January 25, 2014

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Judge Dredd Mega-City 2 Issue 1

Written by Douglas Wolk
Illustrated by Ulises Farinas and Ryan Hill
Published by IDW

An exchange program finds Judge Dredd sent to a city that's unlike anything he ever wanted in this tongue-in-cheek fish out of water story gets off to a great dark comedy start with absolutely amazing art.

I'm a little late to the Judge Dredd party, but I have become a big fan recently, catching up on older adventures here and there and reading the newer stuff, both from 2000 AD and IDW. The new movie sealed the deal, which I guess means it helped make someone a Dredd fan.*

So if I can appreciate and enjoy the premise of sending Dredd somewhere that doesn't want him killing anybody, I can only imagine how this one is for those who have been fans for years. They'd know his violent history even better than me, so watching him get frustrated by his inability to mete out justice the usual way would be even more amusing.

As it stands, this one really plays things fast and loose. We open with Dredd in a high-speed chase where he has to argue with his handlers about camera footage and try to apprehend someone with "friendly bullets" that bounce harmlessly off the fugitive's car. The gun itself is shaped like a water pistol and has a smiling teddy bear on the side, in one of many, many visual jokes that Farinas and Hill include.

By the time Dredd grounds the guy, he's thwarted by disguises and heavy traffic, leading to verbal wordplay that meshes nicely with the art. Dredd can't cross the street, because there's a ton of vehicles, ranging from a garish pink bus-like thing (complete with yellow smiley face), the futuristic equivalent of a clown car, and even a man wearing a retro space suit with a spring on his ass to bounce from place to place.

And of course, a person flipping off Dredd.

Little touches like that are all over the place, and I don't know who exactly came up with them, though if it's anything like the Roberson-Culver collaboration on Edison Rex, it's likely a combination of the creators involved, working out of the same thematic ideas. There's just so many of them, making this a comic you go back and re-read over and over again. Things like a scene of Dredd, back in Mega-City 1, shooting at perps on a giant truck with people falling off, bleeding and dying make you stop and look at just how many things you missed the first time. (For example, until Jen Vaughn pointed it out, I missed the middle finger guy.)

Smiling Gun is Smiling.
Getting back to the script for a moment, Wolk's characterizations are so strong. Dredd is unbending, caring only about the law, but now he's in a world where the law adjusts if the money flows, and his concept of right and wrong are at odds with what he's going to have to uphold, like it or not. There's a lot of comedy to be mined from that, and Wolk nails it, especially Dredd's hatred of the televised nature of all his actions. We see that this is very natural for everyone else, and his discomfort is bound to be a major plot point as we go along. Meanwhile, the citizens gawk, even as Dredd himself fumes.

This leads to some great lines, like the interrupted dialogue of "First name Doing, last name T--" or Mega-City 2's Judge Kennedy telling Dredd he has "an East Coast attitude"--which is something I might need to get use to soon. But we also have a darker edge running across things. There's a hint that everything isn't as bulletproof as Mega-City 2 would have Dredd believe, and finding it could end up being bloody and explosive--just the kind of story that's perfect for the character. After all, if you want something rooted out, wouldn't Judge Anderson (if she's still alive) be a better choice?

Something fishy is going on, and I'm sure we'll find it out just at the right time.

How long did this take them to draw??
In the meantime, this one is worth grabbing for the art alone. I've talked a bit above about how good Farinas and Hill are, and I can't stress that enough. Things like viewing a scene of a crime being committed from the visor of Dredd's helmet or showing highways that go off in Escher-like directions are just the tip of the iceberg. When you look at things such as the two-page splash that introduces us to Mega-City 2, anyone with an appreciation for fine art in comics will be blown away.

I can't even begin to imagine how long it took Farinas to draw that splash. Everything--and I do mean everything--is detailed. We get advertisements, highway signs (with a nod to the first movie Dredd, Stallone), smog, flying objects, and more cars than a Detroit factory line in the 1960s.  Then Hill comes in and colors the cars in different shades, no matter how small they are.

Let me say that again, because it's worth repeating: First Farinas draws hundreds of cars on a splash page, then Hill gives them different colors to ensure we understand that Mega-City 2 is a place based on variety and color.

That's just not done anymore in most comics. In an age where there are creators who draw blank faces on background characters, these two are making sure tiny vehicles are individualized as much as possible and calling George Perez a punk. These two are putting on a show, and they do it in a soft, rounded way that gives it a distinctive look from someone like, say, Jim Mahfood, who might be inclined to do a similar splash page but would fill it with angular lines and ink fills that dirtied up the proceedings. This is a very clean and bright look, whether it's Judge Dredd's iconic outfit or the supporting characters for a television shot he interrupts, annoying everyone.

This is one damned fine comic, and even if you barely know anything about Judge Dredd, you really need to read it. Anyone with an appreciation for what comic art can do will be amazed with the results in this first issue. I know I was. It's going to be hard for the team to outdo themselves, but if anyone can, I think they might just pull it off. Either way, I cannot wait for the next issue. Get in on this one now and be ahead of the curve.

*Seriously, guys. That movie not only was excellent, it may be the most diverse superhero movie I've ever seen and even showed people of color living in the future--if it's a bit of a bleak one. Probably a top five superhero film for me.