Dredd Omnibus by Various – Book Review [Shadowhawk]


Shadowhawk reviews the Dredd Omnibus, containing short novels by Gordon Rennie, David Bishop and Matthew Smith.

“A fantastic collection showing the real spice of life, good and bad, in Mega City One.” ~The Founding Fields

The BigFinish 2000AD audio drama range is very much responsible for me getting into the whole Judge Dredd mania, the awful Sly Stallone movie notwithstanding. In almost a year of being invested in the franchise, I’ve listened to various audiodramas, read a couple of the comics, seen the new film with Karl Urban, and even read this new Dredd Omnibus, which collects three of the short novels originally published by Black Flame. And it’s been quite a good ride so far. The franchise is incredibly rich in material, even though it’s so focused on Mega City One and on Judge Dredd himself. As with any good such franchise however, such a small focus never stands in the way of telling some really good stories, which is what Rennie, Bishop and Smith have done here. In my small experience, I’ve only seen Dredd tangle with deranged lunatics, low level thugs, and former Judges with a vengeance, so some of the material in the omnibus is a little new, but by no means is it completely unfamiliar, especially in the case of Rennie’s story.

From the perspective of continuity and lore references, Rennie’s Dredd vs Death is the toughest to come to grips with. It starts off during the tail end of one of the reigns of terror perpetrated by the Dark Judges on Mega City One, and then shifts to the “present” to show how the other-dimensional villains set the seeds for their eventual return. Quite a bit of the narrative emphasises how Dredd and Psi-Judge Anderson have taken down the Dark Judges in the past, and how they are both crucial to the efforts of Judge Death’s death cultists in bringing back their masters. This simple fact drives a huge part of the story. The fun through is when everything goes belly up and we are thrown right into the midst of the whole mess: prison riots, anarchy on the streets, Judges on lockdown and containment mode, Dredd blowing up everything in his way to confront his old enemies, etc. Roughly the first third of the novel takes a lot of getting used to, but Rennie’s narrative rewards the persistent reader because of the pay-offs at the end.

The action in the novel is non-stop, brutal, and pretty dark in its feel, which perfectly fits the entire setting. The scenes with the Dark Judges lack a bit of tension that I’d expect, in that while they are written well, I didn’t get the sense that the protagonists, whether Dredd or Anderson, were in any real danger from any of them. They are taken down in creative ways, especially Judge Fire, which made for some really fun and enjoyable moments. The best sequence in the entire book though, is when the prison riots start and the Dark Judges inevitably break free. Rennie has definitely captured the chaotic nature of that event as the Judges attempt to enforce the Law and round up the criminals, while Death’s cultists go on a killing spree.

Rating: 8/10

The second novel in the collection is Kingdom of the Blind by David Bishop. This one is much less dependent on any prior lore knowledge, and I’d consider it a pretty appropriate entry-level story in to the setting. This is more of a typical crime thriller/mystery as the Judges attempt to place a mole in the inner council of one of Mega City One’s most notorious (and untouchable – plausible deniability and all that) crime-lords, Jesus Bludd. Fast forward to a few months later and the Judges are busy preparing for a top level conference where representative Judges from other cities around the world are arriving on invitation by Chief Judge Hershey to discuss a global extradition treaty. The two events coincide together now as Bludd sets in motion a plan to bring the Big Meg to its knees (quite figuratively) and attempts to take over.

Kingdom of the Blind is definitely the better novel in the collection. It has a plot that is much easier to follow, lots more awesome characters (not that the Dark Judges are not, but they are… aliens from another dimension), and some fantastic insight into Judges from other cities, such as Brit-Cit and Sidney Melbourne Conurb and Hondo City. Also the fact that we spend a lot of time with Judge characters who are not Dredd or Anderson, with the latter being absent from the story altogether. Chief Judge Hershey takes the limelight spot next to Dredd, in that respect.

One thing that definitely stands out is how good Bishop is writing a mystery. There are a lot of twists and turns in the story that can throw off a reader from what he/she assumes is the track the writer is going on, and the ingenuity of these twists is great. One of these is the particular… resource that Jesus Bludd uses to terrorize all of Mega City One. Another is the climax when Bludd is taken down by Dredd and his allies.

And, one more thing that is remarkable about the novel is that the action isn’t localised just to Mega City One; we see things from the perspective of an orbital platform, Justice Seven, and its crew, led by Judge Samanta Scattergood. The scenes with her and the orbital platform are my favourites in the entire novel. They add so much to the world-building. Now, if more 2000AD stories did the same, that’d be fantastic. Show scenes in space that is! Which reminds me that I really need to start reading the 2000AD magazine.

Given the more realistic outlook of the novel, in that it focuses on Street Judges a lot more, and shows off the criminal side of Mega City One, I found the novel to be much more approachable. It’s easier to relate in a way to street-scum and crime-lords than it is with aliens from another dimension after all. At least, I think it is. I can believe in their motivations far more, than beings who just want to kill everything in site. Money, power, control, these are motivations we can all understand. They are grounded in the real world. That’s how I see it all anyway. Not to mention that Jesus Bludd makes for one hell of an antagonist; they guy is cold.

Rating: 9.5/10

The final entry in the collection is Matthew Smith’s Final Cut. I had a few issues with the book that made me read it really slow. One of these was that the book is divided into two sections, one from the perspective of Dredd and several other characters central to the plot; the second is from the point of view of a Wally Judge, an undercover Judge named Pete Trager, who has infiltrated one of the crime gangs running rampant through the city and is working on bringing it down. Trager’s scenes are also all in the first person and this made for a really slow read. Not to mention that it all jars since the entire omnibus is all third person. Another is that while I liked most of the plot, the climax left me really disappointed. An abrupt ending always does that to me, I’m afraid.

However, there is a lot to recommend here too. For one, the novel covers a different aspect of life in the Big Meg: celebrity lifestyle. We get to see what being a celebrity has done to some famous people, whether actors, or musicians, or politicians. Smith weaves a pretty big and complicated web of lies and deceit that he unveils piece by piece. The pacing of the novel isn’t too slow, it’s not too fast either. It’s nice to read something slower-paced that takes it’s time to introduce the reader to the world, and to the characters, and to give them time to get to know all of it.

Two, the novel shows, really shows, how twisted life in the Big Meg truly is. There are some really screwed up people in the city, and Smith does a good job of showing that off. These characters are often quite heartless and brutal, which initially put me off, but I got to accept that towards the end. Three, Final Cut goes a long way towards showing a very different side of Dredd’s character than either of the other two novels. Kingdom of the Blind has some downright emotional moments to it, but Final Cut is no slouch in that department either. The ending with Trager and Dredd is I think very representative of Dredd’s character and his devotion to the Law and Justice.

Rating: 8/10

Overall, I think this was an excellent collection. All the three novels cover Dredd’s character in depth from a lot of different angles, and show him facing a variety of enemies, in a way that enriches both sides of the conflict. I also got to see a lot of the inner workings of the Justice Department in a way that I hadn’t been able to from the BigFinish audios I’ve listened to so far, or from the movies. That’s where the collection trumps any other similar collection. Then there’s also the fact that female Judges such as Psi-Judge Anderson, Chief Judge Hershey, Samantha Scattergood, and many others are very prominent in all of the stories. At a rough guess I’d say that there probably are as many female Judges mentioned as are male Judges. Which is quite awesome.

The world-building in each of the novels is also good. Lots of geek references, as well some celebrity ones, such as the Minogue twin city-blocks which are at war with each other, to give an example. Clooney Memorial Hospital also comes up. There’s a Judge Helsing in Dredd vs Death, a Med-Judge who is put in charge of dissecting the corpses of the vampiric cultists who serve Judge Death and come up with a way to stop them. And so on. Tons and tons of references really.

Now I really want to read more Judge Dredd novels!

Overall rating: 8.5/10

Shadowhawk is a regular contributor to TFF. A resident of Dubai, Shadowhawk reads, reads and reads. His opinions are always clear and concise. His articles always worth reading.