Judges – “The Avalanche”

Written by: Michael Carroll
Published by: Abaddon Books

Synopsis: United States of America, 2033 AD. In a time of widespread poverty, inequality and political unrest, Special Prosecutor Eustace Fargo’s controversial new justice laws have come into effect. Protests and violence meet the first Judges as they hit the street to enforce the Law; the cure, it’s clear, is far worse than the disease. Is this a sign of things to come?

After six novellas charting the early years of Judge Dredd’s career, Abaddon Books takes the concept of an origin story to another level by creating the Judges series, which looks back at the early years of the Justice Department under Eustace Fargo, forty-six years before Dredd graduated from the Academy of Law. Glimpsed briefly in the iconic Judge Dredd storyline, “Origins”, the first wave of Judges had to dismantle and replace the existing law system, facing opposition from cops, criminals and citizens alike. I wasn’t entirely sure how interesting a Judge Dredd series without any recognisable characters would be, but immediately the concept drew me in and Michael Carroll quickly established his team of prototype Judges as they hit the streets of a pre-Mega City One America.

Editor of the entire Judges series, and writer of the first book, Michael Carroll gets to demonstrate his encyclopedic knowledge of Judge Dredd’s world and its rich history. I can’t think of any other writer out there who would be better equipped to handle these continuity-heavy stories, Carroll seems to live and breathe Dredd – yet can write a thrilling and engaging story that is enriched by continuity and not burdened by it. He does a great job with his characters too, quickly introducing and distinguishing his new team of Judges, and successfully filling the void left by Dredd’s absence. I never once found myself wishing for the familiarities of Mega-City One and was instead gripped by this version of America which was closer to our own world.

Carroll gleefully subverts expectations throughout the book, but it was the gut-punch of a twist at the end of the Prologue that left the biggest impact and fuelled the action of the novella. I didn’t see it coming, and it was a brilliant way to introduce the Judges to the small town of St. Christopher, Connecticut. Despite the short length of the novella, Carroll crams in plenty of subplots and develops his sizeable cast of characters and suspects well – I wasn’t entirely sure who the real villain was until the penny dropped for the main characters too. It was a lovely whodunnit mystery, expertly laid out in a surprisingly short amount of time. Switching perspectives with each chapter gave the story a sense of scale that juxtaposed against the small page count, ensuring that readers get plenty of bang for their buck with this tale. As much as I wanted the story to continue, I felt that it was great value for money as a eBook novella purchase – even better when it is released in an omnibus print edition.

Judge Deacon is the lead character, acting in command of his small team of Judges as they attempt to integrate with the existing police and lawyers. The narrative focuses on the awkwardness of this transition from the imperfect system of courts, judges and juries to the immediate decisiveness of the Judges. While these Judges are not yet the jackboot fascists that take over what remains of America in the wake of the Atomic Wars, their existence causes the argument about whether it is right to give up civil liberties and freedoms in order to prevent red tape and due processes from working in the criminals favour. It’s a challenging issue, and i’m not entirely sure where I sit on it.

While I do appreciate the freedoms that the current law system provides, I would be the first to trade it all in to guarantee my own safety or to ensure a lawbreaker is punished to the fullest extent. As a relatively law-abiding citizen, it is easy for me to advocate for stricter laws and the hypothetical Judges in our real world, but does that automatically open the door to fascism? It is a timely subject – possibly the most timely it has ever been in the history of 2000AD’s publication – with political figures like Donald Trump and Nigel Farage advocating laws that encroach on freedoms in the name of protecting the people. Yet again the lines between science-fiction and our own future continue to blur, and reading this novella, which is set closer to our time than Dredd’s, there is a chilling sense of prophecy about it.

A murder-mystery set in the earliest days of the Justice Department, “The Avalanche” masterfully fills in some of the blanks left over from “Origins” – creating backstories for some of the elements of Dredd’s world that we’re familiar with. There is an interesting sequence that provides some insight into where the words “Drokk” and “Grud” come from, further creating connective tissue between our own time period and the far-future of Judge Dredd. Michael Carroll has already proven himself to be a fantastic author, capable of writing for Judge Dredd in both comic or prose formats. I’m slightly more drawn towards his novella work as it allows him more space to narrate and set the scene, getting to grips with his characters and their personalities. While initially reluctant to read a series set so far away from the Judge Dredd continuity, Carroll’s opening novel has made me into an instant convert and I am very excited to read the other two novellas in the series. I know that Carroll has featured Deacon and Rowain in one of his Judge Dredd stories, “The Paradigm Shift” (Progs 2082-2086) and I would love to see the character return, possibly in a future novella or prequel strips within 2000AD.

Tense, engaging and full of twists and turns, “The Avalanche” is a tremendous opening novella for the Judges series, expertly setting the tone for the books to come whilst telling a kick-ass story that feels very different to any Judge Dredd story before it. I’m very excited to see what other writers do with this exciting new time period to play with.

Score – ★★★★

Judges – “The Avalanche” is available as an eBook from Amazon Kindle, or collected in paperback format alongside two other adventures as the Judges: Volume One Omnibus, also available on Amazon.

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