The image is striking: Judge Dredd, the lawman of the future, with his boot crushing down on the blood-stained flag of the USA.
That was the first image of the 2000AD story America, and it’s one which still resonates today. It’s little wonder that it’s also the one used on the cover of this new volume, which contains America as well as the two sequels Fading Of The Light and Cadet. But no matter what those other stories offer, it’s America which is the one that’s overwhelming and deserves the most attention.
This story still ranks as one of the most touching, tragic and mature Judge Dredd tales ever. Instead of the usual high-energy ultra-violence, we’re told a tale of love and loss in Mega City One which depicts how life is like there, studies the concept of democracy and tackles the awkward question of whether Judge Dredd is truly a hero, without letting him dominate the story itself. Because, deep down, this isn’t his story. It’s the story of Bennett Beeny and the woman he loved and lost. A woman called America.
As a child, Beeny is bullied by other children. When a Judge arrives, instead of helping him, the Judge intimidates him and considers arresting him a troublemaker. The only person who stands up for him is his friend, America. Yet as they grow older, it’s clear that they’re following very different paths. While Beeny challenges the political system with satirical songs, America becomes more militant, joins the protest marches and ultimately becomes a freedom fighter… or is she a terrorist?
It’s a matter of perspective, and an argument which is mirrored by Judge Dredd himself. Since he opposes them, is he a fascist oppressor or the hero that Mega City One desperately needs? He explains how he sees the world and just why he’s so harsh on the citizens of Mega City One, without ever apologising. He stands for the law and nothing will change that; but does the law create order, or cause people to rebel against it even harder in the name of personal freedom?
It’s a stunning and complex tale, aimed at a more mature audience who’s willing to explore the themes from all sides and is highly recommended.
Unfortunately, then the sequels kick in. While they do add value to this collection, they also detract from the first story a little and make it seem somehow less special. Still, as a progression from the first storyline, they do offer up some good moments.
Fading Of The Light is the weaker of the two, primarily because we sympathise less with Bennett Beeny in it. Yet Dredd’s statement about democracy in this story is outstanding, as he explains the failure of the public to correctly appreciate it. In a world where voter turnout is less than half, even a political party in power is only representative of a small percentage of the population. The message here is clear: Fascism isn’t the fault of the Judges who do their jobs, but rather that of the citizens who fail to change it.
Cadet follows the story of Bennett’s daughter, America Beeny, who has joined the Judges in the belief that the best place to achieve change is from within the system. Partnering with a suspicious Dredd, she investigates the circumstances of her parents’ deaths in a bid to uncover the terrorist organisation behind it. It’s one of the most slow-burn (and subsequently intriguing) Dredd stories and a fitting conclusion to the story arc.
As a graphic novel collection it’s a good set, although the first story alone is the real high point. Yet you can’t fault 2000AD for trying to give readers more bang for their buck, and it’s good to see a classic story like America being given the treatment and respect which it deserves.