Judge Dredd Year Two: The Righteous Man – Michael Carroll

5 out of 5

I’m reading through the Judge Dredd Case Files, and also these Year One / Two / Three book collections, and it’s definitely brought me to question how one would write such a story. That is – what actually makes it Year One versus something else? Dredd, by design, isn’t really a character that embraces actual development; Wagner’s way forward, in those early years, was in crafting the world and characters around Dredd, and then, as a result, that indirectly affects Joe. For these books, it’s been interesting to see how the writers find their way forward, sometimes resulting in an answer to my question – what make it Year One? – as: nothing, really. And, y’know, that’s fine, as long as I’m entertained, but it’s nice when there’s something about the story that rings like a truly early days tale.

For Carroll, after already having delivered a solid YO entry, Year Two offers us a wrinkle that echoes Wagner’s method of developing the world around Joe: in 2080, Dredd is already Dredd, but not all of his fellow Judges realize that. And so when Rico is put away – by Joe – the SJS suddenly looms large in asking why Joe didn’t catch Rico earlier, and if one clone went bad, isn’t it likely the other will…? This latter question is also made important in these early years, when the whole creation of clones was still debatable in its efficacy. So Dredd is still Dredd, but Mega City One looks at him with a wry eye, both knowing him (already) as a stickler for rules, but also waiting for him to flip sides. The first few chapters of Righteous Man play off of this parallel perfectly and tensely, with Chief Judge Goodman and Joe both damned assured of the latter’s innocence, but understanding and respecting the need for a full-on SJS inquiry. And then Carroll smartly distracts us: this type of is he / isn’t he scrutiny can’t hold up a whole novella, because we know the answer; so while SJS is researching, Dredd is shuffled off to a backwater locale to be out of the way and, though still suited up, off the MC-1 streets. Dredd quickly makes his name there as well – these sequences are perfect, both procedurally fun and hilarious, due to Joe’s stiff upper lip – and is then shuffled even further away to a Cursed Earth outpost that’s essentially ruled over by a rich family, which has paid for Judge support to protect a mine from CE raiders.

By removing Joe directly from the SJS investigation, it allows those judges to go down rabbit holes instead of having things shut down pretty easily by Dredd’s reasonings and psi-scanability. And so they chase on such rabbit hole-y lead, while a massive storm brews in the CE and tensions around Dredd’s assigned-to output begin to boil over. So when a ruling of Guilty actually does come down the line, communication and access to Dredd is cut off by the storm and a massive brawl with the raiders.

In short: there’s always something going on in this book, and none of it feels like filler – it’s all forward momentum, with each line of the plot escalating and converging at the same pace, making for a helluva last few chapters. And, perhaps most rewardingly, it doesn’t end up feeling just like a side story: The Righteous Man comes across as a legitimate episode in Joe’s life, helping to build his experience and up his reputation for the decades to come.