- This article is about the comic-book character Judge Dredd. There is also Judge Dread, a reggae/ska performer in the early 1970s who was known for the somewhat 'risqué' sexual content of his songs.
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Judge Dredd was created by writer John Wagner and artist Carlos Ezquerra, although the name was thought up by Pat Mills, who was originally going to use it for a different character. Wagner saw Dredd as a near future vigilante in the mode of the 'One-Eyed Jack' character he had written for 'Action' but when Ezquerra returned his pages the strip was shifted to a more futuristic scenario. A freelance Peter Harris wrote the first published Dredd story in which a criminal attempts to use the rapid face change available in the 22nd Century to fox Dredd. The story introduced the motifs that would mark out Dredd in which 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. In the first published story Dredd was drawn by Mike McMahon rather than Ezquerra, and Ezquerra was reputedly so upset that he didn't draw Dredd until five years later. His appearance was inspired by Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry, and the film poster for Death Race 2000. Other illustrators of the strip have included Brian Bolland, Ron Smith, Steve Dillon and Cam Kennedy.
Dredd, actually one of a number of clones of Chief Judge Fargo, is the most famous of the elite corps of Judges who run Mega-City One with the power not only to enforce the law, but also to instantly pass judgements on criminals and (if necessary) execute them. Dredd has a large, computer-driven "Lawmaster" motor bike, a gun (called a 'Lawgiver') with a wide range of specialist bullets which can only be used by its owner, a daystick, 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). 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.
The strip is set about 120 years into the future. The Earth has been badly damaged by a series of international conflicts, much of the Earth is desertified and populations have tended to come together in enormous cities. The world of Judge Dredd is centred on the megapolis of Mega-City One. The form of much of the remaining world is somewhat vague, being shaped and reshaped as story-lines demand.
Despite its frequent disasters Mega-City One stretches from around Boston to Charlotte. It was established in 2031 and at its height contained a population of about 800 million; the current population is less than half of that. There are two other major population centres in Northern America – Mega-City Two (from around San Diego into Baja California) and Texas City (formerly Mega-City Three). 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 gone and the water there and across much of the north Atlantic is severely polluted, and is called by some 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 are now joined. In Europe the major cities are Brit-Cit (covering all of southern England), Euro-City (eastern France), Vatican City (most of Italy) and Ciudad Espana (eastern Spain). Ireland is now known as the Emerald Isle, essentially an enormous theme park recreating a stereotypical view of traditional Irish life. Further east into Asia are further 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 megapolis 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; Hondo City on the remains of the islands of Japan; and Indo City in southern India. 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.
The Middle East is without major cities, being either nuclear or natural desert, 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. The major cities are Umur (Libya), New Jerusalem (north-east Ethiopia) and Simba City (Cameroon). Lake Victoria is enlarged and has been renamed the Kenyatta Sea.
The Judge system
The Judges are police, judge, and executioner if necessary, and their word is absolute. The only thing preventing them from being a totally oppressive police state is the psychological conditioning they receive – this has been subverted on several occasions, including by the insane Judge Cal who, once he had absolute power, then proceeded to behave much like his namesake Caligula, even appointing his pet goldfish as his Deputy Chief Judge. Dredd, having missed the conditioning due to being out of Mega-City One at the time, 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, he was offered the job of Chief Judge but refused it, as he believed he was needed far more out on the streets. On another occasion, the Judges were again subverted from their role of protectors of the citizens of Mega-City One by the Sisters of Death, who, through the body of psi judge Kit Agee, used supernatural powers to create the Dark Judges' dystopian state of Necropolis. Once more, Dredd, who had again avoided mental conditioning by being away from the city (this time due to having resigned from the Judges and taken The Long Walk (see Tale of the Dead Man)), and a small force of rebel Cadet Judges as well as Judge Anderson, were able to win the day.
Mega-City One's population lives in gigantic tower blocks, each holding some fifty thousand or so people, and each named after some historical person or TV character. (There is usually some (very British) ironic joke in the names of the blocks.) A number of stories feature rivalries between different blocks, on one occasion (recounted in the story "Block Mania") breaking into shooting wars between them; the Judges' arbitrary and total powers reflect the difficulty of maintaining any order at all in the Mega-City environment.
Various versions of the Judge system hold power in all the Mega-Cities of Dredd's world.
Judge Dredd: The movie
A film based around the comic strip was released in 1995, starring Sylvester Stallone as Dredd. Fans were highly critical, largely regarding it as a failure. In deference to the expensive star, Dredd's face was shown; and in spite of the large budget and accurate recreation of the sets and characters appearances, the script writers largely omitted the ironic humour of the original strip, as well as ignoring 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 in the comic strip). In addition, the film did not find wide mainstream appeal.
Major Judge Dredd storylines
There have been a number of Judge Dredd storylines that have either significantly developed the "Dredd mythos" or have been "epic" in scale (i.e., been multi-part stories). Some of these include:
- The Robot Wars (the Mega-City judges face an uprising by the city's robot servant workforce led by carpenter-droid Call-Me-Kenneth)
- The Return of Rico (prog 30) (Joe Dredd's clone brother Rico Dredd returns from Titan (a penal colony for Judges who themselves have broken the law) seeking revenge)
- "Lunar One" (progs 42–59) Dredd is made Judge Marshall of Mega-City One's Lunar Colony. During this mission we meet for the first time Judges from East Meg One.
- The Cursed Earth (progs 61–85) was the writers' take on the basic plot of Roger Zelazny's Damnation Alley: Dredd, accompanied by punk biker Spikes Harvey Rotten undertakes an epic journey across the deserts of the Cursed Earth in order to bring the vaccine for the deadly 2T(Fru)T virus that is devastating the population of Mega-City Two)
- The Day the Law Died (progs 89–108) (the tyrannical and insane Chief Judge Cal takes control of Mega-City One with disastrous consequences for the population. This story introduced the Kleggs, a crocodile-like race of interplanetary mercenaries)
- Judge Death (progs 149–151) (the first appearance of both Judge Death, perhaps the Mega-Cities' darkest foe, and Judge Anderson)
- Judge Child (progs 156–181) (The space opera style search for the mutant child Owen Chrysler, who Mega-City 'pre-cog' Psi-Judge Feyy has predicted will have the power to save the city from an unspecified future disaster. This story introduced several characters into the Dredd mythos such as Judge Hershey, The Angel Gang (including the ever popular villain Mean Machine Angel), Murd the Oppressor and the bizarre Jigsaw Disease, whose victims literally disappeared piece by piece)
- Block Mania (progs 236–244) (contamination of water supplies by Orlok the Assassin leads to all out war between Mega-City One's many city blocks. This story is a prologue to Apocalypse War)
- Apocalypse War (progs 245–270) (weakened by the effects of Block Mania, Mega-City One is attacked and invaded by the forces of East Meg One. Dredd leads the resistance)
- City of the Dead (progs 393–406) (the Judges develop time travel technology. Dredd and Anderson travel into the future to discover more about the disaster predicted by Psi-Judge Feyy. However they learn that the Judge Child Owen Chrysler has in fact caused the events rather than preventing them from happening)
- Oz (progs 545–570) (Dredd visits the Australian Mega-City of Oz on the trail of renegade sky-surfer Chopper. At the same time the Mega-City One Judges are attacked by the Judda, a 'lost tribe' of clones of Chief Judge Fargo who share Judge Dredd's bloodline)
- The Dead Man ((NB. This was not billed as a 'Judge Dredd' story when it first appeared in 2000 AD) a mysterious disfigured stranger with no memory wanders the deserts of the Cursed Earth. In the final episode of the story this turns out to be Dredd, who has encountered the Sisters of Death. In this story Dredd is shown throughout without his famous feature-covering helmet, although his face has been badly burned and scarred.)
- A Letter to Judge Dredd (prog 661) (Dredd receives a letter written by a child who has been killed as an indirect result of the Judges' suppression of a pro-democracy demonstration, causing him to seriously question the entire ethical basis of the Judge system, and setting in motion the chain of events recounted in the episodes that follow)
- The Tale of the Dead Man (progs 662–668) (Dredd resigns and takes the Long Walk following his assessment of ex-Judda Cadet Judge Kraken, and his crisis of faith in the Law that he had always sworn to uphold. This story acts as a prologue to Necropolis)
- Necropolis (progs 669–673 (Countdown to Necropolis) and 674–699) (manipulating the confused mind of Judge Kraken, the Sisters of Death are able to use the body of Psi-Judge Agee in order to take control of Mega-City One and create a trans-dimensional bridge enabling The Dark Judges to once again manifest themselves)
- Democracy (the long running tensions between the totalitarian Judge system and the movement for the restoration of democracy in the Mega-City at last come to a head...)
- Judgement on Gotham (a 'cross-over' story co-published by DC Comics and Fleetway in which Dredd and Batman reluctantly join forces in order to defeat Judge Death, who has used dimension-jump technology to breach the DC Universe and attack Gotham City). This issue was also notable for painted artwork by Simon Bisley.
- Judgement Day (progs 786–799) (Sabbat the Necromagus reanimates the corpses of the dead and uses them to attack the Mega-Cities of the world, leading to the deaths of billions. This story includes the teaming up of Dredd with Johnny Alpha, a character from another long running 2000AD comic strip, Strontium Dog (Dredd and Alpha had however previously crossed paths in an earlier story)
- Mechanismo (after Necropolis and Sabbat's zombies, Mega-City has lost far too many judges. To combat this, the Chief Judge test-runs ten robot judges with disastrous results.)
- Helter Skelter (in an alternative dimension, Judge Cal (see The Day the Law Died) was not defeated by Dredd, and has obtained dimension jump technology from the Dark Judges. He uses this to cause chaos between the dimensions, bringing back many of Dredd's greatest foes from other alternative dimensions, as well as a variety of characters from other 2000 AD stories (including cameos from Halo Jones, Rogue Trooper, D.R. and Quinch and others). On the verge of the total collapse of all universes (Helter Skelter), Dredd defeats Cal with the help of dimension technician Darien Kenzie.)
Judge Dredd video games
Judge Dredd: Dredd Vs Death was produced by Rebellion Developments and released in early 2004 by Sierra for the PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube. The game sees the return of the Dark Judges when Mega-City One becomes overun with vampires and the undead. The player takes control of Judge Dredd, with the optional addition of another Human player in Co-operative play; his mission is to bring the Dark Judges to Justice again. The whole game is played in the style of an FPS (first-person shooter) – with key differences from the standard FPS being the requirement to arrest lawbreakers and an SJS death squad which will hunt you down should you kill too many civilians.
The player can also go up against three of his friend's in the various multiplayer modes which include Deathmatch/Team Deathmatch, Elimination/Team Elimination, Informant, Judges Vs Perps, Runner and more.
Ther have also been several games released across formats such as the Snes/Famicom, Sega Genesis/Megadrive and several home computers, such as the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64, while a high-profile arcade game, or 'coin-op', was developed – but never released – by Midway, creators of the Mortal Kombat videogame franchise.
Music and celebrity fans
- The heavy metal band Anthrax included a song about Judge Dredd on on their third album (Among the Living) entitled "I am the Law,". They also released a 12" single and a 7" picture disc, both bearing the image of Dredd.
- The UK ska/Two-Tone band Madness also recorded a tribute single to Dredd under the name of The Fink Brothers, entitled "Mutants in Mega-City One". Released on the Zarjazz label, the record featured a cover drawn by 2000 AD Dredd artist Brian Bolland.
- The UK band The Human League also wrote a song about Judge Dredd. "I am the Law" appeared on the band's most popular album, Dare.
- The Manic Street Preachers' song, "Judge Yr'Self" is also thought to be influenced by the comic. It was released on the double-album of B-sides and rarities, Lipsick Traces.
- Celebrity fans of Dredd also include Terry Pratchett, Jonathan Ross, Lemmy from Motörhead, and Simon Le Bon.
The audio series
In recent years Big Finish Productions have produced eighteen audio plays featuring 2000AD characters. These have mostly featured Judge Dredd although three have also featured Strontium Dog. In these Judge Dredd is played by Toby Longworth and Johnny Alpha, the Strontium Dog is played by Simon Pegg. The 2000AD audios will end with the release of Solo.
The current list of 2000AD audio plays featuring Dredd includes:
- 1. Judge Dredd – Wanted: Dredd or Alive by David Bishop
- 2. Judge Dredd – Death Trap! by David Bishop (with Judge Death)
- 4. Judge Dredd – The Killing Zone by Dave Stone
- 5. Judge Dredd -The Big Shot! by David Bishop
- 6. Judge Dredd -Trapped on Titan by Jonathan Clements
- 7. Judge Dredd – Get Karter! by David Bishop
- 8. Judge Dredd – I Love Judge Dredd by Jonathan Morris
- 9. Judge Dredd – Dreddline by James Swallow
- 11. Judge Dredd – 99 Code Red! by Jonathan Clements
- 12. Judge Dredd – War Planet by Dave Stone
- 13. Judge Dredd – Jihad by James Swallow
- 15. Judge Dredd – For King and Country by Cavan Scott
- 14. Judge Dredd – War Crimes by David Bishop
- 16. Judge Dredd – Pre-Emptive Revenge by Jonathan Clements (with Strontium Dog)
- 17. Judge Dredd – Grud is Dead by James Swallow
- 18. Judge Dredd – Solo by Jonathan Clements
Note: 3 and 10 are Strontium Dog stories that do not feature Dredd.
In addition, The Day the Law Died story was featured on BBC Radio One, and issued as a two cassette tape.
- A profile of Dredd's universe in a site devoted to British comic book characters
- The Guardian guide to the world of Dredd
- Judge Dredd at the Internet Movie Database
- The A-Z of Judge Dredd: The Complete Encyclopedia from Aaron Aardvark to Zachary Zziiz, by Mike Butcher, St. Martin's Press; ISBN 0312137338 (trade paperback, March 1999)