Category Archives: Dredd Stuff

Judge Dredd Snapshots: Dredd Angel part 3 (prog 379)

It’s the same every town I go into! Some cheap punks a-lookin’ fer a rep – thnk they kin outbutt Mean Machine Angel!

A man gits mighty tired of it! A normal man, that is!

Me, I ain’t normal!

Mean Machine

Script: John Wagner & Alan Grant (as T.B. Grover); Artist: Ron Smith; Letters: Tom Frame

Plot summary

Dredd has recruited Mean Machine Angel to help him recover group of foetuses cloned from reknowned Mega City Judges which were being sent to Texas City as a gift. To get round the fact that Mean is determined to kill Dredd, the judges have operated on his brain to make Mean think that Dredd is in fact his father, Pa Angel, and is mainly concerned with some antiques which the clones were being transported with – the fabled treasures of Liberace’s tomb. While in the Cursed Earth tracking down the raiders who have stolen both the loot and the clones, Dredd and Angel are in the town of Oxter when a gang of mutants, the Goat Boys, challenge Mean to a headbutting contest. Mean beats them all with little difficulty but in the process the dial on his forehead that controls his mood gets stuck on 4 1/2 and he goes into a butting frenzy. Dredd attempts to intervene, but before he can Mean ransacks the town. Dredd reaches him and switches the dial, but as he does the water tower which Mean has ransacked starts to collapse on top of them.

Commentary

Sometimes the Judge Dredd strip is full of subtle and not so subtle satire about the current state of the world. And sometimes it’s just about a redneck cyborg maniac who likes headbutting people.

Mean Machine, and for that matter the Angel Gang of which is was a family member of, was introduced in “The Judge Child” (progs 156-181). Although this story is mostly set in space, it begins with Dredd trying to track down the Judge Child, Owen Krysler, in the Cursed Earth where he is abducted by the Angel Gang who attempt to sell him into slavery (it is prophesised that Krysler will save the city 18 years later in 2020, which is why Dredd is tasked with finding him). Eventually they flee into space and wind up on the planet Xanadu where Dredd kills them all, apparently to Wagner and Grant’s immediate regret.

All of the Angel Gang are pretty distinctive, but perhaps Mean is the most memorable simply because he’s so weird. Originally, Mean was the one non-violent member of the Angel Gang so Pa Angel kidnaps a cyberneticist to give him a robot arm and fit him with a dial on his forehead that controls his mood. From this point onwards, Mean is a brain damaged, violent maniac.

In “The Judge Child”, Dredd concludes is evil and leaves on Xanadu despite his powerful psychic abilities. It was fairly quickly followed up by “The Fink” (progs 193-196) in which the estranged Angel brother Fink attempts to take his revenge on the crew of the Judge Child Expedition for killing his family, and “Destiny’s Angels” (progs 281-288) in which Krysler brings Mean back to life and he teams up with Fink to try to take down Dredd. This time it is Fink’s turn to die.

Mean returns to the strip periodically, and eventually both Pa and Junior Angel are brought back to life, but as with the Dark Judges there are diminising returns to these stories (Dredd, Death and Mean even team up in “The Three Amigos”, Judge Dredd Megazine 3.02-3.07). Ultimately there are only so many situations you can put a maniac in before it starts to feel a bit samey. Again as with Death, it has ultimately been left to a very different creative team to produce a prequel that takes the concept in a very different direction, to inject some life into the concept (in this case Gordon Rennie and Lee Carter’s Angelic, which first appeared in Judge Dredd Megazine 356-359).

The other thing worth touching on, although they dont appear in this particular episode of “Dredd Angel”, are the judge clones. I made a mistake in my coverage of “The Return of Rico” when I said that this was where it gets revealed that Dredd is the clone of Fargo, the founder of the Judge system. In fact that doesn’t happen until a few weeks later, in “A Case for Treatment” (prog 389). What we do however get in this story is the first clear illustration of Fargo without a helmet, complete with an extremely Dredd-looking chin. I guess that this rather silly story isn’t really the right place to make that kind of revelation. “A Case for Treatment” on the other hand has a very different tone – perhaps we’ll revisit that one at some point in this series.

Trivia

  • Mean only has one arm in this strip because Dredd shot his biological one off in “The Judge Child” – resurrection fluids appear to have not been capable of regrowing actual limbs.
  • If you’re confused why I mentioned the Judge Dredd Megazine with two different numbering systems, it goes back to the fact that the publication actually has five different volumes due to repeated relaunches. Eventually, when they reached their 200th consecutive issue, they decided to treat the first four volumes as part of the same series. So the numbering system goes 1.01-1.20, 2.01-2.83, 3.01-3.79, 4.01-4.18, 201 onwards.

Judge Dredd Snapshots: Shanty Town part 4 (prog 303)

Shaver here. Rear access still secure. Stub got Ock’s arm though!

What the heck! I needed to lose a little weight!

Judges Shaver and Ocks

Script: John Wagner & Alan Grant (as T.B. Grover); Artist: Ron Smith; Letters: Tom Frame

Plot Summary

Judge Dredd has formed a squad of judges to clean up a shanty town that has arisen outside of Mega City One, but the criminal gangs have risen up to fight back, lead by Mad Mox, who is using a stub gun, an extremely powerful hand gun used by the judges during the Apocalypse War, to attack the judges’ base (a crashed Sov Judge craft which is also a remnant of the war). Stub guns are however prone to overheating and Mox blows himself up. The mob recedes following the death of their leader, giving the judges a chance to regroup. They discover however that Judge Elvino, the judge sent to raise the alarm back in the city, has been lynched.

The gangs decide to charge the judge’s base with a tanker full of phosphorous but the judges decide to abandon it on their bikes and shoot their way through the remainder of the mob. Eventually they win, sending the gangs into exile. Rather than allow the shanty town to remain and foster more criminal activity, the judges decide to demolish it and send the non-criminal inhabitants to hike across the Cursed Earth where they will be allowed to work on a food farm.

Commentary

The fallout of the Apocalypse War would end up dominating the strip for more than six months after that story ended. “Shanty Town” marks the end of that period (although the war would continue to come up from time to time) and is perhaps the most explicit story to explore the toll the war had taken on ordinary citizens.

This episode goes into that the least; the first part focuses on how people are driven to selling their organs and even children to criminal gangs. There is a deliberate irony mirroring between the fact that Dredd is originally sent to sort out the fact that children are being sold into slavery only to end up forcing the civilian population to work effectively as slaves. It’s pretty grim!

Two of the judges who appear here are recurring characters; in fact, both Ocks and Hershey were members of Dredd’s “Apocalypse Squad” that embark on a desperate mission at the end of the Apocalypse War to end the war by turning East Meg One’s missiles on itself. Ocks is a fairly one note character: he’s big and strong and that’s about it. Hershey however is the most significant character after Dredd to appear in the strip.

Hershey first appeared as a young judge just out of the Academy of Law who went on Dredd’s interplanetary mission to find the Judge Child (progs 156-181). In that storyline, she actually falls out with Dredd after he orders her friend Judge Lopez to effectively commit suicide by taking a drug that will give him prophetic visions and thus find the Judge Child. Created by Brian Bolland, in this case he modeled her and her bob haircut on the silent movie actor Louise Brooks. She has retained this haircut throughout her long career, although Ron Smith in this story and more generally draws her with much longer hair.

Hershey would go on to make repeated appearances in the strip, and drifted into politics becoming a member of the judges’ governing body the Council of Five in “A Chief Judge Resigns” (prog 457). She would eventually go on to become Chief Judge in “The Cal Legacy” (progs 1178-1179), resign, come back, and, last year, die (ish) in “Guatemala” (prog 2150).

It’s worth contrasting Smith’s art style here with his work on “the Blood of Satanus“. The inking is significantly lighter and less scratchy. The way he draws Dredd’s helmet is also much less expressive and dynamic – which I assume is a design choice to present Dredd as more implacable and unwavering. It’s a Dredd that much better suits this era where Dredd increasingly takes a backseat as the strip focuses more on the craziness of the city.

Trivia

  • The cover image I’ve used in this post is the cover from The Chronicles of Judge Dredd 6 published by Titan Books in 1985 and is drawn by Steve Dillon – another definitive Dredd artist who we will hopefully cover at some point in this series. For a lot of people too young to read Dredd during its initial run but old enough to be around in the 1980s (i.e. my cohort), these reprints were the lifeblood for our fandom. The binding was, sadly, frequently pretty shoddy, but the art was printed full size (unlike the current Complete Case Files which are trade size) and they frequently commissioned beautiful covers such as this one, in which Dredd and his squad escape the exploding phosphorous truck.
  • There is an interesting discrepency between how the first page of this strip is presented in Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 06 (I tend to depend on these to write this series) and the original art. In the Case Files you only see panels 5 and 6, as well as Dredd’s speech bubble on panel 7. I don’t have access to my copy of the original prog – strips would get chopped and changed like this all the time for space – but this one is not done especially well (it may have been done for the Titan reprint rather than the original prog). If anyone happens to know how it originally appeared and can leave a comment below I’d be most grateful!
  • And yes, if you’ve been keeping count, it does mean that I own this strip three times in three different formats. In fact, I also own it in the Eagle Comics reprint! My fandom was pretty hardcore in the late 80s.

Judge Dredd Snapshots: The Game Show Show part 1 (prog 278)

Being a game show host has always been my dream! I’ll learn some bad jokes – have my mouth moulded into an inane grin – anything!

Barry Dreery

Script: John Wagner & Alan Grant (as T.B. Grover); Artist: Jose Casanovas & Jose Casanovas Junior; Letters: Tom Frame

Plot Summary

Dredd is given the task of investigating the disappearances of 400 game show hosts by Chief Judge McGruder. Despite apparently being pleased that about the disappearances, Dredd sets about his task diligently. It emerges that the disappearances are the work of Barry Dreery, a wannabe gameshow host whose attempt at breaking into the industry was blackballed by the Association of Game Show Hosts after the second episode of his game show Many Questions recorded negative viewing figures in its second episode. Barry vows revenge and his opportunity comes when his billionaire uncle dies in the Apocalypse War and he inherits 34 billion credits. Barry uses his wealth to build an enormous death trap which he dubs The Game Show Show. He bribes and kidnaps 400 game show hosts to participate in the “game show.” The episode ends with Dredd discovering the bodies of over 40 game show hosts in a radiation pit.

Commentary

So after two episodes which more resembled supernatural horror than the Judge Dredd fare, this one is a return to more familiar territory, although I guess you could compare it to something like Cube or the Saw film franchise if it wasn’t for the broad comedy.

In this case we’re satirising game shows, from a UK-centric perspective. However, the Spanish artists either has no idea who these game show hosts are that he is meant to be satirising and so none of them resemble the people they are supposed to represent. For a global and 2020 perspective, that really doesn’t matter, and I’m not sure much of the humour of the strip is lost from not understanding some of the specific 1982-centric jokes, but presumably a British artist would have treated this scrip in a somewhat different way.

This strip follows a fairly conventional format that has become a staple of Judge Dredd, and you can actually see echoes of it in “The Blood of Satanus“. Some loser with high ambitions and low impulse control sees his ambitions thwarted… until a stroke of luck enables him to fulfil his fantasies – which inevitably leads to drawing the attention of Judge Dredd who ends up shutting them down.

The Apocalypse War mentioned in this episode is actually a big part of Dredd lore and is covered in the eponymous story two months prior to this (progs 245-270) . This war, a parody of the poor relations between the US and the then-Soviet Union at the time, is first foreshadowed in “Battle of the Black Atlantic” (progs 128-129) and “Pirates of the Black Atlantic” (progs 197-200) before emerging as the main reason why civil war has broken out in “Block Mania” (progs 236-244).

In “The Apocalypse War”, longtime city East Meg One launches a nuclear strike on Mega City One, destroying half of the city, before the Sov Judges invade. Dredd leads a counter insurgency, ultimately turning the Sovs’ own nuclear missles on themselves and wiping out the entire of East Meg One – brutally ending the war.

This one storyline, more than any other, has continued to have ramifications throughout the series since. Obviously we see it referenced here – as well as the inheritence it also explains why there are convenient pits of radioactive sludge lying around – but it carried on being a plot point for the next couple of years. Decades later, East Meg One would retaliate and wipe out most of the remaining populace of Mega City One, in the “Day of Chaos” storyline (progs 1743-1789).

But for all this grim backdrop, for the most part the strip following “The Apocalypse War” was a fairly lighthearted affair, and this is fairly typical of the period. Most episodes during this period would make at least some reference to the recent war.

Jose Casanovas, occasionally assisted by his son, is best known in the UK for their work outside of Judge Dredd, particularly his work on Tharg’s Future Shocks and the Robo-Hunter series when it was written by Mark Millar. Despite his first work appearing in prog 70, this would actually be his first of two Dredd stories, the other being “One Better” years later in prog 757.

Trivia

  • I’m not going to claim to know who all the various game show hosts being parodied here are; even I’m not that old. For example, “laughing Les” being splatted in the first two pages is almost certainly not Les Dennis, but it might be an allusion to Les Dawson although neither of them presented game shows until the mid-80s. Eammon Enos, who is told “This is Your Death” however is presumably a nod to Eamonn Andrews, host of “This is Your Life” (which isn’t a game show, but he did also present “What’s My Line?”).
  • Laughing Les is said to be the host of Family Feuds. Interestingly, Les Dennis was the host of Family Fortunes in the UK from 1987 until 2002. The US name for Family Fortunes is Family Feud.
  • The ceramic tombstone “won” by the first victim Slog Bankhurst is a reference to the sort of worthless trinkets that people would win in British gameshows (winning prizes of actual value was tightly restricted until the late 1980s), such as the Blankety Blank Cheque Book & Pen, the Dusty Bins you would win on 3-2-1 and the Bullys you would get as a consolation prize on Bullseye.
  • The background judge who appears in panels 1, 2 and 5 of page 3 of this strip looks a little like John Wagner, but this may be a coincidence.

Judge Dredd Snapshots: Judge Death Lives Part 1 (prog 224)

Is she dead?

No-one knows – and no-one will ever know. We can never release her – never risk Judge Death stalking the city again!

A tourist and Tour Guide Judge Sturmey

Script: John Wagner & Alan Grant (as T.B. Grover); Artist: Brian Bolland; Letters: Tom Frame

Plot summary

Part of a guided tour to the Hall of Heroes in the Grand Hall of Justice, a man holds back and hides himself until the tour has closed. Sneaking out at night, he uses a las-cutter to cut through the miracle plastic Boing which has been keeping Psi Judge Anderson’s body – as well as Judge Death, the alien superfiend that she had imprisoned in her mind. Death takes control of the man and they escape. Security guards discover the crime and summon Dredd, who immediately declares a state of emergency – and orders that Anderson be freed from the Boing, who it turns out has been in a state of suspended animation. The man returns home to discover that the three other Dark Judges, who were keeping his wife hostage and had forced him to free Death, had killed his wife anyway.

Commentary

So, we’ve zoomed forward 18 months, and an awful lot has changed in the strip. For one thing, the scripts are now being written by John Wagner in partnership with Alan Grant. Like Pat Mills, Alan Grant was briefly an editor of 2000AD before going on to writing freelance for the comic. Their partnership began during the tail end of the planet hopping saga “The Judge Child” (progs 156-181). They would go onto almost exclusively write the strip in partnership, both for the weekly comic and the Daily Star newspaper strips, until “Oz” (progs 545-570), by which point they were apparently increasingly disagreeing with the direction of the strip.

From Alan Grant’s solo-scripted strips you can see that he tends to favour more humourous strips in which Dredd is an outright fascist, whereas John Wagner went in a more serious, police procedural direction (although there are plenty of counter-examples to be found in both writer’s work). During the 1980s however, their respective strengths combined was perfect for the strip, which by this point had developed a very strong identity and had settled into a groove which hadn’t quite fully developed at the stage of “The Blood of Satanus“.

This is a relatively atypical strip however, mainly due to its subject matter and artist. Despite, for many people, Brian Bolland being one of the definitive Dredd artists, he has actually drawn very few strips, and many of his most iconic Judge Dredd images are in fact covers – particularly the Eagle Comics reprints which were produced for the US market in the 1980s. “Judge Death Lives” (progs 224-228) is in fact his penultimate strip and he was to go on to draw just one more episode – the final part of “Block Mania” (progs 236-244).

As I said when discussing “The Cursed Earth“, Bolland would tend to get given projects that would draw on his strengths. In fact, he created the character design for Psi Judge Anderson and Judge Death in “Judge Death” (progs 149-151 – immedately before “The Blood of Satanus”). Anderson was largely based on singer-songwriter Debbie Harry, then the lead singer of Blondie. According to John Wagner in the book Thrill Power Overload however, the idea of Judge Death initially came from Alan Grant who, while not his writing partner at the time, was his flatmate.

Judge Death is a fan favourite, who almost certainly inspired the design of The Batman Who Laughs and, perhaps, the Mouth of Sauron in The Lords of the Rings films. He and his cohorts the Dark Judges have gone on to return in the Judge Dredd strip on numerous occasions. However, while the strips have gone on to become longer and more elaborate than this 32 page story, they have failed to be anything like as memorable. Their next appearance was in the spin-off strip Anderson, Psi Division in “Four Dark Judges” (progs 416-427. although the strip was originally intended for a spin-off Judge Dredd weekly comic which was ultimately cancelled) – which is sadly probably most memorable for the amount of swiping of Bolland’s original work which featured in it – and he briefly succeeds in his mission to take over Mega-City One in “Necropolis” (progs 674-699). Throughout the 1990s however, Death would increasingly be treated as a comedic character – particularly in Batman/Judge Dredd: Judgement on Gotham – and while attempts have been made to bring the characters back to his horror roots, the strips have struggled to make an impact.

The problem at its heart is that ultimately the character best works as a foil for Dredd, and is ultimately pretty one-note; that lapse into parody is hard to avoid beyond the initial appearances, and Bolland’s brilliant work lends the character far more weight and importance that a homicidal undead lunatic who justs wants to kills everything has any right to expect. In my opinion, the best strip featuring Death after “Judge Death Lives” is Tainted: The Fall of Deadworld (progs 1973-1981, and in various appearances since) an ongoing series by Kek-W and Dave Kendall. This is a prequel set in the last days of Judge Death’s world, in which Death himself rarely appears, and yet which incorporates 30-plus years of Death’s lore to create a satisfying narrative – both gruesome and humourous.

Psi Judge Anderson has had a much happier time since her appearance here. Like Death, she was very much created as a foil for Dredd, but her personal characteristics have meant that her repeated appearances have given her greater depth, not less. Her aforementioned spin-off series continues to appear to this day, in both 2000AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine.

Trivia

  • What is Boing? It’s an incredibly bouncy plastic which first appeared in the story “Palais de Boing” (prog 136), which you spray out of a can and can use to quickly cover yourself and bounce around, a bit like zorbing (which it was presumably influenced by), but way more fun. Generally it is restricted to use in contained environments such as the Palais de Boing, but perps infrequently use it for nefarious purposes. Anderson telepathically tells Dredd to encase her in Boing in “Judge Death” in order to trap him.
  • On page 2 of this strip, you can see a bust with the legend: “Feyy: He predicted disaster”. Feyy was the precognitive Psi-Judge who prophesises that a great disaster would befall Mega City One in the year 2120 but the city would be saved by “The Judge Child”. This is the inciting incident that kicks off that eponymous storyline.
  • On a similar note, you can see six portraits of judges in the background on the first page. It’s hard to tell who they are meant to be, but the most detailed sketch of a man with a moustache in the top left corner is possibly meant to be Judge Lopez, who dies during “The Judge Child”.
  • Finally, the righthand portrait on the first panel of page 3 is likely to be former Chief Judge Cal, the insane main antagonist in “The Day The Law Died” (progs 89-108), who is based on the Roman emperor Caligula. Presumably, that means the portrait to his left is Dredd himself.
  • We should probably not dwell on the fact that the judges leave the immortal spirit of Judge Death lying around in a museum, or that until this point they make no attempt to recover Anderson, and put it down to creative license!
  • This episode, and the bulk of the remaining story, is set in Billy Carter Block. Billy Carter was the scandal-hit brother of the then recently former President James Carter, who also made an appearance in our brief visit to the Cursed Earth. This is, to the best of my knowledge, a complete coincidence!

Judge Dredd Snapshots: The Blood of Satanus Part 2 (prog 153)

Another innocent citizen dead – and all because of STUPIDITY!

But, Judge Dredd – there was nothing we could do… nothing SHE could do.

She could have left a forwarding address!

Dredd talking with a fellow judge

Script: Pat Mills; Artist: Ron Smith; Letters: Tom Frame

Plot summary

The unfortunately named Rex Peters, who had been transformed into a half-man-half-tyrannosaur monstrosity in the last episode, kills and eats his wife before moving on to do the same to Cyril J. Ratfinkle, the lab assistant who was responsible for tricking him into drinking the eponymous blood of Satanus which was responsible for the transformation. After discovering the bodies, Dredd goes off in pursuit of Peters only to find him in his office where is was attempting to hang himself. But the tyrannosaur takes hold of him once again and attempts to kill Dredd.

Commentary

As luck would have it, this is the third of my first four articles which feature an episode scripted by Pat Mills. “The Blood of Satanus” would go on to be Mills’ last Dredd script for 15 years until “Flashback 2099: The Return of Rico” (progs 950-952).

Legend has it that in the original script of this strip, Mills intended for Rex Peter’s wife Lynsey to be an ex-girlfriend of Dredd’s, but it was decided that Dredd wouldn’t have any romantic relationships. Presumably this was changed quite late in the process because Dredd’s body language on discovering Lynsey’s corpse suggests that he is rather more distraught than the callous dialogue (repeated above) would suggest. So this is another example of Mills attempting to inject Dredd with a little more humanity.

Initially, this no romance rule seemed to just be because the comic was aimed at prepubescent boys who don’t like kissing – in other words, the characters might be screwing in the background but we just aren’t bothered with such things. It isn’t a universal rule – Dredd is even seen attempting to seduce one of his captors in “Battle of the Black Atlantic” (progs 128-129), albeit in an attempt to evade capture rather than to get his rocks off (although I believe this is the only story to feature Dredd actually groping someone). Eventually it evolved to become a part of the lore itself, with it implied in “Love Story” (prog 444) that judges are prohibited from having romantic or sexual relationships – a story played for laughs – and then further explored in “The Falucci Tapes” (progs 461-463) – a somewhat more sombre story in which a judge is blackmailed over his secret affair. It’s a theme that comes back from time to time, especially in the 90s when recurring character Judge DeMarco falls for Dredd (“Beyond the Call of Duty”, progs 1101-1110).

The “Satanus” in the title is a significant recurring character, both in Judge Dredd and across 2000AD. Satanus first appeared in “The Cursed Earth” (progs 61-85), which we have already touched upon. Satanus is a black Tyrannosaur who is cloned from a fossil and was the star attraction of a dinosaur theme park before going on a rampage and killing his keepers, and yes, the parallels to Jurassic Park are undeniable (which is not to say that Michael Crichton took the idea from 2000AD – early Dredd is stuffed with sci-fi concepts that had been mined from elsewhere).

However, that’s only half of the story. It goes on to emerge that Satanus is the son of Old One Eye, the tyrannosaur antagonist of Flesh!, a strip which ran in the very earliest days of 2000AD (progs 1-19). Mills would go on to reincorporate Satanus numerous times. His son, Golgotha, appears in the ABC Warriors (“Golgotha”, progs 134-136), shortly before “The Blood of Satanus” appeared in print, and would go on to appear in Nemesis the Warlock from “Book Five” (progs 435-445) onwards. “The Blood of Satanus” would even go on to get its own spin-offs/sequels in the Judge Dredd Megazine, although they are pretty tangential (“Blood of Satanus II: Dark Matters”, Megazine 214-217; “Blood of Satanus III: The Tenth Circle”, Megazine 257-265).

Finally, this is the first time we have met Ron Smith in this series, who after Mike McMahon would go on to become the iconic Dredd artist for the early-to-mid 1980s. Ron Smith first worked on “The Day the Law Died” (progs 89-110), drawing four of the episodes, and he quickly became a regular artist on the strip. His humourous (not not especially cartoonish) style complimented the more comedic direction the strip was go in during that period, particularly when John Wagner began his co-writing partnership with Alan Grant. He would also go on to be the main artist for the weekly Saturday Judge Dredd strip which appeared in the Daily Star from 1981 onwards (when the format switched to a shorter strip appearing in the weekday editions of the newspaper, he stepped back), which was more overtly comedic.

Here we see a fairly early example of Ron Smith’s work. He hasn’t quite settled into the style that he is best known for; particularly the inking is much heavier and occasionally more sketchy compared to his later work.

Trivia

  • One of the things Ron Smith is known for is his tendency to reuse character art in his Dredd work. Ratfinkle’s boss, who shows up in this episode, is the spitting image of a Russian spy who appeared in “Battle of the Black Atlantic” (progs 128-129), and years later appears again as an android in “Casey’s Day Out” (prog 422).
  • Wisely, Smith doesn’t opt to give the man-tyrannosaur the short arms that tyrannosaurus rex is famous for; nonetheless, the creature design doesn’t look very much like the original dinosaur – neither is it believed to have the prehensile tail that it uses to choke Dredd at the end of this episode! But then, the idea that drinking dinosaur blood would turn you into man-monster seems a little hinky, so perhaps its a little futile trying to understand the science behind this story.

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

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).

Judge Dredd Snapshots: The Cursed Earth Part 5 – The Mutie Mountains (prog 65)

No! No! Not… the teeth!

Mutant Brotherhood goon

Script: Pat Mills; Artist: Brian Bolland; Letters: Tom Frame

Plot summary

As part of their mercy mission crossing the Cursed Earth to save Mega City Two from the deadly 2T(fru)T virus, Dredd’s crew reach Mount Rushmore (which has been relocated to be closer to Mega City One). There they discover that an extra head has been carved on the iconic monument, that of the head of the Mutant Brotherhood Brother Morgar. The Mutant Brotherhood attacks Dredd’s party and captures two of his fellow judges, but Dredd manages to outmaneuvre them and threatens to blow up Morgar’s sculture unless he frees the judges. The judges are freed, but the Mutant Brotherhood live to pursue the crew…

Commentary

By the time “The Cursed Earth” started in 2000AD (progs 61-85), Dredd’s popularity had been come firmly established sufficiently that he replaced Dan Dare as the leading strip in 2000AD. At the time, 2000AD was predominantly black and white with the exception of the cover and centre pages. Becoming the lead strip meant that each episode would lead with a colour splash page, and this chapter includes one of the most iconic examples of this.

The art is by Brian Bolland, although most “Cursed Earth” episodes were illustrated by Mike McMahon. Bolland is known as one of the most iconic Dredd artists and it is easy to see why – although at this stage his art is still developing and we are yet to see him at his height. This is a good example of the sort of project Bolland was given at the time; an opportunity for his imagination to run riot with all sorts of different character designs.

“The Cursed Earth” is the first so-called “mega epic” in the strip’s history, although it is predated by the much shorter “Robot Wars” (progs 10-17) and the Luna-1 cycle (progs 42-58), which is more a series of interconnected stories. Taking place almost immediately after Luna-1, it means that for almost the entirety of Dredd’s second year of publication, the action takes place outside of Mega City One.

The idea that Mega City One bordered on an irradiated wasteland inhabited by mutants was established as far back as “The Brotherhood of Darkness” (prog 4), and the Brotherhood of Mutants and Brotherhood of Darkness share a number of similarities – indeed both seem to have their roots in “The Family” which appears in the Charlton Heston “kill all hippies” film The Omega Man (1971) – itself an adaptation of Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend (1954). That said, the overall plot of The Cursed Earth is acknowledged to be strongly influenced by the novel Damnation Alley by Roger Zelazny (1967) and its film adaptation (1977).

This episode makes extensive use of the all terrain vehicle which features in “The Cursed Earth”. The Judge Dredd strip, especially in the early days, commonly featured exciting new technology. The Land Raider is a bit unique however in that it is actually a tie in with a range of Matchbox toys which were launching at the time called Adventure 2000. This episode is the first to properly show the vehicle in action as it seperates its two sections and the rear section scales the face of Abraham Lincoln (damaging his nose in the process).

This is another strip by Pat Mills, and it is interesting to see how Dredd is presented in this arc. Early Dredd strips see the main character as quite unapolegetically violent and cruel, whereas here he is presented as much more just and merciful. Indeed, the action revolves around the fact that they are attempting to avoid a confrontation with the mutants. He comes across as a veritable bleeding heart liberal in this episode in his attitude towards mutants, refusing to kill them even after they capture two of his fellow judges (a fact which comes back to bite them in the bum in the very next episode).

Overall, Mills tended to humanise Dredd as much as possible in all of his early strips. The characterisation of Dredd has varied greatly over the years as different writers have tackled him, but for the most part the main writer John Wagner adopts a somewhat less sadistic version in future strips than he did in the earlier strips, suggesting that Mills influenced him somewhat in this respect. Indeed, “Origins” (progs 1505-1519, 1529-1535), which is a sequel of sorts to “The Cursed Earth” sees Dredd start along a path in which he becomes advocate for mutant rights, a plot point which goes on to dominate the strip for the following three years.

A final point, since this is the first time he has cropped up, about Tom Frame. Frame would end up becoming the main letterist for Judge Dredd and his tight, efficient script ended up becoming a part of the strip’s personality itself.

Trivia

  • Yes, that is indeed a carving of President Carter on the left of Mount Rushmore. Anachronistic pop cultural references played for laughs are a very common trope in Judge Dredd.
  • Dredd’s main companion throughout this run is Spikes Harvey Rotten, an outlaw punk biker who orignally appears in “Mega City 5000” (progs 40-41). Notably his character design is completely different in that story, resembling a Hell’s Angel than a punk. I’m guessing original artist Bill Ward didn’t have a clue who Johnny Rotten was, and missed the reference.
  • The appearance of a can of Heinz baked beans is only the first branded item we see in “The Cursed Earth” – indeed the story famously features two arcs – “Burger Wars” (progs 71-73) and “Soul Food” (progs 77-78) – which for many years were banned from being reprinted for fear of the various trademark holders suing them. Those episodes were scripted by John Wagner and Chris Lowder respectively, and not Pat Mills.
Rico Dredd

Judge Dredd Snapshots: The Return of Rico (Prog 30)

He-he ain’t heavy – he’s my brother!

Judge Dredd

Script: Pat Mills; Artist: Mike McMahon; Letters: Tony Jacob

Plot summary

A mysterious figure arrives as the Kennedy Space Port and tries to make contact with Joe Dredd, claiming to also be called Judge Dredd. Dredd immediately realises that Rico has returned. He returns to his apartment to find Rico waiting for him, having shut off the oxygen and heating. It is revealed that Rico and Joe are both clones who were inducted to the Academy of Law from birth. Rico ultimately graduated top of the class, with Joe a close second. But Rico ends up being corrupt and, after killing a man, Joe arrests him. Rico is sentenced to 20 years on the Penal Colony of Titan, from where he has just returned. He reveals that in order to survive the harsh climate on Titan, his body has been adapted and horrifically disfigured. He proposes a shootout to the death, but Joe is too quick for him and Rico is killed.

Commentary

Although I have selected this episode at random, I couldn’t have picked a better one to start with! During the first year, the lore surrounding Judge Dredd, not to mention the creative teams, underwent a lot of revision. Although it is now seen as a fairly core part of the strip, this is actually the first time it is established that Dredd is in fact a clone.

Indeed, it is an idea that doesn’t get explored very much for a long time. Rico doesn’t come up again until nearly two years later when it is revealed he has a daughter (“Vienna”, prog 116), and it isn’t even established that he is a clone of Judge Fargo, the founder of the judge system, until 1984’s “Dredd Angel” (progs 377-383) – although I believe it was mentioned in a timeline that was published in an annual before then. After that, however, this aspect gradually became more of an established part of the lore, and eventually a younger clone of Dredd would adopt the name “Rico” in “Blood Cadets” (1186-1188), a story which contains a partial flashback to this one. This Judge has not turned out to be corrupt.

Possibly Rico’s most famous appearance was as the main antagonist in the 1995 Judge Dredd motion picture. In this case he is presented as being genetically identical, and even has the same fingerprints, but is played by the Armand Assante as opposed to Sylvester Stallone who was in the lead role.

The other concept introduced in this story is the idea of the Penal Colony on Titan where corrupt judges are sent. This would go on to become a central feature in “Inferno” by Grant Morrison, Mark Millar and Carlos Ezquerra (progs 842-853) and later still in “Titan” by Rob Williams and Henry Flint (progs 1862-1869).

It is worth noting that this episode is written by Pat Mills. Pat Mills is the founding editor of 2000AD, but the main Judge Dredd writer at the time (and for most of the strip’s history) was creator John Wagner. In fact, the sum total of Judge Dredd strips written by Pat Mills is very small – essentially it comprises this and “The Cursed Earth” (progs 61-85), but his influence during the strip’s early development is hard to under-estimate. Pat Mills would go back to revisit this story in 1995, with “Flashback 2099: The Return of Rico” (progs 950-952). This is essentially the same story, padded out. I have to say I think it is the inferior of the two tellings, as the original is a masterpiece in efficient storytelling. The remake includes lots of ellipses about how the judicial system is essentially fascist which, firstly, we sort of knew without having it spelt out, and secondly, doesn’t really justify Rico committing extortion and murder – so it’s hard to see what point is being made.

More typically for this era, it it illustrated by Mike McMahon. McMahon became the default Dredd artist following creator Carlos Ezquerra’s departure citing creative differences. This is still very early McMahon, at a time when he was essentially hired because of his ability to replicate Ezquerra’s art style. McMahon’s style would develop significantly over the following years, and this isn’t rendered in the “big boots” style that became his trademark, but it still has some incredibly dynamic figure work. No-one has ever managed to draw a better Rico than the on page 5. It’s also worth noting that during this period, Dredd’s uniform was still undergoing a fair bit of revision; this strip still has him drawn with the “rounded visor” style of the early days. Eventually McMahon would go on to develop the more angular version of the helmet that is more familiar during the “Luna-1” cycle of stories (progs 42-58, wherein Dredd is made temporary “Judge Marshall” of a lunar outpost) and other artists would go on to adopt this style.

Trivia

  • The “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” quote is of course a reference to the Hollies’ pop song from 1969.
  • One curiosity is that at one point Rico overwhelms Maria, Dredd’s housekeeper, and ties her up in the apartment, only to go on to remove all the oxygen from the apartment. How she survives is not clear – although she does appear on the last page (and in subsequent stories). Dredd’s servodroid Walter the Wobot does not appear in this episode – presumably he’s out shopping.
  • You actually see Joe and Rico Dredd’s unmasked faces as young men in a couple of frames, albeit as long shots. The tradition of never showing Dredd’s face actually began as far back as prog 8 when Dredd’s face is “censored” – apparently because it was too ghastly to show to readers.
Judge Dredd

Judge Dredd Snapshots

It’s been a while since I wrote anything 2000AD related on this blog, and I’ve been getting back into it recently, so I thought I’d start a new blog series and see how far I get.

The idea of this project is to take a random single Judge Dredd episode from each year and write about it, with a view to exploring a bit of the strips’ history and how it has developed over the years. As it will be random, sometimes I’ll be reviewing two stories that are fairly close together and at other times they’ll be quite far apart. I’ll obviously be missing a lot out, not least of all the various specials and the Judge Dredd Megazine, but I’ll try to give context where appropriate.

We’ll see how far I get! I have a tendency to not finish projects such as these, and even just one post per year of Dredd still amounts to 43 posts and counting. But hopefully I can have some fun with it.

W is for Wally Squad [MINOR SPOILERS]

Note the first: this post contains minor spoilers regarding a current 2000AD storyline.

NaBloPoMo November 2012Note the second: back in August, I attempted to write a personal A-Z of the comic strip Judge Dredd during the run up to the release of the new Dredd 3D film. I got fairly far in but due to work pressures (and getting slightly bored of it, if truth be told), I failed to get it all done before the film came out. So one of the tasks I’m setting myself during NaBloPoMo is to get it finished off. If you’d like to read my other efforts in this series, see the index page.

Prog 390The Wally Squad is nickname of the undercover subdivision of the Justice Department. As any Brit can guess, the word “wally” is a pejorative term to mean a foolish person and thus implies the respect and reverence that judges treat the people they serve. Once again, this is an example of how the strip rather liberally inserts British slang into the future East Coast of North America (see my previous comment on U-fronts).

First appearing in an eponymous story oddly inserted between “A Case for Treatment” and “City of the Damned” [1] (progs 390-392, 1984), artist Brett Ewins [2] drew the Wally Squad with great aplomb, drawing on the portrayal of the Mega Citizenry by Mick McMahon and Ron Smith, as well as the punk psychodelia of Ewins’s occasional collaborator Brendan McCarthy who went on to design the Judda.

Ever since that story, the Wally Squad have been a mainstay of the Dredd strip – the only real surprise being why it took them seven years from the creation of the strip to introduce them. Probably the most prominent Wally Squad character to appear in the Dredd strip itself was Guthrie, a deep cover agent who goes rogue in “The Pit” due to the deep corruption in the Sector House at which he is based.

But it is in the various spin-offs of Judge Dredd that the Wally Squad has really come alive. At the heart of this is the inherent problem the Judge Dredd Megazine has faced over the years in establishing sustainable and popular spin-offs of the series. Most Dredd spin-offs fit into one of two categories: judges from other countries or cities (Armitage, Shimura, Pan-African Judges, Missionary Man) or other Mega City One judges (Anderson, Hershey). There are only so many cop stories you can write, or shoulder pads you can draw, before it all starts to feel a bit samey. The advantage of Wally Squad spin-offs is that they not only allow artists to draw more original looking protagonists, but they allow writers to explore a rather more grey area of law enforcement where the nature of the cops’ work means that they are unable to live the monastic life that street judges must adopt. All in all, those grey areas can lead to some solid storytelling.

Lenny ZeroThe first Wally Squad strip appeared almost by accident. In order to afford commissioning Sin City and Dark Knight Returns writer-artist Frank Miller to draw a cover for the 10 year anniversary issue of the Judge Dredd Megazine, then editor Andy Diggle wrote a 10 page script for free. The Frank Miller cover was, ahem, not very good and ended up not being used but the strip Diggle wrote, Lenny Zero (Meg 3.68, 2000), was a runaway success and would lead to Diggle finding a long time collaborator in artist Jock (see Vicious Imagery and 2000AD Covers Uncovered for more details). Lenny Zero has recently returned to 2000AD (“Zero’s 7”, 2012).

Jack PointThis was soon followed by The Simping Detective, originally written and drawn by Si Spurrier and Frazer Irving respectively. Jack Point, the Simping Detective in the title (yes, the name is a reference to the Dennis Potter TV drama with a similar name) is a deep cover judge who hides behind the persona of private detective who dresses like a clown. It manages to mix Mega City lunacy with a wry, ironic Chandler-esque narrative. In some ways it is the quintessential Si Spurrier strip, with his love of sick humour and overwrought puns.

Dirty FrankMost recently we have Low Life which was originally created by Rob Williams and Henry Flint, although D’Israeli has been its exclusive artist over the last few years. Low Life, initially at least, focused on a team of Wally Squad judges but more recently has revolved around its most charismatic character Dirty Frank, who was originally modeled on Alan Moore.

Superficially, these three strips look rather similar. In the hands of their respective writers however, they are in fact quite different in tone and style. Lenny Zero has the look and feel of a rather groovy heist movie. The Simping Detective is pure comic noir. Low Life, perhaps the hardest to define, is much more absurdist (in the Simping Detective, Jack Point may be weird but the other characters are quite straight laced – in Low Life, everyone is distinctly odd).

Despite their differences, these strips (Lenny Zero excepted, at least thus far) have recently come together with Judge Dredd to form a rather unique crossover storyline. Completely untrumpeted, and initially starting as three completely different stories, the current storyline has Dredd investigating the disappearance of computer file which has major implications for both Jack Point and Dirty Frank. The high point so far was Prog 1807 when the three strips literally all flowed into each other.

Normally, crossovers in comics get announced in advance in huge neon letters, so it is a credit to the creators and editorial team that they opted to keep this little treat a secret. As surprises go, it is up there with the big reveal at the end of The Dead Man.

Nonetheless, at the time of writing the fate of the Wally Squad judges is undetermined. In many ways however, the Wally Squad typifies the genius of Dredd: taking a fairly common trope of cop shows and cinema and giving it a futuristic and cynical twist.

Notes:

[1] It is clear from the script that the latter was meant to follow on from the former – but presumably they were having problems with the artists on Damned, as you can see from the wide range of different artists who worked on it.
[2] For more on Brett Ewins’ unfortunate life since his 2000AD days and recent incarceration, see here. I for one wish him well – his treatment by the police appears to be typically heavy-handed and appalling.