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.
[Originally, I’d planned to do a parody number about this week’s news based on this song, but some health issues kept it from happening. Please feel free to watch the opening below and imagine what might’ve been…]
Dear DC Direct Market Retailer, First and foremost, we hope this finds you safe and well especially during what has been an incredibly challenging year. We are writing today to share with you that DC’s long-standing relationship with Diamond Comic Distributors is coming to a close effective following Diamond’s distribution of product offered on DC’s FOC list of June 1st.We want to thank Steve Geppi and the great people at Diamond for all the years of service. We recognize that, to many of you, this may seem like a momentous decision. However, we can assure you that this change in DC’s distribution plans has not been made lightly and follows a long period of thought and consideration. The change of direction is in line with DC’s overall strategic vision intended to improve the health of, and strengthen, the Direct Market as well as grow the number of fans who read comics worldwide. In the near term, Diamond will only be fulfilling orders placed through June 1 Final Order Cut-Off and will not solicit the sale of new DC titles further.To ensure a smooth transition for retailers, DC will suspend Final Order Cut-Off for June 8, making those books available to order on Final Order Cut-Off on June 15. Moving forward, we will continue our distribution relationship with Lunar Distribution and UCS Comic Distributors for distribution of periodicals and graphic novels, and Penguin Random House for distribution of graphic novels, worldwide. We believe this new distribution system will bring you world class service using top of the line and modern systems that will provide you the most efficient operational supply chain. DC will continue to look for ways, together with our new partners, to better serve you and the fans to the best of our ability. We remain committed to the Direct Market and look forward to partnering with you to grow your business and to get the best comic books and graphic novels to the fans in the most efficient and seamless manner.All the best, DC
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…)