Judge Dredd: The UK’s most important comic export

Judge Dredd began in the minds of John Wagner, Pat Mills and Carlos Ezquerra, and was first published in 1977, within the pages of 2000ad, from issue 2. Quickly becoming 2000ad’s flagship title strip, and appearing in almost every issue since (currently nearing the 1800 mark), Judge Dredd has arguably been the influential UK home grown comic character. With one movie under its belt back in 1995 (let’s leave it at that), and a very promising ‘reboot’ coming this September, Dredd is a character that is essential reading for any comic fan.

Judge Dredd is one of the most progressive comics of today. Although set in the future, starting in year 2099, each calendar year in reality would increment in Dredd’s world too. Now well over the 50 year mark in terms of service to Mega City One, Dredd is still on the streets, delivering justice.

2000ad is the comic that got me seriously back into comics when I was 13, largely due to Judge Dredd. Although I no longer collect 2000ad, I always catch up on Dredd as it holds a very special place in my heart. Below are eight of the best from Dredd’s world that should not be missed.

The Return of Rico (Prog 30, 1 Episode, later re-envisaged in progs 950-952, 3 Episodes):-

One of the few Dredd stories penned by Pat Mills himself (who would go on to fame with the Slaine series), this very early Dredd tale is the first of only a few of the more emotional trials Dredd faces in his life. Here is where his first name is revealed, and also depicts one of the first difficult decisions Dredd has to make in his career.

The Cursed Earth (Progs 61-85, 25 Episodes):-

Most Dredd stories would typically consist of 1 episode, around 5 or six pages, and would be one-shots, if you will. A few more stories, especially as time went on, would consist of several episodes, each with 6 pages or so. So, when The Cursed Earth, one of many stories dubbed ‘Mega-Epics’ came along, little did readers know they would be reading a story that would last more than 6 months! This first of many epics would take Dredd away from Mega City One across The Cursed Earth, the atomic war-ridden remains of America, in order to save their compatriots of Mega City Two from a deadly plague. The Cursed Earth depicts many of the weird and wonderful things that have befallen a now lawless land.

Judge Death (Progs 149-151 3 Episodes):-

First ever appearance of Judge Death, and also Judge Anderson, who will appear in the new movie.

The Apocalypse War (Progs 245-267, 269-270, 25 Episodes):-

Beginning directly where the previous story Block Mania left off (Progs 236-244, 9 Episodes), the city is in ruins due to block wars, with Mega City One at its most vulnerable to attack. One of the first stories to have months of build up, with repercussions that still exist in Dredd’s world 30+ years on. The first of many epics drawn by Carlos Ezquerra.

Necropolis (Progs 674-699, 26 Episodes):-

Although the saga of Necropolis consisted of 26 episodes, the build began almost 2 years earlier, with Bloodline in Progs 583-584. Morton Judd, responsible for cloning Dredd, had been missing, presumed dead after trying to clone model citizens, not just Judges. After an unsuccessful attack on Mega City One using more clones from Dredd DNA, only Kraken survived. Kraken was taken prisoner and indoctrinated by the Academy of Law in secret so he could replace Dredd if necessary. Kraken was later revealed as a rookie, and was assessed by Dredd, who was having his own doubts surrounding the system he upholds. Believing Kraken to be a case of ‘A leopard never changes its spots’, Dredd fails Kraken despite his flawless performance. Dredd then does the unthinkable (no spoilers), then Necropolis begins.

Necropolis is John Wagner’s masterpiece. With a build up lasting almost 2 years, and the prog count totalling over 50, it is Judge Dredd at its finest. The setup was also unique in that one of the key stories ran alongside current Judge Dredd strips at the time to deceive the reader. I don’t want to give away too much here, but Necropolis truly feels epic, and is one of Mega City One’s greatest tragedies.

Judgement Day (Progs 786-799, Judge Dredd Megazine vol.2 4-9, 20 episodes):-

The first crossover with sister comic Judge Dredd Megazine, a fortnightly publication, teams Dredd up with Strontium Dog Johnny Alpha against a common foe. The dead are being raised as an army, and Mega City One has plenty to offer! This mega epic was the first not written by John Wagner; instead soon to be Preacher-creator Garth Ennis had taken the helm for a time. His run was not popular, but Judgement Day is non-stop, action packed ride of devastation.

Wilderlands (Progs 904-914, Judge Dredd Megazine vol.2 63-67, 16 Episodes):-

Another crossover, with shared build up in both 2000ad and Judge Dredd Megazine, Wilderlands is another John Wagner classic. Following Necropolis and Judgement Day, the Judges are seriously understaffed. It all began in the Mechanismo series (Judge Dredd Megazine vol. 12-17, 6 episodes). Robot judges are created to bolster the workforce, but after two go on a citizen killing spree due to bad programming; Dredd is severely against the project. Despite his concerns, the program continues in secret, with 2 Mechanismo sequels (Mechanismo Returns and Body Count, Judge Dredd Megazine vol.2 22-26 and 37-43, 5 Episodes). There is even further build up (Conspiracy of Silence and Prologue, Progs 891-894, 4 Episodes, Judge Dredd Megazine vol.2 57). Ultimately, Dredd finds himself under arrest. That is until the ship transporting not only him, but the Chief Judge and many passengers, is sabotaged when leaving the fire planet Hestia....

Wilderlands is another fine example of John Wagner’s big event story telling. The fixed episodic format allows these ‘build up’ storylines to be inserted at any time, and only bolsters Judge Dredd’s strong continuity. After the relentless Judgement Day, Wilderlands goes much further to develop Dredd’s political side, and how strongly he feels for the judge system on a personal level. Carlos Ezquerra’s artwork shines through on the main Wilderlands story, depicting a very harsh planet Hestia to great effect. His art breathes life into Dredd and his famous aging stony face.

Before checking out Wilderlands, be sure to read The Tenth Planet (Judge Dredd Megazine Vol.2 58-62, 5 Episodes), which literally leads straight into Wilderlands.

Origins (Progs 1505-1517, 2007, 1518-1519, 1529-1535, 23 Episodes):-

Preceded by the 5-parter The Connection, the creator team John Wagner and Carlos Equerra team up once again. After recurring dreams of his clone father, Chief Judge Fargo, the truth around the beginning of the judicial system is completely revealed, by Dredd, in flashbacks. Origins also marked 30 years of Judge Dredd. Its conclusion has major repercussions on not only Dredd’s world, but that of the Judge system itself.

Although scattered amongst many issues of both 2000ad and Judge Dredd Megazine, these stories have nearly all been re-published in trade format. In fact, the Judge Dredd Complete Case Files and its many volumes contain all Dredd stories, in chronological order. So get collecting!

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