Tag Archives: 2000AD

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.

Judge Dredd Snapshots: Oz part 12 (prog 556)

I’d … I’d like a piece of Mr Armstrong with a sprig of parsley and lemon sauce, just like you did him for the captain. It… it sounded so good but I… I don’t suppose you’ve got any left.

Well yet supposes wrong! I’ve got a whole half torso right here in me freezer!

Chopper and Cookie

Date: 9 January 1988

Script: John Wagner & Alan Grant; Artist: Will Simpson; Letters: Tom Frame

Plot Summary

Fugitive Supersurf champion Marlon “Chopper” Shakespeare is attempting to get to the Sidney-Melbourne Conurb in “Oz” from South America by hover board, but is forced to land on a mysterious ship in the Pacific Ocean. The sole occupant of the ship is an insane robot chef, Cookie, who killed the ship’s crew and put them in his stew. Having enraged the robot, Chopper fends off the robot’s attacks with a meat cleaver by using his power board as a shield, damaging it. He is overwhelmed but fools the robot into granting him a final request: a serving of Bosun’s Broth, the meal that Cookie made out of his first victim. Trapping Cookie into the ship’s freezer, Chopper attempts to flee but Cookie escapes. Eventually Chopper manages to overwhelm Cookie by firing a flare gun at him and throwing the robot overboard. The danger over, he programs the ship to take him the rest of the way to Oz and makes some rough repairs to his power board. Making the final part of the journey on his hover board, he is positively identified by the Oz judges. Judge Dredd, who is awaiting the fugitive there, allows a hint of admiration to cross his face.

Commentary

Although it doesn’t seem to be seen as one of the classics, I love “Oz” (progs 555-581). Partly because it was the first Dredd “epic” that I read in the weekly comic (and is in fact the first story of that length since “The Apocalypse War” way back in 1982). Partly because Chopper is such an engaging character. And partly because it combines a return of a popular character, which could have simply been a rehash of his previous appearance, with a story focused on Dredd himself which significantly expands the strip’s lore.

I’m also a big fan of this two part story involving Cookie. It’s a perfect little fairy tale inserted in the middle of a much bigger story, with Chopper here playing the role of Jack and Cookie the giant he has to defeat more with guile than fighting ability. Cookie is a classic bonkers robot that you see popping up in any number of 2000AD strips, particularly Dredd and Robo-Hunter (also created by John Wagner and largely co-written with Alan Grant). And the story resolves satisfactorily how Chopper manages to traverse the Pacific Ocean on little more than a flying plank. Finding a boat in the middle of nowhere is a little convenient, but this story makes it feel earned.

I should however explain the wider context. First of all, Chopper. Marlon Shakespeare first appears in “Unamerican Graffiti” (progs 206 & 207), a short story in which Chopper is a graffiti artist on a mission to become “King Scrawler” of Mega City One. It’s a relatively simple story, alluding to the growth of street art which was entering into public consciousness at the time, elevated by a sense of pathos when it emerges that the disaffected teen’s rival The Phantom turns out to be a renegade maintenance robot. For neither the first or last time in the strip, going back to the first multi-part storyline “Robot Wars” (progs 10-17), the plight of how robots are treated in Mega City One are compared to topical issues about discrimination, civil liberties and dehumanisation.

At the end of that story, Chopper is locked up. He eventually reemerges in “The Midnight Surfer” (progs 424-429) in which Chopper has apparently reformed and is teaching kids to skysurf – fly around on hover boards roughly analogous real world surfing waves. Eventually it emerges that Chopper is planning to take part in the race Supersurf 7, highly illegal because it takes place on the streets and endangers civilians. Dredd and the judges try to stop the race, shooting down many of the participants, but before being arrested Chopper manages to win the race and becomes a folk hero.

“Oz” takes place three years later. Supersurf has been legalised in the Sydney-Melbourne Conurb and Mega City One is gripped with Supersurf fever and a protest movement emerges demanding that the judges release Chopper so he can take part in the race. Chopper escapes, crossing the Cursed Earth and Pacific Ocean to take part in the race. Dredd is sent to Oz to arrest him should he arrive but is stopped from arresting him by the Oz Judges. Chopper ultimately joins Supersurf 10, with Dredd’s permission – although he vows to take him down if he tries resisting arrest after the race. Chopper takes part, ultimately to lose in a photo finish with his rival Jug. He tries to make his escape, expecting to be shot by Dredd, but at the last minute Jug gets in the way and allows Chopper to escape.

But that’s only half of the story because Dredd hasn’t simply been sent to Oz to pick up Shakespeare. After an attack in which a number of senior judges are assassinated by a group calling themselves the Judda, a teleporter signal is traced back to Oz. It emerges they are followers of Morton Judd, a renegade judge and geneticist who decades ago had sought to take over Mega City One and, having failed, went missing. Using stolen genetic samples, including from Chief Judge Fargo, of whom Dredd himself is a clone, Judd has bred a private army of soldiers called the Judda who worship him as a god. And now they intend to return to Mega City One to take over.

Suffice to say, Dredd doesn’t let them. He locates their base hidden inside Uluru (in the story still called Ayers Rock) and blows it up, taking most of the Judda with it.

“Oz” was originally meant to be illustrated by just two artists: Cam Kennedy, who drew “Midnight Surfer” and Brendan McCarthy who had come up with the idea of a lost tribe of Judges in the Australian Outback while working there. In the end Kennedy wasn’t able to draw it so he was replaced by a whole range of different artists. Despite this, the art doesn’t suffer too much from having too many competing visions on the project.

The artist who drew this episode, Will Simpson, would go on to tie with Brendan McCarthy for drawing the most episodes in this 26-part story (6), and contributed one of the most striking images of the saga: a painted double page spread of Uluru being nuked superimposed by the head of Morton Judd cursing Dredd. The two part story involving Cookie would actually be his first Judge Dredd contribution, although he had drawn some episodes of Anderson: Psi Division shortly before. As 2000AD increased its colour pages, he would become known for his painted art, particularly for the Rogue Trooper reboot “War Machine” written by Dave Gibbons (progs 650-653, 667-671, 683-687). It is fair to say that the poor paper quality at the time didn’t do his painted artwork many favours (a common problem with 2000AD at the time).

“Oz” also marks the end of John Wagner and Alan Grant’s writing partnership, although they would continue to work together on the odd script after this including Batman/Judge Dredd: Judgement on Gotham. As well as disagreeing over their mini-series The Last American for Epic (a Marvel imprint at the time), they came to blows over whether or not to kill Chopper at the end of this story or not, with Grant insisting that Dredd needed to kill him. Eventually John Wagner got his way but this is the last time the two worked together on the weekly strip, with Wagner writing most of Dredd, and Grant taking on Anderson: Psi Division and Strontium Dog.

As well as the occasional appearance in Judge Dredd, Chopper would return in his own series – the most memorable being “Song of the Surfer” written by Wagner and drawn by Colin McNeill (progs 654-665) in which Marlon Shakespeare apparently dies when a maniac turns Supersurf 11 into a massacre. To be honest, that probably should have been where it ended, but Brendan McCarthy has recently memorably returned to the character with “Wandering Spirit” (Judge Dredd Megazine issues 395-399).

The format of putting these two very different plot threads into one here mostly works, but is probably not exactly how the story would develop now. These days, a story like this would get broken up into smaller chunks and spread over a longer amount of time, a trend established with the very next mega epic “Necropolis” where the main story (progs 674-699) is foreshadowed by several shorter stories in the months running up to it. I wonder if this shift was partly because the nature of Wagner and Grant’s partnership style didn’t lend itself very well to the sort of more complex storytelling that we would subsequently see. While the period of their partnership is rightly seen as a high watermark for the strip, for the most part the stories that came out during that period would be no longer than 8 episodes.

As for the Judda, this is the last we see of them. To be precise, Morton Judd appears in flashback in “Origins” (progs 1505-1519, 1529-1535) and one of the Judda clones, Kraken, is apparently reformed and replaces Dredd himself for a time (although as I alluded to in my last article, that doesn’t end too well). I’m a little surprised we haven’t seen small pockets of Judda popping up in the strip every few years, although given the unfortunate tendency in Dredd for characters to be brought back well past their use by date, it is possibly for the best.

Trivia

  • It’s a small thing, and you barely see it in this episode, but it always annoys me that Will Simpson draws Chopper’s smiley face tag with a nose.
  • Brendan McCarthy’s most famous dip into Australian culture is of course Mad Max: Fury Road, for which he received a co-writer credit after decades of development work on the Mad Max franchise. He has worked as a concept artist for numerous other films and also helped develop the animated show ReBoot.

Judge Dredd Snapshots: Revolution part 2 (prog 532)

Democracy is a cancer eating at the heart of our society. Any action we have to take to stamp it out – however regrettable – is justified.

Judge Dredd

Date: 25 July 1987

Script: John Wagner & Alan Grant; Artist: John Higgins; Letters: Tom Frame

Plot Summary

Judge Dredd has been tasked by Chief Judge Silver to discredit the leaders of the Democracy Movement, which has called for a Democratic Charter March which is due to take place the next day. He raids the home of Kenzal Davitcek, leader of the Sons of the Constitution, and they arrest him for a library vid slug which is two days overdue. Meanwhile, Bethann Rosie, leader of the Committee for the Restoration of Civil Liberties, has been arrested on four counts of bigamy. Her former husbands line up to denounce her to the media, claiming to have not been coerced (although the bruises on their faces suggest otherwise). Morton Phillips, chairman of the Freedom League, is accused of collaborating with the Sovs during the Apocalypse War and a photograph of him dressed in a Sov uniform at a fancy dress party is leaked to the media. Two undercover judges claim in front of cameras to have witnessed him working with the Sovs.

Dredd pays a personal visit to Gort Hyman, the widower of Hester Hyman whose martyrdom the previous year sparked the recent calls for the restoration of democracy. He blackmails Gort, threatening to induct his children into the Academy of Law to train as judges, unless he backs out of the march. He relents and agrees to make a statement urging people to not attend the march. Ultimately only two of the leaders of the movement are left: Kenzal Davitcek, who has been kept up on his feet all night by the judges, and Blondel Dupre. Despite the media storm, 16 million citizens descend on Boulevard 14 to march on the Hall of Justice…

Commentary

So, this is roughly where I came in as a regular 2000AD reader. My first prog was 497, although I had been into the roleplaying game and picking up the odd Titan reprint for a while before then. I had a pretty fixed idea in my head that while Judge Dredd was very fun, with cool future tech, weird mutants and lots of humour, it wasn’t especially deep. This strip really opened my eyes, and broadened my perception of what the Judge Dredd strip could be.

It is, to be clear, a particularly mean and horrible story. Dredd behaves absolutely despicably throughout, with no comeuppance. Good people have their lives ruined and we see a hopeful popular movement fatally undermined. Things get worse in the third episode; they use low frequency sonic waves to lower the crowd’s mood, plant undercover judges to start a riot and then send in the riot squad. Completely absent from this story are any high tech doodads; it’s entirely rooted in methods existing regimes use to undermine popular protest. 12 year old me didn’t really know much about any of that, but this strip has a ring of discordant authenticity which really resonated for me and helped shape my future politics. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that it’s probably the most influential piece of media of my life.

This isn’t the first time that the strip adopted a more serious tone; it is after all the sequel to “Letter from a Democrat” (prog 460) which tells of how the judges massacre Hester Hyman and other pro-democracy protestors. Up until this point, probably the most striking “serious” set of stories was the triptych of “A Question of Judgement”, “An Error of Judgement” and “A Case for Treatment” (progs 387-389). That story however is strikingly different in that it explores Dredd’s own self doubt in the judge system – in “Revolution” he is firmly the bad guy.

The third part of “Revolution” finishes with the legend “The end… of the beginning”. In fact, we don’t see this story developed much for some time until Dredd’s doubts come to a crisis point as he is forced to assess his possible replacement, a clone called Kraken, in “Tale of the Dead Man” (progs 662-668). At the end of that story he releases Blondel Dupre, apparently regretting his actions in “Revolution”. Dredd goes into exile into the Cursed Earth and, during his absence, the Dark Judges taking over Mega City One (with Kraken’s help), in “Countdown to Necropolis” (progs 669-673). He returns to save the city but insists on a referendum to decide whether or not to restore democracy (“Nightmares” progs 702-706).

Less directly, “Revolution” is the prototype on which the celebrated “America” (Judge Dredd Megazine 1.01-1.07) is modelled, which similarly tells a story which highlights the totalitarian nature of Dredd’s Mega City One. In that story, or rather its sequel “Fading of the Light” (Judge Dredd Megazine 3.20-3.25), the eponymous character’s daughter is inducted into the Academy of Law, a plot thread that would do on to pay off many years later (one of the things I love about Judge Dredd and how long the strip has been running is how plot lines can have pay offs over decades).

The tension between judges and the democracy movement has continued to pop up as a theme in the strip over the following few decades, sometimes with democrats presented sympathetically, sometimes less so – and with varying degrees of humour. Dredd’s assertion, that democracy is a threat to society, goes to back to the very foundation myth of the judge system, which is explored in “Origins” (progs 1505-1519, 1529-1535). The judges, after all, take over after a despotic US president causes a nuclear war which wipes out most of the United States. It remains an open question to what degree this myth is true, or to what degree it is an excuse used to justify their continued rule. After all, by 2142 (the year in which current Judge Dredd episodes are set), the vast majority of Mega City One has been wiped out by a successive wave of disasters, with the population going from a high point of 800 million down to 35 million by the end of “Day of Chaos” (progs 1743-1789). It remains an open question to what extent the judges are the last bulwark against annihilation or the cause, although there is no doubt that many of the enemies Dredd confronts are a whole lot worse.

Finally, a word about the artist John Higgins. Higgins’ first Dredd strip is “Beggars Banquet” (prog 456), although he was also the artist on the aforementioned “Letter from a Democrat” a month later. Most famously, Higgins was the original colourist for Watchmen (1986) and Batman: Killing Joke (1988) and he has gone on to work as both a writer and artist on many projects including his own creation Razorjack. He continues to draw, and occasionally write, Judge Dredd.

Trivia

  • You may have noticed that this is the first strip to appear in this series written by John Wagner and Alan Grant but not credited to “T.B. Grover”.
  • Two of the three episodes of this story have 2000AD covers dedicated to them. Of course that doesn’t include part 2, so I’ve used the cover for 533 as the image for this article instead!
  • From prog 520 onwards, the paper and print quality for the 2000AD was upgraded, and the page size changed. Unfortunately, the painted double page spreads which tend to frequent most Dredd episodes during this era don’t tend to look very good in black and white reprints. This is the first of several changes to the comics format to take place over the following few years.

Judge Dredd Snapshots: Gribligs part 1 (prog 464)

Chee chee cheee!

Cleopatra the griblig

Date: 5 April 1986

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

Plot Summary

While processing Anwar Duglan at a local Justice Department Sector House for posession of vi slugs (illegal violent videos), the perp attempts to plea bargain by ratting on his fellow shipmates on the spaceliner Larvik, where he works as a steward. After naming several crewmembers, he mentions in passing Third Engineman Hud Priestley who had smuggled some kind of animal into the city.

Meanwhile, Priestley arrives at his girlfriend’s apartment to give her not one but two animals – gribligs – which are named Cleopatra and Nelson. The adorable little animals are intelligent and, starving, perform tricks for food. They are being kept in seperate cages to prevent them from reproducing but after the humans go to bed they manage to free themselves and are reunited…

Commentary

So, in case it isn’t clear from the summary, this is basically the Judge Dredd take on Gremlins, which came out in cinemas just over a year before, and the tribbles from classic Star Trek – even the name is smooshing together of the two words. The gribligs go on to breed like wildfire, eat Priestley and his girlfriend and while most are exterminated a handful escape, leaving open the possibility of a sequel.

In fact, we don’t see gribligs in a Dredd strip for years later until Whatever Happened To…? “The Gribligs” in Judge Dredd Megazine 219, 19 years later. Fans of the original Judge Dredd roleplaying game however (and this is how I discovered Judge Dredd) will know that the gribligs appear again in the scenario “A Night in the Death of Sector 255” by Hugh Tynan, which appeared in White Dwarf issue 88 (1987). The scenario is illustrated by another Judge Dredd artist from the era (who also illustrated a lot of Games Workshop products at the time) Brett Ewins. In that scenario, Ewins draws gribligs very differently, looking much more goblin like and much less like the cute little furballs that Barry Kitson draws in this strip.

Barry Kitson is another artist to appear in the mid-80s – in fact this is his first Dredd strip. He doesn’t make a huge contribution to the strip; his most famous contributions are his co-creation of the villain Death Fist (real name Stan Lee, a clear nod to both the famous Marvel comics writer and Bruce Lee the martial artist), and “The Hour of the Wolf”, the third Anderson: Psi Division story (progs 520-531). This established Anderson’s relationship with Orlok the Assassin, a sov agent who precipitated the Apocalypse War, which would become a recurring plot point throughout the 90s. After a few years, Barry Kitson moved on to draw US comics, particularly DC.

Because I’ve opted to randomly select an episode from each year, the samples I end up focusing on can end up being quite unrepresentative. The fact that both this and the previous “Ugly Mug Ball” are somewhat by-the-numbers is somewhat telling however. While plenty of excellent strips appeared during this time, the “Midnight Surfer” (progs 424-429) and “Atlantis” (progs 485-488) both spring to mind, many of the one-shots do tend to feel less inspired – and inevitable outcome of producing a 6-page weekly strip (as well as a newspaper strip) for almost ten years by this point. There is perhaps a notable shift in style during this period; the silly strips stay silly, but we also start seeing a much more serious tone in others, such as “Letter from a Democrat” (prog 460).

Trivia

  • To reinforce the links to tribbles, in the second episode it is revealed that the captain of the ship on which Priestley serves is called “James Krik”.

Judge Dredd Snapshots: The Ugly Mug Ball (prog 447)

Here at the Uglybug Ball I’m speaking to Glendon Grott. Glen – you’re the face that makes the pace. Like to say why?

Uh, sure – it’s cos all these other dirtbags got their ugly mugs artificial. Y’know – Sump or surgery. Not me. I was born like this. I’m naturally ugly.

Script: John Wagner & Alan Grant (as T.B. Grover); Artist: Cliff Robinson; Letters: Tony Jacob

Plot Summary

The judges have set up a cordon around the Folly Heights neighbourhood in an attempt to capture escaped con “Ransom” who is attempting to kill informant Howie Buck for giving the judges information which lead to his arrest and conviction. That evening, a mass gathering of “Uglies” – citizens who celebrate ugliness and deliberately uglify themselves to follow the latest fashion trends – is taking place: the Uglybug Ball.

Ransom manages to kill Buck by getting a child to give a judge a bomb just outside of the building he is hiding in, but Dredd gives chase and manages to shoot him. Ransom tries to make his escape in the Uglybug Ball and is confused and disgusted by the people there (having been locked up before the fashion became a thing). He attempts to take a hostage but Dredd overwhelms him, throwing him into a display of Otto Sump Ugly Products. The judges take Ransom away, with it revealed that the ugly products have hideously deformed Ransom’s face.

Commentary

This is a relatively by-the-numbers one shot which introduces very little to Dredd’s lore. It seems to mainly exist to showcase Cliff Robinson’s art, then a newcomer to 2000AD. In fact this is only the third Dredd story he had worked on, although he was also one of the artists who contributed to the first Anderson, Psi Division strip.

Robinson’s inking style and early work is very reminiscent of Brian Bolland, but he fairly quickly developed his own style – their renditions of Dredd himself are very easily distinguishable. Like Bolland, he very quickly became established as a cover artist. Unlike Bolland, he continues to draw the occasional strip. Indeed, nearly 35 years since this episode was published he is still a fairly regular presence in 2000AD.

Cliff Robinson’s presence here also suggests something of a passing of the torch. Just as Mike McMahon dominated the strip in its early years only to be replaced by Ron Smith, by the time we reach the prog 400s, a much wider roster of artists have started drawing the strip. People like Robinson and Cam Kennedy, who also started drawing Dredd at around this time, might not end up drawing as many episodes as Smith, but they would go on to create equally iconic visions of the character.

The Ugly craze has a history that goes back to “Otto Sump’s Ugly Clinic” (progs 186 to 188), in which the reality-TV-star-turned-billionaire-businessman Otto Sump (whose origin appears in “Sob Story” in progs 131 and 132) launches a range of “ugly” products which proves to be insanely popular. The judges ultimately conclude that this new craze is causing all kinds of criminal activity but choose to tax the products rather than ban them, thereby gaining the city much needed income, and making the ugly craze exclusive to the rich.

This story ended up becoming the template which all future “craze” stories followed (although the first “craze” story was “Brainblooms” in prog 18): new fashion proves insanely popular amongst the populace, it inevitably either causes harm or people start using it to help them commit crimes, the judges end up either banning it or find a more devious way to ruin people’s fun.

We should also briefly touch on Otto Sump, since this is the first time I’ve mentioned him despite his first appearance years before. As well as the ugly craze, Sump would crop up a few more times with new scams, most notably in “Gunge” (prog 280) and “Get Smart” (prog 436). Despite being a fan favourite, Sump was used fairly sparingly as a supporting character, which has helped make his few appearances all the more memorable.

These days, it is hard to miss the resemblance between Sump and then notorious property developer Donald Trump – although Sump’s career boosting decision to go on reality TV predated Trump’s by a quarter of a century. Of course, it could simply be a coincidence, alongside Trump’s resemblance to Dave the Orang-utan – an orange ape who got elected as mayor – and President Booth, the last president of the United States whose populist style results in the country being annihilated in a nuclear war.

Trivia

  • The Ugly Bug Ball is a song by the songwriting duo the Sherman Brothers, which originally appeared in the 1963 film Summer Magic.
  • Although this episode isn’t given a title in the strip, it is officially known as “The Ugly Mug Ball” even though the ball itself is referred to as the Uglybug Ball – presumably to avoid annoying Disney.

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: 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: 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.