2000AD and Judge Dredd celebrate 30 years on the Newsstand AND Reveal the Origins of a Comics Icon!
Sat in my lounge, a huge plate of Nachos topped with salsa and cheese all to myself (with chilis and hot-hot sauce as a side) with a film-fest of Halloween/Friday the 13th/Blade Runner/Amityville Horror playing in the background throughout a lazy Sunday afternoon sets the perfect geeky-tone for what is about to follow …
… The Origins of the Illustrious Judge Dredd!
I will forewarn you now and say that this is NOT a spoiler. Moreover, an opinion on what is potentially the story that fans have been waiting a long while for.
Judge Dredd and 2000AD are landmark respected Weekly British Comic Anthologies that have survived the harsh landscape of U.S. invasion comics for the last 30-plus years. Judge Dredd is a lawman in the future. He operates in Mega-City One. The year: 2128 AD.
“This vast urban nightmare on the east coast of post apocalyptic North America is home to 400 million citizens. With unemployment endemic, boredom universal and crime rampant, only the Judges can prevent total anarchy. Dispensing instant justice, these future lawmen are judge, jury and executioner. Toughest of them all is JUDGE DREDD – he is the Law!”
It all starts in issues 1500-1504. These issues are a pre-story setup with artwork by Kevin Walker (2000AD – Mandroid, Judge Dredd) and story by John Wagner (A History of Violence). (BBC.co.uk interview with John Wagner here.)
The artwork by Walker is superior and completely sets the pitch for the story in which we find that a small package delivered by two inept Muties (Future Mutants) is the key to the narrative. During this run we also see Judge Dredd, seeking to catch a few minutes in the ‘Sleep Machine’ dreaming about his past/future/history. These five issues are a dark insight into the futuristic dystopia with the kind of attitude and backdrop only found in Blade Runner.
From issue 1505 onwards Wagner continues after the cliffhanger left at the end of 1504 whilst Dredd creator Carlos Ezquerra takes up the artistic reins.
The origins unfold as Dredd goes on a mission to recover an extremely important artifact linked to the package central to the mythos and creation of the Justice system and Judges of Mega-City One. (Judge Dredd: Origins, image below.)
The adventure starts with issue 1505 after the package is taken into Justice Central and is suspected to be an explosive device. When the contents are discovered, Dredd begins the trail.
Dredd goes into the ‘RadLands’ — the radiated wasteland desert of Central America outside the voluminous walls of Mega-City One, a symptom of a post-apocalyptic past.
From issue 1505 to 1517 Dredd encounters mutant villagers, scrapyard armies, and chain gangs all battling for survival in the Radlands. During this, Dredd recounts to his comrades the back story of the invention of the Judges, the cloning process (seen somewhat shoddily in the film) leading up to the Armageddon of the year 2070 and the Great Atom War that decimated the whole of North America.
At this point (by Christmas 2006), 2000AD pull out the annual year-end issue PROG2007 introducing an ancillary character of President Robert Booth.
It picks up again with issues 1518 and 1519 used as a look back at the beginnings of Judge Dredd — with nods to the original concept of the creation of Judge Dredd, as Wagner puts it “as a reaction to the Thatcherite Era,” a time in real-life England during the late 1970s and 1980s of complete disillusionment of the government, mass unemployment, and discontent and grief of the general public.
And then … something odd happens. Between issues 1520 and 1528 — Origins Interlude! These are supplementary story arcs to bide the time, to give the ‘Major Epic!’ a rest. All this serves to showcase some rather boring and ill-drawn strips (Ian Gibson “Ballad of Halo Jones” showing the very reason why I am not a fan of his artwork) that actually have no purpose.
Issue 1526 is a celebration of 2000AD surviving 30 whole years upon this Cursed Earth!
The Origins restart with 1529 with Dredd still recounting his rising through the ranks of the Academy of Law with his clone brother Rico Dredd. (Poorly portrayed and completely out-of-context in the 1996 film.)
It ends with 1535. With a dull thud.
So far so good?
Or so it would seem.
As described before, Walker’s artwork was used perfectly for the pre-story, which had it been used for the actual origins story would have suited it better. The ironic black-humor typical of Dredd still exists thanks to Wagner, but is seemingly and criminally underused, only appearing sparsely.
The whole epicness of the adventure seemed a tad watered down, as if you were expecting something huge to happen that would reverberate across the 2000AD and Dredd universe, but this doesn’t happen … more like it tends to plod along, with Dredd telling the WHOLE history of his creation in a few short pages that actually spanned 35 issues!
And then there is Ezquerra’s artwork. His unique style of drawing, something that has been a staple for 30 years, was the wrong choice for this legend. His excessive overuse of drawing ALL the characters with what looks like they have ALL got broken noses — typical of ten rounds in boxing — makes it harder to differentiate the specific characters, which then means he has to make them all look varied and different.
It also seems as though Ezquerra had been in a virtual time-warp stuck with a computer dating back to the time of Star Wars … the type that could fill an entire room utilizing reel-to-reel technology to spout out computer graphics after 3 days. It is shoddy. Given the current technology of computer graphics, the artwork seems reminiscent of the four-color scheme employed by Marvel in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s — but why? It serves to give no depth or detail to the work and it begins to get rather repetitive after a short while.
There is a mild sense of unease surrounding Origins. Very mild; I think a lot of people were just expecting it to explode off the page like a tactical nuke, to be cradling the remains of their ashen faces, glad to have lost their eyeballs so no man would see them weeping with typical fanboy joy. So what happened?
2000AD and Judge Dredd of late have been exemplary in quality of story telling and artwork … but this particular storyline is regrettably forgettable. Don’t get me wrong, it is worth reading — to gauge a little out of the pre-history of the comics world greatest (British) icons, and yes it is now in graphic novel form. But there are better Dredd stories out there, particularly during the 1980s (reprinted) Thatcher Age.
Which is a shame, due to the fact the John Wagner usually crafts a story worth remembering …
… just not this time.