After the slightly lacklustre first issue of their ongoing Judge Dredd series, IDW Publishing have scored a real hit with the prequel Judge Dredd: Year One.
Focusing on Dredd’s first year out of the academy pounding the mean streets of Mega City One, the men behind it are 2000ad editor Matt Smith, who has stepped back into the writers chair, and longtime Dredd artist Simon Coleby, so you instantly know you are in safe hands. As a result Year One has everything you could ask for from a Dredd storyline – psychics, mohawked perps and most importantly a total adherance to the law! In story terms, this is Dredd at his most idealistic – just as Bruce Wayne was in Miller and Mazzucheli’s Batman Year One – but not not in a hippy liberal way. Dredd is a character who is at his ‘happiest’ getting his hands dirty on the streets dispatching lawbreakers to the iso cubes without a second thought and this is definitely that kind of book, which should please hardened 2000ad fans and newbies alike with it’s classic Dredd tone.
With it’s premise of unexplained psychic phenomenon manifesting in Mega City One’s youth, Smith has set up an intriguing first issue arc that ties in with the nascent Psi Division, but also feels like classic Dredd at the same time. The temptation to include links to the current continuity is inevitable, but this first issue exists neatly in it’s own little bubble – for now. It’s a definite part of the Dredd universe, but by not forcing clever in-jokes and smart references down your throat – although we’re hoping there will be at least some of these kind of references in future issues – it doesn’t feel like it it trying too hard to be something which it isn’t.
Smith brilliantly handles the tone of a newbie Dredd without removing any of the edges that have defined the character, and if anything by giving him a new sense idealism fresh out of the academy, it makes him even more unrelenting, it makes for a much more interesting read.
Smith is ably assisted by long time Dredd artist Si Coleby, who gives Year One a bleak and moody feel. His clever use of shadows makes everything feel nicely oppressive and grimy, but without over doing it in and making it a mess. He also manages to sneak in those classic Dredd touches in the look and feel of the characters and their environment (especially in the street thugs) which instantly invoke the classic work of Brian Bolland or Mike MacMahon, but without looking like he’s trying too hard to copy them.
Whether you are a hardened 2000ad reader or just coming into the world of Mega City One as a result of the Dredd movie, this is a great read and one of the best Dredd books produced outside of the regular 2000ad continuity since Judgment on Gotham.
Judge Dredd Year One is available via ComiXology or the IDW Publishing app