Previously on Drokk!: 20 years after his creation, Judge Dredd continues to patrol the streets of Mega-City One in a way that readers are comfortable with — the ultra violence, the dark humor, and the social satire wrapped up in sci-fi trappings. But as the strip heads into its third decade, series co-creator John Wagner dares to ask: what if things go slightly awry…?
0:00:00-0:04:29: After a month off for a surprise Baxter Building revival, we’re back and talking about Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files Vol. 27, a book that both Jeff and I found surprisingly solid and enjoyable. (It covers material from 1997 and 1998, with strips from 2000 AD Prog’s 1053-1083, and Judge Dredd Magazine Vol. 3 #s 34 through 38.) Of course, this being us, we immediately go off topic and Jeff talks briefly about both Adam Driver musical Annette and Fleabag. We are who we are, I guess.
0:04:30-0:23:49: We didn’t get too off-topic, however, and soon find ourselves talking about the possibility that this volume is too steeped in Dredd mythology to be new reader friendly — which might be ironic, considering both that it includes a crossover with Predator, but also that it begins with a retread of a story we’ve seen at least twice before, but done in such a way that it loses the charm and humor that it’s previously displayed. Does “Holiday Special” introduce what Jeff calls “Wagner as scold,” and if so, what does that mean moving forward?
0:23:50-0:51:37: For a volume that we both enjoyed so much, we spend a long time talking about the material that didn’t work for us, especially when it comes to our discussion of “In The Year 2120,” which was almost doomed to failure from the start by nature of being an epilogue to “The Judge Child Quest” and “City of the Damned,” two mega-epics that neither of us remember particularly fondly. Unfortunately, that bad start is compounded by execution that fails to make the most of the story’s central conceit, whether it’s John Wagner failing to sell the idea or artist Jason Brashill being, honestly, too experimental with his layouts and designs for what the story really needs. As proof, we compare it to a far more successful spin on roughly the same idea in the same volume, “Spooks” — although, as Jeff suggests, even that story has some problems of its own, leading to a discussion about whether or not Wagner is failing to nail the right tone people expect from a Judge Dredd comic. (Yes, John Wagner, the guy who created the strip and defined our expectations of it.)
0:51:38-1:15:20: Returning to the idea of Wagner as scold, does this volume mark an increasing blurring of the line between Dredd and Wagner, at least in terms of whether or not the character can be an immoral bastard? Two stories raise that possibility in different ways: “Spawney,” which I enjoyed far more than Jeff — despite a final page reveal that arguably undercuts everything that came before — and ‘Ojay,” a story that is little more than the most thinly veiled primal scream from Wagner about the then-contemporary O.J. Simpson verdict. We talk about both, and the ways in which Wagner arguably fails his creation in different ways with the two. (We also talk about Alex Ronald’s art on the latter story, and one particularly strange artistic decision that, to be honest, I’d still like to see some explanation for.)
1:15:21-1:18:24: In an attempt to keep things moving, we very briefly talk about the other stories in the volume that aren’t disappointing. Despite the fact that we rush through this, I promise: There’s lot of very good material in this particular volume. Really!
1:18:25-1:40:11: Why talk about good stuff when you can talk about a car wreck, though? And so, we arrive at Predator vs. Judge Dredd, which is… not very good at all. It’s a story that doesn’t serve either property well, with the most generic take on both Dredd and the Predator showing up in a story that utterly underwhelms and features some odd narrative decisions, whether it’s having a descendent of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character from the original movie show up, or giving the Predator an ending that makes Jeff so mad, he cites Broforce as a preferable alternative. It’s such a poor showing all round that we make a brief digression into whether or not all Dredd intracompany crossovers are a bad idea for Rico’s more popular brother. (They’re not; the first Batman/Dredd and the later Dredd/Aliens are both great.)
1:40:12-end: We wrap things up by revealing whether this volume is Drokk or Dross — it’s Drokk, honest — and name our favorite stories. (Me: “Bo Peeper,” or the multi-part “Missing,” Jeff’s is “Mrs. Gunderson’s Little Adventure,” and we very briefly talk about both here.) We also look forward to the deluge of John Wagner awaiting us in the next few volumes, Jeff realizes just how he’d finish his dream Dredd story, and we plug the Twitter, Instragram and Patreon, as we always do when we’re bringing things to a close. As always, thanks for reading and listening; next time, I swear, we’ll try to talk more about the good stuff.
For those looking for the direct link: https://theworkingdraft.com/media/Drokk/DrokkEp30.mp3
So, Spawny. One thing that I don’t think our hosts mentioned — which I think is very relevant to the end — is that it’s almost as thinly disguised a version of events that were current at the time as the OJ story. Spawny = Swampy. And the burial in concrete thing is because that’s what a Conservative government minister said he would like to see happen to Swampy.
I.e., I think one has to bear in mind is that if Dredd had gone ahead with his plan, he would have been killing a stand-in for a real person who was a popular environmentalist hero in a way that would realize a nasty right-wing joke. I don’t think that would have read as satire of Dredd — it would have read as unpleasant right-wing wish-fulfilment humor at the expense of environmentalists. (Insert Greta Thunberg now: how do you think some people would take a similar “joke,” mutatis mutandis?)
So that’s why Spawny has to live. The problem is narrower: it’s the specific dialogue, “We’re not murderers.” Note that there’s no joke there, of any sort — the line is a completely earnest statement that there’s a moral line that the judges do not cross. So, although I think it’s a narrow problem, how Dredd is portrayed doing what he does, not what he does, I’m on Jeff Lester’s side here. This is Wagner clearly siding with the judges and saying that they are good people after all.
So why? Jeff Lester suggested that it was about Wagner becoming older and The Man. Maybe, but I think it’s also worth remembering the context. This was 1997, the year when Labour swept into power with an absolutely overwhelming victory. I think the bad taste that the Blair government eventually left in people’s mouths tends to occlude in hindsight just how overjoyed center-lefty types (Wagner describes himself as “fairly” left-wing) were at its beginning to see the Conservatives leave in a cloud of sleaze. (Insert image of the Observer’s “Goodbye, xenophobia,” front page here.) Obviously, the genuine lefties already hated Blair for dragging the party so far to the right, but there were an awful lot of people not so far to the left who really, really didn’t and were very vocal about how happy this moment was making them.
In other words, it’s quite likely that Wagner was ready to think well of the government for a bit, and more importantly that, whatever Wagner’s personal opinions, these Dredd stories reflect the general optimistic atmosphere.
Contra Jeff’s misgivings, I’ll stand by one by one of the stories mentioned – “Mrs. Gunderson’s Little Adventure” – as a good gateway strip for new readers, insofar as it served as one for me when I first started reading Dredd in earnest a few years back, having only the context of Case Files 2 + 3 before thoroughly enjoying the story in The Henry Flint Collection trade (and in complete ignorance of any of Mrs. G’s previous appearances).
I feel like it’s been over a year since we’ve had Case Files that was through and through this good. I thought Wagner was leading us to the apotheosis of Dredd with “America,” and then Garth Ennis came along and kicked the chair right from under us and Dredd has been fumbling to regain its former glory. Don’t disagree with anything said in this episode. I think Jeff’s takedown of Dredd vs. Predator is on the money. I think comics, and the sequel films, fail to really grasp what made the original film so good. Part of it is the mystery behind the predator himself. Once you know what he’s about, there’s not enough meat on that bone to tell a good story. Aliens, I think, offers more for a good writer to utilize (colonialism, PMCs, corporate malfeasance, capitalism run amok, profits over people, etc.). I liked Jeff pointing out all the Predator elements the story was lacking. For me, one of the most salient features was the extreme heat that attracts the Predators. That’s a key point in the first two movies, and the first Dark Horse series, which get’s referenced in this story. Wagner could have done something with Mega-City One’s weather controls being on the fritz, which is creating extreme heat and driving people crazy, leading the judges to be excessively violent as well. You could have had the Predator hunting criminals and city defense until he realized the judges are the real prize. Also, for the love of god, the Predator just giving up because he was sick? And that fact that we needed no-frills Anderson to tell us… Just so many missed opportunities with this story.
Last year or longer ago, after the 2nd or 3rd Ennis volume of Dredd threatened to break my spirit, I bought the Dredd/Predator/Aliens collection. The Aliens story does hold up better, mainly because we’ve seen a dozen Predator-like aliens on a killing spree in Mega-City One stories that there’s nothing special about Predator. The only problem with the Aliens story is how much it mirrors Ennis’ “Judgement Day” mega epic. That’s why I remember not being as down on it as how hosts, because I kept expecting, with all its similarities, to get as good as the Aliens-Dredd story. Alas, that was not the case. For what it’s worth, Predator 2 does have a heavy satirical bent. It could almost be a classic Dredd strip. Not only do you get Danny Glover, you also get the added crazy of Morton Downey Jr. and Gary Busey. It’s a can’t miss for a good Friday night! ;)
Jeff mentioned Wagner coming in on Dredd’s side in Spawny. (Thank you, Voord, for the historical context! Always appreciated.) I thought, for whatever reason, Wagner came out on Dredd’s side multiple times in this volume. There’s so many instances of the cits showing how grateful they are for the judges, and the judges showing up in time to stop crimes in progress. Wagner stated many times that Dredd is interesting because he’s both the hero and the villain. He does stop some bad people and does save lives, but he never misses the chance to be a fascist prick and dominate the lives of the citizens. If this has been my introduction to Dredd, not only would I think Dredd is the good guy, I would think Wagner believes he’s the hero–the hero we need! I don’t know. That kind of left a bad taste in my mouth, probably made worse by the fact Wagner thinks he needed to re-litigate the O.J. Simpson trial. (Seriously, what was up with those red eyes at the end?)
I’ve never been a big fan of the fatties, but I do like how Wagner uses them to satirize the word of pro sports where the athletes are simultaneously the most important people and the ones most treated like garbage. No one actually cares about the athletes’ health, only profits. (See: football and boxing and head trauma or the Tokyo Olympics this year.) I wish Wagner would find another way to satirize the corruption of the pro-sporting industry, because I feel the satire will be lost on most readers who will just point and gawk: “Ha-ha, look at the fatties!”
Interestingly (?) Alan Grant co-wrote “In the Year 2120”