3 out of 5
A somewhat overly complex Dredd tale has some cheeky references, and some interesting – if unexplored – Year Two Joe ideas. Cavan Scott’s text absolutely works chapter by chapter, but the whole feels somewhat disconnected.
In Alternative Facts, part of the narrative belongs to Ol’ Stoney Face, paired up with Psi Judge Ruan, and Joe’s old training judge Morph, now working with another rookie. The duos are shuffled between killings that slowly start to be pieced together as connected, initially all from the starting point of a political rally in which Dredd and Morph are protecting a mayoral candidate. The rally – the candidate’s platform is a “make the Meg great again” spin that taps into some slight political ribbing – goes awry with protestors and a shooting, kicking off the sequence of murders that involve oddities like missing bodies, and confessors who wholly believe they’ve done the deeds, but can be proven to be nowhere near the crimes.
As Scott starts stacking up the bits and pieces, leading Joe and Morph down different lines of clues, we go for too long without anything that successfully helps to tie it together – it’s rather telling that we’re given an after-the-fact info dump in the last chapter to explain it all. This means that the individual beats tend to be interesting, but then it feels like we’re starting over on a new story with the next chapter. Scott also seems more interested in Morph over Dredd, not quite cracking the code for how to have the unemotive Judge as a lead character. On the one hand, Morph’s chapters are a lot of fun – there’s that ol’ shoes-too-small chestnut – and help to give us some Year Two shading on this thing, as the Judge gets to reflect on how Dredd-the-rookie compares to Morph’s current rookie; and paired with Ruan, Scott takes some steps toward exploring the perhaps conflicting thoughts this younger Joe might have – concerning muties, concerning his brother. But we don’t go too far down that road, and Joe ends up coming out of it quite like a superhero, one-liner spouting badass; and yes, we like our “I’m the law” type zingers, but I do prefer my Dredd with notes that support the Meg as being… a rather awful place to live.
As I’ve seen with these Dredd books, a reader’s mileage will definitely vary depending on what “type” of Joe you’d like to see. With that aside, there’s not quite enough to really make this a tale that required the Year Two setting, and it’s a bit too cluttered in getting to its reveals, but Scott writes really solidly in the trenches, and gives us enough ideas to at least mull over while he pushes us towards the beat-by-beat reveals in his final chapters.