Tag Archives: judge-dredd

C is for Chopper

Marlon “Chopper” Shakespeare is the Judge Dredd series’s own rebel without a cause. Originally appearing as a graffiti artist in Un-American Graffiti (progs 206-207, 1981), for true Dredd fans it is this they think of whenever they see a smiley face, not Watchmen or acid house. He went on to become best known as a sky-surfer (literally, someone who rides on a flying surfboard fitted with an anti-gravity device) and the winner of illegal world championship Supersurf 7 (The Midnight Surfer, progs 424-429, 1986). Most stories since then have focused on the fictional sport of sky-surfing.

The Midnight Surfer was followed up by Oz (progs 545-570, 1987), a Dredd epic which is framed around Chopper’s escape from prison, journey to Australia to compete in Supersurf 10 and the contest itself (the story also focuses around an attack on Mega City 1 by the Judda, but I’ll cover that elsewhere). This story is cited as one of the reasons John Wagner and Alan Grant decided to end their writing partnership, which had begun towards the end of writing the Judge Child saga. In short, Wagner wanted Chopper to lose the championship but live, while Grant wanted Chopper to win the championship but die. Wagner got his way.

After Anderson, Psi Division, Chopper is the second Judge Dredd character to get his own spin-off series. The Song of the Surfer (progs 654-665, 1989) focuses on Supersurf 11, this time taking place in Mega City 2. The championship turns deadly when its organisers decide to make it more exciting by firing guns at the contestants. This time, almost as if to show Alan Grant how it should be done, Wagner let’s Chopper win – but apparently dies. The story also marks the first major collaboration between John Wagner and artist Colin MacNeil, who went on to draw America and a number of other classic Dredd stories.

And there is should have ended. Unfortunately, Chopper was then brought back with the launch of the new Judge Dredd Megazine, in a story called Earth, Wind and Fire (Judge Dredd Megazine vol 1, 1-6, 1990). This story was written by Garth Ennis (and drawn by frequent Ennis collaborator John McCrea), at the time still at the early stage of his career. Ennis has many qualities as a writer, but one of his weaknesses is a tendency to turn everything he writes into meandering bromances which focus more on drinking alcohol than on character or plot. Earth, Wind and Fire is a particular low point of his career – and one he appears to readily acknowledge himself.

Chopper, now a character who had entirely run out of a story to tell, limped on to appear in yet another story in 2000AD – this time written by Alan McKenzie and drawn by John Higgins (Supersurf 13, progs 964-971, 1995) – before the editor’s finally decided to give him a rest. Even then, Wagner himself attempted to revive the character in 2004 in a fairly forgettable story (The Big Meg, progs 1387-1394, 2004).

Chopper’s run therefore is a tale of two halves. His first four appearances are as great as his latter three are forgettable. It is easy to see how the readership easily identified with this character, a kid who was about the same age as most of the people reading his stories. The best Chopper stories are all about an ordinary guy achieving extraordinary things in the face of adversity, but there comes a point when there just isn’t anything left to kick against.

Highlights include:

  • Un-American Graffiti (progs 206-207, 1981). Reprinted in the Complete Judge Dredd Casefiles vol 4.
  • The Midnight Surfer (progs 424-429, 1986). Reprinted in the Complete Judge Dredd Casefiles vol 9.
  • Oz (progs 545-570, 1987). Reprinted in the Complete Judge Dredd Casefiles vol 11.
  • The Song of the Surfer (progs 654-665, 1989). Reprinted in Chopper: Surf’s Up.

C is also for…

Cal
Chief Judge Cal is an early antagonist of Dredd’s. The head of the Special Judicial Service – the Justice Department’s own internal affairs unit who dress like members of the SS – Cal uses his position to kill Chief Judge Goodman and brainwash the judges, leaving only a handful of judges – including Dredd, Giant and the tutors at the Academy of Law – left to fight a rebellion.

Originally drawn to resemble Pat Mills, Mills objected and as a result Cal was quickly changed to instead resemble John Hurt’s portrayal of Emperor Caligula in BBC TV’s adaptation of I, Claudius.

The Day the Law Died (progs 89-108, 1978-1979) was the basis of the Judge Dredd motion picture (1995), albeit with Cal replaced by Dredd’s clone brother Rico and loveable oaf Fergee replaced by the distinctly unloveable Fergie, played by Rob Schneider.

An alternate Cal appeared in dimension hopping series Helter Skelter (progs 1250-1261, 2001).

Call-Me-Kenneth
Call-Me-Kenneth was the revolutionary leader of the robot rebellion in the Robot Wars, the first multi-part Judge Dredd story, which also marked a return to the strip by creator John Wagner after initially walking away due to conflict between him and commissioning editor Pat Mills (progs 10–17, 1977).

With clear allusions to Jesus, Call-Me-Kenneth is originally a carpenter droid who rebels against his brutal master. He is eventually brought to heel by Dredd and his sycophantic servant droid Walter, in what is a highly satirical story (a personal favourite).

B is for “Bad” Bob Booth and Beeny

Cover to Prog 1517Robert L. Booth – aka “Bad” Bob Booth – is, in Dredd continuity, the last president of the United States of America. Following a disastrous global nuclear war, he was overthrown by the Supreme Court, which invoked the Declaration of Independence:

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Booth is not executed but, rather, held in suspended animation, which is how he manages to be not just a key historical figure but, eventually, a key antagonist.

Booth has only appeared three times in the series, once in a flashback (The Hunting Party: Fog on the Eerie, progs 1037–1040, 1997). His first appearance was in the Cursed Earth (progs 61-85, 1978), the first bona fide Judge Dredd epic. Written by Dredd’s first editor, Pat Mills, the Cursed Earth is important in several respects, not least of all because it established a number of aspects about the strip’s pre-history which have gone on to become central to numerous stories ever since.

Although Booth’s shadow falls across the entirety of the Cursed Earth (after all, the nuclear wasteland it is set in was created as a direct result of Booth’s policies and actions, and it concludes with Dredd fighting off Booth’s robot army), he only appears fleetingly. Kept in suspended animation in Fort Knox, the life support system has begun to malfunction and the robots in charge of ensuring he survive start preying on the local populace to keep him alive. Discovering this, Dredd decides to revive Booth and put him to work for the townsfolk.

At the time the Cursed Earth was published, both Dredd’s creators had an ambivalent relationship to the strip. Although John Wagner was still writing the strip, both he and Carlos Ezquerra were focused on making Strontium Dog a success for 2000AD’s short-lived sister publication Starlord. It is a tribute therefore to Pat Mills that, 30 years later, they both came up with Origins (progs 1505-1519, 1529-1535, 2006-2007). In many ways Origins is a direct sequel to the Cursed Earth, filling in the history (from Dredd’s personal perspective) and also set in the nuclear wasteland that is all that is left of central North America. And of course this is where Bob Booth makes his second significant appearance.

Origins revolves around the revelation that the body of former Chief Judge Fargo, the founder of the Judicial system and Dredd’s clone-father, has been found in the Cursed Earth and is being held for ransom. Unknown to all but a few, Fargo had not died in 2051, but had in fact been kept alive and kept in suspended animation. With the possibility that Fargo is still alive, Dredd is given the task of recovering him and, over the course of the story, reveals to his team of Judges the secret history of the Justice Department. Eventually it emerges that the body is in the possession of Booth himself, who is revealed as the leader of the New Mutants Army, a growing force in the Cursed Earth. Dredd defeats Booth, destroys the army and recovers Fargo.

It is interesting to note how the portrayal of Booth changes between the two series. While it is not spelt out, it is implied in the Cursed Earth that Booth is something of an incompetent. When he appears, he rather resembles Jimmy Carter (Carter himself appears in the Cursed Earth rather improbably as one of the faces on Mount Rushmore). By contrast, the portrayal of Booth in Origins borrows more than a little from George W. Bush.

Cadet BeenyIt is highly appropriate to write about Judge America Beeny in the same article as Bob Booth because in many respects the two characters neatly summarise the past and future of the Dredd strip. As you will know from reading my entry for A, Beeny is the daughter of America Jura and Bennett Beeny. First appearing in America II: Fading of the Light (Judge Dredd Megazine vol 3, 20-25, 1996) as a small child, that story concludes discordantly with her father dead and her being inducted into the Academy of Law.

Skip forward 10 years and Beeny reappears in America III: Cadet (JDM 250-252, 2006). Dredd tests her ability and commitment to the Justice Department by assessing her investigation into her father’s death. She passes the test and impresses Dredd sufficiently that after graduating from the Academy, she becomes a core member of the Dredd supporting cast and one of his most trusted colleagues.

How are Beeny and Booth connected? Well, Booth is quite literally the justification for the Judicial system which Dredd has sworn to uphold. The America stories which comprise Beeny’s origin represent a refutation of that system, explaining how the system works against the interests of ordinary citizens. Beeny herself is a reformer, but is committed to working within the system.

Dredd himself has flirted with the idea of reform himself. In the past, he has become so disillusioned with the system that he actually resigned and took the Long Walk (a self-imposed exile into the Cursed Earth), which eventually leads to the Necropolis storyline (progs 674–699) and a referendum on whether or not to restore democracy (democracy loses). Origins, in which Dredd discovers he has mutant relatives and is told by a dying Fargo that the system has failed, forces him to again re-evaluate his position. In this he finds a core ally in Beeny, another exile (this time not self-imposed) and the events which lead to the Tour of Duty storyline (progs 1650 – 1693, 2009-2010).

Without wanting to go into too much detail at this stage, in summary, Origins marks the end of an era for the Dredd strip. Ever since then, Wagner has been slowly but surely picking the world he created apart. The apex of this thus far has been the recent Day of Chaos storyline (progs 1743–1789, 2011-2012) in which the vast majority of the city’s population has been wiped out and the judges’ reputation is in tatters. Beeny represents the generation of judges that will inherit this brave new world. Left distraught at the end of Day of Chaos, I get the impression her story is not over yet.

Highlights – President Booth:

  • The Cursed Earth (progs 61-85, 1978). Reprinted in the Judge Dredd Complete Case Files Volume 2.
  • Origins (progs 1505-1519, 1529-1535, 2006-2007). Reprinted in Judge Dredd: Origins.

Highlights – Judge Beeny:

  • America III: Cadet (JDM 250-252, 2006). Reprinted in Judge Dredd: America.
  • Tour of Duty (progs 1650 – 1693, 2009-2010). Reprinted in Judge Dredd: Tour of Duty – Backlash and Judge Dredd: Tour of Duty – Mega City Justice.
  • Day of Chaos (progs 1743–1789, 2011-2012). Not yet reprinted.

B is also for…

Banzai Battalion
A team of tiny gardening robots who talk and act as if they are in a World War II film who end up foiling a number of crimes and being recruited by the Justice Department.

Batman
There have been four Judge Dredd – Batman crossovers to date, the most critically acclaimed of which was the first, Judgement on Gotham (1991), written by John Wagner and Alan Grant and illustrated by Simon Bisley, in which Judge Death escapes to the DC Universe, teams up with the Scarecrow, and Dredd, Anderson and Batman work together to stop them. A sequel, Die Laughing (1998) – in which the Dark Judges team up with the Joker – was commissioned to coincide with the release of the Judge Dredd motion picture but original artist Glenn Fabry ended up taking so long to paint the story that The Ultimate Riddle (1995) was commissioned to fill the gap. Featuring the Riddler, it also coincided with the release of the film Batman Forever (in which Jim Carrey played the Riddler).

A personal favourite however is Vengeance on Gotham (1993), which featured Batman villain The Ventriloquist, originally created by Wagner and Grant.

Oola Blint
A mass murderer, also known as the “Angel of Mercy” who would go door to door euthanising her unwilling neighbours. She was a recurring character in the late 90s and early 00s.

A is for Anderson

Judge AndersonPsi-Judge Anderson is probably the most popular Judge other than Dredd himself amongst the fan base. Anderson is a telepath and can read minds, read psychic impressions from inanimate objects and gets “psi-flashes” of things happening nearby (a souped-up form of clairvoyance).

She originally appeared in Judge Death (progs 149-151, 1980), which was also the first appearance of Psi-Division itself (which, as the name suggests, is a division of the Justice Department which trains and utilises judges with psychic powers). In accordance with the throwaway nature of the strip in its early days, Anderson’s first appearance could quite easily have been her last, as she sacrifices her life at the end of the story by allowing Judge Death to possess her and for her body to be encased in the airtight, rubber-like substance Boing®. Anderson and Death however both proved to be highly popular and both returned in Judge Death Lives! (progs 224-228, 1981) 18 months later. That creator Brian Bolland drew her as Debbie Harry in tight leather may have been at least a part of her appeal.

Anderson would go on to become a core member of the Judge Dredd supporting cast. She was rewarded with her own spin-off series, originally due to be published in the abortive Judge Dredd Weekly. This strip eventually wound up in 2000AD itself and, again, featured Judge Death and his Dark Judge cronies. Since breaking out in her own series, Anderson has only occasionally appeared in the Dredd strip itself, most notably playing a key role in the epics Necropolis (also featuring the Dark Judges) and Doomsday. She has not featured in the Dredd strip in a significant way in the last 12 years.

While technically of lower rank than Dredd, Anderson has never really played the sort of sidekick role which characters like Judge Giant and Judge Beeny do. She has always been portrayed much more as Dredd’s equal, even occasionally his friend (albeit never entirely convincingly).

Judge Anderson: The Jesus SyndromeShe has undergone several personality changes over the years. In the early days, Anderson was portrayed as a rather sassy, wisecracking persona, which contrasted well against the often dark themes in her stories. As the 80s drew on, and 2000AD got caught up in the post-Watchmen (and particularly in this case post-Halo Jones), “WAM! POW! Comics Grow Up” mindset, the Anderson strip got serious. Initially, this worked quite well but then-writer Alan Grant, not known for his subtlety, started making the series increasingly issue-focused and bleeding-heart in tone. The strip started to focus on the dark side of the Judicial system (which in Alan Grant’s hands was no more and no less fascism). Anderson got retrofitted as a victim of child abuse and gained a rival going by the incredibly literal name of Judge Goon.

What was no doubt meant as well meaning eventually lead to the character becoming little more than a weeping, passive victim in her own series. The strip’s low points were Postcards from the Edge (Judge Dredd Megazine vol 2, issues 50-60, 1994), in which Anderson travels around the galaxy having resigned from the Justice Department, and Crusade (Progs 1050–1061, 1997), in which Mega-City 1’s children all revolt and are nuked by the Chief Judge (an incident which the writers of both Dredd and Anderson have since conveniently forgotten). Since then, the strip has recovered somewhat and Anderson herself has reverted to being a somewhat older, and wiser version of the original inception (note that since Judge Dredd and its spin-off strips work in real time, Anderson herself is now well into her mid-50s, even if she doesn’t look a day over 30).

Anderson features heavily in the upcoming feature film Dredd 3D, played by Olivia Thirlby.

Highlights:

  • Judge Dredd: Judge Death (progs 149-151, 1980) and Judge Death Lives! (progs 224-228, 1981). Reprinted in the Judge Dredd Complete Case Files Volume 3 and 5.
  • Judge Dredd: City of the Damned (progs 393–406, 1984). Reprinted in the Judge Dredd Complete Case Files Volume 8.
  • Anderson, Psi Division: The Possessed (progs 468–478, 1986). Reprinted in the Judge Anderson Psi Volume 1.
  • Anderson, Psi Division: Triad (progs 635–644, 1989). Reprinted in the Judge Anderson Psi Volume 1.

A is also for…

Angel Gang

A criminal family of rednecks – Pa, Link, Mean Machine and Junior – who kidnap the Judge Child and are eventually executed by Dredd at the conclusion of the Judge Child saga (progs 156-181, 1980). It turns out they have a long lost brother, Fink, and the most popular member of the gang and Mean Machine (the one with the dial on his head) is brought back from the dead. Both Pa and Junior Angel also end up getting resurrected, but John Wagner appears to have concluded that was a mistake and they haven’t appeared in the strip for many years.

The Angel Gang appear in the motion picture Judge Dredd (1995). It’s portrayal of Mean Machine is widely considered one of the best things about it.

America

Regarded by many as one of the best Judge Dredd strips, America (Judge Dredd Megazine vol 1, 1-7, 1990) is the tale of America Jara, the daughter of immigrants who goes on to get involved in the Democratic Movement, a campaign to restore democracy to Mega City 1. Disillusioned by how the Justice Department crush the movement, Jara gets involved in the terrorist organisation Total War. To cut a long story short, she is killed but her body is saved by her childhood friend Bennet Beeny who, um, has his brain transplanted into it (the story is better than this sounds, I can assure you!).

The story had two sequels, in the first of which it is revealed that Beeny also conceived a daughter (his sperm, her eggs). America Beeny goes on to become one of Dredd’s most trusted colleagues.

Introducing Judge Dredd

Judge DreddThe new Judge Dredd motion picture will be released in the UK on 7 September. Word of mouth has thus far been exceptionally good after screenings at both Cannes and the San Diego Comic Con. Even Dredd’s main writer and co-creator John Wagner has given it his blessing.

As all Squaxx will know, this blog’s name was inspired by 2000AD (if you don’t know what a Squaxx is, you aren’t one), so I thought I ought to spend the next few weeks marking the release of the new film by writing a number of Judge Dredd related posts. I’ll be starting this by attempting to write an A-Z of Judge Dredd, featuring some of the main characters, concepts and themes of the 35 year old comic series.

But before I do this, I should really begin by writing a few things about Judge Dredd and his world, without which the rest of my articles won’t make much sense.

Judge Dredd the comic strip, first appeared in the second issue (or “prog” – short for programme – as I will refer to them from here on in) of British weekly anthology comic 2000AD. It was created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra; however the influence of inaugural editor and early writer Pat Mills cannot be overestimated, nor can the visual style of early artist Mick McMahon (this isn’t to dismiss Wagner and Ezquerra’s impact on their own creation, merely to emphasise that it was the result of a number of brilliant creative people).

The basic idea of Judge Dredd is about as high concept as you can get: Judge Joseph “Joe” Dredd is a cop who has been empowered to act as judge, jury and, where necessary, executioner. He is, as he has been known to say himself, the Law. He operates in a place called Mega City 1, a megalopolis of hundreds of millions of people which stretches across the eastern seaboard of North America, in the late 21st and early 22nd century (unlike most US comic strips, Judge Dredd continuity happens in real time: the strip is set roughly 122 years after its publication date making the current year 2134). Most of the rest of North America, and indeed the world, is an irradiated nuclear wasteland.

He is not the only “Judge” – there are tens of thousands of them and an entire Justice Department which provides them with resources and auxiliary support. Indeed, the Justice Department has full control over the city. Following the Atomic War of 2070, the Justice Department invoked the Declaration of Independence as a pretext for overthrowing the president and taking control of the entire country. Citizens get to elect a council and a mayor, but they have no law-making powers and are responsible for little more than administration.

Judges have lots of toys with which they use to fight crime. Every Judge is issued with a Lawgiver, a handgun which fires six different types of bullet. They typically ride around the city on Lawmasters – incredibly powerful motorcycles which are armed to the teeth. They have handheld lie detectors, riot control gas and respirators, “day sticks” (essentially, baseball bats which they use to beat the living daylights out of people) and lots of body armour.

From the age of 5, they are trained for 15 years at the Academy of Law. Many do not survive this process.

Joe Dredd himself is a clone of Judge Fargo, the first Chief Judge. Dredd had a clone brother, Rico Dredd, but he was corrupt, leading to Dredd to sentence him to 20 years on the penal colony of Titan (one of Saturn’s moons) and eventually execute him. In current continuity, Dredd is 68 but the miracle of modern technology means that he is still pretty nimble.

Is Dredd a fascist? Not precisely. The judicial system is certainly authoritarian and has many features that are common with fascism, but it does not revolve around a charismatic dictator and the rule of law is held up as being the most important feature of the system. As a system it is certainly vulnerable to sliding into fascism, and that is a theme which the strip has repeatedly explored.

Is Judge Dredd satire? There is no doubt that a vast number, possibly the majority, of Dredd strips are either overt satire or feature heavy satirical elements. John Wagner himself however is too good a writer to let us off that simply: frequently, he invites the reader to ponder if the system really is as bad as all that, and whether it might be the best system under the circumstances. At its best, Dredd is not mere satire but works as a thought experiment in the best tradition of science fiction: inviting us to ponder how we would organise a society as broken as the one portrayed in the strip.

Judge Dredd was made into a film in 1995. Most fans of the comic do not like this film very much.

That should be all you need to know, at least for now. Any questions? Ask them in the comments below.

A Beginner’s Guide To Comics: A Response

I had originally written this as a comment to Andrew Hickey’s Beginner’s Guide to Comics, but I thought I would add it here instead. First go away and read his article and then come back to this:

Andrew’s is a good list which I would broadly agree with. Jaka’s Story was one of those strips which was being hailed during the “Pow! Comics Grow Up!” period of the late 80s. I’d like my older self to give it a read – I certainly remember the ending being very powerful. But as he recognises there is that Dave Sim “ick” factor which stops me from rushing.

All-Star Superman is good but I wouldn’t put it above Morrison’s Invisibles or (more controversially) Doom Patrol. It is however, much shorter than those two.

I re-read Sandman earlier this year. It was actually stronger than I remember, although that was partly due to the fact that I was one of those people who read the monthly comic and thus got alienated by Gaiman during The Kindly Ones when he stopped writing a periodical and switched to novel writing. Reading it as a whole it stands up; as a series of (less than) monthly episodes it really didn’t.

One of the big problems with enticing people into comics is that sometimes they can be quite inaccessible from a visual impairment point of view. I won’t bother trying From Hell on my girlfriend not because of the subject matter but because I’m pretty sure she’d find it impossible to read because of Eddie Campbell’s scratchy lettering.

Alice in Sunderland is a book I suspect I will go back and reread every couple of years for years to come. It is such a rich, dense book. As a meditation about what it means to be English (and in particular Northern English) it is fantastic. It SHOULD be taught in schools in my view. One Bad Rat is currently high on my reread pile.

As for things Andrew missed…

The best non-superhero Alan Moore things would have to be V for Vendetta, Halo Jones and (controversially) Skizz. The latter is ET done properly, even if the South African bashing is a little dated.

For the Buffy fans out there, you should give Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men run a go. It is his best comics work in my view.

I read Mike Carey’s Lucifer in quick succession last year and loved it. As a meditation on the nature of free will it is required reading (for all those libertarian bloggers out there especially – and I’m not taking the piss there). His Unwritten is also shaping up well. There is a lot of Vertigo stuff which started in the early noughties which I missed completely for the simple reason that I had had enough of tiresome Sandman spin-offs.

Overall, 2000AD is a tricky thing to recommend. Dredd is almost certainly an acquired taste and I do appreciate that a lot of the 80s stuff has dated somewhat. I tend to find the “funny” stuff more difficult to justify than the “serious” stuff despite initially being attracted by the former. This is a shame because Wagner deserves much greater recognition than he gets. Far from being a simple fascist cop, the characterisation of Dredd is incredibly rich and yet understated in Wagner’s hands. One gets the impression it has become semi-autobiographical.

Of the relatively self-contained 2000AD stuff I would recommend Nikolai Dante, Caballistics, Inc. and Leviathan.

Finally, I would throw in Kyle Baker’s Why I Hate Saturn and You Are Here and Evan Dorkins Dork! (an acquired taste but brilliant nonetheless).

Nine wishes for 2009 #5: Comics I care about

Yoink! These nine wishes for 2009 were meant to be done and dusted by 31 December. Nevertheless, I shall plough on…

I’m a geek, to paraphrase Nick Clegg, by temperament, by instinct and by upbringing (the latter is all too true – my dad made me watch Alien when I was 8 FFS! He would also blare out War of the Worlds at 11pm. My earliest memories were reading science fiction and horror mags on my parents’ bed and the excitement surrounding Star Wars and Close Encounters – really was there any hope for me?).

So it comes as no surprise that, despite being in my mid-thirties, I have an unusually large comic collection (the only geek I know who doesn’t read comics is Will Howells. Bad Will! No biscuit!). But I have this problem: they aren’t exciting me like they used to.

My first comics were the Beano (but not the Dandy – rubbish!) and the eighties Eagle. From there it was but a short step to 2000AD during its bog paper, black and white glory days and with the eighties UK comics brain drain in full swing, moving onto US comics was all but inevitable. Highlights have included: too many Judge Dredd stories to mention, but in particular Block Mania, Chopper’s escape to Oz and the revelation of the identity of The Dead Man; Nemesis the Warlock; Halo Jones (I could mention loads of Alan Moore stuff, but this is the one that inspired me the most, oddly); Grant Morrison’s greatest hits (Zenith, Animal Man, Doom Patrol, The Invisibles); The Sandman; Preacher; The Adventures of Luthor Arkwright. More recently, Nikolai Dante has had its moments. Morrison’s run on X-Men was good and Joss Whedon’s follow up was great too. I whizzed through Mike Carey’s Lucifer last year after, wrongly, assuming for years that it was just another worthless Sandman spin-off (Vertigo have only themselves to blame for that assumption, but that’s another story).

But the sort of buzz I felt during the late eighties and nineties isn’t there any more. Don’t misunderstand me, I recognise that to an extent I am merely a little jaded and that is unavoidable. And there is still good stuff out there. Buffy Season Eight, while patchy, is generally strong. 2000AD has been consistent (but not amazing) for a good decade now going through a very bad period before. You can’t switch brilliance on like a tap but I don’t think 2000AD can be accused of doing anything to piss on their chips.

I think my dilemma is threefold. Firstly, the demise of Comics International. To be clear (last year I bemoaned the state of the magazine and got ticked off by Burt for my trouble), it does appear to be a going concern and at least one of the problems for its erratic publishing schedule over the past couple of years has been the editor’s ill health, but it is a far cry from the rigorous monthly schedule that Dez Skinn managed to work to for 15 years. I hope that if they do get it back up and running, they go back to basics. When it was launched, CI was a free newsheet printed on newsprint which offered news, reviews, and pretty much nothing else. I don’t miss anything else; I do miss that basic service. It is a bit of an embarrassing thing to admit as somone who likes to think of himself as generally web-savvy, but I can’t get my head around using the web as a news source for my comics. Something does not compute. Nothing feels as natural as a few pages of news I can pore over on the tube home from the shops (I depend on Empire for similar reasons).

Secondly, I find it really hard to get into the indie-scene these days. Even though I’ve never actually lived in the East Midlands, I occasionally used to go to Page 45 for some of their special events. In particular, they ran a great open day in 1996. Ostensibly a day to promote Dave Sim‘s latest UK tour (I continued to collect Cerebus up until it ended even though I basically gave up reading it during the last few years as he seemed to get increasingly bonkers – needless to say I don’t share his views), they invited lots of other independent comic creators as well. Since the queue to get stuff signed by Sim and Gerhard was so long, you ended up going around and talking to all the creators. I ended up buying stuff from pretty much everyone, discovering a passion for, among others, Kane, Sleaze Castle and Dix (the cartoonist on the brilliant Roll Up! Roll Up! which ran in the Guardian a few years ago before they criminally cancelled it. Thanks to the magic of teh internets you can now own a collected edition – buy it now!). But as you’ll have seen by following those links, those particular wells of creative talent have either mutated (Jack Staff is good, but nothing like as good as Kane) or dried up entirely.

Are Page 45 still organising such open days? If they are, I never read about them even when CI was coming out regularly. Back in London these days, the closest to Page 45 is Gosh! – they often do signings, but don’t seem to use them as an opportunity to do something more ambitious. Maybe in 2009, this might change.

My third problem though seems much more intractable. I’ve always tended to read DC more than Marvel. This is simply because DC used 2000AD as a recruitment brochure in the eighties and took a lot of the fanbase with them. Slowly I got sucked in, loving Keith Giffen’s take on the Justice League and the post-John Byrne Superman (an era which effectively ended with the death and rebirth storyline). Having stayed away for a few years, I ended up picking up 52 and some of the other Infinite Crisis spinoffs and tie-ins.

Now, 52 was a well executed and enjoyable series – a year in the life told in real time. The problem is, it was such a success that they immediately issued a sequel – Countdown – which in turn was a prequel of Final Crisis – which in turn was a sequel to Infinite Crisis (and sort of a sequel to Seven Soldiers of Victory) – which in turn was a sequal to the Crisis on Infinite Earths (and that’s just the simplified version). The idea that the Infinite Crisis had created 52 alternate universes (after the Crisis of Infinite Earths destroyed the “infinite” alternates and merged them into one, the revamped eighties DC universe), is essentially lame, lazy and, as you will have seen by reading this paragraph, incredibly confusing. Add to this the “is he? isn’t he?” death of Batman at the end of last year, and an alternate timeline in the latest weekly series Trinity, and you have a terribly stodgy mess. The problem with all these tie-ins, cross-overs and spin-offs is that it utterly alienates the casual reader. DC seems to have decided that their future lies in giving the hardcore dizzyingly complex onanistic wank. I’ve put up with it for a year longer than I should have done and expect to more or less drop all my DC titles later this year.

Marvel also seem to be going out of their way to alienate readers by producing company-wide meta-narrative after company-wide meta-narrative even if by all acounts they are doing it much better. But again, how do you get on board? Browsing through trade paperbacks in Borders and the specialist shops, I haven’t the foggiest where to start with, say, Civil War.

Part of the problem, I suspect, is rooted in the fact that both of these companies have discovered that they have such large back catalogues now that the casual reader has plenty to churn through before running out and wanting to look at the latest stuff. Want to get into Batman? Most “top ten” lists include Killing Joke, Dark Knight Returns, Year One, The Long Halloween and Arkham Asylum. Most of the Marvel films are mining stories from the sixties which you can read in their Masterworks series of books. So even if they did make the new stuff more accessible, I suspect they would get very little out of it in terms of improved sales.

As someone who is more than a casual reader but much less than the hardcore, this is a problem. Are there really so few of us out there though? I just think it is a real shame that as comics finally enter the mainstream, they seem to be having such a creative lull. And while there is undoubtedly good stuff out there to be found, finding it seems to be becoming harder and harder. Anyone got any suggestions?

Justice is in Our DNA

A new Judge Dredd film has been given the go-ahead. The potentially good news is that it is to be produced by DNA Films, the UK outfit behind 28 Weeks Later and Sunshine. io9.com have seen fit to justfy an entirely unsubstantiated rumour that Danny Boyle will direct. Harry Knowles wants Judge Death in it. Personally, I’m still waiting to see if these rumours prove more substantive than the ones about 6 years ago about two Dredd films being filmed back-to-back.

Do I actually want another Judge Dredd film? The first one was a pretty good example of the 90s mindset of taking a comic, ramming it into a Hollywood-approved mould and throwing it back into our faces. It is one of a handful of comic book films that weren’t merely lame, not merely critical and audience flops but seemed calculated to annoy fans of the original works (the other two standout examples being From Hell and LXG).

Since then of course, a whole new generation of comic adaptations have arisen which have, to greater or lesser degrees of success, have been directed by quality film makers who loved – but were not slaves to – the source material. Sam Raimi on the first two Spider-Man films, Brian Singer on the first two X-Men films, Chris Nolan on Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. The outlook looks a lot better than it did in 1995, at the very least.

But Dredd isn’t your average comic strip. It isn’t a superhero comic and the main character doesn’t have much in the way of introspective, cinegenic angst. He isn’t just “dark” – he spends much of the time being the bad guy (a fact which the 1995 film completely ignored). And it is a satire which takes no prisoners. Turning all that into a film will be a big task.

I’m not sure they can pull it off, but for what it’s worth, here are my tips for making a good Dredd film:

1. Cast Ron Perlman in the lead. He’s the right age, has the right demeanour and – crucially – has the right chin. To say that he risks typecasting after Hellboy is redundant: Perlman was typecast 20 years ago. You won’t find a better Dredd, period. Don’t bother making it unless he’s doing it.

2. Don’t have Judge Death in it. Sorry Harry, but you are wrong. Judge Dredd is, at its heart, a comic strip about future crime. Death would make it into a horror film. Now, a Judge Death film might be good (just think: Hellraiser-meets-Terminator – with jokes!), but it wouldn’t be a Judge Dredd film.

3. Have a strong sympathetic character in conflict with Dredd. Or, to stop beating around the bush, do a Chopper film. Chopper was one of the most popular characters in the first decade of Dredd for a good reason: the audience could identify with him. Making the film about, say, a Supersurf-style illegal race would not only make for some great action scenes, but it would perfectly capture what the Dredd strip is about.

4. Don’t make it about The Judges – this was what I hated the most about the 1995 film: the way they turned the Judges into a quasi-religious order with only the best of intentions. The fallible humans presented in Origins were a vast improvement, but even that sort of strip would be extranneous. We want a film about a future cop, not another political space opera.

5. Other things to avoid: space, other Mega Cities, the Cursed Earth… in short, anything that takes the film away from the essence of the Dredd strip. It is too much detail that will turn it into a soggy mess (like the last film in fact).

6. Two fingers to Rob Schneider! In order to exorcise the demons of the last film, there needs to be some of reference to Rob Schneider and his lamentable film career. How about having a block in his name flattened at some point. Or maybe at some point Dredd could arrest a male prostitute called R. Schneider. The possibilities are endless… the more offensive the better.

Fictional meme letters

Okay, I got this meme from Andy Hinton (not to be confused with Alex Hilton – learned that lesson!):

1. Comment on this post.
2. I will give you a letter.
3. Think of 5 fictional characters whose names begin with that letter and post their names and your comments on these characters in your LJ blog.

Because this is Quaequam Blog! I thought I would limit these to 2000AD characters:

Rogue Trooper: the gayest strip in 2000AD’s history (that’s not a criticism by the way, just an observation), the original run by Gerry Finlay-Day was about a genetic infantryman who is the lone survivor of the infamous Quartz Zone Massacre. Determined to track down the traitor general who sent his “buddies” to their doom, he goes rogue, kept company only by the personality-encoded “biochips” of his best friends. By astonishing coincidence, he is called Rogue while his marksman friend is called Gunnar (his chip is in Rogue’s rifle), his quarter-mastery friend is called Bagman (his chip is in Rogue’s, er bag) and his, er, fairly useless friend is called Helm (can you guess where they keep his chip?).

A typical GF-D strip would feature Rogue encountering a woman, flirting with her, his “buddies” getting outrageously jealous and for her to turn out to be an evil traitor. Seriously, I don’t think there is a single female character in the original run (up to the point when they track down the traitor) who doesn’t turn out to be a villain.

If that isn’t homoerotic enough for you, how about the fact that the lead character runs around topless (in a warzone – very sensible).

Original artist Dave Gibbons eventually did a reboot of the character (called War Machine), which was actually very good and reprinted in Heavy Metal. Sadly, the ongoing series that came out of that was Terrible McTerrible.

Durham RedDurham Red: Johnny Alpha’s putative replacement sidekick (after his, very-obviously-boyfriend Wulf was killed off). Shortly afterwards, Johnny went and died himself and Red decided to go into suspended animation to emerge, millennia later, as possibly the most obviously sexy character ever to appear in the comic, as drawn by Mark Harrison. In the future, apparently, clothing can defy gravity.

Not surprisingly, Durham’s reinvention was an instant hit with both boys and girls alike (even if the strips were rather shallow and not up to writer Dan Abnett’s best), but Mark nearly went bonkers drawing her mind-bogglingly complicated CG strips. He now appears to eschew Photoshop in favour of good old fashioned paint.

Rico DreddRico: sort of a two-for-one here as Rico can refer either to Joe Dredd’s twin brother or Joe Dredd’s rookie. Given that all three are clones of each other, the distinction is a fine one, although Rico Dredd becomes evil while Judge Rico is (at the time of writing) one of the good guys.

The whole “what’s it like being a clone?” thing has been used to good effect by John Wagner over the years. The exact reason why Rico Dredd went bad has not been fully explored, by Wagner at least. But Rico was originally created by Pat Mills, who had a go at the character in 1995 (during his chaos magick weirdie phase), which was not entirely successful and seems to have acquired apocryphal status during the years.

Rico occasionally appears in one of those dreadful “rogue’s gallery” type stories where Dredd is either haunted by popular villains past or, in the case of Helter Skelter by Garth Ennis, parallel universe versions of them actually team up to kick his arse. Generally speaking, if Wagner isn’t writing it, involving Rico in a story is likely to be a recipe for disaster.

Ro-JawsRo-Jaws: a waste disposal robot who spends most of the strips he appears in rummaging through the contents of a bin or “cludgie.” A gloriously loveable character from the early days of “Tooth,” who ended up a character in search of a plotline.

Tyranny RexTyranny Rex: an earlier attempt at a “sexy” female character in 2000AD, this time from the fevered imagination of erratic genius John Smith. Half “Saurian” Tyranny is just your ordinary, green, girl-about-town who happens to have a whopping great prehensile tail. Not sure the tail thing went down well with the boys, to be perfectly honest.

Tyranny’s strips were Smith’s first attempts at a regular character, the first strip of which was about music piracy with a twist (“home cloning is killing music”). Very quickly her strips morphed into the Indigo Prime series. The promised ongoing series (featuring a transvestite dog apparently) which was to appear in first Crisis and then Revolver never emerged. I can’t help but feel this is a character which could get surprise us. It is certainly the case that Smith has got it in him.
Rogan GoshRogan Gosh: technically not a 2000AD character but I’m including it here since I couldn’t think of any more characters with the letter R and the strip appeared in one of 2000AD’s sister magazines, so it counts. Milligan and McCarthy’s Rogan Gosh is, in my opinion, by far the most successful thing to come out of Fleetway’s brief experimentation with “adult” comics (with Skin – also by Milligan and McCarthy – coming a close second even if they did chicken out of publishing it).

It’s genius because it works on so many levels – is it an hallucination by Rudyard Kipling, the adventures of two blokes in an Indian restaurant or the product of the imagination of a boy committing suicide? All three narratives merge into one. No-one had ever tried doing Anglo-Indian comics before (there have been attempts since but they have been nothing like as successful, namely Grant Morrison’s Vimanarama and Pat Mills’ Black Siddha). One of the absolute highlights of my teenage years.

Anyone else want a go? Just follow the instructions above.

Tooth Review: 1573 & 1574 (obligatory spoiler warning)

Prog 1573Prog 1574Quote of the Week: “First you say hello to Vulf’s little friend!” Wulf Sternhammer gets up close and personal in Strontium Dog (1574).

Covers: Dylan Teague draws Johnny Alpha versus Groule from Strontium Dog (1573); Richard Elsom draws a chained Gene Hackman from The Kingdom (1574).

Contents: Judge Dredd, The Kingdom, Stickleback and Strontium Dog in both progs. Shakara ends in 1573 to be replaced by a Future Shock in 1574.

Review in less than 10 words: There will be blood (1573), Hell is other mutants (1574).

Spoilers… Continue reading Tooth Review: 1573 & 1574 (obligatory spoiler warning)