Thursday, November 8, 2012

185. Amerika the Amazing

July 2008: As I create these articles, I often find myself overlooking Judge Dredd, planning in advance to highlight one of the other stories running. "The Edgar File," a major seven-part story by John Wagner and Patrick Goddard, however, demands everybody's attention. Even as Wagner has solidified his skills writing police procedurals and giving Dredd a meticulous and detailed approach to investigation, this one really is a standout. It makes you wish Rebellion would skip ahead in their Case Files to Volume 35 or whatever it will take to start getting big, complete collections of the modern series in print, so that those foolish non-scrots who still haven't caught on can have their minds more easily blown.

In this story, one of Dredd's longtime adversaries in Justice Department, the politically powerful Jura Edgar, is finally dying of cancer, and gives our hero a file with virtually no information or background. She's pulled similar stunts in the past, knowing that Dredd will, impartially, investigate whatever hints can be found in one of Edgar's secret files. This time, there's a trail of corruption that goes right up to the Council of Five, and an influential retired judge who has remained in Mega-City One as a private citizen, and a really surprising twist revelation right at the end about Edgar herself.

There are some artists who handle Wagner's police procedural side better than others. As mentioned a few chapters previously, Nick Dyer didn't really do a very good job with his first effort. That's in part because his fun and whimsical style didn't really match the downbeat and very wordy script. Patrick Goddard is a much better choice for this kind of adventure. He'd already acquitted himself with a fine Dredd procedural about a serial killer, "Your Cheating Heart," in 2006, and this is even better.

As often happens, the rest of the prog is trying to catch up to Wagner's Dredd. Pat Mills and Leigh Gallagher's Defoe is huge fun, as is a curious future war serial called The Vort by G. Powell and D'Israeli that we'll come back to next time. Sinister Dexter is here, but the real gem is a really thrilling Nikolai Dante story by Robbie Morrison and Simon Fraser. It's called "Amerika" and it's a complete rollercoaster, full of really unpredictable and wild twists. Dante is not a strip that sticks to a status quo for very long, and this story ends the "sword of the tsar" portion of the series pretty terminally.

It's been understood for some time now that Nikolai has been working quietly to assemble underground forces against the tsar, but it all looks set to fall apart after this visit to the ugly and impoverished North American continent. New York is a decaying, overpopulated mess under brutal martial law, with hints and traces of wealth and wonder. About half the populace has bought into VR implants from the Futura Corporation just to pass the time.

This series is always at its best when Dante looks to be in way over his head, and this one's a jewel for fans who enjoy the character facing impossible odds. He's already confounded about how to protect Jena, who's still furious with him after his last dalliance with the Countessa, from militias and self-styled, super-powered "freedom fighters" - resemblances to various Marvel characters intentional - when it turns out that the White Army is involved. These are the weird extraterrestrials who've been scheming to assimilate all flesh into their techno-organic hive mind, and they've got a much larger beachhead in Amerika than anybody thought...

It's a great story, and Fraser is really on fire with his art. The story is memorable for some amazing and meticulous architecture, with the double-page spread that shows the decaying Manhattan a candidate for one of the most amazing pieces of artwork to ever appear in the comic.

Next time, another surprise twist, this time in The Vort, plus a little more about Defoe and the thunderous finale of "Amerika." Be back in a week!

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