Judge Dredd 1 (December 2015)

JudgeDredd_MC001_cvrJudge Dredd is a venerable British pop culture icon who’s only recently grabbed a toehold in American pop cultural consciousness. Doctor Who, another sci-fi icon as British as The East India Tea Company, has made far more progress towards American popularity. The two couldn’t be further apart in terms of personality, although the stewards behind both franchises have made worthy efforts over the decades to use the sci-fi genre as an exploratory tool for ideas and satire, in addition to being a platform for fantastical adventure. One entirely valid explanation for the disparity in popularity is that Dredd is an inimitable archetype while The Doctor is, superficially, more relatable to an audience despite his not being human. Dredd is both a hypermasculine power fantasy and self-reflexive critique of that fantasy’s fascist authoritarianism – not unlike the American film he inspired, Robocop, whose darkly humorous irony is also often lost on audiences taking the premise at face value.

Doctor Who, despite hefty volumes of back story across decades of adventures, is nonetheless what he appears to be: a nerd in a scarf. His cosplay won’t deplete your bank account, and his esoteric, extraterrestrial lack of communication skills are a gentle reassuring nod to the socially withdrawn. He is a genteel aspirational role model of science and justice, whereas Dredd is a living setup to rude and irreverent punchlines about how life in a dystopic future metropolis isn’t all that different from the present day.

The most significant cause of Doctor Who surpassing Judge Dredd in an American popularity contest, of course, is that today’s nerds have never been less likely to read a comic book. The BBC continues to produce Doctor Who shows. Dredd 3D tanked because 1995’s Judge Dredd was so bad that the stench lingered for almost 20 years. Word of mouth gave it enough of an American cult following that the character was no longer a joke, but short attention spans still dictate the consumption habits of geeks. If it’s not a TV series or movie franchise in 2015, it doesn’t exist. Witness the multitudes who’ve never read The Killing Joke blowing Heath Ledger’s mummified member, or the middle management drone who couldn’t tell you Judge Death from Judge Judy informing me that Dredd 3D “finally got it right.” I don’t expect people to pass some bullshit nerd test designed by the Eltingville Comic Book, Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Horror and Role-Playing Club before being allowed to have an opinion – but could everyone please stop pretending to be an informed longtime fan just to state that they enjoyed some recent movie or Netflix original series?

IDW, admirably, grabbed the post-Dredd surge of interest in the character with both fists, publishing Dredd artist collections, colorized reprints of classic stories like The Dark Judges and The Apocalpyse War, and most excitingly, a new regular title and various mini-series for the new American audience. The range of success has been inconsistent – Anderson, Psi-Division and Judge Dredd: Year One were forgettable, while Mega-City Two and Mars Attacks Judge Dredd were fun romps. The flagship series was a platform for selectively incorporating pieces of favorite storylines and characters, like Marvel’s “Ultimate” reboot, and maintained a fairy consistent level of quality across 30 issues from writer Duane Swierczynski and Nelson Daniel. Its only real shortcoming was the absence of variety in artists or writers that 2000 AD enjoyed; an unavoidable production difference between a weekly-produced strip and a monthly book.

When a series is relaunched, it’s sometimes hard to tell if the move is an act of desperation in the face of sluggish sales or affirmation in good faith of continued success – number one issues tend to sell well either way.

The all-new Judge Dredd 1 is a competently made, narratively risky point of entry for any new reader not already following IDW’s revival. It’s unclear if there’s meant to be continuity from the previous regular series (probably not) but it wouldn’t matter at the offset of this initial storyline anyways: Ulises Fariñas, the excellent illustrator of Mega-City Two and his co-writer Erick Freitas have gone all Crossed +100 on Dredd and flung him into the post-post-Apocalpse, a storyline entitled Mega-City Zero, where he finds himself at the moss covered remains of what might be the last Mega-Block on Earth. The concept is certainly intriguing, as is the business calculation that a casual fan of Dredd 3D will feel familiar enough with the character to begin investment in a story where he’s out of his element.

Or rather, it’s a refutation of what had to be a really underwhelming response to 2000 AD‘s own attempt to appeal to Dredd 3D fans directly.

The proposal is thoughtful insofar as Dredd 3D also stranded him without support from the Justice Department, though it also stands to reason that anyone picking up this comic in lieu of a Dredd 2 would want to see more of Mega-City One, rather than Dredd again bringing The Law to another block under control by a despotic ruler. Granted, the issue ends before any major antagonist is revealed, so it would be nice if the storyline isn’t as predictable as it seems. Anderson makes a pointless cameo at the beginning of the story, hopefully this tossed-off introduction isn’t solely so she can later save Dredd’s hash as she’s often done when Old Stony Face gets stranded in another time or dimension.

Plot aside, Fariñas & Freitas’ script has some nice contrast between Dredd’s by-the-book proceduralisms and the slang of the kid hoodlums he first encounters outside the perimeter of the lone Year Zero block. There are some world-building details in spite of the usual rules not applying – robot judges guard the block, humanoid animals are seen outside (the Mutant/mutie slur goes unuttered) and Dredd reviews the ammunition of his Lawgiver – as did Dredd 3D. I’m a little irritated that the trio of ragamuffin savages who are arrested by Dredd and thereby taken under his protection get almost as much of the spotlight as he does, in this new debut.

Dan McDaid’s art is less clean and precise than Nelson Daniel’s, which at least fits the grunginess of this particular story. The lack of detailing only really hurts peoples’ faces – it feels even sparser than Mega-City Two. His figure composition has a nice Mike McMahon-esque dynamism, including during the action sequences. Ryan Hill’s colors bring an appropriately lush earthiness to the outdoor meadows – I’d just like to know what their Mega-City One will look like.

The new Judge Dredd’s opening arc might not turn out to be the best initiation for new fans, but as Dredd adventures go, this one seems to have serviceable talent behind it.

CREDITS

Mega-City Zero: Part One, writers, Ulises Fariñas and Erick Freitas; artist, Dan McDaid; colorist, Ryan Hill, letterer, Chris Mowry; editor, Denton J. Tipton; publisher, IDW.

Judge Dredd Mega-City Two: City of Courts 5 (May 2014)

Judge Dredd Mega-City Two: City of Courts #5

Not the strongest last issue, not at all. Though it probably does have Farinas’s most consistently decent art of the entire series. Well, in terms of detail and correct body proportions. His action composition is just terrible–Wolk tries to do way too much for the last issue, especially since he closes with a lengthy action sequence.

The finale goes a little too far with Dredd and trying to make him more complex (albeit briefly). One of the slight twists as things go along require almost some suspicion of Dredd, which is ludicrous. Even for an unfamiliar reader, Wolk has written an excellent Dredd until this last issue of Mega-City Two. Wolk tries too hard with the humor too.

Wolk also seems to set up one possible twist and then ignores it, even though it fits the series’s tone more appropriately.

It’s entertaining often but should have been better.

B- 

CREDITS

Everybody’s in Show Biz; writer, Douglas Wolk; artist, Ulises Farinas; colorist, Ryan Hill; letterer, Tom B. Long; editor, Denton J. Tipton; publisher, IDW Publishing.

Judge Dredd Mega-City Two: City of Courts 4 (April 2014)

Judge Dredd Mega-City Two: City of Courts #4

Wolk brings in the ex-judge with the Mexican wrestling mask–it isn’t too exciting as it looks just like a regular judge’s mask, only not a helmet–and Dredd has a team-up. In the second half of the issue, anyway. The first half of the issue is an introduction to Melody Time, which mixes Disneyland and anarchy. It feels like Judge Dredd meets Roger Rabbit, actually. It’s amusing.

Nicely, Wolk gets in stuff about the corruption plotline without stopping the narrative. Sure, at the end he sets up the final issue and the presumed big reveal, but he otherwise handles it rather deftly.

Farinas’s art, for the standard stuff, is better. Not many people without masks or helmets so he can’t mess up features. There are a lot of cartoon references in the story presentation (matching the setting) and they’re a little too simple.

Still, it works out.

B 

CREDITS

The Deterrence Machine; writer, Douglas Wolk; artist, Ulises Farinas; colorist, Ryan Hill; letterer, Tom B. Long; editor, Denton J. Tipton; publisher, IDW Publishing.

Judge Dredd Mega-City Two: City of Courts 3 (March 2014)

Judge Dredd Mega-City Two: City of Courts #3

Dredd gets a sidekick–temporarily, it’s like Wolk doesn’t want him to bond with anyone in Mega-City Two or something–and fights a giant sea monster. He also gets to see how the city turns away people back to the ocean; there’s a conspiracy going on or something. Wolk also promises a former judge who dresses like a masked Mexican wrestler.

There’s a little bit, with the conspiracy and then the setup at the end, about the main story, with the immigration scene an odd lull in the middle. There’s no action, even with one of Dredd’s camera crew (he’s a TV star) getting eaten by said sea monster.

Farinas does a little better than usual; there aren’t a lot of closeups. He flubs closeups.

The big action sequence with the sea monster doesn’t come off well–Dredd vs. kaiju–but Wolk has enough momentum to carry it through.

B 

CREDITS

Beach Blanket Justice; writer, Douglas Wolk; artist, Ulises Farinas; colorist, Ryan Hill; letterer, Tom B. Long; editor, Denton J. Tipton; publisher, IDW Publishing.

Judge Dredd Mega-City Two: City of Courts 2 (February 2014)

Judge Dredd Mega-City Two: City of Courts #2

Even though Farinas art gets a little worse, Wolk isn’t spending time setting up the comic, he’s just telling a Judge Dredd goes undercover with a West Coast biker gang of the future. They’re really into found art.

Dredd gets a sidekick in one of the biker gang and a lot of the issue is spent with their adventure to go get future beer. Work gets to concentrate on Dredd exploring the strange world–introducing it to the reader too–while still maintaining Dredd is in control of everything going on. It works rather well.

The end has a good fight sequence, with Wolk utilizing Dredd’s procedural abilities as well as his physical ones. It’s a rather nice finish. And even though Farinas is real light on the facial detail (and of people in general), there are some good visual moments in the comic.

Art problems aside, an excellent issue.

B+ 

CREDITS

Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream; writer, Douglas Wolk; artist, Ulises Farinas; colorist, Ryan Hill; letterer, Tom B. Long; editor, Denton J. Tipton; publisher, IDW Publishing.

Judge Dredd Mega-City Two: City of Courts 1 (January 2014)

Judge Dredd Mega-City Two: City of Courts #1

The back matter for this issue discusses the history of Mega-City Two, which I only briefly read. Writer Douglas Wolk has a nice structure for the issue–he drops the reader into Mega-City Two, with Judge Dredd as the anchor, and goes crazy. It’s a strange, Hollywood-influenced, happy place. Think the future in Wall-E, only a little more active.

Of course, no reader wants to see such a lame future and having Dredd around to kick things up is awesome. After almost half the issue of Dredd dealing with the dumb, extremely lax laws, Wolk gives the reader the backstory. He’s there on a secret mission, he’s supposed to like the chief judge; a quick recap then back to the story.

Ulises Farinas art is so-so. He does well on the Mega-City Two scenery, not so good on the figures.

Still, pretty good stuff.

B 

CREDITS

West Coast Swing; writer, Douglas Wolk; artist, Ulises Farinas; colorist, Ryan Hill; letterer, Tom B. Long; editor, Denton J. Tipton; publisher, IDW Publishing.

Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers 1 (August 2014)

Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers #1

So here’s the story to Captain Victory, near as I can tell–the captain of a starship gets cloned on death so he can continue to command. Pretty neat. Only the clones in this case end up in different places thanks to a time warp or wormhole. Dirty seventies New York and then some wasteland planet.

I say “near as I can tell” because writer Joe Casey front loads the comic with a bunch of information about the starship and its crew and its mission. These elements might be important, but they’re not the most important thing in the issue. They aren’t the hook.

So it’s a messy first issue. The art, from Nathan Fox, is awesome but somewhat incomplete. He doesn’t do enough backgrounds and so on. Also, bland sci-fi shots aren’t the best use of his time.

Hopefully Casey will get focused and the comic will improve.

CREDITS

Writer, Joe Casey; artists, Nathan Fox, Jim Rugg and Ulises Farinas; colorist, Brad Simpson; letterer, Simon Bowland; editors, Molly Mahan, Hannah Elder and Joseph Rybandt; publisher, Dynamite Entertainment.

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