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Reviewing 2000 AD’s Audiobooks from Penguin Random House – Judge Dredd, Halo Jones, Brink and more

Today sees the release of the eagerly anticipated Audiobook adaptations of some of 2000 AD’s most iconic stories as part of their collaboration with Penguin Random House Audio.

The full slate features adaptations of Judge Dredd: America, Brink Volumes 1-3, Sláine the Horned God, The Ballad of Halo Jones: Complete Edition and Judge Dredd: The Pit, and as we mentioned in our earlier announcement, the voice talent assembled here is pretty darn impressive.

Before we get started though, it’s probably worth noting that these are more like full-fledged audio plays than regular audiobooks, with each release boasting an impressive ensemble cast, music and sound effects – an approach which results in a fairly immersive listening experience, I have to say.

It’s never overdone though, and the FX and music are kept to a bare minimum throughout, letting the dialogue and infrequent narration take its rightful place in the spotlight. To be fair though, this isn’t Penguin Random House’s first rodeo, and as the UK’s leading publisher of audiobooks, their expertise with the medium definitely shines through here, resulting in a highly polished end product.

Rather than going into any great depth recapping the stories themselves, I’m going to focus a little more on the audiobook aspects of each of these Penguin Random House adaptations (unfortunately, we weren’t able to get an early look at (listen to?) Sláine the Horned God, but we’ll be sure to share our thoughts on what has the potential to be one of the most interesting offerings as soon as we can), and where better to start than with what is widely considered to be one of the best Dredd stories of all time?


JUDGE DREDD: AMERICA

In Mega-City One, the Judges are the law – acting as judge, jury, and executioner. But how do the citizens really feel about a system where they are powerless?

America Jara and Bennett Beeny grow up as best friends, living a fairly trouble-free life in a dangerous city… bar the odd, negative encounter with a Judge. Time draws them apart, and when they are brought back together, Beeny is a successful singer and America has become involved with a terrorist organisation known as Total War, which has the Justice Department in its sights!

Voice Cast:
Joseph Fiennes as Judge Dredd
Becca Stewart as America Jara
Paterson Joseph as The Narrator
Matthew Jacobs-Morgan as Benny Beeny

Length: 117 minutes
RRP: £13.00
CLICK HERE for details of where to get a copy

This is a strong release, and a great choice to be adapted to the audiobook format. The story whips along nicely throughout its two-hour run time, with a solid performance from the supporting cast and a measured use of music and FX to help set the tone.

It’s also worth mentioning that this – along with all the others – is a straight-up adaptation of the source material, to the point where you could actually read along with the original graphic novel if you wanted to, an approach I’m honestly glad to see rather than sort of abridgment or tweaking of the narrative.

Moving onto the performances themselves, and with a caveat that there’s no disputing his acting chops, I’m not quite sure I’m buying Joseph Fiennes as ol’ Stony Face. He comes across a little soft-spoken for the Dredd I hear in my head when I peruse the pages of 2000 AD, although there are some great monologues – including the classic “Justice has a price. The price is freedom” speech – along the way where he gets to cut loose a little more.

For me though, Matthew Jacobs-Morgan’s Benny Beeny is the real standout here, with his tragic, ominous narration in the second half of the book being delivered with a gravitas that really helps to sell the darkness of this story.

All in all, a great listening experience for newcomers and grizzled Dredd veterans alike.


THE BALLAD OF HALO JONES: COMPLETE EDITION

A galaxy-spanning story and comics’ first bona fide feminist space opera, The Ballad of Halo Jones is the first true epic to grace the bibliography of arguably the greatest comic book writer the world has ever known.

Bored and frustrated with her life in 50th-century leisure-ghetto housing estate ‘The Hoop’, 18-year-old everywoman Halo Jones yearns for the infinite sights and sounds of the universe. Pledging to escape on a fantastic voyage, she sets in motion events unimaginable; a spell on a luxury space-liner, a brush with an interstellar war – Halo Jones faces hardship and adventure in the name of freedom in the limitless cosmos.

Voice Cast:
Sheila Atim as Halo Jones
Kemah Bob as Rodice Andelia Olsun
Ellie Kendrick as Toy Molto
Yaz Zadeh as The Glyph
Michael Fenton Stevens as Dr Brunhauer
Ako Mitchell as Toby

Length: 183 Minutes
RRP: £13.00
CLICK HERE for details of where to get a copy

While it’s probably one of the strongest offerings in terms of its comic book source material, with Alan Moore and Ian Gibson doing a stellar job with the character and world building across the course of all three volumes, this is actually the one I felt struggled the most as audiobook. A lot of the quirky, comical aspects of the story didn’t really translate all that well to the medium, and the colourful cast of characters really missed out on Gibson’s distinctive artistic flair.

Sheila Atim does a decent job as our titular heroine as we follow her through a decade of her life. The supporting cast however are a bit of a mixed bag, and some attempts to bring the quirky style of the comics into their voice performances end up missing the mark rather spectacularly.

There’s also a bit of a steep learning curve for listeners when it comes to the futuristic slang associated with Jones’ world, with terms like “drummers”, “rumble-jacks”, “slappy” and “sputstik” being thrown in without much in the way explanation. Sure, a lot of the meanings behind these terms can be gleamed from context, but it still makes the early stages of the story a slightly tougher listen that it perhaps needed to be.

However, as I mentioned above, the source material here is definitely strong enough to still make this a worthwhile listen, and getting to see Jones evolve throughout the course of this three-hour audiobook is still a real joy. Definitely one that I think would appeal more to seasoned Halo Jones fans as opposed to curious newcomers, though.


BRINK VOLUMES 1 -3

Late 21st century and Earth has been reduced to an uninhabited wasteland. What was left of humanity was evacuated into overpopulated space stations, or ‘Habitats’. A hotbed for crime and strange new religious sects, the Habitat Security Division has no shortage of work.

No-nonsense Investigator Bridget Kurtis soon finds herself embroiled in a life or death struggle with a sinister cult, and what she uncovers has disturbing implications for the future of the human race…

Voice Cast:
Nina Sosanya as Bridget Kurtis
Richard Armitage as Carl Brinkmann
Indira Varma as Gita Gibrani
David Warner as Joel Tillerson
Pippa Bennett-Warner as Mariam Junot
William Hope as Ludo Gentry

Length: 213 Minutes
RRP: £13.00
CLICK HERE for details of where to get a copy

The first thing I noticed about this one is just how good a job the Penguin Random House Audio team have done in differentiating each 2000 AD story from one another, with a unique use of music beats and effects to help this particular sci-fi procedural stand out from the likes of Dredd or Halo Jones.

In terms of the voice actors, the supporting cast do a solid job (David Warner’s increasingly manic Joel Tillerson in particular), but Nina Sosanya’s Bridget Kurtis is the unquestioned standout. Her no-nonsense, dryly comic delivery really helps to bring Dan Abnett’s script to the audiobook format, and while I’d have loved a bit more of her impressive chemistry with Richard Armitage’s Carl Brinkmann, Sosanya does more than enough to carry the bulk of the story on her own.

Honestly, my only real niggle about this one would be that the action sections get a little confusing without the aid of I.N.J. Culbard’s striking visuals to help discern what’s going on.  There’s a lot of punching and gunshot sound effects, but it’s difficult to figure out what’s actually happening until the dust settles. Thankfully these moments are few and far between, and for the most part things flow smoothly throughout the course of this three-and-a-half-hour story all the way to its tense, dramatic conclusion which really takes advantage of the possibilities provided by the format.

It also probably doesn’t hurt that this was the only one of these new releases where I hadn’t already read at least some of the graphic novel source material. This made for a noticeably more engaging listening experience, as opposed to a “how does this compare to the comic book version?” type situation, so I can definitely recommend this one for new readers/listeners.

All in all, this is another strong offering, with a cracking turn from Sosanya and a lively, exciting story that twists and turns from start to finish.


JUDGE DREDD: THE PIT

Welcome to Sector House 301, the isolated dumping ground for Mega-City One’s every misfit and foul-up Judge. Nicknamed The Pit, the sector house holds many dark secrets, and the discovery of one of them may have led to the death of Sector Chief Rohan.

Sent to take over The Pit is Judge Dredd. Together with a small team of trusted Judges, he uncovers a trail of deceit and murder that leads to the very top levels of command. The only question is, will Dredd live long enough to bring the culprits to Justice? 

Voice Cast:
Joseph Fiennes as Judge Dredd
Paterson Joseph as The Narrator
Patricia Rodriguez as DeMarco
Jeff Harding as Guthrie
Luke Thompson as Fonzo Bongo
Ako Mitchell as Giant

Length: 140  Minutes
RRP: £13.00
CLICK HERE for details of where to get a copy

And finally, we’re back to Mega-City One with ol’ stony face again for The Pit, another all-time classic Dredd story.  Much like America, this one features Dredd more as a background character than a main protagonist, instead shining the light on the staff of a struggling, corrupt Justice Department Sector House in one of the most crime-ridden zones in MC1.

Interestingly, Paterson Joseph takes a far larger role here than he did in America, with his narration adding context, insight and internal thoughts alongside the usual scene-setting.  For some reason, perhaps due to the added familiarity from his performance in America, I actually found Fiennes’ Dredd to be growing on me a little here, and his softly-spoken, no-nonsense tone may actually replace the Karl Urban-esque growl that had become embedded in my head.

The story feels a lot more grounded and gritty than America, even if it perhaps lacks its sweeping tragedy and gravitas, and the voice cast feels the most consistent out of the four of today’s releases that I’ve listened to.  Patricia Rodriguez delivers a strong turn as conflicted Judge Galen DeMarco, while Jeff Harding shines as rogue undercover Judge Guthrie, who provides Dredd with a lot of his intel regarding the corruption in the Sector House.

Another enjoyable listen, and suitably gritty and grounded story of police corruption that will, perhaps more than any of the other 2000 AD releases, appeal to those with absolutely no prior knowledge of either Judge Dredd or the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic.


FINAL THOUGHTS:

Ultimately then, while the price point may seem a little high at first glance, when you consider the fact that each release costs roughly the same as your average graphic novel or Blu Ray/DVD, it’s actually not too bad in terms of value for around 2-3 hours of entertainment. Particularly when you take into account that a single issue of a comic book will run you the best part of four quid for what equates to about 15-20 minutes of reading fun.

All in all, I’m calling the Penguin/2000 AD Audiobook collaboration a success.  Each book feels dynamic and individual, the voice cast involved are great for the most part, and the finished product is slick, well balanced and immaculately recorded.  Plus, with such an extensive back catalogue of titles already ripe for adaptation (Rogue Trooper? Zenith? Brass Sun?), I’m definitely keeping my fingers crossed we get more of these sooner rather than later.


The writer of this piece was: Craig Neilson-Adams (aka Ceej)
Article Archive: Ceej Says
You can follow Ceej on Twitter


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