Previously on Drokk!: We’ve just finished “Necropolis,” in which John Wagner regained the mojo temporarily lost when he and Alan Grant ended their writing partnership — which makes it the perfect time to go back and revisit that partnership one more time*, don’t you think?
0:00:00-0:02:21: In which I use the cold open Jeff really didn’t think I would, and we introduce the book we’re reading this episode: Judge Dredd: The Restricted Files Vol. 2, which collects Dredd shorts from various special issues and annuals published between 1985 and 1989. It’s a mixed bag, but not a bad one, especially if you stop reading before the end.
0:02:22-0:16:43: In fact, the drop-off in quality is something we discuss relatively early on, bringing up two stories in particular that disappointed, both of which are written by Grant and Wagner separately, as opposed to collaboratively. But the collaborative stuff, we decide, is the comic book equivalent of comfort food, which leads to a brief discussion of the joy of the Wagner/Grant team.
0:16:44-0:24:38: By way of comparing the strengths of the Wagner/Grant team and their solo work in this book, we talk about one of our favorite stories in this collection, “Costa Del Blood,” and the ways in which it just… works, despite all these tricky things that should be hard to pull off properly: Comedy! Pop culture references! Metatextuality! And yet, it looks effortless — but perhaps that’s the amazing Carlos Ezquerra artwork fooling us. Not so good? That would be “Confessions of an Anarchist Flea,” for reasons we briefly go into.
0:24:39-0:58:24: What are our favorite stories from the book? Those would be “Costa Del Blood,” and, for Jeff, “Beyond the Wall” and “Last of the Bad Guys.” For me, I add “Crazy R Raiders” and “I, Beast.” We talk about all five, as well as a host of other topics — how well Wagner and Grant use the format and real estate of these stories, the way they recycle ideas even within the stories just in this volume (Hi, “Macho” men), and the purpose of the stories reprinted in this book, versus the regular Dredds in the weekly. Jeff wonders if these are stories intended to spotlight artists, and we take a short detour into the concept of breaking Dredd as a comic strip, and just how possible that actually is. Look, it’s half an hour of conversation; we have a lot to talk about.
0:58:25-1:04:04: There’s a lot to love about Restricted 2, despite our reservations, and we talk about the fact that it’s an embarrassment of riches in terms of both writing and art, and Jeff brings up a strange piece of Dredd ephemera with relation to the Wagner/Grant split and how it plays out in two separate stories here.
1:04:05-1:23:18: Having spent so long talking about what’s good, it’s clearly time to head into the worst stories, and we find agreement on the subject. Jeff’s not down with John Wagner not exposing his knowledge of Dungeons and Dragons, I’m embarrassed for Alan Grant’s musical references in “Headbangers,” and we’re both shocked by how bad the debut of the son of a psychopathic rodent can actually be. We also find a short while to discuss Wagner and Grant’s different approaches to ownership of the characters they’re writing, and wonder whether Alan Grant has a problem assigning any kind of emotion to authority figures in general.
1:23:19-end: It’s the end of the episode, but not before we tease (or is it dread) Case Files Vol. 15 next month and I have a question for everyone, and then there’s the usual mentions of the Tumblr, the Instagram, the Twitter and the Patreon. As ever, thank you for reading along and listening, Whatnauts.
(* There will be more times we’ll revisit the Wagner/Grant partnership. One of which will be happening quite soon, in fact…)
Previously on Drokk!: Things aren’t looking good in Mega-City One; the Justice Department is starting to think that Dredd might be getting too old for the job, and that his clone, Kraken — who is probably getting over that brainwashing about killing everyone in MC1 by now, maybe — could possibly be the ideal replacement. Meanwhile, another 2000 AD strip, The Dead Man, has shown a future Dredd having taken the Long Walk, convinced that something very bad has happened to the city in his absence. Could these things be connected…? (Spoiler: Yes.)
0:00:00-0:02:18: With great speed, we introduce ourselves and also what we’re talking about this time around: Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files Vol. 14, which is pretty much all one story for once, with that story being “Necropolis,” AKA my favorite of all the “mega-epic” storylines. Also unusual: the entire case files this time is the work of John Wagner, in terms of writing, with Carlos Ezquerra handling by far the majority of the artwork.
0:02:19-0:16:57: Jeff isn’t as completely onboard with the book as I am, and we start to dig into why, especially because there’s so much that he does like. Is David Foster Wallace to blame? (The first of many literary references this episode.) We also talk about the ways in which this storyline is so unlike Dredd in its focus on continuity, and the way that might have influenced Jeff’s feelings towards it, and compliment the art of Carlos Ezquerra, and not for the last time this episode.
0:16:58-0:32:42: I ask whether or not Dredd’s personal evolution is a little sudden to be believable, given how quickly it seems to have occurred, leading to a discussion about Dredd’s personal assumption of guilt versus Kraken’s, and whether or not the story is also about the repeated failures of the Judges — and MC1 in general — as an institution, and the importance of looking outside of the system for solutions. (Which, in itself, is a pretty big change for Dredd as a person and Judge Dredd as a series.)
0:32:43-0:52:16: If “Necropolis” is an allegory — and, really, any argument that it isn’t feels doomed to failure, considering — then is that the reason Jeff finds the ending so overwhelming? Is there even an ending that Jeff would fully appreciate? It’s unclear, and he’s very concerned about being the Russian judge (in a sporting contest, not the Dredd sense) in seeming to score the effort too harshly, so we may never know. Meanwhile, I wonder about the epilogue stories to be found in Vol. 15, and whether those are the conclusion we miss in this book, and also complain about the time jump midway through this story. I also, as is my wont, suggest that the lack of closure on the idea of Kraken being Dredd’s shadow self isn’t as disappointing as it first appears, because Wagner will return to the idea many, many years later. Ain’t I a stinker?
0:52:17-0:55:02: While “Necropolis” isn’t a story about a virus outbreak — a surprisingly common theme in Dredd, as it turns out, if you think about “The Cursed Earth,” “Block Mania,” “Sin City,” and “Day of Chaos” to name but four examples — that doesn’t mean it’s not a story that’s occasionally uncomfortable to read in our current pandemic reality. We unpack that (very) briefly.
0:55:03-1:47:16: Having made it almost an hour without actually telling everyone what “Necropolis” is about, Jeff and I try to run through a plot synopsis of the storyline, something I foolishly think will be easy… only to continually distract ourselves with all kinds of other matters. Is there a James Ellroy reference to be found in Kraken’s plight? What is the connection between Kraken and Charlie Brown? How great is the return of Chief Judge McGruder, and what does she bring to this storyline and the strip as a whole? Just how important is empathy to this storyline and what and who Judge Dredd will become? How touched were we both about the fact that Dredd can finally forgive Kraken, after everything, and also put himself in Kraken’s oversized boots? And, perhaps most importantly of all, how does that whole “lawgivers will explode if someone else tries to fire them” thing work, anyway, given how this story plays out? Here’s the thing: We don’t really get to the end of the synopsis, entirely, but you can work it out if you’re paying attention. (Look, I said we got distracted.)
1:47:17-2:07:16: You can tell how well we work, given that I try and start us talking about things about the story that we like, and Jeff immediately brings up the suggested racism in the story. Perhaps that’s because it’s hard to pick specific favorite moments out of this extended narrative, though both of us try: Jeff goes for Kraken’s corruption dream and how headfucky things get for him in regards to Kraken’s deprogramming and reprogramming, while I get very excited about the slow oncoming dread of the first eleven chapters of “Necropolis” proper. Also! Are you surprised just how dark a story about a city overcome with dark forces actually gets? I was! And Jeff prefers “The Apocalypse War” to “Necropolis,” but everyone’s allowed to be wrong sometimes.
2:07:17-2:13:53: I’m in two minds about where to go next, so I literally ask Jeff — which leads to the decision that we’re covering Judge Dredd: The Restricted Files Vol. 2 next month — and then we start talking about the short term future of Dredd the strip as the Case Files move into the 1990s. I’m not excited, but Jeff remains optimistic that the Garth Ennis stories are better than everyone says they are.
2:13:54-end: Eventually, we wrap things up by telling you about the Tumblr, really-not-as-dead-as-it-seems Instagram, Twitter and Patreon accounts and wishing you all good health and smart choices in these trying times. As always, thank you for listening and reading along. Next month: We return to the Wagner/Grant era for stories from specials and annuals! So that’ll be a little bit brighter and less pessimistic, I hope.
These are the US unemployment claims in their historical context pic.twitter.com/NJAqPl9BVg
— How Things Work (@ThingsWork) April 3, 2020
0:01-1:04:41: Greetings! And right from the get-go, we’re off and running as Graeme poses a “hypothetical’ question involving, oh, I don’t know, a P.R. person for a major company in an industry that is facing systemwide disruption that threatens to be cataclysmic. And from there, we dive right into the P.R. release that came out from DC mere hours before we recorded, and from there try to track the rapidly changing status quo for the direct market that includes things like the only comics distributor in the marketplace shutting down, smaller publishers putting their publications on hold, Free Comic Book Day becoming Free Comic Book May becoming Free Comic Book Nothing For Now, and much more. Ready for nearly an hour of analysis, fretting, and “game theory”? (Don’t worry, at no point do we say that.)
1:04:41-1:13:28: Okay, and here is part two of the podcast, and we’re talking about what we’re reading: we start off by talking about the tremendousness that is the current run of The Immortal Hulk. I’m sure you’re not sleeping on this book, but if you are: don’t.
1:13:28-1:18:39: The final volume (28!) of S and M by Mio Murao was finally released on Comixology, and Jeff talks about the final volume, the reading challenges, and the friends we made along the way (and by “friends,” we mean “depraved sex acts that happen as dramatic beats in the midst of a thriller melodrama). It hung around too long, but Jeff would be lying if he said he didn’t appreciate it as its “height.”
1:18:39-1:24:41: Much easier to praise is the first volume of Blissful Land by Ichimon Izumi, a story about a 13 year old doctor’s apprentice in 18th century Tibet surprised with an arranged bride-to-be. Don’t let our digression about horny Dr. Strange stories distract you from a heartwarming, low-stakes manga.
1:24:41-1:32:28: Jeff also read the first three issues of Undiscovered Country, which turns into a jumping off point about reading comics that are perfectly fine that don’t get revisited under normal circumstances. Will that change now that circumstances are pretty god-damn far from normal? It’s a good segue to the things Graeme has been reading starting with the early issues of Legionnaires, featuring some early work by Chris Sprouse. Other relaxing “perfectly fine” old comics Graeme’s been reading on DC Universe and Marvel Unlimited and Jeff mentions being mid-readthrough of the trade of DC’s Wanted: The World’s Most Dangerous Super-Villains (currently available on Hoopla, and popping up weekly on DC Universe).
1:32:28-1:47:38: Jeff and Edi have been fighting the Covid Blues by watching more movies than usual and, hey, why not give you a quick rundown on those? Discussed: Contagion, Knives Out, Robocop, Avenue 5, Judge Dredd contagion comics, Robocop being a Judge Dredd film, and more.
1:47:38-2:01:36: In the least surprising turn of events ever, Graeme has been rereading Justice League: The Detroit Era. What may be surprising is the incredibly candid way Graeme “recommends” these issues. Also discussed: licensed comics not on the streaming services; licensed comics that *are* on the streaming services; Gerard Jones reprints; the After Truth documentary on HBO; the Danny Kaye Show; Breeders and Dev, both on Hulu; and more.
2:01:36-2:12:16: Graeme: “Are you also going nuts in this time of social distancing, Jeff?” Jeff: [gif of T-1000 melting] Good thing to come out of this conversation? A renewed desire to rewatch The Prisoner! (Streaming on Amazon Prime, apparently…)
2:12:16-2:18:37: In conclusion, we’re doing fine. However, Jeff mentions the sympathy (or, as he puts it, “pity and awe”) he has for Graeme who has to monitor the news for his job. Graeme talks a little bit about that, the process, and the wear and tear on his psyche.
2:18:37-end: Closing Comments! Look for us on Stitcher! Itunes! Instagram! Twitter together and separately: Graeme and Jeff! Tumblr, and on Patreon where a wonderful group of people make this all possible, including Dominic L. Franco, and Empress Audrey, Queen of the Galaxy, to whom we are especially grateful for her continuing support of this podcast. (Also, don’t forget about Spotify!)
Next week: Another episode!
Previously on Drokk!: The Wagner/Grant era is over, and now things are in a very strange holding pattern as the strip tries to work out just what it’s going to be, and what things are going to be like, moving forward. We’ve already seen some hints — and, this episode, we get the biggest hint yet, and it’s not even in the Judge Dredd strip.
0:00:00-0:03:23: After a brief pre-credits public service for those in the U.S. with Amazon Prime — really, Future Shock is a fun film — we get things started by introducing the two books we’re covering in this episode: Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files Vol. 13 and The Dead Man, a non-Dredd strip that’s actually about Judge Dredd after all. You’ll see.
0:03:24-0:21:06: There’s no getting around it, and we don’t even try; Case Files Vol. 13 isn’t great. Jeff has some feelings about why that is, and they revolve around the idea that, now no longer a writing duo, John Wagner and Alan Grant are both suffering from the split. We talk about the difference between their styles, and also pick apart a couple of stories in particular where Grant — by far our least favorite of the two — feels like he’s dropping the ball on what we’re expecting from the strip at this point.
0:21:07-0:43:45: Wagner, meanwhile, has his share of misfires — we’ll get there very soon — but the strongest stories in this collection come from him, and we talk about a couple of them for a bit: “Banana City” and “In The Bath,” the latter of which might be the favorite story of both of us in this book. (For once, we didn’t actually talk about that during the episode.) We discuss Wagner’s strengths as comparative to Grant’s, before touching on some of the failures he offers up in this collection, including something to utterly devoid of a point that Jeff even came up with head canon as to why it exists. (We’re looking at you, “An Elm Street Nightmare.”)
0:43:46-1:05:15: Have you ever thought there were parallels between this era of Judge Dredd and the Star Wars prequels? I hadn’t, until Jeff makes a pretty convincing case on two different occasions, relating to two different stories in this collection — which were published a decade before Episode I reached theaters. Also under discussion: My love for the Cadet Kraken storyline, whether or not John Wagner is writing about the “nature versus nurture” argument and, if so, what side of the argument he’s on, and how “Young Giant” is really all about Judge Dredd and Judge Kraken, really. Oh, and “Letter to Judge Dredd,” a one-off that makes it clear that John Wagner is out to break the strip entirely.
1:05:16-1:15:02: For all that we didn’t love the book, we’re still willing to accept that there’s good stuff to be found, especially in its second half — even if Jeff and I don’t see eye-to-eye on the return of Italian stereotype Maria in the three-part “Cardboard City,” which Jeff compares unfavorably to the work of Robert Kanigher. Really, that’s just mean.
1:15:03-1:15:38: As we say goodbye to the volume, we ask whether it’s Drokk or Dross, and the answer isn’t particularly good, sadly. (It’s also not surprising, considering that we’d just talked shit about the book for an hour.)
1:15:39-1:26:20: Things improve considerably as we turn to The Dead Man, which both of us adored. It’s a Dredd strip in secret, and we talk about the ways in which it succeeds even beyond the last-minute-reveal: How much we love Wagner’s writing (under a pseudonym) and John Ridgeway’s atmospheric artwork, and the ways in which it isn’t a Dredd strip, even though it really is.
1:26:21-1:41:59: The strange thing about The Dead Man is that Wagner is telling the end of a character arc at exactly the same time as he’s telling the start of it, and we talk about what that means, as well as the ways in which this is the kind of formal trickery that can only be done in a comic like 2000 AD, for numerous reasons. Also discussed: Whether Dredd, once reborn, is an arrogant asshole and whether Yassa ends up paying the price for Dredd’s sins in a way that intentionally underscores Dredd’s responsibility.
1:42:00-1:53:47: I revisit the experience of reading The Dead Man in 2000 AD as a kid, and how the surprise felt at the time — unlike Jeff, I really did go into it cold — while also sharing a spoiler for Zenith: Phase III that I… maybe should have given a spoiler warning out for, even though it came out 30 years ago…?
1:53:48-1:57:15: Drokk or Dross, once again, and it’s a lot more favorable than Case Files Vol. 13, thankfully.
1:57:16-2:09:12: For once, Jeff actually read ahead of what we’re talking about, and we talk about just why that is, and then talk about what does lie ahead, and how it connects up the various threads that Wagner has been stringing along for a couple of Case Files volumes by this point, and also pretty much destroys Mega-City One even though we as readers today know that the strip continues for another three decades after that point. Cognitive dissonance, ahoy…!
2:09:13-end: And so we return to the end of things, as we talk about the Tumblr, Instagram and Twitter of things, not to mention the Patreon; we also touch for the briefest of seconds on how strange things are in the world right now, because — well, have you seen the news? Still, things really could be worse, which is kind of what next month’s episode is going to be all about…