You can squeal all you want – like it or not, it’s the way it’s going to be. And do you know why…? Because I’m right and you’re wrong. Because it’s the way I want it –
And which of you has distinguished yourself in the past months to go against me?
Date: 24 November 1990
Script: John Wagner; Artist: Steve Dillon; Letters: Tom Frame
With growing pro-democracy protests carrying on outside, Acting Chief Judge McGruder calls a meeting of senior judges to order to discuss what to do following the defeat of the Dark Judges who had taken control of the city and begun a process of mass execution of the populace. McGruder is allowed to continue as Chief Judge, despite some misgivings about her sanity.
Meanwhile, Psi Judge Anderson visits Yassa Povey, the boy who saved Dredd’s life in the Cursed Earth a few months ago but was blinded by the evil Sisters of Death in the process. Povey had been brought to the city to restore his eyesight, but in the process had been kidnapped for ransom by desperate survivors of the Dark Judge’s purges. Povey has been having nightmares of the Sisters of Death and Anderson uses her powers to help purge him of their psychic influence.
Meanwhile, Dredd fights through the protests to attend the meeting of senior judges. Finally there, he insists that they allow a referendum to establish the consent of the people for the judges to continue in control. This is met with widespread opposition, but Dredd plays his trump card: he was responsible for saving the city while most of the other judges in the room had been under the control of the Dark Judges. Dredd supports the judges continuing but insists that a vote of the people has to go ahead.
So much has happened in the year since our last snapshot, much of which formed the culmination of 13 years of world-building. Dredd takes the Long Walk, a form of retirement in which judges go out into the wilderness to dispense justice in the Cursed Earth until they die in the attempt. This is due to a combination of factors: his growing doubts about the efficacy of the judicial system, his age (Dredd, in universe, is 46 at this point, meaning – I am horrified to realise – he retired at the same age I am now), and the fact that he had fallen out with the then-Chief Judge Silver over the decision to impose Kraken, a fellow clone of Fargo and former Judda (the bad dudes in Oz) who had been deprogrammed and retrained, to be Dredd’s successor.
Dredd’s final act as a judge was the assess Kraken for suitability to become a full Judge and deems him to be unfit to serve, but Silver overrules him, fakes Kraken’s death and brings him back passing him off as Dredd himself, whose resignation had been covered up. It is left ambiguous whether Dredd’s assessment of Kraken was correct; either way Kraken is manipulated by the Sisters of Death who use him to bring back the Dark Judges who had been lost in a limbo dimension years before.
The Sisters of Death soon realise that Kraken is not really Dredd and come after Dredd himself. In the depths of the Cursed Earth they find him and nearly kill him. Yassa Povey and his family find his horrifically burned body and restore him back to life, dubbing him The Dead Man. The Sisters return for him and Dredd fights them off, although they blind Povey in the process.
Dredd then returns to Mega City One to save the city and with the help of McGruder (who had also taken the Long Walk years before), Cadet Giant and a paralysed Psi Judge Anderson, succeeds.
All of which is a pretty curtailed summary of what was a truly exciting year of stories. The story is in fact told slightly out of sequence, with The Dead Man (2000AD progs 650-662) originally appearing in the weekly anthology as a wholly seperate story; the Dead Man’s true identity was only revealed at the end. It was a delicious twist and one that could only be pulled off in a weekly anthology comic willing. It’s a trick 2000AD would go onto repeat with Lobster Random and Sinister Dexter pulling off essentially the same twist in the 2000s, but it was not until “Trifecta” (progs 1803-1812) that 2000AD managed to pull off a twist reveal like this that had anything like the same impact.
Dredd’s retaking of Mega City One, told in the story “Necropolis” (progs 674-699) is a bit of a letdown compared to the amazing build up it received, but it still has some wonderful moments, such as Dredd’s climactic showdown with a corrupted and utterly broken Kraken.
Back to “Nightmares”, this final part has some nice touches as well. In particular I like the suggestion by McGruder, left ambiguous, that not all the judges who worked with the Dark Judges were under their control; some may have simply gone along with it. We also get the introduction of Niles – who goes on to become a recurring character and trusted Dredd ally after some stumbles – and Grice – who goes on to become a villain.
This story ends with the judges deciding to allow a referendum on their continued existence to go ahead, a plot point which goes on to be explored in “The Devil You Know” (progs 750-753) and “Twilights Last Gleaming” (progs 754-756). While the former was written by John Wagner, the latter was scripted by Garth Ennis. During this period, John Wagner would go on to step back from writing Dredd, leaving Ennis to take over – although both Wagner and his long time collaborator Alan Grant would continue to script Dredd in the Judge Dredd Megazine (or rather Judge Dredd: The Megazine as it was known as then), which was first published on 1 October 1990.
Indeed, it is interesting to contrast the Dredd in “Nightmares” and in the run up to “Necropolis” with the Dredd we see in America, a spin off strip which had just started in the Megazine (issues 1.01 to 1.07). In America, Dredd is very much the villain and the main antagonist in a series which explores the rise of the Democracy Movement and their struggle against the Judges. This is much more in keeping with the Dredd we saw back in “Revolution“. There is a clear tension between the Dredd who stands for law and order and considers democracy to be dangerous, and the Dredd who recognises that the Judge system has massively failed the people and this is a theme that in different ways would go on to dominate John Wagner’s solo writing from this point forward, culminating in an impressive connected storyline which ran from “Origins” in 2007 (progs 1505-1519, 1529-1535) until “Day of Chaos” in 2012 (progs 1743–1789). I don’t think this tension ever really gets resolved, and since Wagner stepped back as the lead writer at the end of “Day of Chaos” subsequent writers have been less interested in exploring it, but it has certainly lead to many of the most interesting strips to come out of the series.
I should mention Steve Dillon briefly, as this is the first time I’ve covered an episode featuring his artwork in this blog series, despite his Dredd art first appearing in 1981. This is very much Dillon at the height of his powers, shortly before he would break into the US with his run on Hellblazer (working with Garth Ennis, who he would go onto first work with on Dredd a few months after this story was published). Not many artists could make a 6 page episode focused on a bunch of people arguing in a council meeting visually interested, but Dillon pulls it off here.
- I’m not convinced that the repeated jibes about McGruder’s facial hair (a cis woman in late middle age) which appear here, in “Necropolis” and in most of her subsequent appearances, have especially aged well – or that they were that funny at the time. McGruder has an arc over the next few years which focuses on her declining mental health and paranoia. It’s interesting, but I do wish it had been more sensitively handled at times as the jokes about her needing to shave get quite old (and under writers other than Wagner, tend to get even worse).