Review: Judge Dredd: Day of Chaos: The Fourth Faction

Way back in the 1982 there was an event that took place in the pages of 2000AD that not only changed the landscape of the Big Meg forever, but also reader’s perception of Judge Dredd himself. This event was known as The Apocalypse War. The Apocalypse War saw Mega-City One and East-Meg One at all-out war, ultimately ending with Dredd exploding a nuke on East-Meg in one of the most controversial ‘hero’ actions in comic book history.

Writer(s): John Wagner
Art: Ben Willsher, Staz Johnson, Colin MacNeil, Henry Flint
Colours: Chris Blythe
Publisher: Rebellion
Release Date: Available Now

BRB-Score-3

Over the years that followed, what remains of the East-Meg have retaliated, but no act of vengeance was as huge as Day of Chaos. Spanning 48 episodes, and taking place over 11 months, Day of Chaos is the biggest event to grace the pages of not only 2000AD, but also Judge Dredd Megazine to date.

Judge Dredd: Day of Chaos: The Fourth Faction takes the first six stories in this world changing event written by Judge Dredd creator John Wagner himself, and collects them all into one hefty 190 page tome.

Things kick off with The Skinning Room. Judge Dredd, now a member of the council of five, motions to impose a zero tolerance crackdown on the current crime wave plaguing Mega-City One.

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Meanwhile we are introduced to the villain of the story, Mr Skinner, a man who must have graduated from the same seamstress class as Buffalo Bill. This is easily one of the more interesting scenes in the entire book as it is viewed completely through the eyes of a characterless victim, making it seem like the events playing out are happening to you, the reader, and does a great job at building a sense of tension and urgency.

The two paths merge as the crackdown reaches Skinners building, the suitably named Gein Tower, and an overly curious Judge discovers the truth about Skinner. It them becomes a race against time for Dredd and a group of Judges to find Skinner and the young Judge before it’s too late.

From the moment the crackdown is initiated, The Skinning Room is an action packed story that will have you on the edge of your seat. Mr Skinner is a genuinely creepy character, whose actions throughout the story help detract from the heavy handed actions of the Judges, justifying their otherwise brutal behaviour.

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Next up in this collection is Hot Night in 95. Judge Hershey, after a series of medical examinations, Joins Judge Dredd, the temporarily appointed Chief of Sector 95, on a bike ride through Sector 95 where a series of stoning’s have been occurring. Things quickly escalate as Rage Against the Megs – an anti-Mega-City group– shoot up the Jelly Bowl, a hyperarena playing host to a televised eating contest.

Judges Dredd and Hershey must then coordinate with the other Judges in the area to stop the terrorist group by any means necessary before more civilian lives are lost. As the gunfight spills into the arena, bodies are dropped, fluids are dispensed, and cheap Python-esque gags are had.

Despite all the action, Hot Night in 95 seems to miss the mark as far as an interesting story goes. It definitely feels like it’s setting up something bigger with Rage Against the Megs, which sadly doesn’t come to fruition in this volume.

The Further Dastardly Deeds of PJ Maybe is the third story on offer, and is one of the best in the collection. Telling the tale of Mr Maybe’s escape from prison it’s short, and setting up the events for the rest of the book, it’s as stylish as it is clever. Unlike the previous stories in this collection, there is little to no action, but it works in the story’s favour, focusing more on character and situation development.

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Choosing to follow just one thread instead of the previous stories two gives this chapter much more focus and allows it to move along at a steady pace. PJ Maybe comes across as a devious and clever advisory for the Judges, and despite the fact he’s the villain of the piece, it’s hard not to root for him, which makes his return in a later story even more impactful.

The fourth story, Nadia, is the biggest in Day of Chaos: The Fourth Faction, and with good reason. Set amidst the chaos of a mayoral election after previous mayor Ambrose is announced dead, an East-Meg assassin known only as Nadia arrives in Mega-City One with the intention to kidnap and extract a well-known scientist and his family.

Nadia’s arrival set’s off a chain of events, ultimately leading to a murder investigation that is not entirely what it seems. Filled with action, suspense, and humour, Nadia is an edge-of-your-seat ride from start to finish that completely takes advantage of its longer length.

The final two stories are, by contrast, incredibly short. Taking place directly after the events of Nadia, The Fourth Faction focusses on introducing the string pullers of the previous story, and setting up the events for the second part of the event which doesn’t appear until the next collection.

And the final story of the book, Elusive, focusses on the hunt for PJ Maybe, as he cons his way into the life of a billionaire widower and plans an assassination of a government official. The length and content of the final two stories leave the book ending with more of a whimper than the bang it was leading up to in Nadia.

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The art is mainly strong, but does fall short of greatness in a couple of places. It’s definitely at its best when Ben Willsher and Chris Blythe are teamed together. Willsher’s thick line work and sleek character design allow for some bold colouring from Blythe that really make the focal characters pop. Everything has a sharp look to it, and even in the more chaotic scenes your eye is always drawn to where it is intended to be. The gore and explosions are especially eye catching, which is nice.

The duo especially shine during Nadia, especially with some of Judge Hennessy’s visions, and action sequences.

Sadly, Staz Johnson’s art seems a little inconsistent, jumping from bold detail to an almost forced realism that ends up looking sloppy in places. This may be in part to Blythe’s colouring style not mixing well with Johnsons line work – his sketchy shading lines make it difficult for the colours to pop, and forces a dark pallet on everything, making what could have been exciting visuals come across as dull at times.

Colin MacNeil’s chunky art style, on the other hand, is the perfect fit for Blythe’s bold colouring, and the dull backdrops of Mega-City One play off nicely against the deep reds and yellows of the Judges uniforms, making them jump of the page to great effect.

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The problem with collections like this is 2000AD’s way of storytelling. Episodic story telling works great in weekly serialised form, but when those episodes come together in one book it can often feel disjointed, often losing momentum or rhythm as one story ends and another begins.

Cliff hangers don’t carry the weight they should due to it being picked up immediately on the next page, and on the flip side if the book itself ends flat, as it does here, it elicits no sense of urgency or need to acquire the next volume as the story slows down to a point where nothing happens. This isn’t really a problem for me reviewing it, as I’ve been given both volumes to read back-to-back, but as a consumer I’d more than likely forget about the next volume in the month gap between releases.

Ben Willsher and Chris Blythe make a great artistic team
A couple of real edge of your seat stories
Clever satire and comedic writing in places
A couple of the stories fall short
Slow build up in places
Need to wait until the next volume to finish story

That being said, Judge Dredd: Day of Chaos: The Fourth Faction is a good read, and nicely sets up the events to come, even if it does take its time. The pages are full of the humour and satire 2000AD is renowned for, with numerous nods to modern pop culture thrown in for good measure, it’s just a shame a couple of the core stories amount to little more than what feels like filler.

Review copy provided by 2000AD
Official Website

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