Synopsis: Everyone breaks, that’s what they say about Titan. Everyone breaks. But not me. Not Rico Dredd. Not even when they cut out my lungs, injected every inch of my skin with cold-resistant polymers, plastic-coated my eyes and sealed up my mouth and nose. You don’t get to become Mega-City One’s top Judge without learning how to adapt, how to survive. I know the score. The prison is an unforgiving hell, but do your time, keep your head down, and you just might make it out alive. Then I was chosen for a rescue mission out on the surface, and everything changed. A dark secret was uncovered, and suddenly even I was pushed to breaking point.
This second novella in the Rico Dredd: Titan Years trilogy begins four years after the incident that resulted in Rico undergoing body modification, removing his lungs and coating him in a substance to make him more adaptable to the harsh Titan environment. While we see some elements of prison life, this story quickly develops into a rescue mission which allows Rico to show a more heroic side to his persona. Sent to a nearby military compound, Rico and his companions must discover what wiped out the crew and rescue any survivors. The tense, claustrophobic feel to this portion of the novel is extremely effective, and evokes memories of Sci-Fi survival horror such as Aliens and The Thing.
Still told from Rico’s perspective, the narrative paints him in a sympathetic light at times which might be distorting the actual truth of events and his motivations. It’s a brilliant literary technique implemented by author Michael Carroll, as the reader can chose to take things at face value or analyse the subtext behind Rico’s words. There are few moments where Rico’s “mask” slips and he performs cold-blooded acts, such as sacrificing the lives of his fellow prisoners to increase his own chances. Rico is likeable, and even though previous stories have presented him as a psychopath, he is pretty charming here – although, aren’t all the best psychopaths? It is very tempting to believe his words and some of his rationalisations, particularly in relation to the Judges and the Law they abide by, can seem convincing.
After wiping out most of Rico’s circle of friends in the previous story, “The Third Law”, Carroll introduces a fresh mix of wardens and prisoners to accompany Rico in his adventure. He excels in creating strong, interesting supporting characters for his stories, and I really enjoyed the new additions here. The relationship between Rico and the wardens was the most interesting for me as his seemingly selfless acts win him respect amongst the guards, but not trust. There is something of the rattlesnake about Rico – the minute you trust him is the minute that he’ll likely strike. There are some brilliant examples of that in this adventure, such as the climactic sequence which highlights how calculated and manipulative he can actually be.
Carroll is a master at pacing, and although this novella is short in pages, he packs plenty of plot in there. Lean and free from unnecessary prose, the story is tight and concise yet contains all the character moments needed. It’s an impressive skill to condense the plot down without losing any of the flow, and it is a typical 2000AD trait to squeeze in a novel’s worth of plot into a novella. I also loved how the plot evolved over time, developing from prison drama to survival horror to military conspiracy. It reminded me of how “The Third Law” seemed to be multiple books in one, focusing on Rico’s downfall in Mega-City One and his adjustment to Titan Prison life. There is so much value for money in these books, and plenty of thrills contained within the pages.
A delicious character study of a villain, “The Process of Elimination” is a strong follow-up to “The Third Law”, and continues to paint a complicated picture of the real Rico Dredd. Is he misunderstood, a selfless hero or a selfish criminal? While his future is already cast in stone, I appreciate how Carroll works to develop him beyond the simple caricature seen in “The Return of Rico” in Prog 30 – he is more complex and nuanced than that, and I think he views himself as the hero in his story as much as we see him as the villain. It’s fascinating to read the story from his point-of-view, and that is easily my favourite aspect of this series. I am looking forward to checking out “For I Have Sinned”, the concluding episode of the trilogy which presumably ends with the confrontation between the Dredd brothers. At this rate, I might find myself rooting for the wrong Dredd!
Score – ★★★★
Rico Dredd: The Titan Years – “The Process of Elimination” 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.