Judge Dredd: Keep That Helmet On!

I’ve been a fan of Judge Dredd for years, thanks to my brother Mike’s comic collection from the 1970s and 80s. One that amused him and me greatly was Judge Dredd, published in the UK in the pages of 2000 AD. Part satire of American culture and part futuristic crime story, Judge Dredd lives in Mega-City One (the Boston-Washington D.C. corridor along the US’s east coast), and fights all manner of criminals, from the petty to the psychotic.

In the world of Judge Dredd, Judges are judge, jury, and executioner of the sentence. Punishment is harsh in this dystopian future, where littering can earn a sentence of several years in isolation.

Part of Dredd’s charm is that the comic didn’t take itself too seriously. One example of this was that Dredd would never remove his helmet, not even when critically injured and in hospital. This is where the Sylvester Stallone Judge Dredd film fell down; Stallone clearly takes himself far too seriously to not show his face every possible moment of screen time. For that, I must commend Karl Urban; as an actor in films, it’s important for the audience to see your face, both to identify wioth you and to help remind them what you look like to help drive your popularity; not doing so can be a big risk. The fact that the most science-fictional elements were apparently too weird for Stallone’s version is also obvious; it remains to be seen if the Karl Urban films can incorporate any of the highly weird stuff that went on.

When I say Karl Urban filmS, I am referring to a campaign to make more of them. One group supporting sequels has an active Facebook page “Make A Dredd Sequel”. I wish them luck; my understanding is that the Karl Urban version was marginally successful, but has been getting good press ever since, and seems to be winning people over. Karl Urban himself has recently said publicly that discussions were taking place regarding that possibility.

Judge Dredd has a lot of weirdness in it that means it isn’t a comic for everyone. The crimes range from the mundane (arson, murder) to the silly (slow driving) to the incomprehensible (Stookie Glanding, Umpty Bagging). Stookies are an alien race with glands, that, when harvested properly, can provide a serum to prolong a human’s life — at the expense of the Stookie’s, of course, who can’t live without this gland, which is why Stookie Glanding is illegal. Umpty is a candy that is highly addictive, and therefore banned.

The criminals are interesting and highly creative lot. My favorite is the Angel Gang, a family of thugs who are manageable one at a time, but a holy terror when acting as a group. One of the siblings, Fink Angel, was exiled to the cursed earth — the nuclear wasteland in between the walled Mega-Cities. While in exile, Fink was exposed to a heavy dose of radiation, causing him to resemble a walking corpse more than a living human. And Fink, he loves his poisons, which (if I remember correctly) was what got him kicked out of Mega-City One in the first place.

The storylines for Judge Dredd were no less epic. One had Dredd and a few other Judges battling their own when a Caligula-like character — Judge Cal — subverted the daily briefings into brainwashing sessions, taking control of Mega-City One and ruling like his despotic namesake. In another, an agent from one of the Soviet-Bloc Mega-Cities slips chemicals into the drinking water, causing riots and mass hysteria as a prelude to the Sov-Judge invasion of Mega-City One.

Really, there’s too much ground to cover for one blog post. I refer you to the Judge Dredd section of Drive Thru Comics where you can purchase downloads of the comics inexpensively and read them yourself. You can also look for Judge Dredd in your favorite local comics shop.

Judge Dredd is one of my favorite comics, combining creative stories, interesting characters, and subtle — and not so subtle — social commentary. I hope that there will be another Judge Dredd film in the same vein as the more recent picture starring Karl Urban; I enjoyed the first one, and hope they films director and writers take a few more risks by introducing audiences to some of the things that make Judge Dredd more unique. If a sequel doesn’t happen, we still have the comics — and plenty of them — to read and enjoy.

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