Sunday, May 11, 2014

Rage against the machine

This ran in Progs 1453-1464 and 1555-1566 back in 2005 and 2007 respectively. Sergeant Nate Slaughterhouse returns to Mega-City One with his family after been horribly injured in an off-world conflict, but he is not the man he was. Most of him has been replaced by advanced military prosthetics so that he has become the Mandroid of the title. When his wife disappears and his son is brutally murdered he decides to take the law into his own artificial hands.

Once again Dredd is largely a peripheral character in this story with Slaughterhouse's drama taking centre stage as he kills his way towards the truth of happened to his wife and son. Dredd's conversations with Nate are mostly sympathetic although he is much harsher with his junior colleagues here, particularly with a Judge Wittle whose screw ups allow Slaughterhouse to escape from the iso-cubes. Yes, Wagner has to arrange another break out from the ultimate prison and while the medical details of the escape seem somewhat improbable it does allow the Mandroid to return for a second chapter after presumably being a big hit on his first outing.

Dredd's relationship with machines and technology is interesting. In his early appearances other characters would speculate that he appeared to be more robot than man. And of course he famously influenced the Robocop movie, but for a science fiction character he is notoriously distrustful of machines. Obviously he relies on his lawmaster and lawgiver, although he often seems to prefer his daystick and boot knife, and he uses the various other bits of tech that allow him to do his job. However his distrust rises when dealing with machines that are designed to replace humans in some way. This is most obvious in his longstanding opposition to the Mechanismo program of robot Judges which turn up briefly in the second story here. Dredd places his faith in human decisions, particularly those made by well trained Judges, he does not believe those decisions should be delegated to machines.

Early in the Day of Chaos epic the council of five ordered a remote drone strike on the rogue Sov judges' bunker, Dredd wanted to put troops on the ground instead but was outvoted with disastrous consequences. Dredd's decision to trust humans over machines could have prevented the decimation of his city. I wonder if that other cybernetic Judge Gerhart will take that into account if he ever succeeds in bringing Dredd to trial.

Of course by this stage of his career Dredd himself is partly bionic although he regards his implants as just tools to allow him to dispense justice. And here he comes face to face with a man who has had to have most of his body replaced with machinery. Slaughterhouse is bitterly unhappy about his replacement parts, and spends time debating whether he is still a man. This philosophical debate as to how much of us we can replace before we are no longer ourselves is fascinating, and how great to find it in a weekly throwaway comic (I don't really throw them away, honest). So it is perhaps not too surprising when Dredd meets what he could become himself that he empathises with Nate to some extent. Of course there can only be one winner, although the way Dredd handles the final showdown is calm and unexpected.

I can't get enough of Wagner's writing when the standard is as high as this. He so thoroughly understands Dredd's character by this stage that he is just turning out gems every time he returns to the character he is most closely linked too. Here he mixes Dredd's detective work, a vengence vendetta, and a political conspiracy thriller but the thing that shines out is the human element of Nate's terrible plight. It seems to me that as Wagner has gotten older his interest in the ordinary citizens of his future city has grown and he has portrayed them in a more sympathetic light.

The art is split between Kev Walker, Simon Coleby and Carl Critchlow and they are all top notch. I'm hard pressed to chose between them but Walker's work on the first chapter just edges it. This is the first complete story by Walker that I've read and it's lovely stuff. I'd like to see more of this in the prog. The only bad thing about Mandroid is that I missed it when it first came out, this is one of those stories that I would have really enjoyed to read on a weekly basis. Another top thrill from the house of Tharg and I'm really digging my journey through the Dredd trades available on the iPad app.

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