Judge Dredd: Cold Wars – Rob Williams, John Wagner, Michael Carroll, Trevor Hairsine, Barry Kitson, Dylan Teague, Dan Cornwell, PJ Holden, Colin MacNeil, Paul Davidson, Abigail Bulmer, Quinton Winter, Chris Blythe, Annie Parkhouse & Simon Bowland (Rebellion)

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The house of Tharg drops it like it’s hot with its latest collection Judge Dredd: Cold Wars. If ever there was a British comics icon, it is surely Joe Dredd:  2000AD’s harsh but fair ( but mainly harsh)  lawman has been dispensing instance justice for over four decades now, and for most of that – since 1978 at least, it could well be argued that the Sovs: 2000AD’s analogues for the Russians in Dredd’s megaverse, are his prime nemesis. Sure they are not as sexy as Judge Death or go quiet longer than PJ Maybe, but they have done more damage to Mega City One than all of Dredd’s enemies combined: of 800 million citizens in the future metropolis, the Sovs have killed 750 million of them between the Apocalypse War and the Chaos Virus, so the enmity runs deep and bitter, and the stories in this collection run deep with that.

The collection opens strong with rising star Rob WIlliams’s Get Sin, a tale of a mission of revenge which will no doubt keep the vendetta of the two opposing mega cultures stoked, with a surprise appearance from an ex-chief judge. Three artists grace this tale, but the artwork seems consistent and the storytelling doesn’t suffer for it. Next up we have War Buds: A whatever happened too? story of the vets who made up Dredd’s squad to wipe out East-Meg One during the Apocalypse War. As expected, there are no happy endings in Dredd’s world and this grim tale of the psychological consequences of war are no exception. Written by John Wagner- as much a legendary icon as his creation Dredd- what more do you need to recommend it?

The bulk of the book is made up of three tales penned  by 2000AD stalwart Michael Carrol : the first with art by  PJ Holden is Black Snow which entertains with both a twist in the relationship of the two cities and an imaginative concept on future mining, which, the more I think about it seems as inevitable as it would be potentially disastrous  The second is Echoes a haunting tale from the radioactive ruins of East Meg One  with art from  Colin MacNeil, who must be considered as one of the Judge’s iconic artists. The book finishes on a high note with the strongest of Carroll’s three tales, The Shroud featuring the muscular art of Paul Davidson- this is the first time I’ve seen his art as far as I can remember, and he seems to be a talent worth watching from this first impression. In this tale, a follow on from Echoes , Dredd’s marauding  mutie captors attempt to put him in the role of prisoner and bait for some bizzare apocalyptic fishing, , but of course Dredd is neither prisoner nor bait: HE IS THE LAW

Despite have the same antagonists in all the stories, the collection keeps it varied and it never stagnates or gets repetitive, which is a testament to the versatility of the character and his world and to the talents of the writers and artists. If one thing is missing here it is the characteristic black humour which Dredd strips do so well- the collection is more similar in tone to the 2012 film than JD at its most fun craziness, but as has been borne out since 1977, Dredd, despite being a simple enough and inflexible character, is somehow flexible enough a creation to tell all kinds of stories; Judge Dredd in the right hands is seldom less than compelling reading, and this collection is no exception. It is only a shame that co-creator and stuff of legend itself Carlos Ezquerra did not grace these pages with his already highly-missed masterstrokes, but masters past, present and future are assembled here in a (great) collection of highly readable, tight, tense and … stories as good as any hitting the shelves so far in 2019: You won’t get more bang for your buck than this.  Richard Torres

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