(+++Warning, this review contains spoilers, but then this book is a collection of a series from 2000AD last year, so there is that+++)
Promised by Rob Williams as the culmination of a story that he planted the seeds for way, way back during the Judge Dredd: Trifecta story arc (2000AD #1803 – #1812) Judge Dredd: The Small House is a tense, taunt espionage drama befitting of the title’s main bad guy, Judge Smiley, who himself is a clear reference to the character of George Smiley from John Le Carré’s novels such as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. And a truly great addition to the ever expanding Judge Dredd universe.
It’s also one of the best Dredd stories I’ve read in recent years, although admittedly I don’t read 2000AD as regularly as I used to, as we see Dredd become more and more uneasy about those in power, including Chief Judge Hershey! The confidence of the Joe Dredd I remember is all but depleted from this storyline as Dredd and his chosen band of few – those he believes he can trust and has built into a crack group working off grid – mine for evidence of a conspiracy that not only goes to the very heart of Hall of Justice, but, worse still, has been around for a very, very long time affecting the very history of Mega-City One in ways we have never realised before. Seems Smiley has a longer reach than one would expect, and one that started even before the Apocalypse War, thanks to some very clever, and frightening retconning from Williams! He’s certainly done his research and found gaps wherein he can sow these polluting seeds and give the whole history of Judge Dredd a darker sheen. And, Judge Dredd’s a pretty dark drama in the first place. Satirical, but dark.
What one is left with, by the end of this saga, is an uneasy feeling that can’t be shaken off. Dredd seems to have won, once again, but at what cost? What of Smiley’s agents? Are there any rogue ones out there still? Or, worse, are his agents still lurking within the system, to create confusion from within, as Smiley himself did for so many years? And, underscoring all of this is the very system the judges are built on: one that it’s left up to Judge Smiley to remind Dredd about: that he, the judges and the whole Justice system are fascists. And, with no sight nor sound of any satire, it’s a sobering reminder. Yes, we fell in love with Dredd because of the satire at its heart, but many of the most memorable epics are better when minimising this to better further the story. The tone of this story would not have worked so well with it as it tries to echo the same tensions Le Carre did in his own novels. And it works as we are given a a paranoia-soaked story that doesn’t see everyone involved live till the end. But then Dredd’s life is one littered with bodies and tragedy.
Add to this the amazing art of Henry Flint – who channels Mick McMahon so effortlessly – only adding to the classicism that this story will be remembered for in years to come as one of the stand out Judge Dredd stories, up there with The Judge Child Quest, The Cursed Earth and The City of The Damned. It really is that good.
Dredd may be the law, but what law he upholds has been tainted and he knows it. But, they’re still the power in Mega-City One and so how long until another Smiley creeps out from under a rock and attempt another mass scale assault on the people they are supposed to be protecting?
Judge Dredd: The Small House is out September 4th, just ahead of the Day of Dredd celebrations on September 7th, from Rebellion.