3 out of 5
Unsurprisingly for such a seasoned Dredd scripter – and one who enjoys dipping into the lore, and establishing his own – Michael Carroll’s Year One tale, The Cold Light of Day, is a solid and twisty thriller through and through, punctuated with the grim comedy one can associate with the character, and Mega City One, as well as some interesting notes of pathos that help to sketch out what Carroll uses to differentiate his take on Joe from others’. As it switches between Dredd as a rookie, in 2075 A.D., and an event in his first operating year of 2080, it’s actually pretty peak stuff: the small gap in time isn’t directly used as a comparison for our titular judge, but rather – for readers familiar with the Dreddverse – indirectly used to contrast with the Dredd of now, by situating his uncontested current premiere stature against when his decisions were often drawn into question. For newer readers, the setup still works as a way for Carroll to introduce some mystery: in 2080, someone is slaughtering judges and targeted civilians, and the key lies somewhere in 2075, when Joe and Rico were on a hotdog run with a Judge Ruiz, who’s leading the 2080 investigation as well. What’s nice about this “mystery” is that it’s paced effectively but isn’t telegraphed cheaply: we got dots of the past occurrence as it thematically makes sense alongside the 2080 going-ons, and Carroll doesn’t toy with fake outs or red herrings – you can follow both timeline’s tales individually and be interested, but they combine effectively as well.
There’s not too much room for soul-searching or commentary amongst this; it’s still, primarily, a Dredd story, which means action and momentum and attitude are primary, but Carroll keeps those all keyed at optimal levels. However, once we catch up to the conclusion of the 2075 storyline, there’s still a third of the book to go, and the uniqueness and strengths earned by the dual timeline construction go away in favor of focusing on the chase for the bad guy, which criss-crosses – narratively, and then physically – with a yearly biker race across the Meg. Both of these sections maintain the general quality of writing and are, essentially, still page-turners, but the more intriguing complexities and questions are gone, and we don’t get to return to some more (comparatively) thoughtful points – the Whys of Dredd – until the final chapter’s wrapup.
It’s a good read cover to cover, but it could’ve definitely bumped above the line to be upper tier stuff had Carroll found a way to maintain some of the story parallels throughout.