The new Dredd movie resurrected my interest this old comic book anti-hero from my childhood. In the late 21st century, America is a radiaoctive ruin known as the Cursed Earth. In the middle of this wasteland lie three vast sealed cities, one of which is Mega City 1. It’s an overpopulated dystopia of technology and squalour, where unemployment rates are high and crime runs rampant. Order is maintained by the Judges, police officers who act as arresting officer, judge, jury, and sometimes executioner. Crime is far too big a problem for the time-consuming procedures of democracy and trial-by-jury. These elite trained and heavily armoured Judges patrol the streets on bikes (known as Lawmasters). Their main weapon is a side-arm (Lawgiver) that is capable of being switched to a variety of firing modes, including “hi-ex” (high explosive). Judge Dredd is the fiercest and most uncompomising Judge of them all, utterly devoted to keeping the law. In the 30+ years of this character’s existence, from his origin in the early issues of the 2000 AD comic in the late 1970s, no one has yet seen his face (a boundary overstepped thoughtlessly in the the Stallone movie). All that is visible beneath his dark helmet visor is a permanent scowl – an expression that never changes. Fans of the comic will love the new movie, as it maintains the authenticity of the character to a tee.
Judge Dredd is basically a fascist and a fundamentalist in his thinking – traits that would ordinarily cause us to hate a character. But there is just something about Dredd that makes you root for him, and I’m not sure what it is. For whatever reason, the character has endured phenomenally. Perhaps it has something to do with the appeal of westerns. Dredd is basically the sheriff, and there are few, if any, romanticised outlaws in his world. People fit very obvious categories of good and evil. Law-breakers are greedy, murderous, and trigger-happy, while the Judges are an uncompromising force protecting civilisation. They represent a definition of good that is not weak and gentle and fawning. Although Mega City 1 is essentially a police state (which is not the most desirable thing), it’s the sort of place that we know would be hell on earth without the Judges. I’m reminded of the quote: “Evil reigns when good men do nothing.” I think we love Judge Dredd because he represents form of ethics that is happy to justify kicking your ass into next week without a qualm of conscience. Dredd is Lex Talionis, the jaw of the jungle, manifested on the side of civilisation rather than against it.
This volume contains repints of the earliest Dredd stories. There are over 300 pages of short stand-alone tales and multi-issue serials to enjoy, from the first years of 2000 AD. There’s so much material that you inevitably forget a great deal of it quickly after reading. A main highlight is the Robot War, which introduced the frequently recurring character of Walter. We also meet Judge Giant for the first time, graduating from the Academy. And Dredd encounters his clone brother Rico. Highly enjoyable reading, and merely the tip of the iceberg. There are at eighteen subsequent volumes, not to mention many graphic novels in the Dredd universe.