Previously on Drokk!: Let’s all embrace the fact that we’re finally past the last Garth Ennis material we’ll be reading on this series of podcasts, and instead into a brand new era of Dredd, where things seem to be… working out quite well, actually, with John Wagner sharing writing duties alongside the new guard of Robbie Morrison and Gordon Rennie, as well as the return of the old guard of Alan Grant. I wonder how that’s going to work out this time around…
0:00:00-0:01:58: With great speed, we get into the fact that we’re covering Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files Vol. 35, featuring material from 2002’s 2000 AD Progs 1276 through 1301, and Judge Dredd Megazine Vols. 4 #7 through 13, by a lot of different creators, including Alan Grant, which brings us to…
0:01:59-0:09:06: How bad are Alan Grant’s stories in this volume? Enough to get me starting the episode by complaining about his first two entries in the book, although my particular complaint that he’s trying to get some recurring threats going is deflected by Jeff pointing out quite appropriately that Gordon Rennie also seems to be trying something similar in his first story in the book. Could this be an editorially-led decision, and if so, are we properly entering the era of so-called “modern Dredd”?
0:09:07-0:17:40: In true Wait, What? fashion, we get derailed from our conversation about Judge Dredd to talk about two entirely different 2000 AD moments: first, the 1980s “behind the scenes” strips featuring fictional editor Tharg the Mighty and the relatively fictionalized “creator droids,” which are truly wonderful and deserve to be reprinted as soon as possible, and secondly, the early 1990s reboot of Rogue Trooper, and in particular, the Michael Fleisher-written, Ron Smith-drawn episodes that followed immediately after Dave Gibbons and Will Simpson rebooted the concept. Mistakes were made, and I’m not referred to me for bringing it up in the first place. (Seriously, though, why would editors go for Ron Smith?)
0:17:41-0:43:00: Jeff asks what I thought of the book, so I tell him. Thankfully, we both liked it a lot, and we start going through some of the reasons why, including John Wagner’s unexpectedly nostalgic run of three stories in the middle of the book, starting with “Leaving Rowdy,” a genuine pleasure with some great Carlos Ezquerra art. We talk about Ezquerra, and also about how we feel about Rico, Dredd’s recently-introduced younger clone — how does he compare to Kraken, and what does that say about Dredd himself, as well as where John Wagner’s mind is at when writing these stories, versus when he was leading up to Necropolis? Also! Jeff isn’t down with Dredd’s guilt over the death of Judge Lopez back during The Judge Child Quest, but is it because he also hates men with mustaches?
0:43:01-1:09:34: We work our way through much of the rest of the book in order, unusually, touching on such topics as: Ian Gibson, cheesecake artist or pervert? What is the correct way to draw a zipper on someone’s head? Why are some of these stories longer than they should be? Is Paul Marshall just too dull to make the most of “Escape from Atlantis”? What’s with the Don King reference that just doesn’t pay off, and did Alan Grant get Don King mixed up with Stan Lee somehow? Jeff’s pinball obsession finally pays off! And, of course, the all-important question of, “what subject is just too mean for Judge Dredd, at least according to Graeme and Jeff?” The answer to that last one may genuinely surprise you; to be honest, I think it surprised us as we were discussing it.
1:09:35-1:20:44: All of the last near half-hour leads us to a good place, though, as we get to talk about “Citizen Sump,” the highlight of the entire volume and the best Dredd story we’ve seen in a long time. How good is it? Well, Jeff suggests that he prefers it to Citizen Kane, the obvious (and clear) inspiration for the story, but he’s got good reason to: John Wagner delivers a blinder of a story with an absolutely heartbreaking climax, while John Higgins’ artwork channels Will Eisner’s The Spirit and film noir in ways that go beyond the cliches. It’s just really, really good stuff.
1:20:45-1:46:27: As I put it, from the sublime to the ridiculous, as we end by talking about “Sin City,” the longest story in the volume and the one that Jeff has arguably the most problems with. But is much of what he’s struggling with a bug or a feature? It depends on how willing you are to give John Wagner credit for thematic elements that might be entirely accidental, in practice. (Is he ripping off earlier stories to comment on Las Vegas recycling cultural landmarks? Or is he just ripping off old stories?) We also talk about Kev Walker’s art without my actually getting around to defending it — I really like his art here, I just didn’t say as such on the recording — and there’s a brief mention about the strange case of future echoing that happens here, too.
1:46:28-1:51:19: We’re beginning to close things up, so we talk about our favorite stories in the book — “Citizen Sump” for both of us — our favorite non-Wagner story (both of us plump for “Necrophage,” in which Gordon Rennie’s story is helped significantly by John Burns’ art), and our least favorite stories in the book, too. (Jeff putting “Block Court” on that list is still troubling to me.) In case you can’t tell by now, we also both plump for the Drokk side of Drokk or Dross, as well.
1:51:20-end: The end is near, which means it’s time to finally, properly promise that Dredd/Aliens crossover in the next episode — it’s in Case Files Vol. 36, even though I was convinced it came earlier — before we talk Twitter, Patreon, and I turn out to be entirely correct in suggesting that these show notes were going to be late on Monday. It’s been quite a day, that’s all I can say…! As always, thank you for reading and listening. We’ll be back in a month with some xenomorph action…
Previously on Drokk!: We’re firmly in what commenter Jared so suitably termed “the Golden Rut” of Dredd, where everything is technically going well with the strip in both its 2000 AD and Judge Dredd Megazine incarnations, and yet, it’s feeling increasingly difficult to say anything about it. If only, say, Garth Ennis would return as writer or something…
0:00:00-0:03:51: Welcome, dear friends, to the 2001-2002 revival that is Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files Vol. 34, which reprints material from 2000 AD Progs 1250-1275, and Judge Dredd Megazine Vol. 4 #1-6. Jeff tries to pick a fight about the dates of the material, but I’m having none of it, for once. Don’t worry; I’ll have a lot of it soon enough.
0:03:52-0:24:48: We dive into things relatively quickly, talking about the 10-part “Helter Skelter,” which marked Garth Ennis’ return to Dredd after almost a decade, during which time he’s become the toast of the American comics industry, thanks to the success of Preacher. We talk about how the story relies entirely Ennis’ fanboyishness about Dredd, which overwhelms the skills (and detachment) he’s displaying elsewhere in his career at this time, the many ways in which it fails as a piece of writing and whether that’s down to laziness or Ennis’ unwavering fanboy nature concerning Dredd, and the fact that the serial features that rarest of things: disappointing Carlos Ezquerra art. There is, at least, an explanation for that, which we also get into.
0:24:49-0:42:29: I attempt to segue from “Helter Skelter” into better stories but get in my own way by mentioning the contributions made by writer Alan Grant to this volume, which include the shockingly bad stoner comedy “Leaves of Grass” — guess what? Even when stoned, Judge Dredd is the law! — which Jeff, nonetheless, feels has a lot more potential than I do. (He also liked “Helter Skelter,” so perhaps this is the episode where Jeff is the good cop to my bad cop, for once.) (Wait, is that every episode?) I also talk about “Terrorist!” — yes, it actually has an exclamation point in the title — which comes from a well-intentioned place, but feels as if it betrays some deep-set prejudices in the minds of its creators. That gets us onto a brief discussion of whether or not it reflects a post-9/11 sensitivity, as well as whether the Robbie Morrison-written “Born Under A Bad Sign” does the same, albeit from a different direction. Also! When did The Wire start? That important question, answered!
0:42:50-0:53:25: Surprisingly, we only spend 10 minutes on my favorite story in the volume, which is one that Jeff likes a lot, as well: “Bad Manners.” We discuss the ways in which it underscores the failure of the system, and succeeds at criticizing the Justice System of Dredd as a strip in a way that something like “The Runner” from last episode stumbled through. In a strip where ACAB is an unstated understanding, this is a story where the subtext pushes through to become the text.
0:53:26-1:13:26: What starts as an attempt to talk about how the newcomer writers deal with Dredd in this volume — Robbie Morrison disappoints, while Gordon Rennie does surprisingly well, with a couple of his efforts reading like Wagner in places — ends up being an appreciation of what the artists are up to this volume, courtesy of singing Frazer Irving’s praises on his one-off “Asylum.” Under particular discussion are Cam Kennedy and Colin MacNeil, both of whom get the chance to shine in Wagner-written stories. Kennedy is responsible for a few stories this time around, but it’s “The Bazooka,” a Fatties story that he draws for Wagner in the Megazine that really shows off his gift for cartooning and physical comedy, while MacNeil handles “On The Chief Judge’s Service,” which is by far superior to last volume’s “The Chief Judge’s Man” in large part because of some very smart choices on MacNeil’s part. Also having their praises sung: Cliff Robinson, who Jeff compares to Chris Weston…!
1:13:27-1:22:53: We talk a little about the context surrounding his volume — 2000 AD and related titles being bought by new publisher Rebellion, and Andy Diggle taking over as editor — as well as whether we’re ending the Golden Rut this time around. Also, Jeff brings up the “bonus story” in this volume, which leads to more Cam Kennedy appreciation.
1:22:53-1:29:25: What are Jeff’s favorite stories in the book? (I’d already mentioned mine earlier, when talking about “The Bazooka.”) And is this volume Drokk or Dross? Spoilers: we both think it’s a strong Drokk, especially considering the running order of the book — the fact that “Bad Manners” is essentially the end of the book — there are another couple of shorts that follow, including a particularly disappointing Alan Grant story, but still — means that the reader is still thinking about it by the time they’ve finished, which helps considerably.
1:29:26-end: As we head towards the end of the episode, we look forward to Case Files 35 next month, and I discover that Americans apparently didn’t know what a helter skelter was, which kind of blows my mind. (We also mention the Twitter and the Patreon, because that’s what we do.) As with every single one of these, thanks for reading and listening; it’s very much appreciated.