by Wayne Markley
With the release of the new Judge Dredd movie this week I thought it would be appropriate to look back at the character of Judge Dredd. I personally have been reading Judge Dredd since the early ‘80s and while there have been some up and downs over the years, there have been far more ups. The creators who have worked on the flagship for Dredd (2000AD) are a who who’s of top talent; everyone from Alan Moore to Garth Ennis to John Wagner to Mark Millar to Alan Grant, and that is only the writers. Artists who worked on Dredd include such greats as Brian Bolland, John Byrne, Gary Frank, Carlos Ezquerra, and many more. I am going to discuss mostly Judge Dredd and his first home, 2000AD. Unfortunately there is not a lot of material currently in print to buy if you are interested in the history of the character. Most of the collections of the 2000AD characters, from Dredd to RoboHunter to Slain to Johnny Alpha to Rogue Troopers have been collected a number of times over the years and almost all of it is out of print. IDW will soon be reprinting Dredd material for the American audience again, and they will also be launching a new Dredd series for an American audience.
Judge Dredd first appeared in the pages of 2000AD, a weekly comic in England in 1977. It was just one of five stories all centered on a science-fiction theme. Dredd quickly become the most popular story within the pages of 2000AD overtaking all the other characters and most comic characters at the time, including long time British fave, Dan Dare. (This admittedly was a modern re-working of the character and not the classic original from the ‘50s.) Over the years, Dredd’s world has grown from the original Mega-City One to cover the entire Earth as well as a number of places in space. If you have read Dredd for many years, you’ve seen that the lead character is less important than the world he lives in. In this fictional world, the Judges are police, judges, and executioners all rolled into one. Dredd is one of the toughest judges, as he dispenses the law without a second thought. He is not the only judge though, as there is Judge Anderson (who also has had a number of long running stories, and she is also a psychic judge, where Dredd is just a no nonsense police man.) The world of Mega-City One is filled with huge buildings which are towers of apartments crammed with people. There are all sorts of people in Mega City from common criminals to unique groups such as the League of Fatties (one of my personal favorite stories) to roving gangs (including a fierce group of elderly pensioners) and many more.
Of course, over the last 35 years, Dredd’s world has expanded beyond Mega-City One. There are judge stories (with Dredd and others) ranging from Australia, where there was a great story which introduced the rebel surfer Chopper, to a far off alien prison world. There is also the Cursed Earth which is part of America (where the stories are set) where radiation and war have turned it into a lawless wasteland filled with mutants (which bear no resemblance to the X-Men) and psycho killers. And let’s not forget the alternate dimensions where the Dark Judges are from, who are based on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. These four Judges are interested only in killing everybody and everything and feature the popular Judge Death. The Dark Judges have made for some of the best stories in the Dredd archives and they feature great art by Brian Bolland in some of the early stories. There is also the East-Meg One, which is their version of Russia during the Cold War. The evil fiends from East-Meg One even killed over 80% of the population of Mega-City One at one point. A lot of these stories reflect our political world at the time of the 1980 and 1990s. There are stories clearly based on the actions and events of Ronald Regan’s America and Margret Thatcher’s Britain. While prior knowledge of the history of the US, Russia, and the UK during the 80 and 90s adds greatly to the depth of these Dredd stories, it is in no way needed to enjoy these stories.
The original stories in 2000AD ran from eight to ten pages and were sometimes standalone stories and at other times they were epics that could run up to 20 issues. The writers and artists changed frequently but the core character and world never really changed. It was once described to me as a spaghetti western with the Man With No Name (Clint Eastwood’s popular character) set in a science fiction world. I think this sums up the character very well. If you are a hardcore fan and really want to enjoy the whole breadth of the world of Judge Dredd, I would recommend the Judge Dredd Complete Case Files, which are reprinting all the Dredd stories in sequence (except for a run of stories about KFC which ran in 2000AD which the publishers were sued over and agreed never to reprint). There are four volumes so far printed by Simon and Schuster. If you are really a hardcore fan, there are 21 volumes of the Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files available in England. There are also a series of trades called Judge Dredd Mega-City Masters which are collections by some of the best artists who have ever drawn Dredd. These are mostly standalone stories but they do offer a great showcase of storytelling and art if you have never read Dredd. If you want something closer to home, there is a collection of the various Batman/Judge Dredd crossovers. This book offers you the comfort of Batman and the hardboiled world of Dredd. It is a good starting point for those who have no experience with Dredd but are comic book fans.
Recently, IDW announced they have the rights to reprint, and do new stories, with Dredd and crew. While it is not out yet, the first book they are releasing is the Judge Dredd: The Complete Brian Bolland, a deluxe hardcover collecting all the work Bolland has ever done on Dredd (minus the aforementioned KFC stories. For more on the book, check out Robert Greenberger’s column.). IDW has also announced a new monthly Judge Dredd book starting this fall written by Duane Swierczynski with art by Nelson Daniel and Paul Galacy. In addition, IDW will be doing a variety of collections starting next spring, including the best of Carlos Ezquerra. How good these series will be and how well they sell is anyone guess. As I mentioned in the opening, publishers such as Quality Comics, Titan Books, DC Comics, and Simon and Schuster have tried a number of times to bring Judge Dredd to America, and they have never found an audience. Hopefully the new film and IDWs marketing machine will be able to finally expose American readers to the joy that is the world of Judge Dredd.
One book I would like to recommend in closing is the new graphic novel by Walt Simonson, The Judas Coin. This is a (mostly) full color graphic novel by the great Walt Simonson. As always, I do not want to give away too much, but the basic story is about one coin and how it affects different people throughout time. Each chapter is set in a different time period, even though the characters will be familiar to DC fans (pre-New 52). Characters in the various chapters include Viking Prince, Captain Fear, Two Face, and a new Manhunter. Each chapter stands alone but does carry the theme of the cursed coin through each story. It is a well told graphic novel that is all new and is worthy of the hardcover format.
As always, everything I have written here is my opinion and does not reflect the opinions of Westfield Company of their employees. I welcome feedback or comments or even criticism at MFBWAY@AOL.COM.