Tag Archives: alan grant

G is for Giant

Three generations of Giants have appeared in the Dredd strip over the years. The first Judge Giant was a frequent sidekick of Dredd’s in the early years, helping him during The Day the Law Died (progs 89–108, 1978-1979) and dying in Block Mania (progs 236–244, 1982). While popular at the time, Giant somewhat dates the strip; it seems unlikely that they would introduce a black Judge these days who talked jive. His death was quite controversial – many fans quite naturally objected to one of their favourite characters being killed by being shot in the back.

Like Fargo, DeMarco and, one suspects, a pretty huge number of judges, Giant couldn’t abide by the “no sexual relations” rule of being a Judge (given the parallels with the Catholic church, it is surprising that no-one has yet decided to do a story about a Judge-Tutor abusing Cadets in the Academy of Law, but I digress). And so it was that just prior to Necropolis (progs 674–699, 1990), it emerged that Giant had secretly fathered a son (Young Giant, progs 651-655, 1989), who was swiftly inducted into the Academy of Law. Giant Jr performed a similar role in Necropolis to the one played by his father in The Day the Law Died. Soon after, Giant graduated from the Academy and went on to perform a similar role as Dredd’s sidekick in numerous stories.

I hope you’ll indulge me however, if I spend most of the rest of this article focusing on Giant Senior’s father, and Giant Junior’s grandfather, John “Giant” Clay. This character only appears once in the Dredd strip, although there was a one-off story called Whatever Happened to John “Giant” Clay (Judge Dredd Megazine issue 216, 2004)? He was better known as the star of the Harlem Heroes series (progs 1-27, 1977), one of the most popular strips in the first year of 2000AD. Indeed, since Harlem Heroes was published in prog 1, Giant actually predates Dredd by one week.

Harlem Heroes, named as a nod to the Harlem Globetrotters, focused around the futuristic sport of aeroball. As lost genre now, British comics in the 70s and 80s were full of sports stories, and this one followed the same basic formula (think Roy of the Rovers but with jetpacks).

This explicit link between Judge Dredd and the Harlem Heroes was to be just one of several little cross references which were to appear in the Dredd strip over the years. Satanus, the black tyrannosaur which appeared in The Cursed Earth (progs 61–85, 1978) was cloned Jurassic Park style from the DNA of the son of Old One Eye, the tyrannosaur which was the main antagonist in Flesh! (progs 1-19, 1977); just to be confusing, his own son Golgotha then appeared in the ABC Warriors in a story which was technically set several decades before Dredd was even born (ABC Warriors: Golgotha, progs 134 to 136, 1979). ABC Warriors itself was set initially during the fag end of the Volgan War, which first appeared in the 2000AD story Invasion. The Kleggs, alien mercenaries who appeared in The Day the Law Died, were to appear in the first Ace Trucking Co story (The Kleggs, progs 232-236, 1981). And finally, there have been two stories in which Dredd either fights or teams up with Johnny Alpha from Strontium Dog, a series which is set in the late 22nd century (Dredd is set in the early 22nd century).

As time has gone on however, enthusiasm for the idea of a shared 2000AD universe akin to the Marvel or DC universe, appears to have waned. Origins (progs 1505–1519 & 1529–1535, 2006-2007) makes no reference to the Volgan War for instance. A number of series have appeared subsequently which have been explicitly set in Dredd’s world, mostly in the Judge Dredd Megazine, but the more tenuously linked strips have tended to go their separate ways in recent years, although Pat Mills has actually been drawing his own creations Invasion and the ABC Warriors even closer together, with Invasion’s follow-up Savage telling the origins of the ABC Warriors and its predecessor series Ro-Busters.

Where there have been crossovers in recent years, they have tended to take the form of alternate versions. The 1995 Judge Dredd film featured an “ABC Warrior” which looked remarkably like Hammerstein from the ABC Warriors. As a tie-in, Pat Mills wrote Hammerstein (progs 960-963, 1995), which ret-conned the robot into being one of the wardroids used by President Booth to fight the judges at the end of the Atomic Wars. That story has since been contradicted by the ABC Warriors series, which establishes the Volgan War continuing for decades longer than would work in Dredd’s continuity.

A year previously, 2000AD featured a crossover between Dredd and the Rogue Trooper (Casualties of War, prog 900, 1994), but this Rogue Trooper appears to be an amalgam of both the original Rogue Trooper and the reboot version “Friday” (Rogue Trooper continuity is a whole other kettle of fish I won’t go into here).

And finally, in the story Helter Skelter (progs 1250–1261, 2000), Dredd faces his own Crisis on Multiple Earths and encounters several different 2000AD characters, as well as judges from another parallel universe.

It probably made sense to decouple all these series from each other; the longer they went on the more of a straitjacket it would become. From a fan’s perspective however it is a bit of a shame as it was fun trying to piece it all together. Judge Giant then is a sort of artefact from a bygone era.
Highlights include:

  • Giant Sr’s first appearance – The Academy of Law (progs 27-28, 1977)
  • Giant Sr’s death – Block Mania (progs 236–244, 1982)
  • Giant Jr’s first appearance – Young Giant (progs 651-655, 1989)
  • Giant Jr’s finest moment – Necropolis (progs 674–699, 1990)
  • Satanus’s first appearance – The Cursed Earth (progs 61–85, 1978)
  • First (and best) Strontium Dog crossover – Top Dogs (Judge Dredd Annual, 1991)
  • Rogue Trooper crossover – Casualties of War (prog 900, 1994)

G is also for…

Alan Grant
Thus far in this A-Z I have made numerous comments about Alan Grant’s contribution to the Dredd series, most of them not complimentary. I wouldn’t however wish you to think that I don’t value the contribution he made to the Dredd series.

Without Alan Grant, it is entirely likely that Judge Dredd would have fizzled out years before its greatest stories had been told. Grant teamed up with Wagner at a crucial time during the latter’s writing of the Judge Child saga. Grant helped him get past his writer’s block and the two formed a writing team which lasted for the best part of a decade.

Most of what is regarded as the golden age of Judge Dredd was written by Wagner and Grant (or T. B. Grover as they typically wrote under). Combined with artist Ron Smith (another unsung hero), they produced a consistent, funny and imaginative body of work at a level of quality that the series struggled to reach both before and afterwards.

And of course they did this while writing numerous other titles at the same time, including Strontium Dog, Ace Trucking Co, Robo-Hunter and many other series which appeared in the Eagle and Scream. Their run on Batman remains one of my favourites (as is Alan Grant’s solo run); in particular, in the Ventriloquist they created a quintessential Bat villain.

Without Alan Grant’s no-nonsense approach, John Wagner’s style has developed to become much more introspective and meandering. In general, it is a style that I love, but that isn’t to say that the occasional jolt of Alan Grant-style anarchism wouldn’t be unappreciated to keep things more on track. An Alan Grant co-written Day of Chaos for instance would probably have ended in half the time (although I think even he would have baulked at going further than wiping out 87 per cent of the population).

I don’t agree with everything he has done, or wanted to do, with Judge Dredd and Anderson, Psi Division (not to mention killing off Johnny Alpha in Strontium Dog), but he remains one of the British comic industry’s greatest ideas men and I would like to see him writing a lot more than he does these days.

C is for Chopper

Marlon “Chopper” Shakespeare is the Judge Dredd series’s own rebel without a cause. Originally appearing as a graffiti artist in Un-American Graffiti (progs 206-207, 1981), for true Dredd fans it is this they think of whenever they see a smiley face, not Watchmen or acid house. He went on to become best known as a sky-surfer (literally, someone who rides on a flying surfboard fitted with an anti-gravity device) and the winner of illegal world championship Supersurf 7 (The Midnight Surfer, progs 424-429, 1986). Most stories since then have focused on the fictional sport of sky-surfing.

The Midnight Surfer was followed up by Oz (progs 545-570, 1987), a Dredd epic which is framed around Chopper’s escape from prison, journey to Australia to compete in Supersurf 10 and the contest itself (the story also focuses around an attack on Mega City 1 by the Judda, but I’ll cover that elsewhere). This story is cited as one of the reasons John Wagner and Alan Grant decided to end their writing partnership, which had begun towards the end of writing the Judge Child saga. In short, Wagner wanted Chopper to lose the championship but live, while Grant wanted Chopper to win the championship but die. Wagner got his way.

After Anderson, Psi Division, Chopper is the second Judge Dredd character to get his own spin-off series. The Song of the Surfer (progs 654-665, 1989) focuses on Supersurf 11, this time taking place in Mega City 2. The championship turns deadly when its organisers decide to make it more exciting by firing guns at the contestants. This time, almost as if to show Alan Grant how it should be done, Wagner let’s Chopper win – but apparently dies. The story also marks the first major collaboration between John Wagner and artist Colin MacNeil, who went on to draw America and a number of other classic Dredd stories.

And there is should have ended. Unfortunately, Chopper was then brought back with the launch of the new Judge Dredd Megazine, in a story called Earth, Wind and Fire (Judge Dredd Megazine vol 1, 1-6, 1990). This story was written by Garth Ennis (and drawn by frequent Ennis collaborator John McCrea), at the time still at the early stage of his career. Ennis has many qualities as a writer, but one of his weaknesses is a tendency to turn everything he writes into meandering bromances which focus more on drinking alcohol than on character or plot. Earth, Wind and Fire is a particular low point of his career – and one he appears to readily acknowledge himself.

Chopper, now a character who had entirely run out of a story to tell, limped on to appear in yet another story in 2000AD – this time written by Alan McKenzie and drawn by John Higgins (Supersurf 13, progs 964-971, 1995) – before the editor’s finally decided to give him a rest. Even then, Wagner himself attempted to revive the character in 2004 in a fairly forgettable story (The Big Meg, progs 1387-1394, 2004).

Chopper’s run therefore is a tale of two halves. His first four appearances are as great as his latter three are forgettable. It is easy to see how the readership easily identified with this character, a kid who was about the same age as most of the people reading his stories. The best Chopper stories are all about an ordinary guy achieving extraordinary things in the face of adversity, but there comes a point when there just isn’t anything left to kick against.

Highlights include:

  • Un-American Graffiti (progs 206-207, 1981). Reprinted in the Complete Judge Dredd Casefiles vol 4.
  • The Midnight Surfer (progs 424-429, 1986). Reprinted in the Complete Judge Dredd Casefiles vol 9.
  • Oz (progs 545-570, 1987). Reprinted in the Complete Judge Dredd Casefiles vol 11.
  • The Song of the Surfer (progs 654-665, 1989). Reprinted in Chopper: Surf’s Up.

C is also for…

Cal
Chief Judge Cal is an early antagonist of Dredd’s. The head of the Special Judicial Service – the Justice Department’s own internal affairs unit who dress like members of the SS – Cal uses his position to kill Chief Judge Goodman and brainwash the judges, leaving only a handful of judges – including Dredd, Giant and the tutors at the Academy of Law – left to fight a rebellion.

Originally drawn to resemble Pat Mills, Mills objected and as a result Cal was quickly changed to instead resemble John Hurt’s portrayal of Emperor Caligula in BBC TV’s adaptation of I, Claudius.

The Day the Law Died (progs 89-108, 1978-1979) was the basis of the Judge Dredd motion picture (1995), albeit with Cal replaced by Dredd’s clone brother Rico and loveable oaf Fergee replaced by the distinctly unloveable Fergie, played by Rob Schneider.

An alternate Cal appeared in dimension hopping series Helter Skelter (progs 1250-1261, 2001).

Call-Me-Kenneth
Call-Me-Kenneth was the revolutionary leader of the robot rebellion in the Robot Wars, the first multi-part Judge Dredd story, which also marked a return to the strip by creator John Wagner after initially walking away due to conflict between him and commissioning editor Pat Mills (progs 10–17, 1977).

With clear allusions to Jesus, Call-Me-Kenneth is originally a carpenter droid who rebels against his brutal master. He is eventually brought to heel by Dredd and his sycophantic servant droid Walter, in what is a highly satirical story (a personal favourite).

Meg Review: 267

Megazine 267Quote of the month: “So we’re going to be best friends. At at journey’s end, you’re going to give your best friend Tempest fourteen billion creds. And if you don’t give your best friend Tempest fourteen billions creds… your best friend Tempest is going to tie you down and hammer nails in your skull until you die screaming in hideous agony. Because that’s what friends are for.” Tempest bonding with Johnny in Tempest.

Cover: Jon Davis-Hunt draws Tempest in a dramatic pose.

Strips: Judge Dredd, Armitage, Tempest, Bob the Galactic Bum (reprint)

Features: Two Interrogations (interview with Alan Grant part 2 and Al Ewing), New Comics (Alan Moore and Kev O’Neill’s The League of Extradordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier), New Movies, Dreddlines (letters)

Spoilers… Continue reading Meg Review: 267

Tooth Review: 1567 & 1568

Prog 1567One of the many things I’ve struggled to get around too after the New Year break is my weekly Tooth Review. A double helping here, and I think I may continue doing them in clumps as I’ve found I tend to repeat myself a lot.

Quote of the fortnight: “Great steamin’ arse’oles!” Stickleback in Stickleback.

Contents: Both issues feature a Judge Dredd one-off and the continuation of Shakara, Kingdom, Stickleback and Strontium Dog from Prog 2008.

Prog 1058Covers: 1567 – Cliff Robinson draws a dramatic Johnny Alpha fron Strontium Dog, being lowered into prison to set Billy Glum free. 1568 – Nick Percival (is he still alive?) draws Shakara. Of the two, I prefer the Nick Percival, mainly because it is something different and I love the EC-style lettering. Still not convinced by the new “double” logo which now fills a fifth of the whole page; we’ve gone down this road before and each time the logo has been scrapped because the editor found it too limiting.

Continue reading Tooth Review: 1567 & 1568

Meg Review: 266

Megazine 266Quote of the month: “I’d recommend to anybody working on their relationship that they should try embarking on a sixteen-year elaborate pornography together. I think they’ll find it works wonders.” Alan Moore

Cover: Cliff Robinson draws Dredd, Armitage and new character Tempest. Workmanlike and always a crowd pleaser, it is nonetheless nothing we haven’t seen before.

Strips: Judge Dredd, Armitage, Tempest, Bob the Galactic Bum (reprint)

Features: Interrogation (interview with Alan Grant), Dredd Files (summary of Dredd strips from days of yore), New Comics (Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie’s The Lost Girls), New Movies, Dreddlines (letters)

I’ve been reviewing 2000AD every week here for a while now, so why not the monthly Judge Dredd Megazine? Well, the short answer to that is that I often don’t read all of it. The Megazine has always been less consistent than 2000AD and some of the strips contained within it have been very weak indeed. I remember reading an interview with Alan Grant in the 90s when he confidently predicted that 2000AD would merge into the Megazine before the decade was out; so much for that theory.

Why has it always been the weaker of the two titles? Partly it is because it has always had a very confused identity. Various editors have sought to rebrand it as either the JUDGE DREDD Megazine or the Judge Dredd MEGAZINE. The former implies a comic focussed on Judge Dredd and his world, which has meant that most of the strips over the past 18 years have been about a Judge in another country or setting (A Samurai Judge! A grumpy Inspector Morse-type Judge! A Wally Squad Judge [lots of Wally Squad Judges in fact]!) or a direct spin-off from the Dredd strip itself (Anderson, Hershey, DeMarco, Mean Machine, Chopper… you name it).

The latter implies something more generic. For a period in the early noughties this meant a series of strips that were related to Dredd in the sense that they were noirish, focussed on crime and/or filled with black humour. This lead to strips ranging from The Bendatti Vendetta
through to Xtnct (by Doctor Who/Human Nature scribe Paul Cornell).

More recently though, this has implied taking a more magazine-ish approach to the comic, leading up to the current vogue to make the publication its own fanzine. This has had mixed success. Some of the articles have been stronger than others and occasionally they have dominated to the extent that it resembles a magazine about British comics, complete with free fannish content, with a monthly Dredd strip included as an afterthought.

The other big problem it has faced is its monthly format. While in the US, monthly, single-strip comics continue to thrive (if thrive is the right word for it), in the UK we have tended to opt for weekly anthology titles (a gross simplification if ever there was one since 2000AD, Beano and *ahem* Dandy Xtreme are the only ones left!). Once again, the Megazine has flitted between the two extremes. Monthly comics are tough to follow, especially the wilder ones such as Pat Mills and John Hicklenton’s recent Blood of Satanus III (which was sadly not worth the wait when I finally got around to reading it in one go last month) and while most successful 2000AD strips tend to be between 10 and 15 parts long, such length is an impossible task for a monthly strip.

Sadly, going fortnightly didn’t seem to help the comic either, as it was in the mid-nineties. While that enabled it to develop a stable of ongoing strips and helped develop a number of careers including Robbie Morrison, Frank Quitely and Gordon Rennie, much of its content was at best rushed and a worst downright rubbish. The then-fad for sub-Bisley painted artwork didn’t exactly help either.

Nonetheless, it certainly has its moments and has launched the careers of several top flight artists and writers. The fact that it has survived at all is pretty remarkable given that for a good year in the late nineties it only had 16 pages of original material in it every month.

As of this issue, the Megazine has had a relaunch and yet another reboot (although a less extreme one than some of its predecessors). Gone are the indy backup strips (an opportunity for upcoming artists to show their wares; a bunch of free material for the magazine); back is the cheap US reprint material.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here commenceth the review:

Spoilers… Continue reading Meg Review: 266