Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Low Life: Paranoia

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Low Life: Paranoia (Rebellion/Simon & Schuster, 2011).

The Low Life is one of the most dangerous slums in Judge Dredd's Mega-City One, a sprawling neighborhood the size of a massive modern-day coastal city beset by organized crime and vice. Justice Department devotes a huge undercover presence here, with several officers of the "wally squad" under deep cover. They're some of the strangest oddballs in the force, but they're all judges.

The series, which has grown into one of the most popular of the last decade, debuted in 2004. Written by Rob Williams and illustrated, initially, by Henry Flint, it focused at first on Judge Aimee Nixon, a one-armed, broken-nosed operative with a scarred psyche. Her wounds are really deep. Most wally squad judges are pretty off-kilter, but the way that Judge Nixon finds herself with nowhere to turn can often get very harrowing.

Rob Williams drew on decades of Judge Dredd backstory in designing this world, building on the wally squad's tendency towards loners and rogues doing whatever it takes to enforce the law. It's very much in line with the established continuity of the main strip and creates an exciting and engaging world of its own from the start. It doesn't always work for me, however. While the series has grown into something really captivating and amazing - appearing as about one serialized story a year, the three most recent stories from 2009-2011 are absolutely highlights of 2000 AD - these earlier adventures are good, but not quite essential.

These earlier adventures are also not served as well by this presentation as an earlier one in England. This book, Paranoia, reprints the first four and the sixth Low Life adventures, skipping a one-off, "He's Making a List..." But all six stories were collected in 2008's Mega-City Undercover, along with a different, short-lived series about a rogue wally squad judge, Andy Diggle and Jock's Lenny Zero. That was an ungainly way to compile two series when it did not seem certain that either would continue - Low Life has become better and more popular and has amassed about forty-odd more episodes, and Lenny Zero is said to be making a long-overdue return later this year - but that book is a much better value for money than this.

I hate to be one of those bores who recommends books with the caveat that the later material is better, but this needs to sell really well before Simon & Schuster elects to produce a second volume, so please buy this even though it's only pretty good and not amazing, but, well, yeah, that's the case here. Unless you've got Mega-City Undercover already, in which case this is just a duplication. So those are the reservations, if they're not too steep.

No comments: