Previously on Drokk!: After a somewhat uneven first couple of years, Judge Dredd as a strip has settled into somewhat of a groove as co-creator John Wagner took full control of the writing chores and set about transforming the series’ setting Mega-City One into an important character in its own right. Who would want to separate Dredd from Mega-City One at this point?
0:00:00-0:02:46: With the kind of rustiness that comes from not having recorded a Drokk! in awhile, we stumble through an introduction that explains that, this episode, we’re covering Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files Vol. 4, covering 2000 AD Progs 156 through 207, running 1980 through 1981. But before we get too meander-y, I have a question for Jeff…
0:02:47-0:09:59: Is Vol. 4 a collection full of re-runs and deja vu? We discuss that Judge Dredd as a serial has been around for long enough to have a history, and the drawbacks that brings — namely, that there’s now the opportunity (taken often in this volume, it feels like) to repeat ideas and storylines, as well as merely reference them, although that happens as well. Aw, Judge Dredd, you’re old enough to have continuity now…!
0:10:00-0:25:36: In response to my question, Jeff brings up his theory about a running theme in this particular collection: The importance of free will, and the lack of free will when it comes to the characters in Dredd. (Well, outside of Owen Krysler, AKA the Judge Child, and Dredd himself, perhaps.) Is Wagner arguing that people can only exist within the confines of their character, but that their characters are purely defined by external influences? And we’re not talking about those external influences being the Judges, either… They might be as trapped as the rest of the citizens.
0:25:37-0:38:38: Another potential running theme is Dredd as both contrarian to everything around him, but also as an unchanging monolith that everything and everyone else has to work around. But is that a problem? Both Jeff and Judge Macgruder think so, but Jeff goes so far as to suggest that it might be a particular problem because Dredd doesn’t have any control over his own actions because he’s been programmed into being a machine — something that this volume in particular isn’t shy in presenting a case for.
0:38:39-0:51:29: It isn’t just questions of free will that this volume is obsessed with; I also think it’s an era of the series that is focusing on satirizing (and criticizing) consumer culture, with the return of Otto Sump and televised war games being the most obvious examples. In response, Jeff brings up the work of Italian director Segio Corbucci, whose spaghetti westerns presented a particularly bleak worldview that may also have informed some of the episodes of the strip on show here, especially in the Judge Child storyline.
0:51:30-1:08:19: There’s always been an undercurrent of dark humor in Dredd, but does this volume represent a new level of that? Nuclear apocalypse and body horror fuel some of the “weird darkness,” as Jeff calls it, in these episodes, with Basil Wolverton and Ken Reid being referenced as potential influences on Ron Smith’s artwork in particular. We also discuss the morality (or lack thereof, potentially) in Dredd as a character, whereas he may be the most moral character in the series but that doesn’t mean he’s especially moral — especially when it comes to passive aggressive confrontations with other Judges over facial hair. (Not mentioned in the podcast, but I’m mentioning it here: Dredd also has a real problem with accountants, and appears twice in this volume.)
1:08:20-1:19:44: Has John Wagner created such a unique tone to the series at this point that no-one else will be able to capture it? We talk about the future evolution of Dredd, and how it impacts the work of future creators when it comes to working on the character, and then we talk about the seeming lessening of the parallels between this strip and Will Eisner’s The Spirit, which has become somewhat of a running theme on this podcast.
1:19:45-1:31:48: There are a lot of new characters introduced in this volume who’ll show up again in the future, bringing about a discussion about supporting casts both in Judge Dredd as a strip, and British comics in general. Did British comics, historically, not really care that much about character because there wasn’t enough space to include anything other than plot and high concept?
1:31:49-1:39:18: For a comic that has often been referred to as being particularly punk rock, this volume of The Complete Case Files gets punk pretty wrong, borrowing a lot of the surface imagery but surprisingly little of the underlying attitude. I refer to it as a Bob Haney version of punk, which feels odd given the timing of both 2000 AD’s launch and these strips in particular, but perhaps we’re reading too much into Ron Smith’s aesthetic as a whole. There’s also a slight reprise about the free will question, thanks to the conclusion of the “Unamerican Graffiti” storyline that prompted this particular diversion.
1:39:19-2:00:01: We get into our favorite stories in the volume, with Jeff choosing between “Unamerican Graffiti” and “Loonie’s Moon,” and my choices being either “Pirates of the Black Atlantic” and “The Fink.” While we’re at it, we talk about foreshadowing what’s to come, whether it’s creative legacies of these stories — you can see shades of future 2000 AD and Wagner/Grant collaborations at times — and also stories that are about to show up in the Judge Dredd strip as a whole. Also, I come up with a theory about how the strip treats animals versus humanity.
2:00:02-2:05:02: We quickly wrap things up for the episode, mentioning that we have Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram accounts, as well as the Patreon account that makes all of this whole thing possible — and then there’s the fact that, next episode, we’re literally heading towards nuclear armageddon in a storyline that’s actually called “The Apocalypse War.” So, you know, good times ahead, I guess.
Hey, everyone! Welcome to our non-episode episode, where Graeme and Jeff talk separately about hanging out together recently in Portland, Oregon. Graeme is concise; Jeff is not; what else is new? But at least you get to hear about Shazam! (the motion picture), DC Digests, Carmine Infantino and Don Heck, Deadpool Kills The Deadpool Universe #4, and what’s really going through the head of the person you’re bargain comics shopping with!
We’ll be back next week with a full episode of (we think) Drokk!
Previously on Drokk!: Two years’ worth of Judge Dredd strips have passed, but things are only now starting to congeal when it comes to working out just who the title character is for both creators and readers, it seems, with John Wagner taking over the strip essentially full-time as writer with the length (and wonderful) “The Day The Law Died” cycle of stories. With Wagner installed permanently as the man in charge of Mega-City One, what lies ahead?
0:00:00-0:01:54: We speed through an introduction, and let the people know that we’re covering Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files Vol. 3 this time around, which covers material from 2000 AD Progs 116 through 154, from 1979 through 1980. Really, we’re pretty expedient and impatient this time.
0:01:55-0:17:46: Although Vol. 3 is a collection of short stories — the longest continued narrative is just five episodes — there’s a throughline to be found, and we talk about what we both think is the most obvious candidate: That this is the volume where Mega-City One is solidified as a location, and what that means. (Spoilers: Jeff makes the apt point that the best on-screen depiction of Mega-City One is arguably Springfield in the monorail episode of The Simpsons.) Also, mention of the “Vienna” episode of the strip, which starts the book off, gets us talking about Dredd as an emotional being, and what that means to the strip as a whole, with references to romance comics and Gil Kane in the offing. Does John Wagner have a better idea of what Mega-City One is than he does of who and what Dredd is by this point?
0:17:47-0:26:31: A brief discussion of what it must have been like to be reading these stories when they appeared — not only for the variety and quality of Wagner’s writing, but also weekly art from the likes of Ron Smith, Brian Bolland and Mike McMahon — brings us back to the idea of Dredd as the natural successor to Will Eisner’s The Spirit, and the ways in which the two strips are similar. (And the ways in which they’re dissimilar, as well.)
0:26:32-0:30:31: Mention of Jeff’s love of Ron Smith leads us to a very short digression about the visual evolution of the Dredd strip through the three years to date, and from the Ezquerra/McMahon aesthetic to the more refined Bolland/Ron Smith look, and what that means as a whole.
0:30:32-0:38:17: And then we’re back to talking about the writing — namely, the status quo of Mega-City One, and how the Judges interact with the citizens. We talk about two foundational lines of dialogue that set the stage for everything that happens afterwards, and quite how stacked the odds are against any MC-1 citizen for not having a bad experience with the Judges at some point in their lives. The future, it seems, isn’t just unkind to regular people: It wants to try and break them.
0:38:18-0:53:19: This leads on to a theory I have about this volume offering an unexpected reason for Dredd to be the series’ protagonist — that he’s an aberration as a Judge because he repeatedly is shown to embrace characteristics that are seen as being reason enough to make Judges retire, but is nonetheless successful as a Judge despite (or because of) that. In discussing this, we end up talking about a story in which Dredd deals with animal experimentation, in what Jeff describes as the perfect blend of “radical politics and silver age DC storytelling tropes.” Oh, and John Cooper’s cat drawings, which are uncannily good.
0:53:20-1:06:34: With Jeff having talked about the animal experimentation story being one of his favorites in this volume, we run down the other contenders, which includes an early example of GoFundMe, the first appearance of Judge Death and more — which turns into a discussion about the sense of both continuity and consistency of location that Wagner manages to create around Mega-City One and Judge Dredd the strip in this volume, as well as the tonal variety consistently employed by the series at this point.
1:06:35-1:17:08: We move onto some of my favorite stories, and also return to the idea that the citizens of Mega-City One are doomed to failure simply by living in the time and place that they do, with Jeff dropping a reference to a 1976 novel about man’s inhumanity to… well, everything, really, called Dr. Rat by William Kotzwinkle. Was this a reference on Wagner? Who can tell, but it doubtlessly was less grim as the Umpty Candy story, which both Jeff and I found ourselves fascinated by, not least of all because of how Mr. Ump was dressed, and the moral of the story…
1:17:09-1:29:14: From the sublime to the shit, as we talk about Pat Mills’ sole contribution to the volume, the less-than-good “Blood of Satanus” three-parter; this leads into some chat about the fact that we both felt like Mills was more present in the book than he actually was, and what the legacy of Pat Mills on Dredd actually might be. Come for that, stay for the mention of Henry Ford the Horse, of course, of course.
1:29:15-1:38:37: This volume turned out to be John Wagner’s moment to shine as a solo writer — which will happen again, of course, throughout Dredd history — and I wonder as to his method in writing such a long game-type of a comic strip. We talk about the unique position Wagner is in with Dredd, and also how it allows for a strange sense of realism unavailable in almost every other comic property.
1:38:38-end: Coming in hot as we try to wrap things up, Jeff and I both talk about whether or not we’d recommend this volume to newcomers, tease what’s happening in the next episode of Drokk! and do the traditional mention of our Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram accounts, not to mention the Patron that’s responsible for this whole thing. It’s a lot, I know, but Grud thanks you for reading and listening as ever.
The transformation of DC Universe from, essentially, a TV and movie delivery system with some comics to what will be DC’s version of Marvel Unlimited with some TV shows and movies is something that I’m sure Jeff and I will be talking about in the next episode, if only because it’s an announcement that finally got Jeff to sign up for the service. That said, I’m going to take a few minutes to share some thoughts right now, just because. Follow along under the jump.