When you do a Year One story – that is, the first year in that character’s life, often related to superheroes being superheroes for the first time – you need to show that character struggling a bit because they’re not who they will become yet. Let’s take Batman: Year One for an example, as this is clearly the book the publisher is hoping readers will associate this with because of the title. Bruce returns to Gotham for the first time in years – he’s been away training, preparing physically and mentally for his war on crime. On his first outing, he tries stopping some street violence in the red light district and fails miserably. He has a crude facsimile of the Batsuit and has yet to develop any effective gadgets. He takes his lumps, he triumphs, the book ends with Bruce not fully formed as Batman but definitely on his way to eventually becoming the World’s Greatest Detective. Great Year One story.
Now let’s take Judge Dredd Year One. We pick up Dredd’s story nearly a year since he left the Academy – so already this Year One is almost over! Dredd rides his Lawmaster (supercool bike), fires his Lawgiver (even cooler gun), arrests perps – in other words, Dredd is Dredd. So this Year One is pointless because the character is already formed. We don’t see Dredd fail, pick himself up, and learn from his mistakes – the dude is already supercop! The one thing different is that he doesn’t say is “I Am The Law!” (not we’re not even given the story behind the phrase anyway).
So the story is fairly dreary – psychic kids causing crimes. It’s Carrie x 1000. Interesting, you think? Not really. Psychics, telekinesis, and so on are pretty de rigueur in Dredd’s world – there’s even a department of judges who specifically deal with psychic crimes called PSI Division. In fact this is the only aspect of Dredd’s world where the Year One label truly applies as we see PSI Division set up for the first time with Dredd, among others, sceptical of its usefulness. This book should really be called PSI Division: Year One (with Judge Dredd!).
You know what villains would be better for Dredd Year One instead of nondescript psychic kids who we never see again? The Angel Gang. The Dark Judges. Even Dredd’s evil twin, Rico. Dredd has a number of excellent adversaries but none of them are used and we’re given a bunch of nobodies instead. I suppose it’s a thematic choice, Dredd is young, representing justice, and the perps are kids, representing crime, and this is the beginning of the conflict between justice and crime blah blah blah. But really, Mean Machine would’ve been better – even showing Mean before he got all cyborg-ed out – from a story standpoint. It’d at least make for a more interesting read.
I won’t give away the ending but it’s exactly like a Scooby-Doo cartoon ending. Seriously. You see the resolution and won’t believe it’s that easy.
There’s a very brief flashback at the start of the final chapter to when Dredd and Rico were cadets, on their own, against an angry mob that was excellent – it showed two young men, against the odds, inexperienced, somehow doing their duty. This is what the entire book should’ve been. It also very briefly mentioned the Nuclear Wars that led to the Cursed Earth, the Mega Cities, and the rise of the Judges – literally half a page – when really, this too should’ve been a big part of the book.
Judge Dredd Year One should’ve been much better than this. We should see how Dredd learns to deal with the insanity of crime in Mega City One. We should see the fascinatingly weird history of his world leading to this point in time. We should see some of the defining characters make an appearance. More importantly, we should see Dredd’s character being formed. Instead we got Dredd already Dredd, and one forgettable story thrown into the mix.
I think the publishers would like to think Judge Dredd Year One is a good jumping on point for new readers but it isn’t. If anything, it’s uninspired and dull storytelling would turn anyone off of the character. What you should do is pick up the Wagner/Ezquerra stories from the 70s – which were completely barmy and utterly brilliant – instead of this poor effort. Dredd is a great character who deserves better – there’s a great Year One story to be told but this one isn’t it.
Judge Dredd: Year One