• Judge Dredd: The Blessed Earth Vol. 1

    Judge Dredd: The Blessed Earth Vol. 1
    Released by: IDW Publishing
    Released on: December 13th, 2017.
    Written by: Ulises Farinas, Erick Freitas
    Illustrated by: Dan McDaid, Daniel Irizarri, Jason Copland, Pablo Tunica, Ulises Farinas
    Purchase From Amazon

    This first collected edition of the Judge Dredd: The Blessed Earth storyline compiles the 2017 Judge Dredd Annual and the first four issues of the series.

    First up, is the main story from the annual, Return To Luna City One. 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.

    From there we move on to the first four issues of the regular series…

    “Judge Dredd awoke a thousand years in his future to find Mega-City One in ruins and its 800 million citizens gone without a trace. After a long, strange journey, Dredd managed to locate and free them all. And now, ten years later, society continues to pick up the pieces…”

    The story begins in Sector 159. Here a man and his son are riding a wagon outside of the Mega-City One Territories. On their way out, they pass a disheveled looking Dredd heading into the territories. The man tells his son not to stare, that’s a thing that the world ‘ain’t got use for, he thinks the world is his.’

    Dredd thinks to himself as he rides a headless mechanical horse (that doubles as a drone) through the area known as the ‘City Of Flies,’ the only part to have been rebuilt since he reversed the G.R.A.S.S. program. A handful of Judges have returned but most remain missing. A group of Cadets are tasked with getting the Mega-Rail system operational. Dredd checks on them and they complain that the Exiles (their nickname for the eight hundred million that emerged from the grass) don’t want to connect with the rest of the world and they don’t want what the Judges are offering. The bodies hanging nearby stand as testament to this.

    Nearby in Sector 151 a female Judge, Quill, argues with her lazy radio operator. A murder has been called in and with Dredd away she’s got to deal with it. Dredd’s with the Cadets taking inventory outside the walled off town of Forsaken. He’s well-armed but the Cadets are frightened as the townsfolk told the Judge-elects to kill all the remaining Judges and Cadets on sight. Dredd orders them to comply, they refuse. Dredd, being Dredd, kinda-sorta convinces them to see things his way and he strong arms them into breaking into the settlement with him. They need law and order. Dredd makes his way through the sewers and then back up into the town where he learns that the Cadets are definitely not on his side at all. Everyone BLAMES Dredd for this, for bringing back the exiles and the Justice Department.

    The female Judge moves on to sector 153. Here she meets Pine, a self-proclaimed lawman and the guy who called the murder in. She accuses him of messing with a crime scene and tells him to ‘beat it’ but Pine makes a case for his help here, there aren’t enough Judges to go around. Then she sees the body. They take to a medical bay for an examination and learn that she’s missing seventy percent of her skeletal tissue. The medical robot finishes up but Quill notices an odd mark behind the victim’s ear. Quill and Pine talk about how if they could keep the body a big longer they might be able to figure this out but the robot has to follow the law, it has no choice, and that means that after the examination is complete the body gets recycled. Seems the Judges and the robots have something in common.

    Back behind the walls of the town, Dredd stands on a platform with a noose around his neck, the Judge-Elect of the town going on about Manifest Destiny and how the rule of the people is more important than the Law. And we’ll leave it at that.

    At a nearby outpost, a gang of newly resurrected citizens, formerly of ‘the grass,’ are voicing their displeasure at having been woken up after a perfect thousand year dream to the post-apocalyptic reality they now find themselves in. It isn’t a pretty scene and there are corpses left in their wake. With that taken care of, they head out to intercept the newly operational Mega-Rail system.

    Elsewhere, Quill speaks to a new crew of Judges and cadets about their mission – the secure the latest Mega-Rail extension at Forsaken. They cannot carry lawgivers, which is cause for concern amongst some of them. She tells them they don’t need a gun to be brave and that Dredd won’t be as forgiving as she is – which is probably a fair point. Dredd, however, isn’t in the best of shape. A medical officer updates Quill about his condition. Dredd needs an operation but won’t let them put him under, so they’re proceeding with him awake and he’s basically talking them through all of this. He needs a new skeleton and he’s got roughly a year to find a donor. Quill, understandably concerned, talks to Judge Hershey about it. She reminds Quill how tough Dredd is. He’ll be fine, she tells her.

    Just then, Quill and Hershey are alerted to what happened at the outpost – there’s no formal station out there, it was the location of a science lab. Quill wants to cancel the ceremonies due to this but Hershey refuses. The Mega-Rail will keep going, no matter what gets in its way. Justice Department orders.

    If that weren’t complicated enough, Lolo, in full Judge’s attire, launches a one woman assault on the compound that the former grassers are using to ‘cook’ something. She takes them out but again, they tell her ‘you shouldn’t have woken us up.’ Nobody wants the Judges here, they see them as illegitimate. The train arrives and the new recruits emerge – they’re promptly told off by the people gathered around. At the back of the group stands Dredd, Hershey by his side. He’s on a lot of pain killers but he’s still sharp. The crowd chants, sloganeering from both sides – “Make Mega-City One Great Again! Build that rail!”

    That night, things take a strange turn when a green gas is unleashed inside the city. Dredd orders Lolo to head into the fray and ‘take out the greeners,’ She obliges, the very model of efficiency, only to find out that their next target is the Mega-Rail… causing Dredd to make a very serious judgement call.

    A still white bearded Dredd asked for verification by a younger Judge just trying to do his job and keep people away from the Mega-Rail. Dredd, trying to make his way to Ironbound on the massive train, makes his way in through the crowd and meets up with Quill and Lolo. They ask him about his hands, he tells them the pain is manageable and it’s noted that he only has ninety-seven surgeries to go.

    As Dredd tries to make his way to his quarters Quill interrupts him with questions about the bodies that they found. Dredd is distracted when he thinks he sees someone he knows, but the conversation continues until a man comes up to them looking for help. He claims that the ‘knights’ took his wife. He produces her ticket to prove she’s on board and Dredd calls it in and gets permission for a full sweep. Elsewhere, Quill makes her way deeper into the train and enters a room full of robot workers. She shows them a picture of two people who might be related to the murder and asks them if they’ve got any info for her. She gets into an argument with one of these ‘free robots’ – capable of producing art, eating food and disobeying orders – but this robot makes it very clear: “WE ARE NOT PROPERTY.”

    Dredd’s sweep fails to turn up the man’s missing wife, at least on the main deck, but it does find two terrorists associated with the Greener movement. The Judges are about to head to the lower level when Quill does a scan in the robot deck for life and finds some! The result, a female that looks like it could be half human/half robot, makes an escape and many of the free robots follow. The Judges hop off the train in pursuit and from there, they meet up with the ‘Neon Knights’ and that’s where things start to get really complicated not just for Dredd and the other Judges but for the man and his ‘wife’ as well.

    “The law can only be one way.”

    This fourth issue begins with Dredd, Quill, Lolo and three cadets making their way to Ironbound. Quill says to Lolo that Rico shouldn’t be with them, he’s an ‘unknown quantity’ but Lolo tells her she’s just jealous. The six make their way across the bridge and into the city where they’re greeted by a robot who reminds them that robots have gone on strike. Lolo reassures them that they’re not here for that, but the conversation gets heated until Dredd steps in and cools things down. He tells the chatty robot they need its help, the robot tells Dredd to keep walking – they’re on strike, after all. A quick round from Dredd’s Lawgiver puts one down but fails to convince the others to help. The strike holds, the Judges keep travelling, heading towards Sector 01.

    Along the way they see humans doing the labor that the robots would have done for them not too long ago. When they see the Judges and respond with ‘Weren’t ya Judges supposed to make Mega-City One great again?’ Rico, who carries a genetic match for Dredd’s skeletal system inside him (and therefore seems to get away with more, even if Dredd says otherwise) interprets it as hostility and shoots them down. Shortly after that happens they’re surprised to meet Enzo, a Judge-Elect from Settlement 227 who has been trailing their posse for days. He asks for their help finding the water shipment that should have reached the settlement by now. The truck is less than a day from where they are and while Dredd is clearly very sick, he agrees to help... their canteens are empty as well.

    They find the truck and its dead driver. The rig is in no shape to be driven back to 227. Dredd figures this is a setup and orders everyone to fill their canteens, get the water they need and keep moving. Turns out, Dredd’s right – he’s usually right – but the setup is nothing like any of them could have expected…

    “We’re all marching off the cliff together and all this is just a distraction until we reach the edge.”

    Again, the writers of this series wear their politics on their sleeves and while some of the imagery, metaphors and comparisons are far from subtle, they’re no less apt. In fact, given the climate in modern day America, they’re spot-fucking-on. At the same time, the series is not content to exist solely as a statement on what’s wrong with things these days, it exists just as importantly as a work of fiercely creative entertainment. Farinas and Freitas have been taking Dredd in strange new directions since they started on the book but this latest run sees them upping the ante even more than they have in the past. All of this ties in to the last series, Mega-City Zero, in a big way but so too does it expand on that. The Neon Knights, Dredd’s ties to Rico, Quill and Lolo coming into their own as Judges, the robot strike, the uprising that has put the Judges into a position they’ve never been in before… it’s all tying together in really interesting and unexpected ways. And then of course there remains the unsolved murder of Carol Rossa, an even that still ways very heavy on Lolo’s heart and that clearly ties into her need for acceptance and acknowledgement from her fellow Judges, Dredd in particular (like it or not, he’s still very much a father figure to both Lolo and Quill). And if that weren’t enough, this issue reintroduces a classic Dredd character in a very unexpected, almost frightening way… but we won’t spoil that here.

    “The grass did things to people’s age, some came back younger, others have lost years.”

    The art in the first two issues is handled not by Judge Dredd: Mega-City Zero artist Dan McDaid but by Daniel Irizarri (though colorist Ryan Hill returns). Irizarri’s art works well here, however. His style suits the tone of the story, which is something akin to a post-apocalyptic spaghetti western at this point. There’s good detail here and lots of expression on the faces of the different inhabitants of this world as the story unfolds. The coloring work is top notch, bringing the pencils to vibrant life and there’s some nice fine detail in here that adds character to the story – Pine’s missing tooth, some recognizable characters from Dredd’s past on the pages of a reference book, even the flies buzzing around the corpse.

    Jason Copland’s artwork in issues three and four, once again beautifully colored by Ryan Hill, illustrates this strange tale of dystopian future really well. His line work is thick but not short on detail. The inks are fairly heavy in spots, which gives the story a somewhat noirish look when things take place inside, but at the same time when things are happening out in the desert (which is the bulk of this issue) we get a nice, arid sort of Spaghetti Western vibe to the visuals. It works quite nicely and it suits the story really well. The design work is also very creative. The Judges still look like Judges (as they should) despite little quirks (Dredd’s beard and cape) but the robots come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes as do the various vehicles used by the characters in the story and the cityscapes and desert locales where all of this plays out.

    This series is clever, frightening, humorous and very, very smart. Fantastic stuff, really. Don’t miss out.
    With that out of the way, we then finish up the TPB by reprinting the other two stories from the aforementioned annual.

    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.