Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 01


By John Wagner, Pat Mills, Carlos Ezquerra, Ian Gibson, Mike McMahon, Brian Bolland & various (Rebellion)
ISBN: 978-1-90426-579-5

Britain’s last great comic icon could be described as a combination of the other two, combining the futuristic milieu and thrills of Dan Dare with the terrifying anarchy and irreverent absurdity of Dennis the Menace. He’s the longest-lasting adventure character in our admittedly meagre comics stable, having been continually published every week since February 1977 when he first appeared in the second issue of science-fiction anthology 2000AD – and now that The Dandy’s gone, veterans Korky the Cat and Desperate Dan might one day be overtaken in the comedy stakes too…

However, with at least 52 2000AD strips a year, annuals, specials, a newspaper strip (in the Daily Star and later The Metro), the Judge Dredd Megazine, numerous reprinted classic comics collections, some rather appalling franchised foreign comicbook spin-off titles, that adds up to a phenomenal amount of material, most of which is still happily in print.

Judicial Review: Dredd and his dystopian ultra-metropolis of Mega-City One – originally it was to be a 21st century New York – were created by a very talented committee including Pat Mills, Kelvin Gosnell, Carlos Ezquerra, Mike McMahon and others, but with the major contribution coming from legendary writer John Wagner who has written the largest portion of the canon under his own name and several pseudonyms.

Joe Dredd is a fanatically dedicated Judge in the super-city, where hundreds of millions of citizens idle away their days in a world where robots are cheaper and more efficient than humans, and jobs are both beloved pastime and treasured commodity. Boredom has reached epidemic proportions and almost everybody is just one askance glance away from mental meltdown. Judges are peacekeepers who maintain order at all costs: investigating, taking action and trying all crimes and disturbances to the hard-won equilibrium of the constantly boiling melting pot. Justice is always immediate…

Dredd’s world is a polluted and precarious Future (In)Tense with all the key analogues for successful science fiction (as ever a social looking-glass for the times it’s created in) situated and sharply attuned to a Cold War Consumer Civilisation. The planet is divided into political camps with post-nuclear holocaust America locked in a slow death-struggle with the Sov Judges of the old Eastern Communist blocs. The Eastern lawmen are militaristic, oppressive and totalitarian – and that’s by the US Judges’ standards – so just imagine what they’re actually like…

The Judges are necessary fascists in a world permanently on the edge of catastrophe, and sadly, what far too many readers never realise is that the strip is a gigantic satirical black comedy with oodles of outrageous, vicarious cathartic action.

Such was not the case when the super-cop debuted in 2000AD Prog (that’s issue number to you) #2 on March 5th 1977. He was stuck at the back of the new weekly comic in a tale finally scripted – after much intensive re-hashing – by Peter Harris and illustrated by Mike McMahon & Carlos Ezquerra.

The blazing, humourless, no-nonsense (all that would happily come later) action extravaganza introduced the bike-riding Sentinel of Order in the cautionary tale of brutal bandit Whitey, whose savage crime spree was ended with ferocious efficiency before the thug was sentenced to Devil’s Island – a high-rise artificial plateau surrounded by the City’s constant stream of lethal, never-ending, high-speed traffic…

In Prog 3 Dredd investigated ‘The New You’ in a cunning thriller by Kelvin Gosnell & McMahon wherein a crafty crook tries to escape justice by popping into his local face-changing shop, whilst #4 saw the first appearance of the outcast mutants in ‘The Brotherhood of Darkness’ (Malcolm Shaw & McMahon) as the ghastly post-nuclear pariahs invade the megalopolis in search of slaves.

The first hints of humour began in Prog 5’s ‘Krong’ by Shaw & Ezquerra, with the introduction of Dredd’s little-old-lady Italian cleaner Maria, wherein deranged horror film fan and hologram salesman Kevin O’Neill – yes it’s an in-joke – unleashes a giant mechanical gorilla on the city. The issue was the first of many to cover-feature old Stone Face (that’s Dredd, not Kev)…

‘Frankenstein 2’ pits the Lawman against an audacious medical mastermind, hijacking citizens to keep his rich aging clients in fresh, young organs, whilst #7 sees ruthless reprobate Ringo’s gang of muggers flaunting their criminality in the very shadow of ‘The Statue of Judgement’ until Dredd lowers the boom on them…

The first indications that the super-cop’s face is somehow hideously disfigured emerge in #8, as Charles Herring & Massimo Belardinelli’s ‘Antique Car Heist’ finds the Judge tracking down a murderous thief who stole an ancient petrol-burning vehicle, after which co-creator John Wagner returned in Prog 9 to begin his staggering run of tales with ‘Robots’, illustrated by veteran British science fiction artist Ron Turner.

The gripping vignette was set at the Robot of the Year Show, and revealed the callous cruelty indulged in by citizens upon their mechanical slaves as a by-product of a violent blackmail threat by a disabled maniac in a mechanical-super chair… This set the scene for an ambitious mini-saga comprising #10-17.

Those casual injustices paved the way for ‘Robot Wars’ (alternately illustrated over the weeks by Ezquerra, Turner, McMahon & Ian Gibson) wherein carpenter-robot Call-Me-Kenneth succumbs to a mechanical mind meltdown and emerges as a human-hating steel Spartacus, leading a bloody revolution against the fleshy oppressors.

The slaughter is widespread and terrible before the Judges regain control, helped in no small part by loyal, lisping Vending droid Walter the Wobot, who graduated at the conclusion to Dredd’s second live-in comedy foil…

With order restored, a sequence of self-contained stories firmed up the vision of the crazed city. In Prog 18 Wagner & McMahon introduced the menace of mind-bending ‘Brainblooms’ cultivated by another little old lady (and career criminal), and Gerry Finley-Day & John Cooper described the galvanising effect of the ‘Muggers Moon’ on Mega-City 1’s criminal class before Dredd demonstrated the inadvisability of being an uncooperative witness…

Wagner & McMahon then debuted Dredd’s bizarre paid informant Max Normal in #20, whose latest tip ended the profitable career of ‘The Comic Pusher’; Finley-Day & Turner turned in a workmanlike thriller as the super-cop tackles a seasoned killer with a deadly new weapon in ‘The Solar Sniper’ and Wagner & Gibson showed the draconian steps Dredd was prepared to take to bring in mutant assassin ‘Mr Buzzz’.

Prog 23 comfortably catapulted the series into all-out ironic satire mode with Finley-Day & McMahon’s ‘Smoker’s Crime‘ when Dredd stalks a killer with a bad nicotine habit to a noxious City Smokatorium, after which Malcolm Shaw, McMahon & Ezquerra reveal the uncanny secret of ‘The Wreath Murders’ in #24.

The next issue began the feature’s long tradition of spoofing TV and media fashions as Wagner & Gibson concoct a lethal illegal game show in ‘You Bet Your Life’ whilst #26 exposes the sordid illusory joys and dangers of the ‘Dream Palace’ (McMahon) before #27-28 offer some crucial background on the Judges themselves when Dredd visits ‘The Academy of Law’ (Wagner & Gibson) to give Cadet Judge Giant his final practical exam. Of course, for Dredd there are no half measures or easy going and the novice barely survives his graduation…

With the concluding part in #28, Dredd moved to second spot in 2000AD (behind brutally jingoistic thriller Invasion) and the next issue saw Pat Mills & Gibson tackle robot racism as Ku Kux Klan-analogue ‘The Neon Knights’ brutalised the reformed and broken artificial citizenry until the Juggernaut Judge krushes them…

Mills then offered tantalising hints on Dredd’s origins in ‘The Return of Rico!’ (McMahon) as a bitter criminal resurfaces after twenty years on the penal colony of Titan. The outcast is looking for vengeance upon the Judge who had sentenced him., but from his earliest days as a fresh-faced rookie, Joe Dredd had no time for corrupt lawmen – even if one were his own clone-brother…

Whitey escapes from Devil’s Island (Finley-Day & Gibson) in Prog 31, thanks to a cobbled-together contraption that turns off weather control, but doesn’t get far before Dredd sends him back, whilst the fully automated skyscraper resort ‘Komputel’ (Robert Flynn & McMahon) becomes a multi-story murder factory that only the City’s greatest Judge can counter before Wagner (using his frequent pseudonym John Howard) took sole control for a series of savage, whacky escapades beginning with #33’s ‘Walter’s Secret Job’ (Gibson).

Here the besotted droid is discovered moonlighting as a cabbie to buy pwesents for his beloved master….

McMahon & Gibson illustrated the two-part tale of ‘Mutie the Pig’: a flamboyant criminal and bent Judge, and performed the same tag-team effort for ‘The Troggies’, a debased colony of ancient humans living under the city and preying on unwary citizens…

Something of a bogie man for wayward kids and exhausted parents, Dredd does himself no favours in Prog 38 when he bursts in on ‘Billy Jones’ (Gibson) and exposes a vast espionage plot utilising toys as surveillance tools.

On tackling ‘The Ape Gang’ in #39 (19th November 1977 and drawn by McMahon), the Judge seamlessly graduated to the lead spot whilst quashing a turf war between augmented, educated, criminal anthropoids in the unruly district dubbed “the Jungle”…

‘The Mega-City 5000’ was an illegal and murderously bloody street race the assembled Judges were determined to shut down, but the gripping action-illustration of the Bill Ward drawn first chapter is sadly overshadowed by hyper-realist rising star Brian Bolland, who began his legendary association with Dredd by concluding the mini-epic in blistering, captivating style in Prog 41. Bolland, by his own admission, was an uneconomically slow artist and much of his later Dredd work would appear as weekly portions of large epics with other artists handling other episodes, to give him time to complete his own assignments with a minimum of pressure…

From out of nowhere in a bold change of pace, Dredd is then seconded to the Moon for a six-month tour of duty beginning in Prog #42. His brief is to oversee the rambunctious, nigh-lawless colony set up by the unified efforts of three US Mega-Cities there. The colony was as bonkers as Mega-City One and a good deal less civilised – a true Final Frontier town…

The extended epic began with‘Luna-1’ by Wagner & Gibson, with Dredd and stowaway Walter almost shot down en route in a mysterious missile attack before being targeted by a suicide-bomb robot before they can even unpack.

‘Showdown on Luna-1’ introduces permanent Deputy-Marshal Judge Tex from Texas-City, whose jaded, laissez-faire attitudes get a sound shaking up as Dredd demonstrates he’s one lawman who isn’t going to coast by for the duration of his term in office.

Hitting the dusty mean streets, Dredd starts cleaning up the wild boys in his town by outdrawing a mechanical Robo-Slinger and uncovering yet another assassination ploy. It seems that reclusive mega-billionaire ‘Mr. Moonie; has a problem with the latest law on his lunar turf…

Whilst dispensing aggravating administrative edicts like a frustrated Solomon, Dredd chafes to hit the streets and do some real work in #44’s McMahon-limned ‘Red Christmas’. An opportunity arises when arrogant axe-murderer ‘Geek Gorgon’ abducts Walter and demands a showdown he lives to regret, whilst ‘22nd Century Futsie!’ (Gibson) finds Moonie Fabrications clerk Arthur Goodworthy cracking under the strain of over-work and going on a destructive binge, with Dredd compelled to protect the future-shocked father’s family from Moonie’s over-zealous security goons…

The plotline concludes in Prog 46 with ‘Meet Mr. Moonie’ (Gibson) as Dredd and Walter confront the manipulative manufacturer and uncover his horrific secret.

The feature moved to the prestigious middle spot with this episode, allowing the artists to really open up and exploit the comic’s full-colour centre-spreads, none more so than Bolland as seen in #47’s ‘Land Race‘ as Dredd officiates over a frantic scramble by colonists to secure newly opened plots of habitable territory. Of course, there’s always someone who doesn’t want to share…

Ian Gibson then illustrated 2-part drama ‘The Oxygen Desert’ (#48-49), wherein veteran moon-rat Wild Butch Carmody defeats Dredd using his superior knowledge of the airless wastes beyond the airtight domes. Broken, the Judge quits and slides into despondency, but all is not as it seems…

Prog 50 featured the debut of single-page comedy supplement Walter the Wobot: Fwiend of Dwedd – but more of that later – whilst the long-suffering Justice found himself knee-boot-deep in an international interplanetary crisis when ‘The First Lunar Olympics’ (Bolland) against a rival lunar colony controlled by the Machiavellian Judges of the Sov-Cities bloc escalates into assassination and a murderous, politically-fuelled land grab.

The conflict was settled in ostensibly civilised manner with strictly controlled ‘War Games’, yet there is still a grievously high body-count by the time the moon-dust settles…

This vicious swipe at contemporary sport’s politicisation was and still is bloody, brutal and bitingly funny…

Bolland also illustrated the sardonic saga of ruthless bandits who were up for a lethal laugh in #52’s ‘The Face-Change Crimes’, employing morphing tech to change their appearances and rob at will until Dredd beats them at their own game.

Wagner & Gibson then craft a 4-part mini-epic (Progs 53-56) wherein motor fanatic Dave Paton’s cybernetic, child-like pride-and-joy blows a fuse and terrorises the domed territory: slaughtering humans and even infiltrating Dredd’s own quarters before the Judge finally stops ‘Elvis, The Killer Car’.

Bolland stunningly limned a savagely mordant saga of a gang of killer bandits who hijack the moon’s air before themselves falling foul of ‘The Oxygen Board’ in #57, but only managed the first two pages of 58’s ‘Full Earth Crimes’, leaving Mike McMahon to complete the tale of regularly occurring chaos in the streets whenever the Big Blue Marble dominates the black sky above…

It was a fine and frantic note to end on as, with ‘Return to Mega-City’, Dredd rotates back Earthside and resumes business as unusual. Readers were probably baffled as to why the returned cop utterly ignored a plethora of crime and misdemeanours, but Wagner & McMahon provide the logical and perfect answer in a brilliant, action-packed set-up for the madcap dramas to come….

This first Case Files chronicle nominally concludes with Wagner & McMahon’s ‘Firebug’ from Prog 60, as the ultimate lawgiver deals with a seemingly-crazed arsonist literally setting the city ablaze. The Law soon discovers a purely venal motive to the apparent madness…

There’s still a wealth of superb bonus material to enjoy before we end this initial outing however, and kicking off proceedings is the controversial First Dredd strip (illustrated by Ezquerra) which was bounced from 2000AD #1 and vigorously reworked – a fascinating glimpse of what the series might have been.

It’s followed by the eawliest Walter the Wobot: Fwiend of Dwedd stwips (sowwy – couldn’t wesist!) from 2000AD Progs 50-58.

Scripted by Joe Collins, these madcap comedy shorts were seen as an antidote to the savage and brutal action strips in the comic and served to set the scene for Dredd’s later full-on satirical lampoonery.

‘Tap Dancer’ was illustrated by Gibson and dealt with an embarrassing plumbing emergency whilst ‘Shoot Pool!’ (Gibson) has the Wobot again taking his Judge’s instructions far too literally…

Bolland came aboard to give full rein to his own outrageous sense of the absurd with the 5-part tale of ‘Walter’s Brother’: a bizarre tale of evil twins, a cunning frame-up and malign muggings that inevitably result in us learning all we ever needed to know about the insipidly faithful and annoying rust-bucket.

Dredd then had to rescue the plastic poltroon from becoming a pirate of the airwaves in ‘Radio Walter’ before the star-struck servant finds his 15 seconds of fame as the winner of rigged quiz-show ‘Masterbrain’ before this big, big book concludes with a trio of Dredd covers from Progs 10, 44 and 59, courtesy of artists Ezquerra, Kev O’Neill and McMahon.

Always mesmerising and beautifully drawn, these short, punchy stories starring Britain’s most successful and iconic modern comics character are the constantly evolving narrative bedrock from which all the later successes of the Mirthless Moral Myrmidon derive.

More importantly, they are timeless classics no real comic fan can ignore – and just for a change something that you can easily get your hungry hands on. Even my local library has copies of this masterpiece of British literature and popular culture…
© 1977, 1978, 2006 Rebellion A/S. All rights reserved. Judge Dredd & 2000AD are ® &™