Tag Archives: comics

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.

Taking sides in the Grant Morrison / Alan Moore cosmic feud

20121128-001951.jpgSooner or later, someone is going to come up with the idea of a story about two wizards – a hirsute, midlander who worships a made up god and dapper suited, bald Glaswegian chaos magician – and the bitter feud between them. The real life story about the animosity between the UK’s greatest living comics writers Grant Morrison and Alan Moore is nothing like as dramatic, but for anyone who has even a modicum of respect for both of them, rather compelling.

We aren’t talking about a massive feud here, incidentally. The two don’t publicly attack each other at every opportunity. The intrigue is rooted in the fact that both writers have very similar interests and backgrounds, and why exactly it is that they have managed to rub each other up the same way

Pádraig Ó Méalóid has written a synopsis of the disagreement which Grant Morrison has taken exception to and comprehensively fisked. You can make your own mind up but to a large extent it is impossible to arbitrate on the issue without your own prejudices about either writer getting in the way. In the interest of full disclosure then, let me say this: on balance I am probably more of a Grant Morrison fan, so take what I have to say on the topic with that particular pinch of salt.

Although I think he is right on the broad thrust, I don’t entirely agree with Morrison though. I think he let’s himself off a bit too gently with his justification that his column Drivel for Speakeasy magazine, which he wrote in the late 80s, was purely work for hire on which he was working to a specific brief. While it is self evident to anyone who has read them that the columns were tongue in cheek – at one stage, I vividly recall his dictum being that “99% of comics are shit except for the 10% that I write” – the fact is that this persona was rehearsed in all the media interviews he gave at the time. What was quite funny a few times rapidly ceased to amuse and he slowly became the parody that he was mocking at the time.

Morrison and his then writing partner Mark Millar were given unprecedented editorial control over 2000AD in 1993 (“the Summer Offensive”) and the two set about tearing up the comic from its roots and implementing the sort of philosophy that Morrison had been espousing in his Drivel columns for years beforehand. The result was an utter disaster, best forgotten. Morrison and Millar’s take on Dredd is the worse mishandling of the character in its long history. I recall in an interview atbthe time Morrison denouncing Dredd-creator John Wagner for not writing funny Dredd strips any more. Ironically, even at his most serious and po-faced, Wagner manages to inject each episode with more genuine humour than Morrison and Millar managed in their entire run on Dredd.

To cut a long story short, in the early 90s, Grant Morrison was a bit of a dick. Having suddenly found himself rich and successful after more than a decade as a struggling writer (his graphic novel Batman: Arkham Asylum hit the bookshelves at the height of Batmania following the release of the 1989 Tim Burton film), discovered the drink, drugs and sex that he couldn’t afford and wasn’t particularly interested in during the early part of his career. In his 30s, he went on a teenage bender, something which almost destroyed him as a writer.

But the important thing is, he grew out of it. The Morrison who emerged over the following decade was a different creature altogether. Most of his works during this period have a sort of life affirming therapy quality to them, with Morrison himself effectively starring in The Invisibles, Flex Mentallo and The Filth.

I find the claim by both Moore and Michael Moorcock that Morrison is a creatively bankrupt thief of their work to be utterly bizarre. If you want to read a sub-Alan Moore deconstructionist and misanthropic take on the superhero genre, you need merely screw up a copy of Watchmen and throw it over your shoulder; the chances are you’ll hit a comic by a writer taking precisely that approach. On a superficial level, there are clearly similarities but where Morrison’s work is all about hope amidst the darkness, Moore’s work is, well, darkness amidst the darkness. They are so incomparable that it is barely worth even rebutting.

And this is the nub of it: Alan Moore’s complaint about Grant Morrison appears to be nothing more than a massive troll, and potentially an attempt by Moore to get his own back for a couple of mean-spirited things Morrison said about him during his idiot period. But as Morrison says, during the Drivel years, Morrison was a 30 year old still struggling to find his place in the world. Alan Moore is a highly successful man in his 60s. In the context, it is hard to deny that Moore is the bigger dick (term used in the strict Wheaton sense of the word).

I have heard more than once people defend Moore when he says his more outrageous things that if you hear him say them in person it is clear he has his tongue firmly in his cheek when he does so. But if this is all an act, is there a risk that Moore himself ends up resembling the persona he is pretending to be? We await to see what Jerusalem is like, but the fact is that most of his work over the past decade has given me the sense of a man coasting. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is good fun and a gentle read, kind of like putting on your favourite slippers, but nothing like as edgy as it thinks it is. Century had nothing to say ultimately other than “modern culture (and particularly Harry Potter) is rubbish” – the familiar old man lament since time immemorial. We appear to have reached the point in which Alan Moore has little more to say than “99% of modern culture is rubbish, except for the 10% that I write” – the only difference between this statement and Grant Morrison’s own utterance more than 20 years previously being that even at the time we knew with complete certainty that Morrison was taking the piss.

It’s great fun to watch Alan Moore be rude and nasty about everything, but there comes a point where it’s just rudeness dressed up as criticism. I think he went passed that years ago and it’s time he reined it back in. I suspect that if he did, his work would significantly improve as he was forced to move outside of his (cynical and world weary) comfort zone.

Still looking forward to Heart of Ice though.

John Constantine: Hellblazer. You only live twice.

John ConstantineNaBloPoMo November 2012The decision by DC comics to cancel its imprint Vertigo’s longest running title Hellblazer and replace it with a new comic featuring its main character John Constantine in a new in-continuity title may not seem like that much of a big deal to outsiders. For the comics’ fans however, this represents the end of an era and an uncertain future. Explaining why however, may get a bit confusing – for which I apologise in advance. Welcome to the mad, bad world of corporate comics.

John Constantine and Hellblazer were originally part of official DC continuity. Constantine was first created by Alan Moore as a supporting cast member of the horror comic Swamp Thing. A British occult investigator-cum-conman, Constantine acted as the Swamp Thing’s guide to the occult as he lead (and mislead) him through a series of adventures.

The Swamp Thing’s odyssey was itself part of a larger story which engulfed the whole of the DC Comics line. Constantine would use the Swamp Thing to perform a crucial war in a magical secret war taking place concurrently with the Crisis of Infinite Earths in 1986. The Crisis was DC’s rather futile and counterproductive attempt to clean up its continuity, replacing an infinite multiverse with a single universe in which all its characters interacted with each other.

Despite this integral role Constantine and the Swamp Thing played in the creation of this new world, within five years they would spin out of it to form a continuity of their own in 1993. This was ostensibly for commercial reasons. Both Swamp Thing and Hellblazer, together with a number of other titles (all of which, at the time, were written by Brits), were enough of a critical and commercial success to lead DC to publish a new imprint Vertigo. All the initial titles published by Vertigo moved from the DC universe to their own separate continuity. Initially, all these titles were tied together, even having their own crossover event at one stage.

Vertigo wobbled significantly during its initial period however, with most of its titles struggling to find an audience. Hellblazer was the only of Vertigo’s launch titles to survive for more than three years (admittedly, in the case of the hugely successful Sandman, this was due to the author choosing to end the series rather than anything else). The idea of a “Vertigoverse” fell quickly out of favour, and Hellblazer spent the remainder of its run existing in (mostly) splendid isolation.

So far, so – reasonably – straightforward. Things got a little more complicated in 2011 however with the reappearance of both Swamp Thing and John Constantine in DC continuity – despite Hellblazer remaining in publication. Of course, this was not technically the same continuity as the one the two characters left in 1993, with the universe having been rebooted in both 2005 and 2008 (and also 1991, but that’s another story). Indeed, the continuity they returned to was not even a universe any more, but a multiverse, with it having by then been established that there were now 52 separate worlds.

Both these characters kicked their heels around in the official continuity for a few months until DC decided to reboot their titles once again, this time calling it the New 52 (because there are to be 52 ongoing monthly titles in publication at any one time, not because there are 52 worlds). In this reboot, Swamp Thing has once again been given his own title (alongside fellow Vertigo alumnus Animal Man), while Constantine joined a title called the Justice League Dark (sort of an occult version of the Justice League America). It is this character who is about to get his own solo series.

You might ask “isn’t the new Constantine just the same character as the old Hellblazer character?” No is the answer, because while DC continuity has followed the standard superhero convention of having its characters age only very slowly, if at all (New 52 continuity has actually seen all the main characters get younger), since Hellblazer moved to Vertigo, that John Constantine has aged in real time. That John Constantine is an ageing ex-punk about to turn 60. The New 52 John Constantine is a still a jack the lad in his early 30s who can probably only just remember Britpop. Constantine’s slow march to docility is a main theme in the latter Hellblazer stories; in the New 52 Constantine is probably younger than most of his readers.

So what do I make of all this? I’m in two minds. I think there is an argument that after 300 issues and 25 years Hellblazer has run its course. It has slipped into repeating itself on numerous occasions now. Furthermore, while ageing a character over several decades is interesting and something we rarely see in comics, Constantine differs from Judge Dredd (who has aged in real time over 35 years) in two fundamental respects. Firstly, the comic has had a number of typically very good but different writers, each of whom have brought with them their own ideas, themes and supporting cast. While John Constantine’s own personality has been fairly consistent, pretty much everything else has been thrown up in the air every few years.

Connected to that is the fact that nothing really changes in Constantine’s world. They hit the big reset button every few years. While one of the overarching themes of the series is that actions have consequences, you don’t see Constantine really deal with the consequences of his actions 20-30 years ago, which might as well be ancient history as far as the title is concerned, because everything has to get wrapped up in 2-5 year story arcs. In that respect the title’s continuity has been a real straitjacket. Contrast that with Dredd where John Wagner regularly revisits a storyline from decades in the past, and can irrecoverably change the world as a consequence.

So in principle, I have nothing against giving John Constantine a reboot, any more than I have for any other character. Whether this is the right reboot however is another matter; without wanting to get into the topic of the New 52 more generally, the John Constantine we’ve seen in Justice League Dark thus far has been fairly fun but unremarkable. He lacks the weight and groundedness that his past incarnation had in abundance.

It’s also interesting to note that this switch comes at a time when there are rumours of a Justice League Dark film directed by Guillermo Del Toro. Constantine has of course been in a film before, in a film which cast Keanu Reeves as a black haired resident of Los Angeles (as opposed to a blond Londoner). It shouldn’t have worked, and was certainly not a critical or commercial success, but I have to admit to enjoying it for reasons that go beyond my Tilda Swinton obsession.

My guess is that DC have decided that if the film does come off, they want to present the world with a single, simplified vision of the character, rather than two versions at different ages and with wildly divergent back stories. Of course this is dumb: they aren’t about to stop publishing the collected editions of Hellblazer, so anyone visiting a book shop will still be confronted by two versions. But it is how the corporate mindset works.

So this is a bit sad, but does point to the character getting wider recognition; and if that means more people reading Hellblazer at its best then that’s something. I just hope it doesn’t mean we’ll never get to revisit the old John Constantine again or that it will prevent other, potentially fascinating interpretations of the character.

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.

R is for Robot Wars

Call-Me-KennethI’ve already written several times about pivotal moments in the development of the Judge Dredd series; points which proved decisive in the survival of the strip and its development. Robot Wars (progs 10-17, 1977, with a prologue in prog 9) is the first of these pivotal moments.

It is easy to forget given how it came to dominate the comic, but in the early days there was no reason to regard Judge Dredd as different to any other strip running in 2000AD. It was not “featuring Judge Dredd” – indeed the character only first appeared in prog 2. If anything, it was “featuring Dan Dare”, the 1950s space pilot who editor Pat Mills had revived to spark interest in the new comic. True, it is clear that Pat Mills felt he was onto something with Dredd, which is why its development process ended up being quite so tortuous, but that was no guarantee that the character would survive if it couldn’t prove itself.

John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra’s decision to walk away from their creation was a severe blow. The first seven Dredd strips to appear in 2000AD were written by Peter Harris, Pat Mills, Kelvin Gosnell, Charles Herring and in particular Malcolm Shaw. With the exception of Judge Whitey (prog 2, 1977), Dredd’s first appearance, none of these stories are remembered with any particular affection.

Robot Wars was the first multi-part storyline. More significantly, it was also the first story written by John Wagner to appear in print (and the first story drawn by Carlos Ezquerra, albeit only for one episode). The difference in quality is quite striking.

The story revolves around a robot called Call-Me-Kenneth, a carpenter droid (and yes, that is a Biblical reference) who kills his brutal master and leads a rebellion amongst the robots. Dredd defeats this rebellion, assisted by his robot servant Walter, who is granted full citizenship at the end of the story but chooses to continue working unpaid for Dredd anyway.

This is the first time the satire in the Dredd strip really bites. The analogies being drawn between African slavery and the brutal treatment of the robots by the humans are pretty easy to spot. Call-Me-Kenneth is enjoyably villainous, but the humans and in particular Judge Dredd don’t exactly come off well in this story either. It is the much put upon robots caught up in between we are really being invited to sympathise with.

Robo-HunterThe both the theme of robots-as-oppressed-people and the comic potential of robots were to go on to become recurring themes in 2000AD. Killer Car (progs 53-56, 1978) recycles a lot of the comedy in Robot Wars, and Wagner went on to collaborate with Ian Gibson, artist on both Robot Wars and Killer Car, on Robo-Hunter. Meanwhile, Pat Mills went on to make the plight of intelligent robots a theme in Ro-Busters and ABC Warriors.

Back in Judge Dredd, Walter would go on to be a recurring character for many years, even getting his own series of one-page strips drawn by Brian Bolland. Rejected by Dredd, Walter ends up founding a Call-Me-Kenneth worshipping cult in Giant (Megazine 2.50-52, 1994). And there was a second robot war, this time lead by crimelord Nero Narcos, as recounted in the Doomsday Scenario (progs 1141-1164 & Megazine 3.52-59, 1999).

Robot Wars was a triumphant return to the Judge Dredd strip by John Wagner which set the tone of the series for years afterwards. While simplistic by today’s standards, it’s quality shines through. As with The Pit almost 20 years later, if Wagner had not returned to write was in effect a manifesto for the strip at this point, it is very unlikely that the strip would have lasted the year, let alone 35.

Q is for A Question of Judgement

Cover to Prog 389The vast majority of Dredd strips throughout the 80s were basically comedy. Even the Apocalypse War was laced with irony and satire. Just occasionally a story touched on more serious themes. One of these was the six page A Question of Judgement (prog 387, 1984).

A Question of Judgement was in fact the first of three short, consecutive vignettes, the other two of which were An Error of Judgement (prog 388) and A Case for Treatment (prog 389). Combined, these stories threatened to rock the strip to its foundations, only for the themes contained within them to crawl back into their shells and not reappear for years afterwards.

All three stories have one thing at the heart of them: Dredd is having doubts about whether the judicial system is really in the people’s best interests. In A Question of Judgement, Dredd meets up with Judge Morphy, the judge who assessed him for his suitability for becoming a full judge after his graduation from the Academy of Law. Morphy is presented as a mentor figure for Dredd and Morph’s advice to Dredd is simple: wear tighter boots. His reasoning is that if Dredd were to spend all his time suffering from the effects of wearing boots a size too small, he would have less time to worry about whether he was actually achieving anything (as bad advice goes, this must rank pretty highly – how could Dredd be expected to do his job properly hobbling about in pain?).

In An Error of Judgement, Dredd gets emotionally involved in a welfare case, but his assistance goes awry and he ends ups assaulting a fellow judge. This leads directly into A Case For Treatment, in which Dredd is forced by the Chief Judge to undergo hypnotherapy in an attempt to get to the root of his doubts. It ends inconclusively, with the Chief Judge deciding to give Dredd a special mission to get his mind back on the job, as recounted in The City of the Damned (progs 393-406, 1984-1985).

That was all we got to see of Dredd’s doubts for many years. In retrospect it is clear that this was a side of Dredd that John Wagner was keen to explore while Alan Grant was keen to focus on the satirical elements of the strip. So it was not until their writing partnership came to an end that this plot thread was picked up again, in the Tale of the Dead Man (progs 662-668, 1990), which in turn lead to the Necropolis saga.

In this story arc, Dredd’s doubts lead him to taking self imposed exile in the Cursed Earth only for him to return to save the city upon discovering that the Dark Judges have returned. Merging with the democracy arc, this plot line reaches a modicum of conclusion with the referendum storyline.

The Dredd who returns from the Cursed Earth however is a subtly different character (at least the way Wagner writes him). He is more thoughtful and significantly more forceful when he feels the judges are doing the wrong thing. This gets him into trouble during the Mechanismo/Wilderlands story arc. His dealing with Edgar, a judge he admires but whose methods he disapproves of, is also typified by this, as is his support for both Volt and Hershey as modestly reforming Chief Judges.

Every so often we would also get a story which reveals the softer side of his character, such as the fan-favourite Bury My Knee at Wounded Heart (Megazine 2.46, February 1994) which deals with some very unDreddful themes such as old age and dying with dignity.

These aren’t stories about Dredd wracked with guilt however; the Dredd in these stories is demonstrates very little in the way of internal conflict or self-doubt. Rather, they are about the nature of justice from the perspective of a man who has revised his views considerably.

This theme continues into Origins (progs 1505-1519 & 1529-1535, 2006-2007) and the revelation that Fargo himself had concluded that the judicial system he had created was flawed. In turn this leads to Dredd revising his views on the anti-mutant laws and the events covered by the Tour of Duty story arc.

In conclusion then, while A Question of Judgement and its immediate successors are not in themselves enormously successful stories, they sewed the seeds for the sort of development which has gone on to dominate the series for the past 23 years. There is a tendency to focus on the sprawling epics which percolate the Dredd series, but sometimes the odd six-pagers can be equally significant.

M is for Maybe (P. J.)

Philip Janet Maybe has gone from being a minor perp in a six page short story to Dredd’s own Moriarty. In Bug (prog 534, 1987), drawn by rising star Liam Sharp, Maybe is a psychopathic 12 year old who is quite a dab hand in robotics and pharmacology. As an experiment, he uses his burgeoning skills in both to kill a couple of his neighbours and writes the whole incident up in his diary (very badly). He’s pretty much continued in that vein ever since.

The early P. J. Maybe stories are in many ways both a distillation and a departure from a series of stories that Wagner and Grant had written prior to that. Superficially it was just a darker version of the “ordinary citizen with big ambitions in a crazy world” theme, typified by Un-American Graffiti (progs 206-207, 1981), Citizen Snork (progs 356-358, 1984) and The Magnificent Obsession (440-441, 1985). One of the main themes of Dredd in the mid-80s (and indeed the mid-80s themselves) was the “crazes” which seized the bored, mostly unemployed citizenry of Mega City One. Typically these stories ended up with someone taking the idea too far and getting the whole craze banned. P. J. Maybe simply swapped the funny costumes for cold-blooded murder. And, for the most part, gets away with it.

Maybe’s killing spree continues for a few stories, with him managing to use his murderous talents to get his unknowing father to become head of the company he worked for, Emphatically Yess – a clothing company which, among other things, has a contract to make the trousers for the judges themselves (in the future apparently, Americans call their pants trousers – a victory for British cultural imperialism!). He gets caught, escapes during Necropolis, and gets caught again.

By that point, the P. J. Maybe stories had started to get a bit repetitive and so for the next seven years he languished in a isolation cell somewhere. But he returned for The All New Adventures of P. J. Maybe (prog 1204, 2000) and has been a major recurring character ever since.

Now an adult, the second coming of P. J. Maybe is somewhat more ambitious than the first. Maybe first escapes to Ciudad Barranquilla, the Central American counterpart of Mega City One, having successfully managed to fake his own death. When Dredd starts to track him down once again, he again manages to fake his own death, this time moving back to Mega City One. Having adopted the identity of Byron Ambrose, he gets embroiled in city politics – first getting elected as a councillor and eventually becoming mayor. John Wagner is clearly making a point about the nature of democracy when he makes a psychopathic killer one of the most successful mayors in Mega City One’s history .

Even as mayor, Maybe continues his killing spree. Eventually he comes unstuck during the Tour of Duty storyline (progs 1650-1693, 2009-2010). Enraged by spending cuts imposed by the new Chief Judge Sinfield, Maybe sets himself the task of killing him. He very nearly does so, despite the tight security, but is eventually caught. However, his actions prove instrumental in bringing down Sinfield himself who had used SLD-88, a mind control drug devised by Maybe himself, to control and cause the resignation of Chief Judge Francisco.

Maybe is scheduled for execution but, once again, escapes. He has since kept a fairly low profile but was last seen capturing the Dark Judges Fear, Fire and Mortis. It remains to be seen how this clash of Dredd’s greatest foes will turn out.

In many ways however, P. J. Maybe is everything the Dark Judges aren’t. Whereas the Dark Judges are superpowered creatures who go on killing sprees wherever possible, Maybe is a mortal who, while he likes killing, has a very strong sense of his own self-preservation. The latter, frankly, leads to somewhat more interesting stories.

Maybe has also provided the series with a lot of light relief in recent years, as the tone has generally got darker. He is however, at risk of being over-used. Notwithstanding his inevitable role in an upcoming Dark Judges story soon, with the Mayor Ambrose story arc now finished I do hope they’ll give him a rest soon.

Highlights include…

  • Bug (prog 534, 1987), PJ Maybe, Age 13 (progs 592-594, 1988), The Further Adventures of PJ Maybe, Age 14 (prog 599, 1988) and The Confeshuns of PJ Maybe (progs 632-634, 1989).
  • The Monsterus Mashinashuns of P.J. Maybe (Judge Dredd Megazine issues 231-234, 2005).
  • The Gingerbread Man (Judge Dredd Megazine issues 261-263, 2007).
  • Tour of Duty (progs 1650-1693, 2009-2010)

M is also for…

Maria

Many of the early Judge Dredd stories tended to focus around his domestic life. This was populated by his robo-servant Walter the Wobot and his housekeeper Maria.

Maria was a caricature of an Italian housewife who would frequently acted as a foil to Walter. The joke, ahem, wore a little thin after a while. Both characters were pretty much written out of the series in the Destiny’s Angels story (progs 281-288, 1982), with Maria resigning after being abducted by Fink Angel (who assumed she was Dredd’s wife).

Maria’s last appearance was in Cardboard City (progs 643-645, 1989), in which Dredd discovers she has been homeless yet refuses his offers of help. She has since died (Whatever Happened to Maria, JDM 215, 2004)

Mean Machine

Although I’ve already covered the Angel Gang, Mean Machine deserves a special mention. Absurdly popular (despite, in my opinion Pa and Junior being the more compellingly written characters), Mean originally died in The Judge Child (progs 156-181, 1980) but was brought back to life in Destiny’s Angel (progs 281-288, 1982) and has made numerous appearances since. He has even been given his own spin-off series and, alongside Judge Death, appeared in the first Batman/Judge Dredd crossover, Judgement on Gotham (1991).

I have to admit to finding the character somewhat one-note. Essentially he is a rather crudely built cyborg who headbutts people a lot and has a dial on his head to determine how angry he gets. This has lead two a handful of memorable appearances, such as Dredd Angel, but the character was somewhat overused in the 90s and outstayed its welcome. His fabulous portrayal in the Judge Dredd motion picture (1995) was however one of that film’s few highlights.

Mechanismo

A series of stories which appeared in the Judge Dredd Megazine (Mechanismo, JDM 2.12-2.17, Mechanismo Returns, JDM 2.22-2.26, Mechanismo: Body Count, 2.37-2.43; 1992-1993) which lead up to the Wilderlands story (progs 891-894 & 904-918, JDM 2.57-68; 1994), in which the increasingly erratic Chief Judge McGruder enforces a policy to put robot judges on the streets. Dredd is strongly against this policy (despite the robots all being programmed to act like him) but is overruled. Predictably, Dredd is ultimately proven to be correct – but not before a handful of robots run amok.

Clearly more than a passing nod to Robocop and the way it quite blatantly borrowed ideas from the Dredd strip it did, in turn, borrow some scenes that are quite reminiscent of the ED-209s.

Mills and McMahon

I’ve written in a few places that while John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra are rightly credited as Dredd’s creators, the input of editor Pat Mills and the first major artist Mick McMahon can be under-estimated.

So many of Pat Mills’ original ideas have ended up becoming a core part of Dredd lore. In particular, establishing that Dredd was clone, and his brother Rico, were both first addressed in Mills’ Return of Rico (prog 30, 1977). He also wrote the first draft of Dredd’s history in the form of the Cursed Earth (progs 61-85, 1978). Inspired by Carlos Ezquerra’s wild costume ideas and city scapes, it was Mills who pushed to expand the scope of the series, arguably making the some of the ideas contained within it rather unmanageable in the process.

Mick McMahon’s influence was in taking Ezquerra’s flamboyant designs and to interpret them in such a way that felt more hardcore and grounded in reality. The Dredd costume we are now familiar with – in particular the big boots – is really a reinterpretation of McMahon’s which he first began to develop during the Luna 1 arc (progs 42-59, 1977-1978). His work from around the start of the Judge Child to Block Mania (1980-1981) is probably the best, and certainly the most startlingly original, art which has ever appeared in 2000AD. Ironically for an artist who was originally drafted because of his ability to duplicate Ezquerra’s style, he is arguably the most copied of Dredd’s artists.

Many people do not appreciate the extent of McMahon’s genius, dismissing his style as sketchy and cartoonish. and it is certainly true that his work in recent years has become somewhat more idiosyncratic and hard to love. But in many ways to understand and love Judge Dredd is to understand and love McMahon’s art.

L is for Lawgiver, Lawmaster

However you dress it up, Judge Dredd is a boys’ comic and one thing boys like is their toys. As someone who discovered the comic relatively late via the roleplaying game, the technology was one of its main appeals. Chief among these gadgets was Dredd’s gun, the Lawgiver, and Dredd’s motorcycle, the Lawmaster.

It wasn’t enough for Dredd to simply have a gun. The particular appeal of the Lawgiver was that it fired six different types of bullet (side note: although the number of types of ammunition has always remained the same at six, over the years the exact type of bullet has changed. The ‘grenade’ type never really took off, being a kind of rubbish version of the much more exciting high explosive. Heat seekers were originally portrayed as a sort of optional extra Dredd would stick on the end of his gun – but that was such an impractical idea that the artists ignored it). What’s more, each judge’s Lawgiver was configured so that only someone with their palmprint could fire it – if anyone else tried, the gun would blow up. The fact that judges consistently wore thick gloves and thus had no palmprint was never really satisfactorily explained.

Dredd’s bike was not quite as tricked out, but arguably more distinctive in look, with it’s foot-wide tires. Armed with bike cannon and, at least originally, a front mounted laser, the bikes all had inbuilt computers and could drive themselves. They even seemed to have a sarcastic sense of humour.

The gun and bike were touch touching the surface. Judges were also equipped with handheld lie detectors (something which John Wagner has gone on to say he regretted giving them as from a plot perspective, having judges able to tell who was lying was hopeless), daysticks (essentially baseball bats that judges would use for crowd control), stumm gas grenades (which only occasionally killed people) and helmet mounted respirators. Eventually they would go onto acquire manta patrol tanks, flying fortresses armed with riot foam (a substance that instantly hardened on contact, immobilising the target) used to quell riots.

The technology has changed little over the years. In 1999 the design of the Lawgiver was changed to make the gun somewhat more brutalist (the Mk I Lawgiver is a rather elegant looking gun). This was made a part of the plot in the run up to the Doomsday storyline as it emerged that crime boss Nero Narcos had secretly taken control of the factory and modified the guns to blow up in the users’ hand. The days of weekly technoporn have abated as the series has matured and certainly the pantwettingly exciting parade of new kit, as typified in stories such as the Cursed Earth, Block Mania and the Apocalypse War, are a thing of the past. But barely a week goes by without the gun and the bike making an appearance.

L is also for…

Logan

The second most hapless judge ever to appear in 2000AD, Logan has for several years effectively served as Dredd’s personal assistant. Injured in the Total War storyline, he went on to get severely injured in Origins, losing a hand. Due to the miracles of modern science, Logan was able to grow a new hand, only to lose it once again to the Dark Judge Mortis in the closing chapters of the Day of Chaos storyline. It remains to be seen what horrific injuries Logan will suffer in future storylines.

Logan was by all accounts named after W. R. Logan, the pseudonym of Dredd fan Stewart Perkins who founded the really rather excellent Class of ’79 fanzine.

Lopez

As mentioned under Judge Hershey‘s entry, Judge Lopez appeared in the Judge Child saga as a crewmember of the spaceship Justice One. The most hapless judge ever to appear in the series, Lopez was persecuted from the get-go by Dredd who disapproved of his moustache. Eventually, Dredd orders Lopez to take the Oracle Spice, a hallucinogenic drug which is purported to be able to grant the user the gift of prophecy. Lopez’s prophecies prove decisive in finding the Judge Child, but he dies as a result of his exposure to the drug.

This subplot is one of the most perplexing controversies of the Dredd series. Essentially the controversy boils down to this: was Dredd being a dick? The case for the prosecution goes that Dredd merely took a dislike to Lopez and ultimately caused him to effectively kill himself needlessly in the line of duty. The case for the defence is that Lopez was the most expendable member of the ship’s crew and thus the only logical choice to take the drug.

Presumably, Lopez’s droopy, porno moustache was John Wagner having a joke at Carlos Ezquerra‘s expense who has long sported something similar. It is also entirely likely that this one story was quite decisive in persuading a whole generation of boys that moustaches were not cool, thus leading to its decline in popularities in the late 80s onwards.

J is for Judda

The Judda are one of my favourite, woefully underused villains. In fact, discounting Fargo clone Judge Kraken, the Judda have only appeared in one story, Oz (progs 545–570, 1987-1988).

Apparently timed to coincide with Australia’s bicentary, Oz functioned as both a continuation of the Chopper storyline and an opportunity for Wagner and Grant to write a story based on some rather distinctive designs of some rather extreme looking judges by Brendan McCarthy. These were to become the Judda.

The original plan was for art duties for the story to be split between McCarthy and Cam Kennedy, the fan-favourite artist who had redesigned Chopper for the previous Midnight Surfer storyline. In the event, Kennedy could not do this – his slots were hurriedly filled by a number of artists resulting in some problems with both quality and continuity – and Brendan McCarthy ended up only drawing a handful of episodes.

The Judda sub-plot revolved around the discovery that Morton Judd, the scientist behind the cloning programme which was responsible for the creation of Joe and Rico Dredd, was still alive. In hiding since his failed attempt to overthrow the justice department, Judd had used stolen genetic material from the cloning programme to create his own army of Judda – warriors brought up to believe in a warped version of the judicial system, mingled with a personality cult revolving around Judd himself. With Judd seemingly about to launch an attack on the city, Dredd is sent to “Oz” (Australia) to hunt him down.

Needless to say, Dredd succeeds, blowing up both Judd and his secret base inside Ayers Rock (the story was written before the campaign to call the rock Uluru had gained much traction).

Morton Judd appears in one other story, Origins (progs 1505-1519 and 1529-1535, 2006-2007). Ostensibly a continuity cleaning up exercise, Origins came about in part due to the continuity glitches which Oz had established. In fact, however, Judd appears mostly in the background, with the bulk of the story focused on Fargo himself and the fall of President Booth.

Notwithstanding the fact that Judd dies at the end of Oz, it is surprising that we have not seen the Judda since and that Kraken was the only captured Judda to have not been exterminated. But given the times characters have been brought back and overused, I suppose I should be careful what I wish for.

Highlights include:

  • Oz (progs 545–570, 1987-1988)
  • Origins (progs 1505-1519 and 1529-1535, 2006-2007)

J is also for…

Judge Judy Janus

Another member of Psi-Division who, while Anderson was off exploring herself around the galaxy, briefly had her own spin-off series after appearing in Inferno (progs 842 – 853, 1993), written by Grant Morrison.

Strikingly bald, the character has not appeared since 1997.

Judge-Sergeant Joyce

An Irish judge who polices Murphyville, Garth Ennis’s satirical vision of Ireland in the future. He first appears in Emerald Isle (progs 727-734, 1991).

While Emerald Isle is an enjoyable enough story, it pretty much sums up the problem with Garth Ennis’s run on the Dredd strip, and indeed Garth Ennis’s weakest work elsewhere. Ennis has a tendency to fill his stories with Guinness-drinking Irish stereotypes (see also Hellblazer, Preacher, Hitman, Dicks). Occasionally the material transcends this; far too often that’s pretty much all it amounts too. Ostensibly self-deprecating (Ennis is from Northern Ireland), all too often it comes across as a crutch in his work.

Wagner and Grant’s weakest Dredd strips are little more than two note gags. Ennis rarely reached that level of sophistication throughout his run on Dredd. This is a great shame as he is a highly regarded with a whole string of hits to his name.