Tag Archives: colin macneil

I is for Incubus

For a while in comics, it looked as if pretty much every character going was battling with Aliens and Predators. While there were some notable successful crossovers – the first Batman vs Predator springs to mind – the vast majority were just formulaic trash. I was shocked to discover a few months ago that I had apparently bought and red Aliens vs Predator vs Terminator, a mini-series so utterly forgettable that I could not recall a thing about it.

Dredd’s first foray with one of 20th Century Fox’s ugly buglies was actually in 1997 when he went up against the Predator (Predator vs Judge Dredd, Megazine 3.36–38). A relatively pedestrian tale let down further by weak art, it notably replaced Anderson with Judge Shaefer, a descendent of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Dutch in the original Predator film. It was clear that Dark Horse Comics were calling all the shots and John Wagner’s heart wasn’t really in it.

So things did not look augur well for the Judge Dredd vs Aliens tale, which appeared in 2003. It is all the more remarkable therefore that Incubus (Prog 2003 and progs 1322-1335, 2003) is in fact a pretty decent story.

There are probably two reasons why Dredd’s foray with Aliens was happier (if happy is the right word) than his tussle with Predator. The first is down to publisher. In 1997, 2000AD was still owned by Egmont Fleetway who were essentially running 2000AD down with a view to cancelling it as soon as it became unprofitable, forecast to occur in 2001. By 2003, 2000AD had been bought by Rebellion Developments who not only valued the comic far more highly but had some actual clout with 20th Century Fox after producing two well received Aliens vs Predator computer games.

The second reason for its strength is probably down to co-writer Andy Diggle.

Andy Diggle probably deserved an entry of his own (alas, D is now done and dusted). He and David Bishop are largely responsible for turning 2000AD around in the late 90s in the face of considerable opposition in the form of Egmont Fleetway. They played an instrumental role in negotiating the deal in which 2000AD was sold to Rebellion (you can read David Bishop’s account in his excellent history of 2000AD Thrill-Power Overload).

Diggle himself is a slightly controversial figure. As editor after David Bishop departed, he undoubtedly “got” 2000AD, as his famous (among 2000AD fans anyway), “Shot glass of rocket fuel” memo demonstrated. At the same time, there is little to doubt that the quality of 2000AD dipped somewhat under his tenure. He also had some rather public falling outs with a number of 2000AD’s key creators – most notably Pat Mills.

In the end, Diggle’s tenure as “Tharg” (the fictional editor of 2000AD and something of an honorific) was rather short. He has since gone on to be a far greater writer than he ever was an editor, including as the writer of The Losers, which went on to become a film in 2010.

It is clear that a lot of deft merging of the conventions of the Aliens franchise with past Dredd continuity is down to Diggle. Like the best crossovers, it works by honouring both series without resorting to shoehorning in anything too blatant: there is no Cadet Judge Ripley, for instance. It won’t go down in history as the greatest of literature, but as fun, action packed stories go, it sets a fairly high standard.

Of course, after 35 years of publication, neither of the official crossovers mark the first time Dredd has encountered any familiar looking aliens. We can discount Trapper Hag as a Predator stand in as, regardless of the similarities, he appeared in 1983, four years before the Schwarzenegger film (Trapper Hag, progs 305-307, 1983).

The best undeniable homage to Alien in the Dredd strip was the Starborn Thing (progs 309-314, 1983). In this story, Dredd is required to investigate a spaceship crash in the Cursed Earth. He encounters a squat creature covered in tentacles which proceeds to take control of his body. Dredd eventually defeats it only to discover it has impregnated him with its young. The story resulted in one of the most iconic 2000AD covers, drawn by Mick McMahon.

The other notable rip-off is Raptaur, a sort of amalgam of Alien and Predator, which appeared in an eponymous tale by Alan Grant and Dean Ormston in 1991 (Raptaur, Judge Dredd Megazine 1.11-1.17, 1991). Sadly all this iteration seemed to do is run around and eat people – it wasn’t half as fun as the Starborn Thing – but the creature has since reappeared in spin-off series The Simping Detective.

Highlights include:

  • The Starborn Thing (progs 309-314, 1983)
  • Incubus (Prog 2003 and progs 1322-1335, 2003)

I is also for…


Insurrection is a spin-off series which has thus far had two runs in the Judge Dredd Megazine (279-284 and 305-310). It concerns a group of renegade judges and their allies – a motley crue of intelligent apes and autonomous robots – who are under attack from Mega City 1 for declaring independence.

While set squarely in Dredd’s world, the series has very clear Warhammer 40,000 influences – indeed both writer Dan Abnett and artist Colin MacNeil are Warhammer mainstays. It is one of the most popular spin off series to appear in the Megazine in recent years.

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…

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 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).