Borag Thungg, Earthlets!
If you dislike Batman because he insists on never killing, or find the Punisher overzealous in carrying out his role, then Judge Dredd might be the “moderate” solution for you. In Dredd, you have the ideal judge, jury, and executioner, all wrapped within the confines of the Law. And best of all, he has no Achilles heel and also no personal life.
Since coming out of the cloning tubes, he has served Mega-City One and though this may seem boring compared to the fanfare Bruce Wayne has or the hullabaloo Deadpool generates – there’s actually a lot of characterisation in Dredd … 40 years worth of it, to be exact!
As a result, Dredd is the personification of justice – to the extent that even the “real world” (Britain, to be precise) makes references to him when discussing authoritarianism and the rule of law! Never has a comic character generated so much influence in the policy-making field, and in light of the social problems we face today, I’m sure most of us would root for a law enforcer like Dredd.
Despite this year being Dredd’s 40th comic book anniversary, overall celebrations have been sombre, and is summed up best by this mother-child conversation in 2000 AD prog 6:
“Why does the Judge (Dredd) never smile, ma?”
“It’s his job, child, it’s tough upholding the law in Mega-City One!”
Being a long time Dredd fan, I feel that Dredd doesn’t get enough credit, probably no thanks to Sly Stallone’s 1995 Judge Dredd movie-flop. The 2012 Dredd (starring Karl Urban) was much better though, but it didn’t do well enough to justify a follow-up. To do Mega-City’s top judge justice, this week’s WOW is dedicated to his four decades worth of contribution to comics… he is after all, THE LAW!
Once upon a clone
Created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, Judge Joseph Dredd made his first appearance in the second issue of 2000 AD in March 1977. Initially, Dredd was meant to be a fill-in for the weekly sci-fi anthology, but became an overnight success due to his incorruptible demeanor and over-the-top enforcement of the Law.
Set in the dystopian future of 2099, Dredd (and his brother Rico) were both cloned from the DNA of Chief Judge Fargo (the First Chief Judge) in 2066. As Dredd made his first appearance at the age of 33, this means he is now 73 years old!
Dredd man walking
Unfortunately life doesn’t begin at 40 for Dredd, as he has a real-time ageing factor. While this injects a tinge of realism into the character, it also means that he has a finite life and unless they re-clone him again, he is technically a dead man walking!
What keeps him going? Apart from his undivided love for the law, he relies on a Sleep Machine for a daily 10-minute superpower-nap. Despite the futuristic technology assists, Dredd is still very much the original “clone” he is and (thankfully) the powers-that-be have kept him that way, although they caused a scare when Dredd was diagnosed with benign cancer of the duodenum (2000 AD prog 1595) in 2008.
What’s in a name?
In the comics, the name ‘Dredd’ was chosen by Morton Judd, the genetic scientist who created Rico and him. In real life, Wagner was inspired by a character Pat Mills (editor of 2000 AD) had created for a horror strip, named “Judge Dread”. 2000 AD’s sub-editor, Kelvin Gosnell, was the one who suggested the change in spelling, feeling that it would “instill fear in the population”.
Dredd’s unique characteristics were actually a combination of several influences, including Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry, David Carradine’s Frankenstein character from Death Race 2020, and a real life teacher (Brother James) from the St Joseph’s College at Ipswich! Dredd’s attitude was inspired by The De La Salle monks at the College, whom were reputed for being strict disciplinarians.
Attack of the clone (brother)
While Dredd sets the benchmark for all Judges, he wasn’t always on top – in fact, Rico was the one who came out top of the class during their graduation. However, their dedication to the Law was eventually tested when Dredd arrested Rico for murder and corruption. After serving a 20 year sentence, Rico sought revenge and was killed by Dredd, in self-defense.
In the comics, you almost never ever get to see Dredd’s real face. Even on the rare occasions when he is not wearing the helmet, including flashbacks of Dredd’s childhood, his face is blurred, and there were moments where they even went so far as to cover his face with a faux “censorship” sticker!
In the book Judge Dredd: The Mega-History, by Colin M. Jarman and Peter Acton, Wagner explained the reason Dredd’s face is never shown: “It sums up the facelessness of justice – justice has no soul. So it isn’t necessary for readers to see Dredd’s face, and I don’t want you to”.
One of the main reasons behind the failure of the 1995 movie is Stallone’s insistence on removing the trademark Judge helmet. Fortunately, Urban kept his on throughout HIS movie, which was one of the factors that made it infinitely better than Stallone’s.
40 years on
Four decades later, Dredd’s popularity is cult-stature and dominates both futuristic and British niches. After two silver screen attempts – one embarrassing and the other one promising – Dredd’s popularity still hasn’t quite managed to make it to mainstream audiences.
Comic-wise, several attempts to pull Dredd into mainstream territory has seen his adventures being published by Eagle, DC and IDW, but the lack of the “2000 AD-esque” feel somehow made him look like an average overzealous lawman. In all these attempts, the only highlights I can think of are the crossovers with Batman, where the Dredd-Knight holds his own against the Dark Knight!
As mentioned earlier, at 73 years old, Dredd’s running on borrowed time and unless the despised “R” (as in Resurrection) is used – we definitely won’t be celebrating another 40th anniversary for Mega City’s Top Judge!
After 40 years of walking the beat, Judge Dredd has notched key victories that saved both Mega-City One and the Judicial system he practically lives and breathes.
Here’s a list of some of his greatest hits:
The Robot Wars (2000 AD progs 9–17)
The first multi-prog Dredd tale, which offers a thought-provoking take on droids taking on their makers.
Luna-1 (progs 42–59)
The story that brought us beyond Mega-City One, as the 2000 AD universe expands into civilization in East-Meg One, Texas City and Luna-1, a colony on the moon.
The Cursed Earth (progs 61–85)
A deadly virus is devastating Mega-City Two, prompting Dredd to lead a posse of Judges across the Cursed Earth to deliver the vaccine.
The Day The Law Died (progs 86–108)
The tyrannical and insane Judge Cal, assumes the Chief Judge position (after orchestrating the assassination of the previous Chief). For the first time, Dredd has to work outside the system to correct the system itself!
Judge Death (progs 149–151)
My personal all time favourite Dredd tale – because of Brian Bolland’s art, Judge Anderson (her first appearance) and it also introduces Judge Death!
The Judge Child (progs 156–182)
Dredd searches the “galaxy” for a child bearing the mark of the Eagle of Justice, who is predicted to have the power to save the city from an unspecified future disaster. This story also introduces the infamous Angel Gang.
Judge Death Lives (progs 224–228)
Bolland. Anderson. Judge Death’s three brothers – Judges Fear, Fire and Mortis. Nuff said!
Block Mania/The Apocalypse War (progs 236–267, 269-270)
What starts off as a war between Mega-City One’s blocks escalates into a Cold War reignited in the future, as East-Meg One nukes Mega-City One!
A Letter to Judge Dredd (prog 661)
Dredd receives a letter from a child who was killed during a pro-democracy demonstration. This heart-wrenching note may not have made Dredd shed a tear, but it got him seriously questioning the entire Judicial system – enroute to a series of stories where Dredd goes head on against the Law!
Tale of the Dead Man (progs 662–668)
Dredd resigns and takes the Long Walk, leaving Mega-City One to live in exile outside its borders!