Daily Archives: 3 August 2012

I is for Incubus

For a while in comics, it looked as if pretty much every character going was battling with Aliens and Predators. While there were some notable successful crossovers – the first Batman vs Predator springs to mind – the vast majority were just formulaic trash. I was shocked to discover a few months ago that I had apparently bought and red Aliens vs Predator vs Terminator, a mini-series so utterly forgettable that I could not recall a thing about it.

Dredd’s first foray with one of 20th Century Fox’s ugly buglies was actually in 1997 when he went up against the Predator (Predator vs Judge Dredd, Megazine 3.36–38). A relatively pedestrian tale let down further by weak art, it notably replaced Anderson with Judge Shaefer, a descendent of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Dutch in the original Predator film. It was clear that Dark Horse Comics were calling all the shots and John Wagner’s heart wasn’t really in it.

So things did not look augur well for the Judge Dredd vs Aliens tale, which appeared in 2003. It is all the more remarkable therefore that Incubus (Prog 2003 and progs 1322-1335, 2003) is in fact a pretty decent story.

There are probably two reasons why Dredd’s foray with Aliens was happier (if happy is the right word) than his tussle with Predator. The first is down to publisher. In 1997, 2000AD was still owned by Egmont Fleetway who were essentially running 2000AD down with a view to cancelling it as soon as it became unprofitable, forecast to occur in 2001. By 2003, 2000AD had been bought by Rebellion Developments who not only valued the comic far more highly but had some actual clout with 20th Century Fox after producing two well received Aliens vs Predator computer games.

The second reason for its strength is probably down to co-writer Andy Diggle.

Andy Diggle probably deserved an entry of his own (alas, D is now done and dusted). He and David Bishop are largely responsible for turning 2000AD around in the late 90s in the face of considerable opposition in the form of Egmont Fleetway. They played an instrumental role in negotiating the deal in which 2000AD was sold to Rebellion (you can read David Bishop’s account in his excellent history of 2000AD Thrill-Power Overload).

Diggle himself is a slightly controversial figure. As editor after David Bishop departed, he undoubtedly “got” 2000AD, as his famous (among 2000AD fans anyway), “Shot glass of rocket fuel” memo demonstrated. At the same time, there is little to doubt that the quality of 2000AD dipped somewhat under his tenure. He also had some rather public falling outs with a number of 2000AD’s key creators – most notably Pat Mills.

In the end, Diggle’s tenure as “Tharg” (the fictional editor of 2000AD and something of an honorific) was rather short. He has since gone on to be a far greater writer than he ever was an editor, including as the writer of The Losers, which went on to become a film in 2010.

It is clear that a lot of deft merging of the conventions of the Aliens franchise with past Dredd continuity is down to Diggle. Like the best crossovers, it works by honouring both series without resorting to shoehorning in anything too blatant: there is no Cadet Judge Ripley, for instance. It won’t go down in history as the greatest of literature, but as fun, action packed stories go, it sets a fairly high standard.

Of course, after 35 years of publication, neither of the official crossovers mark the first time Dredd has encountered any familiar looking aliens. We can discount Trapper Hag as a Predator stand in as, regardless of the similarities, he appeared in 1983, four years before the Schwarzenegger film (Trapper Hag, progs 305-307, 1983).

The best undeniable homage to Alien in the Dredd strip was the Starborn Thing (progs 309-314, 1983). In this story, Dredd is required to investigate a spaceship crash in the Cursed Earth. He encounters a squat creature covered in tentacles which proceeds to take control of his body. Dredd eventually defeats it only to discover it has impregnated him with its young. The story resulted in one of the most iconic 2000AD covers, drawn by Mick McMahon.

The other notable rip-off is Raptaur, a sort of amalgam of Alien and Predator, which appeared in an eponymous tale by Alan Grant and Dean Ormston in 1991 (Raptaur, Judge Dredd Megazine 1.11-1.17, 1991). Sadly all this iteration seemed to do is run around and eat people – it wasn’t half as fun as the Starborn Thing – but the creature has since reappeared in spin-off series The Simping Detective.

Highlights include:

  • The Starborn Thing (progs 309-314, 1983)
  • Incubus (Prog 2003 and progs 1322-1335, 2003)

I is also for…


Insurrection is a spin-off series which has thus far had two runs in the Judge Dredd Megazine (279-284 and 305-310). It concerns a group of renegade judges and their allies – a motley crue of intelligent apes and autonomous robots – who are under attack from Mega City 1 for declaring independence.

While set squarely in Dredd’s world, the series has very clear Warhammer 40,000 influences – indeed both writer Dan Abnett and artist Colin MacNeil are Warhammer mainstays. It is one of the most popular spin off series to appear in the Megazine in recent years.

H is for Hershey

Second only to Anderson, Judge Barbara Hershey is the longest surviving member of the Dredd supporting cast. Created by John Wagner and Brian Bolland (who drew her with a distinctive Louise Brooks’ style bob), she first appeared in the Judge Child saga (progs 156–181, 1981) as one of two street judges appointed to assist Dredd in his mission. Dredd and Hershey’s relationship gets off to a rocky start as Hershey perceived Dredd persecuting and being responsible for the death of the third judge, Lopez, for the latter’s refusal to shave off his moustache.

Nonetheless, Hershey impresses Dredd sufficiently that he handpicks her for his Apocalypse Squad at the end of the Apocalypse War. She goes on to have a meteoric rise, joining the ruling Council of Five whilst apparently still in her 20s, and being made acting Chief Judge during Judgement Day (progs 786–799 and Megazine 2.04–2.09, 1992). Hershey comes bottom of the poll in the election to replace Chief Judge McGruder in 2116, but ends up in that office in 2122. She remains Chief Judge until 2131 where her decision, at Dredd’s behest, to reform the anti-mutant laws, proves to be unpopular and she is ousted. In 2134, she returns to once again serve as Acting Chief Judge following the Day of Chaos disaster (Day of Chaos: The Days After, prog 1789, 2012).

Hershey also had her own solo series in the Judge Dredd Megazine, but that series is not remembered with particular fondness. As with Anderson’s series at the time, she was portrayed as a drippy, passive character, mournfully observing how wicked and authoritarian the judges are, whilst doing even less about it than Anderson (and even Dredd). It is a shame that during the early 90s, the stock response to giving a female character her own series was to throw in some politically correct, feminising (as opposed to feminist) tropes which quickly sap the character of any verve whatsoever. Frankly, going the full cheesecake route would have at least been more entertaining.

Nevertheless, she survived that and went on to become, in Dredd’s view, the best Chief Judge he had ever served under.

Hershey appears as a major character in the 1995 Judge Dredd motion picture, played by Diane Lane (Barbara Hershey was presumably unavailable). Shorn of her distinctive bob, the character commits the egregious sin of kissing Stallone’s Dredd at the end of the film.

Highlights include:

  • The Judge Child (progs 156–181, 1981)
  • The Chief Judge’s Man (progs 1244–1247, 2001), On the Chief Judge’s Service (1263–1266, 2001) and Revenge of the Chief Judge’s Man (1342–1349, 2003)

H is also for…

Helter Skelter

After Garth Ennis’ not so successful first shot as a regular writer of Judge Dredd, this was his second chance. A tale of parallel universes, drawn by Carlos Ezquerra and with Ennis fresh from the triumph of his Preacher series, this seemed to have the makings of an instant classic.

Sadly however, it failed on pretty much every front. The story itself was pretty insipid, most of the appearances by characters from other 2000AD stories felt shoehorned in and amounted to little more than walk-on parts, it was simply too fannish – a bit like Doctor Who at its worst when all the Doctor Who monsters team up and appear for seconds each onscreen (yes, The Pandorica Opens, I’m looking at you).

On the plus side, it did serve as Henry Flint’s first stab on a high profile project, when he filled in for Ezquerra who was having personal problems at the time. Flint has gone onto become a firmly established fan favourite.

G is for Giant

Three generations of Giants have appeared in the Dredd strip over the years. The first Judge Giant was a frequent sidekick of Dredd’s in the early years, helping him during The Day the Law Died (progs 89–108, 1978-1979) and dying in Block Mania (progs 236–244, 1982). While popular at the time, Giant somewhat dates the strip; it seems unlikely that they would introduce a black Judge these days who talked jive. His death was quite controversial – many fans quite naturally objected to one of their favourite characters being killed by being shot in the back.

Like Fargo, DeMarco and, one suspects, a pretty huge number of judges, Giant couldn’t abide by the “no sexual relations” rule of being a Judge (given the parallels with the Catholic church, it is surprising that no-one has yet decided to do a story about a Judge-Tutor abusing Cadets in the Academy of Law, but I digress). And so it was that just prior to Necropolis (progs 674–699, 1990), it emerged that Giant had secretly fathered a son (Young Giant, progs 651-655, 1989), who was swiftly inducted into the Academy of Law. Giant Jr performed a similar role in Necropolis to the one played by his father in The Day the Law Died. Soon after, Giant graduated from the Academy and went on to perform a similar role as Dredd’s sidekick in numerous stories.

I hope you’ll indulge me however, if I spend most of the rest of this article focusing on Giant Senior’s father, and Giant Junior’s grandfather, John “Giant” Clay. This character only appears once in the Dredd strip, although there was a one-off story called Whatever Happened to John “Giant” Clay (Judge Dredd Megazine issue 216, 2004)? He was better known as the star of the Harlem Heroes series (progs 1-27, 1977), one of the most popular strips in the first year of 2000AD. Indeed, since Harlem Heroes was published in prog 1, Giant actually predates Dredd by one week.

Harlem Heroes, named as a nod to the Harlem Globetrotters, focused around the futuristic sport of aeroball. As lost genre now, British comics in the 70s and 80s were full of sports stories, and this one followed the same basic formula (think Roy of the Rovers but with jetpacks).

This explicit link between Judge Dredd and the Harlem Heroes was to be just one of several little cross references which were to appear in the Dredd strip over the years. Satanus, the black tyrannosaur which appeared in The Cursed Earth (progs 61–85, 1978) was cloned Jurassic Park style from the DNA of the son of Old One Eye, the tyrannosaur which was the main antagonist in Flesh! (progs 1-19, 1977); just to be confusing, his own son Golgotha then appeared in the ABC Warriors in a story which was technically set several decades before Dredd was even born (ABC Warriors: Golgotha, progs 134 to 136, 1979). ABC Warriors itself was set initially during the fag end of the Volgan War, which first appeared in the 2000AD story Invasion. The Kleggs, alien mercenaries who appeared in The Day the Law Died, were to appear in the first Ace Trucking Co story (The Kleggs, progs 232-236, 1981). And finally, there have been two stories in which Dredd either fights or teams up with Johnny Alpha from Strontium Dog, a series which is set in the late 22nd century (Dredd is set in the early 22nd century).

As time has gone on however, enthusiasm for the idea of a shared 2000AD universe akin to the Marvel or DC universe, appears to have waned. Origins (progs 1505–1519 & 1529–1535, 2006-2007) makes no reference to the Volgan War for instance. A number of series have appeared subsequently which have been explicitly set in Dredd’s world, mostly in the Judge Dredd Megazine, but the more tenuously linked strips have tended to go their separate ways in recent years, although Pat Mills has actually been drawing his own creations Invasion and the ABC Warriors even closer together, with Invasion’s follow-up Savage telling the origins of the ABC Warriors and its predecessor series Ro-Busters.

Where there have been crossovers in recent years, they have tended to take the form of alternate versions. The 1995 Judge Dredd film featured an “ABC Warrior” which looked remarkably like Hammerstein from the ABC Warriors. As a tie-in, Pat Mills wrote Hammerstein (progs 960-963, 1995), which ret-conned the robot into being one of the wardroids used by President Booth to fight the judges at the end of the Atomic Wars. That story has since been contradicted by the ABC Warriors series, which establishes the Volgan War continuing for decades longer than would work in Dredd’s continuity.

A year previously, 2000AD featured a crossover between Dredd and the Rogue Trooper (Casualties of War, prog 900, 1994), but this Rogue Trooper appears to be an amalgam of both the original Rogue Trooper and the reboot version “Friday” (Rogue Trooper continuity is a whole other kettle of fish I won’t go into here).

And finally, in the story Helter Skelter (progs 1250–1261, 2000), Dredd faces his own Crisis on Multiple Earths and encounters several different 2000AD characters, as well as judges from another parallel universe.

It probably made sense to decouple all these series from each other; the longer they went on the more of a straitjacket it would become. From a fan’s perspective however it is a bit of a shame as it was fun trying to piece it all together. Judge Giant then is a sort of artefact from a bygone era.
Highlights include:

  • Giant Sr’s first appearance – The Academy of Law (progs 27-28, 1977)
  • Giant Sr’s death – Block Mania (progs 236–244, 1982)
  • Giant Jr’s first appearance – Young Giant (progs 651-655, 1989)
  • Giant Jr’s finest moment – Necropolis (progs 674–699, 1990)
  • Satanus’s first appearance – The Cursed Earth (progs 61–85, 1978)
  • First (and best) Strontium Dog crossover – Top Dogs (Judge Dredd Annual, 1991)
  • Rogue Trooper crossover – Casualties of War (prog 900, 1994)

G is also for…

Alan Grant
Thus far in this A-Z I have made numerous comments about Alan Grant’s contribution to the Dredd series, most of them not complimentary. I wouldn’t however wish you to think that I don’t value the contribution he made to the Dredd series.

Without Alan Grant, it is entirely likely that Judge Dredd would have fizzled out years before its greatest stories had been told. Grant teamed up with Wagner at a crucial time during the latter’s writing of the Judge Child saga. Grant helped him get past his writer’s block and the two formed a writing team which lasted for the best part of a decade.

Most of what is regarded as the golden age of Judge Dredd was written by Wagner and Grant (or T. B. Grover as they typically wrote under). Combined with artist Ron Smith (another unsung hero), they produced a consistent, funny and imaginative body of work at a level of quality that the series struggled to reach both before and afterwards.

And of course they did this while writing numerous other titles at the same time, including Strontium Dog, Ace Trucking Co, Robo-Hunter and many other series which appeared in the Eagle and Scream. Their run on Batman remains one of my favourites (as is Alan Grant’s solo run); in particular, in the Ventriloquist they created a quintessential Bat villain.

Without Alan Grant’s no-nonsense approach, John Wagner’s style has developed to become much more introspective and meandering. In general, it is a style that I love, but that isn’t to say that the occasional jolt of Alan Grant-style anarchism wouldn’t be unappreciated to keep things more on track. An Alan Grant co-written Day of Chaos for instance would probably have ended in half the time (although I think even he would have baulked at going further than wiping out 87 per cent of the population).

I don’t agree with everything he has done, or wanted to do, with Judge Dredd and Anderson, Psi Division (not to mention killing off Johnny Alpha in Strontium Dog), but he remains one of the British comic industry’s greatest ideas men and I would like to see him writing a lot more than he does these days.