Timothy Carson writes;
Written by Arthur Wyatt and drawn by Henry Flint, Dredd: Underbelly serves as a comic tie-in/continuation for the 2012 film adaption of the same name (minus the “Underbelly” part), which starred Karl Urban and Olivia Thirlby. Admittedly, I haven’t seen the movie – and while I don’t think rushing out to the nearest Redbox is necessary to understand the story of Underbelly, the comic definitely made me want to rent the film eventually. This, of course, has nothing at all to do with Karl Urban portraying the enigmatic Judge Dredd; I don’t find him handsome or anything – Urban, not Dredd. Putting my schoolboy crush aside for the moment, Dredd: Underbelly had enough action, violence, and partial nudity to keep me interested and intrigued, even if some of the panel shifts were sudden and hard to follow.
Underbelly opens with a sweeping shot of Mega-City One, the skyline cracked and desolated like rotten teeth. Mutants are being transported into the city and upon arrival, all Hell breaks loose. We’re introduced to a mysterious woman who is searching for her son – after some thugs point their guns and start shooting up the joint. The cops show up and put an end to the needless violence, with Judge Anderson stepping in to defend the mysterious woman’s honor after she is told to zip-it or face jail time. The story pretty much takes off after that point, the plot shifting between Anderson and Dredd. Like I said above, some of the panel shifts are abrupt and I had to re-read a lot of these sections in order to figure out the who, what, where, when, and why. Luckily, everything wraps up nicely in the end, tying up all the loose knots in a not-so-DREDD-ful bow. (See what I did there?)
Honestly, the confusion can be attributed to my poor reading skills, but I also think the short, succinct dialogue doesn’t help. You won’t find any villainous monologue-ing in Dredd: Underbelly, seeing as most of the “villains” are simply drug addicts that are high as kites on the latest crazy, Psych. They’re all so caught up with their own hallucinations, I doubt they could even verbalize what they are witnessing. The quick-paced dialogue, however, does lend itself to deeper character development, and once I got used to it, I found that I could basically hear the voices of the characters.
Dredd essentially speaks in absolutes; there’s no room for the gray area when you’re dealing with a post-apocalyptic America that’s crawling with dangerous, mutant-y, drug addicts. Anderson, on the other hand, is not nearly as invested in concrete answers as Dredd. Her role is rather minimal in the narrative, but I got the sense that Dredd is the brawn and she’s the brains behind the operation. I totally love the ladies, so I felt that a larger role for Judge Anderson would have brought a different element to the mix; that’s not to say Judge Dredd isn’t entertaining. He is – but Anderson has super cool psychic powers. Who doesn’t want to see more of that?
The artwork for Dredd: Underbelly is gorgeous, in a word. I know, I know, how typical, calling comic art gorgeous, but you can’t judge me until you’ve read it. I was especially impressed by the muted color palette, courtesy of Chris Blythe. Lots of grays, blues, and pale greens – colors that invoke a heavy atmosphere of despair and poverty. This makes the image of Judge Dredd all the more intimidating, his shiny, red and black helmet popping off the page. I’d probably pee my pants if I saw that helmet approaching me in a dark alley. That helmet means business…and pain. Can’t forget pain.
On a more detailed note, the line work in Underbelly is top notch and carefully crafted; the characters are drawn with thick, bold lines that accentuate their strong features – even Judge Anderson. Typically female protagonists are given softer edges to accentuate beauty as well as strength, but not Anderson. She’s drawn and painted just as sharply as Dredd, her face carved by heavy, black shadows. Her eyes, however, are left softened a bit, with no strong line work on her lower lid. It makes her close-ups all the more expressive. In the case of Underbelly, the art goes hand-in-hand with the narrative and doesn’t overshadow the storytelling. Both aspects utilize one another as tools to propel the story forward and upwards.
To conclude, I enjoyed my romp through Mega City One and all its drug infested inhabitants. Do I suggest you run out and purchase this comic at this very moment? Not really. Will you regret reading this comic on a rainy day? Probably not. I think what hinders the story from really becoming its own entity is that the comic is so closely tied to the movie. One of these days I’ll have to see the movie and then re-read Underbelly (again). Maybe I’ll gain a new appreciation for the story. Maybe I won’t. Guess only time will tell…dunh dunh dunh.