Judge Dredd: Toxic #2
Writer: Paul Jenkins
Artist: Marco Castiello
Colourist: Jason Millet
Publisher: IDW Comics
Review by Sean Frankling
Lately, it seems like every comic has to sell itself as a world-shattering epic or tease a major shift to some major character’s status quo. That’s exactly why I’m digging Judge Dredd: Toxic so much. It has the tenacity not to do that.
Instead, what we get is the same old bleak, miserable portrayal of MegaCity. It sucked yesterday. It sucks today. And it’s still going to suck tomorrow. Everything that happens in between is part of the Judges’ ongoing slog to maintain some sense of order in a city whose natural state teeters perpetually on the verge of collapse. This time it’s a massive failure of the waste management system, combined with a xenophobic riot over illegal alien symbiotes whose labour keeps the city running. But next week it’ll be something else.
And no, the political messaging is not what you’d call subtle.
A series that’s going to run with this revolutionary “same crap as ever” premise has to stand on the merits of the moment to moment action. And you know what? Judge Dredd: Toxic is pulling it off. It plays out like a dystopian police procedural, following Dredd through the step-by-step process of quelling the chaos. As a result, beats naturally include Dredd’s signature ultra-violent action as he beats back anti-alien rioters. But there are also surprisingly engaging scenes of Judges investigating symbiote smugglers and marshalling resources to hold back the toxic flood. It’s perversely fascinating to watch the twisted remnants of democracy in action.
Speaking of which, in 2018 you can’t talk about Judge Dredd without worrying a little about fascist overtones. The character is, after all, a cartoonishly authoritarian law-enforcement officer. Good news, though. First, as I hinted above, Dredd’s enforcement tactics are decidedly used against the ultra-conservative xenophobes in this series. More importantly, though, this series tends to treat the Judges’ rights-trampling tendencies as a cautionary tale — something we’d better guard against coming true.
Combine that with Dredd’s partner, Anderson, who not only tempers his less sympathetic side, but also seems actively fed-up with his overly strict interpretation of city law. The result is actually a pretty nuanced version of futuristic cyberpunk nightmare cops. As unbelievable as that sounds.
The art in this issue isn’t as crisp as it was in issue 1, but it’s still gritty, filthy, and kind of gross to look at. So, pretty much exactly what you want from a Judge Dredd comic. The Judges’ uniforms particularly stand out: Cartoonishly huge shoulder pads look hopelessly impractical, sure. That’s it. That’s the end of the sentence. The Judges look like an embodiment of wrongheaded militarized law enforcement run amok. Exactly as they should.
The Verdict: Buy it.
It’s nice to see a comic that doesn’t rush you through to some ill-thought-out climax. Take the time for a long, slow look into the skeevy future. You’ll love it.