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…)
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