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Judge Dredd 100 Page Spectacular (IDW Publishing) Comic Review

    Ian Jane

  • Judge Dredd 100 Page Spectacular (IDW Publishing) Comic Review

    Released by: IDW Publishing
    Released on: March 11th, 2020.
    Written by: Ulises Farinas, Erikc Freitas, Mark Russell, Paul Jenkins, Brandon Easton
    Illustrated by: Dan McDaid, Daniel Irizarri, Max Dunbar, Marco Castiello, Kei Zama
    Purchase From Amazon

    IDW compiles the first issues of their four most recent Judge Dredd mini-series releases into a '100 page spectacular' and throws in a preview of the upcoming False Witness series to boot. Here's what's inside:

    Judge Dredd: Mega-City Zero:

    The first issue of this latest Judge Dredd series, entitled Mega-City Zero: Part One - Terms Of Service, begins in a field. Dredd wakes up, confused that there's no noise, no traffic. He messages control but it's no use. He does, at least, have forty-five rounds left. He doesn't know where he is, but figures since there's so much vegetation it can't be the Cursed Earth. His coordinates say he's in Mega-City One but clearly this isn't the Mega-City One he knows.

    So he goes through the last entry in his case log. He was called out to investigate the disappearance of 13,450 citizens. The Judges have no leads. Anderson can't get any sort of Psi reading. Back in the present Dredd gets something on his radio - someone is mouthing off to him, he thinks, and then he finds the source - a group of thugs taking out a guy they've accused of puppy kicking. They want to pluck out his eyeballs but Dredd stops them. The puppy kicker winds up dead, the three thugs, kids really, get arrested. Dredd but when he mentions Mega-City One they have no idea what he's talking about. “We are from the grass” he's told.

    From there, a herd stampedes right past them, scores of people… some possibly mutants or human-animal hybrids, racing towards a tower that looks like it's made of the Earth itself. They call it Ang Avi but Dredd calls it a Mega-Block with no Mega-City. But there are Judges here, sort of, and they're not about to let this herd into Ang Avi, no matter how bad they want it. All Dredd wants is to find a holding cell for the perps, he asks the robotic Judges for directions but they see this as a Trojan horse style attack and respond accordingly, but Dredd is determined…

    A fish out of water story inspired by Jack Kirby's Kamandi stories, this new series is off to a great start. The editorial in the back pages notes that they wanted to do something different with Dredd that would work for those who have been reading the character for decades and at the same time appeal to new readers as well. Well, mission accomplished. Long time readers will get a kick out of the way this story pays honest tribute to Dredd's history while those new to Dredd's world should have no trouble dipping their toes into the story. It's accessible and at the same time, it's interesting, it's unique within the pantheon of Dredd stories and it's got a genuinely wicked sense of humor to it (as all good Dredd stories do). There's a great mix of action and intrigue here and some interesting sci-fi elements worked in as well. Farinas and partner in crime Erick Freitas are onto something here.

    Those familiar with Ulises Farinas's previous work on the character know he's one of the best things to happen to Judge Dredd in a long time and while he isn't handling the art chores on this run (though he is contributing some great cover pieces), Dan McDaid manages to knock it out of the park in his own right. The coloring work from Ryan Hill compliments McDaid's style and there's a lot of nice depth to their work here. The action scenes are appropriately chaotic in their look and the various characters that inhabit this story are well drawn and interesting to look at.

    Judge Dredd: The Blessed Earth:

    “Judge Dredd awoke a thousand years in his future to find Mega-City One in ruins and its 800 million citizens gone without a trace. After a long, strange journey, Dredd managed to locate and free them all. And now, ten years later, society continues to pick up the pieces…”

    The story begins in Sector 159. Here a man and his son are riding a wagon outside of the Mega-City One Territories. On their way out, they pass a disheveled looking Dredd heading into the territories. The man tells his son not to stare, that's a thing that the world 'ain't got use for, he thinks the world is his.'

    Dredd thinks to himself as he rides a headless mechanical horse (that doubles as a drone) through the area known as the 'City Of Flies,' the only part to have been rebuilt since he reversed the G.R.A.S.S. program. A handful of Judges have returned but most remain missing. A group of Cadets are tasked with getting the Mega-Rail system operational. Dredd checks on them and they complain that the Exiles (their nickname for the eight hundred million that emerged from the grass) don't want to connect with the rest of the world and they don't want what the Judges are offering. The bodies hanging nearby stand as testament to this.

    Nearby in Sector 151 a female Judge, Quill, argues with her lazy radio operator. A murder has been called in and with Dredd away she's got to deal with it. Dredd's with the Cadets taking inventory outside the walled off town of Forsaken. He's well-armed but the Cadets are frightened as the townsfolk told the Judge-elects to kill all the remaining Judges and Cadets on sight. Dredd orders them to comply, they refuse. Dredd, being Dredd, kinda-sorta convinces them to see things his way and he strong arms them into breaking into the settlement with him. They need law and order. Dredd makes his way through the sewers and then back up into the town where he learns that the Cadets are definitely not on his side at all. Everyone BLAMES Dredd for this, for bringing back the exiles and the Justice Department.

    The female Judge moves on to sector 153. Here she meets Pine, a self-proclaimed lawman and the guy who called the murder in. She accuses him of messing with a crime scene and tells him to 'beat it' but Pine makes a case for his help here, there aren't enough Judges to go around. Then she sees the body. They take to a medical bay for an examination and learn that she's missing seventy percent of her skeletal tissue. The medical robot finishes up but Quill notices an odd mark behind the victim's ear. Quill and Pine talk about how if they could keep the body a big longer they might be able to figure this out but the robot has to follow the law, it has no choice, and that means that after the examination is complete the body gets recycled. Seems the Judges and the robots have something in common.

    Back behind the walls of the town, Dredd stands on a platform with a noose around his neck, the Judge-Elect of the town going on about Manifest Destiny and how the rule of the people is more important than the Law. And we'll leave it at that.

    A solid cliffhanger ends the first issue of this latest Dredd storyline from Ulises Farinas and Erick Freitas, the writing team behind the excellent Judge Dredd” Mega-City Zero storyline that IDW Published last year. This is basically a sequel to it, though the art this time is handled not by Dan McDaid but by Daniel Irizarri (though colorist Ryan Hill returns). Irizarri's art works well here, however. His style suits the tone of the story, which is something akin to a post-apocalyptic spaghetti western at this point. There's good detail here and lots of expression on the faces of the different inhabitants of this world as the story unfolds. The coloring work is top notch, bringing the pencils to vibrant life and there's some nice fine detail in here that adds character to the story - Pine's missing tooth, some recognizable characters from Dredd's past on the pages of a reference book, even the flies buzzing around the corpse.

    As to the story itself, if you're familiar with the direction that Farinas and Freitas have been taking Dredd over the last two years you'll have a good idea of what to expect, but that's not a bad thing. The topical issues that made Mega-City Zero such a compelling read once again play a big part in this issue as Dredd deals with what is essentially a rising tide of nationalism. Those that were 'here first' like the people of Forsaken don't want anything to do with the 'Exiles' and they don't care about the rule of law. They want things to go back to the way they were, they don't want to see the Mega-Rail system expanded as it'll only bring them into contact with people they don't want contact with in the first place. Clearly someone on the writing team has been paying attention to domestic politics, but it's worked into the story so well that regardless of your political leanings, it makes for great reading. It's also interesting how the story compares the Judges to robots - a Judge has to follow the law just like a robot does, even when that Judge knows that it isn't necessarily the 'right' thing to do.

    Judge Dredd: Under Siege:

    The first issue of this new Judge Dredd series from IDW Publishing opens with a scene wherein Dredd wanders into an underground football arena, bringing law to the lawless as brazenly as can be. He doesn't try to hide or blend in or sneak around - he shows up, Lawgiver in hand, and does his job. With that taken care of, he's summoned to the Hall Of Justice where he learns, confidentially, that Judge Beeny went missing a few hours ago at the Patrick Swayze Block. Since her arrival at the block, everything has gone dark. They want Dredd to fined Beeny and get the Block back online. Before he heads out to take care of business he's briefed on Gilberto Pena, 'the mayor' and his gang who basically run the block. As the Judges are spread very thin right now, Dredd will handling this solo - no reinforcements.

    Dredd gets some intel on the block along the way - it was built to be affordable housing then abandoned due to budget cuts. Unemployment is at 92% - it's a tough spot full of tough people from tough backgrounds. Shortly after arriving and noting that the com-tower is down, he hears gunshots from the upper floors. The elevators are down but Dredd being Dredd would rather take the stairs anyway. He ascertains that the shots came from the 31st floor - once he gets up there he witnesses an explosion and is then attacked by a three-armed knife-wielding mutant! After making short work of them he finds Beeny, she's still alive, and she fills him in: she was here to do a classroom visit but upon arrival was attacked by a gang of mutants. She put the block on lockdown and waited it out. Since Dredd's here now, maybe they can try to sort all of this out.

    Beeny offers up a faux-surrender which allows them the element of surprise. With the 31st floor cleaned, a hostage taken by the mutants tells the Judges that the mutants control all of the upper floors, they got in through a waste channel on the 45th floor that hasn't worked in years. But the mutants upstairs are only the beginning of their problems - their leader Talleyrand has hundreds of mutant troops at his disposal and he's taken everyone above them hostage.

    Mark Russell's story is an interesting one. Ripe with a social conscience, at times it feels like it's setting up something like The Raid with Elements of Death Wish 3 thrown into the mix - using the block (essentially a massive apartment complex) as a singular location to essentially trap the good guys in and forcing them to cooperate with some people that they might not necessarily think to cooperate with. It's a clever device and one that allows Dredd to see things from an opposite point of view, not something he's typically good at or even necessarily open to. But here it works, it's done well without coming across as heavy handed. We understand how and why the people abandoned by the government, by the law, might have to resort to criminality to survive. They are victims of their environment, there's no chance for them to get normal jobs and lead normal lives simply because they've been left to their own devices. At one point a resident tells Dredd “I never seen you before. You ain't the law, you're a tourist.” - probably the most poignant line in the entire first issue and one that is clearly going to play a big part in the tension to come.

    Artwork from Max Dunbar is nice and detailed. This is a more traditional style than what we've seen employed in the last few IDW Dredd runs but it's good. Dunbar uses nice fine-line work to create interesting looking characters and appropriately thorough looking backgrounds for them to play off of. Action and movement are portrayed well and some clever camera angles, such as the shot where we see Dredd heading up the stairs from the POV of someone above and to the right of him, help to build suspense. There are a few bits where the action literally breaks out of the panel borders allowing him to use an entire page to nice dramatic effect, showing off the scale and the scope of the problem that Dredd and Beeny are going to be dealing with. Jose Luis Rio's coloring work is solid, leaning towards a lot of appropriately grey and industrial colors for most of the book but using some high contrast, bright colors - like the explosion or the neon green of toxic ooze - to provide some nice contrast.

    All in all, a fine first issue that, like a good first issue should, leaves us wondering what will happen next.

    Judge Dredd: Toxic:

    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.

    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'll be interesting to see where Jenkins takes the story in the coming issues.

    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.

    A good first issue should leave you wanting more, and this one does just that. There's a good hook here, it makes you want to find out where the story is going, how it's going to play out, and where Dredd specifically fits into all of this. We'll get there in future issues to be sure, but so far so good - Judge Dredd: Toxic #1 is great stuff.

    Judge Dredd: False Witness (Preview):

    Last but not least, we get a preview of the upcoming False Witness series. When it begins, a man in a car, an Academy Of Law 'wash out,' is trying to get ten meters through a protest to his car to make it out of the chaos erupting around him. He makes it through the horde, only to have his car blow up in front of him. Dredd has shown up with two droids and blown up the car as a deterrent to the protestors - it doesn't work. Undeterred, with his Lawgiver on stun, he and the droids open fire while our narrator gets into a scrap with a droid.

    It's hard to base much on only a few pages, but Brandon Easton's script sets up an interesting premise and the artwork from Kei Zama is solid, with nice detail and a good sense of movement. He draws Dredd and the droids well, the layouts are nice and there's a lot of appreciable background detail here.

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