Tag Archives: judge dredd

Judge Dredd Snapshots: War Games (prog 854)

Dredd to control request back-up…

We’ve got a nest of Sino-Cit Judges right here in Mega-City!

Judge Dredd

Date: 25 September 1993

Script: Mark Millar; Artist: Paul Marshall; Letters: Tom Frame

Summary

Judge Dredd finds himself under attack; first by Sino-Cit Judges, then Sov Judges and then finally zombie judges. It turns out that he is part of an experiment. Chief Judge McGruder and SJS Judge Stone explain that he has been given an experimental drug to heighten aggression. The people he attacked and killed are ordinary citizens who had been brought in for minor offenses, who they unleashed the drugged up Dredd onto as part of the experiment. McGruder explains that Psi Division predicts a major crisis to happen in approximately 18 months and that they need judges to “toughen up”.

Commentary

I’m struggling to write this installment, mainly because this is not only my least favourite period of Judge Dredd but this particular episode is possibly the worst of a bad bunch.

Mark Millar will presumably be known to the vast majority of people reading this and you will no doubt already have made your mind up about him. By any measure, he’s an incredibly successful writer. One of the things I find interesting about him however is that, despite having had so many of his works adapted for the screen, such as Wanted, Kick-Ass, Kingsman and, after a fashion, Captain America: Civil War, one of the first things those adaptations tend to do is make all the characters more likeable, punch up the motivations and generally make them less cruel. As a repository of great ideas, he’s rightly highly regarded. But you have to get past the extreme sadism first.

This story is a case in point. Dredd casually kills half a dozen basically innocent people on an extremely flimsy context and basically no-one, least of all Dredd, seems to care. One of the problems is, like Ennis, Millar seemed to have the caricature version of Dredd who shoots people for jaywalking and looking funny, and wasn’t particularly interested in exploring any other idea despite this being an increasing concern of John Wagner in the years running up to it. Unlike Ennis, his strips tended to lack any vestige of humanity at all.

It is, to be fair, a very 90s take. We are in the post-Watchmen period, which easily lasted until the mid-2000s, in which a whole army of British and American comic writers seemed to be determined to “deconstruct” any character they could get their hands on. What it tended to result in is a lot of sameiness: Millar’s Dredd is virtually identical in outlook to his version of Captain America in The Ultimates. It certainly became quickly clear to me during this period that edginess was generally a byword for saminess.

This is Mark Millar very early in his career; his only previous notable work was the Trident Comics’ Saviour and reviving Robo-Hunter, another John Wagner creation, in 2000AD.

He was the main Dredd writer in 2000AD from progs 829 to 880, although his work would continue to appear intermittently up to prog 1030 in 1997. During this period he co-wrote two stories with Grant Morrison. “War Games” in fact immediately follows “Inferno” (progs 842-853), which Millar wrote a seperate series leading into it, Purgatory (progs 834-841).

2000AD was really struggling at this point with a bit of a talent drain. There has always been a sense that British writers and artists would do their apprenticeships in 2000AD before moving onto bigger things in the US, but during this period 2000AD stalwarts were also to be found working at Deadline (created by Dredd artists Brett Ewins and Steve Dillon), Crisis (2000AD‘s “political” sister title) and Revolver (2000AD’s more “trippy” sister title heavily influenced by Deadline). There was of course the recently launched Judge Dredd Megazine, where John Wagner was focusing his Dredd energies. And finally, there was creator owned anthology comic Toxic!, set up by Wagner, Alan Grant, Pat Mills and artists Mike McMahon and Kevin O’Neill – a very explicit attempt to take on 2000AD on their own terms.

As a result, 2000AD was busy trying out new writers and artists, many of whom were frankly a little green. Some would go on to much greater things; a lot came and went. It would take the best part of a decade – and the cancellation of all of the aforementioned rival titles (except the Megazine) before the title began to recover.

Finally, this episode foreshadows a major upcoming crisis; one which, for whatever reason, never actually took place. It’s possible that this talk of a “crisis” starting “in the eastern blocks” within eighteen months is meant to refer to “Crusade” (progs 928-937), a strip Millar co-wrote with Morrison, but it doesn’t really fit. What’s most likely is that there was half an idea for another “mega epic” written by Millar to appear in a couple of years time, but it never really came to anything and he simply moved on. But, given that the only thing the judges seemed to do to prepare for it was give their top judge a bunch of psychosis-inducing experimental drugs, it’s probably for the best it never happened. An epic storyline would appear in 12 months time, but it would have nothing to do with Mark Millar and instead draw of plot threads which had been unravelling over at the Judge Dredd Megazine.

Judge Dredd Snapshots: Judgement Day part 17 (prog 797)

Surrender? Oh yeah! Sure! You’ve got me bang to rights, officer!

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Sabbat

Date: 22 August 1992

Script: Garth Ennis; Artist: Carlos Ezquerra; Letters: Tom Frame

Plot Summary

On a mission to stop the mysterious Sabbat, who has unleashed a zombie army on the world, Judge Dredd, Search/Destroy Agent Johnny Alpha and Judge-Inspector Sadu have been captured and are being taken to Sabbat himself. Meanwhile, Sabbat reminisces on his past.

It is revealed that Sabbat was originally Soppi, an inhabitant of an alien planet, who was regularly bullied at school by a “Big Den” – a thuggish boy with thick spiky black hair and an black and white stripey jumper. Vowing revenge, Soppi met an old witch who promised to teach him about curses. But Soppi was more interested in her books on necromancy and, after killing her, used her books to kill, and then resurrect, Den as a zombie. After years of study, Soppi went offworld to learn from Murd the Oppressor. After this, Soppi becomes known as Sabbat.

The three captured men arrive and break Sabbat’s reverie. Dredd threatens to arrest Sabbat. Laughing this off, Sabbat turns to his old tormentor, a now skeletal Den, to ask him what he should do with them.

Commentary

By this point, Garth Ennis had been the main writer of Judge Dredd, in 2000AD at least, for over 18 months. “Judgement Day” (progs 786-799 and Judge Dredd Megazine 2.04 – 2.09) was the first crossover with the Judge Dredd Megazine, which by this point had switched from monthly to fortnightly.

The basic concept was that Sabbat, an evil necromancer from another world, had travelled back through time and decided to conquer earth, raising the dead in the process to form a zombie army. The Mega City One judges have to team up with other judge forces from around the world to stop them. Dredd orders the nuking of the various cities which Sabbat had already taken over, totalling two billion people including the inhabitants of Mega City Two.

Meanwhile, Johnny Alpha – a mutant bounty hunter from the future – has come back in time to bring Sabbat to justice. He teams up with Dredd and they hunt down and kill Sabbat.

And that’s pretty much it. It is, to it’s credit, an excellent showcase for the team of artists: Dean Ormston, who would go on to great success in the US; Peter Doherty, who would become a firm favourite Dredd artist; and of course Carlos Ezquerra, who is on particular form here (the final image of Dredd and Johnny Alpha walking off into the desert having defeated Sabbat is regarded as iconic). Less spectacular is the one issue drawn by Chris Halls, which is fine but little more than aping of the painted work of Simon Bisley (Chris Halls would go on to far greater acclaim as Chris Cunningham, a music video director best known for his collaborations with Aphex Twin and Bjork in the late 1990s).

Scriptwise, this is no great shakes. It starts well enough but quickly runs out of steam. The meeting of the various world judges amounts to little more than a parade of cultural stereotypes. Sabbat himself lacks a compelling motivation beyond boredom and his origin story in this episode, a thinly veiled parody of the Beano Dennis the Menace comics (Sabbat being Walter the Softie) is weirdly reminiscent of Judge Death’s origin story in Young Death (Megazine 1.01-1.12) which had concluded less than a year before (also drawn by Peter Doherty).

I wish I could say this script is atypical in comparison to Garth Ennis’s run, but sadly he seemed to run out of steam quite quickly on the strip after a strong start with “Death Aid” (progs 711 to 720). At the time, he was a very new writer, having emerged writing the critically acclaimed Troubled Souls for Crisis in 1989 (I say critically acclaimed as it was hailed at the time, but Ennis himself has disowned it as a cynical attempt to break into comics by aping the style of “politically relevant” comics that were popular at the time).

This quote is particularly revealing:

He never shifts from enforcing the law, and he’ll shoot anyone at the drop of a piece of litter. I didn’t grow up reading him… but he’s the sort of character that never changes – still the same old bastard, so it doesn’t really matter which period you grew up reading.

Although he always responds in the same way, he is a little more sophisticated than a one-note character – he definitely has a style of his own, but really that’s getting beyond the whole point of the strip.

Garth Ennis in an interview from Judge Dredd: The Mega History (1995)

Bear in mind that Ennis took over Dredd at a time when the title character had just returned from self-imposed exile because he very much had changed. I think this reveals that he never really “got” Dredd, and his work on the series never amounted to much more than a pastiche of Wagner and Grant’s previous work, particularly the height of their slapstick phase – after Wagner had spent the last few years very much stepping away from that approach.

This isn’t to say that Garth Ennis is a bad writer. Indeed, I was a huge fan of his Hellblazer run, Preacher and many of his war comics. And, as we will no doubt see in this series, his work by no means marks the nadir of Judge Dredd’s publishing history.

“Judgement Day” also suffered a bit from being told in across both 2000AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine. Pacing in particular is a real issue, with the 2000AD episodes having to get a chunk of plot done in two episodes, and then for the Megazine to tell a longer story across more pages, and then back again. After a handful of attempts, they would stop trying to tell single stories across both publications simultaneously, and the last attempt, “The Doomsday Scenario” (progs 1141-1164 and Megazine issues 3.52-3.59), opted to tell two parallel stories instead which only occasionally intersected.

Johnny Alpha is, of course, better known as the lead character of Strontium Dog, John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra’s second greatest 2000AD creation. This is in fact the second Dredd/Strontium Dog crossover, with Wagner and Colin MacNeil having previously worked on “Top Dog” (Judge Dredd Annual 1991). Slightly confusingly, Johnny Alpha had been dead for a couple of years in the pages of 2000AD by this point having controversially been killed off by Alan Grant and Colin MacNeil in “The Final Solution” (progs 600–606, 615–621, 636–641, 645–647, 682–687). Carlos Ezquerra, as well as John Wagner who had by that point handed the script-writing duties to Grant, strongly disagreed with the decision to kill off Alpha and had previously quit the strip. Years later, Wagner and Ezquerra would return to the strip, first in a series set before Alpha’s death, and later resurrect him.

Strontium Dog was never originally envisioned as taking place in the same continuity as Dredd, but it has become a part of both lores now, with Alpha’s father Nelson Bunker Kreelman appearing in a more recent Judge Dredd story as a young man, in “The Rubicon” (Megazine issues 380 to 381). Whether the two timelines will ever actually align is an intriguing prospect: Johnny Alpha is born in 2150 and the current year in Dredd continuity is 2142, so we ain’t that far off.

Trivia

  • Sabbat’s mentor, Murd the Oppressor, originally appeared in “The Judge Child” (progs 156-181). Needless to say, Dredd killed him.
  • For the avoidence of doubt, Dennis the Menace is a character which first appeared in the comic The Beano on 12 March 1951. He is a completely different character to Dennis the Menace, a syndicated newspaper comic strip character who coincidentally first appeared on 12 March 1951. The easiest way to understand it is that British Dennis would almost certainly have bullied the US Dennis.

Judge Dredd Snapshots: Young Giant part 1 (prog 651)

Being a judge’s woman never helped my mother, sir… Where were the judges when she needed them? Where was my father?

Cadet Giant challenges Dredd

Date: 4 November 1989

Script: John Wagner; Artist: Carlos Ezquerra; Letters: Tom Frame

Plot Summary

Dredd is given the task of assessing a cadet judge, the son of his old colleague Judge Giant. Cadet Giant, it emerges, is the child of Giant and an interior designer Adele Dormer, who was killed while a refugee following the fallout of the Apocalypse War. The boy has anger management issues and Dredd tries to get through to him. On a routine patrol, they come across a man selling illegal vi-zines (magazines depicting graphic violence and murder). Dredd decides to follow this up, while Giant’s memories of his mother’s violent death is triggered by flicking through one of the zines.

Commentary

I decided to temporarily pause writing this series at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests, feeling that it wasn’t an appropriate time to be blogging about a comic strip portraying police brutality no matter how satirical (and, to be clear, Dredd is satirical) at the time. And then I started going physically back to work again and having a lot less free time and before I knew it two months had passed!

Cadet Giant is a legacy character. Despite the comic only being 12 years old by this time, he is actually the third generation in a line which began with John “Giant” Clay, the lead character from the strip Harlem Heroes. Harlem Heroes originally ran from progs 1-27 and featured a team of “Aeroball” players (think Quidditch but with jetpacks instead of brooms) modelled on the Harlem Globetrotters.

In “The Academy of Law” (progs 27-28), Dredd assesses Rookie Judge Giant, John Clay’s son, for suitability to become a full judge. Giant would go on to become a recurring character, playing a pivotal role in helping Dredd defeat the tyrannical Cal in “The Day the Law Died” (progs 89-108). He would go on to die at the conclusion of “Block Mania” (progs 236-244), infamously shot in the back by Sov assassin Orlock.

The murder of Judge Giant was a matter of some controversy at the time, with many feeling the treatment of the death of such a fan-favourite character was poorly handled, and in this episode of “Young Giant” the story is sort of retconned, with Dredd implying that Giant had been distracted by his feelings for the mother of his child (I didn’t say it was a great retcon…).

This third Giant would go on to play a pivotal role in “Necropolis” (progs 674-699), which like “The Day the Law Died” also features Dredd trying to overthrow a tyrant who has taken control of the judges and has condemned the city to death. Giant would eventually become a full judge and continues to crop up in the strip from time to time. Indeed, the controversy surrounding his father’s death appears to have granted him a certain amount of plot armour as he has managed to last as a supporting cast member for over 30 years by this point.

Although this strip is a fairly compelling character essay, with Giant learning to accept his role, it is a shame that it has remained the last bit of character development he has received. By the time “Necropolis” starts just a few months later, Giant seems perfectly well adjusted to his life as a judge and we never see him harbouring any rage or resentment later. This is a bit of a pattern sadly; there are numerous times where a character has been introduced with a compelling arc only to have them be little more than background characters in subsequent stories.

I feel that I should talk a bit about race here. 2000AD has a mixed record when it comes to dealing with racism and reflecting racial diversity. On the one hand, the aforementioned Harlem Heroes featured a group of black protagonists as far back as the first issue. On the other hand, after 43 years, I can only think of a single black protagonist to feature in a long running strip (Ramon Dexter in Sinister Dexter). Particularly in the early days, racism and colonialism was dealt with repeatedly in 2000AD, but indirectly. In place of stories dealing with the experiences of real people of colour, we had strips tackling discrimination via the conventional sci-fi lenses of robots, aliens and mutants (in the case of Dredd all three, while Strontium Dog would focus on mutants, Ro-Busters would focus on robots and Nemesis the Warlock focused on aliens).

For a comic aimed at 8 year olds that’s okay; it contains the lessons without directly confronting the scary reality. But modern 2000AD is aimed at adults and while a political streak continues through most strips that are published, in a lot of ways it shies away more from real world issues than it was doing 40 years ago.

It is no more a thorny topic than in Judge Dredd in which the judicial system is shown to be pretty progressive when it comes to both race and gender, but which we are also supposed to understand as being fascistic and authoritarian. Most definitions of fascism include the subjugation of women and racial minorities as key criteria and there comes a point, for me anyway, where not dealing with this issue feels like an omission.

(As an aside, I feel similarly to how the Galactic Empire and First Order is presented in the Disney-era Star Wars, where they occasionally acknowledge that the regimes are racist against non-humans but are at pains to show how racially diverse the military is at every level)

I’m always reminded by the time when I used to work in a comic shop almost 30 years ago when I used to serve a police officer who on numerous occasions would tell me that “Judge Dredd has the right idea”. That was a teachable moment. It’s a depressing fact that for many people the satire goes completely over their heads, as does the fact that by almost all criteria the judicial system is shown as a failure. And I wonder to what extent that sci-fi veneer gives people an opt out to think of all this as a power fantasy, and to what extent I’m complicit in that.

I don’t exactly know what my preferred solution would be, or even if there is one. In Nemesis the Warlock, Pat Mills would often include sequences to remind the reader that the sci-fi fascists in the strip are direct analogues to fascists and racists in the real world, but that was often very on the nose (such as the “Seth Efricen Chief Bigot”) and I’m not sure would work here. I’m not sure what having judges suddenly embracing white supremacy in universe would really achieve. But for now, I think I should just acknowledge that it is an issue that readers should bear in mind when reading the strip; it’s certainly something I personally ponder a lot.