Monday, 4 February 2013

The Cursed Earth Saga review

Review by Steve Hargett.
Pat Mills, John Wagner
Mick McMahon, Brian Bolland
Tom Frame, Peter Knight, John Aldrich
Previously published in Progs 61 to 85 of 2000AD in April to October 1978
What hasn’t been said about this epic?
I’m reading this in Kindle, the version is manga sized and all black and white and available from Amazon, this edition is also available in paperback.
Before this the largest story had been Robot Wars in Prog 10 to 17, though the story followed directly on from Prog 9. The Cursed Earth is the first real epic for Judge Dredd and is rightly considered a classic. This story shows us the Cursed Earth in the greatest detail so far. We are introduced to a wide range of possibilities of what lies outside the confines of the great Mega City.
Anyone familiar with the printing history of this epic will be aware that there were copyright issues over the use of Ronald McDonald, Burger King, Jolly Green Giant and a number of other characters. Four parts of the epic have therefore never been reprinted. There is a synopsis of these episodes in the foreword of the graphic novel. You need Progs 71, 72, 77 & 78 to enjoy these parts of the story. I have them, but obviously can’t go in to further detail. I am displaying images from the saga, with kind permission from 2000AD PR Droid Molch-R, understandably no images from the embargoed parts.
If you haven’t read this story there are spoilers, I’m tagging this as ‘light’ as it is a reprint, but certainly I won’t be mentioning anything that will ruin your enjoyment if you have not read this wonderful saga before.
We are introduced to the story by Red, who we are told is an old friend of Judge Dredd. Red is a pilot that runs trips between the two big Mega Cities, Mega City One and Mega City Two. He is a Mega City One citizen and though it is never stated I would guess by the uniforms  Red and his men wear he could be an Auxiliary of some form certainly he is never referred to as a Judge. Red’s craft Strat Bat, has the Law Eagle on, this could denote a Mega City One registered ship but I think more likely backs up my theory that he is an Auxiliary.
This is the first mention of Mega City 2, sister city to Mega City One on the Western seaboard of USA. Ruled by its own ruling council of Judges. The uniforms are more or less identical in this story,  I think it is artistic licence that makes them seem a little lighter in colour.
Mega City Two is in the grip of a deadly plague, left over from the ‘Great Germ War’. The airports are all closed so the only way to get an antidote to Mega City Two is by land. Dredd is assigned t o lead the mission and is given a two-part armoured vehicle, comprising the personnel carrier Land Raider and the tank Killdozer. He is accompanied by three Judges, including Judge Jack who partnered him in the Robot Wars. Rounding off his crew is the convicted bike gang leader Spikes Harvey Rotten. It is not confirmed if this is the same character as the one of the same name from an earlier story Mega City 5000 from Progs 40 & 41. Due to lack of resemblance between the two and the earlier version being presumed dead (though he could just be unconscious) at the end of Prog 41 many assume the characters are not connected.
The journey between the Two Mega Cities shows us that the wasteland outside their walls is not devoid of life. In fact it is populated by a variety of people and creatures that rivals that within Mega City One. We are introduced to townships of un-mutated humans that for one reason or another live outside the supposed safety of the Mega Cities. There are mutant clans, Alien Slavers, deranged Robots, flying rats, dinosaurs… one could almost say ‘what isn’t in the Cursed Earth?’
The saga stretches the suspension of disbelief, but that is often when Dredd is at its best. Of course the other end of the spectrum, when Dredd gets close to reality, can also give us great stories.
The stories are varied and have the right mix of action, drama and of course dark humour. All aspects that have been seen throughout the history of 2000AD as much as the pages of Dredd alone. And as I said at the top of this article, this saga sets the scene for almost everything from Dredd stories in 2000AD or the Megazine when it comes to the Cursed Earth.
Pat Mills ties Judge Dredd to one of his creations, Flesh!, in part of the story, bringing us the genetically recreated Satanus, son of Old One Eye. 2000AD doesn’t have a shared universe, unlike other famous publishing companies. However Pat Mills often links his stories together. While some links have been more or less written off or forgotten Satanus is firmly embedded in Judge Dredd history.
For me it is as much the supporting cast as Dredd himself that makes this story thoroughly enjoyable. Spikes is a changed man at the end, he has grown through this hellish road-trip. Tweak, a rock eating alien, shows us more humanity than many humans have ever shown in the pages of Dredd. Both characters are still among my all time favourites, I’ll talk about another later this month when I review Judge Dredd: The Day The Law Died.
Now as I said I have been reading the latest edition of this story on Kindle. I have also read the same version in paperback. The Kindle version didn’t work so well on my android phone but looks great on my PC. The pages have been reduced well, all the lettering is easy to read. Some lettering has been re-positioned where required. I’m not certain how technical it is to make the colour pages black and white but if I didn’t know what pages were affected I wouldn’t have known about the alteration.
As for the artwork, two of the series giants turned in these pages. They are as fine as anyone can expect to see. You won’t see the now famous chin, it wasn’t quite as defined as it is now. But Dredd is as obviously Dredd as ever in the history of the comic.
If you have never read this – get a copy. If you have read it but no longer have a copy – get a copy.
And just remember, Alex Garland planned to take us in to the Cursed Earth in a sequel to Dredd (2012). We may not get a chance to see that come about but the fan film Judge Minty does deliver on that.

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