Advent Review #25: Judge Dredd: Year One (Book Review)

I’ve been a fan of Judge Dredd for a good while now, which for me translates into about a three-year period. It all started with the horrible 1980s movie with Sylvester Stallone, but then extended into the audio dramas range from Big Finish Audios, and then into the comics from IDW Publishing, and then the new movie with Karl Urban, and so on. Back in 2012 I also read the Dredd Omnibus from Abaddon Books which contained three stories from the perspective of a veteran Judge Dredd and which proved to be a really fun collection with some really strong stories.

And now we have this year’s Judge Dredd: Year One, which collects three more short novels, but the twist being that they focus on a Judge Dredd who is just a year out from the Academy, and is thus still finding his feet in the mess that is life in Mega-City One. Each novel does something different with the character, with the third one, Wear Iron by Al Ewing, which contains quite a bit of misdirection. But still, each novel here is pretty excellent and the stories told are definitely a lot of fun too, such as the first novel City Fathers which shows the Mega-City 5000 race. Great stuff!

Judge Dredd - Year OneThe first novel in the collection is Matt Smith’s City Fathers, which takes readers along for an investigation into one of the most intriguing homicides facing Judge Dredd during his first year on the job. An informant and peeper for the Judges is found murdered in his apartment, a most gruesome murder indeed, and it is up to Dredd to find out why he was killed, and how the recent round of drug-related suicides in the Big Meg feature into all of this.

The story starts off a little slow, but it gains momentum as it progresses and we get some great scenes with the hero as he hunts down the villains and uncovers a great conspiracy stretching across the Big Meg. And that’s the nature of the setting too. Lunatics and other elements of the fringe often come up with these weird plans to bring the city and the Judges to their knees, and it is always up to those like Dredd and Anderson and others to put a stop to all the madness before things get really bad.

I really liked the mystery here. It kept me guessing all the way through, and even when things started to fall into place towards the end, there were still a few neat surprises that made sure that you didn’t get the full picture right until the end, which is a pretty good thing. And of course, Dredd doesn’t come off as the hard-nosed, no-nonsense Judge he would became several years later. He is still a bit young and inexperienced, which contributes to how the character grows over the course of the novel.

Rating: 9/10

The second novel here is The Cold Light of Day by Michael Carroll. This story takes place during the events of the Mega-City 5000 race, which ends up being an integral part of the climax, in more ways than one. And of course, there’s another murder mystery involved here, though this one also involves Judges for a change. It turns out that the possible killer is someone that Dredd sent to the Iso-Cubes several years ago, and now that he is free and turned into a Judge-Killer, the Judges of the sector in question blame Dredd for it, and mark him out as a pseudo-pariah, which is a pretty interesting viewpoint really.

The novel is told through three narratives. The first one is that of Dredd himself as he investigates the murders of the two Judges. The second is the Mega-City 5000 race itself and we see everything through a particular racer, one of the top contenders to actually win the race. And the third one is a flashback story that shows what happened in the past that lead to the events of today.

Each narrative does something a bit different from each other, that much is obvious, but the thing is that the story overall follows the title of the omnibus pretty close. It really is a Year One story and we see how Dredd doesn’t really make himself any friends among the Judges in the unfamiliar sector. With a past that has kind of come back to haunt him (figuratively only), we see a Dredd who is rather obtuse when it comes to other people’s feelings. He doesn’t have any use for them, and thus doesn’t think that anyone else should either. It is a rather singular way of looking at things, but hey, this is Dredd we are talking about after all, and seeing this early version of the pop culture icon is something that proved to be extremely gratifying.

Of course, the action in this novel is pretty damn superb, and the pace just doesn’t let up once things get started in the first few pages, because after that it is one hell of a ride through the Big Meg as Dredd races against the clock to capture his quarry. Another superb effort here.

Rating: 9.5/10

The third and final novel here is Wear Iron by Al Ewing, and this one is an absolute must-read, I dare say. I mentioned earlier that this story has a lot of misdirection, and that is certainly true, for there is a basic fact of the era of the Dredd franchise that we are reading here. Specifically, mention of his brother Rico. We know already that Rico Dredd, “elder brother” to Joe Dredd in that they are both clones from the same genetic material of Chief Judge Eustace Fargo, is a villain. The 1980s movie portrayed him as a straight up villain without really going into his background as a Judge. Wear Iron does things a little differently. It contrasts the brothers in a lot of way and shows how Rico is more rthless than his brother, who is fairly straight up and down.

In the typical way of Judge Dredd stories, things kick off with something rather cheeky and satirical and self-deprecating, with the setting being of a massive food-eating contest that is drawing in thousands of Cits from all over the city. This is also a heist story, so it is pretty obvious that said heist is going to involve this contest, the tickets for which sell out on the day of and cause a near riot. Which is kind of interesting really, how Al Ewing draws out the culture and feeling of the Big Meg, what with the whole (almost) nihilistic element of the setting itself. I loved every moment of it, certainly.

The novel is never told from the point of view of Joseph Dredd himself. However, we do get scenes from the perspective of his brother Rico and one of the criminals involved in the heist towards the end of the novel. It is a very interesting switch-around that explores more of the setting than you’d expect, and the twists at the end certainly make up for the somewhat slow pace of the novel. It ends on a grand note, another thing you might not expect, and leaves you wanting more of Rico Dredd in particular. His relationship with his brother is very, very interesting, and I enjoyed seeing the two of them interact. They are as opposite to each other as you can get, and that’s where the fun of the whole thing is.

Rating: 9/10

As with the Dredd Omnibus from 2012, Judge Dredd: Year One Omnibus is a great and worthy read for sure. It contains some really great stories that touch on all manner of things from the setting, and even the characters, and helps you gain an insight into how a young Judge Joe Dredd was like, and what kind of a man his brother Rico, corrupt to the core and a great foil for him in everyday life in those days, was like as well.

If you are a fan of the character, then you should definitely be reading this prose collection. I recommend it highly.

Overall Rating: 9/10

More Dredd: Dredd Omnibus.

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Posted on December 27, 2014, in 2014 Reading Challenge, Book Reviews, Challenges, Review Central and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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