July 16, 2014

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Judge Dredd Vol 1 from IDW

Written by Duane Swierczynski
Line Art by Nelson Daniel with Paul Gulacy, Brendan McCarthy, Langdon Foss, and Inahi Miranda
Color Art by Nelson Daniel with Leonard O'Grady, Brendan McCarthy, Ronda Pattison, and Eva de la Cruz
Published by IDW

Dredd deals with crazy bots, corrupted Judges, and a clone problem that would give Peter Parker nightmares--all at the same time. It's all in a day's work, but the implications will echo far past this opening arc. The adventures of Mega-City 1's best judge continue in the pages of an American-published comic in this series that does a good job telling stories that fit within the world of the 2000AD Universe.

It's not always easy to take a character from one side of the pond and bring them over (think Marvel UK here), but if anyone was going to write a "Diamond Distributed" version of Dredd,* Swierczynski was a good pick. He's got a great sense of how to write crime, thanks to his lengthy career in the genre, and while it's not a licensed property in the same way as, say, Godzilla, he knows how to work well with someone else's established characters.

In the case of Dredd, Duane wastes no time getting things started, opening with a set piece that shows Dredd's no-nonsense attitude and slightly droll wit, while setting up the dystopian nature of Mega-City 1. Instead of a lengthy prologue, we get that as we go, aided and abetted by Nelson Daniel's strong visuals that help show how technologically advanced yet socially feudal the world Dredd inhabits is. From there, the action just about never stops, moving from one crisis to the next. Dredd works closely with Judge Anderson (the character featured in the movie with mental powers) to try to root out the problems, but Swierczynski is careful not to let her become the solution to every problem.

There's some really nice plot layering in these first four issues, given that a robotics issue is hiding underneath the immediate issues relating to corrupt Judges and the ability of others to get to the backbone of law and order. Dredd and his select allies are going to have a lot to do to try to plug the leaks. It's going to be interesting to see where he goes with this. It's also a nice touch to get small back-up stories that link to the main arc but focus on side characters. Though not an anthology like 2000AD, the inclusion of these tales definitely is a nod in that direction, and allows others to play in the Dredd Sandbox. Seeing Paul Gulacy's shiny take vs the neon, punk version of McCarthy shows that the world of Mega-City has many, many sides to its nearly one billion faces.

The main art comes from Daniel, whose line work is a lot like the superhero version of the multifaceted Stuart Immonen. Judge Anderson looks like she could walk into Nextwave easily, for example. His Dredd is all muscle and the angles from which Daniel portrays him give the main character a larger than life perspective. The layouts are really solid, making sure to keep things moving to match Swierczysnki's fast-paced script but they don't become confusing. There's a lot of little details included to build the world, and while I don't know who adds the little touches, they do a lot to make this feel like a different place than what we are familiar to, yet keep the social satire/commentary feel.

I also love the coloring work by Daniel, even though I can't comment on how he does it. There appears to be digitized zip-a-tone in a lot of areas, and despite making sure we know this is a "grim n gritty" world, Daniel doesn't do that at the expense of clear visuals. I'm seeing more of this--artists making things dark but still clear, and I hope that trend continues.

While I enjoyed this new series a lot here in its new form, I will admit that I do prefer the original. There's a sense here that I just couldn't shake of being, well, safe isn't quite the right word, but it's the best I can think of as of this writing. At least so far, there's nothing in this version of Dredd that's really transgressive. It's still very good, but I don't think Duane is pushing the envelope in the way that the British version does. It's still early yet, so we'll see if that changes.

Right now, that's the only slight failing in an otherwise very good comic. This might be a good place for folks who enjoyed the movie to start, as it requires nothing but a general knowledge of the characters and isn't in media res like the anthology. It's also a fun addition for fans of the regular series looking for more. I'm kinda annoyed I wasn't reading this sooner, so don't make my mistake--pick this up and enjoy.

*Yes, I know that 2000AD is distributed here in the US by Diamond, too. But you knew what I was going for, right? Pretty sure being pedantic is at least a 1-year sentence. And you don't want that, right?