A top-notch creative team goes a long way toward making a delightfully light and funny “Judge Dredd” fish-out-of-water story.
Written by Douglas Wolk
Illustrated by Ulises Farinas
Colors by Ryan Hill
Lettered by Tom B. Long
Dredd heads Californee way! As part of a judicial exchange program, Dredd is sent packing to Mega-City Two, a sprawling city covering 5,000 square miles of the Californian West Coast and centered in what was once known as Los Angeles, where he soon discovers that they do things differently there.
It is in Judge Dredd’s nature to wear an almost impossible frown on his face at nearly all times. That idea gets a lot of mileage in “Mega-City Two”, a story that places him in California where everything is bright and sunny and, well, they do things a little differently. Imagine Dredd’s disgust at a city that wants 100% of their entertainment to be some sort of endlessly titillating reality show – including the brand of justice that Dredd delivers. Think Dog the Bounty Hunter, but instead of putting a bible in someone’s face, he puts his fist right through it. Needless to say, Dredd isn’t all that amused with what he sees as unnecessary impediments to justice. Nor is he amused by the camera crew’s request for “multiple takes” of single arrests. But duty calls, and if the exchange program helps Mega-City One, then Dredd is more than willing to serve.
That’s just one instance of copious amounts of evidence that points to Douglas Wolk knowing his way around the Judge. The key character traits, the lingo, the over-the-top tone – it’s pure “Dredd.” And while this is an easily accessible issue that you wouldn’t need any prior “Judge Dredd” knowledge to enjoy, it’s the juxtaposition between “Mega-City One” and “Mega-City Two” that provides the issues’ cleverest moments. In truth, issue #1 is mostly fun and games. It ends on a pretty gnarly stinger, but aside from that it’s more of a romp than any “Dredd” story I’ve ever read. I never thought I’d be describing a Judge Dredd comic as a “romp” or “disposable fun”, but that’s what this is. It feels like there should be more meat to it all, but it can’t be denying that this is an entertaining comic.
Ultimately, Ulises Farinas is the major key piece that makes “Mega-City Two” pretty much required reading. Whether it’s on quirky indie work like “Amazing Forest” or “Gamma”, or on heavy hitters like “Judge Dredd” and “Catalyst Comix”, Farinas brings his A-game to everything he does. He works in the stylized, slightly cartoonier but hyper-detailed style reminiscent of guys like Brandon Graham or James Stokoe – if those names are more familiar. They won’t be more familiar for long, because Farinas is popping up everywhere and deserves every bit of praise he gets. There’s an ineffable quality to his work that makes perfect sense for a more lighthearted “Judge Dredd” story.
First of all, the layouts consist mostly of larger panels with lots of space for Farinas to cram in all of the little details that he loves to put into his work. The larger panels tell a fairly fast paced story, yet it doesn’t feel short, even at 22 pages. I have to give much of that credit to the aforementioned hyper-detail Farinas provides. You’ll pour over some of these pages, picking out references and gags – or maybe just admiring how an artist could have such a massive vision for some of these pages. “Mega-City Two” becomes a “Where’s Waldo” book at times. This is doubly impressive when you consider how good a visual storyteller Farinas is, as well.
Farinas gets the tone that the story requires, and has the comic chops to pit the very stoic Dredd against a world that’s definitely too colorful to suit him. Colorist Ryan Hill should be credited for brightening up Dredd’s world alongside Farinas’ art. The smattering of bright yellows, and almost day-glo pink and green trappings scream “California.” It’s “Judge Dredd” by way of “Miami Vice” (I know, wrong coast) with just enough cheese for it to make you crack a constant smile.Continued below
It’s difficult to project where such a talented artist like Ulises Farinas is going to go in this industry. Will he want to do even more mainstream work – or do his passions lie with creator-owned work like “Gamma”? For my selfish sake, I hope it’s both, and plenty of it. But “Judge Dredd” is a great place for him to be right now, especially with an experienced writer like Wolk. Though this isn’t indicative of your typical Dredd story, and feels much leaner than the stories in your average issue of “2000 AD”, this is a side event that shouldn’t be missed. If you’ve never picked up a “Judge Dredd” title before, consider this lighter take on the character your official starting point.
Final Verdict: 8.0 – Buy. It’s a gorgeous and bright comic book.