[whatnauts, my apologies—since this episode ran very close to three hours and since we are in the “Final Five” episodes, I’m going to take the “L” and post the shownotes without additional graphics. It’s just late enough on a Sunday night. I do hope you understand….and that you enjoy the podcast!]
Previously on Drokk!: The last time we did an episode, we looked back at the past of the series with the fourth and final (to date) volume of the Restricted Files collections of ancillary Dredd stories, and it really, really wasn’t good. Both of us hoped things would pick up for this, the final episode of Complete Case Files reading, and… spoilers… it really, really did.
0:00:00-0:06:03: We introduce ourselves, and the fact that we’re talking about Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files Vol. 40, a book published in the US within the last month, judging by the number of times we saw it on New Release shelves at the end of last month. We also quickly talk about how much we love the book, which is easily the strongest this series has been in a long time — and that’s not meant to suggest that it’s been bad up until now; this is just a really great volume.
0:06:04-0:10:05: In what is a brief prelude to what’s about to come — but, in its inability to complete the thought that we think we’re staying so strongly on topic for — we talk about one of our reasons for loving the volume so much: that the book, at least in its 2000 AD chapters, feels like one coherent story, starting from an event that massively re-energizes the strip. And that event is…
0:10:06-0:54:20: …the storyline “Total War,” which is a mega-epic unlike anything we’ve seen in Dredd before, in large part because it treats the apocalyptic events as something truly traumatizing and not easily recovered from. Is this because it’s the first widescale “Mega-City One gets fucked” story created since 9/11, we wonder, and think about what 9/11’s aftermath felt like when this story was published in 2004. We also talk about the ways in which this storyline feels like a practice run for “Day of Chaos,” a storyline that would be published some years later — laying some foreshadowing of our own — as well as John Wagner being a “both sides” writer, and the wonder that is Henry Flint, whose work in this arc is genuinely staggering. (We spend more time than usual talking about a particular sequence, and what Flint and colorist Chris Blythe achieve here, but it’s entirely deserved.) At some point, one of us describes this arc as a masterclass in comics, and I’m standing by that as I type these words.
0:54:21-1:17:48: We’re not done with “Total War” yet, because we dig into the B-plot, which worked for me more than it worked for Jeff, who was arguably objectively right on this particular topic. I also love the very last page of the story, which leads Jeff into one final(?) classic “Jeff is perhaps reading too much into what’s on the page” moment of the run, but at the same time, I suspect that he’s spot on when it comes to some of the subtext, so… that’s a win…?
1:17:49-1:35:40: Having spent more than an hour on ~70 pages of a 200+ page book, we start speeding through the rest of it, in an attempt to keep the episode to a reasonable length. As a result, we rush through the following topics when discussing the remainder of the 2000 AD episodes in the book: Is Jason Brashill’s art too cartoonish for the subject matter of a grim John Wagner arc? Why is Gordon Rennie returning to the pairing of Vienna and Rico? How fucking great is D’Israeli? (Very; he’s very fucking great.) Is Ian Gibson too cartoonish for the subject matter of a downbeat Gordon Rennie arc? Also, why do neither of us really care or even remember that much about Judge Karyn, who’s obviously meant to be a major player in the arc she appears in? (Also also: Boo Cook’s colors are amazing.) It’s pretty all over the place for 18 minutes, really.
1:35:41-1:52:33: And yet, somehow, it sounds coherent and considered next to our rush through the Megazine episodes of the book, which include a John Smith-written Devlin Waugh cameo — which nonetheless has nice art from John Burns — as well as the strongest Alan Grant story we’ve seen in this series in recent memory, a Gordon Rennie one-off with Simon Coleby called “Meat Patrol” that is up there with Wagner’s work, and Jeff’s favorite thing in the world: John Wagner writing sportscasters. (That said, the story in which those sportscasters appear also got him thinking about Chloe’s piece about underground comix from The Gutter Review, so there’s more here than just Jeff loving the banter.)
1:52:34-1:57:41: Oddly enough, we’ve spoiled our traditional format by announcing that this volume was Drokk and not Dross all the way at the start of the episode, and it’s also pretty clear what our favorite stories in the volume are, as well, so clearly we should once again return to our shared love of Henry Flint by talking about his placement in the Dredd artist pantheon. (I suspect this is going to get some people thinking we were too generous, but you know what? We really weren’t.)
1:57:42-2:01:02: We’re caught up with the Complete Case Files, so what are we going to do for our (shiver) final Drokk!? How about the afore-mentioned Day of Chaos, which fucks MC1 up to a degree previously unseen in Dredd, and lets Wagner go for the slow, horrific dread (no pun intended) for almost a year’s worth of stories. I tease what to expect here.
2:01:03-end: And then, it’s almost all over, bar the regular wrapping up of Twitter linkage and Jeff telling everyone about Patreon — oh, and us going over the fact that we’re ending the podcast at the end of the year, as well. Go leave us messages and questions for next week’s Wait, What? Q&A episode either via email (waitwhatpodcast at gmail etc.) or @WaitWhatPodcast on Twitter before it implodes, and come back next week for the near-end of Mega-City One, and the definite end of Drokk! As always, thanks for listening and reading along.
Previously on Drokk!: We’re approaching the end of Drokk!, as unlikely as it seems — with just one volume of the Complete Case Files remaining before we catch up with Rebellion’s publishing schedule, it felt like time to finally take care of some unfinished business. Namely, Judge Dredd: The Restricted Files Vol. 4. This… was a mistake.
0:00:00-0:05:31: With very little preamble, Jeff and I are very quickly sharing just how much we dislike this volume — a collection of stories from 2000 AD and Judge Dredd Mega-Specials, Annuals and Yearbooks, from 1994 through 1996, and some other ancillary, non-regular issues material — which we both agree features some of the worst stories we’ve ever covered on Drokk!. This leads to…
0:05:32-0:10:58: …Jeff managing to make me feel particularly bad for complaining about the art on one particular story, “Sugar Daddy,” by letting me know that the artist I’m criticizing is actually a competition winner in the age 6-12 group. So, yeah, I was unknowingly being a dick about a kid’s artwork. How quickly can I backtrack? How often will I bring it up again this episode through embarrassment? Just wait and see…! (None of this explains away the terrible lettering, which I also criticize.)
0:10:59-0:19:41: Attempting to try to steer things back onto the straight and narrow, we talk about the one story in the collection that we both loved without reservation: “House of Death,” as originally published in the 1980s short-lived anthology Dice Man. It’s a role playing game that we both played more than once, and get excited about sharing our experiences doing so; enjoy listening, because this is arguably the most fun we have all episode. Also touched upon: the format requirements of British comic annuals, back in the day, because why not…?
0:19:42-0:28:54: From there, we take a brief tour of John Wagner’s pretty underwhelming contributions to the volume, which are… fine, I guess? We talk about stories including “Could You Be Judge Dredd?” and “On The Job,” both of which are intended to act as introductions to the characters, as well as “Strangers on a Zoom,” and it’s odd page layout in its opening pages, and just how generally throwaway even the Wagner stories in this volume end up feeling — especially when it comes to the 2000 AD Poster Prog stories reprinted here.
0:28:55-0:46:10: I wish there was an easier way to summarize this section beyond, “Jeff and I really don’t like almost every other story here and talk about that shared hatred in the most haphazard way imaginable,” but there we go. Under discussion: the odd editorial dictates that seem to have been put in place for some of the stories, the lack of actual story in “Judge Planet II,” and our complete confusion — and by “our,” I really mean ‘my” — when it comes to “Confessions of a Vegetarian,” a story that continues to confound me even now.
0:46:11-1:02:52: What starts with Jeff’s upset over the idea of crossing over Cliff Richard and the Golden Girls — and the briefest of discussions about the lack of inventiveness when it comes to using the cultural touchstones present in this collection, as parochial as they may be — quickly morphs into a conversation about completist tendencies and whether or not we should have even covered this book. How bad is it, you might ask? Well, Jeff invents a whole new third category when asked if it’s Drokk or Dross, which might answer your question, and then I think Jeff is talking about the movie It’s A Wonderful Life when he was clearly talking about A Christmas Carol, to the point where he even said the name. What can I say? This book had the effect on me that I couldn’t hear properly. That we end up calling it a failure of imagination of behalf of everyone involved might give you an idea about just how bad it really is, hopefully.
1:02:53-end: In which we wrap things up, and (as is the tradition) almost derail ourselves by talking about how the next episode features the last Case Files in the run, and how genuinely unexpected and emotional we find ourselves about that fact. Just imagine what we’re going to be like next month…! As always, thanks for listening to this short, and filled with complaining, episode, and for reading along.
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.