Judges: The Avalanche – Michael Carroll

4 out of 5

Longtime Dredd reader and 2000 AD / Meg writer Michael Carroll, beyond his excellent comic additions to the Dreddverse, has also made further contributions to Joe’s past via Year One and Year Two books specific to the Judge we all love.  But picking up on the notion that the exact origin and evolution of the Judge system – dating back to just a handful of years beyond the current present date of 2019 – hadn’t ever really been explored, Carroll instituted the ‘Judges’ series to flesh out just that, with his own The Avalanche kicking things off.

As a fan of the character, I’d tried a couple of Dredd text books previously, but found that the ones I sampled didn’t really maintain narratives well paced to the format.  But I picked this up on the strength of Carroll’s name – also knowing that he’s had quite a bit of experience with books and novellas – and pretty immediately, I knew Carroll had nailed it.

We start out in early 2033, a small town in Connecticut, with CJ Leandros visiting her family at the local police office.  A tense back and forth lays the groundwork: CJ was part of the newly instituted Judges program, and was one of the Judges registered to the town to assist with the transition.  What should be casual familial bickering with her brother is clipped: CJ is already in Judge mode, and ends the scene by walking out of the station, reminding everyone that she now outranks them.

Before the other Judges arrive, CJ will be found dead.

The Avalanche is a murder mystery, but boiling it down to an isolated concept like that is sort of where the other Dredd books I tried went wrong; Carroll instead opens this wide, taking the story setup to explore what this ‘transition’ looks like, and the frightening realization of what the sudden proclamation of ‘I am the Law’ actually looks like when you’re expecting due process.  The other Judges we interact with are far from cyphers – we get momentary flashbacks to key encounters, or remembered conversations from their training – but Carroll is also careful not to cross a line where they’re exactly humanized.  It’s a tricky balance that the author maintains throughout: making these characters compelling without them necessarily being relatable.

Some cutaways to the business behind the drug trade in the city tend to bring the story’s momentum to a halt; they’re brief, and end up being necessary for how the narrative eventually comes together, but any time we’re away from the cops or the Judges, we lose the hefty tension Carroll has built up.  Thankfully, the setting and characters are so crisply defined that we can easily jump back into it a few pages later.

There are, of course, some cute easter eggs for 2000 AD readers, but you really don’t have to have a background in the floppies to get sucked into The Avalanche, and Carroll proves that his ability to tell stories without pictures is absolutely on par with the best of his comic works.