Tag Archives: 2000AD

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.

Complete Zenith: A Review

cover to Complete ZenithWARNING: Some minor spoilers in the images, but nothing to get too excited about.

Zenith is a comic strip from “my era” of 2000ad. I first started getting 2000ad from Prog 497 (after already purchasing several Titan reprint albums) and Zenith himself arrived in Prog 520.

In some ways it’s a surprise Zenith was a hit in the comic’s pages. Grant Morrison is one of the few British creators in the 80s who didn’t cut his teeth in 2000ad – his break was in DC Thompson’s Starblazer – and it is fair to say he never really “got” the 2000ad house style as was all too apparent in his work on Judge Dredd and the infamous “summer offensive”. What’s more, 2000ad doesn’t do superheroes. Zenith represented 2000ad’s first non-parodic toe dip into those deep waters.

In many respects, Zenith feels more like a Warrior strip than a 2000ad one and has a lot in common with Alan Moore’s Marvelman and Captain Britain in that it is a very British treatment of a quintessentially American genre. I wouldn’t over emphasise the similarities however, and feed into Alan Moore’s lazy narrative that Morrison is a plagiarist. Indeed, many of the ideas that Morrison plays with in Zenith are ones which he has revisited in his own work many times since, particularly in Final Crisis, Animal Man and his Vertigo trilogy of The Invisibles, Flex Mentallo and The Filth.

Despite Morrison moving rapidly onto bigger things, the story arc of Zenith is complete. The full colour Phase IV came out a few years after Phase III, and Morrison even returned for a one-off in 2000. It has however been increasingly hard to get hold of. Titan Books only reprinted the first three phases and ceased their 2000ad line in the early 90s. There was talk of reprinting it in the early noughties, but it quickly emerged that there were legal disputes preventing this from happening.

What are these legal disputes? Essentially, pretty much everything which 2000ad has ever published has been on the basis of work-for-hire: the company owns the rights in perpetuity (there are actually exceptions to this, but for the most part this is where the comic published work which had been initially commissioned by another publisher, notably Toxic!). However, Grant Morrison maintains that he never signed away his rights to Zenith and it would appear that 2000ad cannot prove him wrong in this respect. They could offer him a new contract or just accept he has the rights, but that would open up a legal minefield which could force 2000ad to revisit its ownership of pretty much everything it published in the 80s. As such it would appear they are at an impasse, the big loser being artist Steve Yeowell for whom this probably represents his most critically acclaimed and commercial work.

2000ad Books’ decision to print the entire run in a single volume earlier this year came out of nowhere. It has been limited to a (quickly sold out) print run of 1,000 and it is entirely possible this is the only time it will ever be reprinted. By all accounts, Morrison was not consulted on this and Rebellion have essentially stonewalled him. The theory goes that this is an experiment to see how he reacts. Either he’ll throw his lawyers at them or he’ll let it pass, in which case their case that he waived his rights and they are free to reprint will be that much stronger. It is far too soon to tell who will eventually win this, but in the meantime those of us willing to fork out £100 get a copy of something they have been dreaming of having in their hands for years.

What can I say about the book? I haven’t read the strip for many years and haven’t had a chance to pore through this edition yet, but I can say that it is very, very lovely indeed.

My shelves have been filling up with 2000ad’s “telephone directory” reprints for quite some time now (yes, I know that telephone directories these days are thinner than a weekly Prog; you get my meaning). I adore them, but they’re a bit of a mixed bag. Some of the reproduction and restoration, especially in the earlier days, is a bit iffy – especially when they are working from degraded copies of the comic rather than from negatives. And some of their choices can be a little odd, such as their decision to not include The Dead Man and America from their Complete Judge Dredd volumes (WHY????? Sigh, it still makes me furious). So I’ll be honest when I say that despite being willing to fork out for this volume I was a little trepidatious.

some of the reprint covers which appear in the Complete ZenithBut it has exceeded my expectations in several respects. This may seem obvious, but when they say “complete”, they mean it. It doesn’t just have all the strips, but it includes all the covers. Not just the 2000ad covers but the covers of the Titan reprints (which themselves were Ryan Hughes design classics) and the Quality and Egmont-Fleetway US reprints. I didn’t even know that Simon Bisley drew covers for the latter, although I have to admit that I’m not entirely blown away by them. It even includes a text story that Mark Millar wrote for an old annual, which if I recall correctly was only tangentially related to Zenith and (like many Mark Millar superhero and 2000ad stories) best forgotten about.

And then there’s the colour. Reprinting 2000ad strips from the late 80s and early 90s can be a bit of a challenge because the comic went from mainly monochrome to full colour in 1990. To keep costs down, book publishers tend to get creative when confronted with things like this by printing half the book in black and white and half in colour, but this can often look awful. On top of this, Phase I of Zenith was during a brief period when 2000ad adopted an odd habit of printing the last page of some of its strips on the back page of the comic itself – often in full colour. Most of the time, the solution to that is to print the page in black and white – and most of the time that means a page which looked gorgeous in the original comic looking muddy and illegible. This has particularly plagued the Judge Dredd and Strontium Dog reprints.

Colour transitions in the Complete ZenithNot so with Zenith. That £100 asking price means that, to their credit, they have spared no expense. So on the two chapters in Phase I where this applies you get a wonderful burst of colour. There is a slight issue which I’ve noticed whereby one of the annual stories, an Interlude, appears to have been printed slightly out of sequence so that it appears between Phases III and IV (when, if I recall correctly, it should be between II and III), but this is not disastrous as the story is out of sequence in any case.

Overall, I’m very happy with this and am content with paying the money. I very much expect an unlimited edition to appear in the next few years, but I don’t think those reprints will be either as comprehensive or include the nice touches that this one does.

And what of the ethics of reprinting this despite the legal uncertainty? Well, as readers of this blog will know, I’m fairly radical when it comes to my views on intellectual property. I think there is a good case for making all publications public domain 20 years after their initial publication – and I suspect that such an approach would have concentrated minds in both the Morrison and 2000ad camps. The existence of 2000ad slightly challenges my opposition to corporations being able to jealously guard their intellectual property because it has to be said that if their archives were worth less to them, it is entirely possible it would have ceased to be a viable publication some time ago (that said, I’m not wedded to 20 years and a somewhat longer period than that would probably fix that). I also have a lot of sympathy for Steve Yeowell and can’t believe that Morrison didn’t know he was working on a work for hire basis at the time. So yeah, I think they are right to test the waters here.

W is for Wally Squad [MINOR SPOILERS]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes:

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

U is for Urban, Karl [Dredd 3D preview – no spoilers]

Gaze into the Film of Dredd (credit: John Spelling)
Credit: John Spelling.

U is a pretty tough letter to write about, unless I want to spend an evening writing about U-fronts, which in Dredd’s world are inexplicably the equivalent of Y-fronts. In the late mid-80s, this “futuristic” underwear featured in a number of stories, something which you would almost certainly never see in a US comic.

Fortunately, the producers of Dredd 3D (2012) had the foresight to cast Karl Urban in the lead role, enabling me to not only talk about him but Judge Dredd’s cinematic appearances more generally.

For British cinema goers, Dredd’s first big screen appearance was in an advert for the Mega King Cone, a knock off of the Cornetto which was available at the concession’s stands in most cinemas. A poorly drawn and animated Dredd would turn to the audience shouting “IT’S HERE! IT’S MEGA!” As a young Squaxx, this would excite me tremendously, almost to the extent of wanting to go to the cinema for that advert alone (and of course the Kia-Ora one, but I digress).

Robocop (1987) of course was clearly influenced by Judge Dredd, but was just different enough to avoid legal action. Hardware (1990) was not quite so fortunate. While not featuring a knock off of Dredd himself, this low budget horror film about a war robot retrieved from a wasteland which goes on to run ransack inside a young woman’s apartment so closely resembled the short story SHOK! (Judge Dredd Annual 1981) that it very quickly became the subject of legal action.

Fortunately, the situation was resolved amicably, with a credit to the story appearing in the end credits. The subsequent DVD release even made a virtue of the fact, including the original story as a bonus feature. Based in Mega City One and the Cursed Earth, this can be regarded as the first time the world of Judge Dredd appeared in the cinema.

So much for the rip offs, what about the official films? The first Judge Dredd film came out in 1995. While some defend it as an undemanding action film which can be enjoyed in its own right if you can get past the liberties it plays with the source material, it was not a success with either the critics or the fans (commercially it was a flop in the US but did not do too badly internationally).

The plot essentially mixes elements from The Day The Law Died (progs 89-108, 1978-1979) with Dredd’s own origins, but with a backstory that reduces both the scale of Mega City One (in the film it has tens of millions of citizens, not hundreds of millions), and the history (Fargo, still the judges’ founder, is the current Chief Judge).

More than anything else, it is the film’s unevenness of tone which is its greatest failing. Some elements, such as the look of the city itself and the ABC Warrior and Mean Machine Angel, are taken straight from the source material. These are both grotesque, larger than life characters, yet rather than continue in this vein and give us the comic’s horrific portrayal of Rico Dredd, Armand Assante’s Rico is quite dapper and, well, normal looking – and looks nothing like Stallone despite the two of them supposedly playing clone brothers whose identical DNA is a major plot device.

The comic’s Fergee would probably never have worked on screen, yet at some point during the script writing process the decision was made to replace him with Rob Schneider’s Fergie, one of those comedy sidekicks straight out of central casting. The idea of Schneider’s character was presumably to give the audience a relatable character who could guide them through an otherwise quite extreme and bizarre world, but his effect is to utterly kill the films suspension of disbelief every time he appears on screen.

The film can’t decide if it is an action adventure or a comedy send up. It can’t even decide if we’re meant to be on the side of the judges or not. The conflict is rooted in a tension between the “good” borderline fascist (but portrayed as sorta liberal) policemen, the bad, extremely fascist policemen and the mad, former fascist policeman who wants to create his own, even-more-fascist-than-the-fascists clone police force. The “lesson” of the film appears to be that authoritarian state control is good, as long as only well meaning people are in charge, and that a few of them like Judge Dredd need to be a bit nicer to ordinary people and become better kissers.

In short, pretty much every scene exposes the fact that the creative process was dominated by a committee of movie execs who had absolutely no idea what they wanted.

With the failure of the 1995 film, 2000AD and Judge Dredd had reached their nadir. While it is easy to blame the poor support of the publishers and the monopolisation of UK magazine distribution, the simple fact is that by that stage 2000AD and Dredd in particular had been distinctly sub-par for years. However poor the film was, many of the comic’s stories were far poorer. It very much looked for a time as if we had reached the end of the road.

Fortunately, two things happened. Firstly, John Wagner returned as the head writer of Dredd and effectively rebooted the strip in the form of The Pit (progs 970-999, 1995-1996). Secondly, starting with David Bishop a series of new editors took over, all of whom were determined to get back to the comics’ roots and restore it to its former glory.

David Bishop not only managed to raise the quality threshold of the comic, introducing a number of new series (including Nikolai Dante by Robbie Morrison and Simon Fraser, the strongest 2000AD strip to emerge in years), but he proved instrumental in getting 2000AD sold to computer games company Rebellion, it’s current publishers.

Over the past decade under the stewardship of the current editor Matt Smith (not, not that Matt Smith), 2000AD has really turned itself around. The quality of its strips has been consistently high and while I have no idea about sales figures, it has certainly lived beyond 2001, the date at which previous publishers Egmont were expected it to cancel it once it had become unprofitable. Taking reprint publishing in-house has been a tremendous success, with most of the best of 2000AD’s strips over the past 35 years now kept permanently in print and in the stock of most major bookshops.

Rebellion itself has also grown, moving into publishing original fiction and roleplaying games. The fact that 2000AD’s parent company is a veteran of working with the film industry, producing a series of critically acclaimed Aliens’ vs Predator computer games, has almost certainly helped it in is goal of finally persuading someone to make another film.

So, then, what to make of Dredd 3D (2012)? One of the things that is notable about this film is quite how low budget it is compared with most comic book adaptations. Over the past few years, comic book fans have grown accustomed to a certain kind of marketing of comic book film. It involves being told very little, major announcements and stock footage at the San Diego Comic Con, adverts on billboards pretty much everywhere… in short, serious amounts of hype and ruthless efficiency. By contrast, the production of Dredd 3D has almost resembled a cottage industry at times.

First announced back in December 2008, the film has taken seemingly forever to finally appear. Yet it has been in the can (or whatever it is digital films are stored in these days) for months, having its debut in Cannes back in May. Despite this, production stills and footage has been distinctly thin on the ground. The extremely limited UK billboard campaign began last week, just a week before its UK release.

This isn’t a criticism. The lack of information (especially for those of us who avoid magazines such as Empire) has been tantalizing in the extreme. The screenings at both Cannes and San Diego have helped to generate some of the best word of mouth for a film in years. What is very clear is that the film makers have been extremely businesslike indeed, making the most of their marketing budget and limiting their ambitions about the film itself, very much with a view to ensuring the film is profitable enough to justify a franchise (they’ve been quite open about this, citing the need for the film to make $50m in the US to justify a sequel).

For me, this hard headed approach to the business side of the film has been very encouraging. The involvement of Alex Garland was similarly encouraging, as he was closely involved in not just the writing but the production side of films such as 28 Days Later (2002) and Sunshine (2007). At one point, Garland’s enthusiasm for the project started to look like it may have got to be a problem, with rumours of him throwing director Peter Travis out of the editing room. If there was a rift, Pete Travis isn’t saying, but in the marketing of the film Garland does appear to be performing the role you would normally expect the director to do.

And what of Karl Urban? On a superficial level, Urban doesn’t appear to have the chops – or rather the chin – for the role. But he manages to combine two important things. Firstly, he’s a decent and workmanlike actor. You can’t imagine him striding around the set demanding changes to the script to suit his ego, which is how Sylvester Stallone reportedly behaved during the making of the 1995 film. I admit his performance failed to excite me in The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003), but he has been the best thing about many of his films, especially Doom (2005). He managed to capture the essence of DeForest Kelley’s portrayal of Dr McCoy in Star Trek (2009) without drifting into caricature – quite a feat.

The second thing about him is that it is quite clear he is a proper geek, almost to his detriment (I refer again to Doom). It is fair to say that his career would not have taken the trajectory it did if he didn’t actually enjoy this sort of thing. In his interviews he has been quite emphatic about his fannish love of the Dredd comic, claiming to have not only agreed to not remove the helmet (actually not that big a deal for me), but insisting on it.

I simply haven’t seen enough of his performance at this stage to decide whether he has managed to pull it off, although many including John Wagner himself, believe he has. If this film is a success, it certainly appears that Urban will be returning for any sequels.

Like, I suspect, most fans, I’ve been preparing myself for the worst with this film. There’s a part of me that still isn’t quite convinced that Judge Dredd’s odd combination of satire, sardonic humour, violence and downright awkwardness could work within what are well established cinematic conventions. Dredd doesn’t have an origin story per se and can’t really be pigeonholed as either a hero, villain or even anti-hero. The best strips which capture the essence of the strip, typically revolve around the lives of ordinary people – great for kitchen sink drama, not to hot for a special effects laden blockbuster. The “big scale” stories which are often the best known, don’t really work without the context of the smaller scale ones (having the first Dredd film feature the Dark Judges, the Sovs or the Judge Child for example wouldn’t make much sense – it is too much of a clash of genre). I agree with the makers of the new film’s attempts to root the film somewhat more in reality, doing away with the flamboyance of the comic strip’s uniform, but consider it fiendishly difficult to strike the right balance and avoid dropping the essence of the character and the world he inhabits in the process.

In short, I don’t envy the task of the film makers in keeping the fans happy while making a commercial film at the same time. Yet the word of mouth suggests that they may have done just that. At the time of writing and after 27 reviews, Dredd 3D still has a critics’ rating of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. John Wagner is happy. The fans who have seen it all seem happy.

It may be that this is the film that Dredd fans have waited for for so long. In a couple of hours, I’ll be finding out myself.