Graphic Novel Reviews


Judge Dredd: Tour of Duty Backlash

(2010) John Wagner et al, Rebellion, 17.99, trd pbk, unnumbered pp (est. pp. 272), ISBN 978-1-907-51923-9

 

Now if you have never read the British (Brit Cit) Science Fiction comic 2000AD and do not want to then fair enough. But if you have heard of its most famous character, Judge Dredd, and would like to see what all the fuss is about, then I really do encourage you to try out one of the graphic novels. For over three decades (since 1977) Judge Dredd has evolved into quite a complex character within an even more complex setting that is simply stuffed with SF tropes. So even if your reading diet is more or less purely SF books, I do urge you to give the graphic novels a go and here a really great place to start is with this one. (Do not be put off by the Hollywood bastardised 1995 Sylvester Stallone film.)

Tour of Duty Backlash is a great place to start because not only is it the beginning of the recent story arc from 2007 that is still on-going in the weekly 2000AD comic today (2011) but also because it has its roots in Dredd's history and these are explained within Tour of Duty Backlash (albeit episodically and briefly).

For past 2000AD readers who have gafiated (gotton away from it all ted) but still hanker after some Dredd, then this graphic novel is also for you.

As said, this graphic novel does revisit Dredd's past but if you want to learn about his beginnings then you can also get Judge Dredd: Origins which is still in print and available overseas from Amazon and all good Anglophone SF bookshops. I mention this because Judge Dredd: Origins sort of segues into Tour of Duty: Backlash and so is a sort of loose prequel. What you get in Origins is not just how democracy failed the World (hence the rise of the judges) but the fact that the judges lie to the people and their own: you quickly learn that the body of the founder of the judges does not lie in Mega City One as we were led to believe.

Regular Judge Dredd readers will know that for many years (just a few years after the comic strip began) that Judge Dredd began to have some nagging doubts as to the perfection of the judge system. (The first signs of this appeared in 2000AD back in the early 1980s when a colleague of Dredd recommended he wear slightly too tight boots as a distraction.) The 'Judge' system was brought in due to a rise of lawlessness, a legal system that tended to enable the wealthy to hire expensive lawyers who got them off (or markedly reduced sentences), and corrupt democratic systems with self-serving politicians. Judges make the laws, are the police and can immediately on arrest pass sentence (including death); courts are only for the most complex of cases and even then there is no trial by jury of peers.

As is recounted (again) in Judge Dredd: Origins, and briefly summarised (again) in Tour of Duty Backlash, Dredd is a special breed of judge well not a breed as he is one (of a number) of the (rare) clones of Fargo who founded the judge system. As such he is meant to be the essence of what makes for a good judge. So for Dredd to have doubts (which he keeps quiet) is not just the embellishment of a protagonist but a pivotal point underpinning much of the tension that resides within Mega City One where Dredd operates. Now, if you are still with me, on to a summary of Tour of Duty Backlash.

It begins with a single, six-page adventure (appearing in a single issue of 2000AD) of one of the comic/humorous Dredd stories entitled 'The Streets of Dan Francisco'. (cf. the 1970s TV cop series The Streets of San Francisco. Geddit?) For propaganda purposes the Judges have allowed a media crew to follow the patrols of a street judge called Dan Francisco who is all action packed, says the right things (as far as the judges are concerned), and who has become a bit of a media sensation with the people. At the end of this first story Dan is grievously injured in the course of going after criminals that Dredd ends up tackling.

The next story sees another propaganda exercise with a Hollywood producer making a propaganda feature film to mark Dredd's 50 years on the streets: he is getting on in years despite Mega City advanced clinical science (and after all the real comic 2000AD has itself been going for a third of a century!) This story recaps some of the key points of Judge Dredd's history. Subsequent stories sees one of the afore-mentioned underpinning tensions surface. Are the judges and citizens of Mega City One being hypocritical in living in a high-tech city under the protection of the judges while mutants are left to roam the Cursed Earth? (Mutants and the Cursed Earth came about as an aftermath of a global nuclear war instigated by the last President of the US.) To cut a long (and entertaining story short) Dredd gets the Chief Judge to hold a vote of senior judges as to whether or not mutants be allowed citizens' rights. Dan Francisco, it transpires, turns out to be a rallying point for those judges who are against this reform. Along the way: some old friends (mutant descendants of the brother of Dredd's clone 'father', whom we met in Judge Dredd: Origins) come to visit Mega City One; P. J. Maybe makes an appearance in his latest incarnation as the Mayor (yes, Mayor!) of Mega City One but who is up to his old tricks; and then there is also a 'Dirty Harry' type tale with a small cadre of judges taking the law into their own hands.

Tour of Duty Backlash ends with a seed change for Mega City One and the possibility of a new chapter in the Dredd saga. Indeed if you have been following the 2000AD comic then you will know that 'Tour of Duty' continues and so expect a sequel graphic novel to 'Backlash' in the not too distant future, but even so this story is well rounded and readers will not be left unsatisfactorily hanging at the graphic novel's end.

In short Tour of Duty Backlash is recommended to both those who used to read 2000AD but left due to the variability of its other strips, and to SF enthusiasts who before now have not thought to give Judge Dredd a try (perhaps put off by the superficial and ham-fisted, 1995 Stallone film). To our North American cousins let me assure you that (and I say this with respect because I have a certain fondness for these two anyway) Dredd has more depth and social meaning to it than either Batman or Superman: I mention this in case these are the standard by which you rate fantastical comics. The Dredd graphic novels really do deserve SF-enthusiasts at least trying them out.

And if you do like them then the following are still (2011) in print and especially recommended for Dredd newcomers:-
o Judge Dredd: The Art of Kenny Who? - fun series of single and double adventures.
o Judge Dredd: Brothers of the Blood - introduces a new Fargo (hence Dredd) clone named after Dredd's clone o brother (now dead having gone bad) called Rico.
o Judge Dredd: Origins - returns to Dredd's beginnings.
o Judge Dredd: Total War - democrats turn to terrorism in the Big Meg.
Also seek out Judge Dredd: The Pit which is a Dredd Hill Street Blues type epic and Judge Dredd: The Complete America which looks at Mega City's democratic movement as seen through the eyes of an activist's innocent boyfriend.

Jonathan Cowie


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