Written by: Michael Carroll
Published by: Abaddon Books
Synopsis: Mega-City One, 2082. A year ago, SJS Judge Marion Gillen staked her reputation on proving that Joseph Dredd was as corrupt as his brother Rico—and lost. Now, on the run from her own division, navigating a world of secrets and lies, Gillen finds the stolid, inflexible young man—two years out of the Academy and already making a name for himself—is the only person in the city she can really trust…
After thoroughly enjoying the Judge Dredd: Year One and Judge Dredd: Year Two collections, I was extremely excited when Rebellion Publishing announced a new trilogy of stories taking place during Dredd’s third year on the streets. The short-form novella format works brilliantly for these tales, turning each omnibus into the literary equivalent of a bingeable Netflix mini-series. Kicking off this new trilogy is Michael Carroll’s “Fallen Angel”, which acts as a sequel to his Year Two story, “The Righteous Man” as it brings back SJS Judge Gillen and Red O’ Donnell from that novella. While knowledge of that adventure enriches the narrative, it is not essential at all as Carroll masterfully recaps events and re-establishes the key character relationships to keep new readers in the loop.
After torpedoing her career by gunning for Dredd in the wake of Rico’s trial, SJS Judge Gillen finds herself embroiled in a conspiracy that reaches far back into the origins of Mega-City One and is forced to rely on the one man she attempted to send to Titan. Carroll instills a real sense of paranoia and fear into events as Gillen attempts to find out how deep the rot goes, and it was refreshing to see the focus on the SJS Judges. There are some truly shocking moments such as a sudden point-blank execution that prove just how deadly this secret is, and as a reader, I found myself concerned for both Gillen and Dredd as they poked their noses into the conspiracy. With only two years experience on the streets, this is a very different Dredd compared to the grizzled veteran that current occupies the Prog, so even though I knew he would make it out alive, there were moments where it felt like he was out of his depth and I began to fear for the character.
There have been a fair amount of secret conspiracies and clandestine organizations in recent Judge Dredd stories such as Rob Williams’ “The Small House” and even Michael Carroll’s own “Sector Zero” storyline (Progs 1963-68), but this adventure really captures that “enemy of the state” feel of a spy thriller. Taut with tension throughout and replete with Carroll’s overt love for the source material, “Fallen Angel” is an absolute joy to read and cements Carroll in the role as the modern-day curator for the series’ origins as he edits the Judges series and builds those links between our world and Dredd’s. Carroll does a tremendous job at making Dredd’s world seem real, adding plenty of details and nods to other stories to give continuity junkies an overdose. I also love the whimsy of his writing style and how he manages to capture the quirkiness of Mega-City One and the sudden, graphic violence of the Judges. His writing effortlessly reflects the juxtaposition of the series, and I marvel at how he is able to switch between being light-hearted and serious; sometimes within the space of a sentence.
Due to its short size, “Fallen Angel” does feel a bit swift in its storytelling, and could have benefitted from a bit more time dealing with the aftermath of the events. However, I really enjoyed the breakneck pace of the novel and how effectively Carroll communicated that feeling of being a fugitive from justice. Gillen is a fascinating supporting character, giving us a different perspective in both of her appearances. In “The Righteous Man”, the reader struggles to sympathize with her because she is on a fool’s errand trying to prove that Dredd was as corrupt as Rico – something that readers know is not true. However, “Fallen Angel” humanizes the character greatly and gives us a glimpse at the mindset of an SJS Judge and another strong female in the department to rival Anderson and Hershey. Carroll has a habit of revisiting characters, as evidenced by this novel itself, so hopefully Gillen will make a reappearance somewhere else.
I don’t want to ruin the secret at the heart of the story, especially since Carroll keeps the reader guessing right up until the end, but I have to say that it resonated really well and reflected our own society. The idea of being untouchable and above the law is often seen in the news with millionaires and the 1% getting away with crimes (or certain political advisers taking drives to castles during a government lockdown), and it seems almost inevitable that there would be some version of this inequality in Mega-City One. Dredd’s firm stance on the law sometimes makes him seem two-dimensional, but it is this blind sense of justice and unwavering commitment that makes the system work. Having different rules for different people undermines the whole concept, both now and in the worryingly near future of 2082.
“Fallen Angel” is a cracker of a read, and a brilliant opener to what promises to be another solid trilogy of novellas showcasing Dredd’s early years. Michael Carroll is the perfect choice to work on these stories as he has a clear love and enthusiasm for the origins of the Judge Dredd universe and revealing these previously untold stories. With a witty writing style that constantly kept me entertained, Carroll proves himself once again to be one of 2000AD’s best prose novelists and an important architect of the Judge Dredd mythos.
Score – ★★★★ ½
Judge Dredd: Year Three – “Fallen Angel” is available as an eBook from Amazon Kindle, or collected in paperback format alongside two other adventures as the Judge Dredd: Year Three Omnibus, also available on Amazon.