Mega-City One in the 22nd century, a vast urban nightmare situated along the east coast of post-apocalyptic North America. The irradiated wasteland known as The Cursed Earth to the west covering most of America, and the polluted Black Atlantic to the east. Home to 400 million citizens, crammed into gigantic city-blocks, overcrowding is rife, unemployment endemic and boredom universal. Tensions run a constant knife-edge, and crime is rampant. Only the Judges can prevent total anarchy. Empowered to dispense instant justice, these lawmen are judge, jury and executioner. The toughest of them all is Judge Joe Dredd and he is the law!
Judge Dredd, one of a number of clones of Chief Judge Fargo, is the most famous of the elite corps of Judges that run Mega-City One with the power not only to enforce the law, but also to instantly sentence offenders; to death if necessary. Dredd and his twin brother Rico emerged from the cloning facility as five year olds in 2066, which took only a matter of months. At this young age they are enrolled into the Academy of Law, and graduate 13 years later in 2079. While these details are featured throughout the years of comics, recently the Judge Dredd Origins story arc delves into the atomic wars and Dredd's time as a cadet.
John Wagner, by request from Pat Mills, came up with the concept behind Judge Dredd and Carlos Ezquerra came up with the character design. Writer Peter Harris, artist Mick (Michael) McMahon and Wagner further developed the character. He was the first of a line of monosyllabic tough guy heroes to come from 2000AD's pages, along with the likes of Rogue Trooper, but he has always remained the most popular and influential mainstay of the publication.
Judge Dredd may be more a cop than a soldier yet due to the nature of Earth and Mega City One in his time, he is the frontline assault on any opposition the city faces. He spends every waking moment of his life on the streets. He has no secret identity, no time off, and he's never seen without his signature helmet.
After a day and night of fighting crime, Dredd returns to the Grand Hall of Justice for 10 minutes in the sleep machine. Then he's back on the job, hammering in just how relentless crime is in this dystopian future. One thing that separates Dredd from other street level crime fighters is that there is no crime he will ignore.
While he deals with all the crazy menaces that threaten the city and its citizens, he is also a threat to the citizens if they commit even the most minor of crimes. The future is harsh, and the law is the law. Dredd does question his role in this harsh regime from time to time, be it sympathizing with mutants or citizen's cries for freedom, but he is literally a product of the times and was created to bring justice and that is what he does.
Major Story Arcs
The Early Years
Judge Dredd is the flagship title in the 2000AD anthology, first appearing in it's second issue in 1977. The year is 2099 at that time, and Dredd is already a hardened street Judge of many years. Dredd faced countless strange menaces at that time, including a robot uprising. A notable early case was 'The Return of Rico', where Dredd's disgraced corrupt Judge-clone brother comes back to frame him. Then we have the first Dredd mega epic, 'The Cursed Earth', which ran for 25 weeks. Dredd treks across The Cursed Earth that is America, facing numerous mad foes to bring an antidote to Mega-City Two on the West Coast.
When Dredd finally returns home, tired and triumphant, he is faced with the next epic, 'The Day The Law Died'. While he was gone, the mad Judge Caligula had taken control of Mega-City One and corrupted it. Framed and disgraced, Dredd brings order back to the city through rebellion. In 'Punks Rule', Dredd makes an example out of criminals by defeating many single-handedly and exiling them from the city in a dumptruck. We meet Dredd's niece Vienna, daughter of Rico, and while Dredd does mean well, he has no time for family.
"The Long Walk", a bittersweet retirement for Judges who have grown too old or otherwise unfit to continue their hard job, is shown in Judge Minty. Minty walks out of the city with his final task, to go into the Cursed Earth and bring law to the lawless. Judge Dredd's most fearsome menace Judge Death is introduced around this time (2000AD #149) with the goal of wiping out all life. Dredd stops him, but with the price of imprisoning his ally Psi-Judge Cassandra Anderson in a plastic stasis while Judge Death possessed her.
In 'Judge Death Lives', The Dark Judges are introduced, further undead galactic menaces. They break Death free and kill many citizens, but in the end Dredd and Anderson are able to defeat them in their own dead dimension.
The psychics are a point which gets more focus, with a precognitive vision showing that a Judge Child will be able to save Mega-City One from an ominous fate. Dredd and Hershey travel through space to find this Judge Child, but when they do Dredd recognizes the child as pure evil, and leaves him behind, disobeying his orders.
The cold war allegory of Mega City One's conflict with the Sov Judges reaches it's breaking point in 'The Apocalypse War'. With Chief Judge Griffin dead and drug-induced mania tearing the city apart, Dredd puts his finger on the button and launches the nukes, killing millions in Russia's East-Meg, and ending the war. Much of Mega-City One is also destroyed in the process when one of the Sov Judges' nukes makes it past their shields. Dredd as usual decides to stay on the streets where he's needed, and declines the Chief Judge position. Young serial killer PJ Maybe is introduced, and the evil Judge Child's story culminates in 'City of the Damned', where Dredd loses his eyes. They're replaced with bionic ones.
The '90s: Dredd Continues
Judge Dredd: The Megazine launches in 1990, giving Dredd a monthly place for new stories on top of his weekly 2000AD installments. The first issues of this anthology also include the acclaimed America story, with Dredd in a grimly imposing supporting role.
The issue of citizens demanding democracy is a subplot which culminates in Dredd doubting their system of unquestioned law. He resigns, and takes the long walk into the Cursed Earth. There he becomes the scarred Dead Man, and returns in the Necropolis epic, where Judge Death and his fellow deadly menaces turn Mega City One into a nightmare. After, Dredd receives rejuve treatments and his skin tissue is fully restored.
Another notable early story in The Megazine is the Mechanismo trilogy, where robot Judges are put on the streets, much to Dredd's suspicion. Judge Dredd had notable crossovers with DC and Dark Horse in the '90s, including four Batman/Judge Dredd stories, a Lobo story, and a crossover with Predator. DC published a new Judge Dredd comic reboot with it's own separate continuity around this time, it was short lived. In 1995 the Judge Dredd movie starring Sylvester Stallone was released.
Dredd's original creator John Wagner has always been the most notable contributor to the title, and he continues to write Dredd to this day. Co-creator Carlos Ezquerra too still does art regularly to date. There were a couple years in the '90's when Wagner was contributing much less and taking some time off from Dredd. This is when writers such as Garth Ennis and Mark Millar largely took over the title, in what would be one of the least well received eras of Dredd.
Throughout the mid-to-late '90's Wagner's input increased again, and in general the book took a more favored direction. The Pit being a standout long running Dredd story of that time, where Dredd runs his own sector house, with numerous subplots and a cop show procedural kind of feel. Then 'Dead Reckoning', a notable Judge Dredd vs Judge Death saga, 'The Hunting Party', and the 'Doomsday' arc closed the decade.
In 2000 Rebellion took over, and under this new management 2000AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine have flourished. Judge Dredd takes place in real time, currently around the year 2132, and Dredd has aged, currently over 66 years since his birth, and he's still out on the streets. The young serial killer PJ Maybe introduced in the '80's is now a grown man, and he continues his evil schemes. Dredd's niece Vienna is also an adult. The way the city and its citizens change over the years is one of the more fascinating details of Judge Dredd.
Judge Dredd vs. Aliens: Incubus is a popular crossover from the 2000s, Dredd face to face with the xenomorph menace. 'Total War', 'Mandroid', and Origins being some of the other notable recent epics. In 'Tour of Duty', the mutant issue comes into play, and Dredd is once again put to the test. More recently the explosive Day of Chaos epic shook things up. And of course, Dredd is still a survivor hardened by the years, dealing with all crime at all times.
Powers and Abilities
Judge Dredd has a large Lawmaster motorbike, which has powerful side-mounted cannons and a centrally-mounted laser (the 'Cyclops' laser), and has full Artificial Intelligence. It is also capable of responding to orders from the Judge, such as driving itself. It is connected to the Justice Department who can receive and transmit information from and to the bike and is equipped with a video communication system.
He also has a handgun which is named the Lawgiver, DNA-coded so that no one else may use the weapon - it will explode if it reads an incorrect palm-print. These are standard issue for Judges, firing six types of ammo such as Standard bullets, Rubber Ricochet, Armour Piercing, Heat-Seeking, Incendiary and Hi-Ex. It can also fire tracking bullets, stun shots, and more, although it requires loading to do so.
Other weapons he carries as standards include a Scattergun (pump-action shotgun), a daystick, and a boot knife. His uniform consists of a black bodysuit, green padded boots, knee pads, elbow pads and gloves, golden shoulder pads (the right in the shape of an eagle - the symbol of the Justice Department), and a black and red helmet which almost entirely hides his face and has protective lenses, a respirator and communicator built in.
There have been two live action Judge Dredd movies.
The first, in 1995 starred Sylvester Stallone as Dredd, with Diane Lane as Judge Hershey and Armand Assante as Rico.
The second, released in 2012, starred Karl Urban as Dredd, with Olivia Thirlby playing Psi-Judge Anderson.
Judge Dredd (1995)
In a future ridden with crime and corruption, Judge Dredd, the most famous judge of Mega City One is convicted for a crime from which he did not commit, while his evil counterpart, Rico, escapes and sets to wreak havoc. Reactions for Judge Dredd was negative; most critics panned the film for its camp value and Stallone's portrayal of the iconic character. Many fans were disappointed that Dredd took his helmet off, while in the Comics he has never done so.
"I hated that plot. It was Dredd pressed through the Hollywood cliché mill, a dynastic power struggle that had little connection with the character we know from the comic."
- John Wagner
A new Dredd film starring Karl Urban was released in September 2012. It stars Judge Dredd and Anderson (played by Olivia Thirlby) taking on a ruthless gang in a huge block building controlled by Ma-Ma. Although it didn't perform well in the box office, Dredd was positively received by critics for being true to its source material, "old-school" cinematography and its portrayal of Dredd. Unlike the previous film, Dredd is never seen without his helmet off and his signature grimace is present as well. Co-creator John Wagner was critical of the 1995 adaptation but positively received Dredd.
"I liked the movie. It was, unlike the first film, a true representation of Judge Dredd ... Karl Urban was a fine Dredd and I'd be more than happy to see him in the follow-up. Olivia Thirlby excelled as Anderson ... The character and storyline are pure Dredd."
- John Wagner