The long shadow of the western often looms large over science fiction, with the lawless nature of the final frontier challenging colonists just as the Wild West once did for adventurers heading into the unknown, looking to find their fortune in the exploration and exploitation of North America. Where most science fiction disguises the influences it takes from other genres, however, Lawless wears them on its sleeve.
Metta Lawson is from the same justice department as Judge Dredd, but instead of patrolling the streets of Mega City One, her job is to bring the law to a distant colony on the edge of galactic civilisation. Previously a war zone, Badrock is as grim as its name implies. A huge corporation is building a brand new megacity on the planet, but while it’s still under construction, the colony is inhabited by rough construction crews, sentient construction machinery and the indigenous creatures that have found their planet over-run by human expansion. Needless to say, law just seems to get in the way of rampant commercialism, excessive drinking and regular bar-room fisticuffs, so Lawson is a far from welcome new arrival.
However, like most other Judges, Lawson isn’t going to let a little unpopularity stand in her way and Dan Abnett has created a feisty, fearless but fair character that just grows and grows on you as the story progresses. Down-to-earth, smart and as quick with a pulse rifle as she is with dealing out a tongue-lashing, Lawson’s antics make for utterly compelling reading. Abnett’s skill doesn’t end there, though. Everything about the book is enjoyable, from the supporting cast to the plots and sub-plots that weave in and out of the main storyline.
Phil Winslade’s art is another big draw. Unusually for a modern comic, the art is black and white throughout, which gives it a strangely retro feeling, but there’s nothing that a splash of colour could have added here. The pen and ink may feel like a link to the past, and may leave some of the colony’s squalor and rough edges to the imagination, but it’s none the worse for doing so and still manages to pack in lots of detail.
The book is actually a sequel of sorts to Insurrection, a story also set in Judge Dredd’s fictional universe but not starring him. Another genre piece, Insurrection is a war story rather than a western, but tells the tale of a fierce battle that was fought on Badrock before the colonists arrived. You don’t need to have read Insurrection, which is also written by Abnett, to get plenty of enjoyment out of Lawless, but be aware that this book is such a cracking read that if you haven’t already sampled Insurrection, you’ll probably be heading straight back to the bookshop when you’ve finished this to catch up with what you’ve missed out on.