One of the enduring strengths of Judge Dredd is its versatility, since the strip can be as much about Mega-City One and its inhabitants as it is about its number one lawman. He can be at the centre of the action, or he can be a cypher, often a background presence to the main event, a technique frequently used by Will Eisner with The Spirit.
Whilst some of the most memorable tales have been multi-part epics, often it’s the single stories that can be the most outrageously mischievous fun, with a satirical bite than can be as deadly as the lawmaker’s bullets. Heavy Metal Dredd brings together 19 bone-crunching stories from the monthly Megazine which play as a irreverent visual soundtrack to our cultural trends and personalities, whether we love them or loathe them.
A Mega-City Primer, the first of the tales, is told through lyrics, but the musical themes come through subjects. An obsessed musician dares to play The Most Dangerous Guitar In The World whilst The Fan finds himself caught up in the kidnapping of his rock hero.
Resurrecting a legendary rock manager has hellish consequences in Iron Fist: Live At The Mega-Dome whilst TV presenter Casey Kussem recounts the varied image changes of a pop group in Too Much Monkey Business.
The Beatles and the Monkees have never looked so beastly. Dredd even encounters a deaf, dumb and blind perp determined to play the Love Machine in Rock On, Tommy Who? But in these multi-coloured, limb-dismembering pages we also encounter the slaughter of Santa, gangland trouble on John Major Block, the Legion of Common Decency go ape over censorship, and rogue kissergrams who quite literally are the kiss of death.
Dredd’s creators, Alan Grant and John Wagner, provide the main anthems, finding their targets and obliterating them with unchained relish. There are also contributions from 2000AD’s former editor, Dave Bishop and Devlin Waugh’s John Smith. The visual soundtrack is provided by a quintet of artists who treat their pen and inks like mean guitars. They play out their nightmarish visions with relish, all distinct soloists but creating a unifying symphony of mayhem.
The main body of work comes from John Hicklenton (best known for Nemesis) whose angular skeletal figures bite through reality with blood-soaked ease, causing havoc across his panels and Simon Bisley applies painterly pyrotechnics to his chaos-unleashed encounters Dredd regular Colin Macneil, Brendan McCarthy and Dean Ormston add their own unique styles into the blend too.
Heavy Metal Dredd is an imaginatively unhinged celebration of Mega-City madness to be read at full volume and with tongue firmly in cheek, assuming cheek and tongue remained attached in all the bloody mayhem.
Judge Dredd: The Complete Heavy Metal Dredd is out now.