Judge Dredd Snapshots: Christmas Comes to Des O’Connor Block (prog 144)

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It’s from Judge Dredd! He’s going to forget about all that killin’! He says I can murder anyone I like! Whoopee!

Hunk Smythe

Script: John Wagner; Artist: Mike McMahon; Letters: Tom Frame

Plot summary

Dredd is alerted to huge traffic jams outside of the Des O’Connor apartment block. Investigating it appears that all of the residents have been sent presents, and that the couriers have been ordered to dress up in Christmas regalia, despite it not being Christmas. It emerges that Barney, the City Hall Computer, has malfunctioned and in a misguided attempt to make all of the residents of Des O’Connor Block happy, is giving them all what they want. Attempts to shut down Barney fail, but ultimately the computer realises that he has ended up making people more unhappy than before and so he shuts down.

Commentary

The first two episodes I covered in this series are fairly atypical for Judge Dredd, not merely because they were written by Pat Mills, but also because one was part of a so-called “epic” story while the other explores Dredd’s backstory. This episode, by contrast, is much more focused on Mega City One life, and Dredd takes more of a backseat. Unusually perhaps, this is true in the case of most Dredd strips.

The more common episode has some crime committed, the situation escalates, and Dredd sort of turns up at the end to sort it out (normally with a bit of violence thrown in). This episode follows that basic structure, although it is unusual because it doesn’t actually get resolved by Dredd either shooting anyone or beating them up (although he gets to do that as well!). Instead, the story ultimately sorts itself out as Barney discovers that he has made a grave error of judgement.

Barney originally appears in “Father Earth” (progs 122-125), but stories about robots and computers going haywire go back as far as “Krong” (prog 5) and is a central part of the strip’s first multi-part storyline “Robot Wars” (progs 10-17). It’s a theme that John Wagner would return to again and again, arguably most significantly with the introduction of robot judges in “Mechanismo” (Megazine 2.12–17) – a plot element that has been returned to repeatedly over the last 25 years.

This is also one of the first stories to feature the idea of the city block, or “block” as they are more conventionally known. Although the idea that everyone lived in massive skyscrapers is a concept that is established on the first page of the very first episode “Judge Whitey” (prog 2), it was only really with “City Block” (prog 117-118) that the strip began to explore what every day life for the citizens of Mega City One was really like and look at blocks as a sociological perspective. “City Block” is also where the convention that most buildings are named after famous people from the 20th Century was established, normally for humourous or ironic effect. It also quickly became a norm for blocks to be named after British celebrities that very few Americans would have ever heard of – Des O’Connor being a case in point!

It is also significant to see how Mike McMahon’s artwork here has evolved compared to “The Return of Rico“. That in itself is already significantly different to his early work when he essentially copied Dredd creator Carlos Ezquerra’s style (to Ezquerra’s chagrin), but by the time we get to Des O’Connor Block, McMahon has settled into the style he is perhaps most famous for, the cartoonish, gangly Dredd with massive boots. He’d continue to adopt this style for a year or so, but his style continued to evolve. He only draws occasionally for the strip now, but when he does his style is far more abstract to the point of being almost cubist in style.

Trivia

  • If you don’t know, Des O’Connor was a light entertainer who was a staple part of British television from the 1960s-2000s.
  • Although this story is not set at Christmas, it did in fact appear in an issue of 2000AD that was published around Christmastime (it has a cover date of 22 December, which at the time meant that it was due to be withdrawn from sale on that date). This is a minor break from the tradition in the Judge Dredd strip that stories typically take place 122 years after publication (making this episode set in 2101 AD and the current date in the strip being 2142).

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