing back against their power and it’s unsettling them.
But that’s nothing compared to what Wagner has planned for the city he helped to create here in Day Of Chaos. The origins of this megalomaniacal determination to tear it all down can be traced right back to 1981’s Apocalypse War when the Sov Block obliterated the Eastern seaboard of MC-1 before they were stopped by Dredd nuking East-Meg One in retaliation.
30 years later and the Sovs are about to prove that revenge really is a dish best served ice-cold as they unleash their revenge on MC-1 and on Dredd, this time through subterfuge, guerilla action, and infiltration.
East-Meg assassin Nadia is in town now, looking for a scientist and a very nasty virus to play around with and Cadet Judge Hennessey’s low level psych powers are screaming out terrible things due to happen on the upcoming election day.
(Judge Dredd – Nadia – art by Ben Willsher)
But at the start of this volume election day is a long way off, Nadia and the Fourth Faction don’t appear till the latter half, and what we have to start is an enthralling slow build of tension and tone, scene setting done so well by Wagner.
The first tale The Skinning Room is a beautifully constructed police procedural done Dredd style, establishing how unsettled everything is in the big Meg right now. Likewise Hot Night In 95 deals with street level terrorism as the residents rage against the Meg, more uncertainty, more street level chaos. Finally we have a PJ Maybe tale, with Maybe in custody and proving once more that he’s a devious and clever little bastard and no mistake.
This early section is beautifully done, it’s the long establishing shot, scene setting, mood setting, three really good entrées before we actually get to the main, when we finally get to meet Nadia as she arrives in MC-1 looking to abduct a scientist responsible for creating a virus capable of killing millions. But that will really kick off next time, as the leader of the Sov Fourth Faction plays his hand….
(Borisenko – The Fourth Faction’s leader plays the long game – art by Henry Flint)
The whole of The Fourth Faction is a brilliantly played out slow build of a story, the mere prelude to the fun we have in store next time round. The brilliance of Wagner’s controlled plot and careful characterisation really can’t be overstated – and here he’s on finest form, creating stories that introduce small elements of the larger event yet still deliver a hugely satisfying storyline of their own.
Of course, that isn’t to say that there aren’t moments of hugely thrilling suspense in here, oh no no no…. take the moments when Nadia gets Dredd locked in here sights for example..
(Judge Dredd – Nadia – art by Ben Willsher)
The thing is, when I first experienced DoC, I wasn’t quite ready for the pace and tone of it. I was expecting Dredd to be the balls-out Dredd of my (admittedly faulty) memory, not this old man, slightly more questioning of things, unsettled by the way his world is turning. Subtlety like this I wasn’t expecting from Dredd, and that was a flaw on my part, since Wagner is a master of writing this sort of subtle, nuanced storyline whilst maintaining a sense of epic scale.
After a little time to get acclimatised to the pace of the strip it all fell into place, the slow and steady build, the drip-drip-drip of tension wasn’t slowly and surely building up to a monumental event to change the world of Dredd forever, the slow playing out WAS the event, the Day Of Chaos merely the very end of it, a full-stop to the best tale ever told sort of thing.
What I particularly enjoy with Wagner’s control is how beautifully he depicts the political goings-on in here. There’s so much under-current written in, so much complex stuff, shifting positions, and all along here’s Dredd, always the rock, doggedly sticking to his ideas, a member of the high council who’d rather be out on the streets. Thing is, the council would rather he was out there as well….
(Judge Dredd – The further dastardly deeds of PJ Maybe – art by Colin MacNeil)
It’s those moments that Wagner shows his masterful control of the character and the world. It’s fascinating, it’s wonderful, and god knows I could read those sorts of things all the time.
This is Dredd as socio-political thriller, a little bit of Le Carre style Cold War spying, pieces moving slowly into place, looking at the Orwellian nightmare that is Mega-City 1, or at least an Orwellian nightmare as imagined by Phillip K. Dick.
And it is everything you’ve heard, beautifully scripted and plotted by Wagner, wonderfully illustrated by Willsher, Johnson, Macneil and Flint. It is essential reading, and if you ask me, it’s the greatest Dredd saga ever.