Thursday, August 11, 2011

Book Review: Judge Dredd: Tour of Duty

One of the nicest things about doing the podcast and getting back into a lot of old geeky habits that I'd sort of got out of, and one of those was 2000ad. Its changed a lot over the years, and there are a lot of characters seeming long put out to pasture, and I've yet to stump up for a subscription (the shame!) but I have picked up the odd current trade, largely based on recommendation. When we covered Judge Dredd on Dissecting Worlds, we used the Origins arc as a jumping on point, and what I was pretty consistantly told was the best thing to follow it up with was Tour of Duty, now collected over two volumes. 


The two volumes collect a fairly major story arc delving into a lot of what makes Mega City One, and the Justice Department, tick, whilst remaining in many ways a low-key, personal story without any passing mass-apocalyses, inter-dimensional incursions or any other mass plague on the citizenry. It uses a pretty large cast, many with established histories I just don't know, but without feeling too insular to new readers.  And it's just a good fun story. So thats all good, right? 

Well pretty much. There are a couple of niggles. The first is that the nature of how the stories seem to have been published originally is that there are smaller runs with other stories in between, which means there is occasionally an oddly "choppy" feel in between chapters. I felt this more with the "Backlash" volume than "Mega City Justice" but this may also be due to the fact that I suspect some of the stories weren't supposed to be obviously related to the plot, especially the early PJ Maybe stories; who may have more background than I am aware of.

The other niggle I have is the whole "mutie rights" storyline. Its a great idea for a story, and approaching the fairly horrid social situation in the Cursed Earth (on indeed in MC1) face on is a strong choice with a lot of potential. Dredd is often slightly tongue-in-cheek and slightly socially concious there are moments when the commentary comes on strong and moments when it doesn't, and I'm not sure it always struck it right. I can't see 2000ad ever quite going for a stronger social commentary line than this - although this may be a position of my own ignorance, in fairness to them - but there seemed to be moments when the story could have done with it. 

Of course the star of the story is Dredd himself, and it is lovely to see The Chin used to such a good effect. In the wrong hands he's really not a great character, but when he's done well, as he is all through this story, he's a fascinating and compelling character, caught between duty, law, and justice, three pretty uncomfortable bedfellows in this story. The villian(s) aren't quite so great - I liked PJ and his sexbot a lot but he's more played for psycho laughs then any real threat, but the Justice Department villians are a little two-dimensional and dispatched a little too easily. 

To head off the risk of this starting to sound too harsh, I really enjoyed Tour of Duty. Indeed some of the niggles are a by-product of some of things that I liked about it - it moves along at a good rate, it doesn't get bogged down in anything too much, and has a good helping of perp-stomping action throughout. Its a blended sort of story, slightly smooth, slightly chewey, but certainly tasty all the way to the bottom.