Judge Dredd is perhaps the only British created comic book character that has the potential to rival franchises like Batman and Superman. I was there when the character debuted in 2000AD issue two, way back in 1977.
1977 was a big year in pop culture - the Silver Jubilee, Charlie Chapling died, Elvis died, the Pistols rock the UK and 2000AD is born. Back then Dredd then played second fiddle to Dan Dare but the lawman soon became top banana.
I still pick up the Judge Dredd mag from time to time, and although the character has evolved through the decades he is still basically the same character we saw tearing down the futuristic streets of New York -yeah it was a future New York in the early days. Mega City One, had not even been thought of when the strip started.
And so if you're late to the party it matters now for here is the Archive with everything you need to know about the character in one concise hit.
Dredd evolved from an idea for a comic strip by John Wagner for an extreme version of the Dirty Harry type character. Wagner had written various Dirty Harry-style "tough cop" stories for other titles, and suggested a character who took that concept to its logical extreme, imagining an ultra-violent lawman patrolling a future New York City with the power to administer instant justice. Mills had developed a horror strip called Judge Dread but abandoned the idea as unsuitable for the new comic; but the name, with the spelling modified to "Dredd" at the suggestion of sub-editor Kelvin Gosnell, was adopted by Wagner for his ultimate lawman. The judges were lawman who were able to instantly pass a verdict as to a perps guilt and also pass sentence there and then. The modern police force seem to aspire towards this.
The Cursed Earth was even more ambitious is scope and ran from issues 61 - 85. When this strip finished its run Judge Dredd and the world he operated in would never be the same. Indeed the world depicted in the modern Judge Dredd strips was very much defined within the Cursed Earth storyline. It may have been knocked about a bit in future epics, such as The Apocalypse War but the feel was right here in The Cursed Earth.
The Cursed Earth was also notable for a lawsuit involving the publishers of 2000 AD, McDonalds, Burger King, and the Jolly Green Giant. Four episodes in the series, written by John Wagner and Jack Adrian, featured copyrighted characters without permission. One storyline depicted wars between rival gangs, headed by the Burger King and Ronald McDonald - including scenes of Ronald executing a gang member who spilled a milk shake. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the owners of these characters objected to the use of their trademarks and sued. Publishers IPC settled out of court, publishing a half-page retraction and agreeing never to reprint the offending episodes
Another point is that, unless we're talking about the Sly Stallone movie, Dredd never removes his helmet - Dredd's entire face is never shown properly in the strip. This custom began as an unofficial guideline, but soon became a rule which artists were required to follow.
As John Wagner explained:
However, on very rare occasions Dredd's face has been shown in flashbacks to when he was a child, in pictures lacking in detail. In an early story in prog 8, Dredd is forced to remove his helmet and the other characters react as if he is disfigured, but Dredd's face was covered by a faux censorship sticker."It sums up the facelessness of justice − justice has no soul. So it isn't necessary for readers to see Dredd's face, and I don't want you to."
An aborted idea was to have Dredd as a non-white character. In Carlos Ezquerra's original design he drew Dredd with large lips, to put a mystery as to his racial background.However not all of the artists who worked on the strip were told. As a result Mick McMahon spent four months drawing Dredd as a black man, while Brian Bolland and Ron Smith drew him as a white man.
For many years it became popular for readers to send in drawings of what they thought Dredd looked like - many of these had him terribly disfigured.
Over the years the Dredd series has matured and these days satire, both political and otherwise is ingrained in its DNA.
The WIKI gives us the following bio of Judge Dredd -
Senior Judge Joseph Dredd and his brother Rico Dredd were cloned from the DNA of Chief Judge Fargo, the first chief judge, in 2066. Their growth was artificially accelerated so that they emerged with an apparent physiological age of 5, with all the appropriate knowledge for their age electronically implanted in their brains by computer during gestation. The name Dredd was chosen by the genetic scientist who created them, Morton Judd, to "instill fear in the population."
In 2070 they saw action for the first time during the Atomic Wars, when as cadets they were temporarily assigned the rank of full judge and sent to restore order to the panic-stricken streets. Distinguishing themselves, they were chosen to take part in assaulting the White House when the Justice Department deposed President Booth. They were fast-tracked through the Academy of Law, Joe graduating second in his class in 2079 (Rico came first) Later that year Joe was forced to arrest Rico for murder and corruption.
Although Dredd puts his duty to uphold the law above everything, this devotion is not blind loyalty. On two occasions (in 2099 and 2112) Dredd resigned from the force on points of principle, but both times returned to the fold. In 2113 Dredd insisted that the Justice Department gamble its very existence on a referendum to prove its legitimacy as a form of government.In 2116 he risked 20 years' imprisonment with hard labour when he challenged the policy of a chief judge which he was unable to support. In 2129 he threatened to resign to persuade another chief judge to change the city's harsh anti-mutant laws.
After over fifty years of active service, Dredd's career may be drawing to a close. In 2130 he was diagnosed with cancer, though it was said to be operable. In 2132 Dredd was appointed to the Council of Five, Mega-City One's highest governing body.
So that's it, a pretty rough guide but basically all you need to know - just remember, if you put Margaret Thatcher in a figure hugging leather suit, and gave her unanswerable power then you'd have Judge Dredd... Hey, come to think of it - maybe that's why he never takes his helmet off! Is it the Thatch in there?