Tag Archives: 2000AD

R is for Robot Wars

Call-Me-KennethI’ve already written several times about pivotal moments in the development of the Judge Dredd series; points which proved decisive in the survival of the strip and its development. Robot Wars (progs 10-17, 1977, with a prologue in prog 9) is the first of these pivotal moments.

It is easy to forget given how it came to dominate the comic, but in the early days there was no reason to regard Judge Dredd as different to any other strip running in 2000AD. It was not “featuring Judge Dredd” – indeed the character only first appeared in prog 2. If anything, it was “featuring Dan Dare”, the 1950s space pilot who editor Pat Mills had revived to spark interest in the new comic. True, it is clear that Pat Mills felt he was onto something with Dredd, which is why its development process ended up being quite so tortuous, but that was no guarantee that the character would survive if it couldn’t prove itself.

John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra’s decision to walk away from their creation was a severe blow. The first seven Dredd strips to appear in 2000AD were written by Peter Harris, Pat Mills, Kelvin Gosnell, Charles Herring and in particular Malcolm Shaw. With the exception of Judge Whitey (prog 2, 1977), Dredd’s first appearance, none of these stories are remembered with any particular affection.

Robot Wars was the first multi-part storyline. More significantly, it was also the first story written by John Wagner to appear in print (and the first story drawn by Carlos Ezquerra, albeit only for one episode). The difference in quality is quite striking.

The story revolves around a robot called Call-Me-Kenneth, a carpenter droid (and yes, that is a Biblical reference) who kills his brutal master and leads a rebellion amongst the robots. Dredd defeats this rebellion, assisted by his robot servant Walter, who is granted full citizenship at the end of the story but chooses to continue working unpaid for Dredd anyway.

This is the first time the satire in the Dredd strip really bites. The analogies being drawn between African slavery and the brutal treatment of the robots by the humans are pretty easy to spot. Call-Me-Kenneth is enjoyably villainous, but the humans and in particular Judge Dredd don’t exactly come off well in this story either. It is the much put upon robots caught up in between we are really being invited to sympathise with.

Robo-HunterThe both the theme of robots-as-oppressed-people and the comic potential of robots were to go on to become recurring themes in 2000AD. Killer Car (progs 53-56, 1978) recycles a lot of the comedy in Robot Wars, and Wagner went on to collaborate with Ian Gibson, artist on both Robot Wars and Killer Car, on Robo-Hunter. Meanwhile, Pat Mills went on to make the plight of intelligent robots a theme in Ro-Busters and ABC Warriors.

Back in Judge Dredd, Walter would go on to be a recurring character for many years, even getting his own series of one-page strips drawn by Brian Bolland. Rejected by Dredd, Walter ends up founding a Call-Me-Kenneth worshipping cult in Giant (Megazine 2.50-52, 1994). And there was a second robot war, this time lead by crimelord Nero Narcos, as recounted in the Doomsday Scenario (progs 1141-1164 & Megazine 3.52-59, 1999).

Robot Wars was a triumphant return to the Judge Dredd strip by John Wagner which set the tone of the series for years afterwards. While simplistic by today’s standards, it’s quality shines through. As with The Pit almost 20 years later, if Wagner had not returned to write was in effect a manifesto for the strip at this point, it is very unlikely that the strip would have lasted the year, let alone 35.

Q is for A Question of Judgement

Cover to Prog 389The vast majority of Dredd strips throughout the 80s were basically comedy. Even the Apocalypse War was laced with irony and satire. Just occasionally a story touched on more serious themes. One of these was the six page A Question of Judgement (prog 387, 1984).

A Question of Judgement was in fact the first of three short, consecutive vignettes, the other two of which were An Error of Judgement (prog 388) and A Case for Treatment (prog 389). Combined, these stories threatened to rock the strip to its foundations, only for the themes contained within them to crawl back into their shells and not reappear for years afterwards.

All three stories have one thing at the heart of them: Dredd is having doubts about whether the judicial system is really in the people’s best interests. In A Question of Judgement, Dredd meets up with Judge Morphy, the judge who assessed him for his suitability for becoming a full judge after his graduation from the Academy of Law. Morphy is presented as a mentor figure for Dredd and Morph’s advice to Dredd is simple: wear tighter boots. His reasoning is that if Dredd were to spend all his time suffering from the effects of wearing boots a size too small, he would have less time to worry about whether he was actually achieving anything (as bad advice goes, this must rank pretty highly – how could Dredd be expected to do his job properly hobbling about in pain?).

In An Error of Judgement, Dredd gets emotionally involved in a welfare case, but his assistance goes awry and he ends ups assaulting a fellow judge. This leads directly into A Case For Treatment, in which Dredd is forced by the Chief Judge to undergo hypnotherapy in an attempt to get to the root of his doubts. It ends inconclusively, with the Chief Judge deciding to give Dredd a special mission to get his mind back on the job, as recounted in The City of the Damned (progs 393-406, 1984-1985).

That was all we got to see of Dredd’s doubts for many years. In retrospect it is clear that this was a side of Dredd that John Wagner was keen to explore while Alan Grant was keen to focus on the satirical elements of the strip. So it was not until their writing partnership came to an end that this plot thread was picked up again, in the Tale of the Dead Man (progs 662-668, 1990), which in turn lead to the Necropolis saga.

In this story arc, Dredd’s doubts lead him to taking self imposed exile in the Cursed Earth only for him to return to save the city upon discovering that the Dark Judges have returned. Merging with the democracy arc, this plot line reaches a modicum of conclusion with the referendum storyline.

The Dredd who returns from the Cursed Earth however is a subtly different character (at least the way Wagner writes him). He is more thoughtful and significantly more forceful when he feels the judges are doing the wrong thing. This gets him into trouble during the Mechanismo/Wilderlands story arc. His dealing with Edgar, a judge he admires but whose methods he disapproves of, is also typified by this, as is his support for both Volt and Hershey as modestly reforming Chief Judges.

Every so often we would also get a story which reveals the softer side of his character, such as the fan-favourite Bury My Knee at Wounded Heart (Megazine 2.46, February 1994) which deals with some very unDreddful themes such as old age and dying with dignity.

These aren’t stories about Dredd wracked with guilt however; the Dredd in these stories is demonstrates very little in the way of internal conflict or self-doubt. Rather, they are about the nature of justice from the perspective of a man who has revised his views considerably.

This theme continues into Origins (progs 1505-1519 & 1529-1535, 2006-2007) and the revelation that Fargo himself had concluded that the judicial system he had created was flawed. In turn this leads to Dredd revising his views on the anti-mutant laws and the events covered by the Tour of Duty story arc.

In conclusion then, while A Question of Judgement and its immediate successors are not in themselves enormously successful stories, they sewed the seeds for the sort of development which has gone on to dominate the series for the past 23 years. There is a tendency to focus on the sprawling epics which percolate the Dredd series, but sometimes the odd six-pagers can be equally significant.

P is for The Pit

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I would argue that there are four main eras of the Judge Dredd strip. The first, which ended at the conclusion of the Judge Child saga, was mainly focused on world building and having the strip find its identity. During the second era, dominated by John Wagner and Alan Grant’s powerhouse writing partnership (and Ron Smith’s art), the strip had a very clear identity. The “golden age” of the strip, this was the era of future crime, zany crazes and at times very broad comedy. It sort of came to an end when their partnership ended, but staggered on until the conclusion of the Necropolis saga, which wrapped up a number of plot threads which had been developing throughout that era.

The third era nearly killed the strip. This is the era dominated by Garth Ennis, Mark Millar and Grant Morrison; three writers who, regardless of their individual qualities as writers elsewhere, completely failed to understand the world John Wagner, Alan Grant and Pat Mills had established. The series declined as a series of worthless and often downright offensive stories took their toll.

Wagner and Grant have to take their share of the blame as well. While Alan Grant’s strips at their worst were better than the best Mark Millar certainly could conceive, they were hardly groundbreaking. While treating the character with somewhat more respect, his vision of the character as little more than a fascist who shoots litterers proved too limiting. John Wagner’s work during this period stands out as consistently superior but despite that they are generally unimpressive with even the Mechanismo/Wilderlands story arc failing to rise above average.

In short, the Dredd strip was in the last chance saloon even before the 1995 film failed to shine. Fortunately, it would appear that John Wagner realised that and on his return as head writer of the series, decided that radical changes were needed. This lead to The Pit (progs 970-999, 1995-1996) and the start of the fourth era of the strip (which may be ongoing or have possibly just ended; it’s too soon to tell).

Arguably, the shift in style can be dated back to The Cal Files a few progs earlier (progs 959-963, 1995); but The Pit is where it all came together. The story was a departure in two ways. Firstly, it shifted in emphasis from action adventure to police procedural – this may seem obvious for a strip about a future cop, but this sort of story had in fact been relatively rare until this point. Secondly, it shifted away from being just about Dredd himself to being more of an ensemble piece. Over the years, Dredd had acquired quite a large supporting cast but this was the first time they were presented less as sidekicks and guest stars and more as teammates.

The overall plot of The Pit is small scale in comparison with the other so-called mega-epics. Concerned by the suspicious death of its Sector Chief, the Chief Judge appoints Dredd as Acting Sector Chief of Sector 301, the eponymous Pit so named because of its high crime rates, high corruption and use as a dumping ground. Dredd sets up a team of disaffected judges to investigate the old Sector Chief’s murder and eventually helps the local force uncover a widespread conspiracy being coordinated by the Frendz Crime Syndicate.

Such a simple plot for a series famous for its nuclear wars and supernatural threats. And yet it was the most enthralling Dredd story to appear in years – quite possibly for precisely that reason. For the first time in years the strip had relatively rounded characters and actual drama (as opposed to simply blowing lots of things up). It was a winning formula.

The story introduced three significant recurring character. In addition to Galen DeMarco, there was Buell – who would go on to become the head of the internal affairs-style Special Judicial Squad – and Guthrie, a Wally Squad operative forced to go underground who Dredd decides to bring in from the cold. The story ended up having a direct sequel, Beyond the Call of Duty (progs 1101–1110, 1998) – which blended the threads left at the end of The Pit with the developing Edgar story arc, and eventually Doomsday, in which the head of the Frendz Nero Narcos decides to declare war on the judges, frustrated by their repeated attacks on his crime syndicate.

Before The Pit, it was starting to look worrying as if the Dredd strip had simply come to a natural conclusion and that there was nothing left to do with it. After The Pit, the series has never really looked back. It marked a significant change in style and tone for the strip which Wagner has now turned into a fine artform (to the extent that while Day of Chaos is superficially a retelling of Block Mania and the Apocalypse War, in style and tone it could not be more different).

Indeed, it is possible to read The Pit as analogous to the fate of the strip itself: neglected for years, Wagner returned to give the strip a new sense of purpose and pride in itself.

M is for Maybe (P. J.)

Philip Janet Maybe has gone from being a minor perp in a six page short story to Dredd’s own Moriarty. In Bug (prog 534, 1987), drawn by rising star Liam Sharp, Maybe is a psychopathic 12 year old who is quite a dab hand in robotics and pharmacology. As an experiment, he uses his burgeoning skills in both to kill a couple of his neighbours and writes the whole incident up in his diary (very badly). He’s pretty much continued in that vein ever since.

The early P. J. Maybe stories are in many ways both a distillation and a departure from a series of stories that Wagner and Grant had written prior to that. Superficially it was just a darker version of the “ordinary citizen with big ambitions in a crazy world” theme, typified by Un-American Graffiti (progs 206-207, 1981), Citizen Snork (progs 356-358, 1984) and The Magnificent Obsession (440-441, 1985). One of the main themes of Dredd in the mid-80s (and indeed the mid-80s themselves) was the “crazes” which seized the bored, mostly unemployed citizenry of Mega City One. Typically these stories ended up with someone taking the idea too far and getting the whole craze banned. P. J. Maybe simply swapped the funny costumes for cold-blooded murder. And, for the most part, gets away with it.

Maybe’s killing spree continues for a few stories, with him managing to use his murderous talents to get his unknowing father to become head of the company he worked for, Emphatically Yess – a clothing company which, among other things, has a contract to make the trousers for the judges themselves (in the future apparently, Americans call their pants trousers – a victory for British cultural imperialism!). He gets caught, escapes during Necropolis, and gets caught again.

By that point, the P. J. Maybe stories had started to get a bit repetitive and so for the next seven years he languished in a isolation cell somewhere. But he returned for The All New Adventures of P. J. Maybe (prog 1204, 2000) and has been a major recurring character ever since.

Now an adult, the second coming of P. J. Maybe is somewhat more ambitious than the first. Maybe first escapes to Ciudad Barranquilla, the Central American counterpart of Mega City One, having successfully managed to fake his own death. When Dredd starts to track him down once again, he again manages to fake his own death, this time moving back to Mega City One. Having adopted the identity of Byron Ambrose, he gets embroiled in city politics – first getting elected as a councillor and eventually becoming mayor. John Wagner is clearly making a point about the nature of democracy when he makes a psychopathic killer one of the most successful mayors in Mega City One’s history .

Even as mayor, Maybe continues his killing spree. Eventually he comes unstuck during the Tour of Duty storyline (progs 1650-1693, 2009-2010). Enraged by spending cuts imposed by the new Chief Judge Sinfield, Maybe sets himself the task of killing him. He very nearly does so, despite the tight security, but is eventually caught. However, his actions prove instrumental in bringing down Sinfield himself who had used SLD-88, a mind control drug devised by Maybe himself, to control and cause the resignation of Chief Judge Francisco.

Maybe is scheduled for execution but, once again, escapes. He has since kept a fairly low profile but was last seen capturing the Dark Judges Fear, Fire and Mortis. It remains to be seen how this clash of Dredd’s greatest foes will turn out.

In many ways however, P. J. Maybe is everything the Dark Judges aren’t. Whereas the Dark Judges are superpowered creatures who go on killing sprees wherever possible, Maybe is a mortal who, while he likes killing, has a very strong sense of his own self-preservation. The latter, frankly, leads to somewhat more interesting stories.

Maybe has also provided the series with a lot of light relief in recent years, as the tone has generally got darker. He is however, at risk of being over-used. Notwithstanding his inevitable role in an upcoming Dark Judges story soon, with the Mayor Ambrose story arc now finished I do hope they’ll give him a rest soon.

Highlights include…

  • Bug (prog 534, 1987), PJ Maybe, Age 13 (progs 592-594, 1988), The Further Adventures of PJ Maybe, Age 14 (prog 599, 1988) and The Confeshuns of PJ Maybe (progs 632-634, 1989).
  • The Monsterus Mashinashuns of P.J. Maybe (Judge Dredd Megazine issues 231-234, 2005).
  • The Gingerbread Man (Judge Dredd Megazine issues 261-263, 2007).
  • Tour of Duty (progs 1650-1693, 2009-2010)

M is also for…

Maria

Many of the early Judge Dredd stories tended to focus around his domestic life. This was populated by his robo-servant Walter the Wobot and his housekeeper Maria.

Maria was a caricature of an Italian housewife who would frequently acted as a foil to Walter. The joke, ahem, wore a little thin after a while. Both characters were pretty much written out of the series in the Destiny’s Angels story (progs 281-288, 1982), with Maria resigning after being abducted by Fink Angel (who assumed she was Dredd’s wife).

Maria’s last appearance was in Cardboard City (progs 643-645, 1989), in which Dredd discovers she has been homeless yet refuses his offers of help. She has since died (Whatever Happened to Maria, JDM 215, 2004)

Mean Machine

Although I’ve already covered the Angel Gang, Mean Machine deserves a special mention. Absurdly popular (despite, in my opinion Pa and Junior being the more compellingly written characters), Mean originally died in The Judge Child (progs 156-181, 1980) but was brought back to life in Destiny’s Angel (progs 281-288, 1982) and has made numerous appearances since. He has even been given his own spin-off series and, alongside Judge Death, appeared in the first Batman/Judge Dredd crossover, Judgement on Gotham (1991).

I have to admit to finding the character somewhat one-note. Essentially he is a rather crudely built cyborg who headbutts people a lot and has a dial on his head to determine how angry he gets. This has lead two a handful of memorable appearances, such as Dredd Angel, but the character was somewhat overused in the 90s and outstayed its welcome. His fabulous portrayal in the Judge Dredd motion picture (1995) was however one of that film’s few highlights.

Mechanismo

A series of stories which appeared in the Judge Dredd Megazine (Mechanismo, JDM 2.12-2.17, Mechanismo Returns, JDM 2.22-2.26, Mechanismo: Body Count, 2.37-2.43; 1992-1993) which lead up to the Wilderlands story (progs 891-894 & 904-918, JDM 2.57-68; 1994), in which the increasingly erratic Chief Judge McGruder enforces a policy to put robot judges on the streets. Dredd is strongly against this policy (despite the robots all being programmed to act like him) but is overruled. Predictably, Dredd is ultimately proven to be correct – but not before a handful of robots run amok.

Clearly more than a passing nod to Robocop and the way it quite blatantly borrowed ideas from the Dredd strip it did, in turn, borrow some scenes that are quite reminiscent of the ED-209s.

Mills and McMahon

I’ve written in a few places that while John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra are rightly credited as Dredd’s creators, the input of editor Pat Mills and the first major artist Mick McMahon can be under-estimated.

So many of Pat Mills’ original ideas have ended up becoming a core part of Dredd lore. In particular, establishing that Dredd was clone, and his brother Rico, were both first addressed in Mills’ Return of Rico (prog 30, 1977). He also wrote the first draft of Dredd’s history in the form of the Cursed Earth (progs 61-85, 1978). Inspired by Carlos Ezquerra’s wild costume ideas and city scapes, it was Mills who pushed to expand the scope of the series, arguably making the some of the ideas contained within it rather unmanageable in the process.

Mick McMahon’s influence was in taking Ezquerra’s flamboyant designs and to interpret them in such a way that felt more hardcore and grounded in reality. The Dredd costume we are now familiar with – in particular the big boots – is really a reinterpretation of McMahon’s which he first began to develop during the Luna 1 arc (progs 42-59, 1977-1978). His work from around the start of the Judge Child to Block Mania (1980-1981) is probably the best, and certainly the most startlingly original, art which has ever appeared in 2000AD. Ironically for an artist who was originally drafted because of his ability to duplicate Ezquerra’s style, he is arguably the most copied of Dredd’s artists.

Many people do not appreciate the extent of McMahon’s genius, dismissing his style as sketchy and cartoonish. and it is certainly true that his work in recent years has become somewhat more idiosyncratic and hard to love. But in many ways to understand and love Judge Dredd is to understand and love McMahon’s art.

L is for Lawgiver, Lawmaster

However you dress it up, Judge Dredd is a boys’ comic and one thing boys like is their toys. As someone who discovered the comic relatively late via the roleplaying game, the technology was one of its main appeals. Chief among these gadgets was Dredd’s gun, the Lawgiver, and Dredd’s motorcycle, the Lawmaster.

It wasn’t enough for Dredd to simply have a gun. The particular appeal of the Lawgiver was that it fired six different types of bullet (side note: although the number of types of ammunition has always remained the same at six, over the years the exact type of bullet has changed. The ‘grenade’ type never really took off, being a kind of rubbish version of the much more exciting high explosive. Heat seekers were originally portrayed as a sort of optional extra Dredd would stick on the end of his gun – but that was such an impractical idea that the artists ignored it). What’s more, each judge’s Lawgiver was configured so that only someone with their palmprint could fire it – if anyone else tried, the gun would blow up. The fact that judges consistently wore thick gloves and thus had no palmprint was never really satisfactorily explained.

Dredd’s bike was not quite as tricked out, but arguably more distinctive in look, with it’s foot-wide tires. Armed with bike cannon and, at least originally, a front mounted laser, the bikes all had inbuilt computers and could drive themselves. They even seemed to have a sarcastic sense of humour.

The gun and bike were touch touching the surface. Judges were also equipped with handheld lie detectors (something which John Wagner has gone on to say he regretted giving them as from a plot perspective, having judges able to tell who was lying was hopeless), daysticks (essentially baseball bats that judges would use for crowd control), stumm gas grenades (which only occasionally killed people) and helmet mounted respirators. Eventually they would go onto acquire manta patrol tanks, flying fortresses armed with riot foam (a substance that instantly hardened on contact, immobilising the target) used to quell riots.

The technology has changed little over the years. In 1999 the design of the Lawgiver was changed to make the gun somewhat more brutalist (the Mk I Lawgiver is a rather elegant looking gun). This was made a part of the plot in the run up to the Doomsday storyline as it emerged that crime boss Nero Narcos had secretly taken control of the factory and modified the guns to blow up in the users’ hand. The days of weekly technoporn have abated as the series has matured and certainly the pantwettingly exciting parade of new kit, as typified in stories such as the Cursed Earth, Block Mania and the Apocalypse War, are a thing of the past. But barely a week goes by without the gun and the bike making an appearance.

L is also for…

Logan

The second most hapless judge ever to appear in 2000AD, Logan has for several years effectively served as Dredd’s personal assistant. Injured in the Total War storyline, he went on to get severely injured in Origins, losing a hand. Due to the miracles of modern science, Logan was able to grow a new hand, only to lose it once again to the Dark Judge Mortis in the closing chapters of the Day of Chaos storyline. It remains to be seen what horrific injuries Logan will suffer in future storylines.

Logan was by all accounts named after W. R. Logan, the pseudonym of Dredd fan Stewart Perkins who founded the really rather excellent Class of ’79 fanzine.

Lopez

As mentioned under Judge Hershey‘s entry, Judge Lopez appeared in the Judge Child saga as a crewmember of the spaceship Justice One. The most hapless judge ever to appear in the series, Lopez was persecuted from the get-go by Dredd who disapproved of his moustache. Eventually, Dredd orders Lopez to take the Oracle Spice, a hallucinogenic drug which is purported to be able to grant the user the gift of prophecy. Lopez’s prophecies prove decisive in finding the Judge Child, but he dies as a result of his exposure to the drug.

This subplot is one of the most perplexing controversies of the Dredd series. Essentially the controversy boils down to this: was Dredd being a dick? The case for the prosecution goes that Dredd merely took a dislike to Lopez and ultimately caused him to effectively kill himself needlessly in the line of duty. The case for the defence is that Lopez was the most expendable member of the ship’s crew and thus the only logical choice to take the drug.

Presumably, Lopez’s droopy, porno moustache was John Wagner having a joke at Carlos Ezquerra‘s expense who has long sported something similar. It is also entirely likely that this one story was quite decisive in persuading a whole generation of boys that moustaches were not cool, thus leading to its decline in popularities in the late 80s onwards.

J is for Judda

The Judda are one of my favourite, woefully underused villains. In fact, discounting Fargo clone Judge Kraken, the Judda have only appeared in one story, Oz (progs 545–570, 1987-1988).

Apparently timed to coincide with Australia’s bicentary, Oz functioned as both a continuation of the Chopper storyline and an opportunity for Wagner and Grant to write a story based on some rather distinctive designs of some rather extreme looking judges by Brendan McCarthy. These were to become the Judda.

The original plan was for art duties for the story to be split between McCarthy and Cam Kennedy, the fan-favourite artist who had redesigned Chopper for the previous Midnight Surfer storyline. In the event, Kennedy could not do this – his slots were hurriedly filled by a number of artists resulting in some problems with both quality and continuity – and Brendan McCarthy ended up only drawing a handful of episodes.

The Judda sub-plot revolved around the discovery that Morton Judd, the scientist behind the cloning programme which was responsible for the creation of Joe and Rico Dredd, was still alive. In hiding since his failed attempt to overthrow the justice department, Judd had used stolen genetic material from the cloning programme to create his own army of Judda – warriors brought up to believe in a warped version of the judicial system, mingled with a personality cult revolving around Judd himself. With Judd seemingly about to launch an attack on the city, Dredd is sent to “Oz” (Australia) to hunt him down.

Needless to say, Dredd succeeds, blowing up both Judd and his secret base inside Ayers Rock (the story was written before the campaign to call the rock Uluru had gained much traction).

Morton Judd appears in one other story, Origins (progs 1505-1519 and 1529-1535, 2006-2007). Ostensibly a continuity cleaning up exercise, Origins came about in part due to the continuity glitches which Oz had established. In fact, however, Judd appears mostly in the background, with the bulk of the story focused on Fargo himself and the fall of President Booth.

Notwithstanding the fact that Judd dies at the end of Oz, it is surprising that we have not seen the Judda since and that Kraken was the only captured Judda to have not been exterminated. But given the times characters have been brought back and overused, I suppose I should be careful what I wish for.

Highlights include:

  • Oz (progs 545–570, 1987-1988)
  • Origins (progs 1505-1519 and 1529-1535, 2006-2007)

J is also for…

Judge Judy Janus

Another member of Psi-Division who, while Anderson was off exploring herself around the galaxy, briefly had her own spin-off series after appearing in Inferno (progs 842 – 853, 1993), written by Grant Morrison.

Strikingly bald, the character has not appeared since 1997.

Judge-Sergeant Joyce

An Irish judge who polices Murphyville, Garth Ennis’s satirical vision of Ireland in the future. He first appears in Emerald Isle (progs 727-734, 1991).

While Emerald Isle is an enjoyable enough story, it pretty much sums up the problem with Garth Ennis’s run on the Dredd strip, and indeed Garth Ennis’s weakest work elsewhere. Ennis has a tendency to fill his stories with Guinness-drinking Irish stereotypes (see also Hellblazer, Preacher, Hitman, Dicks). Occasionally the material transcends this; far too often that’s pretty much all it amounts too. Ostensibly self-deprecating (Ennis is from Northern Ireland), all too often it comes across as a crutch in his work.

Wagner and Grant’s weakest Dredd strips are little more than two note gags. Ennis rarely reached that level of sophistication throughout his run on Dredd. This is a great shame as he is a highly regarded with a whole string of hits to his name.

I is for Incubus

For a while in comics, it looked as if pretty much every character going was battling with Aliens and Predators. While there were some notable successful crossovers – the first Batman vs Predator springs to mind – the vast majority were just formulaic trash. I was shocked to discover a few months ago that I had apparently bought and red Aliens vs Predator vs Terminator, a mini-series so utterly forgettable that I could not recall a thing about it.

Dredd’s first foray with one of 20th Century Fox’s ugly buglies was actually in 1997 when he went up against the Predator (Predator vs Judge Dredd, Megazine 3.36–38). A relatively pedestrian tale let down further by weak art, it notably replaced Anderson with Judge Shaefer, a descendent of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Dutch in the original Predator film. It was clear that Dark Horse Comics were calling all the shots and John Wagner’s heart wasn’t really in it.

So things did not look augur well for the Judge Dredd vs Aliens tale, which appeared in 2003. It is all the more remarkable therefore that Incubus (Prog 2003 and progs 1322-1335, 2003) is in fact a pretty decent story.

There are probably two reasons why Dredd’s foray with Aliens was happier (if happy is the right word) than his tussle with Predator. The first is down to publisher. In 1997, 2000AD was still owned by Egmont Fleetway who were essentially running 2000AD down with a view to cancelling it as soon as it became unprofitable, forecast to occur in 2001. By 2003, 2000AD had been bought by Rebellion Developments who not only valued the comic far more highly but had some actual clout with 20th Century Fox after producing two well received Aliens vs Predator computer games.

The second reason for its strength is probably down to co-writer Andy Diggle.

Andy Diggle probably deserved an entry of his own (alas, D is now done and dusted). He and David Bishop are largely responsible for turning 2000AD around in the late 90s in the face of considerable opposition in the form of Egmont Fleetway. They played an instrumental role in negotiating the deal in which 2000AD was sold to Rebellion (you can read David Bishop’s account in his excellent history of 2000AD Thrill-Power Overload).

Diggle himself is a slightly controversial figure. As editor after David Bishop departed, he undoubtedly “got” 2000AD, as his famous (among 2000AD fans anyway), “Shot glass of rocket fuel” memo demonstrated. At the same time, there is little to doubt that the quality of 2000AD dipped somewhat under his tenure. He also had some rather public falling outs with a number of 2000AD’s key creators – most notably Pat Mills.

In the end, Diggle’s tenure as “Tharg” (the fictional editor of 2000AD and something of an honorific) was rather short. He has since gone on to be a far greater writer than he ever was an editor, including as the writer of The Losers, which went on to become a film in 2010.

It is clear that a lot of deft merging of the conventions of the Aliens franchise with past Dredd continuity is down to Diggle. Like the best crossovers, it works by honouring both series without resorting to shoehorning in anything too blatant: there is no Cadet Judge Ripley, for instance. It won’t go down in history as the greatest of literature, but as fun, action packed stories go, it sets a fairly high standard.

Of course, after 35 years of publication, neither of the official crossovers mark the first time Dredd has encountered any familiar looking aliens. We can discount Trapper Hag as a Predator stand in as, regardless of the similarities, he appeared in 1983, four years before the Schwarzenegger film (Trapper Hag, progs 305-307, 1983).

The best undeniable homage to Alien in the Dredd strip was the Starborn Thing (progs 309-314, 1983). In this story, Dredd is required to investigate a spaceship crash in the Cursed Earth. He encounters a squat creature covered in tentacles which proceeds to take control of his body. Dredd eventually defeats it only to discover it has impregnated him with its young. The story resulted in one of the most iconic 2000AD covers, drawn by Mick McMahon.

The other notable rip-off is Raptaur, a sort of amalgam of Alien and Predator, which appeared in an eponymous tale by Alan Grant and Dean Ormston in 1991 (Raptaur, Judge Dredd Megazine 1.11-1.17, 1991). Sadly all this iteration seemed to do is run around and eat people – it wasn’t half as fun as the Starborn Thing – but the creature has since reappeared in spin-off series The Simping Detective.

Highlights include:

  • The Starborn Thing (progs 309-314, 1983)
  • Incubus (Prog 2003 and progs 1322-1335, 2003)

I is also for…

Insurrection

Insurrection is a spin-off series which has thus far had two runs in the Judge Dredd Megazine (279-284 and 305-310). It concerns a group of renegade judges and their allies – a motley crue of intelligent apes and autonomous robots – who are under attack from Mega City 1 for declaring independence.

While set squarely in Dredd’s world, the series has very clear Warhammer 40,000 influences – indeed both writer Dan Abnett and artist Colin MacNeil are Warhammer mainstays. It is one of the most popular spin off series to appear in the Megazine in recent years.

H is for Hershey

Second only to Anderson, Judge Barbara Hershey is the longest surviving member of the Dredd supporting cast. Created by John Wagner and Brian Bolland (who drew her with a distinctive Louise Brooks’ style bob), she first appeared in the Judge Child saga (progs 156–181, 1981) as one of two street judges appointed to assist Dredd in his mission. Dredd and Hershey’s relationship gets off to a rocky start as Hershey perceived Dredd persecuting and being responsible for the death of the third judge, Lopez, for the latter’s refusal to shave off his moustache.

Nonetheless, Hershey impresses Dredd sufficiently that he handpicks her for his Apocalypse Squad at the end of the Apocalypse War. She goes on to have a meteoric rise, joining the ruling Council of Five whilst apparently still in her 20s, and being made acting Chief Judge during Judgement Day (progs 786–799 and Megazine 2.04–2.09, 1992). Hershey comes bottom of the poll in the election to replace Chief Judge McGruder in 2116, but ends up in that office in 2122. She remains Chief Judge until 2131 where her decision, at Dredd’s behest, to reform the anti-mutant laws, proves to be unpopular and she is ousted. In 2134, she returns to once again serve as Acting Chief Judge following the Day of Chaos disaster (Day of Chaos: The Days After, prog 1789, 2012).

Hershey also had her own solo series in the Judge Dredd Megazine, but that series is not remembered with particular fondness. As with Anderson’s series at the time, she was portrayed as a drippy, passive character, mournfully observing how wicked and authoritarian the judges are, whilst doing even less about it than Anderson (and even Dredd). It is a shame that during the early 90s, the stock response to giving a female character her own series was to throw in some politically correct, feminising (as opposed to feminist) tropes which quickly sap the character of any verve whatsoever. Frankly, going the full cheesecake route would have at least been more entertaining.

Nevertheless, she survived that and went on to become, in Dredd’s view, the best Chief Judge he had ever served under.

Hershey appears as a major character in the 1995 Judge Dredd motion picture, played by Diane Lane (Barbara Hershey was presumably unavailable). Shorn of her distinctive bob, the character commits the egregious sin of kissing Stallone’s Dredd at the end of the film.

Highlights include:

  • The Judge Child (progs 156–181, 1981)
  • The Chief Judge’s Man (progs 1244–1247, 2001), On the Chief Judge’s Service (1263–1266, 2001) and Revenge of the Chief Judge’s Man (1342–1349, 2003)

H is also for…

Helter Skelter

After Garth Ennis’ not so successful first shot as a regular writer of Judge Dredd, this was his second chance. A tale of parallel universes, drawn by Carlos Ezquerra and with Ennis fresh from the triumph of his Preacher series, this seemed to have the makings of an instant classic.

Sadly however, it failed on pretty much every front. The story itself was pretty insipid, most of the appearances by characters from other 2000AD stories felt shoehorned in and amounted to little more than walk-on parts, it was simply too fannish – a bit like Doctor Who at its worst when all the Doctor Who monsters team up and appear for seconds each onscreen (yes, The Pandorica Opens, I’m looking at you).

On the plus side, it did serve as Henry Flint’s first stab on a high profile project, when he filled in for Ezquerra who was having personal problems at the time. Flint has gone onto become a firmly established fan favourite.

G is for Giant

Three generations of Giants have appeared in the Dredd strip over the years. The first Judge Giant was a frequent sidekick of Dredd’s in the early years, helping him during The Day the Law Died (progs 89–108, 1978-1979) and dying in Block Mania (progs 236–244, 1982). While popular at the time, Giant somewhat dates the strip; it seems unlikely that they would introduce a black Judge these days who talked jive. His death was quite controversial – many fans quite naturally objected to one of their favourite characters being killed by being shot in the back.

Like Fargo, DeMarco and, one suspects, a pretty huge number of judges, Giant couldn’t abide by the “no sexual relations” rule of being a Judge (given the parallels with the Catholic church, it is surprising that no-one has yet decided to do a story about a Judge-Tutor abusing Cadets in the Academy of Law, but I digress). And so it was that just prior to Necropolis (progs 674–699, 1990), it emerged that Giant had secretly fathered a son (Young Giant, progs 651-655, 1989), who was swiftly inducted into the Academy of Law. Giant Jr performed a similar role in Necropolis to the one played by his father in The Day the Law Died. Soon after, Giant graduated from the Academy and went on to perform a similar role as Dredd’s sidekick in numerous stories.

I hope you’ll indulge me however, if I spend most of the rest of this article focusing on Giant Senior’s father, and Giant Junior’s grandfather, John “Giant” Clay. This character only appears once in the Dredd strip, although there was a one-off story called Whatever Happened to John “Giant” Clay (Judge Dredd Megazine issue 216, 2004)? He was better known as the star of the Harlem Heroes series (progs 1-27, 1977), one of the most popular strips in the first year of 2000AD. Indeed, since Harlem Heroes was published in prog 1, Giant actually predates Dredd by one week.

Harlem Heroes, named as a nod to the Harlem Globetrotters, focused around the futuristic sport of aeroball. As lost genre now, British comics in the 70s and 80s were full of sports stories, and this one followed the same basic formula (think Roy of the Rovers but with jetpacks).

This explicit link between Judge Dredd and the Harlem Heroes was to be just one of several little cross references which were to appear in the Dredd strip over the years. Satanus, the black tyrannosaur which appeared in The Cursed Earth (progs 61–85, 1978) was cloned Jurassic Park style from the DNA of the son of Old One Eye, the tyrannosaur which was the main antagonist in Flesh! (progs 1-19, 1977); just to be confusing, his own son Golgotha then appeared in the ABC Warriors in a story which was technically set several decades before Dredd was even born (ABC Warriors: Golgotha, progs 134 to 136, 1979). ABC Warriors itself was set initially during the fag end of the Volgan War, which first appeared in the 2000AD story Invasion. The Kleggs, alien mercenaries who appeared in The Day the Law Died, were to appear in the first Ace Trucking Co story (The Kleggs, progs 232-236, 1981). And finally, there have been two stories in which Dredd either fights or teams up with Johnny Alpha from Strontium Dog, a series which is set in the late 22nd century (Dredd is set in the early 22nd century).

As time has gone on however, enthusiasm for the idea of a shared 2000AD universe akin to the Marvel or DC universe, appears to have waned. Origins (progs 1505–1519 & 1529–1535, 2006-2007) makes no reference to the Volgan War for instance. A number of series have appeared subsequently which have been explicitly set in Dredd’s world, mostly in the Judge Dredd Megazine, but the more tenuously linked strips have tended to go their separate ways in recent years, although Pat Mills has actually been drawing his own creations Invasion and the ABC Warriors even closer together, with Invasion’s follow-up Savage telling the origins of the ABC Warriors and its predecessor series Ro-Busters.

Where there have been crossovers in recent years, they have tended to take the form of alternate versions. The 1995 Judge Dredd film featured an “ABC Warrior” which looked remarkably like Hammerstein from the ABC Warriors. As a tie-in, Pat Mills wrote Hammerstein (progs 960-963, 1995), which ret-conned the robot into being one of the wardroids used by President Booth to fight the judges at the end of the Atomic Wars. That story has since been contradicted by the ABC Warriors series, which establishes the Volgan War continuing for decades longer than would work in Dredd’s continuity.

A year previously, 2000AD featured a crossover between Dredd and the Rogue Trooper (Casualties of War, prog 900, 1994), but this Rogue Trooper appears to be an amalgam of both the original Rogue Trooper and the reboot version “Friday” (Rogue Trooper continuity is a whole other kettle of fish I won’t go into here).

And finally, in the story Helter Skelter (progs 1250–1261, 2000), Dredd faces his own Crisis on Multiple Earths and encounters several different 2000AD characters, as well as judges from another parallel universe.

It probably made sense to decouple all these series from each other; the longer they went on the more of a straitjacket it would become. From a fan’s perspective however it is a bit of a shame as it was fun trying to piece it all together. Judge Giant then is a sort of artefact from a bygone era.
Highlights include:

  • Giant Sr’s first appearance – The Academy of Law (progs 27-28, 1977)
  • Giant Sr’s death – Block Mania (progs 236–244, 1982)
  • Giant Jr’s first appearance – Young Giant (progs 651-655, 1989)
  • Giant Jr’s finest moment – Necropolis (progs 674–699, 1990)
  • Satanus’s first appearance – The Cursed Earth (progs 61–85, 1978)
  • First (and best) Strontium Dog crossover – Top Dogs (Judge Dredd Annual, 1991)
  • Rogue Trooper crossover – Casualties of War (prog 900, 1994)

G is also for…

Alan Grant
Thus far in this A-Z I have made numerous comments about Alan Grant’s contribution to the Dredd series, most of them not complimentary. I wouldn’t however wish you to think that I don’t value the contribution he made to the Dredd series.

Without Alan Grant, it is entirely likely that Judge Dredd would have fizzled out years before its greatest stories had been told. Grant teamed up with Wagner at a crucial time during the latter’s writing of the Judge Child saga. Grant helped him get past his writer’s block and the two formed a writing team which lasted for the best part of a decade.

Most of what is regarded as the golden age of Judge Dredd was written by Wagner and Grant (or T. B. Grover as they typically wrote under). Combined with artist Ron Smith (another unsung hero), they produced a consistent, funny and imaginative body of work at a level of quality that the series struggled to reach both before and afterwards.

And of course they did this while writing numerous other titles at the same time, including Strontium Dog, Ace Trucking Co, Robo-Hunter and many other series which appeared in the Eagle and Scream. Their run on Batman remains one of my favourites (as is Alan Grant’s solo run); in particular, in the Ventriloquist they created a quintessential Bat villain.

Without Alan Grant’s no-nonsense approach, John Wagner’s style has developed to become much more introspective and meandering. In general, it is a style that I love, but that isn’t to say that the occasional jolt of Alan Grant-style anarchism wouldn’t be unappreciated to keep things more on track. An Alan Grant co-written Day of Chaos for instance would probably have ended in half the time (although I think even he would have baulked at going further than wiping out 87 per cent of the population).

I don’t agree with everything he has done, or wanted to do, with Judge Dredd and Anderson, Psi Division (not to mention killing off Johnny Alpha in Strontium Dog), but he remains one of the British comic industry’s greatest ideas men and I would like to see him writing a lot more than he does these days.

F is for Fargo (and Fargo clones)

Dredd 3D will be fairly unique as movie comic book adaptations go because it will be neither an origin story, incorporate an origin story or be the sequel to an origin story. The reason for this is quite simple: Dredd doesn’t really have one in the superhero sense. Because Dredd is essentially a walking high concept, the strip has never burdened itself with wasting too much time focusing on motivation. He’s a cop, he shoots people, he’s a clone and he spent his entire childhood being trained to do what he does; what more do you need to know?

To the extent that Dredd needs an origin, Eustace Fargo serves a dual purpose. Not only is Dredd a clone of Fargo (the so-called bloodline which has fuelled several Dredd storylines), but Fargo is the person responsible for establishing the judicial system in the first place. So it was inevitable that at some point they would get around to telling his story; what’s surprising is that it took them 30 years to do so.

Most of the background presented in Origins (progs 1505-1519, 1529-1535, 2006-2007) was relatively unsurprising, and I’ve covered a lot of it in my entry on President Booth. The main revelations essentially exist to explain a number of continuity glitches which had appeared in the strip over the years. So it emerges that Fargo had an illicit affair in 2051 and attempted to commit suicide. A cover up ensued and his injuries were sufficiently serious that they felt the need to announce his death – announced as a brutal murder. He recovered however and was kept alive to act as his successors’ secret advisor and as Chief Judge at large. He lives for another 20 years, thus allowing him to do all the things past stories had said he had done after his official death, but eventually his injuries prove too much and he is put into suspended animation whereupon a renegade group kidnap the body.

It isn’t entirely clear when the decision to establish that Dredd is Fargo’s clone was made. It is first announced in A Case for Treatment (prog 389, 1984), but is slipped out in such a casual manner that it is almost as if the writers had assumed they had already revealed it. Indeed, a clone foetus of Fargo’s appears briefly in the previous story Dredd Angel (377–383, 1984), but no explicit link is made then. Indeed, Fargo’s face is shown in Dredd Angel, implying the artist had no idea about his lineage (Dredd’s face is never shown as a matter of convention) – although it is fair to say that the face does feature a rather Dredd-like chin.

Either way, making Dredd Fargo’s clone seemed to fit perfectly. Ever since, the series has explored the idea of bloodline and whether it is nurture or nature that makes Dredd the man he is repeatedly. Aside from The Return of Rico (prog 30, 1977) in which Dredd’s clone brother returns after 30 years on a penal colony to wreak revenge, it is first explored in a significant way in the Kraken story arc, which begins in Oz (progs 545–570, 1988) and ends in Necropolis (progs 674-699, 1990). Kraken is a Judda, a tribe of judge-like warriors founded by renegade judge and founder of the cloning programme which created Dredd, Morten Judd. When the Judda are defeated, the Justice Department attempts to rehabilitate a handful of them and Kraken shows real promise. Dredd however detects an arrogance in him and fails him in his final assessment to become a judge (Tale of the Dead Man, 662-668, 1990). When Dredd goes into exile however, the Chief Judge decides to suppress this news and secretly replace him with Kraken.

It is left ambivalent as to whether Kraken fails and ends up responsible for releasing the Dark Judges because of an inherent weakness or because the power of the Dark Judges is too strong. The next time a Fargo clone appears it is in happier circumstances. The clone foetus which appeared in Dredd Angel has grown up and Dredd is again in charge of assessing him (Blood Cadets, 1186-1188, 2000). This clone passes the test, adopts the name Rico in honour of Dredd’s brother and has been a mainstay of the comic ever since (rumours that Rico was created simply to replace Dredd with a younger model – possibly by way of a body transplant – have proven to be false). Yet another clone to appear has another future. Dolman is a model cadet but dislikes the discipline associated with being a judge and ends up resigning (Brothers of the Blood, progs 1378-1381, 2004). For a full list of Fargo clones which have appeared in the Dredd series, see wikipedia.

It is fair to say that in the world of Judge Dredd neither your genetic heritage or your upbringing are particularly good factors for predicting whether or not you are going to end up as a hero, villain or something in between.

Both Fargo and Rico are major characters in the 1995 Judge Dredd motion picture. Confusingly though, despite all sharing the same genetic code with Sylvester Stallone’s Dredd, none of them look alike (why they didn’t make Rico look like he does in the comics given how neatly it would have solved the problem of Stallone having to play two characters I will never understand).

Highlights include:

  • Origins (progs 1505-1519, 1529-1535, 2006-2007). Reprinted in Judge Dredd: Origins.

F is also for…

Fergee
Not to be confused with Rob Schneider’s Fergie in the 1995 film, the Duchess of York or the Black Eyed Peas singer, Fergee is a simple minded lunk who Dredd discovers in the Undercity (the underground network of tunnels and caves underneath Mega City 1 which was formed when it was concreted over) while on the run from Cal. Befriended by Dredd, Fergee is ultimately responsible for killing Cal, killing himself in the process. As a subsequence, hundreds of Fergee monuments are erected across the city (The Day the Law Died, progs 89-108, 1978-1979).

Francisco

Dan Francisco is the 10th Chief Judge of Mega City 1 (or 9th depending on whether you count Fargo who was technically the Chief Judge of the whole of the USA). He takes over from Hershey after the failure of her attempts to reform the anti-mutant laws in favour of a more permissive policy which enables thousands of mutants to move into Mega City 1 – a policy which Dredd effectively blackmails her to adopt. Francisco is elected mainly on the basis of his popularity – he is the host of top rated reality television programme the Streets of Dan Francisco.

From the beginning, Francisco is portrayed as a puppet of Judge Martin Sinfield, who becomes his deputy. However, Francisco insists on adopting a more liberal approach towards removing the mutants living in the city than Sinfield is prepared to accept. Frustrated with this, Sinfield resorts to drug Francisco with a hypnotic drug (developed by mass murderer P. J. Maybe) and persuades Francisco to resign (Tour of Duty, progs 1650 – 1693, 2009-2010).

Eventually Sinfield’s crime is exposed and Francisco is restored to full office and full health. However, shortly after this the events leading up to the Day of Chaos (progs 1743–1789, 2011-2012) occur, eventually leading to most of the city’s population being wiped out. Francisco has since resigned and Hershey has been reinstated on a temporary basis.

An African-American, clear allusions to Barack Obama were made within the comic when he became Chief Judge. However, it should be noted that Francisco is actually the second African-American Chief Judge to have lead Mega City 1, with Chief Judge Silver being the first.