Thursday, December 07, 2006

Featuring Judge Dredd

It's been a while since I last posted, and it's also come to my attention that I made it this far without stopping to give full attention to the big man himself. No, not Tharg (although there's definitely a post on him to come), Dredd. Tharg may be the long serving editor of 2000 AD, but Dredd has somehow managed to appear in more progs*. So it's only fitting that I pause to give some respect to what may be Britain's finest comic creation (er, that is, one created by a fella from America/Scotland, and an artist from Andorra)**

There are many great characters to have emerged from the galaxy's greatest, but none have had even a tenth of the impact of Dredd. To the world at large, I mean. Any regular readers of 2000 AD have of course been touched by many other characters, but none have made it into the popular consciousness. Dredd has appeared in Newspaper strips and a certain feature film (which isn't that bad, but is frustrating because it could have been much better), and is occasionally used in headlines to describe the latest government measure giving the police more powers. Of course, he won't ever hit as big as Batman/Spider-Man until he's on pencil cases and lunchboxes, but that will surely come...

I'm not convinced that Dredd was originally set up to the grand satire that it is championed as being. Frankly, it's about a heroic no-nonsense tough-guy cop who busts bad guys and regularly defeats the odds. Of course, his definition of 'bad guys' is pushed to the limit, which is where most of the humour in Dredd comes from. Such as the hapless jaywalker who gets shot in the original first episode (as seen in the complete Case Files 1, on sale now creeps!), or the occasional rich dude who gets mugged and then booked for incitement. Heavy handed policing is inherently funny (when it's not real, of course), but there's also a rich seam of reflexive humour to be mined from the fact that Dredd has a point. If we could stamp out petty crime as well as 'real' crime, wouldn't that be a good thing? Yes, Dredd is funny and thought-provoking. Also gritty and exciting more often than not. Wagner is always getting praise heaped upon him (sadly only by a vocal minority of people who've actually read his work); his greatest skill is in combining action, humour and tight plots. Even the great Alan Moore can only manage two of those, for al that his work reaches to be more intellectual.

The other great thing about Judge Dredd (the strip not the man) is the city and more importantly the citizens in it. Wagner and Grant have created host upon host of weirdos to delight and amuse and fall foul of the law for one reason or another. I'll get back to them another day. For now, let's enjoy a cheap laugh as Dredd has a really bad day...

Yes, Dredd can easily be set aside by throwing a bucket of raw munce at him. Why, even an 80 year-old could do it.

Of course, what really upsets Dredd is a locked door. He just can't figure them out.

As a rule, Dredd is a tightly plotted series, no doubt a large part of its charm. But in the early days there were a lot of haphazard scenes, no doubt designed to put the man in danger. One good thing, we get to be reminded that Dredd is merely one of a vast and seemingly undepletable resource, namely the Judges. Dredd is no self-aggrandising hero. He just wants to clear the streets of all lawbreakers, and it doesn't matter if he dies, as long as this holy work continues. Not that he dies easily; I mean he's only been killed about 3 times to date***

From time to time Judges get massacred, but their numbers always seem to come back to strength shortly after each such disaster epic storyline. But I'm not here to pick up on petty plot points. Sure, Dredd is the greatest example of continuity in comics, but it manages to reamin fun 30 years by knowing when to respect internal history, and when to acknowledge the need for a basic status quo. I'm here to gently mock the man... or am I?

*I'm pretty sure Dredd has appeard in all but 4 issues of 2000 AD (can't remember exactly which just now); Tharg of course was absent for about 6 months back in the late 90s when the not X-Files bandwagon jumping Men in Grey took over.
**Maybe Dan Dare is more famous and has been around for longer, but time will tell. (Rupert the Bear? That's a well-loved comic, but it is international? H'mmm)
***He's been shot in the heart at least twice (Judge Cal; the Hitman), and in the head at least once (Twister, I think?) Sure, the recovery thanks to future medicine is well documented, but frankly he should be dead,oh yes he should.


Anonymous Al Ewing said...

Not the three I was thinking of - he fell off a roadway and was pronounced dead for a whole issue in Judge Cal, stabbed to death and brought back to life via sorcery in Judge Child and there was the whole Dead Man business...


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