Previously on Drokk!: The world of Judge Dredd began with the stories collected in Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files Vol. 1, an uneven collection that introduced the basics but didn’t seem to know what to do with the character beyond that — which led to Dread being promoted to being Moon Sheriff for a few months within the first year of the strip. Where would things go after that? It turns out, to Hell and back. (Well, the West Coast, which some East Coasters would consider Hell.)
0:00:00-0:02:44: We return and begin again, with an introduction, a reference to Jan Michael Vincent that sees me reference this obituary from the New York Times. We’re covering Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files Vol. 2 this episode, which itself contains the Dredd strips from 2000 AD prog 61-115. There’s a lot to deal with.
0:02:45-0:18:29: Before we dive into the stories themselves, Jeff references this amazing comment on the last episode from Voord 99, which we then riff off for a few minutes, including the thought that Dredd isn’t actually a strip about a future America, but a strip about American media and the stories America tells about itself; I also share the connection I share with Dredd co-creator John Wagner, and the newspaper story that made me feel better about my hometown.
0:18:30-0:33:48: We attempt to talk about the first of the two massive storylines contained in Vol. 2, but quickly get sidetracked into a conversation about the differences between Pat Mills’ and John Wagner’s Dredd, and the lengths to which Mills goes to remove Dredd from his natural environment in order to get the character to work for him.
0:33:49-1:26:15: When we actually get to “The Cursed Earth” — which runs 25 parts, although four episodes are missing in the Case Files for reasons we cover; we also talk about those episodes — it emerges that both of us have a fair amount of reservations about it, not least of which the fact that it’s less a story than a framework for a bunch of different stories, and one that neither makes sense per se, nor pays off in the end. (It is, instead, Chekhov’s Gun, but only if that gun fails to fire twice.) That’s not to say there’s not a lot to enjoy about it, including the role of the movie Damnation Alley as an inspiration, the strength of two of the “censored” episodes, the fact that Pat Mills seemingly invented Jurassic Park 12 years before the original novel was released (something that Mills himself denies, as Jeff gets into), and just how lurid and pulpy the whole thing is. Also discussed: The totemic nature of Dredd’s preferred mode of transportation, the story’s two main supporting characters, Spikes Harvey Rotten and Tweak (with Jeff schooling me on why my dislike for the latter is doing a disservice to both him and Pat Mills), and just how underwhelming the finale is, not to mention the possible reasons why that might be the case. Oh, and we also reference the in-canon “apology” strip that appeared after one of the controversial now-“censored” episodes, which is reproduced below for those who are curious:
1:26:16-1:37:26: The suggestion that “The Cursed Earth” was truncated leads to a brief discussion about whether or not the underwhelming nature of the story’s climax was the result of editorial mandate or exhaustion on the creators’ parts. Was Mills just done with Dredd by the time he reached the end, or did editors want to wrap it up in order to let John Wagner take over? (I also tease something that we’ll get to in two episodes’ time, when we finally reach “The Judge Child Quest,” because I am bad at foreshadowing, apparently.)
1:37:27-1:44:20: From the ridiculous to the sublime, we move from “The Cursed Earth” into the extended Judge Cal storyline, which sees John Wagner take over as the primary writer on the strip — a position he has essentially held ever since; he’s doing it under the “John Howard” pseudonym with this story, though — and basically give everything from Judge Dredd to Mega-City One itself a quiet reboot. It begins with a three-part prologue that doubles as a fake-out, however, and Jeff and I talk about the red herring, the wonderful Silver Age quality of the three-parter, and also how racist Wagner’s Judge Giant looks forty years later. (No, really; why should a Judge be talking jive?)
1:44:21-2:29:45: “The Day The Law Died” transforms the Dredd strip on multiple levels, taking it into new areas of satire and tonally transforming it from sci-fi pulp into something more operatic and, honestly, darker. It starts with an unforgiving first episode and just doesn’t stop until things finally wrap up. We discuss all kinds of things, not least of which Wagner’s mastery over the serial format (and the 2000 AD episode length); what the reader expects from the Judges as a narrative device, and how easily we believe that they can be used for evil; the origins of the term “Scrotnig”; Judge Cal being the anti-Dredd, being as self-indulgent as Dredd is self-controlled; the Donald Trump parallels that utterly derailed us; Fergee and why Jeff and I don’t get the joke; the arrival to the strip of Ron Smith and the visual evolution of the character and the strip across the two years it had existed by this point, and much, much more. Suffice to say, we really loved this storyline.
2:29:46-2:38:37: As we try to wrap things up relatively quickly — we had, after all, been going on for more than two hours by this point, we reach what might be Jeff’s first-ever Dredd story (featuring a reference to Whispering Bob Harris of all people), and take the very shortest trip into the question of whether or not John Wagner is sympathetic to the Judges as a concept. I mean, surely not, but yet…!
2:38:38-end: Finally, we discuss overall impressions of this volume, whether or not we’d recommend it as a good starting point to a Dredd newcomer — the phrase “kind of like huffing a lot of paint and then reading a bunch of Jack Kirby’s comics” might be used — talk about our favorite episodes in the book and then get to bringing everything to a timely close with mentions of our Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter and Patreon. We’ll be back in a month with Vol 3 of Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files; until then, thank you for listening and reading, and never forget: Easy the Ferg.
Just a quick announcement to let you know we managed to get ourselves added to Spotify’s voluminous podcast directory! We’re currently a little hard to find, what with being new to the neighborhood and all, but here’s a helpful link:
(I’ll put that in as straight text in the comments just to be safe.)
We hope this makes it easier for you to disagree with us, and/or facilitate you yelling answers to our rhetorical questions when it’s late at night and/or you’re on the bus trying not to look crazy!
When Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti launched the Marvel Knights imprint that would revitalize, reshape, and (basically) rescue Marvel, they grabbed four properties to launch with. Three of them were massive successes, whether critical, commercial, or both. The other one was The Punisher.
Written by Christopher Golden & Tom Sniegoski with penciled art from horror comics legend Bernie Wrightson, this four-issue limited series made the bold choice to take the Punisher out of his familiar Death Wish-esque milieu and put him in the middle of a war between heaven and hell. This take on the character made such a middling impression that Garth Ennis would retcon it away with a single-panel shrug, and Ennis’s rendition became the one that people refer to as “Marvel Knights Punisher.”
When these issues made their (extremely belated) debut on Marvel Unlimited almost the same day as Graeme and Jeff’s discussion of what makes a successful Punisher series in Wait What episode 264, it seemed like fate. So Matt suggested that all three of us should read this legendary misfire for the first time.
Welcome to the year 2099, where the law is everything, and one man is the law — even if, in the stories we’re reading in this first episode of Drokk!, Judge Dredd isn’t exactly the fearsome lawman that everyone will come to know and love just yet. But watching how that happens is half the fun, or at least, half the fun of this podcast.
0:00:00-0:02:09: We roll into town — well, Mega-City One — with new music, courtesy of Mr. Jeffrey Lester, and introduce ourselves as well as what we’re actually reading this episode: Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files Vol. 1, which covers 2000 AD Prog 2 – 60, from 1977 and 1978.
0:02:10-:0:04:59: Jeff quickly unpacks his history with Judge Dredd as a character and a strip, including mention of the Eagle Comics reprints that debuted in the U.S. in the early ‘80s. A quick correction to what I said in the show itself: The Eagle Comics reprints launched in 1983 as an offshoot of Titan Books, insofar as they were owned by the same man, Nick Landau. (There are probably many U.S. fans who’ll be familiar with the later Quality Comics reprints, which were like the Eagle reprints if done by someone who had access to a photocopier that destroyed page ratios and were colored by someone in a rush; the Eagle reprints were generally higher quality, and had original covers from Brian Bolland and other 2000 AD artists.)
0:05:00-:0:15:03: We talk about the way in which the early years of Judge Dredd are different from the character and strip we know today, which is another way of saying, “Man, these early strips are often pretty goofy.” They’re also just burning through ideas, as if no-one behind the scenes really expecting Dredd to stick around that long and saw no reason to pace themselves.
0:15:04-0:23:01: “So much of this first volume feels born of desperation,” I say about the first year of the character, in which various writers and artists try and fill the void of Dredd after the immediate departure of his creators for reasons Jeff alludes to. (He’s referencing material from both Pat Mills’ Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave!: 2000 AD & Judge Dredd: The Secret History and also the wonderful Thrill-Power Overload: 2000 AD — The First Forty Years at times throughout this episode, starting here.)
0:23:02-0:31:36: We begin to get into the weeds, talking about potential influences in the earliest days of the series, whether that happens to be Silver Age DC Comics or the density of storytelling in earlier British comics that preceded 2000 AD altogether, while also touching on the difference in comics language between UK and US comics a little. (This, I suspect, will be something we’ll come back to a lot across this series as a whole.)
0:31:37-0:40:14: After a rough start, things start to fall into focus a bit more with the arrival of co-creator John Wagner on the strip, nine episodes in. (Yes, that seems to make little sense; we explain it, honest.) If nothing else, he’s the first writer who seems to be okay not only not trying to make Dredd heroic, but just the opposite: Understanding that Dredd works really well as a character without any great depth, or any noticeable sympathetic features. Oh, and also as kind of a bastard, too.
0:40:15-0:50:19: Mention of Walter the Wobot gets us onto the topic of sidekicks and their place in comic book tradition, as both Walter and, to a lesser extent, housekeeper Maria, are placed in a spectrum of characters that includes both Woozy Winks and Dennis the Menace’s Walter the Softy. (That’s the British Dennis, I should make clear.) Also! What is with John Wagner and racist stereotypes when it comes to sidekicks, and does Dredd being so unsympathetic make the racism somehow more palatable?
0:50:19-0:57:44: “The Return of Rico” marks Pat Mills’ greatest contribution to the series to date, and it’s a story packed with all kinds of great stuff that also happens to be ruined by a particularly terrible punchline. How did the Hollies get in here? Also! Jeff’s love of sentimental pop — revealed!
0:57:45-1:14:10: Rico’s debut isn’t the only bit of world building that stuck around from the second six months of the character’s existence, and we talk about the fact that John Wagner (and, to a lesser extent, others) seem to find their footing after a shaky start. This leads into a very brief diversion about Wagner working through different comic book crime influences as he tries to work out what kind of comic Judge Dredd is, especially — as far as I’m concerned — Will Eisner’s The Spirit.
1:14:11-1:21:16: “We haven’t talked enough about the art,” I say, and considering this book features Mike McMahon, Brian Bolland, Ian Gibson and many more, that’s a particular oversight we try to address here. Of note: Jeff loves Ron Turner’s work but isn’t a fan of early Gibson, which we both agree is a little bit too busy. (Maybe we should do a spin-off Robo Hunter podcast to deal with more Gibson throughout the years…)
1:21:17-1:30:51: We talk about our favorite stories from the collection; I talk about the Dream Palace done in one, which Jeff likens to The Spiritstory about Gerhard Shnobble, while he can’t resist tales about Billy Jones, criminal apes — with me forgetting the name of Harry Heston in response, to my shame — and, of course, robots that want to rise up and free themselves of the shackles placed upon them by their makers. (Updated to add: Harry Heston was created by Stewart Perkins and Jake Lynch, as Henry Flint corrected me on Twitter.)
1:30:52-1:38:06: Another brief diversion, as we talk about whether or not the “Robot Wars” storyline scared creators off longer storylines for awhile afterwards, and whether “Luna-1,” the status quo change that ends this volume, is an attempt to pretend to have a continued storyline without actually going through with it. Also under discussion: The workload involved in making a weekly comic without break, and Jeff and I discovering a connection between 2000 AD and American Golden Age comics that we didn’t know we knew about.
1:38:07-1:52:14: Sure, it’s the first volume of the series and it’s the first Dredd stories, but is Complete Case Files Vol. 1 a good place for newcomers to start? Jeff says maybe, depending on what they’re looking for — dropping a Bob Haney reference in the process — while I’m unconvinced, instead likening it to the earliest issues of Fantastic Four. High praise, or merely a sign that the best is yet to come? Why not go with “both”?
1:52:15-end: We wrap things up with a truncated farewell (There was more cut for crackly audio purposes), but what you’re missing is that Drokk! will be back next month with the second volume, which brings both “The Cursed Earth” and “The Day The Law Died,” and really kicks the series into high gear. In the meantime, there’s a Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram and Patreon. Grud!