Writer: John Wagner, Alan Grant & D. G. Chichester
Artist: Brent Anderson & Anthony Williams
Publisher: 2000 AD
WHAT IS IT?
A grotesque tale set in a dystopian future. It collects part of DC Comics’ run of Judge Dredd books from 1994-1995.
Think Robocop meets the body horror of David Cronenberg.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
In a dystopian future, Mega City One is among the most crime-ridden places in the world. This is largely because of the city's ridiculous number of illegal activities. Simply staring could invoke a citation. This apparently also makes the city a popular tourist destination. It is here the reader finds Nigel and Tonya, two Brit Cit newlyweds, who have their honeymoon date suddenly interrupted by Judge Dredd. Their tour bus driver is arrested for smuggling illegal cigarettes, leaving the lovebirds and the rest of the tourists stranded. One of the passengers attempts to drive the bus and drop everyone off, but they get horribly lost and find themselves on the wrong side of town. Little do they know, there have been a string of mysterious kidnappings of those who have healthy bodies.
In the book’s second story, Judge Dredd and Rooke Judge Quisling have been charged with returning to jail Salvadore Chigger, a scientist who genetically engineered bugs that can strip the flesh off of any living thing. Chigger’s bugs turned on him, morphing the scientist into a monster called Insectivore and violating Mega City One’s laws on public decency. The duo would have apprehended him sooner, but every time Insectivore dies, he swiftly regenerates from an egg. Dredd and Quisling also find out that the scientist-turned-monster has laid eggs all over the city and threatens to unleash them if his demands aren’t met.
Wagner and Grant’s story, The Organ Donors, excellently balances horror and humor together creating a tale that is satirical and action-packed.
Anderson’s detailed backgrounds and characters immerse the reader into the world of Mega City One. The city is always an imposing presence.
The inking truly sells the dark atmosphere of this world. Palmiotti’s heavy washes of black and subtle hatching make each scene feel sinister.
The color choices of Chaifetz make each character distinct against the busy backgrounds and ensure the reader’s focus is always in the right place. His backgrounds of primarily red and purple hues make the black and gold of the judges really pop.
Schubert’s lettering follows the flow of the art well and at times interacts with it so that the art and letters are equal partners in the storytelling.
Trial By Gunfire is an exciting story with a marvelous twist. Chichester does an excellent job setting up a certain character to have an unexpected downfall.
Williams’ pencils are well-balanced managing to give the wasteland a feeling of emptiness and desolation while also texturing the rocky surface well.
Lanning displays a true mastery and understanding of lighting, inking Dredd and Quisling in multiple times of day and flashbacks with ease.
Pinaha tackles Trial By Gunfire’s text-heavy dialogue and additional narration expertly, pacing the words well and making each page an easy read.
The Organ Donors sound effects lettering is particularly noteworthy. It creatively weaves through panels to show a sound being heard by multiple characters and makes the gun fights feel chaotic through the busy and colorful words.
Trial By Fire does some experimentation with layouts such as overlapping with other panels and floating above splash pages, that keep the story fresh.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK
Content Warning: This book features lots of graphic violence and depictions of police brutality.
This comic could be construed as insensitive to those with mental health issues. The antagonist of the Organ Donors is mentally ill with his ailment presented as a joke and Judge Dredd repeatedly calls criminals “psychos”.
A few beats in the story were framed as big reveals, but had few beats to establish them firmly. A bit more backstory peppered into the main arc would have helped these parts feel more dramatic.
Some of the lettering is very tight and collides with the edges of the balloons. This makes it harder to read in these spots and breaks the flow of the dialogue.
There are also a few moments where the sound effects lettering is extremely busy and distracts from the rest of the art.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
Judge Dredd: Legends of the Law was meant to be a jumping in point for anyone new to series. With the film being released at the time, DC and 2000 AD ensured that this series didn’t require decades of knowledge to consume. Despite a few characters and pieces that might offensive nowadays, the stories hold up very well and show the inner workings of Mega City One and its Judges without any exposition dumps or introductions. The writing team made sure anyone could dive in and get the larger bits of lore through dialogue and character interactions. Also, even though these books are nearly 20 years old, the satire about over-policing and totalitarian criminal justice systems still feel relevant. Judge Dredd manages to tell a tale where the reader isn’t sympathetic to the villains, but they also aren’t sympathetic to its titular character.
Personally, older comic book art gives me a headache and I have a difficult time reading them, even with characters I love. However, with this book I had no issue. This may be due to it being colored on a computer, a recent advancement for comics at the time, but I believe it’s also due to the art team’s choices. Legends of the Law is an excellent example of how to be very detailed and colorful while also easy to read. The pencils rarely leave any blank space, sucking the reader into the bowels of the city and the desolate wasteland beyond, and the coloring is vivid but avoids stark contrasts. Everything is tied off with a magnificent bow thanks to the creative, masterful lettering.
Judge Dredd: Legends of the Law is a perfect starting point for anyone new to the franchise and wanting to begin on a high note.
HOW DO I BUY IT?
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