There have been many, many attempts to bring the classic British comic hero Judge Dredd to American markets. Failed comic adaptations, one completely underrated movie, one terrible movie, and more have tried, but American audiences just aren’t biting like they should. At first look, Judge Dredd seems like the perfect character for American readers and viewers. He’s an American cop with a heavy hand for violence in a post-apocalyptic world. All these aspects fit in with what’s popular in the media today, but still nothing has taken hold.
In the last few years IDW has tried their hand at publishing new Judge Dredd stories. Currently they have three different series under their belt, an ongoing series by American writer Duane Swierczynski (Punisher, Cable), reprints of classic Judge Dredd comics, and the now complete mini-series Judge Dredd - Year One, which came out in trade paperback for on Wednesday, October 23rd 2013. This series, while published in North America by a North American publisher, is written by Matt Smith, the longtime editor of 2000AD, the pillar of British science fiction comics for decades and the birthplace of Dredd himself.
As the title indicates, Judge Dredd - Year One takes place during the first year of Dredd’s tenure as an official Judge. For those unfamiliar with the dystopian future of the Dredd universe, Judges act as police officers, judges, and, when the sentence calls for it, executioner. The Judges are responsible for trying to bring law and order to Mega-City One, a wasteland of a city that spans much of the east coast of the United States. It takes fifteen years of school to become a Judge, and though Dredd is still ‘new’, he’s got a lot of experience under his belt and his take-very-few-prisoners attitude is still apparent. To Dredd, nothing is more important than upholding the law.
The story is crisp and moves quickly without any sluggish down time or lack of action. Like its UK counterpart, this Dredd follows the high action, heavily violent storytelling style that has made the original such a standout. The story features many locations, terms, and aspects that even casual Dredd fans will recognize. And like many Dredd stories, it features a surprise ending that might not leave you gasping, but will make you say “Drok!!”
Simon Coleby’s art is reminiscent of classic Dredd stories without feeling dated or old. Mega-City One looks like a wasteland, but not as bad as the current Mega-City One. It’s like some of the grime has been peeled back to reveal a still scummy, but not quite as desolate city that a young Dredd would have called home. The juve villains of the story look creepy, haunting, and strangely pitiable, a very hard mix that Coleby creates with ease. The effect is to bring Smith’s fast paced story to amazing life and it’s a great writer/artist team up.
Judge Dredd - Year One definitely captures what makes a Dredd story great. It’s apparent that the creative team loves Dredd as much as the reader and they’ve crafted what is on track to be an important part of the Dredd mythos. They’ve taken the idea of a ‘year one’ and made it their own. This is a great starting point for anyone looking to get into the world of Dredd.