Written by: Cavan Scott
Published by: Abaddon Books
Synopsis: Someone’s killing journalists, and with the mayoral elections looking to set Mega-City One on fire, the pressure’s on Judge Joe Dredd – two years out of the Academy, and already a legend – to find the killer. Or killers; as the bodies mount up, the confessions come on just as fast, and according to Psi-Division, they’re all sincere – and all impossible…
The latest novella in the Judge Dredd: Early Years series differs somewhat from its predecessors in that it doesn’t feature a 2000AD writer in the author’s role, instead we have Cavan Scott – a novelist and comic-book writer whose work includes Doctor Who and Star Wars. I was aware of Scott’s work from the Titan Comics’ Doctor Who comics range, particularly his sterling work on the Ninth Doctor series, but he has also dabbled with some Judge Dredd in the form of the audio-book, “For King and Country” from Big Finish. So, while it doesn’t feature 2000AD alumni writing the story, I was more than confident that “Alternative Facts” would be a pulse-pounding finale to the Judge Dredd: Year Two trilogy.
Each of the stories from this series has focused on an aspect from Dredd’s early years on the job, most notably his relationship with Rico, but Scott moves away from that sub-plot to instead focus on telling a compelling murder-mystery, laden with twists and turns. One aspect which Scott does explore is Dredd’s difficult relationship with the Psi-Division, as he is forced to work alongside a female Psi-Judge on this case. Obviously, Judge Anderson isn’t born at this point in the continuity, so we’re introduced to Judge Ruan instead – a proto-Anderson, if you will – who gives Dredd an insight into the emphatic side of policing the Mega-City One streets.
Scott clearly enjoys the character’s back-history as much as the previous writers in the series, which plenty of easter eggs and nods to continuity evident in his writing. He also directly references Matthew Smith’s Judge Dredd: Year One mini-series for IDW comics, making the adventure part of the 2000AD continuity as opposed to the IDW universe. I hadn’t planned on checking out that series, but I will hopefully pick it up soon! It seems that story features Dredd’s first encounter with a Psi-Judge, predating his involvement with Ruan in this tale.
The biggest piece of series continuity employed in this tale is Judge Morphy – Dredd’s mentor and the one who supervised his final assessment before he became a full-eagle Judge. He was the one who famously advised Dredd to wear shoes two sizes too small to prevent any doubts over the law from creeping into his thoughts. It’s great to see the character explored in more detail as he clearly played a significant role in Dredd’s formative years. However, getting to know the character better now makes his eventual fate – murdered months before his retirement – even more tragic.
Scott also manages to channel the Judge Dredd series’ darkly-comic sense of humour into his narrative, capturing the essence of John Wagner’s writing in his style. I also loved the inclusion of chapter titles – a small addition, but it was very satisfying to understand the hidden joke or reference that was being made midway through the chapter. I also liked the inclusion of two over-weight “Fatties” named Jamie and Oliver – a deliciously humourous nod towards the celebrity chef of the same name. Despite these flashes of humour, Scott still manages to write a tense thriller as a serial killer kills his way through Mega-City One’s journalistic elite in all manner of gory ways.
Even though I did guess some of the ending ahead of time, I was still very impressed with the way Scott constructed his novella and his description of the procedural techniques implemented by the Judges. While the plot itself was relatively straight-forward, Scott’s way with words and his mesmerising writing style ensured that the book was immensely readable and near-impossible to put down. As I’d hoped from outset, “Alternative Facts” was a fantastic conclusion to the Judge Dredd: Year Two trilogy, which itself has been another riveting series of novellas. I cannot fault the range at all – it has provided me with some of the best Judge Dredd stories in the past few years and I heartily recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading the character in the comic-book format. The announcement of a new series called “Judges”, which looks even further back in the timeline to the original Judges, suggests that a Judge Dredd: Year Three series is unlikely but I do hope that Rebellion Publishing will return to Judge Dredd again in the near future.
Score – ★★★★ ½
Judge Dredd: Year Two – “Alternative Facts” is available as an eBook from Amazon Kindle, or collected in paperback format alongside two other adventures as the Judge Dredd: Year Two Omnibus, also available on Amazon.