We return to the dystopian future of the Cursed Earth and Mega-City One with the new Judge Dredd comic ‘Toxic’. The first thing to be said here is that the variant B cover (art by John Gallagher) is beautifully grotesque, depicting Dredd standing against some shambling, biomechanical monstrosity, while the RI-B cover (that’s Retailer Incentive cover B, art by Marco Castiello & Jason Millet) is a profile of Dredd and his iconic chiselled chin.
Paul Jenkins picks up the writing duties here and it is immediately obvious that he favours the more fascist interpretation of Dredd, as the very first panel has a large sign showing a Judge’s helmet and “The Justice Department is watching you” in huge letters on the side of a building. There are callbacks to the classic Dredd comics of yore, with mentions of “Otto Slump’s Ugly Clinic” (though oddly his second name has been changed from Sump as it was originally), and the miracle spray “Boing” that was once famously used to imprison Judge Death’s spirit within the body of PSI-Judge Anderson.
The story begins in the Justice Department Morgue, where the body of a “Scrubber” is being examined. Scrubbers are people who have volunteered to undergo genetic splicing to survive in “The Overspill”, the toxic waste dump beneath Mega-City One where all the waste ends up. But while Scrubbers are normally not exactly easy on the eyes, this one could not only pass as completely normal, but his internal organs are working far more efficiently than they should be, and he appears to have some sort of parasite in his system as well, and apparently a sentient one. What starts off as a possible infestation spirals quickly into what might actually be an alien species seeking asylum in Mega-City One.
The Dredd we see in this story is far more hard-assed than the one we saw in previous reviews of the “Under Siege” storyline. Here he berates and threatens, the art style focusing on casting him in silhouette or on his almost distorted facial features as he barks commands and threats. This Dredd is suspicious bordering on paranoid, immediately jumping to the worst possible outcomes and conclusions. This is a story definitely influenced by the current real world political climate, with “The Anti-Alien League” not only demanding the aliens be removed or killed, but that everyone involved by sent to prison.
They are, coincidentally, also led by a heavyset, blonde haired figure who bears a startling resemblance to a certain current President of the United States. None of the protesters are brandishing “Make Mega-City One Great Again” signs but the implication is hammered home with little in the way of subtlety when some of the rioters (also coincidentally, of course) appear to be wearing something akin to a niqab. But then this is Judge Dredd, and subtle has never been something this character is known for.
As mentioned above, the art style here is mostly nicely clean and defined, sticking to the traditional look of the Judges, with interesting use of close-ups of characters faces, lots of gritted teeth and gurning that’s quite impressive. The Judges are also often shown as little more than shadows, the only details being their armour and badges. The story here is short on action, but big on setup, with this storyline gearing up to be more wide-ranging and politically focused than we saw in “Under Siege”, which was a self-contained arc.
Tune back in next month, where we will once again delve into the underworld of the Overspill with “Toxic” #2.