This is part of 45 Year Of Thrills, How to Love Comics’ celebration of 2000 AD’s 45th anniversary throughout 2022. Find out more and read other posts in the series here.
Written by Al Ewing. Art by Simon Fraser, Paul Marshall, P.J Holden, Andrew Currie, Leigh Gallagher, Patrick Goddard, John Higgins, Jake Lynch, Liam Sharp, and Ben Willsher. Coloured by Gary Caldwell, Chris Blythe, Eva De La Cruz, Sally Hurst, Jim Boswell, and John Higgins. Lettered by Annie Parkhouse.
2000 AD has always been a breeding ground for young talent. It’s a place where creators can gain a start, find their voice, and craft some excellent stories. Writers like Alan Moore, Garth Ennis, Peter Milligan, Grant Morrison, and many others had much of their early work in the legendary science fiction anthology before making big waves in the US comics industry.
The latest in this long list is Al Ewing. Over the past few years, he has become one of Marvel’s most popular writers thanks to a long run on Immortal Hulk and other fan-favourite series such as Guardians of the Galaxy and Ultimates. However, before he arrived at the House of Ideas, he was one of many writers contributing to Judge Dredd.
This week sees the release of Judge Dredd: Blaze of Glory, a collection of Ewing’s shorter Judge Dredd comics from the pages of 2000 AD and Judge Dredd Megazine. These stories mostly come from 2008-2012 (plus a tale from 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special 2020) when Ewing was one of the many rotating writers on the strip.
The collection features 12 stories, either told in one or two chapter instalments. Due to the nature of the 2000 AD (which serialises approximately 6 pages increments) and the Megazine (which does it in roughly 10 pages), these stories move at a solid pace. Each is self-contained – with a satisficing start, middle, and end – while slotting into the grander meta-story being told through many Dredd stories at the time.
That meta-story in question is Mega-City One’s acceptance of mutants and eventual rejection. Ewing isn’t the driver of this narrative but instead uses the broader strokes to tell tales within that status quo in a very accessible manner. These fall into two camps of tones – sombre theme explorations and humorous yarns.
The opening tale, Mutopia (2000 AD Prog #1611-1612), operates on the serious end of the spectrum. In it, Judge Dredd has to deescalate a situation that sees mutant terrorists holding a fast-food restaurant hostage. Without spoiling the twist, Ewing uses the strip’s long-running mutant metaphor to explore virtue signalling and how the privileged often act as a voice for marginalized groups for self-interest. Other similar tales, such as Invitation to a Hanging (Judge Dredd Megazine 292) and What’s Another Year? (Judge Dredd Megazine 292), go further by exploring the repercussions of mutants being accepted by Mega-City One only to be reversed.
The mutant meta-narrative can also tell stories that play for laughs. The most outrageous of these is The Performer (2000 AD Prog #1635-1636). My goodness, it’s a bawdy tale. In it, a mutant with a very unique mutation competes in the World Sex Championships. However, doing so opens himself to prejudice and assassination attempts.
However, not every tale is part of the meta-narrative. Many other stories stand on their own as fun done-in-ones. These include the black humour of What The Hitler Saw (2000 AD Progs #1728-1729); the crossover with Ewing creation Zombo in The Immigrant (2000 AD Sci-Fi Special 2020); and the James Bond parody Blaze of Glory (Judge Dredd Megazine #305).
Collaborating with Ewing is a who’s who of contemporary Dredd stars and veterans. Each brings their visual style to the table and matches the script’s tone. Paul Marshall, for instance, draws characters with exaggerated comedic expressions, which elevates the ridiculousness and humour on a strip like The Performer.
Veteran John Higgins contributes two stories in this collection with very different tones. For the solemn What’s Another Year?, he implements a style that’s grounded in realism and more rigid. This work has harder edges and more shadow present to define form. On the other hand, Idle Hands (Judge Dredd Megazine #303) is still distinctively Higgins but implements looser line work to match the sillier tone.
Throughout the variety of tones present in this collection, Judge Dredd is always presented on brand. Ewing understands what motivates Dredd, how he operates, and his overall presentation. While these tales don’t add any new wrinkles, they’re a solid representation for those less familiar with the character.
With Ewing being one of the brightest stars at Marvel, Blaze of Glory comes at a great time for fans wanting more. If you’re curious about his early work or looking to sample Judge Dredd for the first time, this collection comes highly recommended.