Written by: Al Ewing
Published by: Abaddon Books
Synopsis: Paul Strader is a stick-up man – a stone cold professional who never goes unarmed and never gets attached. But when he gets in over his head with some dangerous people, he’s forced to risk everything on the word of a corrupt lawman – a smirking, big-chinned bully named Judge Dredd. Dredd’s the lynchpin in a daring, explosive heist that breaks every rule Strader has – every rule but one…
The third novella in the Judge Dredd: Year One range is a departure from its predecessors in that it doesn’t focus much on Joe Dredd at all, instead chronicling the action from the perp’s perspective with Dredd only featured in the final chapters. As a result, “Wear Iron” is filled with a grim sense of foreboding as the narrative follows armed robber Paul Strader as he heads helplessly towards an inevitable conclusion with the future lawman. Al Ewing does a brilliant job at allowing the reader to identify with Strader, trapped between the two Dredds (Joe and Rico) as he attempts to get that last big score to pay off his debts. There is a tragic Shakespearian quality to Strader’s plight, which Ewing takes full advantage of.
While previous stories in the Judge Dredd: Year One range touched briefly upon the relationship between Rico and Joe Dredd, Ewing makes it the focus of this tale. Telling the story from Rico’s point-of-view, he gives the reader an unparalleled glimpse into his motivations and psyche. Clearly psychopathic, it’s unsettling to see how disposable he treats people and the malicious glee he gets from the sadistic torture of his underlings. Rico makes for a fascinating lead character, something that the guys at Abaddon Books have realised as the disgraced former Judge receives his own novella set shortly after this story “Rico Dredd: The Titan Years“, which tells the tale of his downfall and exile to the Titan prison colony. Ewing’s depiction of the character might overplay the villainous aspects, but it is a fascinating subversion of Judge Dredd.
Due to the Year One setting of the story, Al Ewing gets to play about with the early years of Mega City One in the same way that Michael Carroll did when he made the Mega City 5000 race the centrepiece to his novella, “The Cold Light of Day”. With this tale, Ewing details the origins of the Fattie craze and competitive eating competitions which would go on to become iconic events in later Judge Dredd stories. He also makes reference to Harlem Heroes and its sequel Inferno, two series which share a connection with Judge Dredd through the Judge Giant character – Ewing strengthens this connection by referencing the events of both stories and the subsequent ban on the Inferno game, explaining its absence from Mega-City One in the future. It’s a nice bit of continuity caretaking that’ll please the hardened Judge Dredd fan without confusing new readers.
With a heist at the heart of the story, it would be easy to make comparisons to Ocean’s Eleven but I think the novella is more tonally aligned to The Usual Suspects, with Rico adopting a Keyzer Soze role in proceedings. There’s a real cinematic feel to this adventure, riffing off old-school heist movies but with a Mega-City One twist. Despite the inevitability of the tale, it remains an electrifying page-turner and the non-linear format that Ewing indulges in at times invites comparisons to Quentin Tarantino. To sum it up in five words, I would say this story is “Judge Dredd meets Reservoir Dogs”, but it is all so much more than that. Ewing’s expressive descriptions of violence, his deliciously sociopathic take on Rico and the Shakespearian tragedy of it all adds up to a hidden gem of a novella, and one that deserves wider exposure.
Without a doubt, this Year One series of novellas has been one of my favourite representations of the character and his world outside of the core comics! In fact, I’ll come and out and say it – it’s even better than Dredd 3D!
Score – ★★★★★
Judge Dredd: Year One – “Wear Iron” 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.