Synopsis: You know about me. I’m Rico Dredd, Joe Dredd’s big brother. I’m the clone that went bad, that brought shame on Judge Fargo’s legacy. I was a Judge, the best the Academy of Law ever turned out. The very best. But after less than a year on the streets of Mega-City One, I was brought down, taken in. It was Little Joe who caught me; second-best Judge there’s been. Broken, sentenced, stripped of office, I was shipped out to the brutal moon Titan, to do my twenty years’ hard labour. Yeah, you know about Rico Dredd. But do you know what really happened? Why I did it? What it was like, out there on the edge of space, doing time in the Bronze? Truth is, mister, you know stomm about me.
Following on from the absolutely excellent Judge Dredd: Year One series of novellas, this standalone tale focuses on Dredd’s clone-twin brother Rico, whose descent into corruption was a recurring background theme to the Year One trilogy of stories. While those stories hinted at Rico’s eventual comeuppance, this adventure gives us the prose version of events and a glimpse into the harsh punishment seen on Titan’s prison colony.
Rico’s fall from grace was first explored in his debut appearance, “The Return of Rico” from Prog 30, and subsequent writers have revised and expanded upon this key event in Judge Dredd lore over the years. Here, Michael Carroll offers us something different – he tells the tale from Rico’s point-of-view, giving us a more intimate look at the motivations behind Dredd’s “dark half” and exploring the character in unprecedented detail.
Al Ewing did a fantastic job at bringing Rico to life in the excellent “Wear Iron” novella, showcasing him as a sadistic bully and sociopath. Carroll’s depiction of the character varies slightly, but it’s important to note that this story is being told through Rico’s narration and he is the very definition of an unreliable narrator, attempting to justify his actions and present himself in a heroic light. There are a few moments in the tale that contradict established continuity, such as the manner of Judge Kenner’s death, and those are likely intentional to demonstrate how Rico views himself. It’s a subtle narrative technique, but really effective and reading Rico’s own twisted view of events and constant self-justification helped me engage and almost emphasise with the character.
As seen in his debut Judge Dredd novel, “The Cold Light of Day”, Michael Carroll loves the series to pieces and is not afraid to address continuity hiccups in his tales. I particularly liked how he dealt with the misconception around the Class of ’79 and how more than a handful of Judges graduate in any one year. He constantly weaves nuggets of continuity into his story in a way that enriches the narrative and strengthens its connection to the source material. It’s clearly written by someone who loves the series to pieces, and that attention to detail and passion for the continuity is very much-appreciated by the fans.
The novella itself feels like two stories in one – the first half focuses on Rico’s descent into criminality and eventual capture, whilst the second half gives us a glimpse at his first few months in Titan. As much as I enjoyed Carroll’s take on Rico’s corruption and conflict with Dredd, the story became impossible to put down as soon as the action moved to Titan. Without spoiling too much, Carroll took the story in some truly surprising direction as I loved the whole “Shawshank Redemption in Space” vibe to the tale. There were plenty of cinematic moments during the Titan sections, especially the ending which felt reminiscent of the closing scenes of “Revenge of the Sith”.
While “The Third Law” works perfectly well as a standalone solo title sandwiched between the Judge Dredd: Year One and Judge Dredd: Year Two trilogies, it also has the potential to be developed into its own trilogy, possibly culminating in Rico’s return from the prison colony and his final confrontation with his clone-twin. Michael Carroll proves himself to be equally as adept at writing Dredd in the prose format, as he is in the comic books, and I found his telling of Rico’s story to be the definitive version. I loved the devious nature of the character and how his actions sometimes juxtaposed against his narration, revealing just how unreliable he could be. I even found myself rooting for the character to succeed against the odds on Titan, even though he was technically the villain of the piece.
This story is far more than a simple retelling of “The Return of Rico”, and even though Judge Dredd is a supporting character in the tale, I think this is still essential reading for Dredd fans, mainly for the in-depth glimpse into one of the series most enduring villains and up until now, one of his most misunderstood. I devoured every word of this novella, barely pausing for breath, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to every Dredd fan on Earth (and Titan, too!)
Score – ★★★★ ½
Rico Dredd: The Titan Years – “The Third Law” is currently available as an eBook from Amazon Kindle, or collected in paperback format alongside two other adventures as Rico Dredd: The Titan Years, also available on Amazon.