• Judge Dredd: Mega-City Zero Volume 3

    Judge Dredd: Mega-City Zero Volume 3
    Released by: IDW Publishing
    Released on: February 8th, 2017.
    Written by: Ulises Farina, Erick Freitas
    Illustrated by: Dan McDaid
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    The third volume of the Mega-City Zero storyline picks up the story as Dredd simultaneously tries to figure out what has happened to Mega-City One and what to do about Quill and more specifically Lolo, no longer herself after sister Iggy’s death. After coming face to face with Dark Judge cultists last issue, Dredd has uncovered their plot to steal babies from the citizens of the Refuge to use in their ‘experiments.’

    The populace is quite understandably enraged by what has been uncovered, and when this issue begins, they’re essentially in revolt, insisting that rather than talk to the cultists, Dredd see that justice is properly served. He warns the protestors of trespassing, while those inside discuss the progress made in their attempts to create a vaccine free of side effects. The hope is to create a pollen to be released into the air that won’t occasionally turn children into monsters. Dredd is taken aside, told he needs to explain things not just to the populace, but to Lolo (still in her holding cell) and Quill (out on a solo mission to try and sort this out on her own). He doesn’t like this. “They are not my children. I’m not their father.”

    The next day, Charles has talked. The citizens show up outside the lab again, more determined than ever to get in and trash the place. Just as it’s about to get violent, Quill shows up – she’s found a baby and knows where the others are. What does this mean? The pollen is working, but it’s not strong enough to bring back fully formed humans. It also means the scientists have been experimenting with the pollen in direct violation of Dredd’s orders. He makes it very clear that there will be no more experiments on children but is told these children don’t matter, they don’t even have mothers but were instead spit out by the grass. But Dredd, he figures if the babies were brought back, the others can be too and that the citizens that once inhabited the Mega-City One he knew so well could very well still be alive, all eight hundred million of them… even Iggy, their DNA stored in the grass.

    One of the things that this storyline has been really good at has been taking current events and transposing them into Dredd’s future. Police brutality and the protests they can cause have played a part here and in this issue, the focus is clearly on bio-genetics, gene splicing and the like – where should society draw the line? Is it okay to experiment on babies if it is for the greater good? If these ‘babies’ are more plant than human, does it even matter? Who has the right to decide who lives? Who has the right to decide who dies? And would bringing Mega-City One ‘back’ really be an improvement over what they have, or would it be a massive step backwards?

    Like a lot of people in the real world, the populace is losing faith in the police, obviously represented by Dredd. They don’t feel he’s serving their best interests, but at the same time, again, like a lot of people in the real world, they don’t know completely what he’s dealing with here.

    “Sometimes I think we are letting a madman run this town.”

    Dredd is being called to task by some of the populace, there are those who would prefer anarchy to the death that has occurred since Dredd came around. He and Quill get into a scrap, it doesn’t go so well, but before it can get worse a barrage of arrows takes out their enemies. It seems that the descendents of ‘the most distant penal colony in Mega-City One history’ are concerned for the safety of Pug Dredd and will do whatever it takes to prevent animal cruelty! These militant vegans oppose the puppy kickers of Ang Avi and all that they stand for. Their leader gives Quill a quick history, explaining how their population almost went extinct when, faced with no other option, they started feeding on one another until they eventually ‘found balance.’ Given that Quill and Dredd are friends of the dog, the vegans offer them safe haven, time to heal.

    Quill and Dredd are offered a permanent spot with the vegan tribe, but Quill refuses it. They have their mission, and once Dredd and the dog are better, they’ll be on their way. When Dredd heals, he finds his way to the armory where a stash of weapons designed only to work when connected to a genetically registered Judge have been laying dormant for years. While Dredd is loading up, Quill uncovers the truth about what this tribe really uses for sustenance.

    “We found balance! Balance with our bodies, we changed our bodies. We are what we eat.”

    Dredd authorizes Lawgiver #442 to work with Quill’s DNA, and utters five simple words:

    “This is where it stops.”

    Cut to a scene in which a cadet speaks to a tribunal of senior Judges about how they’ve created an unbreakable circle by placing the law ‘in the hands of a restricted ruling class’ which in turn ensures the lower class lives in perpetual anarchy. This results in a constant ‘ecology of super-criminals.’ We get some background on the cadet. When The Sisters Of Death attacked the Mega-Block she lived in as a child, she was the only survivor out of the ten thousand people who lived there. Her parents were botanists that taught her about the seasons and about life and death. The Dark Judges took everything away, their only solution to the crime of life being death. She draws similarities to the Judges and the Dark Judges and explains how in order to fix things she had to become a Judge herself. Though she’s small and not as physically intimidating as many of her peers, they senior Judges get a look at her IQ scores and soon enough, Cadet Berger has become Judge Berger.

    Three weeks later, Berger and her partner are attacked during a vehicle inspect. The assault leaves her face half gone and her partner dead. While she’s on life support, Judge Vazquez volunteers to be her new partner and once she’s back in commission, to ‘teach her a thing or two about watching your partner’s back.’ A month after that and a drug bust goes bad. She’s been setup by her peers. Dredd asks for the report, something seems off about this. Berger is reassigned to desk duty, statistical analysis with a focus on citywide trends. They try to hide her away, break her spirit, but here Berger’s able to use her smarts to uncover a tie between the weather and Mega-City One’s homicide rate. When she provides evidence that there might be a reason to reduce the number of Judges in the blocks, her evaluation comes to an abrupt end and her studies dismissed.

    Two years later and Dredd takes Berger on as a partner while Anderson is incapacitated, even if he notes depressive patterns in her thought processes. However, Berger is completely sold on this idea of making the city experience a shared hallucination brought about by an unnamed green narcotic. She gets her hands on it and puts in place a plan to do just that – get the entire city high as a way to hit the reset button and go through the ‘rabbit hole.’ No one will suffer. They will live forever in the grass.
    Dredd and Quill burry their pug and literally hack their way through the brush with machetes until they come face to face with what was clearly once The Grand Hall Of Justice. Quill makes a break for it and Dredd tries to stop her but before he can… she’s in Mega-City One. The real Mega-City One, not the overgrown remnants that they’ve been trapped in for some time now. She’s overwhelmed by the noise and the traffic and while she calls out for Dredd, he’s not there. Other Judges are, however, and they grab her assuming that she’s suffering from ‘future shock syndrome.’ It’s then that Judge Lolo shows up, calls them off, and welcomes her. She’s a high ranking Judge here, there’s even a statue of her – she tells her she’s fixed everything, she’s even found Iggy. She invites Quill to join her, to be a Judge, to answer to her… just like Judge Berger.

    Dredd realizes she’s gone into the grass. He tries to get into the server, but no dice. With no other choice, he opens a canister of pollen and when he arrives in Lolo’s Mega-City One, she beats him. He tries to reason with her, to get her to acknowledge the fact that this isn’t real, that Iggy isn’t dead, but she’s not having any of it. And then Berger, who Dredd believed to be dead after learning how she was shot down on the steps of The Grand Hall Of Justice, arrives. She accuses him of spreading misery, he accuses her of condemning eight hundred million lives. Iggy starts to snap… she doesn’t want to be dead, she doesn’t want reality. Berger argues that she’s stopped crime, made the world a better place and to prove it she lets some of the city’s most nefarious criminals come back.

    Dredd tries to talk Quill into helping him, but she can’t turn her back on her sisters. This leaves him to deal with Berger on his own, and we’ll leave it at that.

    The Mega-City Zero run that has taken up these last twelve issues of Judge Dredd has been a breath of fresh air since the first issue, and this finale doesn’t disappoint. The writing team of Ulises Farinas and Erick Freitas has been consistently pushing the envelope, taking a character that can easily be tossed aside as formulaic no matter how cool he might be, and doing something decidedly different with him. At the same time, this vision of Dredd is pure. He’s still the same character he’s always been, they’re just making him, along with the readers, think about things from different angles and perspectives. This shows us what happens when the very merits of the entire concept of law enforcement is called into question. This shows us what happens when a man who never shows sympathy is forced to care. Dredd’s never wrong – but what if he is? What is, as Berger accuses him, he and the other Judges really are responsible for so much of what is wrong with life in Mega-City One? As Dredd ponders these questions and reacts to them, we’re tasked with applying some of the same ideas to the real world – and as interesting as it is to do so, it’s equally frightening. While this final chapter (for now) brings the story to a completely satisfying and unpredictable conclusion, the themes that this run deals with stick with you long past the moment where you flip that final page over. The best kind of science fiction isn’t told with lasers and space battles and Death Stars, it’s told with complex characters put in the types of situations that we could very well land in years down the road. On that level, this series has been a major success.

    As to the art, again, Dan McDaid has been kicking ass and taking names from the beginning but there’s on page here that might be the best of the entire series (colorist Ryan Hill deserves his share of credit for his work on the series as well – he’s done a top notch job). Without spoiling how we get there, a bloodied characters look to the sky while this character’s tear heads down. As it does, there are three panels below that go a long way towards explaining how and why it ends the way it does, before that same tear approaches the ground. The way that the writing and the illustrations combine on this single page say so much, it’s striking. The rest of the book looks great too, especially once Mega-City One’s worst come out to play – some great combat and action sequences on these pages – but that page with the tear sticks in your brain, a beautiful illustration of man’s often misguided intentions and the ramifications of actions spurred on by said intentions.

    Where things will go from here obviously we’ve yet to learn, but here’s hoping this isn’t the last Judge Dredd storyline we see from this team. It won’t appease those who want their Dredd to be a simple cookie cutter super cop, but those who appreciate thought provoking sequential art delivered with a social conscience and a whole lot of bad ass style should step right up.

    In addition to collecting the last four issues of the Mega-City Zero storyline, IDW has also included in this trade paperback a cover gallery showing off all of the standard and variant editions made available for issues nine through twelve of the run.