The first in a series of novellas covering the origins of the world seen in 2000AD’s Judge Dredd, Michael Carroll’s novella is currently available in a digital edition or in an Omnibus containing the first three novellas in the series.
Set a little over a decade into the future from now against a backdrop of worsening poverty, inequality and political dissent in a divided America, Judges drops us into a world in which the controversial ‘Judge’ initiative – masterminded by the politically hardline Eustace Fargo – is already in motion. Small squads of Judges are being dispatched across the country to assist local law enforcement with the rise in violent crime. Tensions mount not just on the streets, but between the police and the Judges themselves – and when one of the Judges is brutally murdered by an unknown assailant, it feels like the situation reaches a point of no return…
It’s a shame that we start our story with the Judges already trained and in action, but we do get to know a number of them over the course of the story and hints at what they’ve been through in their training, as well as snippets of detail as to the current state of the country, do a good job of building a believable world.
What makes Judge Dredd work so well – and has since 1977 – is the fact that, as Neil Gaiman put it so well in documentary Future Shock, Dredd is one of the only places where you can have your cake and eat it. That is to say, it’s an often grim, sometimes devastating portrayal of totalitarianism in action, in which you’re not always against the heavy handed tactics in play; quite often, you’ll be rooting for Dredd, even if you’d be outraged with him and his fellow Judges in the real world. The dark, satirical humour certainly helps in this regard too. However, The Avalanche doesn’t fare as well in this respect. The satire is gone, as is the humour – though a little aside that explains the origins of the futuristic slang in Dredd such as ‘Drokk’ and ‘Grud’ is amusing.
It also feels a little too near the knuckle in terms of the current law enforcement climate in the USA. Perhaps it being so close to the truth is a smart move, making the setting incredibly believable, but at times with its graphic violence and lack of due process afforded the criminals it was quite uncomfortable reading. It has been around for a few years, however – so it’s not as if the current tensions against law enforcement were anywhere near as bad when the book was first written and published, though it’s easy to see how it draws upon the general fears of a police state that many people have.
Despite the issues I had with the lack of humour and overall tone, The Avalanche is brilliantly written and it moves at breakneck speed. You’ll definitely want to continue your journey into the beginnings of the Judges, Dredd and Mega-City One, even if it does seem as if we may well be heading in that general direction in the real world.
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