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Judge Dredd: Toxic (IDW Publishing) Trade Paperback Review

    Ian Jane

  • Judge Dredd: Toxic (IDW Publishing) Trade Paperback Review

    Released by: IDW Publishing
    Released on: May 29th, 2019.
    Written by: Paul Jenkins
    Illustrated by: Marco Castiello
    Purchase From Amazon

    The opening narration tells us how Mega-City One is a love it or hate it situation, but how lately there's a lot more hate going around than love. Anti-alien ads are placed around town, no one is happy - the place is a cesspool. But it's a Hell of a lot better than what lies outside the city limits: the irradiated wasteland that is The Cursed Earth. The only thing standing between chaos and humanity, the only ones keeping things in check? The Judges.

    Dredd's talking to a coroner about an autopsy that was just completed. Dredd's asked what he knows about the Spillover - the sewers of the city - and he tells the coroner the cops don't go there, it's toxic and its inhabitants, genetically modified people known as the Scrubbers who are able to breath down there, police themselves. The Scrubbers, however, are muties - or at least they look like them. The world above them doesn't want them as neighbors. The body on the table in front of Dredd and the coroner, however, is the body of a Scrubber. The coroner found a sentient symbiotic parasite in his thorax, a species that doesn't have a match in their database - they don't know what it is. This thing may have had a psychic connection with the body it was found inside.

    Not wanting word to get out and hoping to prevent a parasitic spread, Dredd heads into the spillover to talk to those who may have known the corpse, Clifton Chud. It turns out he had an apartment aboveground and that he even had a girlfriend. Dredd has the foreman get the Scrubbers together so that he can interview them. Once he confirms that their papers are in order he tells them what the situation is and offers amnesty to anyone who might want to confess to harboring an illegal alien (the parasite). Eventually a female Scrubber named Grid agrees to talk to Dredd and Judge Anderson of the PSI division. Grid has a parasite inside her and Anderson makes a link, learning that the parasites came to Earth by accident and have no way to get home. Most of the Scrubbers carrying the things they call Blenders are ok with the arrangement - they help the Scrubbers and in turn, they help the city. The Blenders want amnesty… but in Dredd's eyes they broke the law and then there's the not insignificant matter of a certain blow hard politician leading the protests outside the Chief Justice's office and the horde of armed anti-alien activists trying to make their way down into the Spillover to take care of business themselves.

    The second issue opens with a scene where the citizens of Mega-City One are surprised by an underground explosion that sends a green liquid shooting into the sky. Dredd and the other Judges work crowd control and try to contain the mess - it turns out that this is waste product containing ultra-carborane acid, the people and the area are starting to dissolve. Clearly, that's less than ideal and it's happening in other neighborhoods as well. Soon the city is going to be swimming in its own waste. As the problem just gets bigger and bigger, Dredd and the other Judges get out of the area.

    A week later and the city is trying to clean up. Some of the Scrubbers, those that work in the sewers, appear to have made it to safety but it's unclear how many of them. Unfortunately, Smed, the leader of the Scrubbers, has an issue that he brings up to Dredd face to face - the whole alien thing, it's made the Scrubbers look like criminals in the minds of some citizens, outcasts, and as such, they're quit. There aren't enough of than anymore to keep running the sewers and keep Mega-City One functioning . Robots have been brought in to replace them but many of these droids are old and won't function for too long down there. If the droids don't last more than a few hours the toxic gases will build up to dangerous levels and the city will get very toxic very quickly. Anderson suggests getting more of the symbiotic aliens some human hosts to replace the Scrubbers that have left.

    Dredd, assisted by Judge Scammon, gets info from a dirt bag named Harkie who eventually is forced to assist them in finding more of the aliens, but then some of the gun-toting rednecks from the Anti Alien League show up. As the politics of the situation heat up, everyone above ground starts to head into panic mode… and then the ventilators stop working. This will get worse before it gets better.

    A block war erupts in the Mid-Central area of Mega-City One, atop 'a subterranean supervolacano ready to erupt.' Those above ground really have no idea what's happening in the sewers beneath them or how their lives are in legitimate danger because of it. Transportation is shut down, pumice spits up from below and the Judges try to contain the situation before it inevitably gets worse. Ordinance workers do what they can to clean up the skies, hoping to give the populace clean air to breath, but it's a lost cause and the expected rain due to arrive soon will bring acid down on the city, making a terrible situation so much worse.

    Outside the block war, Judges Dredd, Anderson and Scammon meet with the mysterious Mr. Pheta, the 'body modifier to the stars.' They're hoping he can provide them information on the whereabouts of the offworlders needed to set all of this right again - and it just so happens that he does. As they head down to his lab, Pheta explains to Dredd how everything is on the up and up with his business… for the most part. Before Pheta can give Dredd some much needed info, he's shot dead by some men in a truck. Dredd and Anderson commandeer a cab and follow, eventually catching up with and taking care of the assassins.

    From there, they head back to the lab to examine the 'blender' specimens obtained from Pheta's workshop. Here, Anderson scans them and learns what they do and how they do it, and how they're key to life in many ways the average human just won't understand - and that there are more of them alive in the Spillover. As Dredd, Scammon and Anderson (with some help from the Blenders) prepare to go seven hundred meters into the bowels of the city, Spencer Richards, the leader of the Anti-Alien League, goes on television to speak out against the 'fake media' and fear monger by waving a gun around.

    “Wear your prejudice as a badge of courage.”

    Dredd, Scammon and Anderson are in the Spillover where a massive alien being is trying to communicate to the symbiotes that they're hosting. Dredd, being Dredd, isn't really into opening up to hear what it was to say but Scammon is savvy enough to do just that and he learns that the creature they're communicating with is the queen and that she is literally physically half of the spillover. She and her workers have been using the Spillover as a hive for years, watching and learning about the humans that live above and apparently - somewhat understandably - becoming increasingly confused by their behavior.

    Dredd gets things back on track, questioning the queen about the whereabouts of some of the Mega-City One citizens they're down there trying to bring back. Scammon finds them, bound in a web kind of like in Aliens, and Dredd pulls out his lawgiver and demands that they be released. And then Anderson points out what is really happening with these people in the webbing and what they alien is really doing with them. When Dredd decides it's time to bring the Scrubbers back up a level or two, he, Anderson, Scammon and the aliens realize who the real threat is and soon find the Spillover under siege.

    “I know my rights, just as these patriots know you are complicit in the staining of our genetic pool.”

    If nothing else, the current American political climate has been good for Judge Dredd comics. The current orange occupant of the Oval Office even makes an appearance in this issue, meaning that Paul Jenkins' script is less than subtle. That said, it's quite effective, making you think about the situation at hand, the morality of the predicament and the pros and cons of relationship that exists between the Scrubbers, the Blenders and the citizens that live above ground in Mega-City One, benefiting from that relationship themselves without realizing it, and only too quick to take up arms against a 'menace' that they don't care to try and understand. It's a good fit for Dredd. He's a character that typically sees things in black and white - legal or illegal - and that hasn't changed this issue. As such, he's not so much a hero here as he is a willing tool of the higher ups. He's got a job to do, emotions don't factor into this - he literally says as much to Anderson, knowing that once she understood the issue she may sympathize with the Scrubbers and Blenders and not allowing himself that option. He's a straight law and order man, and that's that. It's interesting to see where Jenkins takes the story over these four issues as it tackles the obvious and ugly side of current American politics straight on, pulling no punches in rightly portraying white nationalists and white supremacists as the human garbage that they are. Their leaders are made clear to be manipulative scammers and the followers of those leaders uneducated, easily lead by those who are able to tell them what they want to hear and point the blame for their lot in life at anything different. It's genuinely depressing stuff, but at the same time, also the perfect backdrop for a Judge Dredd story. Jenkins' story might be heavy handed at times, but it's also very entertaining. There's a lot of solid action in here and a good amount of genuinely effective humor too, mainly in the dialogue between the ever empathetic Anderson and the always hard ass Dredd. But it ends on a poignant note, with public basically ignoring the issue at hand once the violence stops… at least until it flares up again - but at least there's a modicum of righteous justice served out in the final few pages that we won't spoil here.

    As far as the artwork goes, Marco Castiello does a nice job here. There's good detail in the art and the coloring work from Jason Millet is pretty strong. Castiello does a nice job of making the city seem appropriately huge, massive and sprawling. He also makes the Spillover seem as nasty as it should. There's good detail to the human characters that populate this story, nice facial expressions helping to accentuate the drama of Jenkins' script. The panel layouts are reasonably conservative but it works, there's good flow and movement to the artwork.

    All in all, this was a solid story well worth reading. Politically astute and spot on it its pointed barbs towards certain segments of society, it's also a super entertaining read - everything a good Judge Dredd story should be.

    In addition to collecting the four issues that make up the Toxic storyline, this trade paperback edition also includes a cover gallery collecting all of the variants that were created for each issue.

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