Well, well, well. If my granny had wheels, she’d be a wagon. It’s taken a while but based on the first two issues of JUDGE DREDD: BLESSED EARTH, it appears IDW’s version of everyone’s favorite fascist lawman of the future has finally found his feet. Ulises Fariñas, Erick Freitas and Daniel Irizarri have crafted a grizzled post-POST-apocalyptic western that’s unique, confident and, most importantly to this old-school Dreddhead, completely prog-worthy. You’d be forgiven for remaining skeptical.
In case you missed it: Dredd has woken up a thousand years ahead of what you’re currently reading in the prog. He’s rockin’ a Santa Claus beard (Lopez must be rolling in his astral grave), Mega City One has been abandoned and left to rot and the missing citizenry have been awoken from an induced dream-state courtesy of Dredd and some feral children he teamed up with. See? You missed quite a lot.
BLESSED EARTH picks up ten years later. Society is slowly rebuilding (in the Justice Department’s image, naturally), primarily focused on building a gargantuan mega rail that will span the continent. Mega City One consists of one rebuilt sector, while the rest of the citizens eke out a frontier existence in the Blessed (Cursed) Earth, kept in check by an unreliable and ineffective number of judges. Dredd is out in the sticks checking the progress of the rail being laid. The kids Dredd teamed up with previously, Quill and Lolo, are now themselves judges, investigating their own separate cases. It’s stripped-down frontier justice, short on supplies and technology, as if every judge we meet is on the Long Walk, bringing law to the lawless.
Stripped-down also applies to the strip itself. The previous run felt overstuffed with ideas but Fariñas and Freitas have streamlined their storytelling this time out, leading me to think this strip might be better enjoyed having NOT read the previous run. There’s something intriguing about jumping in cold, so far removed from the prog’s version of Dredd and his world, and just letting the story fill in the blanks at its own pace. It feels like a soft reboot, but all the better for it. The writers also seem more comfortable with Dredd himself this time out. They’ve nailed the character so far – stern, commanding, glib, and as typically –relentlessly – badass as you’d expect. If the prog’s Dredd has become dour and cynical over the years, he’s reenergized in this incarnation. This is very much a world on its last legs and the only thing keeping it hobbling forward is Dredd through his unwavering commitment to duty. There’s no room for him to doubt what he’s doing. I really liked how he’s almost mythological in this world. Everyone knows who he is and he’s met with perpetual skepticism that this battered old man could measure up to the legends they’ve heard.
Irizarri replaces Dan McDaid here as artist and his bold and patient artwork elevates the strip to another level (I love McDaid’s art but I felt by the end of the previous run everything had just become too muddy and cluttered). He’s part Moebius in spots, part Brendan McCarthy in others and he creates a beautifully foreboding sun-bleached atmosphere, all Mad Max via Unforgiven.
IDW haven’t been great to Dredd over the years (that may well continue: Blessed Earth #2 and a one-off issue of Dredd as a fucking Funko toy came out the same day. Guess which one was front-and-center and which one was buried behind it…?), but Fariñas, Freitas, Irizarri are doing solid and interesting work here that deserves to be seen and finally offers an alternative take on Dredd any 2000AD old-schooler should be happy with. Highly recommended, says this spugface.