Reviews: It’s the end of the world as we know it…. Day Of Chaos: Endgame
By John Wagner, art by Leigh Gallagher, Henry Flint, Ben Willsher, Colin MacNeil, Edmund Bagwell
Rebellion / 2000AD
Day Of Chaos, the recent massive, world-changing Judge Dredd multi-parter marked something of a squaring of the circle for John Wagner, completing a story-arc he’d started some 30 years prior with The Apocalypse War.
That particular epic ended with Dredd wiping East-Meg One from the face of the Earth with a decisive, cold, brutal press of a button.
Day Of Chaos as a story is all about the long game, about East-Meg vengeance, 30 years of patient planning and careful maneuvering until everything falls perfectly into place.
It’s also Wagner playing the long game with his writing. (Nearly) everything across these two volumes contributes something quite spectacular to the story, yet nothing in here is ever really allowed to explode from the page. This is all about Wagner giving a masterclass in pacing, the tension slowly and surely ratcheting up, Dredd et al knowing something terrible is coming, but they’re at least one step behind at every stage, and slowly, surely, even they come to the terrible realisation that there’s nothing can be done, nothing but prepare for the very worst. And make no mistake, this is the very worst, with Wagner and five excellent artists relishing the carnage they’re about to unleash.
Here in Endgame we see the inevitable, impossible to stop destruction of Mega-City One, witness the loss of millions of lives, and see Dredd’s world come tumbling down. Needless to say, this is not a volume to pick up in isolation, nor is this review something to read unless you’ve already read volume 1; Day Of Chaos – The Fourth Faction.
(art by Ben Willsher)
In Volume 1, we saw the status quo of current MC-1 life; Dredd (grudgingly) on the Council of Five, the ridiculousness of the forthcoming election reinforcing the utter control the Hall Of Justice has over the city.
But then Wagner steps forward, revealed here as MC-1′s worst enemy, and slowly, methodically, with absolute, clinical precision, pulls it all down, brick by brick, block by block.
Isolated plot strands, unconnected at first, establish a mood of unease, of inevitable disaster; terrorist organisations Total War and Rage Against The Megs spread fear and panic, PJ Maybe still a constant thorn in Dredd’s side, and then there’s Cadet Hennessy and her psychic warnings of death, rioting and destruction culminating on election day, culminating on Chaos Day.
East-Meg agents, masterminded by Yevgeny Borisenko are at work, the scientist with the key viral knowledge is kidnapped, a variant produced; airborne, 98% fatal, causing reckless aggression before death in 4 days, the perfect weapon of mass destruction.
(art by Leigh Gallagher)
In Endgame, Borisenko’s plan is carried out to perfection, and as the Chaos Bug spreads the fragile society breaks down; block tensions, civil disturbances, gangs running riot, insurrection comes swiftly, and faced with the absolute dissembling of society as its known in MC-1, the Justice Department and the Chief Judge falters, the options disappearing every hour.
(art by Flint Henry)
We start huge, the overarching storyline taking in everything happening, the multiple plot strands all covered, but as we get closer and closer to Chaos Day, the focus narrows, concentrating on the minutiae of the disaster on the ground, the last few episodes really tight with Dredd and a team clearing out a block to create a safehouse, the devastation all around them having a heavy toll on everyone, Dredd included.
The true brilliance of Wagner’s writing here isn’t the plot (in many ways it’s actually a fairly by the book thriller), it’s the absolute control of the pacing he exhibits, showing complete mastery of the world of Dredd.
About a quarter of the way through this second volume we begin the 20-part Eve Of Destruction storyline, each chapter counting down to Chaos Day, pratically each scene timestamped; both adding an incredible sense of urgency and drive to proceedings, although never resorting to frenetic violence and over the top action scenes. No, this is the driving tick, tick, tick, of inevitable doom approaching, a sense that something absolutely terible is already in motion. Find a comfortable position there on the edge of your seat – you’ll be there for a long time.
(art by Colin MacNeil)
There’s just one small misstep in here. At the time, reading it in serialised form, the inclusion of the Dark Judges Mortis, Fire, and Fear were merely an event inside an event, much the same as PJ Maybe had provided a moment of lighter storytelling in Volume 1. But having the Dark Judges as comedic relief right in the middle of the Day Of Chaos countdown just didn’t work for me in collected form, simply getting in the way of unrelenting disaster, and rather unnecessary to the overall wonder of the tale. As Judge Beeny points out, MC-1 has “a lot worse to worry about”.
After spending so long praising the story and the writer, I’m not going to into depth about the five artists involved here, but suffice it to say that all five gentlemen bring their A game to Endgame, matching Wagner’s excellent writing and creating a dismal, doomladen Mega-City One. Everyone brings something different, but everyone does a sterling job.
I’ll end with one scene by Flint Henry, the epitome of just how brutal and important this book is, and how big an impact it will have on Dredd and the world of Mega-City One. Dredd’s reaction is perfect, Wagner’s words fitting, Henry’s image shocking….
Day Of Chaos, both volumes, is the Dredd Mega-Epic to end all Dredd Mega-Epics. With my limited knowledge I’m calling it the best Dredd Wagner, or anyone, has ever written. It’s absolutely a must for fans old, new, regular and lapsed.