Good to see IDW branching out with other 2000AD titles,namely everyone’s favourite contract killers,Ramone Algonquin Winnebago Dexter and Finnegan Rapunzel Sinister!
Take classic Japanese samurai epics like Lone Wolf and Cub, mix them into futuristic anime like Akira, then stuff the whole thing into Judge Dredd’s 2000 AD world of Mega Cities and Judges, and you have Hondo City Law.
Japan’s futuristic Hondo City – named for unfathomable reasons other than it “sounded Japanese” — was created by John Wagner in the Judge Dredd story “Our Man in Hondo” (included in this collection), along with the samurai-judge Inspector Totaro Sadu. Sadu and Hondo never appeared again until up-and-coming writer Robbie Morrison was offered the chance to write some stories for 2000 AD. Morrison resurrected one of his favorite stories from the past and created the story arc of rogue-judge Shimura and his protégé Judge Inspector Aiko Inaba.
As Judge Dredd was based on Clint Eastwood, Morrison based his Japanese Judge Shimura on acting legend Mifune Toshiro (Seven Samurai, Yojimbo), and gave him a villain in the form of the cyber-cult Deus X who believe it is man’s ultimate destiny to merge with machines. Shimura is a blend of old-fashioned and futuristic, carrying a hand-forged Wakizashi short sword and laser shuriken.
Morrison got everything spot-on with Hondo City Law. I lived in Japan for several years, have seen more than my fair share of Japanese action flicks, and I tend to be hyper-critical of Western writers imitating only the superficial aspects of Japan without the depth. Not here. Morrison’s stories were brilliant, and my only disappointment is that this is not Hondo City Law: Volume 1. I very much want more stories.
The art is equally impressive. There are four artists here, all of them different, all of them good. Colin MacNeil illustrates the original Hondo City story in fully-painted loveliness. Two of the stories, “Shimura” and “Babes with Big Bazookas”, have early Frank Quitely art that is just phenomenal. I found that I actually liked this Quitely art better than his current stuff which has become heavily stylized. Andy Clarke does “Executioner” and “Deus X”. This was the first time I had seen Clarke’s art, and I loved it. He has a realistic style similar to Travis Charest. The last story, “Hondo City Justice”, was drawn by Neil Googe and was my least favorite. He used a “manga style” that was fitting to the subject matter but was out of step with the style of the other Hondo City tales.
In my younger, dumber days, I just assumed that Judge Dredd was some British variation on the EXTREME characters that I’d just yawned through during the ’90s. I mean, the movie came out around the same time as the Spawn adaptation, so who could blame me*? That was, until a friend explained to me that Judge Dredd had existed since the late ’70s, and was actually the U.K.’s Batman in terms of cultural significance.
Admittedly, I’m still not as familiar with Judge Dredd as I’d like to be, and as such The Life and Death Of… ended up being the second Dredd comic I’ve ever read, the first being a collection of the Judgment Day crossover. That said, just reading this collection of Judge Death-centric stories by original Dredd creator John Wagner, it’s clear that, like Batman, you can use Dredd and the world of Mega City One to tell a vast variety of stories — straight sci-fi, action, police procedural, (dark) comedy and even horror.
The Life and Death Of… is comprised of two feature stories (and a handful of one-off shorts) cherry picked from both 2000 AD and Judge Dredd Megazine over the span of 20 years, all revolving around Judge Death, the leader of the Dark Judges, supernatural beings from another dimension where being alive is illegal. Which should hint at the more horror-based nature of the stories within.
The best thing about The Life and Death of… is how accessible it is. I have about as much familiarity with Dredd (judge, jury and executioner in the futuristic Mega City One) as a regular person might have with Batman (Bruce Wayne, deals with childhood trauma by punching ludicrously themed bad guys in Gotham City). This being a handful of (serialized) stories from a long-running series, reading it had me facing the dreaded concept known as continuity, but it still ends up being a perfectly understandable comic book. “Young Death,” for example, comes in the aftermath of a major crossover, but I didn’t feel like I needed to read that crossover to understand what was going on in the book I chose to read.
It may as well have told me that the Joker poisoned half of Gotham and I’d get the idea, which is an example American comic books should be following. Tell the story and use continuity to enrich the story — don’t make it a prerequisite to reading the story. The Life and Death of… even has a dossier-style page that gives a quick rundown of who Judge Death is, what his aims and abilities are and even his first appearance. Superhero comics take note!
All it takes is one good, accessible comic book to convert a person into a fan of a certain character. I know a few people who got into Batman through “Hush,” and I can point to The Life and Death of… as my point of entry into the world of Judge Dredd. Good thing there’s a lot of it to get through.
Broken Frontier continue their reviews with Hondo-City Law:
Robbie Morrison, co-creator of beloved 2000AD characters like Nikolai Dante and Shakara, has created a shiny yet dark reflection of a Mega City in Hondo-City. A place perfect on the outside but rotten on the inside, the only force for good are the Judges and even there corruption is present in the highest ranks. Hondo-City Law collects a variety of stories, all born in the streets of Hondo-City.
Our Man in Hondo recollects the first meeting of Judge Dredd and Judge Inspector Sado (who would later play a pivotal rol in one of Dredd’s multi-arc events). Sado is Dredd’s perfect reflection in another part of the world, Clint Eastwood versus Toshiro Mifune. Written by Dredd’s co-creator and main chronicler John Wagner, it is a stunning game of chess (well… chess with robots, explosions and rogue sleeper agents) between the two seemingly perfect Judges, trying to find the crack in each others harness. They find themselves to be two Judges riding the same bleeding sharp knife of the law but on different edges of the blade, who will crack and who will turn out victorious? Colin MacNeill paints it all in hues that are bright and grungy at the same time, topping off the inner duel to perfection.
Next up is Shimura spotlighting Hondo-City’s other top cop, Judge Shimura, accompanied by cadet Judge Aiko Inaba, who take on a cybernetic corporate entity bend on dominating the Japanese megacity. The story is a nice mix of action and cyberpunk with some Japanese storytelling mixed in, but is especially noteworthy for deepening the dark underbelly of the Judges in Hondo-City, revealing questionable ethics for the sake of profit and ties to the Yakuza underworld. Glimpses of the dark beast beneath the shining pavements of Hondo-City. It also features one of the earliest published works of current superstar artist Frank Quitely. From the start his excellent sense of staging and space is apparent. His clean style is spot on for Hondo-City’s antiseptic streets, while his posed and transfixed figurework and facial characteristics exemplifies the inner troubles of being a Judge in Hondo-City.
Hondo-City Law is an action fest TPB full of double ententes, shady ethics and ofcourse uncompromising characters in a shady world where nothing works as good as a big explosion. The clean Japanese counterpart of the American Mega Cities is highly recommended as a visiting place in all tourist destination packages in the worlds of 2000AD!
Just gotten word that the artist for the third volume of Mega City Masters will be Eric (The Goon) Powell….. and… ah, who cares what I have to say about it. Check it out
This US trade, the third in the popular Mega-City Masters series, will be released on 19th April 2011 and available in all good US bookstores.
It collects Judge Dredd stories illustrated by some of the biggest names in the business, including Steve Dillon, Kevin O’Neill, Simon Bisley, Glenn Fabry, Andy Clarke, Frazer Irving, Jock, Guy Davis and Carlos Ezquerra amongst others.