Before Dredd, before Mega City One... before the nuclear bombs dropped, there was Eustace Fargo and a controversial new social experiment. The Judges, empowered to administer on-the-spot sentencing, punishment and even, in the case of capital offences, execution. A terrifying erosion of civil liberties setting into motion a chain of events from which America (and the world) would never be the same again. The Judges.
Volume 1 collects three novellas set during the earliest days of the Justice Department, written by Michael Carroll, George Mann and Charles J Eskew. These stories find the first batch of Judges taking to the streets amid a resentful, soon-to-be-redundant police force, a sea of violent protests and turbulent political (and Earthly) climate.
The switch from comic book to prose works well for Judges, allowing its writers to delve deeper into the origins of the Justice Department than ever before (following, of course, in the path of John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra’s seminal Origins). This may not yet be the world we recognise from 2000AD, but it lays the foundations perfectly, and the rock-hard chin/face of Judge Joseph Dredd looms ominously over all three stories in the form of his never seen but often mentioned clonefather, Chief Justice Eustace Fargo.
Shelving Dredd himself and keeping Fargo aloof allows the writers to explore the world as a microcosm through the eyes of its new recruit Judges. As such, the stories are small-scale police procedurals, more Prog-of-the-Week than Apocalypse War-level epic. These Judges stomp through sweaty police stations and gritty ghettos, dropping f-bombs and taking down serial killers and school shooters - think 2012’s Dredd rather than Judge Dredd as we know him now.
Humourless and restrained as it is, it works. Each story is quickly devoured, packed with twists and brutal political analogy. This is the rise of fascism, eerily familiar and terrifyingly plausible. The first two stories - Carroll’s Avalanche and Mann’s Lone Wolf - flow particularly well, and while Eskew’s When the Light Lay Still is a lot swearier and distractingly different in tone and style, it’s easily as compelling as the rest. While Dredd himself was originally envisioned as futuristic Dirty Harry, this is the Justice Department as The Wire, and it really works for the stories being told here.
Judges: Volume 1 is a Judge Dredd book without Judge Dredd - a prose prequel to one of the greatest comic book worlds ever created. While it may be a complete tonal shift, it’s essential reading for fans of Judge Dredd and the Big Meg.
JUDGES: VOLUME 1 / AUTHOR: MICHAEL CARROLL, CHARLES J ESKEW, GEORGE MANN / PUBLISHER: ABADDON / RELEASE DATE: 10TH JANUARY