Category Archives: Snapshots

Judge Dredd Snapshots: Nightmares part 4 (prog 706)

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?

Eh?

Judge Dredd

Date: 24 November 1990

Script: John Wagner; Artist: Steve Dillon; Letters: Tom Frame

Plot Summary

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.

Commentary

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.

Trivia

  • 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).

Judge Dredd Snapshots: Young Giant part 1 (prog 651)

Being a judge’s woman never helped my mother, sir… Where were the judges when she needed them? Where was my father?

Cadet Giant challenges Dredd

Date: 4 November 1989

Script: John Wagner; Artist: Carlos Ezquerra; Letters: Tom Frame

Plot Summary

Dredd is given the task of assessing a cadet judge, the son of his old colleague Judge Giant. Cadet Giant, it emerges, is the child of Giant and an interior designer Adele Dormer, who was killed while a refugee following the fallout of the Apocalypse War. The boy has anger management issues and Dredd tries to get through to him. On a routine patrol, they come across a man selling illegal vi-zines (magazines depicting graphic violence and murder). Dredd decides to follow this up, while Giant’s memories of his mother’s violent death is triggered by flicking through one of the zines.

Commentary

I decided to temporarily pause writing this series at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests, feeling that it wasn’t an appropriate time to be blogging about a comic strip portraying police brutality no matter how satirical (and, to be clear, Dredd is satirical) at the time. And then I started going physically back to work again and having a lot less free time and before I knew it two months had passed!

Cadet Giant is a legacy character. Despite the comic only being 12 years old by this time, he is actually the third generation in a line which began with John “Giant” Clay, the lead character from the strip Harlem Heroes. Harlem Heroes originally ran from progs 1-27 and featured a team of “Aeroball” players (think Quidditch but with jetpacks instead of brooms) modelled on the Harlem Globetrotters.

In “The Academy of Law” (progs 27-28), Dredd assesses Rookie Judge Giant, John Clay’s son, for suitability to become a full judge. Giant would go on to become a recurring character, playing a pivotal role in helping Dredd defeat the tyrannical Cal in “The Day the Law Died” (progs 89-108). He would go on to die at the conclusion of “Block Mania” (progs 236-244), infamously shot in the back by Sov assassin Orlock.

The murder of Judge Giant was a matter of some controversy at the time, with many feeling the treatment of the death of such a fan-favourite character was poorly handled, and in this episode of “Young Giant” the story is sort of retconned, with Dredd implying that Giant had been distracted by his feelings for the mother of his child (I didn’t say it was a great retcon…).

This third Giant would go on to play a pivotal role in “Necropolis” (progs 674-699), which like “The Day the Law Died” also features Dredd trying to overthrow a tyrant who has taken control of the judges and has condemned the city to death. Giant would eventually become a full judge and continues to crop up in the strip from time to time. Indeed, the controversy surrounding his father’s death appears to have granted him a certain amount of plot armour as he has managed to last as a supporting cast member for over 30 years by this point.

Although this strip is a fairly compelling character essay, with Giant learning to accept his role, it is a shame that it has remained the last bit of character development he has received. By the time “Necropolis” starts just a few months later, Giant seems perfectly well adjusted to his life as a judge and we never see him harbouring any rage or resentment later. This is a bit of a pattern sadly; there are numerous times where a character has been introduced with a compelling arc only to have them be little more than background characters in subsequent stories.

I feel that I should talk a bit about race here. 2000AD has a mixed record when it comes to dealing with racism and reflecting racial diversity. On the one hand, the aforementioned Harlem Heroes featured a group of black protagonists as far back as the first issue. On the other hand, after 43 years, I can only think of a single black protagonist to feature in a long running strip (Ramon Dexter in Sinister Dexter). Particularly in the early days, racism and colonialism was dealt with repeatedly in 2000AD, but indirectly. In place of stories dealing with the experiences of real people of colour, we had strips tackling discrimination via the conventional sci-fi lenses of robots, aliens and mutants (in the case of Dredd all three, while Strontium Dog would focus on mutants, Ro-Busters would focus on robots and Nemesis the Warlock focused on aliens).

For a comic aimed at 8 year olds that’s okay; it contains the lessons without directly confronting the scary reality. But modern 2000AD is aimed at adults and while a political streak continues through most strips that are published, in a lot of ways it shies away more from real world issues than it was doing 40 years ago.

It is no more a thorny topic than in Judge Dredd in which the judicial system is shown to be pretty progressive when it comes to both race and gender, but which we are also supposed to understand as being fascistic and authoritarian. Most definitions of fascism include the subjugation of women and racial minorities as key criteria and there comes a point, for me anyway, where not dealing with this issue feels like an omission.

(As an aside, I feel similarly to how the Galactic Empire and First Order is presented in the Disney-era Star Wars, where they occasionally acknowledge that the regimes are racist against non-humans but are at pains to show how racially diverse the military is at every level)

I’m always reminded by the time when I used to work in a comic shop almost 30 years ago when I used to serve a police officer who on numerous occasions would tell me that “Judge Dredd has the right idea”. That was a teachable moment. It’s a depressing fact that for many people the satire goes completely over their heads, as does the fact that by almost all criteria the judicial system is shown as a failure. And I wonder to what extent that sci-fi veneer gives people an opt out to think of all this as a power fantasy, and to what extent I’m complicit in that.

I don’t exactly know what my preferred solution would be, or even if there is one. In Nemesis the Warlock, Pat Mills would often include sequences to remind the reader that the sci-fi fascists in the strip are direct analogues to fascists and racists in the real world, but that was often very on the nose (such as the “Seth Efricen Chief Bigot”) and I’m not sure would work here. I’m not sure what having judges suddenly embracing white supremacy in universe would really achieve. But for now, I think I should just acknowledge that it is an issue that readers should bear in mind when reading the strip; it’s certainly something I personally ponder a lot.

Judge Dredd Snapshots: Banana City part 2 (prog 624)

Look at them – running like frightened rabbits!

Don’t they know they’ve nothing to fear from us?

What’s that…?

Not unless they make running like rabbits a crime…?

Yes… then we’d have to deal with them!

Renegade Judge Kurten / “Diablo”

Date: 29 April 1989

Script: John Wagner; Artist: Will Simpson; Letters: Tom Frame

Plot Summary

Dredd is in the city of Ciudad Barranquilla in former Argentina after receiving a tip off that the renegade judge Kurten is operating out of there. He is in disguise as a local judge. Separately, Judges Hershey and McBride are on a diplomatic mission to arrange to get Kurten extradited. Dredd’s informant tells him that he thinks Kurten is the judge who the locals know as “Diablo”. We switch to Kurten, who is dispensing his form of justice on the streets of the city, casually blowing up a car for illegal parking. Meanwhile, Hershey and McBride are being kept waiting by “Judge Supremo” Batista as she demonstrates his corrupt idea of justice in the city’s Grand Hall. Hershey is happy for the delay as it gives Dredd more time to track down Kurten. Eventually Dredd tracks down Kurten who is harrassing the clientele of a bar. He sends a man in to tell Kurten that there is a man outside who intends to kill him and Kurten emerges from the bar to confront Dredd.

Commentary

The first noticeable thing about this strip is that it is in full colour. In fact, the strip switched to colour back in prog 589 with the second part of “Twister” (progs 588-591). That story, a homage to the film Wizard of Oz (1939), switches to full colour when Dredd receives a head injury when getting caught in a twister and begins to hallucinate (he is on a mission to rescue Jug, the Supersurf 10 champion who we met in “Oz” who is known as the “Wizard” – just in case those allusions were too subtle for you).

Unfortunately for Will Simpson’s beautiful painted art, while printing process had been significantly upgraded, the paper most certainly hadn’t. So while the art really pops in its subsequen reprints, in the original progs it looks muddy and indistinct. It isn’t clear in this episode, but in the third part when we see the demonic imp Little Mo appear, I remember barely even being able to see the character in the original comic whereas you can really see Simpson doing a good job on the character in the reprints.

This is a problem that would continue to plague 2000AD for years, exacerbated by the fact that so many artists, and editorial, were keen to switch to painted artwork rather than use simpler and more established colourisation processes. Much of this seemed to be rooted in the increasing profitability of producing trade paperback reprints, with the weekly comic being seen as simply a way of subsidising production (remember, this is the period shortly after Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen and Maus were enjoying mainstream popularity and critical acclaim). Indeed, “Banana City” (progs 623-625) would actually be the last Dredd strip to appear in colour for a few months as Slaine “The Horned God” took its place as the colour strip, a story very much designed for graphic novel publication.

Unfortunately, there was also a tendency among emerging artists to copy the painted styles of more experienced artists – often before polishing their figurework and pencilling styles first. In that respect, artists such as Will Simpson probably inadvertantly lead them astray. Suffice to say that painted artwork was extremely popular amongst both artists and readers, which meant that for the 90s, much of 2000AD looked very brown.

“Banana City” is actually a sequel to “Crazy Barry, Little Mo” (progs 615-618), which was drawn by Chris Weston (in a very different style). That story establishes that Kurten is a regular street judge who undergoes a psychosis causing him to start seeing and hearing Little Mo, his invisible childhood friend, who urges him to commit increasingly criminal acts. He is found out but manages to escape, which leads into this story.

It is worth noting that, as I alluded to in my last article, this episode is written solely by John Wagner, who by this point has been writing most of the strip for the best part of a year – with just the occasional one shot being written by Alan Grant. And this is a fairly good illustration of how Wagner slightly shifts the strips tone, becoming somewhat grittier but retaining its flare for the absurd.

It would be remiss of me to not talk about how the judges and citizens of Ciudad Baranquila are presented here. It isn’t the greatest, drawing largely from a very Hollywood idea of South Americans being all superstitious, snivelling and corrupt. North American chauvanism is briefly touched upon in the final episode, but not really explored. Indeed, it is only now that we’re starting to see 2000AD explore modern US foreign policy being reflected in how South America is treated in Dredd’s world, which given that the strip has always been more about the modern day than the future, feels like a bit of an oversight. Indeed, just six months earlier Alan Moore and Bill Sienkiewicz’s Brought to Light (1988) had been published, which dealt with the Iran-Contra Affair, suggesting that such ideas were being discussed by comic creators at the time.

It should be clear that it Judge Dredd tended to present all cultures in a fairly caricatured manner, not least of all British and mainstream American culture, but these days I guess that we’d draw comparisons to “The Problem with Apu” in The Simpsons. Suffice to say that if makes for uncomfortable reading in 2020 and I’m glad that 2000AD is now dealing with the topic in a more nuanced way.

Now is also a good moment to discuss the idea of judges outside of Mega City One. We meet our first judge from Texas City, and with him the notion that there is more than one city which has adopted the “judicial model” of governance as far back as “Showdown on Luna 1” in prog 43. This is quickly followed by Soviet Judges in “The First Luna Olympics” (prog 50). But it would be another 8 years before we see judges from any other city, in this case Brit-Cit judges in “Atlantis” (progs 485-488). This seems to mark the start of a trend to explore other parts of the world, with Australian judges in “Oz” (progs 555-581), Japanese judges in “Our Man in Hondo” (progs 608-611) and now Argentina in “Banana City”. Interestingly, the costume design for all of them other than the Ciudad Baranquila judges (and I could be wrong about that), were designed by Brendan McCarthy, prefiguring his career as a respected concept artist in the movie industry.

It has always been fun to see how judges differ around the world – although some designs are stronger than others – but it does pose one big question to me: why does this system of government take over the world so ubiquitously? In “Origins” (progs 1505-1519, 1529-1535) it is established that the judges take charge in the United States by the Supreme Court citing the Declaration of Independence – but that doesn’t really explain why the Sovs quickly follow suit. Perhaps one day we’ll see an explanation.

Trivia

  • It isn’t directly relevant here, but two months after this episode was published the film Batman (1989) would be released. Just as the rise of the graphic novel a couple of years before would lead to Dredd being published in full colour, this film would usher in the modern comic book movie – not least of all Judge Dredd (1995). That mainstreaming of comic book culture is going to be something that 2000AD wrestles with over the next decade or so, as we may well end up exploring in this series.