Written by: George Mann
Published by: Abaddon Books
Synopsis: Eustace Fargo’s Judges have been on the beat for a year. Crime is down but tensions are high between police and Judges, and millions rail against the radical new laws. A summary execution sparks a crisis: only the killer knew where his last, still-living victim was hidden. With the largest storm in decades brewing off the East Coast and a city about to erupt into violence, can Judges Ramos and O’Shea find him in time?
A year on, and with a fresh cast of Judges, the second novel in the Judges series acts as a spiritual sequel to its predecessor as it continues to depict the early days of the Justice Department and the systemic uprooting of the previous law enforcement hierarchy. George Mann follows Michael Carroll’s lead and focuses on the tension and public distrust of the Judges, whilst presenting these proto-Judges as dedicated believers in their role. While “The Avalanche” revolved around corruption and conspiracy within the decaying police force in Connecticut, “Lone Wolf” focuses more on the risks associated with the ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ attitude of the Judges when a serial killer is executed before he can reveal the location of his final victim. After decades of seeing Judge Dredd blow away ‘creeps’ with little to no regret, it is interesting to see this first generation of Judges dealing with the “executioner” part of their role.
As with “The Avalanche”, the two Judges who act as protagonists for this tale are worthy replacements for Dredd and offer a refreshingly different perspective, showcasing vulnerability alongside the typical characteristics of a street Judge. I liked the subtle differences between the two lead characters, with Ramos’ confidence and guns-blazing attitude contrasting against O’Shea’s more measured approach. Mann tells the story predominately through the female Judge’s eyes, which results in a distinctive narrative voice that suits the story. Plot-wise, “Lone Wolf” is reminiscent of contemporary detective thrillers as our heroes have to solve clues to determine the location of a hostage before they are killed by rising water levels in a storm drain. It feels like an installment of the Saw franchise mixed with Blade Runner, by way of the interactive action-adventure videogame, Heavy Rain.
While “The Avalanche” focused firmly on the tensions between the newly instated Judges and the police force they were fated to replace, “Lone Wolf” touches upon this plot thread but also extends its viewpoint to address political opposition to Chief Judge Fargo’s plans and public protest marches. Mann reflects the realistic reaction to a dramatic proposal such as the Judges programme, but with its sympathetic lead characters, it never really positions the Judges in a villainous role – even when their actions inadvertently lead to the hunt for the missing hostage. As a novella, the resolution of the story comes a bit quicker than expected but Mann manages to tie his seemingly disparate plot points together in a satisfying, if somewhat convenient, manner.
“Lone Wolf” is a strong addition to the Judges franchise, capturing an evocative neo-noir tone through its thrilling ‘missing persons’ investigation. Mann’s descriptions of Ramos’ and O’Shea’s rain-soaked journeys through near-future New York are absolutely beautiful – evoking memories of Akira – especially during one nail-biting motorcycle chase through the slick city streets as a deadly storm breaks out. George Mann is a brilliant and engaging storyteller, and while it may not be as entrenched in Judge Dredd continuity as Michael Carroll’s contribution to the series, “Lone Wolf” is a brilliant entry in 2000AD’s spectacular library of prose novellas. Accessible and rewarding, this deserves to sit on the shelf (virtual or otherwise) of every 2000AD reader out there!