Review by Luke Williams
Seemingly flushed with success from the first wave of audio book adaptations of 2000AD’s Slaine: The Horned God, The Ballad of Halo Jones and Judge Dredd: America, Judge Dredd: The Pit, and Brink Volumes 1 – 3, Penguin Audio has released their second batch. downthetubes had access to four of the five released.
Judge Dredd: Origins – at the time of initial publication, this was the much-anticipated origin of Dredd and his world, an attempt to coalesce all the disparate pieces of history that had been teased in the strip over 35+ years. The original strip was written by John Wagner and drawn by Carlos Ezquerra, with Kev Walker on art duties for the prologue.
Anderson Psi Division: Shamballa, is the midpoint in Alan Grant’s development of Anderson from a kooky and wise cracking Psi Judge in to a more rounded, complex and emotional character. Shamballa sees Anderson teaming up with Sov Block Judges to journey to the titular fabled city in a bid to stop a world ending mystical cataclysm.
Judge Dredd Vs Death is a compilation and adaptation of the first three Judge Death strips featuring the alien super fiend who decreed that life is a crime. Originally written by John Wagner, then Wagner & Alan Grant and drawn by Brian Bolland, the source material is the classic “Judge Death” and “Judge Death Lives”, and the first “Anderson : Psi Division” solo strip featuring the four Dark Judges strip, as drawn by Brett Ewins, Cliff Robinson and Robin Smith.
Rogue Trooper: Welcome to Nu Earth adapts the early Genetic Infantryman’s strips from the Prog, setting the scene for the conflict between the Norts & Southers on the chemical choked world of Nu Earth, including the Dave Gibbons drawn introduction, to strips drawn by Colin Wilson, Cam Kennedy and Mike Dorey.
Also released this month was Nemesis The Warlock Books 1-4.
The strips are adapted word for word. Both the early Judge Death strips and Rogue Trooper were written for young teen audiences, but the Death strips have aged better than the GIs. Strangely, in an audio medium, the plot holes are far more conspicuous, and the dialogue can occasionally be a little cringeworthy. With Rogue, this reinforces the argument that the strip was basically “Allies vs. Nazis in space”. On the other hand, the later works, Shamballa and Origins were aimed at older audiences, are more sophisticated and fare much better.
On the whole, the adaptations follow just about every beat of the source material. However, there are some anomalies: the review copy of Welcome To Nu Earth includes adaptations of the early years of Rogue Trooper to just after the extended “All Hell on DIX-1 Front” plotline. What it omits are some shorter strips which are nonetheless referenced in the production, which could leave newcomers a little confused and this comes across as being sloppy, and, for me, spoils the narrative flow.
Sound is used to great effect to create appropriate mood and atmosphere, effectively conjuring up the story environments, and importantly in the spirit of the original strips.
Similarly, voice acting is excellent. The danger with any “live action” adaptation of a comic strip is that the voice that the reader has in their head for the characters is unlikely to be like that featured in a video or audio adaptation. However, Penguin have made a good fist of it. Dredd and Death were always going to be the hardest voices to pull off; both characters need a voice that you “hear in the back of your head”. Peter Serafinowicz pulls off a good Death; perhaps not a complete win, but effective; creepy without being hammy. However, Adam Basil is, I feel, channelling too much Sylvester Stallone and occasionally sounds like a punch drunk New York docker, whereas Rogue sounds like he has a permanently clenched jaw; luckily, the biochips bring some variety.
Aside from the omission outlines above, a great deal of care has been taken in adaptation process, but if you are a long term reader with perhaps multiple print version of these stories you may think twice about paying £13 per book.
Having said that, overall these are high quality adaptations. The creative teams have been respectful to the source material. Aside from whom some of them may be drawing inspiration from, the voice actors characterisations are spot on. Perhaps most importantly in an audio production, the soundscapes and narration effectively evoke the environments, conveying appropriate mood and atmosphere. A lot of love has gone into these productions; it will be interesting to see what they adapt next.