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Previously on Drokk!: We are firmly in the Garth Ennis era of Judge Dredd by this point, which has so far included a climax to the growing democracy story arc that concluded, stunningly, that fascism is apparently really cool because Judge Dredd is tough. If you think that’s the nadir of the strip, just wait.
0:00:00-0:03:08: Another swift introduction for this episode, as Jeff and I let everyone know who we are and that we’re reading Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files Vol. 17 and Batman/Judge Dredd: Judgement on Gotham this episode, with the latter perhaps the sole thing from preventing both of us from being overwhelmed by the Young Garth Ennis of it all.
0:03:09-0:26:16: I misdirect us a little bit at the start by pointing out that, at the same time Ennis was writing these (very bad) Dredd stories, he was also writing Hellblazer for DC, which was… far better than this…? This leads us to a somewhat more-fragmented-than-usual discussion about the importance of artists on making Dredd work — especially Carlos Ezquerra, in this volume — and what Jeff calls the “zen koan” of what makes an effective Dredd story in terms of writing. We also touch on Judgement on Gotham earlier than intended, Simon Bisley and Chris Halls, and debts owed to Bill Sienkiewicz.
0:26:17-1:06:59: We dive into “Judgement Day,” the massive mega-epic that takes up fully half of Case Files 17 and fails so utterly on so many levels. On the one hand, it’s a big deal — not just the first crossover between 2000 AD and Judge Dredd Magazine, it’s also a crossover between Judge Dredd and Strontium Dog, with the latter guesting in basically the entire story. Unfortunately, as we cover at length, “Judgement Day” is a mess — a zombie story that doesn’t really understand zombie stories or know what to do with them, that passes up every available opportunity to say something interesting about its characters, that doesn’t necessarily comprehend how to pace a story, and one that doesn’t seem to understand that telling the reader that a bunch of people are in trouble isn’t the same as actually demonstrating it. Jeff suggests that Garth Ennis is getting worse when it comes to Dredd, but I’m not necessarily convinced, and we approach the idea that this is Ennis at a stage in his career where he’s not yet realized that other people aren’t quite as fascinated by the myth of the tough guy that can withstand everything thrown at him as he, himself, is. Suffice to say, we’re all in on just what a bad choice for Dredd Ennis is, at least in this particular phase of his career.
1:07:00-1:15:57: Spinning out of the above, Jeff suggests that the comics in Case Files 17 might be both creatively and morally bankrupt — at least in the eyes of a fictional Gary Groth — which brings us to a discussion of whether or not this is the fault of creators who clearly weren’t ready for the gig just yet. Was 2000 AD that creatively desperate, or was this the result of those involved feeling that Dredd needed a reinvention after more than a decade, and just making poor decisions when approaching that reinvention?
1:15:58-1:37:33: If the new guard creators is failing Dredd, then surely the old guard are doing better, especially in a high-profile project like Batman/Judge Dredd: Judgement on Gotham? The answer is… fine, more or less…? The first crossover with Batman is a fun read, but a throwaway one that relies more heavily on Simon Bisley’s artwork than the writing to make it work. Jeff has an explanation as to why that may be, even as both of us are disappointed by how some of the characters are written. This brings us back to a comparison between John Wagner and Alan Grant, and Garth Ennis, and how disappointing the latter seems by comparison — and whether or not that’s his “fault,” or simply a sign that, perhaps, a 22-year old fan didn’t stand much of a chance when replacing creators who have been working for pretty much as long as he’s been alive.
1:37:34-1:44:33: As we start to close things up, I talk about it having been a rough episode in terms of reading material, and admit that I cheered myself up by reading the current Dredd serial in 2000 AD, which prompts Jeff to detect a sign of optimism — that we know that both Dredd and 2000 AD have better days ahead after just how poor this particular material is.
1:44:34-end We look ahead to the next episode, which sees John Wagner come back for more than three episodes at a time, Jeff asks about my love for the final panel in “Judgement Day” despite my intense dislike for the rest of the storyline, and we mention, as always, the Patreon, Twitter, Tumblr and I-swear-I’ll-use-it-again-soon Instagram. If you made it through all of this, we’re very grateful. It wasn’t easy.
(literally impossible to figure out what’s going on in this trailer if you don’t know the characters, I think)
Donald Trump reminds me of this Fred Armisen character who can’t finish a single sentence pic.twitter.com/hlV3cL2RmW
— Sarah Cooper (@sarahcpr) August 3, 2016
While talking to my wife about Christopher Nolan’s movies, she said that she much preferred “the Buster Keaton Batmans” and reader I am still recovering.
— Jeff (@Lazybastid) August 3, 2020
Previously on Drokk!: After more than a decade, John Wagner stepped back as the lead writer on the strip, allowing a hungry new up-and-comer, Garth Ennis — then still in his teens — his big break. It wasn’t good, but things were about to get much worse.
0:00:00-0:02:44: In a particularly speedy introduction — assisted by the shortest cold open in Drokk! history — I’d like to think that Jeff and I make two things very clear. Firstly, that we’re reading Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files Vol. 16 this time around. And secondly, that these are some very bad comics indeed.
0:02:45-0:08:56: We’re going to spend most of this episode talking about the failures of the writing in these stories, as is our traditional focus, but it can’t be overlooked that there’s also some very poor artwork to be found in this collection, from a number of artists whose later work was very good indeed. There’s also some great stuff — I love John Burns’ work on Dredd a lot — but the shadow of Simon Bisley falls heavily on the work here, sadly, as I explain.
0:08:57-0:42:49: So, why is Garth Ennis not succeeding here? We go hard on the topic, while also going hard on Ennis himself — or, at least, the 20-year-old writing the stories collected in this volume. That he’s only 20 is likely a contributor, as is the fact that he’s probably feeling all kinds of pressure taking on a strip that he clearly idolizes maybe a little too much to allow him to be effective. Where are the editors, we ask, while also blaming Ennis for writing a particularly flat Dredd and failing to give any other characters (with one notable exception) any kind of life whatsoever. Mr. Lester has a theory about why that might be, and it’s a pretty compelling one.
0:42:50-0:52:30: It’s not just the newcomers that are letting the side down here, though; Alan Grant contributes a number of stories to Case Files 16, and they’re uniformly bad, as well, lacking character motivation and exposition, but unfortunately including a side helping of racism that’s genuinely shocking to read when it appears. There’s also a resolution to a long-running plot thread that we’d forgotten, and also a reminder that, when surrounded by a collection of truly subpar work, even “barely competent” suddenly feels like a breath of fresh air.
0:52:31-1:03:41: Jeff’s attempt to get me to pick a favorite non-John Wagner story from the book backfires as I pick a John Wagner story — “Watchdogs,” one of only two in this collection — leading to me taking on Jeff’s traditional role of projecting meta text into what we’re reading; Jeff isn’t convinced, but it leads into a brief discussion about what Wagner can do that Ennis and Grant solo aren’t able to, and asks the question, “How much can a good artist save a bad story?”
1:03:42-1:07:47: A very brief digression brought about by Jeff referencing the Judge Dredd pinball game (of course) has us pondering the fact that this book, featuring work published 14 years into the strip’s existence, feels as if it’s the kind of uncertain, what-is-this-strip-about, thing that should have come at least a decade or so earlier. Such is the power of Wagner’s hold on Dredd, it seems.
1:07:48-1:29:52: At the heart of the collection are two stories — Wagner’s “The Devil You Know” and Ennis’ “Twilight’s Last Gleaming” — that tie off the democracy storyline, and seem almost in conflict with each other. We try to talk about that without being overpowered by my strong visceral hatred of Ennis’ contribution, and… almost succeed? Well, almost-almost, at least. Covering “Twilight’s Last Gleaming,” we discuss the ways in which it betrays Wagner’s Dredd as a character, humiliates Blondel Dupre and the democracy storyline as a whole, and arguably reveals Ennis as a pro-fascism writer with a weakness for a strong man leader who disregards morality and the norms in the name of maintaining the status quo. It’s a story that arguably doesn’t even make sense given what’s come before, but at least it looks nice…?
1:29:53-1:46:57: Wagner’s “Devil You Know,” meanwhile, brings out Jeff’s metatextual reading prowess, and we also discuss a couple of ways in which the two stories make an accidental argument for the Judges being a corrupt system that fails to do what it was created to do, and instead focuses on itself. And, yes, we also talk about the way in which that feels a particular way in this particular moment in history, too.
1:46:58-1:53:02: With absolutely no surprise to anyone — despite Jeff’s attempts otherwise — we declare this collection Dross, instead of Drokk, and talk briefly about our choice of favorite non-Wagner stories, both of which are chosen because of the art instead of the writing. (Mine is either “Firepower” or “The Art of Geomancy,” Jeff’s is “Hand of Fate,” if you’re curious.) It’s not a fun time, this book.
1:53:03-end: In which we look ahead to the next Drokk!, where Garth Ennis writes a crossover between the Megazine and 2000 AD, and wrap things up with the traditional mention of the Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram and Patreon. Grud bless you all for making this painful journey with us, Whatnauts.
Previously on Drokk!: Disillusioned in the system, Dredd took the Long Walk and retired from being the law — only for Mega-City One to fall to the Dark Judges in his absence. Post-“Necropolis,” he’s back and nothing will be the same again, especially when it comes to Judge Dredd the comic strip.
0:00:00-0:01:44: Welcome back, dear Whatnauts, to the 22nd century that feels a little bit less removed from the current day with every single episode. As we quickly introduce things this time around, we’re covering two books: Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files Vol. 15 and Judge Dredd: America — although, for those following along in collected editions, we’re only covering the first “America” story, and ignoring the two sequels for now.
0:01:45-0:21:19: Taking the two books separately, we talk about Case Files 15 being a difficult book to read right now — both for the parallels with events in the real world, as everyone deals with police brutality and the ACAB reality, and also because it’s… not an especially good book…? That said, there’s a lot to enjoy here, and we dig into some of the good stuff, especially the way in which John Wagner struggles to deal with some tricky subjects, including the idea of Dredd as pro-democracy reformer. Also discussed: What role Judge Anderson could play in the future of Mega-City One, just how strong Wagner’s immediate post-“Necropolis” stories are, and Jeff and I disagreeing over Ron Smith’s artwork that opens the collection.
0:21:20-0:44:31: Of course, for some people, the appeal of Case Files 15 may be the arrival of Garth Ennis as writer, so we talk about that. Spoilers: His first stories aren’t very good, which means we’re discussing their sloppiness, Ennis’s apparent need to work as a John Wagner cover band, how his stories do and don’t follow Wagner — clue: it depends on what you mean by “follow” — and, generally, how they fall into the larger Garth Ennis pantheon, and what impact “The Apocalypse War” had on Ennis as a whole. Ennis isn’t the only writer letting the side down here, and we also talk about the disappointments offered up by Alan Grant and John Wagner in this volume, and everyone can enjoy Jeff’s literary detective work to identify the author of one particular story. (I just looked up Wikipedia to confirm, as it happened.)
0:44:32-0:53:16: Overall, is Case Files 15 Drokk or Dross? The answer probably won’t surprise you, but we pick out our favorite stories in the volume anyway, and also talk about the different artists on show here and what they fail to bring when necessary.
0:53:17-1:18:02: If I could point to the biggest surprise for me while recording Drokk! to date, it’s that “America” left Jeff as cold as it does, especially given that some of his reasons for feeling that way are things that, to be honest, I would have assumed would have been something that appealed to him. Is it that his expectations were too high, the current reality in which he’s reading, or Wagner’s pivot from broad condemnation to specific pulp story? We talk about all of this, while I reveal for just the latest time that I am willing to put up with all kinds of flawed work if I have warm feelings about it. (Really, I should be ashamed; really, I kind of am.) Am I riddled with nostalgia? Also: Where are the metaphors of “America”? And does the end still feel somewhat out of nowhere to everyone else? Commenters, I’m really looking forward to you weighing in here.
1:18:03-1:36:06: We continue talking about “America,” and weave slightly into whether or not this story is particularly timely right now, given everything that’s happening, and discuss whether or not it’s a story about the Judges or not. (Jeff isn’t convinced.) We also very briefly touch on whether or not Judge Dredd as a strip’s failure to talk about race is perhaps its biggest failure, in a way that only two white middle aged men can do.
1:36:07-1:39:07: Drokk? Dross? Thankfully, it turns out that not every book we’re talking about this week lets us down.
1:39-08-end: We wrap things up with me feeling nervous about the future episodes of Drokk! and what we have to look forward to, and the usual mentions of Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and Patreon. As always, thank you for listening and reading along.