Judge Dredd: Toxic #2 returns to the crime and scum filled streets of Mega-City One, which are now literally overflowing with all manner of unpleasant, disgusting, corrosive and possibly mutagenic substances. The riot and protests from the Anti-Alien League on the surface have been enough to drive off all the Scrubbers who had been keeping the Overspill running, as they fear they will be attacked for harbouring the alien fugitives, whether they are or not. Above ground the situation grows more desperate and the Judges fight to keep control, as the city not only drowns in toxic waste but in toxicity of another kind, as citizens roam the streets, accusing anyone who disagrees with them of harbouring an alien invader and carrying out their own sort of Judgement.
By the end of issue #2 there is a Block War in the offing, vigilante squads running around nearly unopposed and the Judges desperately trying to keep some sort of control while the clock ticks down to the point where the city will be literally uninhabitable if a solution cannot be found.
The primary impression coming across in this issue is that the writer (Paul Jenkins) is not really a fan of Dredd. The art style is harsh and unflattering, his character brutal, unflinching and aggressive, demeaning citizens and fellow Judges alike. At one point Dredd even stops to pronounce his judgement on a protester clinging to a pole amidst of sea of toxic waste, sentencing him to death and shooting him. While on the one hand it could be looked at as a quick death compared to drowning in toxic sludge, Dredd is quick to dispell any illusions of mercy. The job comes first, regardless of the circumstances, as absurd as it might seem at the time.
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Judge Anderson sums up the overall atmosphere of the storyline so far in one perfect statement: “That’s Mega-City One for you. Always ten seconds removed from a giant shit storm.”
The seeming dislike for Dredd, or at least the attempt to make him and those who support him as unlikable as possible, extends to the art style. Where PSI-Judge Anderson is illustrated with mostly clean lines, both Dredd and his companion Scammon are drawn harshly, with thick lines on their faces and pinched mouths that make them look much older. Dredd’s trademark scowl looks like it was drawn with a ruler, almost no emotion betrayed in this issue at all. While most of the backgrounds here are loosely detailed, many panels rendered with only one or two colours, there is still time for the customary nods and winks to the audience and to other fandoms.
In this instance a line-up of robots includes not only one with a hint of resemblance to a certain wise-cracking Assassin Droid from a franchise in a galaxy far, far away, but another is quite clearly a near exact duplicate of the medical droid 2-1B, also from the aforementioned galaxy. There is also a small, tracked robot with a disturbingly human set of teeth, perhaps a subtle nod and wink to “Ro-Jaws” from another 2000AD series, Ro-Busters, and another that is quite blatantly ‘Robot’ from the 1998 Lost in Space movie.
The stage is set, the stakes are raised, Mega-City threatens to descend into chaos, and now there is nothing to do but wait for #3’s release next month.
This month, however, we have to acknowledge the passing of artist Carlos Ezquerra, the man responsible for Dredd’s signature look, and the look of some of his most famous storylines. The entirety of ‘The Apocalypse War’ and ‘Necropolis’ were drawn single-handedly by Ezquerra. In his time with 2000AD he (and Dredd co-creator John Wagner) also created Strontium Dog and he worked on multiple other stories, not all related to Dredd, such as comic versions of the Harry Harrison ‘Stainless Steel Rat’ series. So – thank you to Carlos (and John) for creating one of the most iconic and recognisable characters in British comics.