By Michael Carrol , John Higgins, Sally Hurst and Simon Bowland
Review by Luke Williams
Running in the Megazine from 424 to 429, “Dreadnoughts” expands on the early days of the Judge system that Carroll had begun to develop in his series of pre Dredd “Judges” novels; building on what Pat Mills hinted at in the “Cursed Earth” and John Wagner expanded on in “Judge Dredd : Origins”.
Carroll has introduced his own cast of characters to flesh out the “evolution” of the USA with its police and judicial system to the post atomic war mega cities and absolute rule of the Judges.
Carroll had previously introduced this time period into the Prog’ as a series of flashbacks fleshing out the background for a “Dredd” strip entitled “The Paradigm Shift”, tying in with his Judges novel “Avalanche”. Here, he and artist John Higgins spend more time in the middle of the 21st century, a mere 15 years into our future. The Judges uniforms and equipmentare recognisable as the antecdent to their mid 22nd century successors, but look more like something from Death Race 2000, adapted motorcycle helmets, all on one leather catsuits, clunky ancestors to the Lawmaster and more primitive weapons.
The story focusses on newly posted Vernada Glover a recently qualified Judge with a chequered history charged with investigating a kidnapping that isn’t all that it seems.
While compelling, the plot is occasionally overshadowed by the resentment of the civilian populations to their new Judge overlords and the simmering tension between the local Police force and the dispensers of instant jusitce successors, Glover is our guide in this transitioning world.
As the USA visibly disintegrates and the streets becoming increasingly violent, the introduction of the Judges to combat the unrest actually makes the crime rate increase, whilst corruption and nepotsim exacerbate the civic unrest.
Origin stories and prequels can diminish the mystique of an existing work. “Dreadnoughts” succeeds is that it adds context to what already exists and expands on the scant information we have on the development of the Judge system logically and realistically without being revisionist. What makes this more all the more fascinating is the fricition between the old and the new, the soon to be replaced Police and judiciary, the resistance of the population to their soon to be rulers and the implacable beligerence of the first generation of judges; so sure of themselves and the righteousness of their purpose.
2000AD is blessed with good Dredd scripters, and Carroll is one of the most prolific. But like his colleagues, he works in the shadow of John Wagner. However, here he’s carved out his own corner of the Dredd universe, aided and abetted by an on form John Higgins. Higgins’ dense linework coupled with Sally Hurst’s subtle colouring to create an oppresive and charged atmopshere.
The Meg’ had hit a bit of a rough patch a few months back, but the 30 years anniverasry special has given it a shot in the arm. Between strips like “Lawless”, “Dreadnoughts” and the alternate universe “Megatropolis” it’s back on form and publishing some of the best of UK comics.