Review: Dredd – Underbelly / Author: Arthur Wyatt / Artist: Henry Flint / Publisher: 2000AD / Release Date: Out Now
No, there’s still no sign of a sequel to the Karl Urban adaptation of 2012. Still, consolation has arrived: that universe finally gets an update with this tie-in, scripted by Arthur Wyatt and illustrated by 2000AD veteran Henry Flint. Following the events of Dredd, Underbelly sees the perpetually grumpy Judge Joe Dredd still hard at work bringing justice to the streets of Mega-City One.
As with the film, the action is pared down and localised to a relatively small area of the Big Meg, the story concerned with petty criminals, drug deals and illegal immigration. No Dark Judges, Angel Gang or Judge Cal – the influence of Ma-Ma is writ large throughout Underbelly, the underworld attempting to fill the void left in her absence. Like the film, it’s more realistic, gritty and a whole lot dingier. That means extra swearing, to you and us.
Just as before, the potty-mouth sits ill at ease with the source material, an attempt at extra grit where none was required. Humourless and largely without colour, it’s like a regular Judge Dredd comic, only without the sense of wit and satire. While that worked for the big screen, it’s not quite as effective in the comic book medium, where we already have a perfectly iconic Dredd. It’s like a Marvel MAX comic, except the Judge was already pretty ‘MAX’ to begin with. To complicate matters, there’s also the existence of IDW’s relatively faithful take on the character, providing a serviceable alternative to 2000AD Dredd. While Dredd was an excellent comic book adaptation, this reverse tie-in feels somewhat redundant and lifeless; low budget and scaled back where it doesn’t need to be.
That said, Underbelly does have its virtues. Flint’s art is as great as ever, the artist being one of the definitive Dredd creators along with Carlos Ezquerra and Brian Bolland (not to mention the many, many other wonderful artists at 2000AD). It’s a quick read, with decent action and some nice interactions between Dredd and Anderson. The comic comes scattered with information on the Dredd sequel campaign and advertisements for Old Stoney Face’s regular adventures in 2000AD and The Complete Case Files. As an exercise in brand awareness, it does its job very well. Sequel, please. Soon?
This version of Dredd could work as an on-going series or graphic novel, but to do that, it really has to embrace the universe and feel free do its own thing, as Garth Ennis did with the Punisher. Underbelly is a sweet thought and a good idea, but Dredd deserves better.