Judge Dredd Year One: Wear Iron – Al Ewing

3 out of 5

I say this as a compliment: Al Ewing’s Wear Iron Judge Dredd novella reads exactly like a thrill from the progs, and a good thrill. The attitude is there; the world-immersiveness is there; the black humor is there; and that ideal flow that carries you from page to page, moment to moment, and issue to issue, is there. Ewing bounces around between some new cast characters – in debt thief Paul Strader; scuzzy used-ta-be-somebody crim Bud Mooney – and then does a clever switch in a story entitled Judge Dredd by focusing on that other Judge named Dredd: Rico. But for as fun and pleasingly familiar – in that it feels like Mega City One – as the tale Ewing tells is, that astute thrill-ness is also somewhat its limitation, as the story never busts out in a way that feels like it demands to be told on the text page instead of the comic one. Yeah, Al gets to revel in Rico’s smug internal monologues, but it’s still very “cinematic” – it’s something you can see as splashed on a panel, an artist’s rendering taking care of narrative boxes. There’s also not enough “Year One” to this, excepting Rico’s presence. Joe Dredd is a cameo, basically, and he might as well be modern day Joe in his appearance.

Let’s circle back around to the positives, though, since the main takeaway is that Wear Iron is a wonderfully entertaining read, and because all of its elements are so well defined and recognizable, they’re also memorable, and that’s the kind of craft that can make “average” popcorn stories – ones that don’t change the world or necessarily cause you to think – they type you’re likely to return to, or make a note when an involved creator works on something else.

In Wear Iron, Paul Strader has had a string of bad thievings, still leaving him far out from paying back someone called The Texan. He’s a pretty principled thief, but things are down to the wire, so when the dejected Bud Mooney comes by with a too-good-to-be-true sting – one suggested by a Judge, even! – Strader is wholly skeptical but without choices. When he meets that Judge, though – a dude named Rico – death almost seems preferable to moving forward with a plan that just has to go wrong.

Al charmingly strings together the bits leading to the eventual heist wonderfully, and although Rico’s mean-spiritedness is a bit much at times, the book thankfully never goes overboard into Ennis-style spitefulness, allowing us to mostly laugh at the sinister Dredd, and sympathize, to a degree, with Strader.