Judge Dredd'll make those creeps sing. Artist: Brian Bolland.


Original Medium: Comic books
Published by: IPC Magazines
First Appeared: 1977
Creators: John Wagner (writer) and Carlos Ezquerra (artist)
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Comic books are rife with characters who wear spiffy outfits while taking the law into their own hands. But most …

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… of them operate outside the law. Within the context of his series, however, Judge Dredd is the law.

Dredd is one of many so-called "judges" who maintain order in Mega City One, a vast, impossibly dense urban sprawl that covers the entire eastern portion of North America in the 22nd century dystopia in which he lives. The judges of the Mega City don't merely pass judgment on citizens who run afoul of the law. They're also the uniformed cops who track down the perps, the juries who determine guilt, and the executioners who carry out the sentence — a perfectly efficient system that can have a criminal safely locked away in an iso-cube for life, within minutes of committing his crime.

Of course, "efficiency" of this sort smacks of totalitarian fascism, and there are definite elements of that in Judge Dredd. But it's often hard to tell Dredd's fascism from a wickedly dark, over-the-top parody of fascism. For example, Dredd once investigated an attempt on the part of organized criminals to prey on a professional baseball team, and, being absolutely impartial in his upholding of the law, wound up putting away most of the players and coaching staff, and quite a few spectators, on unrelated charges, most involving victimless crimes.

Judge Dredd is the major star of Britain's weekly science fiction comic book, 2000 AD, which was launched by IPC magazines with a cover date of Feb. 26, 1977. But Dredd wasn't in it quite from the beginning, apparently because of a few glitches in putting together a finished story suitable for launching the character. He was created by writer John Wagner (who also had a hand in creating Strontium Dog and Ace Trucking Co. for 2000 AD and The Last American for Marvel Comics), and artist Carlos Ezquerra (who, aside from defining the look of Judge Dredd, is also known in America for his work on The Saint of Killers, a 1996 mini-series about DC Comics' Preacher). But the first story to see print (in the second issue, or "prog", short for "programme", as the publisher calls them for some reason, dated March 5, 1977) was written by Pat Mills (Marshall Law) and drawn by Mike McMahon (who has also done a few Batman stories for DC).

Other stellar writers and artists who have handled the character include (among others) Ian Gibson (The Ballad of Halo Jones), Brian Bolland (Camelot 3000), Alan Grant (Robo-Hunter), John Burns (Modesty Blaise), Alan Moore (Watchmen) and Cam Kennedy (who has drawn several comics licensed from the mighty Star Wars franchise). Even American illustrator John Byrne (X-Men, Alpha Flight), while visiting England, once dropped in on the publisher and wound up drawing a few Judge Dredd episodes.

Aside from appearing in more than a thousand issues of 2000 AD over the past three decades, Dredd has headlined comics of his own. IPC launched its Judge Dredd Yearbook in 1981, and Judge Dredd Megazine in 1990. A newspaper strip about Dredd was launched in 1981, in the British newspaper The Star. Titan Books, which has reprinted many British comics such as Jeff Hawke, Garth and newspaper comics adaptations of the James Bond (unconvincingly related) stories (as well as a few American comics such as Love & Rockets and Swamp Thing), began putting Judge Dredd in book form in 1982.

Dredd crossed the Atlantic in 1983, when IPC launched an American subsidiary, Eagle Comics, mainly to reprint Judge Dredd on a monthly basis for the U.S. audience. American reprints continued throughout the 1980s and into the '90s. Comics Revue, currently America's best regularly-published source for reprints of newspaper comics, ran many episodes of The Star's version. DC Comics licensed the character in 1994, and published American-made Dredd stories for the next two years, while at the same time running a reprint series. In oneshots and mini-series coming out between 1991 and '99, Dredd has done crossovers with Batman. He's also crossed over with DC's Lobo (1995) and Dark Horse Comics' licensed version of 20th Century Fox's Predator (1997).

The film version of Dredd, with Sylvester Stallone in the title role, was released in England on June 21, 1995, and in America nine days later. It wasn't much of a success, but many attribute this to its not being a close enough adaptation. For example, the movie Dredd was frequently shown in a full-face view, whereas comics readers almost never see his eyes — an important point in a no-nonsense law enforcement officer who, like Dredd, makes every effort to distance himself from the people he's supposed to be protecting. He's also been adapted into radio plays, which aired in Britain during the '90s.

For the past few years, Dredd hasn't been seen very often in the U.S. But in his country of origin, 2000 AD, now published by Rebellion A/S, mostly a game producer, is still coming out every week (even if the year itself has passed into history). And Judge Dredd is still its biggest star.


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