Author: John Wagner et al.
Artist: Brian Bolland, Ian Gibson, Andrew Currie et al.
Rebellion / 2000AD, 2022
UNTETHER THE HOUNDS of justice. In younger years I was wary of police and would never have warmed up to a strip hero like super-cop JUDGE DREDD then dominating headlines in the UK and Commonwealth countries and planets beyond since 1977 in a newsprint weekly 2000 AD, the numbers now reaching in the thousands each bursting with art. Judge Dredd features were hot off the press during my whole adult life, and I had no idea. Stumbling onto Judge Dredd recently made me want to go back and relive at least the 1980s for my weekly fix.
Straighten up, citizen.
I dropped in by chance on 2000 AD Programme 1791 from July 2012, and found Judge Dredd on the first page in fresh, stark colors by Eva de la Cruz on album-sized semi-gloss paper that made the glamourous cartoonish art by Andrew Currie sizzle. Thus exposed to the first installment of “The Rich Cabaret” by writer robot Al Ewing, I wanted more.
Cruising through Judge Dredd samples from earlier decades, I quickly learned the dribs and drabs of story parts do not readily cohere unless you happened to have a reliable weekly supply flown in to your barracks on Neptune or Uranus, where the gang laid around in skivvies after work thumbing 2000 AD stories of rogue soldiers, talking animals, and Judge Dredd in black and white on grainy newsprint, until color superseded by about 1990 and “full colour” on bright paper became a new standard.
Fortunately, some geek concerned with continuity had the good sense to collect all the Judge Dredd stories in THE COMPLETE CASE FILES in thirty-seven softbound volumes so far by 2022, with some seven hundred issues to go. That should take about another decade.
We are bound to live with Judge Dredd at least until 2099, when we start driving hover cars and he comes online with Programme 1 live. These are tales of the future, where only a couple megalopoles survive after a planetary nuclear war; the landscape in between is forsaken, like imagine living on the San Jose beltway stretching to Los Angeles or New York to Atlanta in a massive sprawl with nowhere else habitable in the local solar system. A working police force, Judge Dredd in the forefront ensures millions survive.
Case Files 33 reprints stories from 2001, all in color in Judge Dredd year 2123, most from 2000 AD, which is now strikingly obsolete not simply because it is a past date, but because we no longer reckon time the same, the standard being now to say in the Current Era, 2000 CE, not Anno Domini in the Year of Our Lord. We may not have adopted the new calendar the French revolutionaries wanted in 1789, nor abolished superstitious gods for a cult of reason as the French revolutionaries and Russian revolutionaries too in 1917 wanted to do, yet we have now admitted not all of us need to live in the shadow of anyone’s ancient dominion.
The opening story in Case Files 33, “A Day in the Death of Joe Meg,” is a neighborhood skit scripted by co-creator John Wagner, art by Ian Gibson, both favorites, with cute results. The hefty fine for a small infraction turning into jail time is supposed to be a little joke and a little shock. Break the law and you pay, creep.
Numerous artists fill the weekly quota reporting the action, obviously enjoying themselves. Collected reprints on smaller pages are easier on the bookshelf but not nearly as dashing as the original slick tabloid pages that fill your lap. That is, until I landed in the earliest time-zone reprints available featuring black-and-white JUDGE DREDD, THE COMPLETE BRIAN BOLLAND in a poster-size book that excavates scripts mostly by John Wagner, 1977 to 1982.
The Brian Bolland graphics are abrupt, blunt, yet finely etched, beautiful in spite of the place, exactly the way the stories run, at least those by John Wagner, who manages to keep the character faithfully within my comfort zone and even nudges my allegiance. He evidently adopted pseudonyms, John Howard and T.B. Grant, maybe others, sometimes writing with Alan Grant. The large glossy pages are the right way to preserve this opening era.
“You looters—hold it!” Judge Dredd halts two youths with arms full of stuff during a riot when good police fight bad police under crazy Judge Cal in “The Day the Law Died” (1978). Gee, we’re on your side, they tell him. “No lawbreaker is on my side,” he retorts.
Then Judge Dredd spreads his message to the people on the street to help him storm the Hall of Justice: “We’re fighting for law and order—not against it! Anyone who forgets that will have me to face. Got that?”
The abrupt tone reminded me of Thomas Carlyle calling for a government that truly governs and HG Wells with his Open Conspiracy saying we have to build the civility between us along the way that we want in our civilization here in the open with our heads up; and also, in tune with the times, perhaps as well like the Black Panthers in western America with their open social mission of community safety and solidarity, before the leaders were harassed into prison and countered with lies that left lonely militants on the street in charge of the guns.
Judge Dredd keeps showing us how virtue matters as an example among peers that rarely measure up. Big Pig hardware helps, guns and bikes, yet the person who judges how to direct the force makes all the difference. I respond like the crowd from before:
“We’re with you all the way, Judge Dredd.” Come, take hold of the storm.