(2007) John Wagner, Carlos Equerra and Kev Walker, Rebellion, £12.99, large pbk, pp??, ISBN 978-1-905-4-3723-4
It has been thirty years since Judge Dredd, lawman of the 22nd century, first appeared and most likely its creators would not have then dreamt that the character would continue to appear uninterrupted for then next three decades but it has. And so it was inevitable at some stage that Dredd's origins would be explored. This happened a couple of years ago (prog 1,500 onwards) in the weekly comic 2000AD that has dominated British comic strip SF throughout this time. These have now been collected into a quintessential graphic novel that are a must for Dredd fans as well as arguably important to those into contemporary graphic SF.
Many into SF, but not necessarily graphic strip SF, know that Judge Dredd is the lawman of the future who is policeman, judge and jury rolled into one, patrolling the crime-ridden streets of Mega City One that covers the eastern seaboard of what used to be the United States. The outlines of Dredd's origins were teased out early on in the late 1970s and early 1980s. We know that Dredd and his brother Rico were cloned from Judge Fargo, the Father of Justice. Early on it was hinted that all judges were clones but it soon became apparent that only a few were cloned and that Dredd himself was a bit of an experiment. We also know that Rico went bad, was sent as a punishment to the moon Titan, and returned to try to kill Dredd: Dredd won and carried out Rico's body -- 'he ain't heavy he's my brother...' Yet other than this not much is known about Dredd himself. As for early related events, we do know that decades earlier the last President of America was a warmonger who triggered a nuclear holocaust and that this in turn allowed the judges to take over so relegating democracy to a shadow of itself with just a puny, token Council running civil matters in Mega City One, while the real power resides with the judges. (Who would have thought back in 1977 that in 2007 - George Bush and Iraq - we would take a war-mongering US President with a pinch of salt: perhaps it was ever thus.) Anyway, exploring the detail of Dredd's origins was, if anything, overdue. It is only right that Dredd's co-creator, John Wagner be involved in this depiction of Dredd's origins as well as one of the artists, Carlos Equerra, who has regularly portrayed Dredd over the decades. Shame, though, that Dredd's co-creator Pat Mills was not involved, but I guess you cannot have everything.
Origins begins with a small comic prelude in which bumbling mutants from the Cursed Earth (the radioactive wasteland outside Mega City One) try to deliver a ransom note to the Judges. It transpires, from DNA analysis, that something of Fargo has fallen into mutant hands and the mutants want payment. Dredd is sent to deliver the ransom, and on the way briefs the team explaining what happened all those decades ago in the run-up to the nuclear war.
Now, I do not want to spoil the story. Suffice to say that along the way we bump into a few characters briefly met in previous Dredd adventures and notably the 1978 'Cursed Earth' saga. Also, suffice to say that the full colour artwork, enhanced by the glossy paper, is well up to standard. There is a tribute to the late Tom Frame on the Brian Bolland drawn cover (which also was the cover art for 2000AD's prog 1,505) in that the central city block pictured is named after Tom (while the one further behind is called 'Syd Barrett').
Problems, well a few, but too few to mention... Perhaps save to say that the timeline is arguably way off: according to Origins, Dredd and Rico were already cadets at the time of the nuclear war. This is a perennial problem with the 2000AD universe -- as exemplified with the Dredd - Strontium Dog crossovers -- and is no doubt due to nobody realising three decades ago that the characters they were creating would be so enduring as to warrant a properly thought-out, detailed background. (Heck, let alone the Dredd character, at the time nobody thought 2000AD would make it to 2000 AD! Hence the soul-searching as to a possible name change towards the millennium's end.) In terms of timeline, the chief problem is that there is not enough time for everything to have happened by the 22nd century that we see in the Dredd universe. The development of interstellar travel, antigravity and other technology so quickly is one problem. Another is the number of generations for mutations to arise giving things like telepathy or indeed for the mutants in the Cursed Earth not only to have arisen but developed the communites we see: even in this 'origins' saga there is specific mention of the generations (note the plural) being blighted by mutation, yet all this was supposed to have happened within one person's lifetime! Such shoehorning is most unfortunate and undermines the harder SF aspects of this body of work. Had Wagner and Mills realised at the outset that Dredd would grow to near iconic stature it is certain that they would have done a better job. Does this matter? Well, as suggested not if the appreciation of character Judge Dredd was transient; now, though, Dredd product has seen a multi-million pound turnover and is still going strong. However given what he had to work with, having over the years painted himself and Dredd into a corner, John Wagner has come up with a very worthy retrospective to the beginning of it all, and this in itself is no mean feat.
For more reviews of John Wagner Dredd stories see 'W' within the fiction review index but you will have to page search 'Judge Dredd' in this index to find Dredd stories by other writers.
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