It is very interesting reading a new comic from a different publisher because you end up drawing parallels to it from your own reading experience. My only real points of reference to the Judge Dread universe are the films, of which the less said the better, and early 80’s issues of White Dwarf which produced a tabletop RPG set in the universe. The book starts with Judges being called to various locations as people start to exhibit all manner of special abilities; flight, telekinesis, telepathy. A rookie judge barely out of the academy, by the name of Dread, is at the last occurrence due to a fleeing criminal taking a hostage. The hostage’s son then manifests and rips the criminal apart limb from limb. At this point there is no mistaking.
This book is about as far as away from what I expect to see in a Judge Dread book as it would be to see the Punisher taking bribes from the mob. But strangely enough, it really works. It works because Dread also feels out of his depth, it is not something he can just shoot, or punch; he is lost because he is taking the proverbial knife into a gun fight. He tries to offload the case onto the ‘psi division’ but his superiors calmly tell him to get on with it and then proceed to show him that events can get even weirder. And weirder still for him it gets as the cases of young people with excessive powers grows and grows as Dread and his Psi-handler find the emanations coming from a rift between dimensions into which Dread strides through, to find himself in a decimated Mega-city, destroyed by the very events that are now starting back in his city.
The one thing that really strikes me quickly is the language. Having read nothing except American written comics for a long time, you can immediately hear a British voice in this, even through the ‘misspelt’ words. I would love to know if this is noticeable or even annoying to an American reader as there is a lot of slang used. Admittedly, some of it is ‘Dread speak’ with Drokkin’ standing in for the obvious swear words, but much of the rest of it would not seem out of place in the East end of London.
The art in this series is fantastic, it is exactly the right tone for a book like this and there has been no cheating or block coloring of the backgrounds here. You can see and feel the dirt on every panel with what appears more time spent on the surroundings than on the characters themselves. It is a masterclass in the use of light and shadows as the sources of light are often faint and very directional, constantly placing Dreads covered face in dark shadows. The color pallet chosen also fits the theme perfectly; there is no shying away from the fact that the Judge uniform is no different to a superhero costume being a riot of vibrant red, gold, green and blue, but you only see these colors when the characters are standing in a direct light source, otherwise, it is almost mono chromatic.
The book has one trick that I thought would never work, the ending is underwhelming. Normally that would be a terrible attribute to attach to a story, but for various spoiler related reasons I cannot explain, the subdued and boring ending is absolutely necessary and works so well in a story that is supposed to make up part of Dreads formative years. For the comic to go through with the dramatic and exotic possible ending, it would put Dreads character development onto a different plane from where we all know he ends up. It is, to be frank, a perfectly done ‘slot in’ story. It is one that makes you feel like there is character development towards a different place to where we know the character ends up, only to pull it away and leave everything untouched for the next story.