10. Day Of Chaos
Writer: John Wagner, Michael Carroll
Artist: Ben Willsher, Henry Flint, Leigh Gallagher, Colin MacNeil, Edmund Bagwell
First Published: 2011-2012
Proves that new Judge Dredd stories can have as much impact as the cast iron classics, thanks in part to the continued presence of co-creator John Wagner. Running for nearly a year between July 2011 and June 2012, Day Of Chaos was an apocalyptic levelling of Mega-City One, comparable to earlier storylines of mass destruction like Judgement Day and The Apocalypse War, this time with a hint of 28 Days Later, Garth Ennis‘ Crossed and even status quo-rupturing anarchy of The Dark Knight Rises.
A biological agent is unleashed by vengeful agents of the previously decimated Soviet Bloc city, East Meg One, turning all it affects into murderous psychopaths for the four days it takes to kill them. Plot and counterplot gather momentum – news that the contagion is incurable leak out, and citizens riot rather than be executed by Judges who’d been rounding up the affected, promising quarantine and cure. The psychopathic PJ Maybe is on the loose, the Academy of Law is destroyed in a terrorist attack and the Dark Judges are unleashed.
Day Of Chaos certainly lives up to its name.
9. The Judge Child Quest
Writer: John Wagner, Alan Grant
Artist: Mike McMahon, Brian Bolland, Ron Smith
First Published: 1980
Judge Dredd’s own Star Wars, with a splash of Homer’s Odyssey. Dredd leads a crack team (including Judge Hershey in her debut appearance) in search of the mythical Judge Child, who will bring balance to the (police) force – the perfect setup to bob from outlandish situation to outlandish situation across the Cursed Earth and into space, taking in a first encounter with the fearsome Mean Machine Angel, a first look at the cowboy chic of Texas City, Dune-inspired Oracle Spice hallucinations and the brilliant, absurdly terrifying Jigsaw Disease that erases its sufferer Tetris-block by Tetris-block from existence.
The first long-form John Wagner and Alan Grant team-up, the pair would not only go on to craft more Judge Dredd mega-epics, but re-energised a cluttered and predictable era for Batman with a stripped-down and altogether darker run on Detective Comics, focusing on pulpy short-stories with fresh villains. This is where it all began though, taking Dredd outside his comfort zone into world of brilliantly surreal speculative escapism.
If Judge Child is Dredd’s answer to the precocious Anakin Skywalker, then Joe does what we all wished we could have done with the mystical runt…
8. The Chief Judge’s Man
Writer: John Wagner
Artist: Will Simpson, Colin MacNeil, John Burns
First Published: 2001, 2003
The welcome return of the embittered, hover-chair bound Judge Jura Edgar ‘Hoover’, former chief of the Justice Department’s invasive Public Surveillance Unit, farmed off to some distant Cursed Earth prison camp as administrator for a failed plot to smear Dredd, The Chief Judge’s Man is a tense, noirish thriller about a genetically engineered assassin who is allegedly offing the Justice Department’s enemies at the bequest of the Chief Judge, Barbara Hershey, and Dredd must get to the truth behind a sinister conspiracy that grows steadily deeper, before the vicious, Jason Bourne-like Armon Gill kills again.
Featuring artist Will Simpson’s first Judge Dredd panels (barring one Megazine story) in over a decade, he joined the British invasion in 1991, taking over Hellblazer with writer and fellow Norn Iron native Garth Ennis, and also drawing the likes of Animal Man, Legends Of The Dark Knight and Punisher 2099, and the return of his thick shadows to our shores is a cause for much celebration.
7. Tour Of Duty
Writer: John Wagner
Artist: Carlos Ezquerra, John Higgins, Mike Collins
First Published: 2009-2010
It’s rare that Dredd’s unbending sense of righteousness and our own sense of righteousness as a reader go hand in hand, but the faceless fascist, in whose court all the balls are sitting, finds himself the underdog when relaxed anti-mutant laws result in a hardline backlash, and a new mutie hating hierarchy at the head of Mega-City One’s Justice Department led by celebrity blow-hard Chief Judge Dan Francisco and the oily Deputy Chief Judge Sinfield is established.
Shunted off to police the new mutant ghettos in the Cursed Earth, where the city’s mutant citizens have been unceremoniously booted with a skeleton staff of misfits, Dredd must keep order over the isolated powder keg of the townships, stave off bandits and marauders and unravel the conspiracy unfolding back home when Francisco is incapacitated, Sinfield steps up, and something weird is going on with Mayor Ambrose…
Writer: John Wagner, Alan Grant
Artist: Cliff Robinson, Jim Baikie, Brendan McCarthy, Steve Dillon, John Higgins, Barry Kitson, Gary Leach.
First Published: 1987-1988
Imprisoned graffiti artist and sky surfer Marlon ‘Chopper’ Shakespeare, a folk hero in Mega-City One, escapes to take part in Supersurf 10 in Oz, the Sydney/Melbourne mega-city, but first he has to cross the Cursed Earth with Judge Dredd at his heels. A thoroughly likeable rebel without malice, Chopper is purposefully easy to root for, and the cheering Mega-City One media and obsessive public become our voice in the narrative.
Meanwhile, mysterious, fanatical Judge clones called The Judda are teleporting into Mega-City One on missions of vengeance, and their trail leads to Oz – killing two birds with one stone, Dredd leaves to hunt down the Judda and bring Chopper to book…
The seemingly random grab-bag of fill-in artists all seem to lend themselves to the chaos of the story, part road trip, part sports movie, and action/adventure romp – one, Brendan McCarthy, spent a lot of time in Australia and did a load of sketches there for inspiration, his idle musing of what the country would look like 200 years into the future lighting the spark that became Oz.
Funnily enough, McCarthy worked on production design and co-wrote the script for the forthcoming Mad Max: Fury Road when the project was in its infancy.
5. Judgement On Gotham
Writer: Alan Grant/John Wagner
Artist: Simon Bisley
First Published: 1991
Purists will balk at the inclusion of this Batman/Judge Dredd one-shot rather than Total War or The Day The Law Died, or some equally worthy contribution to Dredd lore, but this was simultaniously the first Judge Dredd story AND the first Batman story I read, and it holds up brilliantly as a snapshot of both characters.
Outside of the gated community that is the DC’s tight rein over Batman, we’re treated to a rare depiction of the character through the glorious painted panels of Simon Bisley, and instead of the usual timid, super-diplomatic crossover where neither hero is allowed to lose face, Alan Grant – then writing Batman – and John Wagner team up for a ridicliously fun romp where Judge Death and Scarecrow team up, Batman is batonned to a pulp by SJS and Mean Machine Angel headbutts his way across Gotham City.
4. Brothers Of The Blood
Writer: John Wagner
Artist: Simon Fraser, Carlos Ezquerra, Ian Gibson, Colin MacNeil, Charlie Adlard
First Published: 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004
There’s been no grand softening of Dredd over the last decade, but there has been a greater exploration of the emotional palette that simmers behind that impassive visor and Ol’ Stoneyface’s place in the world.
Not really one story arc, but a collection of loosely grouped stories set around the closest thing Dredd has to a biological family – his disgraced clone brother Rico’s illicit daughter Vienna and his younger clone Rico, named after the aforementioned disgraced brother – and the bond they share, these two seemingly immovable paragons of judgement, and this anomaly in an actual relative who they both care for.
There’s moments of strange tenderness, and the expected duty and responsibility, but also kinship and pride – not a direction anyone ever suspected this character would find himself exploring.
3. Block Mania
Writer: John Wagner/Alan Grant
Artist: Mike McMahon/Brian Bolland
First Published: 1981
Essentially a thriller prologue to the bloodier Apocalypse War, Block Mania is superior for several reasons: the tension and the danger of the setting, as contagious hostility spreads across Mega City-One, and Brian Bolland’s absurdly detailed art – not that Mike McMahon’s idiosyncratic neo-expressionism is to be sniffed at – whose crowd scenes are some of the best ever committed to paper.
Although seen as one of the definitive artists, Bolland hasn’t done as many Dredd strips as you might think. His detailed and hyper-realistic style not exactly being conducive to the business of putting together a comic-book on a weekly schedule, he has nevertheless done some absolutely seminal storylines, and as one of them Block Mania features some of his finest work – culminating with a punch-up in the rain between Judge Dredd and East-Meg infiltrator Orlok.
A tribute to how influential Block Mania was, Bolland’s cover of 2000 AD prog 182 was homaged in Dredd’s first appearence in the 1995 Judge Dredd movie, and future hobby mega-firm Games Workshop produced a Block Mania boardgame, with a Mega-Mania expansion.
2. The Pit
Writer: John Wagner
Artist: Carlos Ezquerra/Colin MacNeil/Lee Sullivan/Alex Ronald
First Published: 1995-1996
It’s interesting to note how soon after 1995’s failed Judge Dredd movie that The Pit ushered in the ‘modern age’ of the character, one focusing on the day-to-day of a struggling Justice Department sector house in Mega-City One’s most crime-ridden zone, it focused on the ensemble more than Dredd himself. We began to follow the flawed supporting characters as eagerly as the main man as they flirted with redemption and damnation, with Dredd on hand to help them on their way.
Placed in command of the sinking sector house to pull it back from the brink, The Pit introduced one of the book’s most interesting characters – the conflicted Judge Galen DeMarco, the most capable of the misfits and rogues under Dredd’s new command, she was revealed to have had an illicit affair with another Judge, but choosing duty over love, she was allowed to remain on the force.
Aside from some truly terrible computer aided colouring, The Pit is a filthy, procedural epic to rival the likes of The Wire or The Shield, and successfully reinvented Dredd’s world and his role in it as one with contemporary relevance.
Writer: John Wagner
Artist: Colin MacNeil
First Published: 1990-1991
Judge Dredd’s own Dark Knight Returns, All-Star Superman and Kingdom Come, all wrapped up tight in a blood-splattered Star Spangled Banner. John Wagner and Colin MacNeil’s America is an exploration of the sad fate that awaits democracy and liberty if it isn’t safeguarded from the forces that purport to safeguard it.
Dredd is one of those characters, like the Punisher and Bruce Wayne’s Batman, who is perhaps at his most effective when viewed through the eyes of others, where his actions are given subjective resonance. Much of America follows the life of America Beeny, named for the land of her birth by her parents, recent arrivals in Mega-City One, and besotted with the promise of the American Dream, while Dredd himself is very much a secondary character, antagonist rather than protagonist.
It’s not subtle in the slightest, but it is powerful and the curtailed freedoms of the United States – and indeed United Kingdom and elsewhere – post-9/11 ensure its message is just as resonant now as it was in 1990.
The following were omitted for not really being Judge Dredd strips despite being part of the same universe. Did we miss your favourite?
1. Dan Abnett and Colin MacNeil’s Insurrection is a fantastically tense militaristic tale of Judges, evolved apes and rogue robots on a distant Big Meg colony fighting for their independence against the SJS. Unashamedly commissioned to echo the atmosphere of Abnett’s Black Library fiction.
2. Mark Millar and Steve Yeowell’s Red Razors, written in 1991 against the backdrop of the crumbling Soviet Union. East Meg Two has embraced capitalism and corruption, with a new breed of Judges being introduced, consisting of brainwashed former gang members like Judge Razor, who adhere to an anarchic definition of law and order in this enjoyably glib satire.
3. Rob Williams and Henry Flint’s Low Life takes the edge of menace off Mega-City One, turning it into a place of Terry Gilliam-like absurdity and surrealism through the insanity-tinted spectacles of Wally Squad undercover Judge Dirty Frank, who bears an intentional resemblance to Alan Moore, and an equally offbeat ensemble of legally sanctioned lunatics and hobos.
4. Alan Grant and Arthur Ranson’s gorgeous Shamballa, a beautifully drawn and referenced adventure through Eastern mysticism, with psychic Judge Cassandra Anderson beginning to doubt her place in the world following the suicide of a close friend. Gentle and moving.