Judge Dredd: Year One – “The Cold Light of Day”

Written by: Michael Carroll
Published by: Abaddon Books

Synopsis: A savage killing spree results in the deaths of two highly-regarded Judges, and many consider Dredd to be responsible: a decision he made five years earlier – while he was still a cadet – has come back to haunt him. With the Justice Department overwhelmed and the city at a standstill thanks to a chaotic and brutal cross-city motorbike race, Dredd must bring the killer to justice and clear his name…

The Cold Light of Day” is the second novella in the Judge Dredd: Year One range, following on from “City Fathers”, and features Dredd in his first year as a street judge after graduating from the Academy of Law in 2079AD. When readers were first introduced to the character in his first appearance in 2000AD Prog 2, he already had twenty years of experience on the streets of Mega-City One and since that moment, the series has moved forward in real-time, chronicling over forty years of Dredd’s career.While we’ve seen brief mentions of his early life in some key stories, such as “The Return of Rico” and “Origins”, writers on the series have seldom focused on Dredd’s early days, making those twenty years something of an unexplored era for the character. With this series of novellas, Rebellion delves deeper into the origins of the character, presenting a different side to Joe Dredd as a fresh-faced twenty-something Judge on the streets – not quite the firm figure of authority that we know now, but still driven to uphold the law.

Michael Carroll has been writing for Judge Dredd since 2011, and has routinely displayed a keen awareness of the character’s world and its vast history in his work for 2000AD. It is this comprehensive knowledge of all things Dredd that allows Carroll to take an obscure event such as the Mega-City 5000, which was mentioned in one of Dredd’s early stories (Prog 40-41), and use it to form the backdrop of a manhunt for a Judge killer. Since this book was written in 2013, Carroll has gone on to become one of the most prolific Judge Dredd writers in recent years, developing his own story-arcs that have evolved over multiple storylines and even handled his first mega-epic “Every Empire Falls” during 2016. He has a firm grasp on Dredd’s inner-voice and motivations – something that becomes particularly evident in the final chapter of this novella.

More action-orientated than its predecessor “City Fathers”, “The Cold Light of Day” features three distinct narratives – one taking place in the recent past, one in the present following Dredd’s investigation and another following the action occurring in the Mega-City 5000 race. All three strands converge together to form a complete picture by the end of the adventure, resulting in an immensely satisfying read. While it’s unlikely that Judge Dredd could ever be adapted for television, although I do hold out hope that Netflix will bite one day, this storyline would be an ideal candidate to be adapted into a single episode – it is perfectly-paced and the reveals are expertly teased and implemented. With the Mega-City 5000 race taking place in-between the story beats of Dredd’s investigation, it felt like the story was up against a time-limit, not unlike an episode of 24.

The beauty of the ‘Year One’ series of stories are that they are designed to be accessible, and Carroll manages to straddle the line of engaging new readers and rewarding long-time fans with ease. Everything a reader needs to know about the plot is contained within this novella, and Carroll ensures that newcomers are not left behind in the dust of the Mega-City 5000 racers. The story features Dredd’s hot-dog run while he is a cadet – a rite of passage we have seen him perform with his own cadets, but this time we get to see his own experience. There are also references to the Class of ’79 – the other cadets who graduated alongside Joe and Rico Dredd, some of whom share some very familiar names. Carroll also makes some nods to popular racing culture with references to Murray Walker and the Top Gear team, poking fun at the well-known gear-heads with some satirical puns on their names. It feels in keeping with the practice of naming blocks after contemporary celebrities, and adds a light-hearted tone to the action of the Mega-City 5000 race.

Whereas “City Fathers” showcased Rico Dredd’s descent towards criminality, he is only present in flashback here although there are some slight hints of the man he will become. The whole story hinges on whether Joe made an error in judgement during his hot-dog run, and Carroll explores the idea to its natural conclusion with a strong speech to an SJS Judge in the final chapter. It’s a highlight of the story and showcases exactly how Dredd should be characterised in stories. There have been times where he has been portrayed as an ultra-violent fascist who revels in gore and bloodshed (most notably during the late-80s and early-90s) but Carroll understands the complexity of the character runs deeper than that. Sure, he deals in absolutes – right and wrong – but he isn’t blind enough to believe that the law is always in the right. It’s an interesting observation to make and it showcases Dredd at his most idealistic – a trait that he definitely exhibits more frequently in his old age.

Moving away from the procedural detective work seen in “City Fathers”, this adventure instead explores Dredd’s fallibility in a way few Judge Dredd stories have, making the most of the ‘young Dredd’ set-up to peel back the layers of the character. This feels like an important milestone on Judge Dredd’s journey to becoming the man we first meet in Prog 2, and Carroll does a tremendous job at crafting a tense and gripping thriller that fuels the reader to turn each page with increasing speed. Much like the Mega-City 5000 at the heart of this adventure, “The Cold Light of Day” is a white-knuckle ride from start to finish and will leave you wanting more!

Score – ★★★★

Judge Dredd: Year One – “The Cold Light of Day” is available as an eBook from Amazon Kindle, or collected in paperback format alongside two other adventures as the Judge Dredd: Year One Omnibus, also available on Amazon.

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