Review: ‘Lawless Book 4: Boom Town’ – The Marvellous Marshal Metta Lawson Returns

by Richard Bruton

Summary

The fourth collection of an excellent ‘Judge Dredd Megazine’ strip that’s been consistently one of the best things out of ‘2000 AD’ for 50+ episodes now, Lawless is just plain magnificent.

Dan Abnett and Phil Winslade have built up a wild west style Dreddworld adventure with a host of fully-realised characters to care about, chronicling the ups and downs of the frontier town, now the new free zone of Badrock. It’s all here once more… just now all ending with a musical extravaganza for the ages.

Overall
10/10
10/10

Over the last 50 episodes in the Judge Dredd Megazine, Dan Abnett and Phil Winslades Lawless has been consistently nothing less than brilliant. Now, with the first collection, they do it all again, just as brilliantly, except this time they end it with their very own musical. And why the hell not?

So, it’s welcome once more to Badrock, a mining town on the frontier planet 43 Rega, the former corporate office of Munce, Inc., the corporation which bankrolled much of the settlement’s development and a former Wild West-style outpost of lawlessness full of tensions between the motley group of Meks, Muties, Uplifts, and humans who live there.

And then came Colonial Marshal Metta Lawson, replacing the disgraced and unstable psi-Judge Hetch, with an unconventional style and a past shrouded in mystery – a history she doesn’t necessarily want others to know (suffice it to say for the purposes of this that Metta Lawson may not be exactly who she says she is, all of it tied into Dan Abnett’s other Dreddworld series, Insurrection).

Lawson does things her way, along with her inexperienced but wonderfully enthusiastic clerk, Nerys Pettifer, but the plans to bring a little bit of the law, Lawson style, to the Lawless of Badrock doesn’t sit well with Munce, Inc. and things turn downright nasty when Munce brings in the heavy mob and attempt to wipe Badrock from the face of the planet. That was the last book, with Lawson uniting everyone, Muties, Meks, Uplifts, and humans as one Badrock defence force to stop Munce’s assault.

And they did it, they saw off Munce and now, thanks to Lawson once more, the investigating team of SJS Judges have been convinced to allow Badrock to become a free trade settlement zone, a neutral place where the citizens of Badrock and the alien Zhind can trade.

But of course, this is Badrock, and things are never going to be that easy…

 

The SJS are hostile towards Lawson from the start and particularly hostile to the whole ridiculous idea of the free zone Badrock project. Their scepticism seems warranted when the Zhind appear to be treating the free zone as though they’re trading with a backward race. Then there’s the massacre of new pioneers that looks like the work of the Zhin’hal, the local indigenous Zhind tribe, although Lawson’s not buying that.

The whole first half of Boom Town digs into the investigation, by Lawson, the SJS, and the ever-eager, if not too great with the Lawgiver, Nerys Pettifer…

 

But for all its thrilling, action-packed, character-led storyline, this first half of Lawless is, because of the brilliance of how Abnett and Winslade go about things, actually something of a scene-setter to the second half of Boom Town, where the real greatness of all things Lawless takes place.

Because in the second half of Boom Town, we see what makes Lawless truly great, as Abnett and Winslade get back to Badrock and the complicated situation that becoming a free zone has created. There’s time to see just how everything that’s taken place so far has affected the town and its people, see the threats from the corporations and the cartels, watch as the SJS make their own duplicitous moves when they see the chance to develop new weaponry from their discoveries out in the wastelands, and eventually see Lawson manipulated into making a huge, and incredibly risky, career change, as outside agents manoeuvre Badrock into its first Mayoral election.

There’s so much going on in this second half of Boom Town, so many plot threads unfolding, whether that’s Rondo’s heartbreaking struggle to deal with his new life after the devastating events of the battle of Badrock; the mysterious and dangerous Mr Smith bringing a whole new level of organised crime to Badrock; the Getz Corporation and their new representative, one Aldis Brotherly, ex-head something of Munce, Inc. – and we all should know by now how much Marshal Metta Lawson loves all that…

And then there’s the thing with little Archibald Ames and Hetch…

 

Frankly, everything that’s so wonderful about Lawless can be seen in Boom Town, with Abnett’s control of so many plot threads, so many fully-realised characters, all of it building a storyline that rewards on every level. And then there’s Winslade’s art, always such an integral part of what makes Lawless as good as it’s always been, the incredibly detailed b&w artwork a sheer joy to see, the complexity of what he does never allowed to get in the way of the flow of the storytelling

Simply put, Lawless has two talented two creators on top of their individual games who’ve come together in absolutely perfect synergy to conduct something so rewarding and always worth re-reading. Over the last 50 episodes, they’ve created a strip that continually surprises and entertains, individual melodies of story threads and characters coming together until everything seems to reach a crescendo and then goes even higher, time after time, a symphony in comics form…

All of which heavy-handed musical reference on my part leads us to the finale of Boom Town, the magnificent Badrock Melody, a double-sized 50th Lawless instalment where Abnett and Winslade seemingly lost their minds and went all-out musical extravaganza on us.

 

Complete insanity on the part of the writer and artist perhaps, but damn fun all the way, it started out as Winslade suggesting they do an entire musical episode. Abnett wrote the lyrics, making the music up in his head as he went to keep the flow and rhythm going. And then lockdown happened and, with time on his hands, Abnett, plus his daughter Lily and her partner Jack Grey, both drama grads with music and choreography experience, all got together and the project escalated and escalated into the full-length musical extravaganza we have now – 11 tracks in all, full accompaniment to one wonderful ending here.

(You can find the 11 tracks through the QR code in the book – or just head here for the Soundcloud versions of all the songs – it’s well worth it!)

It’s ridiculous fun, it really is, but it’s a hell of a lot more than just Abnett and Winslade having a bit of fun and shoehorning a musical interlude in here.

Instead, this 50th episode does so much more. For one, it’s a great summary of much that’s gone on before, a great introduction to all the wonderful cast, but it also sets up the future of the series and brings out the biggest switch in Lawless‘ status quo since it began, as the SJS and Brotherly manipulate things towards a ‘fair and free’ election that really won’t be any such thing…

 

And poor old Metta Lawson, well she takes the bait completely…

 

So there you have it, it opens with thrills and ends with the finest musical comics number you’re ever going to see. Lawless: Boom Town is just perfection, perfect in storytelling, perfect in art, incredibly enjoyable and showing no signs of going away any time yet.

So get out there and pick up the latest collection, pick up the other three collections, knock yourself out with a wild west Dreddworld adventure full of mystery, action, adventure, magnificent characters, full of genuinely funny stuff at times, heart-breaking drama at others, a real saga in all senses of the word.

 

Lawless Book 4 : Boom Town – Written by Dan Abnett, art by Phil Winslade, letters by Jim Campbell

Out now from 2000 AD/Rebellion

Boom Town originally serialised in Judge Dredd Megazine #415-423Badrock Melody originally published in Judge Dredd Megazine #424.

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