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Buy This Book: ‘Judge Dredd: The XXX Files’

Judge Dredd: The XXX Files, 2000 AD

 

One of the things that I’ve really come to appreciate ever since I jumped into the world of Judge Dredd is just how easy 2000 AD has made it. The publisher’s got massive reprints of Dredd from the very beginning; they’ve got downloadable digital comics that are easy to buy (and that you can actually keep like any other downloaded file); and they’re putting out compilations built around themes that can give to the start of a pretty comprehensive overview of Dredd history. Basically, it has never been easier to read 200 pages of comics about people having sex with robots.

That is, more or less, the subject matter of Judge Dredd: The XXX Files, the new collection on sale this week which compiles two dozen stories that take the concept of Thrillpower into a decidedly adult direction. And while I’m not sure if it’s a great place for people who are brand new to Dredd’s world — it’s more than a little overwhelming at times — it has a bunch of truly fantastic comics.

 

Judge Dredd: The XXX Files, 2000 AD

 

The common theme here might be sex, but I think we can all agree that that’s a pretty broad topic, and as a result, the stories presented in The XXX Files have a variety of approaches to how love, sex and crime intermingle in the world of the future. It’s actually a pretty neat way to see things laid out, and if nothing else, shows how well constructed and thought out (and how bizarre) Dredd’s world actually is.

The most common approach by far, at least among the ones represented here, are short, slapstick sex jokes, and for the most part they’re actually pretty fantastic. I mean, I’ll admit that I wasn’t really charmed by “The Great Arsoli,” in which a morbidly obese magician produces a string of objects culminating in an actual assistant from his hugely gaping anus during a cavity search, all rendered in grittily exaggerated Simon Bisley style. That image — which will no doubt haunt me to my grave — is one that I probably could’ve done without, although I’ll admit that I was reading this book at dinner, so really, that one’s on me.

The others, though, are pretty great. “Attack of the Sex-Crazed Love Dolls,” a John Wagner/Greg Staples classic with one of the best possible titles a reader could ask for, is definitely a high point. Dredd tracks down a gang of crooks who are hijacking sex robots, only to have them make their getaway after programming them to be aggressively in love with Dredd himself. It’s a great use of the wild, sci-fi aspects of the universe for a nice little punchline, and it’s not alone, either. “To Die For,” by Wagner and Paul Marshall, takes the classic sci-fi premise of a madman building the perfect body for his beloved and presents it with the perfect balance of action, horror and comedy.

 

Judge Dredd: The XXX Files, 2000 AD

 

It’s a really tricky thing to master, but it’s really what makes Wagner’s work on Dredd over the past 30 years stand out really well, and it’s all on display here, in this strange collection of stories.

It’s not just the light, slapstick stuff, though. There are some great stories in here, like the far-future take on Jack the Ripper that you get from Wagner and John Burns’s “Stone Killer,” where the murder of Mega-City One’s “slabwalkers” weaves through a mystery with an obvious conclusion and winds up twisting back around with a reminder that Dredd’s world is vastly different from ours, full of questions about morality that you can only really ask with sci-fi.

And then there’s one that’s crucial in shedding light on the development of Dredd as a character, and the relationship with the Justice Department and its policies that Wagner has been bringing to the forefront in more recent stories. Specifically, Wagner and Burns’ “Sleaze,” which is nominally a story about illicit sex, complete with a 22nd Century porno flick playing at a “hover-in” theater, but becomes something very different by the end of it. The short version is that Dredd discovers that the all-seeing Public Surveillance Unit has been gathering blackmail material on elected officials and using it to manipulate them, rigging elections as they see fit.

 

Judge Dredd: The XXX Files, 2000 AD

 

Dredd’s actions in that story are incredibly informative, particularly when it comes to casting him as a worthwhile protagonist rather than just the stone-faced authority figure that shows up in the gag stories. The trick to Judge Dredd as a series has always been that it’s a book where the fascists are the good guys, but the trick to Judge Dredd as a character has always been that he knows the difference between right and wrong, and while he always, always sides with the Law, it’s not entirely without questioning the morality of what he’s doing. It’s the one thing that humanizes him and makes him more than a cardboard cutout of an action hero, especially in a world where — as is made abundantly clear in several of these stories — Dredd’s been conditioned, like all judges, to the point where he’s not even capable of love.

I’ve mentioned Wagner quite a bit — and with good reason, he’s been the primary writer of Dredd for his entire existence and wrote or co-wrote 15 of the 24 stories that are reprinted in The XXX Files — but he’s not the only talent on display here. Alan Grant, who frequently co-wrote with Wagner, shows up and does a bang-up job, and the more recent stories feature creators like Al Ewing and Robbie Morrison, both of whom bring a cutting satire and an innovation to what’s presented here. At the end of the day, though, this book really is mostly Wagner’s show, and shows both exactly why he’s done such a great job with the Dredd stories that he wrote, and how he helped to build the foundation that other creators have been able to build on.

It actually makes me wonder why there aren’t more collections like this. There have been a few, of course — DC Comics, a company whose biggest strength is often that it has seven and a half decades of material featuring some of the most popular and well-known characters in the entire world, has occasionally done thematic collections of, say, Superman’s time-travel adventures or all the times where Batman has been presumed dead. But to do something on this scale with this kind of subject matter, showing the different ways that this world looks at something that’s a fundamental part of humanity? I can’t think of another book that’s done that, and it’s really great.

Taken all together, it does exactly what a book like this should do: It makes me want to read more, to find out what else these creators have done to build up this world. It’s a great experience as a reader, even if you have to get through Simon Bisley drawing a distended rectum to get it.

 

 

Judge Dredd: The XXX Files is out this week from 2000 AD.

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