Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Books: Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 05


Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 05
Written by John Wagner and Alan Grant
Art by Brian Bolland, John Cooper, Steve Dillon, Carlos Ezquerra, Ian Gibson, Mike McMahon, Barry Mitchell, Ron Smith and Colin Wilson

Available now from Islington Libraries
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"Day 1. Today my new life began. At 9.45 this A.M. I broke into my block Citi-Def armoury and equipped myself with a variety of useful weapons. From this day on I have resolved to kill anyone who gets on my nerves."

That's a nice way to start and - well - just in case you didn't know it's an excellent summation of what the world of Judge Dredd is like: it's violent, mean and (if you've got the right sort of evil-infused funny bone) it's pretty damn funny too. And I guess the thing that's always struck me about Judge Dredd (and the thing that I'll do my best to try and explain here) is that he's just not like all the other varieties of tough guy future cop lawmen blah blah blah: opening up to the first page of this collection ("The Problem With Sonny Bono" [1]) and greeted by the sight of Dredd sitting on his lawmaster - gun already in hand was that there's something here that's special and unique and I don't know quite what: and that something is that Judge Dredd: all the way down to his very mean-ass core: is a total punk (which I guess is somewhat ironic seeing how he was partially based on Clint Eastwood/Dirty Harry whose first response to finding out that someone was a punk would be to get them to make this day and then - well: blow them away). I not just Dredd - but the whole of Mega City One and the rest of the future world he inhabits: it's a punk's idea of what the world has in store for us: It's the craziness that seeps from every pore and the non-stop "Block Wars" and that the anyone with a kind heart gets squashed beneath the wheels of progress without a second thought: One of the best examples of this happens in a story at the start of this collection that features Uncle Ump - a kindly old man who's like a cross between Colonel Sanders and Uncle Sam only with a much sweeter nature than both combined - who makes the mistake of inventing the world's most delicious candy that is so yummy that it becomes instantaneously addictive to anyone who tries it. Normally this would make him someone rich beyond their wildest dreams - but the danger to civil order is so great that  the Judges put him on a rocket and send him out into space where - well - his final fate isn't pretty: but he's barely mourned before the story is moving forward and there's new all sorts of new stuff to deal with. Because - well - you want me quote some Sex Pistol lyrics? Fine: "We're the flowers in the dustbin. We're the poison in your human machine. We're the future, your future. There is no future in England's dreaming. No future for you, no future for me. No future, no future for you." So - yeah: it's not exactly utopian.

Whenever people talk about 2000AD [2] (which I should really try and stop spelling as one word - but - huh - "2000 AD" just doesn't look right for some reason) and how it came into being it's always Star Wars that gets mentioned. I think it's something the publishers saw that science-fiction was having a bit of a resurgence and they decided to hop on to the bandwagon with some futuristic comic fun: a bit of Dan Dare and some dinosaurs and maybe we can make some money - that sort of thing (and of course the obligatory mention of: hey - let's call it "2000AD" because what the hell: it'll never last that long - right?): and then Star Wars comes along and sales sky-rocketed and it became a British institution. Yay. But - for me at least - the year of 1977 (when 2000AD was launched) is famous for two different reasons: yes one of those reasons is to do with a young Aryan-looking lad with a magic glowing stick fighting space Nazis but the other reason was punk rock [3]. 

And that's the reason why Judge Dredd (like I've already said) is not like other future cops and Mega City One is not like other future cities: it's not all Blade Runner style flying cars and throngs of people (although to be far - it does have lots of those) and he's not a world-weary hero trying desperately to hold on to whatever small scrap of humanity he has left: Judge Dredd has no humanity (at least there's no sign of it in this collection) and you know what? That's just the way he likes it. Because like the cliché of a supehero being born when one small batch of chemicals gets contaminated by somesort of radioactive isotope (or whatever): Dredd is the mean tough lawgiver archetype infected with the radiation of the period he was created in: and that radiation was Johnny Rotten and people with safety pins pinned through their noses. And just look at him: I mean it's not as if other boys-action comic book characters are particularly elegant in the costumes they wear: I mean like I've already said several times on here how Batman just looks kinda silly with that cape and those sticky out pointy ears and we've all heard the snide remarks that have been made about the whole "pants over the trousers" look that superheroes like to rock: but Dredd kinda takes things to a whole new level. I mean back when I was a kid I used to like drawing pictures of stuff and characters from books that I had lying around and let me tell you - Dredd has all this tricksy stuff that can be a real pain in the bum to try and get right: there's the helmet sure - but there's also the badge, the big pad on one shoulder, the eagle on the other, the belt, the kneepads and the big boots. I remember reading somewhere once that the reason that superheroes always wear their distinctive skin-tight costumes is because when the comics used to come out in black and white they looked like their were naked and something about Freud and dreams of flying standing for other stuff and blah blah blah - point being (there's a point?): you'd never confuse Dredd with a naked person: he's all about the clothes and the hardware: the gun and the bike and all the rest of that sort of ornamental stuff. And come on: chains and shoulder pads and tight fitting leather as an official uniform? The only way that could make things more obvious is if he wore a T-Shirt that said "I Hate Pink Floyd." [5]

I get it that if you've never read Judge Dredd then it just seems like he's a cookie-cutter hard man who likes to shoot things and book perps: but the reason he's stuck around is because he's not a hero: he's more a conglomeration of all your worst excesses of law enforcement wrapped up into one tidy package. I mean: it's great fun to watch him go around and bash in people's heads: but every reader knows that things would be very different if you were the one living in the Mega City - because if you saw Dredd coming for you - you wouldn't want to greet him with open arms like he was your saviour - nah - the first and only thing you'd want to do would be to run.

But: of course all this yakking doesn't really tell you much about what's in this particular collection so let's quit the preamble and get down to it: the first bunch of stories in this are these self-contained little bite-sized things called "Mega Rackets" that are just "I wonder what ____ would be like in the future?" I mean - maybe if you've never read again Dredd before they'd be more entertaining: but for those of us who are already well used to all the future stuff it's a little bit by-the-numbers.

Then comes "Judge Death Lives!" which - shockingly - is only 5 parts long [6]: and yet manages to fit so much in - it feels a little bit like astronaut food: all your nutritional story and entertainments values compressed into one easy-to-swallow tablet. For those looking for a taster of why Judge Death is such a well-loved Judge Dredd character then there are much worse places to start - not only do you get a healthy dose of the alien super-fiend and his quotable-catchphrases ("The crime is life, the sentence is death!" etc) but you also get the first appearance of his "Three Killin' Cousins" who are each masterworks of iconic design (love the double-page spread of the four of them standing in a row like shop window dummies that almost just seems like showing off it's like the page is saying: check out how totally amazing these guys look!) and (perhaps most importantly) that most famous of all Judge Dredd panels: "Gaze into the fist of Dredd!" (just typing it gives me shivers).

But - and this is a testament to just how weighty things get - while anywhere else Judge Death Lives would be the main attraction - in this collection it's just a small appetizer before the ten course meal that is the bombastic epic: The Apocalypse War.

Now: I've read a lot of Judge Dredd back when I was kid and so most of the stuff (including the Judge Death stuff) I didn't even need to read. I just had to look at the first page and the whole story would come flooding back like a form of muscle-memory: I mean - this stuff is imprinted in a deep level of my brain that probably won't shift until the day I die. But The Apocalypse War - well - I'd never managed to get my hands on a collected version so to me it just had this mythical status as "best Dredd epic" ever and the one mega-story that all the ones that came after didn't come close to matching (sorry Necropolis, Judgement Day and (ha!) The Doomsday Scenario [7]). So finally getting to the point where I could actually read it. Well - let's just say that expectations were high.

Thankfully I wasn't let down.

I mean... I'm not sure how exactly to write down how The Apocalypse War affected me but I will say that by the end I was a little shell-shocked just kinda sitting there feeling a little dazed and gazing up into nothing going: "wow." (Is this hyping things up a little bit too much? Sorry). I mean on one hand it does seem like a little bit of a grind to have to slowly make your way through the stories at the first half of the book that are all just business-as-usual type typical day kinda stuff: but it really pays off in the long run because the grounding in the mundane nature of Mega City life makes the impact of nuclear war hit all the harder. I mean - it's not as if nuclear war needs help in making a spectacle: but you know it's like if you were watching Eastenders and it's all about hanging around the Queen Vic and who slept with who and all that and then - one day - they're all carrying kalashnikovs and eating the bodies of the dead because there's no more food left: it's more hardcore because you have such a good sense of what life was like before the war.

Also: I just love the way it builds. The beginnings of it are all just so comparatively humble and small-scale and even tho I knew what happened (thanks to The A to Z to Judge Dredd) I was still shocked when things started falling into place and the way that kept ramping things up until - well - they're blowing apart whole planets with nuclear missiles [8]. On the wikipedia page for The Apocalypse War (I wanted to see if I could find the exact reference but didn't have any luck - oh well) it says that one of the main impetuses for the storyline was that John Wagner and Alan Grant both felt that Mega City One had gotten too big and so they wanted to do something to bring it down to a more manageable size - the upshot of this for the reader (well - for me anyhow) is a sense of destruction and carnage that I don't think I've ever seen anywhere else in a comic (or - well - anywhere really [9]): in fact the best way I can think to describe it is - it's like you're a kid and you've just spent ages and ages and ages building up a big little city-thing out of lego (or whatever) - well The Apocalypse War is like your little brother or sister marching into the room and wantonly smashing their way through the whole thing with a manic grin on their face: that's the level of horror we're talking about here (I know I know - you might want to have a nice calming cup of tea standing by ready for when you're done).

But yeah: you wanna know what Judge Dredd is about - why he's awesome, why people keep trying to making films with him, why he's a British institution: you couldn't go much wrong with this collection.

[1] As drawn by Ian Gibson (even tho for some reason the credits on the page says it's by "Emberton"(?): I dunno maybe that was his pen-name or something?)

[2] And just in case there's some newbies who've only just joined us at the back: 2000AD is the weekly science-fiction anthology series that Judge Dredd appears in (well - at least until the 1990 when the Judge Dredd: The Megazine first appeared). But that's why ever part of of a Judge Dredd story comes in little 5 or 6 page chunks. (and seeing how Britain's other favourite science-fictional mainstay Doctor Who also (used to) come out in distinct "to be continued" parts - maybe there's some part of the national psyche that gets off on our entertainment being withholding? Or - I dunno - maybe it's just a hungover from rationing and that if people get everything that they wanted right away then they would just explode or something...

[3] Like it says on the wikipedia page for 1997 in music: "Perhaps most important is the beginning of what has become known as the punk rock explosion. 1977 was the year of formation of The Avengers, Bad Brains, Black Flag, Crass, Discharge, Fear, The Flesh Eaters, The Germs, The Misfits, 999, The Pagans, Plasmatics, VOM, The Weirdos, and X.1977 also saw the release of several pivotal albums in the development of punk music. Widely-acknowledged as masterpieces and among the earliest first full-length purely punk albums, The Clash by The Clash, The Damned's Damned, Damned, Damned, the Dead Boys' Young, Loud and Snotty, Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers' L.A.M.F., The Jam's In the City, the Ramones' Rocket to Russia, Richard Hell & the Voidoids' Blank Generation, the Sex Pistols' Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols, Television's Marquee Moon, and Wire's Pink Flag are usually considered their respective masterpieces, and kick-started punk music as the musical genre it eventually became". [4] 

[4] Pretty sure that I've already linked to Baaaddad's Cliched Memories of Punk somewhere on here before - but what the hey: here you go again.

[5] And if you're looking to trash some of your illusions that check out this Guardian Interview: "John Lydon: I don't hate Pink Floyd: Contrary to his infamous T-shirt slogan, the punk-rock patriarch is such a fan of the prog-rock royals that he came close to accepting an invitation to perform live with them." (sigh).

[6] Which apparently is down to the fact that Brian Bolland (who's way more known now for drawing the covers to things like Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol and (urg) Fables) takes such a long time to finish his (frankly gorgeous-looking) artwork.

[7] The Doomsday Scenario is a story that came out back when I was reading 2000AD and The Judge Dredd Megazine and the build-up was so big and the let-down so huge and left me so disappointed that it's pretty much the reason why I decided to give up reading 2000AD and The Judge Dredd Megazine (and also: because - you know - comics are for kids and who wants to still be reading them when they're an adult and stuff? Ha).

[8] It's like the end of the criminally under-rated Terminator 3: only more so.

[9] Yeah there's Terminator 3 mentioned above - but goes the poetic route and shows you the destruction from space so it's hard to get a real sense of the horror. I guess that scene in T2 is more what I'm talking about - Sarah Conner rattling the fence at the playground (you all know the bit I mean - right?).

 Links: Dredd Reckoning Review, Geek Syndicate Review.

Further reading: Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth SagaJudge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 06Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 07, Judge Anderson: Satan, The Batman/Judge Dredd Files.

All comments welcome.


Tam said...

I originally read this in reprints a few years after it came out. It's one of the most powerful stories I've ever read but I still can't decide whether I regret not following this when it was originally being published. The suspense of following the serial week after week would've been very exciting, but I think all the nukes would've given me nightmares. It's also worth checking out the (still terrifying) 80s BBC version of 'day of the triffids' which caught the spirit of 80s cold war nuclear paranoia in a similar vein. It's also worth reading this little essay by Garth Ennis, if you haven't seen it before


Islington Comic Forum said...

"There are half a billion people in my city–half a billion human beings! You can’t just wipe them out with the push of a button!”

I'm guessing that's a line that won't make it into the new Dredd movie (oh well).

The BBC Day of the Triffids I've already seen (and liked) but it's got nothing on Threads. Have you seen Threads? Oh my god - you NEED TO SEE THREADS:

(you can thank me afterwards).

Tam said...

Yep, seen Threads. Brilliant but the bleakest thing ever. If you're interested in that sort of thing you also ought to check out 60s equivalent, 'The War Game' by Peter Watkins, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MdeLcEQnDEk

By the way, the Sovs got their own back (and then some!) against Dredd and Mega City One 30 years after the Apocalypse War in the recent stunning Dredd epic, Day of Chaos which is far and away the best comic I've read this year...

Islington Comic Forum said...

Ok - you have officially piqued my interest. Will definitely have to see if I can get Islington to get a copy of Day of Chaos when it comes out in collected form (which according to Amazon should be sometime in early 2013): WATCH THIS SPACE.