Advance Review: this book will be released November 5, 2013
I wasn't really sure what to expect when I heard that IDW was going to be producing all-new tales of Judge Dredd as sort of an alternate history version (although one that lines up fairly closely to the original 2000 AD character). It was in good hands, at least with Duane Swierczynski, who has a vicious sense of humor and has never been one to skimp on the violence. And yet I couldn't get myself to pick it up when there are so many Judge Dredd Case Files collections out there I still need to read (the first five are sitting on my shelf right now, shaming me as I type).
As this new Judge Dredd series continues to chug along IDW has decided to branch out and release another dip into the Dredd waters, publishing a four-issue mini-series called Judge Dredd: Year One. It's written by 2000 AD editor Matt Smith (not that one) and illustrated by 2000 AD vet Simon Coleby. This time, with a solid 2000 AD pedigree behind it, I figured what the hell. Let's check it out.
And I was not disappointed.
Smith and Coleby go back to Dredd's first year out of the academy for this story, subtitled "The Long Hard Road." He's eighteen years old, sees everything in black and white, and doesn't hesitate to quote the law to his elders. This fresh-faced rookie is thrown up against a threat he's never even thought to consider as juveniles across Mega-City One begin manifesting psi-powers in a wave of accidental, uncontrollable violence that develops into a concentrated crime wave threatening the entire world.
Many worlds, actually.
Smith has a nice handle on Dredd and introduces us to a small cast of characters who are mainly there to facilitate Dredd's invocations of The Law. It's smart, sometimes funny, but mostly it's extremely ambitious in scale and pulls off exactly what it needs to in order to be true to the character's long history. When faced with something he can't really explain or wrap his head around (psychic juvies rebelling against everything he stands for), he only briefly hesitates when introduced to the world of Psi-Division for the first time.
Psi-Judge Riorden is a good character to team up with Dredd for this, providing a nice balance of age and control to Dredd's youth and impetuousness. With each chapter the tension builds and the stakes rise until Dredd finds himself stepping through a crack in space-time and emerging in an alternate version of Mega-City One where everything he's experiencing back home has already played out to devastating effect.
But Smith plays it smart and sticks to what makes Dredd resonate — beyond the fascistic violence in the face of overwhelming corruption — good, solid police work. Dredd sniffs out what is really going on and it was pretty damned satisfying. Even in a story with over-the-top violence, alternate realities, and the possible manifestation of nuclear Armageddon in conscious form, Smith's script is grounded in realism. His Dredd maintains his cool, keeps his focus, and does the job nobody else will or can.
This is a pretty kick-ass story from start to finish.
And my god, the art!
Simon Coleby's pencils and inks are some of the most beautiful representations of chaos and destruction I've seen in years. He uses heavy blacks to create a minimalist realism that at times appears to be drawn from live images. Sometimes the level of detail is astounding, while at other times he uses as few lines as possible to convey the image. Both extremes work surprisingly well alongside each other, creating a look that I've really only seen Jae Lee pull off as well. And Leonard O'Grady's colors are the perfect complement, capturing the grunge and muck with muted light and hazy browns, blues, and greys, the chaos and fire with bold reds and oranges.
I've always had a soft spot for an almost casual realism in my comic art, and this scratches that itch wonderfully. This is how I'd want something I wrote to look.
If you can't afford to pick up the original Judge Dredd Case Files, or — dare I say it — if you've never really read any Judge Dredd, then you should definitely take a look at Judge Dredd: Year One. It's fresh, exciting, and might actually inspire you to open up your wallets and dive into some of the classics, too.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor/editor for Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is available at Amazon US & UK, along with his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation (US & UK). He recently contributed the 1989 chapter to The American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1980s (US & UK) and has kicked off Comics Bulletin Books with Mondo Marvel Volumes One (US & UK) and Two (US & UK). Paul is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy.