Tag Archives: garth ennis

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.

H is for Hershey

Second only to Anderson, Judge Barbara Hershey is the longest surviving member of the Dredd supporting cast. Created by John Wagner and Brian Bolland (who drew her with a distinctive Louise Brooks’ style bob), she first appeared in the Judge Child saga (progs 156–181, 1981) as one of two street judges appointed to assist Dredd in his mission. Dredd and Hershey’s relationship gets off to a rocky start as Hershey perceived Dredd persecuting and being responsible for the death of the third judge, Lopez, for the latter’s refusal to shave off his moustache.

Nonetheless, Hershey impresses Dredd sufficiently that he handpicks her for his Apocalypse Squad at the end of the Apocalypse War. She goes on to have a meteoric rise, joining the ruling Council of Five whilst apparently still in her 20s, and being made acting Chief Judge during Judgement Day (progs 786–799 and Megazine 2.04–2.09, 1992). Hershey comes bottom of the poll in the election to replace Chief Judge McGruder in 2116, but ends up in that office in 2122. She remains Chief Judge until 2131 where her decision, at Dredd’s behest, to reform the anti-mutant laws, proves to be unpopular and she is ousted. In 2134, she returns to once again serve as Acting Chief Judge following the Day of Chaos disaster (Day of Chaos: The Days After, prog 1789, 2012).

Hershey also had her own solo series in the Judge Dredd Megazine, but that series is not remembered with particular fondness. As with Anderson’s series at the time, she was portrayed as a drippy, passive character, mournfully observing how wicked and authoritarian the judges are, whilst doing even less about it than Anderson (and even Dredd). It is a shame that during the early 90s, the stock response to giving a female character her own series was to throw in some politically correct, feminising (as opposed to feminist) tropes which quickly sap the character of any verve whatsoever. Frankly, going the full cheesecake route would have at least been more entertaining.

Nevertheless, she survived that and went on to become, in Dredd’s view, the best Chief Judge he had ever served under.

Hershey appears as a major character in the 1995 Judge Dredd motion picture, played by Diane Lane (Barbara Hershey was presumably unavailable). Shorn of her distinctive bob, the character commits the egregious sin of kissing Stallone’s Dredd at the end of the film.

Highlights include:

  • The Judge Child (progs 156–181, 1981)
  • The Chief Judge’s Man (progs 1244–1247, 2001), On the Chief Judge’s Service (1263–1266, 2001) and Revenge of the Chief Judge’s Man (1342–1349, 2003)

H is also for…

Helter Skelter

After Garth Ennis’ not so successful first shot as a regular writer of Judge Dredd, this was his second chance. A tale of parallel universes, drawn by Carlos Ezquerra and with Ennis fresh from the triumph of his Preacher series, this seemed to have the makings of an instant classic.

Sadly however, it failed on pretty much every front. The story itself was pretty insipid, most of the appearances by characters from other 2000AD stories felt shoehorned in and amounted to little more than walk-on parts, it was simply too fannish – a bit like Doctor Who at its worst when all the Doctor Who monsters team up and appear for seconds each onscreen (yes, The Pandorica Opens, I’m looking at you).

On the plus side, it did serve as Henry Flint’s first stab on a high profile project, when he filled in for Ezquerra who was having personal problems at the time. Flint has gone onto become a firmly established fan favourite.

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).

Constantwhine (can’t be arsed to think of a decent title)

I watched the film Constantine last night despite having avoided it for three years. It was three quid at Madame Zaza’s or whatever the Virgin Megastore is called these days, and I was at a loose end.

For those who don’t know, Constantine is based on the DC/Vertigo comic Hellblazer although the main character first appeared during Alan Moore’s iconic run on Swamp Thing. I’ve only recently started reading it again (I gave up when it was written by Americans and they used Manga-esque artists to draw it; I intended to pick it up when Mike Carey started scripting chores but never got around to it), but doggedly collected all the Jamie Delano and Garth Ennis scripted issues.

The important thing to know about him is that he is an occult grifter; a chancer and a gambler who is always a couple of steps away from damnation and who invariably ends up getting his mates killed. The tone is not so much Gothic as grungy. He survives pretty much by his wits alone and certainly doesn’t have any Batman or James Bond style gadgets. Superficial characteristics? John Constantine is blond and English (Liverpudlian technically); Alan Moore’s description of him was that he looks like Sting (this was in the early 80s when that was meant as a compliment). It is mostly set in London and he has a dimwit mate who is a cabbie called Chaz.

The film version? Constantine is the ultimate Californian, played as he is by the black haired Keanu Reeves. It is set in LA. His “assistant”, called Chas, is a cab driver but a sharp witted kid played by that bloke off the Transformers film. Oh, and eschewing the no gadgets rule, Constantine has a pair of ‘holy’ knuckle dusters, a ‘holy’ gun and a dragon flame flamethrower. It borrows liberally from both the Delano and Ennis runs of the comics (Papa Midnight, Gabriel, the lung cancer…) but twists each and every one of these features into something more generic and less fundamentally interesting compared with what can be found in the original. Far from the solo operator found in the comics, Constantine is recast as some kind of quasi-official exorcist who “deports” “half-breeds” on behalf of the Catholic church.

It is usual for film adaptations of comics to play fast and loose with the source material, yet the most successful (critically if not commercially) have been the ones which, if not in keeping with the details of the strip on which they are based, at least stick to the essence. Spider-Man, X-Men, Batman Begins and Ghostworld are all examples of this. There does seem to be something about Alan Moore creations which inspire filmmakers to simply take the piss out of the original fanbase. Constantine isn’t actually, in my opinion, the worst offender in this respect. From Hell was utterly horrendous, taking as it did a book which explored the subject of Jack the Ripper in a poetic, meta-fictional way and shoehorned it into a bog standard Hollywood thriller with Johnny Depp doing sub-Jack Sparrow impersonations.

At least there are no pretensions about Constantine. It’s trash and it knows it is. I found myself liking it a lot more than most of the other popcorn sub-horror trash I’ve put myself through in recent years. Both Tilda Swinton and Peter Stormare are fabulous.

But why does Hollywood gorge itself on this hamburger when if it stuck more closely to the source material it could be feasting on steak? Yeesh. Watchmen is going to be so painful, isn’t it?