Take classic Japanese samurai epics like Lone Wolf and Cub, mix them into futuristic anime like Akira, then stuff the whole thing into Judge Dredd’s 2000 AD world of Mega Cities and Judges, and you have Hondo City Law.
Japan’s futuristic Hondo City – named for unfathomable reasons other than it “sounded Japanese” — was created by John Wagner in the Judge Dredd story “Our Man in Hondo” (included in this collection), along with the samurai-judge Inspector Totaro Sadu. Sadu and Hondo never appeared again until up-and-coming writer Robbie Morrison was offered the chance to write some stories for 2000 AD. Morrison resurrected one of his favorite stories from the past and created the story arc of rogue-judge Shimura and his protégé Judge Inspector Aiko Inaba.
As Judge Dredd was based on Clint Eastwood, Morrison based his Japanese Judge Shimura on acting legend Mifune Toshiro (Seven Samurai, Yojimbo), and gave him a villain in the form of the cyber-cult Deus X who believe it is man’s ultimate destiny to merge with machines. Shimura is a blend of old-fashioned and futuristic, carrying a hand-forged Wakizashi short sword and laser shuriken. Unlike Judge Dredd, Shimura believes more in justice than the Law, and is able to see where the two differ. He trains Judge Inspector Aiko Inaba, who is torn between her loyalty to Shimura and her responsibility as a Judge.
I was a huge Judge Dredd fan back when Eagle Comics was publishing the American editions, but it has been awhile since I dove into the Mega Cities. The world has evolved, and there is a lot more depth and characterization than I remembered. Judge Dredd’s viewpoint was black-and-white; there is the Law, and lawbreakers must be punished. But this Judge Dredd is a more nuanced character, willing to work with someone like Shimura who operates outside the Law. As Dredd says, “Hondo City is not my city, and not my laws.”
Morrison got everything spot-on with Hondo City Law. I lived in Japan for several years, have seen more than my fair share of Japanese action flicks, and I tend to be hyper-critical of Western writers imitating only the superficial aspects of Japan without the depth. Not here. Morrison’s stories were brilliant, and my only disappointment is that this is not Hondo City Law: Volume 1. I very much want more stories.
The art is equally impressive. There are four artists here, all of them different, all of them good. Colin MacNeil illustrates the original Hondo City story in fully-painted loveliness. Two of the stories, “Shimura” and “Babes with Big Bazookas”, have early Frank Quitely art that is just phenomenal. I found that I actually liked this Quitely art better than his current stuff which has become heavily stylized. Andy Clarke does “Executioner” and “Deus X”. This was the first time I had seen Clarke’s art, and I loved it. He has a realistic style similar to Travis Charest. The last story, “Hondo City Justice”, was drawn by Neil Googe and was my least favorite. He used a “manga style” that was fitting to the subject matter but was out of step with the style of the other Hondo City tales.