Judge Dredd: 2017 Annual
Released by: IDW Publishing
Released on: March 1st, 2017.
Written by: Ulises Farinas, Erick Freitas
Illustrated by: Dan McDaid, Pablo Tanica, Ulises Farinas
Purchase From Amazon
The Judge Dredd 2017 Annual offers up three new stories from the increasingly strange IDW Judge Dredd universe, to tide us over until the next series starts later this year. Each of the three stories is written by Ulises Farinas and Erick Freitas, but the artists change. Let’s take a look…
Return To Luna City One:
First up, in a story illustrated by the mighty Dan McDaid and colored by Ryan Hill, we travel to a time five years after the events portrayed in Mega-City Zero. A bearded and aged looking Dredd crawls through the wasteland outside what’s left of a domed city. We flashback to six hours earlier, where we see Dredd, Lolo and Quill are onboard their ship training in the art of self-defense. Lolo’s helmet gets damaged but Dredd let’s her know another one is in storage, it’s a model that was discontinued due to its high deflection rate, but it’ll do.
Then out of nowhere, someone launches a missile at them. There’s no time to abandon ship, they brace for impact and crash on the moon.
Cut to Dredd laying in a hospital bed, his arm bandaged. He gets up and wanders into the confines of the space, where he sees Lolo and Quill talking to some others about the importance of upholding the law. These are not the ones that fired on them, and they’re happy to be away from the moon. From here we learn about Luna City One, where the A.I. in charge of keeping things clean eventually, intentionally or not, turned on humans the same way it turned on mold and pests. One of these people, Isaac, tells Dredd that they changed their DNA to be 100% human to avoid the killer A.I.. Quill knows that Luna-City One might be the only place left with complete records of Mega-City One, but Isaac insists that no one can get in there anymore, no one human at least. With Isaac’s help they head into the tunnels to try to get in, but the A.I. proves, initially at least, more than capable of keeping them at bay. Soon enough, however, they find an entry point and then learn the hard way that maybe Isaac’s claims about pacifism and the robots taking over are a little... misconstrued.
More high-concept sci-fi in the mold of the previous Mega-City Zero storyline is the order of the day. This one looks like it’ll bridge that storyline with the upcoming Judge Dredd: The Blessed Earth series that will be out in April. It’s well done, as you’d expect if you were at all familiar with the previous work that this creative team has done, and just like that previous work it leaves you thinking. Without wanting to spoil how things play out, the big question here is how big is the difference between honest to goodness human’s and the A.I. that said humans have created to make their lives easier. That question isn’t really answered here, but there’s a pretty good indicator that we’ll get there soon. The ending is a cliffhanger of sorts in that it sets up things to come but this does work as a self-contained story. It’s clever, literate and thought provoking. McDaid’s artwork is just as good here as it was on Mega-City Zero. Lots of nice detail, a great sense of movement, Dredd portrayed as a rightly intimidating presence – this one works and it works well. Ryan Hill’s coloring is top notch as well.
The Red Judges:
Up next, we voyage to 2070 A.D., where we learn that the Judges are in charge. An unnamed man notes that ‘we’ve got to keep killing them’ to some passersby. Skip ahead to 2084 A.D., and that unnamed man, now named Estevez, is a Judge. He’s on a special mission to investigate a post-war strike force known as The Red Judges who operate out of the Cursed Earth. Chief Judge Goodman thinks the Red Judges would better the city working on the streets, and Eztevez is there to observe and report. The Rebels that they were meant to engage are no longer seen as a thread, but as Estevez accompanies them on their rounds and gets a feel for what they do, he learns that this might not be the case after all.
Conflict arises among the group when Red Judge Blut uses lethal force when it wasn’t necessary. When there are more rebel attacks, it starts to look like there might be a traitor in their midst – are these men really fighting a menace though? Or are they fighting obsolescence? Of course, there’s always the chance that the Chief Judges are up to something and that Estevez is lying. Or being lied to.
Don’t trust the man! This is a really good self-contained story, wonderfully illustrated by the talented Pablo Tanica that’s loaded with background and foreground detail and gorgeous coloring. It’s also bleak as Hell and about as pessimistic as it gets. Justifiably so, mind you, but it is what it is. Nice twist ending in this one, it keeps you guessing, but at the same time it makes you feel for the Red Judges. These guys are damaged goods, men who set out to serve the populace in a war that they can’t, or won’t, leave behind.
Last but not least, our third story shows a masked luchadore leave his prison cell and enter an arena to engage in mortal combat, all of which will be broadcast live on Prison Guerrero TV! Elsewhere, top ranking Judges note that ‘He would help the ratings if he were white though, people like white.’ It’s a business to the Revenue Administrator, but to the others, well, those who compete are essentially non-citizens in that they come from the ‘Barrios’ – they being the cities too poor to have their own court.
Our luchadore is a decommissioned Judge named Rodolfo Santos, stripped of his badge for ‘perverting the cause of justice.’ Basically he went against the system to protect the disenfranchised people he had sworn to protect from the very system that employed him. Santos’ popularity has put the Bulletproof Law channel in the tank, which means that those in charged need to do something about it – mainly, break Santos so that the illegals won’t see him as the draw that he currently is. And the best way to do that is to televise a match between Santos and Chef Justice Kazuo-Juan Kennedy! Twenty-three million are going to tune in, unaware that Santos is being deprived of food for eighteen days before the fight. This causes him to hallucinate, to see his past, to reflect on his inability to save a man named Cesar, an activist.
And then he’s dragged, frail and starving, from his cell into the arena…
By far the most twisted of the three stories in the volume, this one is remarkably anti-establishment and like a lot of Freitas and Farinas’ work, it wears its political leanings on its four color sleeve (not that that’s a bad thing, mind you, because they’re pretty much spot on). In an age where Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officers and Department Of Homeland Security agents are rounding people up the way they seem to be in the news lately, this story is particularly poignant and well timed. We’re all human, even if sometimes ‘the law’ doesn’t necessarily treat us that way. The artwork, courtesy of Farinas himself (with some coloring assistance from Melody Often), is brutal in its simplicity. The line work is thick but there’s a lot of detail and expression in the faces of the characters that populate this story. The colors really ‘pop’ here and realism is sometimes pushed aside in favor of cartoonish exaggeration but it fits the satirical aspect of the story perfectly. On a recent 2000 A.D. podcast Farinas noted that some complain he draws like a little kid, but as cartoonish as his style is, it’s never childish, it’s just different. In a good way.
I’ve been raving about the recent Judge Dredd Mega-City Zero storyline since its inception, so maybe it’s getting tired to hear me keep it up, but the three very different stories in this collection further cement Farinas and Freitas as some of the best writers to work the character in years. Add to that three very different but equally talented artists, each with their own unique style, to illustrate the three stories and it’s hard to imagine anyone with half a brain not appreciating what’s been done here. If you want simple ‘good guy stops bad guy’ stories, look elsewhere, but for those who appreciate dystopic sci-fi action comics delivered with heart and intelligence, don’t miss out. Great stuff.