Meet Joe Dredd

March 30, 2013 at 7:30 pm (Articles / Interviews) (, , )

I previously knew Judge Joe Dredd primarily as ‘the guy with the helmet and gaudy shoulder pads’, who was associated with British comics and general bad-assery. Never saw the Stallone movie, but I thought the Karl Urban one was great. I knew he was The Law, and had a tendency to get violent, and that a large chunk of his continuing appeal was that he operated in the endless dystopian sprawl of Mega-City One, a setting which practically writes its own stories. And, that was all I knew.

It was with that limited knowledge that I dove into the ‘Mega-City Masters 1’ collection, which pulls together a slew of Dredd stories from 1983 to 2010. The book focuses on showcasing the various artists who have worked on Dredd over the years, like Dave Gibbons (‘Watchmen’) and Kevin O’Neill (‘League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’), but it also provides a snapshot of how Dredd’s evolved over the years.

First off, I never realized how compact the Judge Dredd stories are. They mostly run about six pages, in which time you will see a facet of Mega-City One you’ve never seen before – mutant cannibals roaming the under-city, or human furniture being treated as high art, or a madman freeing all manner of weird shit creatures from the alien zoo. The stories are hardly ever in Dredd’s point of view, although he’s always bound to show up and shoot someone.

There aren’t much by way of story arcs (I can’t help but feel that these might be found in a different collection. I dunno, someone correct me) beyond the occasional two-parters, but they don’t really bother with it. Like Dredd’s modus operandi, stories are told with precision and brutality.

The stories from more recent years do stretch into the twenty-page territory, allowing more room for build-up, for other characters to move in and interact with Dredd. But largely the pattern remains the same – there’s just no end to how fucked Mega-City One can get, and there’s never a lack of things for Dredd to do.

Compared to the ever-changing landscape of fuckery that is Mega-City One however, Dredd remains largely the same.

In the ‘80s stories, he’s far less a character than a caricature – the iron-jawed gun-slinging creep-calling perp-busting incarnation of the True Lawful alignment. He doesn’t do much besides embroil himself with criminals, occasionally finding himself in trouble, but always winning out by sheer force of awesome and either killing or arresting them. As the permanently straight-faced caricature, he’s perfectly situated for playing up the, well, comedic twists that come with these stories.

That’s the other thing I wasn’t expecting, that a lot of these Judge Dredd stories would actually be funny. They satirize the worst of what happens when you bring together millions of people in an urban rat hole, but without ever taking anything too seriously (it would be difficult to take the Judges’ shoulder pads seriously). Otherwise they just play up the sheer absurdity of living in a place like Mega-City One.

For instance, Dredd leads an army of Judges…to protect Mega-City One’s most hated man – the chief tax inspector, as he takes his daily stroll across the street to his office. Or, Dredd is attacked by a group of gangbangers…as Dredd is in the toilet, taking a dump (featuring a panel of Dredd calmly exiting the cubicle and zipping his pants up. Dredd wears tighty-whities). Or there’s an entire song sequence about Dredd’s everyday routine (“sit astride my lawbike-felt it throb between my legs/computer checked my lasers as laid down in justice regs/ then I waxed and oiled my daystick and went out to bust some heads!”).

The stories from the last few years still retain the absurdity and sarcasm of the earlier stories, but are able to take more time with the narratives. In these, Judge Dredd has to do more than show up and shoot, he has to interact with other characters. You can actually feel him straining towards some personality – he becomes the harsh guy who helps out the rookie Judges, or the lawman who’d protect even outcast mutants because they’re entitled to protection.

Karl Urban’s character in the Dredd movie seems to be the natural ideation of more recent comics Dredd – filled with rage under cold control, but still human, still able to say that Judge Anderson passed her test. ‘80s comics Dredd would have probably put her in the cube for losing her Lawgiver.

While Mega-City Masters 1 was a fine read (and for one who’s never touched the Dredd comics, a crash course on why Dredd endures) I’m still looking for more. Where are those other characters who have been associated with Dredd, whose names pop up on Dredd’s Wikipedia page? Does he ever run into the same perps more than once, or are they all one-time kind of deals?

The largest realization is really that I simply haven’t read enough of Dredd (thirty years is a lot of reading to do). I may settle for getting my hands on Mega-City Masters 2.

Images belong to their respective copyright holders.

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1 Comment

  1. Nicholas Ditto said,

    Great post! Didn’t know anything about Dress prior to reading, but now I think I need to pick up this comic!

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