Returning to the world of 2000AD’s figurehead character and the definitive dystopian future lawman Judge Joseph Dredd, faithfully brought to the screen in 2012’s magnificent Dredd, Underbelly both expands the movie’s version of Mega City One and manages to hold true to the movie’s heady and intoxicating blend of breakneck pacing and smartly executed ultra violence.
Billed as a comic book ‘sequel,’ it is fair to say that this feels more like a direct extension of what was seen in the film than a true step away from it. Writer Arthur Wyatt has not sought to move the pieces too far from where director Pete Travis and screenwriter Alex Garland placed them, and this is no bad thing. By building on the strong foundations of the film, which was itself grounded deep and accurately in the origin comic, it grants this one-shot comic a bigger scope with the details of the judge system or other exposition dealt with so effectively on screen not recapped here.
Instead, we are thrown headfirst into a new case for Judges Anderson and Dredd, one that touches more directly on the unique skills of the ‘gifted’ rookie but again requiring the relentlessly brutal and direct delivery of justice that only Joe Dredd can bring to the table. The plot intertwines illegal immigrants to and the ruthless traffickers that they deal with, another illicit narcotic hitting the city’s street and a woman on a quest for her missing son.
Mentioned only in passing the film, a welcome addition to the cinematic canon here are those afflicted with gene-altering radiation who have been abandoned to the Badlands, the wastes beyond the city walls and the Justice Department’s reach, the delightfully nicknamed ‘muties,’ and with the so-far hard-fought campaign for a celluloid follow-up still being waged, this opens up many interesting opportunities in future movies.
Henry Flint is one of modern era 2000AD’s most accomplished Judge Dredd artists, his work on the British Comic Award Nominated Trifecta standing in testament to this, as does his recent stint on the character during the city-shattering Day of Chaos event. His pedigree undoubted he still manages to add something new here, having been given the chance to draw a younger, more vital and less self-doubting Judge Dredd in keeping with Karl Urban’s interpretation. Should this book lead to further film tie-in comics, Flint’s contribution and definition of this ‘alternate’ version of Mega City One’s premier law dispenser has set a high bar.
The colouring provided by Chris Blythe works to link the screen world with that seen here, and does an excellent job in capturing the ruddy, grime-tinged places and people. It is the new areas of Mega City One left unexplored in the film where Flint and Blythe combine best; the neon-drenched red-light district and grotty reclamation zone are new locations for those familiar only with the world of movie Dredd and here are granted depth and substance.
All told, Underbelly delivers a slice of high-energy action in line with the movie it follows, effectively and organically expanding its universe. An interesting read alone, it is a truly essential piece of reading for all who enjoyed the originating film.
Attention rookies: Underbelly sold out its first printing completely at a distributor level, and the second printing featuring the variant cover shown above by Dredd concept artist Jock released in March will not appear in newsagents or supermarkets, so if you want a physical copy it is vital to head to your local comic book specialist store immediately and ask for a copy to be ordered using the code DEC138479.