Passing Judgement – Review Of Judge Dredd #2

I am behind the times where Judge Dredd is concerned. When the comic was coming out in strip form back in the late seventies and eighties in the British publication 2000 A.D., I was an ocean away. Also, I was 7 (at least at the start of it). I managed to miss both movie versions of it, which, from what I hear, is probably a good thing. Why Sylvester Stallone would’ve been cast to play an iconic British comic hero seems bizarre, but it was the 90s and a lot of crimes against comic books were happening -so why should their treatment in a movie be that much more surprising? As far as Karl Urban is concerned – well, I know he was Bones McCoy in the Star Trek reboot. I liked him in that, but not enough to go to Judge Dredd 3D. I’m ok with that.

IDW currently has the rights to Judge Dredd and is two issues into a new run, written by Duane Swierczynski. I picked up issue #2 with no context, having missed the first one. If you’re like me and have no background on the series, Judge Dredd is a futuristic tale, set in the dystopian society of Mega-City One. Joseph Dredd is a Judge; Judges are cops who also impose sentence on their perps. This issue seems to be as much about what the system asks of its participants as it is about the characters. The comic is split into two stories by Swierczynski, “Cover Me”, with art by Nelson Daniel, and “The Good Parts”, with art by Brendan McCarthy.

So, for a reader with no grounding in the series, who is also starting late to the party, what’s the verdict?

My findings, riddled with spoilers, after the jump.

“Cover Me” is the longer of the two stories. It is Judge Dredd-centric and follows him as he investigates his colleague Judge James Myers, who has suspicious evidence in his apartment that might connect him to recent riots at the Zuckerberg Pleasure Mall (in future dystopian society, malls no pleasure you; you pleasure malls! Ha! Sorry…). With a job history that suggests corruption and missing hours in his day due to black outs, Dredd has Myers scanned by a psi cop (yes, psychic). When that scan is a bust and Dredd is later attacked by an unknown assailant who seems to have “judge training”, Dredd is in a race against time to find his perp.

Swierczynski writes a tight little story here. Wrapped up in a mere 16 pages, regardless of what might have been in issue #1, a reader can get the whole story in one shot. You get a sense of the futuristic setting – bleak, over crowded, and full of wonky tech that does nothing to help the masses it is supposed to serve – for example, recycling droids that will recycle your infirm grandfather if you’re not careful; frustrated citizens that are on the brink of revolt, against themselves and the faceless Judges that are supposed to represent order, get their points across in just a few panels; and a law enforcement body that has access to resources and power that can easily be abused in the wrong hands. One minor quibble I have in the story telling is that the reveal of the villain draws on a trope that has been recently seen in the Total Recall reboot, as well as in Amazing Spider-Man #698, but perhaps we can chalk that up to parallel story development and timing of publication.

Nelson Daniel’s art further enhances the sense of a gloomy future in a dark city. Since there doesn’t appear to be any separate credits for ink or color, I guess he must have done soup to nuts. If so, where he excels is in his use of color, balanced with line and shadow in his characters to set mood and tone. His panel layout is pretty straightforward, although at times I needed to go back and re-read a couple sequences because time had passed between groups of panels on the same page and transition panels to suggest this were subtle.

The second story, “Good Parts”, with art by Brendan McCarthy, was also quick and tight. The story followed Judge Cassandra Anderson as she investigates a woman found alone with a dead body and a murder weapon, with no memory of how she came to be there or even who she is. This story also has its nods to Total Recall, but serves its purpose of fleshing out Judge Anderson a bit. McCarthy’s art is a bit more flashy than Nelson’s, but it works here. Anderson is intended to be a lighter character than Dredd. The color choices that punctuate the panels point to that. If Dredd’s world is murky and dim, Anderson’s is punk rock and day-glow colors. The contrast is effective, particularly given the brevity of the second story.

In passing judgement on Judge Dredd #2, I’d have to say that it was a guilt free pleasure to read. I’m not sure where Swierczynski is going to take the story in the long run. Both stories felt as though they were self contained; I wonder if all issues are going to fall in that format? In terms of world building, Swierczynski seems to be putting all the right pieces in place. I’m inclined to go find issue #1, if only to see if having read it would have done more to enhance my understanding of issue #2, but it honestly didn’t need it. Check this book out if you find it in your LCS.