Dredd by Gordon Rennie, David Bishop and Matthew Smith (book review).

‘Dredd’ is an anthology of three previously published novels about Judge Dredd, the twenty-second century lawman who has spent the last thirty-five years as the most popular character in British comic, ‘2000AD’. The anthology was published in North America to coincide with the release of the live action film ‘Dredd 3D’, starring Karl Urban in the title role. For the avoidance of doubt, it’s important to stress that this book is not a novelisation of the film. The three novels put together here were originally released between 2003 and 2005. Between them, they showcase Judge Dredd’s many talents and provide an enjoyable and useful introduction to his world.

For anyone who is not already familiar with Judge Dredd, he is the ultimate future lawman. His patch is Mega-City One, a massive conurbation that takes up most of the eastern seaboard of the United States in the early twenty-second century. With a population of eight hundred million citizens, around 87% of whom are unemployed, crime is rampant. In an attempt to address this, the role of Judge was created as an evolution of the police. Judges don’t just catch criminals but have the power to sentence them and then carry the sentence out, too. Judges are tough and Judge Dredd is the toughest of them all.

The first novel, Gordon Rennie’s ‘Dredd vs Death’, is in fact based on the 2003 computer game of the same name, which featured two of the most popular characters to have appeared in Judge Dredd stories other than the lawman himself. When Dredd’s alien nemesis, Judge Death, is freed from captivity deep in the bowels of the Halls of Justice, Dredd has to team up once more with Judge Cassandra Anderson of Psi Division in order to fight him. Judge Death comes from a parallel dimension where the Judges took their role to its ultimate conclusion, taking the view that since all crimes are committed by the living, life itself should be outlawed. Having murdered everyone on his own world, Death and fellow Dark Judges Fear, Fire and Mortis came to Mega-City One intending to repeat the performance there, too. Dredd and Anderson have foiled them on several previous occasions but this time, the Dark Judges are aided by a cult who are obsessed with vampirism and mortality and look to the Dark Judges for salvation. Can Dredd and Anderson save the day once more or will the cultists provide Judge Death and his three companions with the help they need to finally destroy Mega-City One?

There are a couple of interesting things to say about ‘Dredd vs Death’, beyond the fact that it is based on a video game. The introduction of a vampire cult is interesting, bringing a further fantastical element to the story in parallel with the fact that Judge Death and his three colleagues are all undead. The novel also features Galen DeMarco, a private investigator and former Judge, who will be well-known to regular readers of Judge Dredd for being the only woman ever to fall in love with Judge Dredd, although he did not reciprocate.

I enjoyed ‘Dredd vs Death’ and thought it was a solid and entertaining start to the anthology, taking several familiar characters and showing them off to their best.

The second novel, ‘Kingdom Of The Blind’, is by David Bishop, a former editor of ‘2000AD’. In it, crime boss Jesus Bludd hold Mega-City One to ransom after taking control of a supposedly obsolete orbiting nuclear weapons platform. Knowing that Judge Dredd is usually the person who foils such grand plans, Bludd has the sensible idea of sending Dredd on a wild goose chase to keep him out of the way. Will Dredd work out that he’s being taken for a chump or will Bludd get his one billion credits?

I think ‘Kingdom Of The Blind’ is an interesting and well-written story, which pits Dredd against an intelligent crime boss who appears for much of the book to have the measure of the lawman. Bludd’s bodyguard and lover, Kara, is also a fascinating character. She is brutal, manipulative and borderline psychotic but is written in such a convincing way that you can’t help but be fascinated by her.

The other side of the coin is that the storyline is quite gory at times and also sexually explicit in a couple of places. Given the R rating of the ‘Dredd 3D’ film, I guess that shouldn’t be an issue for most readers. It may, however, need to be kept in mind if the book might be picked up by a younger reader. My other problem with the plot was the rather unrealistic nature of Bludd’s threat against the city, which relies on the idea that decades-old museum exhibits of weapons systems will still be in full working order and will never have been disconnected.

Nonetheless, I was impressed with David Bishop’s ambition in ‘Kingdom Of The Blind’ and felt that, on the whole, he pulled it off well.

The third novel in the anthology is ‘The Final Cut’ by Matthew Smith, the current editor of ‘2000AD’. When Dredd finds the grisly evidence to suggest that there has been a series of horrific murders of young actors and actresses, the trail leads him to a movie company with close links to the Justice Department and the political leadership of Mega-City One. The more he tries to investigate the case, the greater becomes the political pressure to drop it. How far will Dredd be prepared to go to see justice done?

I enjoyed the way that ‘The Final Cut’ mixes serious material with satire. It gives a really strong portrayal of the pressures that Chief Judge Hershey feels herself under due to the political power of her post. At the same time, the novel takes the Mickey out of the film industry in a very funny way. I had two reservations about the novel. It starts with an extremely graphic depiction of the torture and murder of an innocent woman. Although very effective, it is extremely shocking and I definitely wouldn’t want it to be read by my fourteen year-old son. My other concern was far more pedestrian and revolved around the fact that a few of the scenes in the book could almost have come from a contemporary crime novel, with limited attempts having been made to persuade the reader that the story is happening one hundred and twenty years in the future.

Looking at the anthology as a whole, I think it is a successful attempt to bring together three diverse stories of Mega-City One that showcase different aspects of the Judge Dredd universe. I think it is a great introduction for those new to Dredd, yet would also be worth reading if you’re a long-term fan. All three authors are writers or editors who have been intimately connected with Judge Dredd and ‘2000AD’ and their knowledge of the characters shows.

What I enjoyed most about reading this anthology was that the greater length of a novel, compared to a film or comic script, allowed the authors to provide much more depth and local colour. For me, this made the stories far more three-dimensional, even without visuals, creating a level of complexity and realism to the world-building that action films and graphic novels can sometimes find it hard to reproduce.

My only concern about the anthology is the explicitness of some of the sex and violence in books two and three, which would in my view make the anthology unsuitable for younger teens. I have already highlighted this point above, so I won’t say anything more about it here.

In conclusion, ‘Dredd’ is an enjoyable anthology that provides three different windows on the world of Judge Dredd. For those coming new to Dredd, perhaps in the wake of the recent film, these novels will form a great introduction to Mega-City One. Even if you’re a long-term fan of ‘Old Stony Face’ as he’s known, there is still much to enjoy here. I think this would make a great Christmas present for the Dredd fan in your life, as they wait for the release of ‘Dredd 3D’ on DVD in the New Year.

Patrick Mahon

November 2012


(pub: Abaddon. 696 page paperback. Price: £ 5.62 (UK), $8.99 (US), $10.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-78108-077-1)

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