Scottish comics artist Cam Kennedy, whose work has graced the pages of titles as diverse as Batman, Star Wars: Dark Empire, and Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., is once again the star attraction of IDW Publishing’s latest hardbound collection of the violent and satirical adventures of Mega-City One’s toughest lawman in Judge Dredd: The Complete Cam Kennedy, Vol. 2.
Coming nearly a year since the release of the first volume in the series spotlighting Kennedy’s artistic contribution to the iconic character, the stories (or “progs”) collected in The Complete Cam Kennedy, Vol. 2 feature such Dredd classics as “No Man’s Land,” “Big Deal at Drekk City,” “Beyond Our Kenny” (from Judge Dredd Megazine vol.1 # 1-3), and many more from Kennedy’s celebrated run in the pages of Britain’s famous comics anthology 2000 A.D.. Dredd co-writer Alan Grant provides an introduction for this volume.
The collection kicks off with “Cardboard City,” a three-part tale which finds Dredd encountering a small gang of organized psychopaths trying to clear their respectable neighborhood of winos and derelicts while trying to talk his alcoholic former housekeeper Maria into going to a rehabilitation clinic.
“Beyond Our Kenny” depicts the struggles of an artist who paints with a brush made up of a popsicle stick and his own hair and his destitute family against the comics company that screwed him over and left him to rot in prison simply because he was taking a stand for creators’ rights (which in the future are still difficult to achieve). That’s just a taste of what The Complete Cam Kennedy Volume 2 has to offer.
The stories mostly revolve around Dredd and his never-ending battle for truth, justice, and quickly dispensed harsh sentences, but certain tales move him to the sidelines and focus on individual citizens who just happen to run afoul of Dredd by chance, like Wally, an amnesiac whose condition was brought about by mysterious circumstances. Wagner, Grant, and Kennedy understand that sometimes a little Judge Dredd goes a long way. Besides, Mega-City One – the Springfield of dystopian metropolises – offers much potential for original stories merely by taking time to explore the lives of the hapless civilians who travel its cluttered, overpopulated streets every day. For every gang of depraved mutants or avaricious criminals looking to create chaos in the city there are a thousand average individuals who love, laugh, feel pain and misery, and have dreams of breaking out of their oppressive, self-imposed prisons (as opposed to the “cubes” where the Judges’ quarry often end up cooling their heels for a few decades, give or take a year).
Judge Dredd was never a slick, ordinary comic book preoccupied with cookie cutter plotting; its visual and literary identity was forged in the details surrounding its cruel and colorful universe: the crumbling, crime-infested landscapes; the characters’ ruddy, slack-jawed, slightly cartoonish appearances; the urbanized dialect loaded with slang terminology influenced by the British origins of the comic’s creative team; and the offbeat storytelling that finds new ways to expand and dissect the mythology of Dredd. This is the kind of fully fleshed-out universe we’re not accustomed to seeing in comics, the kind where the little people matter just as much – maybe even more – than the heavily armed gods and demons who have their fate gripped in their hairy, sweaty palms. It would be magnificent if the characteristics that made Judge Dredd a one-of-a-kind creation were explored in-depth in future cinematic adaptations.
Kennedy’s artwork fits Dredd brilliantly. His designs bring to mind the expression “warts and all,” and through his eyes and pencil he brings a certain heightened realism to the characters and action in these stories. There’s a quality to Kennedy’s work that reminded me of Ralph Bakshi’s animation. Everyone has their flaws on both the inside and out, but they’re humans above all else and highly relatable. Plus Dredd himself is still one of the premiere badasses of the comic world. His stoicism makes Batman look like Kenneth the NBC page from 30 Rock and he can handle any threat the city’s indescribably scummy underworld can hurl at him. Yet Dredd is allowed to display sympathy and humor on occasion so that he doesn’t come across as a Kevlar-coated stick in the bloody mud.
Fans of classic Dredd will find Judge Dredd: The Complete Cam Kennedy Volume 2 another indispensable hardcover collection from IDW Publishing. The violence, action, humor, and heart of the best Dredd stories are preserved here in dazzling colors. It has everything you could ever want in a gutsy comic book original. This book comes highly recommended.