Hondo City Justice is another collection of mostly unrelated short stories that originally appeared in the British Judge Dredd Magazine and 2000 AD (where Judge Dredd originally appeared, way back). The idea takes the Judge Dredd world and imagines what life would be like on the other side of the planet, in future Japan. With some guest appearances by Judge Dredd to give some continuity and legitimacy, Hondo City feels more interesting and real than Mega City One.
The unifying thread for these stories is the setting. Hondo City — a huge sprawl including the cities formerly known as Tokyo and Kyoto — and, mostly, the character Inspector Inaba, a female Japanese Judge. Though she’s not always the main character in the stories, I find her way more interesting than Judge Dredd.
The strength of these stories, by writers Robbie Morrison and Steve Parkhouse, is in the characters, and in the fact that there are multiple characters. The first story especially gives us Judge Inaba and Judge Dredd teaming up with a former-Judge-turned-ronin, Shimura, to form an actual team. In fact, the story is mainly Shimura’s, but Judge Dredd works a lot better with a foil, or as a foil, to characters that actually show emotion. There’s an actual dynamic.
The later stories involve Inaba, with her female partner, Cadet Judge Junko Asahara—who, despite the Japanese name, is a blonde white woman, and who, despite have Phoenix-like abilities, just isn’t as kick-ass as Inaba. But at least there’s a buddy-buddy/teacher-student dynamic, something to help propel the story between fight scenes.
The art is, of course, and as always with the 2000 AD stuff, the best thing about the collection, due to the skill of the various artists, but also to the setting itself: Because we’re in future Japan, we get some nods to ancient Japanese culture, with samurai armor, swords, floating lanterns (one lovely scene with these) and some old school martial arts fights. Also some nods to more recent Japanese culture, with some manga-y backdrops, Akira-ish weaponry and vehicles, and cool bad guys, including a big lizard named Godzarro.
Aside from an excuse for some cool futuristic fight scenes, there are some interesting details and plot points, that don’t get resolved or even receive that much panel space, but are intriguing seeds for future stories: in the first story, “The Harder The Come,” written by Morrison, the bad guys form an alliance of mutants and monsters that live in the area, formally China, called the Radlands. The reason for the alliance? A corporation in Hondo City is planning and executing a rebuilding of, and expansion into, the Radlands to relieve overpopulation — supposedly — but also making money at it. The ‘bad guys’ are actually just resisting forced colonization and imperialism. They are, in short, trying to protect their homes. Not that Dredd or even Inaba stop to consider this.
The good guys, including Judge Dredd on a visit over from Mega City, are defending the head of this corporation, and this anti-corporation thread is used, or at least mentioned, in later stories, a little. If a writer were to take on this idea, that might help the Judge Dredd stories transcend the basic shoot’em-up format. What I mean is, what happens when/if the Judges realize they’re protecting corporations and not the people? Will their samurai code hold up? Or will Judge Inaba, and even Judge Dredd, eventually end up as ronin, warriors without a master?
Judge Dredd has a cult following, so to give this collection three stars is blasphemy, I know, but I continue to think 2000 AD stories place their art way over their storylines, which tend to be short, though these stories are way better than the last Dredd collection I reviewed.
Is Hondo City Justice graphic novel high art? No. Is it a good fun romp through futuristic Japan with a kickass female Japanese protagonist? Sure. She even makes me want to say (dare I?)—Dredd who?