Lawless: Welcome To The Final Frontier In An Epic Sci-Fi Western

by Richard Bruton

The monthly Judge Dredd Megazine is always full of great sci-fi tales, and every month we preview just what’s coming up for US readers. But in August, the second collection of Lawless by Dan Abnett and Phil Winslade, one of the best series to come from the Megazine in recent years, is released and we wanted to give you advance notice! Get your orders in now!

Colonial Marshal Metta Lawson landed in the frontier town of Badrock, on the colony world of 43 Rega, back in 2014. From the very first couple of pages, it was obvious that we were in for a brilliant bit of sci-fi western action.

Badrock is, quite literally, the arse end of nowhere. Still recovering from the invasion by the alien Zhind, it’s become a hotbed for all manner of troublemakers and ne’er do wells. Crying out for a strong law enforcer since the last Marshal went insane after just three months on the job, Badrock needs Colonial Marshal Metta Lawson desperately.

Trouble is, Colonial Marshal Meta Lawson isn’t quite what Badrock was expecting…

“Welcome Marshal. What would you like to see first?”
“The inside of the town saloon?”

“…Sorry, was that somehow a trick question?”

That was the brilliant set-up for Lawless Volume 1: Welcome to Badrock, yet another incredible series from writer Dan Abnett. It hit the Megazine like a breath of fresh (albeit dusty) air, looking pretty much like nothing 2000AD fans had ever seen before thanks to Phil Winslade’s amazing artwork. Working in super detailed black and white, Lawless looked like the tightest pencils you’d ever seen had just been left as the finished product, no need for color. Lawless just looked perfect as it was.

To say Lawson has an unconventional attitude is an understatement. She’s certainly not the lawman the town worthies were expecting. But from the off, drinking with her Clerk, Nerys Pettifer (“I get a Clerk? I’ll consider myself blessed.”), she shows that the hard drinking, pissed off demeanor masks intelligence, Marshall smarts…

“Tell me, Pettifer, how does the Uplift workforce get on with the Muties? How are the Meks faring? I heard there were indigenous aliens too? Problems there?”
“Uhm, all sorts, I guess.”
“I guessed so too. That’s why I came to the saloon. Forget the guided tours. You get all the questions and answers at a town’s saloon.
Plus you get drinks.”

As soon as she arrives she stamps down hard on trouble, in her own unique way. Rules and regulations come a distant second to getting the job done. She’s miserable, moody, nasty, stubborn as a mule, and determined to clean up Badrock.

It’s the character of Meta Lawson that is the key to loving Lawless. She’s every bit the bad-ass the town needs, but in Abnett’s hands, she’s also a belligerent, sarcastic, hard-nosed lawmaker with a great turn of phrase. She’s the law, but out here in Badrock, the law is pretty much what she says it is, and she’s certainly not averse to bending a few rules and breaking a few bones to get her way. And then there’s the mystery surrounding just where Lawson came from; is she really who she says she is, or is she hiding a major secret? Abnett’s slow burn reveal of the answer to that one is quite magnificently done, tying into some of his previous work, the equally brilliant Insurrection series.

Abnett’s dialogue, particularly for Lawson and Pettifer is superb; acerbic, sarcastic, and frequently hilarious. Over the course of the first volume, there’s so much fun to be had watching Marshal Lawson attempt to impose her unique version of the law on this lawless town. She’s got her work cut out for her though, with trouble from the Uplift workers (gene modified apes), the Meks (who’ve developed their very own brand of religion), and the indigenous population, the ‘Abs’, who are suffering terribly from the psychoactive fallout of the mining works.

But those problems are nothing compared to the trouble Lawson finds herself in courtesy of Munce Inc. This mega-corp is responsible for building the new Mega City construction project and the secrets Lawson uncovers in that first volume threaten the entire township.

Munce Inc. doesn’t take kindly to being exposed, and they’re prepared to go to extreme lengths to silence Badrock…

“… requesting unviable asset disposal. Badrock. Yes, the whole town.
No survivors.
Total Wipe.
Effective immediate.”

All of which brings us to Lawless Book 2: Long Range War. And it’s definitely war.

In Long Range War it’s Badrock vs Munce Inc. with Badrock hunkering down, preparing for war, hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned, cut off and with no chance of the cavalry turning up. Munce Inc. wants Badrock and every last soul living there wiped from the face of the planet. Things are going to get nasty.

And in Long Range War, what we have here is another good old-fashioned Western trope. The frontier town facing down unthinkable odds, the good folk coming together, all marshaled by the few professionals. Basically, we’re looking at The Magnificent Seven, Unforgiven, Rio Lobo here… or, frankly, a hell of a lot of great Westerns (and some really crappy one).

But trust in Abnett and Winslade. They’ve been doing this for a while now, and Lawless Volume 2 is Empire to a New Hope, Aliens to Alien… different setup sure, but just as good, all the characters we’ve come to know and love still here.

Westerns often bleed into sci-fi tales, with writers and artists integrating the wild west, the lone cowboy, and the allure of the frontier tale into their hard sci-fi tales. But while most sci-fi Westerns bury their influences pretty deep, Lawless does just the opposite, screaming “Yee-Haw” before kicking up the sawdust in the single shitty saloon and heading to the bar for a shot or five of the sort of whisky that takes the lining from your throat and hawks it out into the spittoon. And it’s a glorious, action-packed romp of a Western from the very moment you lay eyes on Meta Lawson.

Over the course of two volumes, Lawless proves time and again just what an incredible team Abnett and Winslade are. It’s a brilliantly done sci-fi western, it’s packed with action, full of thrills, bursting with fabulous characters, and has dialogue that just crackles throughout.

Lawless is created by Dan Abnett and Phil Winslade. Volume 1, Welcome To Badrock is available right now. Volume 2, Long Range War comes out in the USA in August from Rebellion/2000AD.

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