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!
New Guardians #1
Uncanny X-Men #185
Or Else #2
Mister Miracle #10 (King/Gerads version)
Flex Mentallo #4
Previously on Baxter Building: It’s all been leading to this — literally; we’re at the final episode of the series, and have made it through 405 issues (and 27 annuals, and 4 Giant-Size special issues) to get here. All you really need to know, though, is that the current incarnation of the team is an untraditional one, because the Human Torch is off running Fantastic Force and Reed Richards is dead. (Spoilers: As you’ll see momentarily, he’s not.) So, right now, the team is Sue Richards, Ben Grimm, Kristoff the kid adopted and brainwashed by Doctor Doom, and Namor the Sub-Mariner. No, really.
0:00:00-0:08:16: We introduce this episode, in which we cover Fantastic Four #s 406-416, with a shocking reveal: We liked these issues far more than we expected. I think I probably liked them more than Jeff, but considering how much both of us have grown to dislike earlier DeFalco/Ryan issues, this is nonetheless cause for celebration and then some. Or should we be concerned about the problem of Stockholm syndrome?
0:08:17-0:30:17: “There’s a wonderfully, like, strange self-conscious or self-aware energy” about Fantastic Four #406, which helps wins us over immediately; Doctor Doom returns, the book gains a pep in its step — and a sense of humor — that it’s been missing for a long time, we discuss what may (or may not) be Paul Ryan’s best character design in the entire series, and Jeff shares a very sound theory about Tom DeFalco’s approach to character development that includes a get-out clause if people don’t happen to enjoy the change. (Also, catch Jeff’s burp that I forgot to edit out. Oops.)
0:30:18-0:57:02: Barbarians are a letdown in FF #407, but there’s a lot to enjoy in this issue nonetheless, not least of which is the series’ new-found brevity and some subtle character work that may or may not actually exist and perhaps we were just reading far too much into it. More importantly, though, Reed Richards returns, in what is probably the least shocking plot development this series has ever seen; this has been coming for, what, two years plus at this point…? Even more importantly than that, in our final Baxter Building, Jeff finally decodes what Fantastic Four actually is as a series. Or, as I complain in the episode, “it takes us fifty months to realize that FF is a romance book.”
0:57:03-1:11:47: The fact that Fantastic Four #408 features the first full teaming of the original Fantastic Four in… two years or so… comes as a surprise to both of us, and part of that is the surprise that they’d let the team be apart for that long. Meanwhile, Reed continues to be traumatized — but there’s a surprisingly good moment when he snaps when you least expect it. Oh, and we get an explanation for the powers of the new big bad, and Jeff snaps back into Tom DeFalco’s Science Isn’t As Bad As It Sounds mode. Are we… are we actually genuinely digging these issues…?
1:11:48-1:25:18: …Okay, perhaps not. The fourth and the final part of the storyline that brings Reed and Doom back pretty much falls apart thanks to an end that makes absolutely no sense, but that’s not to say that there’s no fun to be found in FF #409, especially when it comes to how wonderfully complicated Reed’s return is because he doesn’t fit in with things anymore. Do we just love dysfunction? Perhaps, but I feel that’s not a bad thing when it comes to this series. Oh, and there’s a brief Kristoff/Cassie scene, which will always recharge the batteries of one Mr. Jeff Lester, especially when he describes one character as looking like “a fetus with pants.”
1:25:19-1:33:31: If we’ve decided that we can’t get enough soap opera, then good news: Fantastic Four #410 forgets that it’s a superhero comic altogether and just gets with the soap operatics. There’s a love triangle between Ben, Lyja and Johnny! Kristoff can’t play soccer! And we uncover the previously unknown link between 1980s pop sensations the New Kids on the Block and the Fantastic Four! (Sad but true: I honestly thought the New Kids were a ‘90s band and then I looked them up and now I feel old. Thanks, Tom DeFalco.)
1:33:32-1:37:46: After a run of fun to genuinely great issues — albeit in reverse — FF #411 proves that DeFalco, Ryan and Marvel are true believers in the idea that you can have too much of a good thing, which is the only possible explanation for this stinker about Black Bolt going insane because his forehead antenna was damaged. Oh, I only wish I was joking. “What the hell is happening here? I don’t understand,” I say, and I think that’s entirely appropriate.
1:37:47-1:44:50: I have to say that there is a very good case to be made for [Fantastic Four] #412 being a mistake,” Jeff says, and he’s entirely right. Or perhaps you’re someone who thinks that it’s time for a showdown between Reed and Namor over who objectifies Sue more that ends up being a feint on the part of Namor because it’s the only way to un-traumatize Reed. If you are that person, please no. Jeff, at least, has a reason for this being a disaster beyond the toxic masculinity of it all, and it’s because it undercuts a story two issues from now. So, you know; all told, it’s a mess.
1:44:51-1:55:00: But… is it as much of a mess as FF #413 is? That’s a good question, because at least the previous issue didn’t have to deal with an inexplicable, narratively pointless guest shot by Doom 2099, which happens because… it’s a crossover with that book? Maybe? This issue does provide the chance for Jeff to resurrect his theory of the Negative Zone as a metaphor for the Shadow Self, even if — as has become traditional by this point — I am unconvinced that the Silver Surfer is anyone’s shadow self. Nevertheless, I’m genuinely glad we got to go back there in our final episode…!
1:55:01-2:07:56: It’s clear, from quite how packed Fantastic Four #414 is, that Tom DeFalco knew that cancellation was around the corner, which would explain this busy final chapter to the Uber-story he’s been telling, on and off, for the past 40 issues or so. Who is Hyperstorm, the new bad guy behind everything? What role did Nathan play in everything? What the hell is Reed’s plan supposed to be, anyway? We ask the questions that matter, and only get slightly perturbed that some of the answers make no sense at all.
2:07:57-2:30:23: There’s no way to get around it; FF #415 and #416 are terrible ways to say goodbye to Marvel’s onetime flagship book. Gone is Paul Ryan, as well as any notion that this is actually a Fantastic Four series, because these are Onslaught crossover issues, and that means we’re reading comics that are literally designed to be middle chapters in a story about the X-Men and maybe the Avengers, at a stretch; the FF don’t get much of a look in, despite a game — if, as Jeff points out, potentially sneakily surly — Tom DeFalco, and a final issue that has both cameos from dream versions of the FF’s rogues gallery and a back-up story that is… well, just very strange and unnecessary altogether. As ways to go out, they’re shockingly underwhelming.
2:30:24-end: As we approach the end, we pivot to what we’ll take from the DeFalco/Ryan run, and then the Fantastic Four comic as a whole. Who was our favorite member? Our favorite writer? And will we miss the comic now that it’s done? (Clearly not enough to do the other volumes, at least, not immediately; we have a different plan, which we pointedly don’t tease nearly enough, in retrospect.) As we close up shop on the Baxter Building, it’s time to thank you all for paying attention, listening and reading along with us. As always, there’s a Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter and Patreon, but the real message for all of us is this: How the hell did both Jeff and I wish there was a Lyja and Kristoff spin-off book at the end of all of this?!? Happy holidays, all. We’ll be back in 2019 with more Wait, What?s and… something else.
Previously on Baxter Building: As Jeff and I prepare to finish up the series — the next episode of Baxter Building may be the final one! — we double back in time to take care of the last few Fantastic Four Annuals of the run. Spoilers: These are not comics that people would choose to read otherwise.
0:00:00-0:02:26: We start the episode with Jeff understandably giving me into trouble for getting the issues for this episode wrong when we set up reading plans last episode; I said we’d be doing Annual #s 24 through 27, even though we’d actually covered that one before, back in May. (How time flies…?) As it happens, our shared dislike for the issue actually acts as a great segue into talking about…
0:02:27-0:11:46: …Fantastic Five #1-5. That’s right, you thought we were going to talk about FF Annual #25 straight away? Of course not. Jeff caught up with the 1999 mini-series by Tom DeFalco and Paul Ryan after I brought it up on the Wait, What? Tumblr, and much to his surprise, liked it a lot. He (properly) compares the art to Jerry Ordway’s, and we talk about the difference in soap operatic writing when it’s rooted in joy or misery. Who would’ve thought that a follow-up series to a bunch of storylines we didn’t like by a creative team we didn’t like would’ve resulted in something that we did, in fact, like?
0:11:47-0:37:15: Meanwhile, in Fantastic Four Annual #25, we get immediately derailed by a discussion around whether or not Herb Trimpe’s 1990s art style was a parody or simply a very unsuccessful attempt to swipe the Hot Image Style of the season. Also, the Avengers come up with a new slogan that neither Jeff nor I are convinced by, a brief synopsis of the Avengers Annual that ties in with this issue helps us realize that Kang is into some freaky stuff — even if I don’t remember one of the details that Jeff brings up — and whether or not Mark Gruenwald’s reputation is hurt by this comic. (Yes.)
0:37:16-0:57:03: FF Annual #26 brings back one of the more memorable villains created by DeFalco and Ryan — which is to say, Jeff forgot him — and pits him against one of the more interesting, yet entirely forgotten, characters that Tom DeFalco created in connection with the Fantastic Four. Well, I say “pit against,” but one of the many complaints we have about this issue is that it manages to make all three of the protagonists bystanders in a struggle between Dreadface and a random gangster introduced and (spoilers) killed in this issue. But that’s not the only thing wrong here, because Herb Trimpe is doing the art once again. On the plus side, Jeff does dig the back-up feature, because he’s a sucker for Marvel Cosmic Concepts, so it’s not a total loss. And talking about that back-up leads us straight into…
0:57:04-1:16:58: …Fantastic Four Annual #27, which sees Mark Gruenwald return to write an extended — really, over-extended — in-joke about his fictional counterpart feeling dissatisfied with his job at Marvel, no, wait, I mean the Time Variance Authority. It’s staggeringly self-reflective, yet somehow not self-aware, but you’ll be surprised how long a boring comic in which the Fantastic Four are, once again, just bystanders despite their names being on the cover actually can be. Far more successful is the back-up strip, which wins points by being far too ambitious in its own right, and also bringing back the Beyonder when everyone least expected it. (But really, did anyone expect to see the Beyonder again?)
1:16:59-end: These three annuals are so bad that I raise the idea that, maybe, Fantastic Four Annuals are just bad in general, which prompts us to go back and consider when they were last good, and wonder what happened since that point. We also talk about the potential for Baxter Building to finish with episode 50, because we’re going to try to cover #406 through 416 — the end of the series — next episode. And then, we remind everyone to check out the Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram and Patreon accounts while you wait for the next Wait, What?; as ever, thanks for listening and reading. We’re sorry for all the Herb Trimpe.