November 8, 2014

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Judge Dredd Vol 2 from IDW

Written by Duane Swierczynski
Line Art by Nelson Daniel with David Williams, Gary Martin, Andrew Currie, Jimbo Salgado, and Antonio Fuso
Color Art by Nelson Daniel with Ronda Pattison, Owen Gieni, and Tom B. Long
Published by IDW

Dredd investigates what's going wrong with the robots of Mega-City 1 and finds a deep conspiracy that links back to events of the first trade and turns his own allies against him as Duane Swierczynski continues his solid, but safe, run doing an American version of the classic 2000 AD character.

I said this in summary of volume one, and I'm quoting it here because I think it continues to be true:

"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."

It looks like that's not going to change, and I bring this up before talking about the content because I think it really is the make or break point for anyone who's a fan of the anthology version of the character. If you want/need your Dredd to be pushing the envelope, then you're probably better off just reading him in 2000 AD. If you like Dredd as a character and are open to seeing him in acidly-sarcastic, explosive action, with more than a touch of humor, then this will work well for you.

Because as we move here into the second arc, with Dredd fighting off a drunken writer-robot and ordering the scientists to keep resurrecting a mad scientist who kills himself repeatedly panel after panel (complete with X over his eyes), it's clear that this version of Dredd is going to have high stakes and high body counts, but it's going more for satire than social comedy.

Nelson Daniel art.
That's perfectly fine with me, as I believe that Dredd--and most other characters with decades of history--can be written many many ways and still be enjoyable, as long as the core concepts are retained. Given that Swierczynski's Dredd is no-nonsense, obsessed with the law, and unwilling to bend one iota, while being a seemingly unstoppable fighting machine, I think he's maintaining the essence of Dredd, even if we aren't getting, say, a biting, scathing look at the rich/poor divide such as the storyline that began in Prog 1900.

Over the course of this trade, Dredd is stuck outside, in a world that's turned against anything with flesh, right down to some amazingly creepy ideas, like sensors that strip flesh right off the bone. Artist Nelson Daniel perfectly captures the horror of the concept, showing people mid-dissolve, complete with their reaction shots. Daniel also excels in showing not only the way the deck is stacked against Dredd in sheer numbers but in the level of hyper-violence that's expected from the judge when he's fighting criminals. He may not have his gun functioning, but Dredd can stop crime in its tracks.

It just misses being comedic violence, which Daniel saves mostly for when Dredd is attacking robots. The drunken robot writer is a perfect example of this, showing up as a running gag once he turns on the human he's supposed to protect. It's a nice play on the idea of 2000 AD's writers all being droids, and the over-the-top dialogue from the robot is a highlight. I kinda hope we get to see him one more time before the overarching story is finished.

The overall plot of this second arc is strong, which is no surprise, given Duane's skills and background doing crime writing. He's very good at pushing the goal post a bit further every time it seems like Dredd will reach a solution while still resetting things just enough to start a new storyline with the next arc. I do think that the Judges themselves have to be a bit credulous in order for the last series of plot twists to work, but overall, there's enough suspension of disbelief for me to give him the benefit of the doubt. He works the overall cast pretty well, weaving Anderson in and out, along with a few of the folks we've been introduced to so far. My experience is limited, but they also feel in-character.

I don't have much new to add about the art for this trade. I really like Daniel's style, and I think it fits Dredd perfectly. He's especially good at making things feel dark and dire without obscuring the line work, which may be partially due to acting as the colorist in addition to the drawings. He's easily able to go from blowing things up and ripping out eyeballs to having Dredd's small party comically marching in near-silhouette across the top of a page. The world of Mega-City 1 continues to be fleshed out in all its varied strangeness, from punk-people to the many, many angry robots. Little adjustments to clothing, hair styles, and even the surrounding architecture do a ton to make the story work.

As in the first trade, there are side-stories that flesh out the world, as people react to the changes going on thanks to the robot revolution. A virtual reality game turns deadly real, for example, as two people cosplaying Judges end up actually killing another player. We get a robot resisting the uprising only to die at the hands of a scared human. The final short previews what Dredd may be up against as he moves out to the Cursed Earth. I like them as a nod to the idea that Dredd came from an anthology, and it gives others a chance to play in the world artistically.

Overall, this continues to be a very solid use of John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra's creation, even if it's not the same as the one that we find across the pond. It won't be for everyone, but if you aren't locked into just one way of viewing Dredd, you'll have a lot of fun reading Swierczynski's version, with amazing art by Daniel and others. I'm in for a third volume, as long as it maintains this pace.