There is often the case with newer writers — in particular, writers who are used to short fiction — of having difficulty with the novel. Speaking from experience, the scope of an entire book on a subject can often lead the writer to feel as if they’ve bitten off more than they can chew.
Such is the case with I Am The Law by Michael Molcher. I should note before digging into my issues that the book is overall pretty good. The analysis of the collapse (or, perhaps more aptly, ascension) of the Police into a fascist system of cruelty that exists solely to justify power in the context of Judge Dredd comics is a smart one. There are a variety of prescient moments within the history of Dredd that Molcher highlights with all the horror and gravitas it requires.
The issue comes from a more structural perspective. Throughout the book, Molcher will employ what is often referred to as an oil and water approach to criticism, wherein a section of the book will talk about a Dredd comic before switching to discussing a related issue involving the history of the police. The chapter on The Day The Law Died, for example, examines the relationship between fascists and walls through the lens of how Mega City One embraced the walls forced onto it by the mad Judge Cal.
The problem is that the two never quite synthesize into one another. There’s no point where the connection between the cruelty and horror of Dredd and the police meld together into something that enhances both. They remain separate strands within the poetry. A counterpoint rather than a melody.
This results in highlighting aspects of the text that one might want to elide. Mainly, the parts about the police are vastly superior to the parts about comics history and Judge Dredd. There’s a raw anger to the discussion of the various ways in which the system has failed the citizens, how the police are working under the assumption that the people are the enemy, that is made lesser by having to jump back into alright criticism of Judge Dredd comics. The medicine tastes better than the spoonful of sugar.
Further highlighting its first book status is the way each chapter functions. While structurally, the chapters move chronologically through the history of Judge Dredd, the chapters themselves don’t feel as if they build off of one another. In many regards, it feels as if one is reading an anthology of essays from a writer’s entire career rather than a book engaging with the subject. While the difference is slight, it is nevertheless vital.
That isn’t to say the book is bad. It’s an extremely fascinating text about an important subject. Molcher’s does great work with prose. The individual chapters, while hurt by the oil and water approach, are fascinating in their engagement with the police and Judge Dredd. Molcher can paint a truly horrific, hopeless portrait of the world as many a Judge Dredd writer is known for doing.
Among the stronger chapters of I Am the Law, there’s the one focusing on Letter from a Democrat. Or rather, as Molcher tends to do, explore the theme of Democracy within the Judge Dredd comics with Letter from a Democrat as its starting point. While one would expect such a chapter to focus on the BREXIT referendum, Molcher instead decides to examine the whole concept of democracy. Rather than use the oil and water back and forth structure other chapters use, Molcher focuses primarily on the Dredd comics with occasional engagements with non-Dredd texts. This leads to a truly jaw dropping segment that I will not spoil here, but it nevertheless showcases an author and critic with a lot of talent.
When reading I Am The Law, I find myself excited to see him blow my socks off in three books’ time.
“While Dirty Harry isn’t a racist film or quite the fascist film its critics at the time claimed, it is reactionary.
And it promotes a reactionary view, sometimes as subtext and sometimes as text. Because the audience the film sought to excite held a view of the rapidly changing society around them that was bordering on future shock.
Dirty Harry gave voice to their fears, told them they were right to feel that way and gave them a .44 caliber hero who would fight for them.”
-Quentin Tarantino, Cinema Speculation