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Judge Dredd

Entry updated 4 September 2023. Tagged: Character, Comics, Film.

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1. In Comics, Judge (Joe) Dredd is an ultra-tough, mean, ruthless, granite-jawed lawman of the future Mega-City One. The strip of which he is the Hero (or maybe Antihero) was created by Pat Mills, John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra (artist). It first appeared in 2000 AD #2 (5 March 1977), drawn by Mike McMahon, and more than 1,700 issues later continued to dominate that Comic. In a world after the atomic Holocaust, the millions of survivors are crowded into vastly overpopulated Post-Holocaust Mega-Cities whose soaring crime rate is dealt with by the Judges, a breed of genetically selected men and (rarely) women. Dressed in black leather with massively chunky insignia and exaggerated elbow-, knee- and shoulder-pads, riding heftily armoured motorcycles with ultra-wide wheels, these law officers have the power to dole out on-the-spot sentences ranging from multi-credit fines to life sentences in far-flung penal colonies (see Crime and Punishment). Early stories featured an occasional sidekick, Walter the Wobot, a Robot valet with a speech defect. The story-lines, mostly by John Wagner and Alan Grant (variously credited to them under their own names and a number of their pseudonyms), quickly established a high standard of plotting and characterization, with a significant thread of grittily humorous social Satire. From this fertile source flowed a rich succession of original ideas that served to establish Judge Dredd as one of the most popular comic-strip characters ever created. Among the Wagner-Grant collaborations has been "The Apocalypse War" (25 episodes, 1982), as by T B Grover. Throughout, both storytelling and characterization have been enriched by a strong element of continuity introduced by Pat Mills, who has also written a number of the stories, including 19 episodes of "The Cursed Earth" (25 episodes, 1978). Artists on Judge Dredd have included Brian Bolland, Carlos Ezquerra, Ian Gibson, John Higgins, Can Kennedy, Brendan McCarthy, McMahon, Colin MacNeil, Ron Smith and a host of others.

A few of Judge Dredd's colleagues have become prominent enough to feature in spin-off strips of their own: Judge Anderson of PSI Division, a female Judge with Psi Powers; Judge Death, a spectral Judge from another Dimension where all lifeforms have been sentenced to death, a verdict he has been empowered to enforce throughout the universes; and Judge Armour, Judge Dredd's equivalent in the city called Brit Cit.

The phenomenal popularity of Judge Dredd led to a proliferation of spin-off publications, including among others two monthly black-and-white reprint titles – Best of 2000 AD Monthly, which does not focus on Judge Dredd, and The Complete Judge Dredd, which does – and beginning in 1990 a monthly Judge Dredd, The Megazine, with mostly full-colour painted artwork, published in different formats for the UK and US editions and featuring serial stories, some starring Judge Dredd, which cross over with the parent comic. Reprint books have been published by Titan Books in the series The Chronicles of Judge Dredd (begun 1981) and the Judge Dredd Graphic Paperbacks series (begun 1988), with further material constantly being added; there are also annuals, yearbooks and other titles. A spinoff Board Game is Games Workshop's Judge Dredd (1982); there are two Role Playing Games, the first being Judge Dredd: The Role-Playing Game (1985), also from Games Workshop.

A separate company, Eagle Comics, was set up to exploit Judge Dredd in the USA, reprinting his early 2000 AD adventures but in colour and adapted for the US comic-book format; the practice was taken over by Quality Communications. Both enterprises overcame the problem of incompatible page proportions by stretching the image on a laser copier; this had the effect of making all the characters appear tall and skinny. Judge Dredd took a further ponderous step across the international stage with the publication of a DC Comics/Fleetway collaboration, Judgement on Gotham (graph 1991), featuring a Judge Dredd/Batman team-up; this was written by the Wagner-Grant team and painted by the talented high-flier Simon Bisley. DC Comics also produced their own Judge Dredd series in 1994 and 1995. In 1993 a series of novels featuring Judge Dredd was begun with Judge Dredd: The Savage Amusement (1993) by David Bishop, Judge Dredd: Deathmasques (1993) by Dave Stone and Judge Dredd: Dreddlocked (1993) by Stephen Marley – see Checklist below for further titles. [RT/DRL/JP]

2. Film (1995). Hollywood Pictures (see The Walt Disney Company) and Andrew G Vajna present an Edward R Pressman/Cinergi Pictures production in association with Charles M Lippincott. Directed by Danny Cannon. Written by William Wisher and Steven E de Souza; story by Michael deLuca and Wisher, based on the 2000 AD series Judge Dredd created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra. Cast includes Armand Assante, Diane Lane, Jürgen Prochnow, Rob Schneider, Sylvester Stallone and Max von Sydow. 96 minutes. Colour.

In the future megalopolis of Mega-City One, sixty-five million citizens are kept in order by the summary justice (see Crime and Punishment) of elite Judges. Judge Dredd (Stallone) is framed for murder by his psychotic former friend Rico, whose release is compassed by a corrupt senior Judge (Prochnow). When his prisoner transport is brought down in the Cursed Earth by the Angel gang, Dredd learns from the former Chief Judge Fargo (von Sydow) that Rico is his clone-brother from Fargo's DNA, and returns to Mega-City One to thwart Rico's plan to replace the Judges with an army of clones of himself.

A touchstone case of a film developed to death, this adaptation of an iconic character and world went through many iterations and writers, in an essentially subtractive process that ate disfiguringly away at the defining features of Wagner's creation. After the darker, wilder Judge Death storyline from Tim Hunter's drafts was discarded with an optimistic view to a potential sequel, a plot was compounded which folded Pat Mills' Rico and Cursed Earth storylines from the comics into a loose reworking of Wagner's Judge Cal and a misconceived character journey of compromise and compassion for Dredd, culminating horrifically in a kiss with Judge Hershey (Lane). Cannon, who also worked some uncredited damage limitation on the script, was at the bottom of the food chain as a young director on his first Hollywood project, and unable to overturn some of the most disastrous production choices, including the insistence on free display of Stallone's unhelmeted face, and the comparative marginalizing of Mega-City One, often felt to be the real lead character (see Cities), in favour of a narrative of personal growth for Dredd himself – a character whose defining quality, at least at that point in the title's development was his incapacity for anything of the kind. Stallone, wonderfully cast in principle, is now and again allowed to be as good in the role as he could have been. Lessons were learned for the much cheaper but notably more in-tune Dredd (2012). The novelization is Judge Dredd (1995) by Neal Barrett Jr. [NL]

see also: Toys.

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