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.

Judge Dredd Snapshots: Banana City part 2 (prog 624)

Look at them – running like frightened rabbits!

Don’t they know they’ve nothing to fear from us?

What’s that…?

Not unless they make running like rabbits a crime…?

Yes… then we’d have to deal with them!

Renegade Judge Kurten / “Diablo”

Date: 29 April 1989

Script: John Wagner; Artist: Will Simpson; Letters: Tom Frame

Plot Summary

Dredd is in the city of Ciudad Barranquilla in former Argentina after receiving a tip off that the renegade judge Kurten is operating out of there. He is in disguise as a local judge. Separately, Judges Hershey and McBride are on a diplomatic mission to arrange to get Kurten extradited. Dredd’s informant tells him that he thinks Kurten is the judge who the locals know as “Diablo”. We switch to Kurten, who is dispensing his form of justice on the streets of the city, casually blowing up a car for illegal parking. Meanwhile, Hershey and McBride are being kept waiting by “Judge Supremo” Batista as she demonstrates his corrupt idea of justice in the city’s Grand Hall. Hershey is happy for the delay as it gives Dredd more time to track down Kurten. Eventually Dredd tracks down Kurten who is harrassing the clientele of a bar. He sends a man in to tell Kurten that there is a man outside who intends to kill him and Kurten emerges from the bar to confront Dredd.

Commentary

The first noticeable thing about this strip is that it is in full colour. In fact, the strip switched to colour back in prog 589 with the second part of “Twister” (progs 588-591). That story, a homage to the film Wizard of Oz (1939), switches to full colour when Dredd receives a head injury when getting caught in a twister and begins to hallucinate (he is on a mission to rescue Jug, the Supersurf 10 champion who we met in “Oz” who is known as the “Wizard” – just in case those allusions were too subtle for you).

Unfortunately for Will Simpson’s beautiful painted art, while printing process had been significantly upgraded, the paper most certainly hadn’t. So while the art really pops in its subsequen reprints, in the original progs it looks muddy and indistinct. It isn’t clear in this episode, but in the third part when we see the demonic imp Little Mo appear, I remember barely even being able to see the character in the original comic whereas you can really see Simpson doing a good job on the character in the reprints.

This is a problem that would continue to plague 2000AD for years, exacerbated by the fact that so many artists, and editorial, were keen to switch to painted artwork rather than use simpler and more established colourisation processes. Much of this seemed to be rooted in the increasing profitability of producing trade paperback reprints, with the weekly comic being seen as simply a way of subsidising production (remember, this is the period shortly after Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen and Maus were enjoying mainstream popularity and critical acclaim). Indeed, “Banana City” (progs 623-625) would actually be the last Dredd strip to appear in colour for a few months as Slaine “The Horned God” took its place as the colour strip, a story very much designed for graphic novel publication.

Unfortunately, there was also a tendency among emerging artists to copy the painted styles of more experienced artists – often before polishing their figurework and pencilling styles first. In that respect, artists such as Will Simpson probably inadvertantly lead them astray. Suffice to say that painted artwork was extremely popular amongst both artists and readers, which meant that for the 90s, much of 2000AD looked very brown.

“Banana City” is actually a sequel to “Crazy Barry, Little Mo” (progs 615-618), which was drawn by Chris Weston (in a very different style). That story establishes that Kurten is a regular street judge who undergoes a psychosis causing him to start seeing and hearing Little Mo, his invisible childhood friend, who urges him to commit increasingly criminal acts. He is found out but manages to escape, which leads into this story.

It is worth noting that, as I alluded to in my last article, this episode is written solely by John Wagner, who by this point has been writing most of the strip for the best part of a year – with just the occasional one shot being written by Alan Grant. And this is a fairly good illustration of how Wagner slightly shifts the strips tone, becoming somewhat grittier but retaining its flare for the absurd.

It would be remiss of me to not talk about how the judges and citizens of Ciudad Baranquila are presented here. It isn’t the greatest, drawing largely from a very Hollywood idea of South Americans being all superstitious, snivelling and corrupt. North American chauvanism is briefly touched upon in the final episode, but not really explored. Indeed, it is only now that we’re starting to see 2000AD explore modern US foreign policy being reflected in how South America is treated in Dredd’s world, which given that the strip has always been more about the modern day than the future, feels like a bit of an oversight. Indeed, just six months earlier Alan Moore and Bill Sienkiewicz’s Brought to Light (1988) had been published, which dealt with the Iran-Contra Affair, suggesting that such ideas were being discussed by comic creators at the time.

It should be clear that it Judge Dredd tended to present all cultures in a fairly caricatured manner, not least of all British and mainstream American culture, but these days I guess that we’d draw comparisons to “The Problem with Apu” in The Simpsons. Suffice to say that if makes for uncomfortable reading in 2020 and I’m glad that 2000AD is now dealing with the topic in a more nuanced way.

Now is also a good moment to discuss the idea of judges outside of Mega City One. We meet our first judge from Texas City, and with him the notion that there is more than one city which has adopted the “judicial model” of governance as far back as “Showdown on Luna 1” in prog 43. This is quickly followed by Soviet Judges in “The First Luna Olympics” (prog 50). But it would be another 8 years before we see judges from any other city, in this case Brit-Cit judges in “Atlantis” (progs 485-488). This seems to mark the start of a trend to explore other parts of the world, with Australian judges in “Oz” (progs 555-581), Japanese judges in “Our Man in Hondo” (progs 608-611) and now Argentina in “Banana City”. Interestingly, the costume design for all of them other than the Ciudad Baranquila judges (and I could be wrong about that), were designed by Brendan McCarthy, prefiguring his career as a respected concept artist in the movie industry.

It has always been fun to see how judges differ around the world – although some designs are stronger than others – but it does pose one big question to me: why does this system of government take over the world so ubiquitously? In “Origins” (progs 1505-1519, 1529-1535) it is established that the judges take charge in the United States by the Supreme Court citing the Declaration of Independence – but that doesn’t really explain why the Sovs quickly follow suit. Perhaps one day we’ll see an explanation.

Trivia

  • It isn’t directly relevant here, but two months after this episode was published the film Batman (1989) would be released. Just as the rise of the graphic novel a couple of years before would lead to Dredd being published in full colour, this film would usher in the modern comic book movie – not least of all Judge Dredd (1995). That mainstreaming of comic book culture is going to be something that 2000AD wrestles with over the next decade or so, as we may well end up exploring in this series.

Judge Dredd Snapshots: Oz part 12 (prog 556)

I’d … I’d like a piece of Mr Armstrong with a sprig of parsley and lemon sauce, just like you did him for the captain. It… it sounded so good but I… I don’t suppose you’ve got any left.

Well yet supposes wrong! I’ve got a whole half torso right here in me freezer!

Chopper and Cookie

Date: 9 January 1988

Script: John Wagner & Alan Grant; Artist: Will Simpson; Letters: Tom Frame

Plot Summary

Fugitive Supersurf champion Marlon “Chopper” Shakespeare is attempting to get to the Sidney-Melbourne Conurb in “Oz” from South America by hover board, but is forced to land on a mysterious ship in the Pacific Ocean. The sole occupant of the ship is an insane robot chef, Cookie, who killed the ship’s crew and put them in his stew. Having enraged the robot, Chopper fends off the robot’s attacks with a meat cleaver by using his power board as a shield, damaging it. He is overwhelmed but fools the robot into granting him a final request: a serving of Bosun’s Broth, the meal that Cookie made out of his first victim. Trapping Cookie into the ship’s freezer, Chopper attempts to flee but Cookie escapes. Eventually Chopper manages to overwhelm Cookie by firing a flare gun at him and throwing the robot overboard. The danger over, he programs the ship to take him the rest of the way to Oz and makes some rough repairs to his power board. Making the final part of the journey on his hover board, he is positively identified by the Oz judges. Judge Dredd, who is awaiting the fugitive there, allows a hint of admiration to cross his face.

Commentary

Although it doesn’t seem to be seen as one of the classics, I love “Oz” (progs 555-581). Partly because it was the first Dredd “epic” that I read in the weekly comic (and is in fact the first story of that length since “The Apocalypse War” way back in 1982). Partly because Chopper is such an engaging character. And partly because it combines a return of a popular character, which could have simply been a rehash of his previous appearance, with a story focused on Dredd himself which significantly expands the strip’s lore.

I’m also a big fan of this two part story involving Cookie. It’s a perfect little fairy tale inserted in the middle of a much bigger story, with Chopper here playing the role of Jack and Cookie the giant he has to defeat more with guile than fighting ability. Cookie is a classic bonkers robot that you see popping up in any number of 2000AD strips, particularly Dredd and Robo-Hunter (also created by John Wagner and largely co-written with Alan Grant). And the story resolves satisfactorily how Chopper manages to traverse the Pacific Ocean on little more than a flying plank. Finding a boat in the middle of nowhere is a little convenient, but this story makes it feel earned.

I should however explain the wider context. First of all, Chopper. Marlon Shakespeare first appears in “Unamerican Graffiti” (progs 206 & 207), a short story in which Chopper is a graffiti artist on a mission to become “King Scrawler” of Mega City One. It’s a relatively simple story, alluding to the growth of street art which was entering into public consciousness at the time, elevated by a sense of pathos when it emerges that the disaffected teen’s rival The Phantom turns out to be a renegade maintenance robot. For neither the first or last time in the strip, going back to the first multi-part storyline “Robot Wars” (progs 10-17), the plight of how robots are treated in Mega City One are compared to topical issues about discrimination, civil liberties and dehumanisation.

At the end of that story, Chopper is locked up. He eventually reemerges in “The Midnight Surfer” (progs 424-429) in which Chopper has apparently reformed and is teaching kids to skysurf – fly around on hover boards roughly analogous real world surfing waves. Eventually it emerges that Chopper is planning to take part in the race Supersurf 7, highly illegal because it takes place on the streets and endangers civilians. Dredd and the judges try to stop the race, shooting down many of the participants, but before being arrested Chopper manages to win the race and becomes a folk hero.

“Oz” takes place three years later. Supersurf has been legalised in the Sydney-Melbourne Conurb and Mega City One is gripped with Supersurf fever and a protest movement emerges demanding that the judges release Chopper so he can take part in the race. Chopper escapes, crossing the Cursed Earth and Pacific Ocean to take part in the race. Dredd is sent to Oz to arrest him should he arrive but is stopped from arresting him by the Oz Judges. Chopper ultimately joins Supersurf 10, with Dredd’s permission – although he vows to take him down if he tries resisting arrest after the race. Chopper takes part, ultimately to lose in a photo finish with his rival Jug. He tries to make his escape, expecting to be shot by Dredd, but at the last minute Jug gets in the way and allows Chopper to escape.

But that’s only half of the story because Dredd hasn’t simply been sent to Oz to pick up Shakespeare. After an attack in which a number of senior judges are assassinated by a group calling themselves the Judda, a teleporter signal is traced back to Oz. It emerges they are followers of Morton Judd, a renegade judge and geneticist who decades ago had sought to take over Mega City One and, having failed, went missing. Using stolen genetic samples, including from Chief Judge Fargo, of whom Dredd himself is a clone, Judd has bred a private army of soldiers called the Judda who worship him as a god. And now they intend to return to Mega City One to take over.

Suffice to say, Dredd doesn’t let them. He locates their base hidden inside Uluru (in the story still called Ayers Rock) and blows it up, taking most of the Judda with it.

“Oz” was originally meant to be illustrated by just two artists: Cam Kennedy, who drew “Midnight Surfer” and Brendan McCarthy who had come up with the idea of a lost tribe of Judges in the Australian Outback while working there. In the end Kennedy wasn’t able to draw it so he was replaced by a whole range of different artists. Despite this, the art doesn’t suffer too much from having too many competing visions on the project.

The artist who drew this episode, Will Simpson, would go on to tie with Brendan McCarthy for drawing the most episodes in this 26-part story (6), and contributed one of the most striking images of the saga: a painted double page spread of Uluru being nuked superimposed by the head of Morton Judd cursing Dredd. The two part story involving Cookie would actually be his first Judge Dredd contribution, although he had drawn some episodes of Anderson: Psi Division shortly before. As 2000AD increased its colour pages, he would become known for his painted art, particularly for the Rogue Trooper reboot “War Machine” written by Dave Gibbons (progs 650-653, 667-671, 683-687). It is fair to say that the poor paper quality at the time didn’t do his painted artwork many favours (a common problem with 2000AD at the time).

“Oz” also marks the end of John Wagner and Alan Grant’s writing partnership, although they would continue to work together on the odd script after this including Batman/Judge Dredd: Judgement on Gotham. As well as disagreeing over their mini-series The Last American for Epic (a Marvel imprint at the time), they came to blows over whether or not to kill Chopper at the end of this story or not, with Grant insisting that Dredd needed to kill him. Eventually John Wagner got his way but this is the last time the two worked together on the weekly strip, with Wagner writing most of Dredd, and Grant taking on Anderson: Psi Division and Strontium Dog.

As well as the occasional appearance in Judge Dredd, Chopper would return in his own series – the most memorable being “Song of the Surfer” written by Wagner and drawn by Colin McNeill (progs 654-665) in which Marlon Shakespeare apparently dies when a maniac turns Supersurf 11 into a massacre. To be honest, that probably should have been where it ended, but Brendan McCarthy has recently memorably returned to the character with “Wandering Spirit” (Judge Dredd Megazine issues 395-399).

The format of putting these two very different plot threads into one here mostly works, but is probably not exactly how the story would develop now. These days, a story like this would get broken up into smaller chunks and spread over a longer amount of time, a trend established with the very next mega epic “Necropolis” where the main story (progs 674-699) is foreshadowed by several shorter stories in the months running up to it. I wonder if this shift was partly because the nature of Wagner and Grant’s partnership style didn’t lend itself very well to the sort of more complex storytelling that we would subsequently see. While the period of their partnership is rightly seen as a high watermark for the strip, for the most part the stories that came out during that period would be no longer than 8 episodes.

As for the Judda, this is the last we see of them. To be precise, Morton Judd appears in flashback in “Origins” (progs 1505-1519, 1529-1535) and one of the Judda clones, Kraken, is apparently reformed and replaces Dredd himself for a time (although as I alluded to in my last article, that doesn’t end too well). I’m a little surprised we haven’t seen small pockets of Judda popping up in the strip every few years, although given the unfortunate tendency in Dredd for characters to be brought back well past their use by date, it is possibly for the best.

Trivia

  • It’s a small thing, and you barely see it in this episode, but it always annoys me that Will Simpson draws Chopper’s smiley face tag with a nose.
  • Brendan McCarthy’s most famous dip into Australian culture is of course Mad Max: Fury Road, for which he received a co-writer credit after decades of development work on the Mad Max franchise. He has worked as a concept artist for numerous other films and also helped develop the animated show ReBoot.

Judge Dredd Snapshots: Revolution part 2 (prog 532)

Democracy is a cancer eating at the heart of our society. Any action we have to take to stamp it out – however regrettable – is justified.

Judge Dredd

Date: 25 July 1987

Script: John Wagner & Alan Grant; Artist: John Higgins; Letters: Tom Frame

Plot Summary

Judge Dredd has been tasked by Chief Judge Silver to discredit the leaders of the Democracy Movement, which has called for a Democratic Charter March which is due to take place the next day. He raids the home of Kenzal Davitcek, leader of the Sons of the Constitution, and they arrest him for a library vid slug which is two days overdue. Meanwhile, Bethann Rosie, leader of the Committee for the Restoration of Civil Liberties, has been arrested on four counts of bigamy. Her former husbands line up to denounce her to the media, claiming to have not been coerced (although the bruises on their faces suggest otherwise). Morton Phillips, chairman of the Freedom League, is accused of collaborating with the Sovs during the Apocalypse War and a photograph of him dressed in a Sov uniform at a fancy dress party is leaked to the media. Two undercover judges claim in front of cameras to have witnessed him working with the Sovs.

Dredd pays a personal visit to Gort Hyman, the widower of Hester Hyman whose martyrdom the previous year sparked the recent calls for the restoration of democracy. He blackmails Gort, threatening to induct his children into the Academy of Law to train as judges, unless he backs out of the march. He relents and agrees to make a statement urging people to not attend the march. Ultimately only two of the leaders of the movement are left: Kenzal Davitcek, who has been kept up on his feet all night by the judges, and Blondel Dupre. Despite the media storm, 16 million citizens descend on Boulevard 14 to march on the Hall of Justice…

Commentary

So, this is roughly where I came in as a regular 2000AD reader. My first prog was 497, although I had been into the roleplaying game and picking up the odd Titan reprint for a while before then. I had a pretty fixed idea in my head that while Judge Dredd was very fun, with cool future tech, weird mutants and lots of humour, it wasn’t especially deep. This strip really opened my eyes, and broadened my perception of what the Judge Dredd strip could be.

It is, to be clear, a particularly mean and horrible story. Dredd behaves absolutely despicably throughout, with no comeuppance. Good people have their lives ruined and we see a hopeful popular movement fatally undermined. Things get worse in the third episode; they use low frequency sonic waves to lower the crowd’s mood, plant undercover judges to start a riot and then send in the riot squad. Completely absent from this story are any high tech doodads; it’s entirely rooted in methods existing regimes use to undermine popular protest. 12 year old me didn’t really know much about any of that, but this strip has a ring of discordant authenticity which really resonated for me and helped shape my future politics. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that it’s probably the most influential piece of media of my life.

This isn’t the first time that the strip adopted a more serious tone; it is after all the sequel to “Letter from a Democrat” (prog 460) which tells of how the judges massacre Hester Hyman and other pro-democracy protestors. Up until this point, probably the most striking “serious” set of stories was the triptych of “A Question of Judgement”, “An Error of Judgement” and “A Case for Treatment” (progs 387-389). That story however is strikingly different in that it explores Dredd’s own self doubt in the judge system – in “Revolution” he is firmly the bad guy.

The third part of “Revolution” finishes with the legend “The end… of the beginning”. In fact, we don’t see this story developed much for some time until Dredd’s doubts come to a crisis point as he is forced to assess his possible replacement, a clone called Kraken, in “Tale of the Dead Man” (progs 662-668). At the end of that story he releases Blondel Dupre, apparently regretting his actions in “Revolution”. Dredd goes into exile into the Cursed Earth and, during his absence, the Dark Judges taking over Mega City One (with Kraken’s help), in “Countdown to Necropolis” (progs 669-673). He returns to save the city but insists on a referendum to decide whether or not to restore democracy (“Nightmares” progs 702-706).

Less directly, “Revolution” is the prototype on which the celebrated “America” (Judge Dredd Megazine 1.01-1.07) is modelled, which similarly tells a story which highlights the totalitarian nature of Dredd’s Mega City One. In that story, or rather its sequel “Fading of the Light” (Judge Dredd Megazine 3.20-3.25), the eponymous character’s daughter is inducted into the Academy of Law, a plot thread that would do on to pay off many years later (one of the things I love about Judge Dredd and how long the strip has been running is how plot lines can have pay offs over decades).

The tension between judges and the democracy movement has continued to pop up as a theme in the strip over the following few decades, sometimes with democrats presented sympathetically, sometimes less so – and with varying degrees of humour. Dredd’s assertion, that democracy is a threat to society, goes to back to the very foundation myth of the judge system, which is explored in “Origins” (progs 1505-1519, 1529-1535). The judges, after all, take over after a despotic US president causes a nuclear war which wipes out most of the United States. It remains an open question to what degree this myth is true, or to what degree it is an excuse used to justify their continued rule. After all, by 2142 (the year in which current Judge Dredd episodes are set), the vast majority of Mega City One has been wiped out by a successive wave of disasters, with the population going from a high point of 800 million down to 35 million by the end of “Day of Chaos” (progs 1743-1789). It remains an open question to what extent the judges are the last bulwark against annihilation or the cause, although there is no doubt that many of the enemies Dredd confronts are a whole lot worse.

Finally, a word about the artist John Higgins. Higgins’ first Dredd strip is “Beggars Banquet” (prog 456), although he was also the artist on the aforementioned “Letter from a Democrat” a month later. Most famously, Higgins was the original colourist for Watchmen (1986) and Batman: Killing Joke (1988) and he has gone on to work as both a writer and artist on many projects including his own creation Razorjack. He continues to draw, and occasionally write, Judge Dredd.

Trivia

  • You may have noticed that this is the first strip to appear in this series written by John Wagner and Alan Grant but not credited to “T.B. Grover”.
  • Two of the three episodes of this story have 2000AD covers dedicated to them. Of course that doesn’t include part 2, so I’ve used the cover for 533 as the image for this article instead!
  • From prog 520 onwards, the paper and print quality for the 2000AD was upgraded, and the page size changed. Unfortunately, the painted double page spreads which tend to frequent most Dredd episodes during this era don’t tend to look very good in black and white reprints. This is the first of several changes to the comics format to take place over the following few years.

Judge Dredd Snapshots: The Ugly Mug Ball (prog 447)

Here at the Uglybug Ball I’m speaking to Glendon Grott. Glen – you’re the face that makes the pace. Like to say why?

Uh, sure – it’s cos all these other dirtbags got their ugly mugs artificial. Y’know – Sump or surgery. Not me. I was born like this. I’m naturally ugly.

Script: John Wagner & Alan Grant (as T.B. Grover); Artist: Cliff Robinson; Letters: Tony Jacob

Plot Summary

The judges have set up a cordon around the Folly Heights neighbourhood in an attempt to capture escaped con “Ransom” who is attempting to kill informant Howie Buck for giving the judges information which lead to his arrest and conviction. That evening, a mass gathering of “Uglies” – citizens who celebrate ugliness and deliberately uglify themselves to follow the latest fashion trends – is taking place: the Uglybug Ball.

Ransom manages to kill Buck by getting a child to give a judge a bomb just outside of the building he is hiding in, but Dredd gives chase and manages to shoot him. Ransom tries to make his escape in the Uglybug Ball and is confused and disgusted by the people there (having been locked up before the fashion became a thing). He attempts to take a hostage but Dredd overwhelms him, throwing him into a display of Otto Sump Ugly Products. The judges take Ransom away, with it revealed that the ugly products have hideously deformed Ransom’s face.

Commentary

This is a relatively by-the-numbers one shot which introduces very little to Dredd’s lore. It seems to mainly exist to showcase Cliff Robinson’s art, then a newcomer to 2000AD. In fact this is only the third Dredd story he had worked on, although he was also one of the artists who contributed to the first Anderson, Psi Division strip.

Robinson’s inking style and early work is very reminiscent of Brian Bolland, but he fairly quickly developed his own style – their renditions of Dredd himself are very easily distinguishable. Like Bolland, he very quickly became established as a cover artist. Unlike Bolland, he continues to draw the occasional strip. Indeed, nearly 35 years since this episode was published he is still a fairly regular presence in 2000AD.

Cliff Robinson’s presence here also suggests something of a passing of the torch. Just as Mike McMahon dominated the strip in its early years only to be replaced by Ron Smith, by the time we reach the prog 400s, a much wider roster of artists have started drawing the strip. People like Robinson and Cam Kennedy, who also started drawing Dredd at around this time, might not end up drawing as many episodes as Smith, but they would go on to create equally iconic visions of the character.

The Ugly craze has a history that goes back to “Otto Sump’s Ugly Clinic” (progs 186 to 188), in which the reality-TV-star-turned-billionaire-businessman Otto Sump (whose origin appears in “Sob Story” in progs 131 and 132) launches a range of “ugly” products which proves to be insanely popular. The judges ultimately conclude that this new craze is causing all kinds of criminal activity but choose to tax the products rather than ban them, thereby gaining the city much needed income, and making the ugly craze exclusive to the rich.

This story ended up becoming the template which all future “craze” stories followed (although the first “craze” story was “Brainblooms” in prog 18): new fashion proves insanely popular amongst the populace, it inevitably either causes harm or people start using it to help them commit crimes, the judges end up either banning it or find a more devious way to ruin people’s fun.

We should also briefly touch on Otto Sump, since this is the first time I’ve mentioned him despite his first appearance years before. As well as the ugly craze, Sump would crop up a few more times with new scams, most notably in “Gunge” (prog 280) and “Get Smart” (prog 436). Despite being a fan favourite, Sump was used fairly sparingly as a supporting character, which has helped make his few appearances all the more memorable.

These days, it is hard to miss the resemblance between Sump and then notorious property developer Donald Trump – although Sump’s career boosting decision to go on reality TV predated Trump’s by a quarter of a century. Of course, it could simply be a coincidence, alongside Trump’s resemblance to Dave the Orang-utan – an orange ape who got elected as mayor – and President Booth, the last president of the United States whose populist style results in the country being annihilated in a nuclear war.

Trivia

  • The Ugly Bug Ball is a song by the songwriting duo the Sherman Brothers, which originally appeared in the 1963 film Summer Magic.
  • Although this episode isn’t given a title in the strip, it is officially known as “The Ugly Mug Ball” even though the ball itself is referred to as the Uglybug Ball – presumably to avoid annoying Disney.

Judge Dredd Snapshots: Dredd Angel part 3 (prog 379)

It’s the same every town I go into! Some cheap punks a-lookin’ fer a rep – thnk they kin outbutt Mean Machine Angel!

A man gits mighty tired of it! A normal man, that is!

Me, I ain’t normal!

Mean Machine

Script: John Wagner & Alan Grant (as T.B. Grover); Artist: Ron Smith; Letters: Tom Frame

Plot summary

Dredd has recruited Mean Machine Angel to help him recover group of foetuses cloned from reknowned Mega City Judges which were being sent to Texas City as a gift. To get round the fact that Mean is determined to kill Dredd, the judges have operated on his brain to make Mean think that Dredd is in fact his father, Pa Angel, and is mainly concerned with some antiques which the clones were being transported with – the fabled treasures of Liberace’s tomb. While in the Cursed Earth tracking down the raiders who have stolen both the loot and the clones, Dredd and Angel are in the town of Oxter when a gang of mutants, the Goat Boys, challenge Mean to a headbutting contest. Mean beats them all with little difficulty but in the process the dial on his forehead that controls his mood gets stuck on 4 1/2 and he goes into a butting frenzy. Dredd attempts to intervene, but before he can Mean ransacks the town. Dredd reaches him and switches the dial, but as he does the water tower which Mean has ransacked starts to collapse on top of them.

Commentary

Sometimes the Judge Dredd strip is full of subtle and not so subtle satire about the current state of the world. And sometimes it’s just about a redneck cyborg maniac who likes headbutting people.

Mean Machine, and for that matter the Angel Gang of which is was a family member of, was introduced in “The Judge Child” (progs 156-181). Although this story is mostly set in space, it begins with Dredd trying to track down the Judge Child, Owen Krysler, in the Cursed Earth where he is abducted by the Angel Gang who attempt to sell him into slavery (it is prophesised that Krysler will save the city 18 years later in 2020, which is why Dredd is tasked with finding him). Eventually they flee into space and wind up on the planet Xanadu where Dredd kills them all, apparently to Wagner and Grant’s immediate regret.

All of the Angel Gang are pretty distinctive, but perhaps Mean is the most memorable simply because he’s so weird. Originally, Mean was the one non-violent member of the Angel Gang so Pa Angel kidnaps a cyberneticist to give him a robot arm and fit him with a dial on his forehead that controls his mood. From this point onwards, Mean is a brain damaged, violent maniac.

In “The Judge Child”, Dredd concludes is evil and leaves on Xanadu despite his powerful psychic abilities. It was fairly quickly followed up by “The Fink” (progs 193-196) in which the estranged Angel brother Fink attempts to take his revenge on the crew of the Judge Child Expedition for killing his family, and “Destiny’s Angels” (progs 281-288) in which Krysler brings Mean back to life and he teams up with Fink to try to take down Dredd. This time it is Fink’s turn to die.

Mean returns to the strip periodically, and eventually both Pa and Junior Angel are brought back to life, but as with the Dark Judges there are diminising returns to these stories (Dredd, Death and Mean even team up in “The Three Amigos”, Judge Dredd Megazine 3.02-3.07). Ultimately there are only so many situations you can put a maniac in before it starts to feel a bit samey. Again as with Death, it has ultimately been left to a very different creative team to produce a prequel that takes the concept in a very different direction, to inject some life into the concept (in this case Gordon Rennie and Lee Carter’s Angelic, which first appeared in Judge Dredd Megazine 356-359).

The other thing worth touching on, although they dont appear in this particular episode of “Dredd Angel”, are the judge clones. I made a mistake in my coverage of “The Return of Rico” when I said that this was where it gets revealed that Dredd is the clone of Fargo, the founder of the Judge system. In fact that doesn’t happen until a few weeks later, in “A Case for Treatment” (prog 389). What we do however get in this story is the first clear illustration of Fargo without a helmet, complete with an extremely Dredd-looking chin. I guess that this rather silly story isn’t really the right place to make that kind of revelation. “A Case for Treatment” on the other hand has a very different tone – perhaps we’ll revisit that one at some point in this series.

Trivia

  • Mean only has one arm in this strip because Dredd shot his biological one off in “The Judge Child” – resurrection fluids appear to have not been capable of regrowing actual limbs.
  • If you’re confused why I mentioned the Judge Dredd Megazine with two different numbering systems, it goes back to the fact that the publication actually has five different volumes due to repeated relaunches. Eventually, when they reached their 200th consecutive issue, they decided to treat the first four volumes as part of the same series. So the numbering system goes 1.01-1.20, 2.01-2.83, 3.01-3.79, 4.01-4.18, 201 onwards.

Judge Dredd Snapshots: The Game Show Show part 1 (prog 278)

Being a game show host has always been my dream! I’ll learn some bad jokes – have my mouth moulded into an inane grin – anything!

Barry Dreery

Script: John Wagner & Alan Grant (as T.B. Grover); Artist: Jose Casanovas & Jose Casanovas Junior; Letters: Tom Frame

Plot Summary

Dredd is given the task of investigating the disappearances of 400 game show hosts by Chief Judge McGruder. Despite apparently being pleased that about the disappearances, Dredd sets about his task diligently. It emerges that the disappearances are the work of Barry Dreery, a wannabe gameshow host whose attempt at breaking into the industry was blackballed by the Association of Game Show Hosts after the second episode of his game show Many Questions recorded negative viewing figures in its second episode. Barry vows revenge and his opportunity comes when his billionaire uncle dies in the Apocalypse War and he inherits 34 billion credits. Barry uses his wealth to build an enormous death trap which he dubs The Game Show Show. He bribes and kidnaps 400 game show hosts to participate in the “game show.” The episode ends with Dredd discovering the bodies of over 40 game show hosts in a radiation pit.

Commentary

So after two episodes which more resembled supernatural horror than the Judge Dredd fare, this one is a return to more familiar territory, although I guess you could compare it to something like Cube or the Saw film franchise if it wasn’t for the broad comedy.

In this case we’re satirising game shows, from a UK-centric perspective. However, the Spanish artists either has no idea who these game show hosts are that he is meant to be satirising and so none of them resemble the people they are supposed to represent. For a global and 2020 perspective, that really doesn’t matter, and I’m not sure much of the humour of the strip is lost from not understanding some of the specific 1982-centric jokes, but presumably a British artist would have treated this scrip in a somewhat different way.

This strip follows a fairly conventional format that has become a staple of Judge Dredd, and you can actually see echoes of it in “The Blood of Satanus“. Some loser with high ambitions and low impulse control sees his ambitions thwarted… until a stroke of luck enables him to fulfil his fantasies – which inevitably leads to drawing the attention of Judge Dredd who ends up shutting them down.

The Apocalypse War mentioned in this episode is actually a big part of Dredd lore and is covered in the eponymous story two months prior to this (progs 245-270) . This war, a parody of the poor relations between the US and the then-Soviet Union at the time, is first foreshadowed in “Battle of the Black Atlantic” (progs 128-129) and “Pirates of the Black Atlantic” (progs 197-200) before emerging as the main reason why civil war has broken out in “Block Mania” (progs 236-244).

In “The Apocalypse War”, longtime city East Meg One launches a nuclear strike on Mega City One, destroying half of the city, before the Sov Judges invade. Dredd leads a counter insurgency, ultimately turning the Sovs’ own nuclear missles on themselves and wiping out the entire of East Meg One – brutally ending the war.

This one storyline, more than any other, has continued to have ramifications throughout the series since. Obviously we see it referenced here – as well as the inheritence it also explains why there are convenient pits of radioactive sludge lying around – but it carried on being a plot point for the next couple of years. Decades later, East Meg One would retaliate and wipe out most of the remaining populace of Mega City One, in the “Day of Chaos” storyline (progs 1743-1789).

But for all this grim backdrop, for the most part the strip following “The Apocalypse War” was a fairly lighthearted affair, and this is fairly typical of the period. Most episodes during this period would make at least some reference to the recent war.

Jose Casanovas, occasionally assisted by his son, is best known in the UK for their work outside of Judge Dredd, particularly his work on Tharg’s Future Shocks and the Robo-Hunter series when it was written by Mark Millar. Despite his first work appearing in prog 70, this would actually be his first of two Dredd stories, the other being “One Better” years later in prog 757.

Trivia

  • I’m not going to claim to know who all the various game show hosts being parodied here are; even I’m not that old. For example, “laughing Les” being splatted in the first two pages is almost certainly not Les Dennis, but it might be an allusion to Les Dawson although neither of them presented game shows until the mid-80s. Eammon Enos, who is told “This is Your Death” however is presumably a nod to Eamonn Andrews, host of “This is Your Life” (which isn’t a game show, but he did also present “What’s My Line?”).
  • Laughing Les is said to be the host of Family Feuds. Interestingly, Les Dennis was the host of Family Fortunes in the UK from 1987 until 2002. The US name for Family Fortunes is Family Feud.
  • The ceramic tombstone “won” by the first victim Slog Bankhurst is a reference to the sort of worthless trinkets that people would win in British gameshows (winning prizes of actual value was tightly restricted until the late 1980s), such as the Blankety Blank Cheque Book & Pen, the Dusty Bins you would win on 3-2-1 and the Bullys you would get as a consolation prize on Bullseye.
  • The background judge who appears in panels 1, 2 and 5 of page 3 of this strip looks a little like John Wagner, but this may be a coincidence.

Judge Dredd Snapshots: Judge Death Lives Part 1 (prog 224)

Is she dead?

No-one knows – and no-one will ever know. We can never release her – never risk Judge Death stalking the city again!

A tourist and Tour Guide Judge Sturmey

Script: John Wagner & Alan Grant (as T.B. Grover); Artist: Brian Bolland; Letters: Tom Frame

Plot summary

Part of a guided tour to the Hall of Heroes in the Grand Hall of Justice, a man holds back and hides himself until the tour has closed. Sneaking out at night, he uses a las-cutter to cut through the miracle plastic Boing which has been keeping Psi Judge Anderson’s body – as well as Judge Death, the alien superfiend that she had imprisoned in her mind. Death takes control of the man and they escape. Security guards discover the crime and summon Dredd, who immediately declares a state of emergency – and orders that Anderson be freed from the Boing, who it turns out has been in a state of suspended animation. The man returns home to discover that the three other Dark Judges, who were keeping his wife hostage and had forced him to free Death, had killed his wife anyway.

Commentary

So, we’ve zoomed forward 18 months, and an awful lot has changed in the strip. For one thing, the scripts are now being written by John Wagner in partnership with Alan Grant. Like Pat Mills, Alan Grant was briefly an editor of 2000AD before going on to writing freelance for the comic. Their partnership began during the tail end of the planet hopping saga “The Judge Child” (progs 156-181). They would go onto almost exclusively write the strip in partnership, both for the weekly comic and the Daily Star newspaper strips, until “Oz” (progs 545-570), by which point they were apparently increasingly disagreeing with the direction of the strip.

From Alan Grant’s solo-scripted strips you can see that he tends to favour more humourous strips in which Dredd is an outright fascist, whereas John Wagner went in a more serious, police procedural direction (although there are plenty of counter-examples to be found in both writer’s work). During the 1980s however, their respective strengths combined was perfect for the strip, which by this point had developed a very strong identity and had settled into a groove which hadn’t quite fully developed at the stage of “The Blood of Satanus“.

This is a relatively atypical strip however, mainly due to its subject matter and artist. Despite, for many people, Brian Bolland being one of the definitive Dredd artists, he has actually drawn very few strips, and many of his most iconic Judge Dredd images are in fact covers – particularly the Eagle Comics reprints which were produced for the US market in the 1980s. “Judge Death Lives” (progs 224-228) is in fact his penultimate strip and he was to go on to draw just one more episode – the final part of “Block Mania” (progs 236-244).

As I said when discussing “The Cursed Earth“, Bolland would tend to get given projects that would draw on his strengths. In fact, he created the character design for Psi Judge Anderson and Judge Death in “Judge Death” (progs 149-151 – immedately before “The Blood of Satanus”). Anderson was largely based on singer-songwriter Debbie Harry, then the lead singer of Blondie. According to John Wagner in the book Thrill Power Overload however, the idea of Judge Death initially came from Alan Grant who, while not his writing partner at the time, was his flatmate.

Judge Death is a fan favourite, who almost certainly inspired the design of The Batman Who Laughs and, perhaps, the Mouth of Sauron in The Lords of the Rings films. He and his cohorts the Dark Judges have gone on to return in the Judge Dredd strip on numerous occasions. However, while the strips have gone on to become longer and more elaborate than this 32 page story, they have failed to be anything like as memorable. Their next appearance was in the spin-off strip Anderson, Psi Division in “Four Dark Judges” (progs 416-427. although the strip was originally intended for a spin-off Judge Dredd weekly comic which was ultimately cancelled) – which is sadly probably most memorable for the amount of swiping of Bolland’s original work which featured in it – and he briefly succeeds in his mission to take over Mega-City One in “Necropolis” (progs 674-699). Throughout the 1990s however, Death would increasingly be treated as a comedic character – particularly in Batman/Judge Dredd: Judgement on Gotham – and while attempts have been made to bring the characters back to his horror roots, the strips have struggled to make an impact.

The problem at its heart is that ultimately the character best works as a foil for Dredd, and is ultimately pretty one-note; that lapse into parody is hard to avoid beyond the initial appearances, and Bolland’s brilliant work lends the character far more weight and importance that a homicidal undead lunatic who justs wants to kills everything has any right to expect. In my opinion, the best strip featuring Death after “Judge Death Lives” is Tainted: The Fall of Deadworld (progs 1973-1981, and in various appearances since) an ongoing series by Kek-W and Dave Kendall. This is a prequel set in the last days of Judge Death’s world, in which Death himself rarely appears, and yet which incorporates 30-plus years of Death’s lore to create a satisfying narrative – both gruesome and humourous.

Psi Judge Anderson has had a much happier time since her appearance here. Like Death, she was very much created as a foil for Dredd, but her personal characteristics have meant that her repeated appearances have given her greater depth, not less. Her aforementioned spin-off series continues to appear to this day, in both 2000AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine.

Trivia

  • What is Boing? It’s an incredibly bouncy plastic which first appeared in the story “Palais de Boing” (prog 136), which you spray out of a can and can use to quickly cover yourself and bounce around, a bit like zorbing (which it was presumably influenced by), but way more fun. Generally it is restricted to use in contained environments such as the Palais de Boing, but perps infrequently use it for nefarious purposes. Anderson telepathically tells Dredd to encase her in Boing in “Judge Death” in order to trap him.
  • On page 2 of this strip, you can see a bust with the legend: “Feyy: He predicted disaster”. Feyy was the precognitive Psi-Judge who prophesises that a great disaster would befall Mega City One in the year 2120 but the city would be saved by “The Judge Child”. This is the inciting incident that kicks off that eponymous storyline.
  • On a similar note, you can see six portraits of judges in the background on the first page. It’s hard to tell who they are meant to be, but the most detailed sketch of a man with a moustache in the top left corner is possibly meant to be Judge Lopez, who dies during “The Judge Child”.
  • Finally, the righthand portrait on the first panel of page 3 is likely to be former Chief Judge Cal, the insane main antagonist in “The Day The Law Died” (progs 89-108), who is based on the Roman emperor Caligula. Presumably, that means the portrait to his left is Dredd himself.
  • We should probably not dwell on the fact that the judges leave the immortal spirit of Judge Death lying around in a museum, or that until this point they make no attempt to recover Anderson, and put it down to creative license!
  • This episode, and the bulk of the remaining story, is set in Billy Carter Block. Billy Carter was the scandal-hit brother of the then recently former President James Carter, who also made an appearance in our brief visit to the Cursed Earth. This is, to the best of my knowledge, a complete coincidence!