Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Books: Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 07


Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 07
Writers: John Wagner, Alan Grant
Artists: Jim Baikie, Steve Dillon, Brett Ewins, Carlos Ezquerra, Ian Gibson, Cam Kennedy, Kim Raymond, Ron Smith

Available now from Islington Libraries
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Back when I was young one of my favourite books was The A to Z to Judge Dredd ("from Aaron Aardvark to Zachary Zziiz!") - apparently released to coincide with what is now the first Judge Dredd film - it was a cornucopia [1] of Mega City One facts and titbits that told you everything you ever needed to know - from the names of famous Judges (from the top of my head: Judge Giant, Judge Anderson, Judge Hershey, Judge McGruder (that's the one with the beard), oh  - and Judge Caligula (ha - he was great)), to the locations (Grand Hall of Justice, Resyk, Brit-Cit!), to the trends and crazes (Boinging! And Uncle Ump's Umpty Candy "The sweet that was too good to eat!") and the random characters (Chopper - of course, James Fenemore Snork, Tweak!, Mrs Gunderson, PJ Maybe). What I loved most about it was how all the entries connected up with each other (looking back now I realise that in some respects it was the spiritual forebearer to this blog) and how - even tho it was all fictional - it seemed like it could be real because the level of detail was dizzying: it was a fully worked out Universe that contained a multitude of stories [2] [3]. 

I mean yeah - I also used to buy 2000AD and The Judge Dredd Megazine (plus I managed to scrounge a few back issues (sorry - "progs") here and there): plus I had a few collected editions too (published by Titan - they were called Judge Dredd 1, Judge Dredd 2, Judge Dredd 3 etc - but they weren't actually sequential in the stuff they contained - in fact they were more a wild hodge podge than anything else - like someone had just selected their favourite stories and jammed them all together willy nilly) - so I knew my Dredds and could tell you what all the six settings on Dredd's lawgiver was [4] - but I think it was more the world that I loved than the actual stories themselves - so much so - that it was more that I read the stories just so that I could get a sense of the world that it could only capture in small ammounts - like a cup of water can only ever give you a small part of the sea (ooooh - poetic!). 

So - credentials shown - apart from putting up a thing about the Batman/Judge Dredd Files book - why have I only got around to writing about Old Stoney face now? Well - what with my pernickety nature - I think in the past what I really wanted to do was put up a mega post that collected ALL the Judge Dredd: Complete Cases Files books so that it was all neated stacked up in the same place (and oh man - when I was a kid I used to wish that someone who make a Complete Case Files back (or whatever you want to call it) but assumed that the powers-that-be had somesort of vested interest in making sure that - I dunno - making sure that I couldn't read every Judge Dredd story ever - damn them). But (oh the irony) Islington currently doesn't have the complete set of the Complete Case Files (so far just 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and - strangely - 17 [5]) and - well - I didn't want to embrass anyone by writing about something that had so many missing parts. So - yes - what with the movie coming up - I thought I that I would treat each collection separately and just write about them one individually and - hell - seeing as I was going wild - not even bother to review them in order (I know! I was as shocked as you). 

When I was writing the Batman/Judge Dredd Files post - I said something about how Dredd stories where best when he wasn't the main attraction - but rather was used as a way to explore or understand or - hell - just laugh at - the incorrigible exploits of the various denizens [6] of Mega City One [7]. Which lead me to thinking about the difference between American and British hero pin-ups. In America - with all it's Batmans and Supermans and Spidermans (and that's just the comic books - I could talk films and books and find another 100 examples easy)  - character is key. And if you're telling a story about a hero most of the time you're dealing with their struggles and trails and - eventually (somewhere at the end of the story) - their victories and triumphs and you're telling it all from the perspective inside their heads (like - think any Frank Miller story ever - especially The Dark Knight Returns) because - you know - America is all about it's individuals and all about one person going up against the system and blah blah blah. In England on the other hand - a lot of the time we prefer our heroes to have their interior lives closed off and generally be a little bit unknowable - and in the stories they appear in - the point of it isn't so much whether or not they can summon up somesort of Nietzschen Will to Power (or whatever): but rather how many crazy ideas and bonkers concepts the author can throw into the mix - I thinking of particularly: Dr Who, Sherlock Holmes and - yeah - Judge Dredd [8] [9]. 

But let's stop all this preamble and get to The Complete Case Files 07. What was it like? How good it is? It it worth reading? And all that stuff.

Judge Dredd was one of the first comics that I think I ever read and - as sad as this is to say - looking at the names of the artists within was kinda like looking over the names of old friends (or - if they're artists that I didn't like that much - like looking over the names of people that I went to school with) and so there was a nice nostaglic glow that rushed in as soon as I started reading through these - coupled with the fact - that there were a few stories scattered throughout that I haven't read before (so to continue the school metaphor - it was liking revisiting your old playgrounds and then discovering parts of it that you had never come across before - which I'll tell you: is a nice feeling to have). 

There's no big epics in this collection - no wars or giant battles with extra-dimensional villains - it's all relatively small-scale stuff - a-day-in-the-life type things rather than once-in-a-lifetime stuff which made it a lot easier to acclimatize myself back into how the Big Meg works. So there's a story with werewolves (which - yeah - was a little bit meh) even if it did feature some pretty tasty Steve Dillon artwork (that's the guy who did Preacher): with a whole bunch of strong black and whites and a nice hefty sense of objects (especially the way he draws the Lawmaster), there's a tale called Bob & Carol & Ted & Ringo that's just like Free Willy - if the little boy was a robot and the whale was four dinosaurs [11]. And in fact the thing that comes through the clearest is how elastic the Judge Dredd concept is - you can do horror (The Haunting of Sector House 9), social commentary (The Wreckers) and even sports drama (Requiem for a Heavyweight - which is pretty conventional in the story it tells with lots of familar beats and cliches - yet manages to be wildly entertaining through the fact that instead of telling a story about boxers - it's about fatties (and that's not me being mean - that's the Judge Dredd technical term for them) - plus you know bonus points from the fact that it's done by Carlos Ezquerra who is basically THE Dredd artist (he was the co-creator along with John Wagner)). The only real limits are the fact that each part is only five or six pages long and there's always a gotta be some fights or random destructions (because - hey - the target audience is and always will be teenage boys). But beyond all that there's nice little turns of phrase: "Stow the silver bullets - Bike Cannon!" "Hailstones as big as your stupid heads!" and lots of big ideas (and in Rumble in the Jungle: big machinery) and - the idea that I keep - circling around - the sense of Mega City One as being a real place.

Which brings us to the reason that I choose this particular volume as the first book I wanted to talk about: The Graveyard Shift.
Now - I realise that everyone has their favourite Judge Dredd stories and let's face it - there's a lot to choose from (with everything from The Cursed Earth to Necropolis, from America to the Apocalypse War, from The Pit to The Judge Child) but me - the best distillation of everything that is great about Judge Dredd is in the 7 episode mini-epic of The Graveyard Shift. Not only is it the best introduction to the world of Judge Dredd I can think of but it's also the most no-nonsense: it's just Judge Dredd on patrol on one the worst nights of the year - there's no big villain, no big event, no special mission - just a man doing his job and calmy accepting a whole mess of strange and fantastical - erm - stuff. And - obviously - because it's Dredd: imposing the law. From the opening lines ("Night falls on Mega-City One, towering future city in the 22nd Century. On watching bays high above the neon streets, keen-eyed Judges take up position. There will be trouble tonight, there is always trouble on The Graveyard Shift!") to the taut dialogue ("Dredd here. Responding."), the barrage of facts and statistics (""There are now 24 A.R.V.s, 139 Serious Assaults, 5 Murders, 0.09 Classifiable Riots and 230 Traffic Offences every minute.") to the constast use of crazy future lingo ("A.R.V., Meat Wagons, Cubes, 299, Juve Rumbles, Vid-ins, H-Wagons, Rad-Winds, Catch-Wagons, Boingers, Stumm Gas, Conapts, S&S, 59Cs, Citi-Defs, Pat-Wagons, Pedways") it all just feels so realistic and immersive and serious (even in the face of the absurd) [12]. Plus it also has one of the best Judge Dredd action-movie style dialogues (which is up there - for me - with the much more famous: "Gaze into the fist of Dredd!" [13]: Dredd outside on his bike on his radio: "Dredd to Control! Got a robbery in progress, Jeta Sports on Winston. No Assistance Required." Radio chirps back: "Message logged. Catch Wagon on it's way." Interior shot: Dredd's outline visible through the glass: "You creeps! You got 10 second to come out with your hands empty!" The creeps inside turn and look: "Holy Moley! It's Dredd!" They fire back: "BDAMM! PTOWW! BLAM!" Dredd get's on his radio again: "Control - better make that a meat wagon." "What's the body count Dredd?" Close up of Dredd's mouth: "I'll let you know." (cue: ACTION MUSIC). All this praise in despite of the fact that the art is Ron Smith who've never been a particular favourite of mine (I wish I knew how to describe his style - but there's something about his juttering lines and the way his shapes bend (or something) that just leaves me completely cold - and yet for some reason - he always ends up drawing some of the best Dredd stories - including Citizen Snork and Portrait of a Politician - both included here). I mean - it's not the best thing ever - and I don't want to build it up too much - and I think the fact that I first read it when I was just a kid has a lot to do with how much I revere it - but damn it - if I was going to make a Judge Dredd movie - it's the story I would use as a template (Hello? Hollywood? Can you hear me? Why aren't you returning my phone calls?).  

[1] My - that's a nice word. "Cornucopia." Mmmmmmm

[2] And if that idea sounds appealing then may I recommend a short story called: Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius by Jorge Luis Borges (which is in three different collections: The Garden of Forking Paths, Fictions and Labyrinths). And if you want any more incentive - let me say that Borges is like the M.C. Escher of short stories and reading him will make your life more full in ways you can't quite understand yet. So yeah.

[3] Also: I thought that by now someone who would have had updated The A to Z and made a comprensive Judge Dredd wiki - but all there is this which (at the time of writing) only has 41 measy pages. Rubbish.

[4] Really? You wanna know? Well ok then: Standard Execution, Heat Seeker, Ricochet, Incendiary, Armour Piercing and High-Explosive (in Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg voice: "My favourite").

[5] If you really really really want to help us get the missing books from the series (or if there are any other books you want to read that Islington doesn't currently have in stock) then you should know that you can try and order some copies on this handy little online reservation form.

[6] "Denizens" - another tasty little word.

[7] And if you want a small glimpse of the scale of world-building this series has achieved then have a look at this wikipedia entry for Mega City One (placed  #1 on The Architects Journal list of "comic book cities."!)

[8] And let's just take a minute to reflect uponhow damn peculiar it is that one of England's most famous comic book heroes is an American Policeman. I mean - yeah - a futuristic American Policeman - but still. This from a country that has always had a little bit of a faught relationship with it's authority figures (best recent example: these amazon reviews on the Olympic Mascots Wenlock Policeman Figurine) and seeing how most heroes in our country (Robin Hood) and others (well - all the Batmans and Supermans and Spidermans) tend to operate outside the law - I guess it's just a tesatament to England's perverse sense of the absurd or something (woo - go us).

[9] And just to continue the thought a little further and give one last example: when my girlfriend first saw the cover of this book (and it's oh-so-fetching-shade of pink) she made a comment about how I was always reading books about robots. Of course - being a mean awful boy - I then proceeded to mock her mercilessly for thinking that Judge Dredd was a robot (because - obviously - me knowing so much more about Judge Dredd puts me at a higher social standing than her obviously). And yeah - comparing Judge Dredd - England's version of American's future lawman (and - duh - not a robot) with Robocop - America's version of America's [10] future lawman (who - well - if you want to get technical about it - name aside - also isn't exactly a robot (definition: "A machine resembling a human being and able to replicate certain human movements and functions") but is more strictly speaking a cyborg (definition: "A person whose physical abilities become superhuman by mechanical elements built into the body." and - oh god - I've wasted my life learning the differences between the two and then writing about it in a review of a bloody Judge Dredd comic on the frigging internet - but whatever - let's carry on) - but then I guess Cybocop doesn't have the same ring to it). Point being - in terms of an emotional investment - in the type of stories they tell you're going to end up caring a lot more about Alex Murphy (if we're just talking about the first film - because let's face it - the sequels sucked) then you ever would about Joe Dredd (who's been going for over 30 frigging years).

[10] And - yes - I realise that Paul Verhoeven (the guy who directed Robocop - and also Total Recall and Starship Troopers - so you know - respect is due) is Dutch - but there is a reason that you get 1,220,000 results when you google "American Jesus Robocop" so shut up ok?

[11] Oh - and speaking of Free Willy - if you fancy getting bummed out about something then please read this.

[12] And if you like that kind of crazy-obsessive science-fiction world building then you really should check out Alan Moore's Halo Jones (link below).

[13] See here if you have no idea what I'm talking about.

Links: Dredd Reckoning Review, 2000AD Review Interview with Alan Grant, Rob Williams and Al Ewing.

Further reading: Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth SagaJudge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 05Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 06Judge Anderson: Satan, The Batman/Judge Dredd Files, The Complete Future Shocks, D.R. and Quinch, Skizz, The Ballad of Halo Jones.

All comments welcome.


Wilbur said...

Disgustingly gauche / ignorant question - where does judge Death and whatnot fit into all this? As in, in the case files. The Judge Death backstory messed me up in ways that i imagine more wanky / precocious kids were messed up by The Wasp Factor and Brett Easton fucking Ellis (official name)

Tam said...

Check out case files #5, which not only contains Judge Death Lives, (probably the best drawn Dredd story ever, with that iconic 'gaze into the fist of Dredd' moment) but also the brilliant but harsh Block War/ Apocalypse War epic, which messed ME up as a kid, with some of the most horrific things I've ever seen in a comic book or anywhere else come to that, like Judges performing mercy killings of people with radiation poisoning...

Islington Comic Forum said...

Yep. What Tam said. Altho if you're taking about the Judge Death Backstory and getting proper messed up then I guess you're talking about Young Death - Boyhood of a Super-Fiend which is discussed a little here: http://dreddreviews.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/judge-death-life-and-death-of.html

I don't know if it's appeared in any Complete Case Files books so far - but the thing is which Judge Death (and his three friends) is that they pop up in random places - and so because the Case Files are done chronologically you'd only get bits and pieces here and there. But yeah - like Tam said - Case Files 05 has some hot Judge Death action if that's what you're looking for? (Can I ask what messed you up about Judge Death so much?)

Will be coming up on the Block War/Apocalypse War soon I hope - have never actually read them - but have heard so much - want to see if it can live up to my expectations...

Tam said...

I think Block Mania / Apocalypse War stand up much better that pretty much any pre Alan Moore Marvel / DC comic from that period and they're still well worth a read, but they're not going to be quite as potent now as they would've been reading them as a young teenager at a time when nuclear war with the Russians seemed pretty likely.

If you want that sort of kick from your Dredd, you ought to follow up reading these stories with the just finished (and as yet uncollected) epic Day of Chaos which is aimed at adults, (since kids don't read 2000 ad any more!) and riffs off contemporary fears in a genuinely scary way...

Islington Comic Forum said...

Will have to wait for them to release a collection and then have to wait to see if Islington decide to buy a copy - but if/when both those things happen: I am ALL OVER IT. (Day of Chaos? Sounds excellent).

And yeah - stay tuned for my ill-phrased thoughts on the Apocalypse War (I - for one - can't wait!).