Look at them – running like frightened rabbits!
Don’t they know they’ve nothing to fear from us?
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
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.
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.
- 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.