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Judge Dredd

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Judge Dredd (Joe Dredd or Joseph Dredd) is a comics character whose strip in the British science fiction anthology 2000 AD is the magazine's longest running (having been featured there since its second issue in 1977). Dredd is a law enforcement officer in a violent city of the future where uniformed Judges combine the powers of police, judiciary and government. Dredd and his fellow Judges are empowered to arrest, sentence and even execute criminals on the spot. He was created by writer John Wagner and artist Carlos Ezquerra, although editor Pat Mills also deserves some credit for his early development.

Judge Dredd is possibly amongst Britain's best known home-grown comic book characters. His name is sometimes invoked to describe politicians or police who overstep their powers.


Publishing history

When Pat Mills was developing 2000 AD, he brought in his former writing partner, John Wagner, to develop characters. Wagner had written various Dirty Harry-style "tough cop" stories for other titles, and suggested a character who took that concept to its logical extreme, imagining an ultra-violent lawman patrolling a future New York City with the power to administer instant justice. Mills had developed a horror strip called Judge Dread but abandoned the idea as unsuitable for the new comic, but the name, with minor modification, was adopted by Wagner for his ultimate lawman.

The task of visualising the character was given to Carlos Ezquerra, a Spanish artist who had worked for Mills before on Battle Picture Weekly. Wagner gave Ezquerra an advertisement for the film Death Race 2000, showing the character Frankenstein clad in black leather on a motorbike, as a suggestion for what the character should look like. Ezquerra elaborated on this greatly, adding body-armour, zips and chains, which Wagner originally thought over the top. Wagner's initial script was rewritten by Mills and drawn up by Ezquerra, but when the art came back a rethink was necessary. The hardware and cityscapes Ezquerra had drawn were far more futuristic than the near-future setting originally intended, but Mills decided to run with it and set the strip further into the future.

By this stage, however, Wagner had quit, disillusioned that a proposed buy-out (which would have given him and Mills a greater financial stake in the comic) had fallen through. Mills was reluctant to lose Judge Dredd and farmed the strip out to a variety of freelance writers, hoping to develop it further. Their scripts were given to a variety of artists as Mills tried to find a strip which would provide a good introduction to the character, all of which meant that Dredd would not be ready for 2000 AD's first issue, launched in February 1977. The original launch story written by Wagner and drawn by Ezquerra was finally published several years later in an annual.

The story chosen to introduce the character was submitted by Peter Harris, extensively re-written by Mills, and including an idea suggested by sub-editor Kelvin Gosnell. It was drawn by newcomer Mike McMahon. In it, Dredd brought to justice a criminal who had murdered another Judge and was hiding out in the ruins of the Empire State Building. The story introduced the motifs that would mark out Dredd: novel future crimes are resolved by hi-tech police procedure, with Dredd delivering a severe punishment. In this case, the villain is banished to a penal colony located on a traffic island. The strip debuted in prog 2, but Ezquerra, angry that another artist had drawn the first published strip, quit and returned to work for Battle. Wagner, however, soon swallowed his pride and returned to the character, starting in prog 9. His "Robot Wars" storyline was drawn by a rotating team of artists, including McMahon, Ezquerra, Ron Turner and Ian Gibson, and marked the point where Dredd became the most popular character in the comic, a position he has rarely relinquished. Dredd's city, which now covered most of North America's east coast, became known as Mega-City One.

The character has appeared in almost every issue since, the bulk of the stories written by Wagner (between 1980 and 1988, in collaboration with Alan Grant). Other illustrators of the strip have included Brian Bolland, Ron Smith, Steve Dillon and Cam Kennedy.

Since 1990 Dredd has also headlined his own title, the Judge Dredd Megazine. With Wagner concentrating his energies there, the Dredd strip in 2000 AD was left to younger writers such as Garth Ennis, Mark Millar, Grant Morrison and John Smith. Their efforts were not popular with fans, and sales fell. Wagner returned to writing the character full-time in 1997. Recently, many strips have been written by Gordon Rennie, and in interviews Rennie and Wagner have indicated that there is a plan for Wagner to retire once Rennie has established himself.

Character biography

Judge Dredd, drawn by Mike McMahon for the first ever story

Joe 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 -- and (if necessary) execute them. Dredd has a large, computer-driven "Lawmaster" motorbike, which mounts powerful cannons, and has full artificial intelligence, and is capable of responding to orders from the Judge and driving itself. It is also 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 "Lawgiver" handgun (DNA-coded to recognize his palm-print alone) that fires six types of bullets; a daystick; a bootknife; and, a uniform with a helmet that obscures all of his face except his mouth and jaw. His entire face is never shown in the strip (however, see The Dead Man below). In an early story written by Mills Dredd is forced to remove his helmet and the other characters react as if he is disfigured but the artwork by Massimo Bellardinelli was not satisfactory and Dredd's face was covered by a faux censorship sticker. A frequently used phrase in the series is "I am the Law." Some see Dredd as a personification of the idea of Law, thus his face cannot be shown because as The Law he transcends any particular form. This is not to say, however, that he is totally inhuman. Throughout the strip he displays emotions (mostly anger) and irony: Another common Dredd quote is "Democracy is not for the people", a short sentence containing the Judge's very human opinion of other humans -- that they need to be very strictly controlled. However it should be noted that Dredd supported a referendum on the reintroduction of democracy in the story America.

Dredd used to share his flat with a domestic robot called Walter the Wobot who performed all his domestic chores. Walter has a speech impediment, hence the name. Dredd also had a landlady called Maria. Both Walter and his landlady were kidnapped several times by criminals, and Walter has been destroyed at least once. In later years, Dredd threw out both Walter and Maria, and eventually left his flat, preferring ten minutes on a sleep machine in the Grand Hall of Justice. Maria sank into poverty and eventually died, homeless and alone. Walter tried to set up his own business, but it was shut down by Dredd. Bitterly, he plotted a second Robot Rebellion, and was defeated by Judge Giant, though not before shooting Dredd. As a free robot, Walter was sentenced to imprisonment rather than destruction. Walter later repented, and petitioned Judge Dredd to release him. Dredd agreed, on condition that Walter resume work as a servo-droid, releasing him into the custody and service of Mrs Gunderson.

As the strip occurs in real time, Dredd is currently more than sixty years old. However, his vitality is explained in the context of the stories with allusions to rejuvenation treatments, and a possible body transplant with a younger future clone of Fargo thanks to the advanced medical technology of the future. Recently, characters in the comic have mentioned that Dredd is not as young and fit as he used to be.

Joe is nicknamed "Old Stoneyface", a name he apparently acquired while still a cadet. More recently, he has become known as the "Old Man"; though not confirmed, Joe is likely the oldest Judge still on active street duty. The recent Black Flame novels and strips have confirmed that Joe is well aware he is living on borrowed time, with his replacements already being lined up. These include clones like Judge Rico and Cadet Dolman, and also street judges like Judge Giant, who often partners with Dredd.

Family and Friends

Dredd's loyalty is to the law, first and foremost. However, he does have relationships.

Joe is a clone, along with his brother Rico. However, something went bad in Rico, forcing Joe to turn him in. Twenty years later, Rico returned seeking revenge. This attack failed and Joe was forced to kill him. In spite of Rico's status as a perp, a wounded Joe chose to carry him out of the apartment where Rico had died, stating "He ain't heavy, he's my brother".

Joe also has a niece, Vienna, who was fathered by Rico in jail. Vienna has inherited some of their combat skills, and they have a close relationship (for Dredd). Joe has gone out of his way to save her on occasion, and they get on relatively well.

Joe's first clone, Rico II, is often mistaken for Dredd. He eventually inherited Dredd's apartment at Rowdy Yates.

Joe's best "friend" is probably Judge Giant II. They often work together and, Rico II notwithstanding, Giant is seen as Dredd's replacement (though Giant has always acknowledged that that is an impossible task).

Joe has known Chief Judge Hershey for twenty years; like all Chief Judges since Goodman, Joe has easy access to her, but they also have a personal relationship based on mutual respect for each other.

Dredd's world

The strip is set 122 years in the future. The timeline is worth noting, because the strip appears in real time - thus, as the Dredd strip has been published since 1977, Dredd has aged 29 years as of 2006. The Earth has been badly damaged by a series of international conflicts, much of the planet has turned to desert, and prior to this, populations have tended to aggregate in enormous conurbations known as 'mega-cities'. The world of Judge Dredd is centred on the megalopolis of Mega-City One. Within Mega-City One, extensive automation (including the creation of a caste of intelligent robots) has rendered the majority of the population jobless. As a consequence, the general population is prone to embracing any fashion that comes along. Much of the remaining world's geography is somewhat vague, although other mega-cities have been referred to and visited in the strip.

Mega-City One's population (of 400 million) lives in gigantic tower blocks, each holding some fifty thousand or so people. Each is named after some historical person or TV character (Dredd used to live in the Rowdy Yates block); there is usually some very British, ironic joke in the names of the blocks. For instance, Rowdy Yates was a character in the U.S. TV cowboy drama Rawhide, played by a young Clint Eastwood. Eastwood would later play "Dirty Harry" -- one of the thematic influences upon which Judge Dredd was based. A number of stories feature rivalries between different blocks, on one occasion (recounted in the story "Block Mania") breaking into gunfire wars between them. The Judges' possessing such arbitrary and total powers reflect the difficulty of maintaining any order at all in a Mega-City's stifling environment.

Despite its frequent disasters, Mega-City One stretches from around Boston to Charlotte. Although no date is given in the strip, the Judge Dredd Role-Playing Game (using as its framework the unofficial chronology featured in the 1984 Judge Dredd Annual) cites Mega-City One as being established in 2031. At its height, the city contained a population of about 800 million; the current population is less than half of that. There are three other major population centres in Dredd's Northern America - Mega-City Two (from around San Diego into Baja California) and Texas City (formerly Mega-City Three). Mega-City Four is centered on the Chicago-Great Lakes area. The centre of the continent is a nuclear desert called the Cursed Earth.

Nuclear deserts and destruction elsewhere are also extensive. In South America, a new desert extends from Nicaragua, covering Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, and pushing far into Amazonas. Cities in South America are Brasília, Ciudad Barranquilla, and on the western side the Pan-Andes Conurb and South-Am City. The majority of the Caribbean islands have been destroyed, and the water there and across much of the north Atlantic is severely polluted, and is now known as the Black Atlantic.

Europe has suffered considerable reshaping, especially the south. A desert covers much of eastern France, extending south into Spain and across to cover much of Central Europe. Classical Greece is gone, as are parts of Turkey. The Black Sea and the Caspian Sea are now joined. In Europe the major cities are Brit-Cit (covering all of southern England), Calhab (part of Scotland), Euro-City (eastern France), Vatican City (most of Italy) and Ciudad España (eastern Spain). Ireland is now known as the Emerald Isle, essentially an enormous theme park re-creating a stereotypical view of traditional Irish life. Further east into Asia are more nuclear deserts, the ruins of East-Meg One (destroyed by a massive nuclear strike at the climax of the Apocalypse War), and further east the megalopolis of East-Meg Two.

In Asia, separated from East-Meg Two by an extensive nuclear desert, are Sino-City One and -Two in eastern China, with Hong Tong built in the remains of Hong Kong; Hondo City on the remains of the islands of Japan; and Indo City (also called Nu-Delhi) in southern India. Between Hondo and Sino-City lies the Radlands of Ji, a nuclear desert full of chaos magic and many violent outlaw gangs & martial arts schools. Into the Blue Pacific cities survive in south-east Australia, the Sydney-Melbourne Conurb, and on a number of Pacific islands. Borneo has been covered in mutagens, as have all of Indonesia's islands which are now linked by a network of mutant coral; called "The Web", this network of islands is a lawless hotbed of crime.

The Middle East is without major cities, being either nuclear or natural deserts; the Mediterranean coast is heavily damaged by mutagens. In Africa much of the south is nuclear desert, South Africa proper has been shattered and is entirely uninhabitable, and the continent is now known as Pan-Africa. The major cities are Umur (Libya), New Jerusalem (north-east Ethiopia), Luxor City (Egypt) and Simba City (Cameroon). Lake Victoria is enlarged and has been renamed the Kenyatta Sea.

The high levels of pollution have created instances of mutation in humans and animals. The Mega-Cities largely operate on a system of genetic normalcy making expulsion from the cities the worst punishment possible.

Earth's moon has been colonised, with a series of large domes forming Luna City.

Continuity errors have crept into the history at various stages. An example is an early story featuring a mad scientist who experimented with human cloning - despite the fact that it had already been revealed that many Judges, including Dredd himself, were clones. The most glaring one is the reference to the penal colony for rogue Judges on Titan, which is said in the strip at various stages to orbit either Jupiter or Saturn (the latter is correct), seemingly at the whim of the writer at the time.

The Judge system

Each street Judge acts as police, judge, jury and, if necessary, executioner. They also act as unelected governments. Numerous writers have used the Judge system to satirize contemporary politics. The judges are, in theory, rendered absolutely incorruptible by the psychological conditioning they receive -- although this has been subverted on several occasions to various degrees. One of the worst instances was by the insane Judge Cal who manipulated his way to the office of Chief Judge. Once he had absolute power, he proceeded to behave much like his namesake Caligula, even appointing his pet goldfish as his Deputy Chief Judge. Dredd was the leader of the rebel Judges who overthrew Cal; after Cal's death at the hands of Fergee, a dweller of the Mega-City's undercity, Dredd was offered the job of Chief Judge. He refused it, believing that he was needed far more out on the streets.

However, following the events in Wilderlands Dredd entered his nomination for Chief Judge as part of an investigation. When the investigation was over he let his nomination stand, eventually losing the vote to Judge Volt.

Various versions of the Judge system hold power in all the Mega-Cities of Dredd's world. There is an international charter which countries and city states join upon instituting a Judge system.

Judge Dredd: the movie

Main article: Judge Dredd (film)

A film based on the comic strip was released in 1995, starring Sylvester Stallone as Dredd (it was said that Arnold Schwarzeneger was originally requested for the role, but declined because the in the original script, Dredd would keep the helmet on during major part of the film). Fans were highly critical, largely regarding it as a failure creatively; non-fan viewers reacted negatively, and it was a huge commercial failure as well. In deference to its expensive star, Dredd's face was shown. In the comic, he very rarely removes his helmet -- twice in the entire history of the series, apart from the above mentioned The Dead Man storyline -- and even then, his real face is never revealed. Also, in spite of the large production budget and accurate re-creation of the sets and characters' appearances, the writers largely omitted the ironic humour of the comic strip; they also ignored important aspects of the 'Dredd mythology'. For example, in the film a 'love interest' is developed between Dredd and Judge Hershey, something that is strictly forbidden between Judges (or Judges and anyone else for that matter) in the comic strip. In America, the film won several "worst film of the year" awards. Also of interest is the cameo appearance of the ABC Warrior robot, bearing a distinct resemblance to Hammerstein.

Note: Judge Dredd's first name is 'Joseph' only in the movie. In the comics when his first name is used it is always 'Joe'.