Previously on Drokk!: The 38th volume of Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files was a high for the series to date, and arguably the best of this latter era of stories thanks to some strong work from writer and character co-creator John Wagner. So… what happens when we have a volume where Wagner takes a bit of a back seat to other writers again…?
0:00:00-0:07:18: We’re approaching an end to Drokk!, with this episode covering Complete Case Files Vol. 39, a volume released earlier this year and the second-to-last volume of the series currently available. Unfortunately, as we quickly get into, this is also a volume that falls far short of the heights we’ve come to expect from Judge Dredd in recent episodes — so much so that we end up taking quite a tangent about our shared love of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. (For those who were unaware of the novel I mention, read here.)
0:07:19-0:21:14: I’d love to say that we quickly got back on track, but this is an episode where we meander more than a little; nonetheless, as this is a volume that features not only John Wagner writing, but also that of Pat Mills and Alan Grant, Jeff shares his “My Three Dads” theory of Dredd, and we pick apart the ways in which the three writers differ, which comes down in large part to a lack of subtlety and nuance, but also intent. Does Pat Mills still bring the Thrill Power, as Jeff suggests? Has Alan Grant entirely lost it? And what of John Wagner, who also underwhelms in some of his work here? Also under discussion: just how much I dislike John Ridgeway’s artwork in this volume, which mostly comes down to, “I hate bad computer coloring.”
0:21:15-0:31:51: What do we expect from Dredd stories at this point is the matter under discussion, as we talk about two genuinely weird product placement ads — one of which stars the band Placebo, of all things — as well as some stories that are genuinely terrible, but in ways that feel acceptable and appropriate for this series. Questions we ask, even if we don’t necessarily answer: What makes some kind of failures seem disruptive, while others are just fine, if underwhelming? How old is Si Spurrier? And is it okay to tell a bad Dredd story if it’s one that Wagner and Grant have already told?
0:31:52-0:47:58: A conversation about the importance of the artist to Gordon Rennie’s stories — mostly centered around Simon Davis’s and D’Israeli’s art for two separate stories in this volume, both written by Rennie — leads into a more narrow discussion about the story “Prodigal,” and Rennie’s understanding (or misunderstanding) of two important recurring characters for the strip, and what kind of interactions we’re looking for from background characters in Dredd. Which itself leads into…
0:47:59-0:53:58: …Just how does John Wagner handle character arcs for Judges that aren’t Dredd? Does Wagner allow for that kind of thing? I suggest so, and offer some examples, but Jeff and I talk about the rules attached to such stories.
0:53:59-1:14:48: A sign of how smart Jeff is, and how not smart I am, comes when we discuss the story “Terror,” one of two great Wagner stories in this volume: Jeff is immediately drawn the strip’s meta-commentary on the Northern Irish “Troubles” in this story about terrorism, and I didn’t even notice that when reading, because I was too focused on whether or not Total War as a terrorist group is intended to be an allegory for the Judges themselves. I explain my reasoning, and Jeff explores it, and we talk about the ongoing war between terrorists and Judges that’s been happening in the background of the strip for decades by this point, as well as parallels that this story has with “America” (the Dredd story, not the country).
1:14:49-1:29:06: The other great Wagner story in the book is “Six,” which sees a return for P.J. Maybe after far too long, in such a way that immediately recalls the movie Seven — the title’s the clue — and lets Jeff talk about his unfamiliarity with Kevin Spacey back in the day. We also touch on how wonderfully small Maybe appears in his newly victorious form, and the commentary that allows the story to offer.
1:29:07-1:46:23: What looks as if we’re going to start talking about the artists in this book (we almost do) veers off into a discussion of “My Beautiful Career,” a story that I like far more than Jeff, which then itself veers into a discussion of how Wagner undercuts some of his own positioning about how bad the Judges are by letting Dredd have a moral conscience. This leads into an idea that, in general, this book just can’t quite get it straight what it wants to say about Judge Dredd and the world he lives in, but perhaps we’re imagining that…
1:46:24-1:56:34: An attempt to wrap things up has us talking, again, about how weak this volume feels especially in comparison to the last one we read. No wonder we end up pronouncing it Dross instead of Drokk, with obvious favorite stories (“Terror” for Jeff, “Six” for me), and obvious least favorite stories (“At Home with the Snozzburns,” which is Alan Grant at his worst), too. It is, as we point out, a very strange experience to have such a bad volume out of nowhere this close to the end of things.
1:56:35-end: And speaking of the end, we wrap things up with the usual mentions of the Twitters and the Patreon. As always, thank you for reading along, and thank you for listening. Commenters, feel free to sound off below as to whether or not we were being too unfair on this volume, but I promise: I really don’t think that we were.
Previously on Drokk!: We’re definitely in the homestretch when it comes to Drokk!, with just a couple of volumes of the Complete Case Files waiting for us after this one. We’re also definitely headed towards what I’d term the modern era of Dredd, with Wagner anchoring a group of writers capable of delivering just what you want from Mega-City One on a regular basis… although, in the case of this volume, we’re still working out some of the kinks in that respect, as you’re about to discover.
0:00:00-0:06:08: After a metatextual, self-referential cold open, we introduce the book we’re reading this this episode — Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files Vol. 38, collecting material from 2003 and 2004 — and talk about how oddly incongruous it is to have a Reservoir Dogs-referencing cover from thes era, and complaining about how poorly John Smith and Alan Grant’s material compares to everything John Wagner writes for this book, because Wagner is on fire this time around.
0:06:09-0:13:46: Just how bad is the John Smith-written story “Meatmonger”? Bad enough that Jeff calls it, “among the worst opening salvos a Case Files has had,” and he’s not wrong. It’s not just Smith’s fault, though; as much as his story misses the mark in a way that honestly is unusual for Smith, the story is also doomed by the artwork of Siku, the very opposite of a Drokk! favorite, who produces his worst efforts to date with some terrible storytelling, bad rendering, and absolutely mind boggling layouts. It’s… not good, really.
0:13:47-0:24:21: Also not good is Alan Grant’s contribution to the book, “Master of Fear.” While this story boasts a pretty great art job by John Burns, the lack of Grant giving a fuck is clear on every single page of this staggeringly underwhelming, ill-considered serial that we end up likening to Grant reworking an unused Batman/Scarecrow story with minimal effort in order to make a paycheck. Again, let’s quote Jeff, who calls it “a real wet fart of a story.” Harsh but fair!
0:24:22-0:37:07: Before we turn to Wagner’s contributions, let’s check in with Gordon Rennie, the only other non-Wagner writer to show up in this volume. In the past, we’ve both complained about his writing and raved about it, likening him to John Wagner on an off-day. For the most part, we’re on the latter train of thought this time around, enjoying two of his three stories in this collection. (The less said about the third, the more-than-a-little-racist “Hong Tong,” the better; it’s an unfortunate return to the Asian Stereotypes Are Just Fine, Right? school of 2000 AD writing, which is something I think all of us had hoped had been left in the past.) He’s the John Wagner version of Garth Ennis when it comes to Dredd, we suggest, but it makes more sense when you listen, I promise.
0:37:08-1:00:23: How do we feel about John Wagner’s work in this volume? The phase “Wagner is so fucking good in this book” might have been used, and we discuss just why that’s true by going through the so-called lesser stories he offers here, all of which demonstrate his continued skill in going just that little bit further than you expect in almost every single case — all while making what he does look effortless and enjoyable. Of particular mention are his skill with silly comedy one-offs, and the way in which he makes the three-part “Cincinnati” a masterclass in building tension and diverting the reader’s attention. I think that Wagner is easily one of the greatest comic writers working today, but Jeff goes one further: he thinks that Wagner is definitely the best comic book writer when it comes to parodying sportscasters. (He’s not wrong, either.)
1:00:24-1:31:55: Unsurprisingly, we spend the most time this episode on the best story in the book, “Brothers of the Blood” — a family drama by Wagner and the great Carlos Ezquerra, both of whom are demonstrating just how good they are at what they do by doing something just slightly different: this is a more subtle, more character-driven story than we’re used to in Dredd as a whole, and especially from these two creators. It’s also a kinder story, as we both note, that really digs into the smaller ways in which Dredd has changed since his first stories, and also the ways that the clone brothers than Dredd has are both like him and unlike him. It’s also something that, of all things, raises the possibility that the loss of his original clone sibling Rico might have traumatized Dredd and stunted his emotional growth — a fate that the second Rico, new clone Doleman, and Dredd’s niece Vienna have all managed to avoid in their own ways. It’s Wagner and Ezquerra taking a victory lap while moving the emotional weight of the Dredd story forward in a small, but very important, way, and it’s just exquisite.
1:31:56-1:37:11: Of course, “Brothers of the Blood” is both of our picks for our favorite story in the book, with Jeff choosing “The Good Man” as his second favorite, while I go for “Finger of Suspicion,” both of which are examples of the silly but enjoyable one-off comedy strips he writes. When it comes to favorite non-Wagner strips, we both plump for the same Gordon Rennie/Ezquerra collaboration, “Sturm und Dang.” To the surprise of no-one, this volume is a very definite Drokk, not a Dross.
1:37:12-end: We wrap things up, as is our want, and I tease the next episode, which features the return of none other than Pat Mills to the collected editions. Is Jeff ready? Are any of us?!? As always, thank you for listening and for reading along. It’s very, very much appreciated.
Previously on Drokk!: The unlikely combination of Judge Dredd and the Alien franchise produced a particularly strong epic, while relative newcomer Gordon Rennie staked a claim as the best non-John Wagner writer the character has seen since the earliest days of Alan Grant. Things are looking up!
0:00:00-0:06:51: In addition to Jeff’s unexpected a cappella version of the theme music, we introduce ourselves and the book we’re talking about this episode: Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files Vol. 37, which collects material from 2003. That’s right; we’re within two decades of publication now, shockingly. I start complaining about the volume early, setting the tone for what’s to follow.
0:06:52-0:25:01: We slide quickly into talking about “The Trial of Orlok,” a two-part story that manages to simultaneously underwhelm and overwhelm the reader in wrapping up the long-running plot about the Sov-City super spy and his attempt to get revenge on Dredd for the events of the Apocalypse War. Why does this story fail to offer anything new, and why are there so many panels and speech balloons per page? Is Wagner trying to echo his earlier trial of Dredd storyline with this one? Is Cam Kennedy the wrong artist for this story, and relatedly, am I the sumo wrestler of Cam Kennedy fans? (It’ll make sense when you listen, I promise. Well, more sense.) And, most importantly, why does this storyline feel like such a waste of everyone’s time, and Orlok’s potential?
0:25:02-0:51:23: I was similarly disappointed with “The Satanist,” but in discussing it with Jeff, I admit that I find myself pretty much turned around to a large degree. Its a Hammer Horror pastiche to some degree, and Jeff’s love of that and explanation as to why some of the shortcomings are actually, if not intentional, then at least in keeping with the source material genuinely helped me enjoy the story more. Also discussed: Dredd’s complicated relationship with his niece, and his similarly complicated relationship with his family in general; Dredd as comics’ greatest asexual, and what that means for his placement in a horror leaning heavily into noir tropes; Jeff’s description of Dredd’s uniform as “old man PJs”; and much, much more!
0:51:24-1:14:09: “There’s no sizzle on this steak!” is what Jeff has to say about “Revenge of the Chief Judge’s Man,” a storyline that he actually likes quite a bit — in no small part because of John Burns’ art, which we surprisingly don’t talk about much at all. (It’s really good.) Instead, we focus on Jeff’s love of what he himself calls “First Blood shit,” as well as an unexpected LMD twist with a great punchline at the end, the sudden switch into unstoppable superpowers mode for the eponymous Chief Judge’s Man, and the ways in which none of the fine ingredients for this particular story end up coming together entirely successfully. Come for the analysis, stay for Jeff’s great booing of me when he doesn’t agree with what I’m saying. (Honestly, I think the booing is really funny.) Actually, no; stay for Jeff talking about John Wagner’s narration and how successful it is, because he’s entirely right on that front.
1:14:10-1:36:15: Just an episode after we sang Gordon Rennie’s praises for being very Wagner-esque, we return to find his work in this volume lacking — but is that because of the page length on the Dredd strips in this particular era, and what that does to the comedy material? We also talk about the Megazine material from this volume in general, which includes a story actually called “Phartz,” one of shockingly two stories in this book about deadly forces that have uses for their victims’ anuses. (Unsurprisingly, “Inside Job,” the other of those two, also comes under discussion.) Plus! I don’t like Robbie Morrison’s sole contribution to the volume, “Hard Days Night,” and we briefly talk about how important I find artwork to Dredd shorts, and Dredd as a strip in general, all of which leads into…
1:36:16-1:56:04: Garth Ennis had one last Dredd story in him after all, and it’s… not very good..? It does, however, feature amazing art from John Higgins, and we spend some time singing his praises, deservedly. Otherwise, we talk about the strange continuity mistake at the center of this story — something that gets Jeff referring to it as an Elseworlds — and the metaphors and real world politics that might lie underneath what is otherwise a pretty bigoted and gross story. (Really, commenters, Jeff and I would both genuinely love to know if you’re seeing what we are with this one.)
1:56:05-end: We wrap things up by asking Drokk or Dross, and at least one of us can’t make up our minds. (It’s me; Jeff thinks it’s Drokk.) Jeff’s favorite stories are “The Satanist” or “Monkey on my Back,” despite the bigotry at its core because that John Higgins art is so good; mine is, after I change my mind at the last minute, “Holding On,” a slight but amusing comedy short. “Bato Loco” is Jeff’s least favorite story, but I opt for “See Zammy Run,” and I make Jeff sad by teasing the return of Siku in the next volume. (I couldn’t help myself.) As always, we mention the Twitter and the Patreon, and as always, I’m very grateful for those who read and listened along with us this month.
Previously on Drokk!: While I usually use this space to talk about where we are in terms of the larger Judge Dredd mythology, there’s only one way to properly discuss what’s come before this episode: I have talked up the Judge Dredd/Aliens: Incubus crossover for a lot of episodes, and now it’s finally here. Get ready.
0:00:00-0:02:37: Welcome, dear friends, to the podcast that is closer to the end than you might think. (Wait until the end of the episode for more information on that.) This time around, we’re reading Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files Vol. 36, collecting material from 2000 AD and The Judge Dredd Megazine from late 2002 and early 2003; we speed through the introduction before I mention Siku, which quickly leads us to…
0:02:38-0:18:11: For once, we start with a discussion about the visuals of Dredd in this era, starting with a brief discussion about the many weaknesses (and, thankfully, some strengths) of Siku, a much-derided artist in earlier episodes who returns for a one-off in this volume. More derision is delivered on this go-around to Ian Gibson, an artist previously lauded by Jeff, who might just be out of sync with what we’re looking for my this point, as well as the solid-but-uninteresting Paul Marshall; we also talk about color choices in this volume — and, indirectly, media choices, in terms of computer coloring versus paints — but perhaps the most important thing mentioned in this section is this: Mick McMahon’s Dredd now has lips.
0:18:12-0:31:02: Moving swiftly on, Jeff and I enjoyed a particularly rare moment of the two of us independently having the same reaction to something in a Case Files; namely — Gordon Rennie has, seemingly without notice, turned into quite an impressive understudy for John Wagner. Both of us read some of his contributions to this volume — most notably, “After Hours,” although Jeff’s also a fan of his “Give Me Liberty” — and thought it was actually Wagner’s work, albeit “John Wagner on a bad day”… something that we genuinely both mean as a compliment, as we try to unpack here. What makes Rennie’s Dredd suddenly feel so authentic? What does writing a good Wagner Dredd mean? We try to answer both questions, and arguably succeed to some extent.
0:31:03-0:47:10: What starts as a brief discussion about Jim Baikie’s art in this volume quickly becomes a potted history of Baikie’s career, and then, on an entirely different note, both of us expressing our disappointment in “Rotten Manners,” the final installment in the “Bad Manners” trilogy about a corrupt Judge that, impressively, manages to do almost everything wrong that the first story did right: it’s too broad, too clean, and far too confident that the system will succeed. It would leave a particularly unpleasant taste in our collective mouth, if it wasn’t for…
0:47:11-1:19:37: Perhaps surprisingly — well, I was surprised, at least — Jeff turns out to have dug Incubus, the Dredd/Aliens crossover, as much as I hoped he would, with a couple of caveats relating to his overall suspicion of the Alien franchise and narrative problems therein. Nonetheless, this isn’t just a great Alien(s) comic, it’s a great Dredd story too, and we talk about why that’s the case, the things that make the story work so well as both, and the ways in which the two different properties provide something that fits so well with the other. Also! We sing Henry Flint’s praises a lot, and still it’s arguably not enough. Really, this is just great comics right here. (And Jeff brings up the videogame BroForce, because of course he does.)
1:19:38-1:27:37: It sounds as if we’re about to wrap things up by mentioning whether the volume is Drokk or Dross, but no! Instead, we have a diversion about “Out of the Undercity,” another story in the book that tenuously connects to Incubus, and then we talk some more about the Judge Death connections and references to the Aliens franchise in general. What else do you expect, if not our getting in our own ways as we’re talking?
1:27:38-end: Now, we finally get to wrapping things up by talking about our favorite stories that aren’t an Aliens crossover in the volume — “Zoom Time” being mine, and “Give Me Liberty” being Jeff’s — as well as the overall leap in quality of this volume, and briefly looking ahead to what’s coming up before mentioning the Twitter and Patreon, and enjoying Jeff’s ever-evolving voice of Dredd outro. One thing we didn’t talk about but should have: we’ll be back in two weeks for a new Wait, What?, so enjoy next week off, Whatnauts.