Growing up in the UK through the 90s, it was 2000AD that really started to get me interested in comics. It offered something generally unseen in publications at the time and that was a dark realism that was a refreshing change from the usual superhero reprints that we in the UK were getting. The most iconic character of the publication, the brilliantly designed ‘JUDGE JOSEPH DREDD’ wasn’t exactly a hero in the classic sense. His moral compass was shaky at best but he was always compelling to follow as he travelled the harsh streets of Mega-City One. Even though I loved the publication growing up, I eventually started looking back towards Marvel and DC for a change and kind of kept DREDD and company as a great memory of growing up.
Years went by and I honestly lost all track of the characters and where they were going, as such I rarely dipped into the stories as I didn’t want to feel ‘lost’ in the company of new characters and not knowing how or why people were as they were. This is why when the publishing company ‘Hatchette’ decided to re-release the classic stories as a fortnightly publication (I think they are up to book 6 currently) I thought it would be a great time to get back into the gritty world and try and re-experience the joy I got when reading the comics as a kid. The first book they released ‘America’ contains 6 separate stories all linked through the characters that inhabit them. This review is simply for the first story in the collection; ‘AMERICA’ which was published in 1990 in the ‘Judge Dredd Megazine’. I am not singling the story out because the others are bad, far from it. But it is this story that reignited my love for the world and highlighted why I fell in love with the characters in the first place.
‘AMERICA’ is a simple premise with some very deep and powerful elements running through it. Written by the co-creator of 2000AD, the legendary John Wagner, the story focuses on the interactions between childhood friends Bennett Beeny and America Jara as they grow through adolescence and ultimately into adulthood. At face value, it is a tragic love story between Benny and America, but below its beautiful exterior is an incredibly deep, sometimes scathing look at how America (the place) has changed since the declaration of independence was signed back in 1776. It specifically focuses on one of the most influential and important parts of that text:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”
This section from the second segment of the text has stood as a groundwork for many a politician over the years, but as highlighted in this fictional story written 25 years ago, It is something that can and has been twisted over the years into something that can be looked at as the most perfect, yet often highly unachievable ideology of life.
Who doesn’t want this? Isn’t this the reason why so many travelled to America in the first place, seeking a new life under this beautiful idea? Don’t get me wrong, some, if not many have achieved the final part of the statement, but that doesn’t change the ‘all men are created equal’ segment which seems to have become nothing more than a perfect fantasy in this otherwise very segmented, class-based system that everyone lives within.
This is one of the things that the fictitious city of ‘mega-city one’ has highlighted since its creation in ‘2000ad’. It is a statement about overpopulation, power, corruption and ultimately a hope for a better life that its inhabitants are or have been searching for.
The story at hand is told through a highly emotional narration by Bennett Beeny as he explains his love for his friend whom he grew up with and who he would ultimately do anything for. It’s a deep and at times almost poetic tale that draws you in and doesn’t let you go. It is the ultimate story of a hope that never can be, but a hope all the same. The character of ‘America’ is the perfect allegory of the country she resides. She wants three simple things in life; Life, Liberty and happiness’. She stands for all those that have struggled and have sought the bare necessities they were promised back in 1776. We get to watch her story as it unfolds through the eyes of Beeny and we get to see his split mind between helping the love of his life or upholding his duty as a citizen ruled by a harsh judicial system.
Every part of the story is fantastically realized and Is easily one of the most incredible pieces of fiction I have had the pleasure to read. If I had to pick any faults I had with the story, it would be that 2 of the pages switch the narration to that of a ‘JUDGE’ (presumably Dredd). I felt that it was slightly confusing having this split narration for an almost pointless piece of dialogue. I would have greatly preferred for this section to simply have been images rather than text as it does draw you out of ‘Benny’s’ story. But this is a minor gripe with an overall masterpiece of writing.
The art by Colin Macneil is equally as amazing and does the writing as much justice as it can. It is dark and gritty while also splashing some hope within it. The colours and the almost airbrush style of everything perfectly epitomizes why these stories are so popular. The character design and the design of the whole world they inhabit is fantastic and really can’t be faulted. In fact, some of the splash pages feature some of the most beautifully realized imagery that one can see and wouldn’t look out of place on the walls of an art gallery.
So when push comes to shove, I loved this story. It is near perfect on all levels and features more depth than almost anything pushed out by its American counterparts. I recommend seeking out this story or even the whole book it’s collected in as you will not be disappointed. For me, it might possibly be one of the finest pieces of fiction I have ever experienced and one that highlights everything wrong with the world right now. It is a story that will stay with you long after you’ve finished it and will make you truly question if the way in which both America and the world as a whole are currently governed is right.