• Judge Dredd: Mega-City Zero

    Judge Dredd: Mega-City Zero
    Released by: IDW Publishing
    Released on: December 6th, 2017.
    Written by: Ulises Farinas, Erick Freitas
    Illustrated by: Dan McDaid, Jesus Redondo
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    The first issue of this latest Judge Dredd series, entitled Mega-City Zero: Part One – Terms Of Service, begins in a field. Dredd wakes up, confused that there’s no noise, no traffic. He messages control but it’s no use. He does, at least, have forty-five rounds left. He doesn’t know where he is, but figures since there’s so much vegetation it can’t be the Cursed Earth. His coordinates say he’s in Mega-City One but clearly this isn’t the Mega-City One he knows.

    So he goes through the last entry in his case log. He was called out to investigate the disappearance of 13,450 citizens. The Judges have no leads. Anderson can’t get any sort of Psi reading. Back in the present Dredd gets something on his radio – someone is mouthing off to him, he thinks, and then he finds the source – a group of thugs taking out a guy they’ve accused of puppy kicking. They want to pluck out his eyeballs but Dredd stops them. The puppy kicker winds up dead, the three thugs, kids really, get arrested. Dredd but when he mentions Mega-City One they have no idea what he’s talking about. “We are from the grass” he’s told.

    From there, a herd stampedes right past them, scores of people… some possibly mutants or human-animal hybrids, racing towards a tower that looks like it’s made of the Earth itself. They call it Ang Avi but Dredd calls it a Mega-Block with no Mega-City. But there are Judges here, sort of, and they’re not about to let this herd into Ang Avi, no matter how bad they want it. All Dredd wants is to find a holding cell for the perps, he asks the robotic Judges for directions but they see this as a Trojan horse style attack and respond accordingly, but Dredd is determined…

    Once Dredd gets in, he realizes that Ang Avi is a whole lot like the Angela Davis Block where he was working on his last case… before he woke up in whatever world it is that he’s in now. Dredd, with some help from the kids, makes his way through the hordes, determined to find the person in charge. He’s pointed towards a Sys-Op, a mammoth dude on a floating chair but when he asks the Sys-Op what has happened to Mega-City One he’s accused of ‘trogging.’ Dredd tries to put everyone under arrest but it’s no use, the citizens really just make fun of him.

    This changes when one of the citizens, Trog Lody, a devout follower of PJ Maybe, realizes who Dredd actually is. He can’t tell him what happened to Mega-City One, he really doesn’t know, but he explains the Trog system, the emergence of the Sys-Op’s and how and why anarchy has taken over. When Dredd enlists his help, Judge Trog, complete with an ‘old school’ Judge costume, suits up and is ready for action. He likes the power that he feels from it and understands immediately why ‘you guys couldn’t stop.’

    And off the two of them go to find out what happened to the kids, recently missing, who led Dredd into all of this in the first place… BAD IDEAS MUST BE REMOVED.

    Out of the chaos that ended the last issue, out of the smoke and the ash and the rubble, a determined Dredd emerges. The girls he thought were dead are not, he frees them from the mess they’ve been trapped in, but they realize that they’re still being held captive where a man/bird thing, Chicken-Head, tries to get Dredd to question the system. That’s not going to happen, even if at this point it should. A massive mutant Iggy that dubs Butt-Face, comes out of the shadows and confronts Chicken-Head and his rhetoric. This results in a hulking-out of sorts when this ‘real life Trog’ loses control.

    With no other option, Dredd does what Dredd needs to do. There’s a fight and he takes on the Trog to get Iggy back in one piece, if that’s still an option. And it ends in an interesting way, a truce of sorts, in which Dredd preaches his message – the world needs law – but when the audience starts throwing bricks at the ‘gladiators’ the Trog mutates again, this time into an even bigger threat. The Gate Keepers show up, there’s a change in the terms of service, the event is now over and people literally get crushed.

    The Trog goes up against the Gate Keepers, Dredd noting, ironically, that everyone here thinks they know how the world should work. Dredd is forced to accept the new ‘terms of service’ (username JudgeDredd has been taken!), the girls are ‘removed’ and he’s accepted into Ang Avi… so long as he doesn’t tell others what to do.

    Dredd is in a Mega-City One that is peaceful, harmonic. The grass is gone, but it’s free of the dystopian crime that he’d been used to before all of that. But of course, it’s completely messed up. He realizes this quickly, when he finds that in this Mega-City One, the male populace has enslaved the female populace. When one man’s lady won’t give up a little ankle, she meets the back of his hand.

    The Yes-Man that claims to be Dredd’s grandpa talks to him, lets him know he’s in a fraternal city, an alternate reality. He also tells him that the girls he has come for are here, and that they’re being treated really well. He also tells him that here, he’s God. This virtual reality runs through his brain and he tells Dredd that by letting women run things in Mega-City One, well, that’s what led to all of those problems in the first place. The girls are here, safe to an extent, and Dredd supposedly agreed to Grandpa’s terms in order to gain access to them and save them, but of course he doesn’t remember any of this.

    Six months later, Dredd seems to have fallen in line. He’s patrolling the streets like a regular cop, helping out where he can and seemingly numb to the rampant misogyny that upset him only a short while ago. It is, however, all an act. Dredd’s forced into this, the lives of the girls he’s trying to save hanging in the balance. Grandpa’s even gone so far as to create a family for Joe, a familiar looking wife and, yeah, some very familiar looking daughters. Eventually, Dredd decide to fight back, but how? He’s got to get this guy out of his head…

    Dredd and the surviving girls – Quill and Lolo accompanied by Pug Dredd! - paddle their way to the refuge where a blonde man named Charles greets them as friends and offers them food and shelter. Dredd immediately notices something odd on his hand – when asked about it, Charles tells him it’s a personal security drone, everyone in the refuge gets one. When Charles corrects one of the girls’ grammar they decide to split, this is kind of weird, but he eventually calms them down and they accept his offer with some understandable trepidation.

    And then Lolo flips out, taking out the drone and assaulting Charles. Dredd tries to calm her but it only kinda-sorta works. She’s suspicious of the way Charles keeps talking about how grateful everyone will be to see some new able bodies to help out. She’s worried they might be cannibals. But then they make their way into the place and get a chance to check it out – it’s pretty huge. But when someone asks them if they’re lost, seemingly offering to help, the girls flip out and go on the run again. Back and the shoreline, Dredd hears Charles mention ‘Berger’ and he grabs him, demanding more information and wanting to know immediately where she is. Charles tells him ‘Oh Berger’ is just an expression

    Quill and Lolo wind up in a room, away from harm, and they’re really starting to wonder if the people in this place are all members of some sort of strange cult. An older man tries to calm them, tells them this is to protect them, and the girls call for help. Dredd can’t hear them. He’s too far away. The old man tells them they’re put away for now not just for their own protection but to protect the other citizens, while they figure out what they’re all about, to make sure they’ll play by the established rules as they’re explained to them. Assimilation is a big deal, the girls are assigned their own drones.

    Watch your tone. Check your inequality. Administer re-assimilation.

    The girls see first-hand what happens when someone breaks a rule, why the drones are really there. And they learn what happens when they use improper grammar! Lolo flips out, Quill goes to get Dredd…

    Winter has come. Dredd looks rough, a shaggy white beard visible under the helmet. He makes his rounds, wonders why Charles is late for his rotation and goes to check on him, Pug Dredd along for the walk. When Dredd arrives at Charles’ place he’s told that all of the children are gone. The townsfolk revolt, they drag Lolo out assuming she’s got something to do with it. Dredd questions the girl but Lolo insists she’s got nothing to do with any of this. He puts Lolo back in her hut and, with a few others in tow, heads out to find the kids. A trace of clothing on a branch offers a clue. Dredd gets Quill to prepare to leave with Lolo in tow. He’s afraid what will happen if he doesn’t remove them from the situation. He also needs their help.

    They head out into the brush, but the fact that the dog seems scared of something in the area doesn’t sit well with them. As they follow the trail, something in the river alongside them appears, a black humanoid shape. Dredd spears it but it escapes, climbs up a wall. They go after it and follow it into an aged building, only to come face to face with the Dark Judges (that’s not a spoiler – Judge Death is on the cover!)… and one of the missing children.

    But is all of this really what it seems? Who are the children of the grass? What is that thing in the cage? Why is it taking the youngest ones and more importantly, what, if anything, can Dredd do about any of this?

    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.

    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.”

    Issue eleven opens with 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 (and Jesus Redondo filling in on issue #6) 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 reprinting the twelve issues that make up the entirety of the Mega-City Zero storyline, this collected edition also contains a cover gallery that shows off all of the standard and variant editions that were printed up for the series.