2 out of 5
Judge Dredd is a seemingly simple character, perhaps boiled down to being a hardline cop, but he’s supported an ongoing strip for several decades now, and you don’t get that far without some nuance. However, this is also a case of the medium being a perfect fit: the world of comics allows for Dredd to remain stoney-faced and terse and be plopped into the middle of massive epics, or smaller-scale side stories, or even comedic hijinx – a lot of depth is added to his character by the world around him, and, similarly, you can bypass lack of depth by playing his shallowness against that background. While I loved the 2012 Dredd movie to death, and would want a sequel, I don’t know if I’d want the character as the tentpole for a series, and it’s why I’m pleased that the upcoming TV show has a ‘Mega-City One’ subtitle, with a purported focus on several judges, and not just Joe: when you go the route of propping JD up as your main focus, the character does, unfortunately, have the potential to become rather derivative.
…And so books focusing on the character struggle with this as well. Matt Smith’s ‘City Fathers’ is not a bad novella by any means, and is at least more acceptably average than my less-than-average rating suggests. However, it doesn’t do much to differentiate Joe from the Mega-City world around him – he can be described by that ‘hardline cop’ phrase – and the potential for the Year One timeline to show the character in a more formative state is used for the most minor of asides, when he questions, for a single sentence or two, if he should be as tuff on crime as he is. (And the answer is an inevitable ‘yes.’) This lack of, as presented, a grabbing main character, means we have to fall back on the story itself, which concerns a new drug on the streets, causing almost instant insanity – leading to violent frenzies; suicide. Initially, there’s talk of this being sourced from offworld, which is interesting, but this thought gets tossed aside and isn’t supplanted by anything of equal intrigue, with the eventual cause of the outbreak being shoved into a chapter-long exposition dump, which includes a rather forced sequence of events.
Still, Smith keeps the overall pacing in check, and populates the story with some quality action beats. Judged (no pun intended) without expectations regarding Dredd, or the possibilities the setting allows, City Fathers is time-passing entertainment. Factoring those in, though, it gets knocked by some disappointment.