Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Judge Dredd: Year One by Smith, Matt, Coleby, Simon and Staples, Greg (Nov 20, 2013)

So what do you do when you've left work for a half day because you're still sick as a dog? Why, you read comics of course.

Judge Dredd is one of those characters that's iconic for me in that I recognize him, but more like say, Conan in that I take pretty much everything I read or experience about him, in it's own book. Since I don't have a lot of experience with the character, I read Year One like, well, it was actually Year One. If there are numerous tosses to the standard continuity, I probably missed most of them. This is strangely opposite of how I am with other characters like say, Spider Man where seeing his marriage of 20+ years 'magically' dissolved annoys me or seeing DC, yet again wipe the history slate clean, and yet again fail to have enough editorial control to make it easy to jump into their comics.

Anyway, in terms of what I am interested in when I read Judge Dredd, is the art, the story, and the enjoyability of it.

The covers by Greg Staples are fantastic. I know I have a lot of favorite artist out there, and Greg is on top. I'd love to see a series illustrated by him because his various covers knock the ball out of the park. They are powerful and iconic in their own way. The cover with Dredd's helmeted visage over the burning Mega City One? The flames reflected in his visor? Powerful stuff.

The interior artist is no slouch either. He does a great job, along with the inker and colorist, of having central focus and bright colors for that image and the background, not empty, but of lighter hue, fade into the background where you can study it at leisure.

The story is a bit of a mystery and a bit of an example of how huge the Judge Dredd setting actually is. It's well told and wraps up by the end with a few flash backs (odd for a Year One story to have flash backs) but few enough that I'm not left wondering where Judge Dredd the breast feeding years are.

The enjoyability of the story, for me, was high. I get to see Judge Dredd, as a younger officer here, arrogant and cock sure of himself, not filled with any of that vulnerability crap that would just get him killed, still manage to evolve and learn lessons that prove vital to other Judges.

If you're looking for some violence in your funny books, Judge Dredd Year One by Matt Smith has you covered. Amazon has it available in their kindle format for $7.99 or in graphic novel, or what we used to call 'trades' when I was collecting comics, for $13.86. Hate to tell ya fellow readers but I picked mine up from Comixology when they were doing the run on sale and think I paid less than $5 for it. Huzzah!

I'll be discussing some specific spoilers below and how they might apply to the various role playing games I'm prone to enjoying so if you'd rather have none of that, read no further!

1. Competent Characters: Judge Dredd starts off here as a very able character. His physical prowess are second to few. His skill set with his weapon, the always impressive Lawgiver, give pause to many. His encyclopedic knowledge of the law, impeccable. Sometimes, even when starting out a character, it's okay for them to be able to do things that they should normally be able to do. One of the problems with a lot of game systems is they are set up to advance characters so when the players first start off, their characters are wondering how they survive walking up a flight of stairs much less engaging in a sword fight or pistol duel.

2. Mystery: When people start sprouting their own unique abilities for brief periods of time, it's up to Dredd to find out how and more importantly why. The advance technology and fellow judges, some of them telepaths themselves, can help Dredd but he's got to be the one to take the steps and do the work. When putting mysteries into the campaign, make sure that they're not too easy and that saying no doesn't just close the door to the whole adventure. In terms of the mystery, part of the enjoyment in it, is seeing that not every one who gets these unique abilities acts exactly the same with them. In one instance, the 'prep' even helps Dredd.

3. The Big Con: When Dredd find outs what's going on, it's essentially a big robbery but on a scale unknown previous to this. We're talking wholesale destruction of cities and possibly worlds. But it's for robbery on such a scale that proves that you always want to see what's behind door number one. Don't be afraid to mess with the players expectations when they are looking for 'deeper' answers. Make them work to find the true answers but don't be afraid to red herring it up either.

4. Limited Powers/Plots: One of the judges, badly injured earlier, is a telepath. He dons a helmet that augments his own abilities and allows Dredd to navigate a situation he would have died in. But why not use that all that time? Why not break out the Ultimate Nullifier whenever you need to be rid of someone? Because there is a huge cost associated with it. In this example, the augmented psionic powers that the judge enjoys, kill him. Using the Ultimate Nullifier destroys the user. Provide options but have a reason why they can't be used over and over again.

On a smaller note, when characters are in a setting where their abilities are not innate, such as Judge Dredd, having them in a different venue, like say outside the city in the Cursed Earth or say, on an alternative version of his home world, may limit their abilities and force them to rely on local weapons instead. A Lawgiver without ammunition isn't too useful.

On a similar but slightly different vein, what if you have access to what you need, say the Lawgiver, but using it will alert others to your presence? In the board game, Zombicide, you make noise, you attract attention. Many dungeons have specific wandering monster tables designed with a low chance of something coming along, but a chance that is higher if the characters are making a lot of noise. Remind the players of that as their tossing fireballs and battle cries down the tombs.

5. Scope: One of the things I was surprised at, is that the Matt Smith decided one of the first things Judge Dredd needed to to, was visit another reality, one similar to his own, but having already gone through the whole of what his is just starting to in the story. It works for a number of reasons. First, in this destroyed reality, Dredd still has the temerity to claim that he is the law. The judges of this world have already been badly beaten and need someone like Dredd. Second, it allows the author to show a what if style world. There are a lot of great modules and settings out there, and putting the players in a what if setting allows the game master to play with some of the assumptions, or allows the game master to put in really dangerous things that he might not want to use in a standard campaign, but since it's just a tiny little alternative reality being destroyed...

Matt Smith does a solid job of putting Judge Dredd in enough danger that he just can't blast his way out of that the reader is curious to know where it's going.

In addition to this volume, I've read a few others in the IDW take on the characters including Mars Attacks, which was very fun, and Judge Dread Vol 1 and 2. I've heard good things about some of the other volumes, but for those who've been reading the IDW material, any recommendations or any things to steer clear from?