Tag Archives: 2000AD

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.
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.