Tag Archives: judge-dredd

Judge Dredd Snapshots: Muzak Killer – Live! part 1 (prog 837)

Music is only cool when it’s old.

Marty Zpok

Date: 29 May 1993

Script: Garth Ennis; Artist: Dermot Power; Letters: Annie Parkhouse

Plot Summary

Marty Zpok, a serial killer with a grudge against popular music is currently serving 60 years in an Iso-Cube for a previous massacre, where he is regularly beaten up by his fellow inmates. A gang of his admirers lead by Indiana Saddoe break him out. They are shot down, but Indy and Marty escape. After Marty expresses his distaste for Indy’s taste in modern alternative music, Marty spots a new vid show being aired called Word Up and announces his plan to take over the show.

Commentary

I was pretty critical of Garth Ennis in my last post, but to be fair he had his moments, and the two Muzak Killer stories, which started with “Muzak Killer” (progs 746-748) are some of them, even if they are a little on the nose. In that respect they are no worse however than, for example, Wagner and Grant’s “The Game Show Show“.

The first story is a vicious send up of the state of pop music at the time, and in particular Stock, Aitken and Waterman’s so called “hit factory“. Marty Zpok manages to massacre thinly veiled caricatures of pretty much all of the big pop stars at the time such as Jason Donovan, Kylie Minogue and Bros. In “Muzak Killer – Live!” Marty turns his attention to the state of youth-targeted TV at the time, and in particular The Word – a magazine format show which covered music, film and celebrity.

It is clear from reading both stories that Garth Ennis is having fun, and has an axe to grind – not just at the state of pop music and youth TV but also at a certain type of cultural snob that will be all too familiar to anyone who grew up in Britain and Ireland at the time. Marty Zpok himself is clearly modelled on Morrissey (although he actually kills an even more thinly-veiled Morrissey in “Muzak Killer – Live!” part 2), while Indy Saddoe is modelled on Robert Smith, the lead singer of The Cure. As such, these strips have a certain energy that most of Garth Ennis’s scripts during this period sadly lacked, although I don’t think they have aged very well: aside from the digs at long forgotten celebrities, the scripts are peppered with misogyny and homophopbia.

As it turns out, this would end up being almost Ennis’s last published Dredd story. He would only write two more: “Goodnight Kiss” (progs 940-948), a fairly forgettable story which was presumably only delayed due to the time is took for Nick Percival to paint it; and, much later, “Helter Skelter” (progs 1250-1261). During this period, John Wagner would continue to write Dredd but for the most part his work was restricted to the Judge Dredd Megazine.

Dermot Power does the painted artwork for both stories, an artist probably better known now as a concept artist on Episodes II and VII of Star Wars, as well as many other films. “Muzak Killer” was actually only his second published 2000AD strip, and he went on to greater acclaim taking over as the artist on Sláine (my personal favourite strip of his being “The Treasures of Britain” in progs 1001-1010, 1024-1031).

Trivia

  • I’m not going to pretend to remember all the references this strip is peppered with, but the driver of the getaway vehicle Marty flees prison in, Karl Shamen, is clearly modelled on Kurt Cobain – and the Shamen were an band most famous for the song “Ebeneezer Goode” which mainly existed to prank music programmes into playing a song extolling the virtues of the recreational drug Ecstacy (you can also see a poster for a band called “Shame” on Indy’s wall which is another thinly veiled reference to them).
  • No idea who the fourth gang member is meant to be, sadly, but his name Bili Blur is similarly a reference to a popular music combo of the time.
  • Indy lives in a block called “Peel Acres”. Peel Acres was the nickname that Radio One DJ John Peel called his home. John Peel’s late night radio show was for decades the programme that people seriously into independent music would have listened to every week.
  • Other bands referenced are Judas Priest (“Judas Smith”), Cud (“Fudd”), Nirvana (“Montana”) and The Pixies (“The Fairies”).

Judge Dredd Snapshots: Nightmares part 4 (prog 706)

You can squeal all you want – like it or not, it’s the way it’s going to be. And do you know why…? Because I’m right and you’re wrong. Because it’s the way I want it –

And which of you has distinguished yourself in the past months to go against me?

Eh?

Judge Dredd

Date: 24 November 1990

Script: John Wagner; Artist: Steve Dillon; Letters: Tom Frame

Plot Summary

With growing pro-democracy protests carrying on outside, Acting Chief Judge McGruder calls a meeting of senior judges to order to discuss what to do following the defeat of the Dark Judges who had taken control of the city and begun a process of mass execution of the populace. McGruder is allowed to continue as Chief Judge, despite some misgivings about her sanity.

Meanwhile, Psi Judge Anderson visits Yassa Povey, the boy who saved Dredd’s life in the Cursed Earth a few months ago but was blinded by the evil Sisters of Death in the process. Povey had been brought to the city to restore his eyesight, but in the process had been kidnapped for ransom by desperate survivors of the Dark Judge’s purges. Povey has been having nightmares of the Sisters of Death and Anderson uses her powers to help purge him of their psychic influence.

Meanwhile, Dredd fights through the protests to attend the meeting of senior judges. Finally there, he insists that they allow a referendum to establish the consent of the people for the judges to continue in control. This is met with widespread opposition, but Dredd plays his trump card: he was responsible for saving the city while most of the other judges in the room had been under the control of the Dark Judges. Dredd supports the judges continuing but insists that a vote of the people has to go ahead.

Commentary

So much has happened in the year since our last snapshot, much of which formed the culmination of 13 years of world-building. Dredd takes the Long Walk, a form of retirement in which judges go out into the wilderness to dispense justice in the Cursed Earth until they die in the attempt. This is due to a combination of factors: his growing doubts about the efficacy of the judicial system, his age (Dredd, in universe, is 46 at this point, meaning – I am horrified to realise – he retired at the same age I am now), and the fact that he had fallen out with the then-Chief Judge Silver over the decision to impose Kraken, a fellow clone of Fargo and former Judda (the bad dudes in Oz) who had been deprogrammed and retrained, to be Dredd’s successor.

Dredd’s final act as a judge was the assess Kraken for suitability to become a full Judge and deems him to be unfit to serve, but Silver overrules him, fakes Kraken’s death and brings him back passing him off as Dredd himself, whose resignation had been covered up. It is left ambiguous whether Dredd’s assessment of Kraken was correct; either way Kraken is manipulated by the Sisters of Death who use him to bring back the Dark Judges who had been lost in a limbo dimension years before.

The Sisters of Death soon realise that Kraken is not really Dredd and come after Dredd himself. In the depths of the Cursed Earth they find him and nearly kill him. Yassa Povey and his family find his horrifically burned body and restore him back to life, dubbing him The Dead Man. The Sisters return for him and Dredd fights them off, although they blind Povey in the process.

Dredd then returns to Mega City One to save the city and with the help of McGruder (who had also taken the Long Walk years before), Cadet Giant and a paralysed Psi Judge Anderson, succeeds.

All of which is a pretty curtailed summary of what was a truly exciting year of stories. The story is in fact told slightly out of sequence, with The Dead Man (2000AD progs 650-662) originally appearing in the weekly anthology as a wholly seperate story; the Dead Man’s true identity was only revealed at the end. It was a delicious twist and one that could only be pulled off in a weekly anthology comic willing. It’s a trick 2000AD would go onto repeat with Lobster Random and Sinister Dexter pulling off essentially the same twist in the 2000s, but it was not until “Trifecta” (progs 1803-1812) that 2000AD managed to pull off a twist reveal like this that had anything like the same impact.

Dredd’s retaking of Mega City One, told in the story “Necropolis” (progs 674-699) is a bit of a letdown compared to the amazing build up it received, but it still has some wonderful moments, such as Dredd’s climactic showdown with a corrupted and utterly broken Kraken.

Back to “Nightmares”, this final part has some nice touches as well. In particular I like the suggestion by McGruder, left ambiguous, that not all the judges who worked with the Dark Judges were under their control; some may have simply gone along with it. We also get the introduction of Niles – who goes on to become a recurring character and trusted Dredd ally after some stumbles – and Grice – who goes on to become a villain.

This story ends with the judges deciding to allow a referendum on their continued existence to go ahead, a plot point which goes on to be explored in “The Devil You Know” (progs 750-753) and “Twilights Last Gleaming” (progs 754-756). While the former was written by John Wagner, the latter was scripted by Garth Ennis. During this period, John Wagner would go on to step back from writing Dredd, leaving Ennis to take over – although both Wagner and his long time collaborator Alan Grant would continue to script Dredd in the Judge Dredd Megazine (or rather Judge Dredd: The Megazine as it was known as then), which was first published on 1 October 1990.

Indeed, it is interesting to contrast the Dredd in “Nightmares” and in the run up to “Necropolis” with the Dredd we see in America, a spin off strip which had just started in the Megazine (issues 1.01 to 1.07). In America, Dredd is very much the villain and the main antagonist in a series which explores the rise of the Democracy Movement and their struggle against the Judges. This is much more in keeping with the Dredd we saw back in “Revolution“. There is a clear tension between the Dredd who stands for law and order and considers democracy to be dangerous, and the Dredd who recognises that the Judge system has massively failed the people and this is a theme that in different ways would go on to dominate John Wagner’s solo writing from this point forward, culminating in an impressive connected storyline which ran from “Origins” in 2007 (progs 1505-1519, 1529-1535) until “Day of Chaos” in 2012 (progs 1743–1789). I don’t think this tension ever really gets resolved, and since Wagner stepped back as the lead writer at the end of “Day of Chaos” subsequent writers have been less interested in exploring it, but it has certainly lead to many of the most interesting strips to come out of the series.

I should mention Steve Dillon briefly, as this is the first time I’ve covered an episode featuring his artwork in this blog series, despite his Dredd art first appearing in 1981. This is very much Dillon at the height of his powers, shortly before he would break into the US with his run on Hellblazer (working with Garth Ennis, who he would go onto first work with on Dredd a few months after this story was published). Not many artists could make a 6 page episode focused on a bunch of people arguing in a council meeting visually interested, but Dillon pulls it off here.

Trivia

  • I’m not convinced that the repeated jibes about McGruder’s facial hair (a cis woman in late middle age) which appear here, in “Necropolis” and in most of her subsequent appearances, have especially aged well – or that they were that funny at the time. McGruder has an arc over the next few years which focuses on her declining mental health and paranoia. It’s interesting, but I do wish it had been more sensitively handled at times as the jokes about her needing to shave get quite old (and under writers other than Wagner, tend to get even worse).

Judge Dredd Snapshots: Gribligs part 1 (prog 464)

Chee chee cheee!

Cleopatra the griblig

Date: 5 April 1986

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

Plot Summary

While processing Anwar Duglan at a local Justice Department Sector House for posession of vi slugs (illegal violent videos), the perp attempts to plea bargain by ratting on his fellow shipmates on the spaceliner Larvik, where he works as a steward. After naming several crewmembers, he mentions in passing Third Engineman Hud Priestley who had smuggled some kind of animal into the city.

Meanwhile, Priestley arrives at his girlfriend’s apartment to give her not one but two animals – gribligs – which are named Cleopatra and Nelson. The adorable little animals are intelligent and, starving, perform tricks for food. They are being kept in seperate cages to prevent them from reproducing but after the humans go to bed they manage to free themselves and are reunited…

Commentary

So, in case it isn’t clear from the summary, this is basically the Judge Dredd take on Gremlins, which came out in cinemas just over a year before, and the tribbles from classic Star Trek – even the name is smooshing together of the two words. The gribligs go on to breed like wildfire, eat Priestley and his girlfriend and while most are exterminated a handful escape, leaving open the possibility of a sequel.

In fact, we don’t see gribligs in a Dredd strip for years later until Whatever Happened To…? “The Gribligs” in Judge Dredd Megazine 219, 19 years later. Fans of the original Judge Dredd roleplaying game however (and this is how I discovered Judge Dredd) will know that the gribligs appear again in the scenario “A Night in the Death of Sector 255” by Hugh Tynan, which appeared in White Dwarf issue 88 (1987). The scenario is illustrated by another Judge Dredd artist from the era (who also illustrated a lot of Games Workshop products at the time) Brett Ewins. In that scenario, Ewins draws gribligs very differently, looking much more goblin like and much less like the cute little furballs that Barry Kitson draws in this strip.

Barry Kitson is another artist to appear in the mid-80s – in fact this is his first Dredd strip. He doesn’t make a huge contribution to the strip; his most famous contributions are his co-creation of the villain Death Fist (real name Stan Lee, a clear nod to both the famous Marvel comics writer and Bruce Lee the martial artist), and “The Hour of the Wolf”, the third Anderson: Psi Division story (progs 520-531). This established Anderson’s relationship with Orlok the Assassin, a sov agent who precipitated the Apocalypse War, which would become a recurring plot point throughout the 90s. After a few years, Barry Kitson moved on to draw US comics, particularly DC.

Because I’ve opted to randomly select an episode from each year, the samples I end up focusing on can end up being quite unrepresentative. The fact that both this and the previous “Ugly Mug Ball” are somewhat by-the-numbers is somewhat telling however. While plenty of excellent strips appeared during this time, the “Midnight Surfer” (progs 424-429) and “Atlantis” (progs 485-488) both spring to mind, many of the one-shots do tend to feel less inspired – and inevitable outcome of producing a 6-page weekly strip (as well as a newspaper strip) for almost ten years by this point. There is perhaps a notable shift in style during this period; the silly strips stay silly, but we also start seeing a much more serious tone in others, such as “Letter from a Democrat” (prog 460).

Trivia

  • To reinforce the links to tribbles, in the second episode it is revealed that the captain of the ship on which Priestley serves is called “James Krik”.