Reviews: Judge Dredd: Day of Chaos – the Fourth Faction (James’ take)
Written by John Wagner, with Art by Ben Willsher, Staz Johnson, Colin MacNeil and Henry Flint
The team, the editor in chief, Matt Smith, John Wagner, all at 2000AD have been particularly smart with the Day of Chaos saga. This primer gives the reader everything you might require, the build up to impending excitement and action, regular street crime on the futuristic streets, a group of infiltrators intent on terrorism and Dredd surrounded by interesting characters, doing what he does.
The latest and largest Judge Dredd epic has a considerable build up, which is to be expected; this is the way a Dredd epic works. Some have had totally separate subtly detached stories, like the Dead Man element to Necropolis, others bubble along hinting at what was to come. Here the weave of the story allows lapsed readers the perfect opportunity to reacquaint themselves with the Big Meg while giving those up to date, the full breath of the story.
Mega City One, a post apocalyptical meh-topia is policed, controlled and defended by Judges, who combine cop with judge, jury and executioner, the city is vast, covering a huge amount of the east coast of America, although it once covered more, and then there was the Apocalypse war, with Soviet version of themselves (East Meg One, complete with Stalin-esque supreme judge – MC-1’s population and area, which once stretched along east coast right down to Florida, was pretty much halved by the war – Joe), some thirty years ago for readers.
With Day of Chaos, Wagner sets the scene with considerable skill, allowing the reader an insight into some situations, such as the ex-Mayor and psychotic mass murderer P.J. Maybe, while the sabotage and fifth column work by a group who are seeking revenge on Mega-City one, for the previous war, gives enough story without spoiling.
(Dredd’s face is just pure scorn – trouser contracts indeed – early pages from The Skinning Room – art by Ben Willshire)
Mega-City has had a period of judicial insecurity, with a very poor Chief Judge, who is now on Titan for corruption and the current Chief is still a little below par. The discriminatory issues of rights and access for Mutants, who were once not at all owed into the city (and if a child was born in the city who failed the genetic test they were automatically exiled), bubble along as a nice metaphor while much of the city has had an increase in lawlessness, and the Judges have lost ground, in the respect or fear citizens have for the law. The City’s Mayor was excellent, but turned out to be a killer, so elections are now planned, and the city is trying to regain a sense of normality.
Dredd is on the Council of Judges, a position of political power that disagrees with his desire to be a street enforcer, and in an effort to make an example and crack down on crime, Dredd takes a task force to a particularly bad sector which coincidentally is the area where the Fifth Column activity takes place.
(The Skinning Room – Break the Law and the Law will break you! – art by Ben Willshire)
In a sense these are all vignettes, and the first story, The Skinning Room, feel like a regular Mega City crime procedural, with the issues in the background, then we see where P.J. Maybe is, which is in prison of course, although as ever he is plotting, there is trouble instigated by foreign elements and then the fifth column action really gets going, while Maybe’s plans come together and cause a real headache and so this delightful mix of stories forms a chaotically clear picture.
I really enjoyed the return of P.J. Maybe (a semi recurring character through the years, a very clever but perversely almost likeable serial killer – Joe). The skill in Wagner’s writing is that he doesn’t make you feel like you’ve been long gone, there have been a few changes but between dialogue and imagery the situation is made apparent to the reader, Maybe who uses a badly spelled diary to impart his thoughts, as always has a very darkly humorous edge to him.
(PJ Maybe plots his next (dastardly) deed – art by Colin MacNeil)
There were simple artistic tricks which I enjoyed; the Judges obviously have updated their Lawmasters, but when Dredd encounters a cadet on a call-out, it’s an older Lawmaster in the background, which is clever. A scene where a disguised P.J. is having a coffee in a diner, is an obvious homage to Edward Hooper’s Nighthawks and Henry Flint really pulls it off well. Colin MacNeil’s art is quite nice, and I have to admit, I have missed his illustration work, and Greg Staples cover is spot on, not accentuating any element of Dredd too much, and making him tough but not steroidally distorted.
(The Skinning Room – Lawmaster compare and contrast – art by Ben Willsher)
The story sees Judge Hershey getting into some street action with Dredd, while a new character, Carter Hennessey who is a Judge cadet on a bursary with Psi division, due to her above average precognitive powers, and who until now has had little success, connects with Dredd and also becomes crucial in the fight. I was obviously reminded of Anderson her, and in a pleasing way.
Overall I really enjoyed this collection. I think that it is probably required reading in a way, for a reader to grasp and immediately understand where the great epic is at, when it arrives. It gives the reader a real sense of place, a future that has many issues, solutions which are questioned and questionable, and the background that a major epic requires, while gun fights, crime and humour are all carry one along easily.