Marshal Metta Lawson has arrived to uphold the law at Badrock, a wild west-style colony where the previous marshal has gone insane after just three months on the job. With the help of her deputy, Nerys Pettifer, she gets to work, doing her best to move towards peace and harmony with as few casualties as possible. But not everything is as it seems, and Lawson has a whole lot more than a few fist fights at the saloon to worry about. This serial by Dan Abnett and Phil Winslade, which you can catch in Judge Dredd Megazine, is a real delight. What’s not to like about two badass women running a town? And lucky for us, we had an opportunity to have a chat with Dan and Phil.
A little more background so the talk below makes sense: Hetch, the old marshal (you know, the one who went insane) has been trying to convince Lawson that there’s something “out there” in the badlands, something that’s affecting Badrock and making everyone loony. When she finally goes out to investigate, she gets a little more than she’s bargained for. While she’s out, Pettifer steps up, because she doesn’t want to believe Lawson is gone for good.
One of the big themes of Lawless, one that I love, is that different people are empowered by different things. We’re learning now that Nerys Pettifer’s character is empowered not by direct action via active service, but by doing all the paperwork and playing a supporting role. But when Lawson disappears, she fills in for her despite her distaste for all other aspects of Justice work. She’s seen that Lawson’s brand of justice is different from what she expected, and it looks like she’ll be applying that to her own service. Is her faith in Lawson so unshakeable, or does she have something else to prove?
Dan: I think she has something to prove, even though perhaps she doesn’t know it; however, she’s devoted and loyal. That loyalty, both professionally and personally, is one of her defining characteristics and a very admirable quality. She places others before herself, to her own detriment sometimes. She’s sympathetic, sensitive, and vulnerable, but prepared to stand up for what she believes in. So, taking Lawson’s place is partly about her duty as a Judge, which is strong and conditioned into her. It’s a thing she knows has to be done, but it’s also about her devotion to Lawson, or at least to the memory of her friend. Being a marshal, in an active role, is not something she wants, but she’s doing it anyway, and she’s damn good at it too because of the determination driving her.
Phil: I think Pettifer is younger and hence, more flexible, but less certain. At first, she’s a little gauche and more easily intimidated. Her involvement with Lawson gives her confidence in herself, but also in what she wants to be. She feels confident enough to stand up to the challenges she isn’t comfortable with, but knows she must overcome those challenges to help her friend. So she stands up to the town council and Jaroo [Editor’s note: This is one of the first characters they deal with in Badrock] and Hetch (who she’s certainly frightened of), but she does it on her terms, which I think shows real strength. Dan’s writing around this character has really been inspiring.
It’s nice to see Pettifer taking on these strong roles without seeing any dialogue about her chubby appearance. Was it always the plan to quietly highlight body diversity? What kind of reaction are you seeing from fans about Pettifer?
Dan: We certainly wanted a contrast to the more typical comic book dynamism and style of Lawson, a classic, athletic female Judge like Anderson. It was a specific choice related to Pettifer, but also to the world itself. We wanted to try to create a “real” setting with real people, through diversity and variety. But it also was something we didn’t want to make a thing of; she’s who she is. As a character, she’s really evolved. She started off as light relief from the otherwise grim, harsh tone, but she’s developed into someone with depth and real heart. She’s probably my favourite character in Lawless. I think that’s mainly down (as with so many of the other characters) to the way Phil draws her, not in terms of “body type,” but as a person. Her body changes, too, as so many people’s do, with fatigue, stress, joy, and Phil reflects this in the art.
Phil: In comics (or most other media) we have certain expectations and signifiers that help the audience comprehend the story. In comics, it tends to be exaggerated as there is a kind of visual shorthand going on, like white hats and black hats in early Westerns.
When Dan and I first started talking about what we wanted from Lawless, one of the things we decided was a broad canvas of characters so that we could tell a broad range of stories. I have always wanted to portray characters in a more “realistic” less glamorized way since I started in comics. “Realistic” in the sense of people I knew and encountered in life, less so the sort of Stylised Greek Gods of the US mainstream. I like nuance in body language and emotional complexity and subtlety. I like that comics can achieve this, because everything is in the hands of one or two people that you can use the imagery to enhance this and really immerse the reader in their world.
Dan’s writing always astounds me with his subtlety when it comes to character; sometimes I tend to not see the wood for the trees in the text, and it’s only when I lay out a page I suddenly realize the subtext and say, “Wow, that’s really clever.” I love his sense of character, and in fact, the characters. I want to know more about them. They’re like adventurous friends. Female friends and fans have been positive about the way I draw Pettifer and make a point of mentioning it, and fans mostly seem to be enjoying it and positive.
Lawson and Pettifer are quickly forming a sort of A-Team comprising allies from the different groups we see in Badrock. Is a big, Western-style Showdown imminent?
Dan: It’s the “wild west,” so of course. What’s the point of having a trope if you don’t use it? Chekov’s trope, if you will. If there’s a gun in the background, it will get fired eventually. In fact, there are several big showdowns coming, some action packed and huge, some very personal.
Phil: From discussions with Dan, I know there’s very big events coming up, but also very small and emotional stories wrapped up in that. It’s exciting to find out when and where they are and how challenging they’ll be to me and the reader.
Now that we have some backstory for Lawson and Pettifer, it seems both of them have a sort of no-kill policy (for different reasons, of course). How will this shake out in the rumble to come?
Dan: I don’t think it’s a “binding” no-kill in either case. As officers of the law, they both (as you say, for different reasons) try not to kill unless it’s the only recourse. But Badrock is a tough place, and it’s getting tougher all the time. The showdowns (plural) to come are going to become more about survival of themselves and their community and less about diligent duty and enforcement. I think both of them are more likely to shoot to kill when it’s their lives, or the lives of friends, on the line. Law and order is disintegrating fast.
Phil: I think that when Dan and I thought about this setting, we did think about what differentiates the world of Badrock and Megacity and one of those things was the pragmatism of limited resources. Whereas in the Meg, there’s a surplus of people, in Badrock every person is a potential asset within the community. To survive in that environment, you need certain disparate skills, which means there’s a value of judgement upon the punishments set to lawbreakers. But even in a small society, the law must be seen to be enforced and examples set so there is a balance Lawson must get right if Badrock is to survive.
Are we going to see Pettifer in action as marshal, or was the time skip a convenient way to skip panels upon panels of her rounding up scoundrels with mountains of paperwork?
Dan: We will see her in action. We’ve moved the main story on so as not to lose momentum. If we take too much of a detour we’ll lose the tension. But Nerys has raised her game. She’s a partner in the job of law enforcement and not just an underling. [H]er progression is one of the main strands for me, and as the story we plan plays out, we’re going to do a lot more with her. She’s got some tests coming, but this is tough frontier life.
Though the story is called “Lawless” and takes place in a town with an ominous name like Badrock, the story does read like its people are Generally Good. Our main gals find help when they need it, sometimes even in surprising places.
Dan: The tone of this series is definitely “wild west” and the tough and lawless life, but it’s also to me about building community. Lawson was given the thankless task of bringing order to a lawless town where the varied inhabitants were there for individual reasons, not for community spirit. Though the technical part of her work (and Pettifer’s) has always been law enforcement, it’s the bonds they have made—often unlikely ones—that make the real difference. They are the more organic, more subtle parts of the job They have allies in unlikely places and have drawn together people who traditionally would have been enemies or at least troublesome. Jaroo is a good example. Pettifer looks for the good in people. Lawson doesn’t, but she appreciates it when she stumbles over it. I guess it’s that sense of people, however grudgingly, pulling together for a common purpose. The action and conflicts of the story give us our thrills, but the bonds and the unconventional friendships lend it its heart.
And finally, is there anything else you want fans to know as things heat up in Badrock?
Dan: Well, I hope people have been enjoying it, and I hope they continue to do so. The story is really building now, calling back to and drawing on many elements that were set up early on, most of which seemed minor at the time. We’re heading towards big events, but it’s not just one big showdown. The ante is going to rise several times, and people do seem to like twists, so you can bet there are going to be big twists too.