Everyone’s an expert on what comic books should be adapted into a movie… but tell me this… what comic book would make a great movie musical? No joke answers.
— Chris Arrant (@chrisarrant) January 10, 2020
Previously on Drokk!: Technically, last episode we took a detour on the read-through of all the Complete Case Files to dip into the Restricted Case Files and look at Judge Dredd stories from outside the main 2000 AD series, but really: We’re up to the tenth year of Dredd, and Mega-City One is now pretty much a hellish dystopia and the Judges are as trapped by the system as those they’re technically protecting. That’s all you really need to know.
0:00:00-0:08:26: We introduce ourselves and the fact that we’re reading Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files Vol. 10, which covers 2000 AD Prog’s 474-522, from 1986 and 1987, and then we almost immediately derail ourselves by talking about the fact that this collection offers a coherent deconstruction of Dredd and his world despite the fact that it wasn’t originally intended to be collected. Were writers John Wagner and Alan Grant just looking for an excuse to redefine Dredd, or trying to keep themselves interested?
0:08:27-0:22:28: Is the idea of being a success in the comics industry the cruelest joke ever told in Judge Dredd? We talk about “The Art of Kenny Who?” and what it says about the strip’s relationship with comedy and authority. We also talk about the impossibly strong opening to this book, the influence of both EC Comics and Kafka, and what the strip is actually about at this point in its existence.
0:22:29-0:47:28: Is Judge Dredd a bully? Well, yes, but this volume really seems to be determined to demonstrate that, to the point where it’s difficult to see Dredd as anything but. We talk about that, as well as how cruel the character has become, and how slowly that change has been. (Also, has the character changed? Jeff thinks it might be that the creators have changed, instead, which is an interesting point of view.) Also, because it’s Dredd from the 1980s, racism rears its ugly head in “The Fists of Stan Lee,” and we get into the fact that this is very clearly an era of the strip where Wagner and Grant are lifting directly from whatever they’re watching, listening to, and so on.
0:47:29-0:59:14: Jeff, bless him, thinks that I managed to time this volume to this month because of the very strange Christmas episode in the book. I didn’t, and I’m not as taken by the story as he is, but we talk about whether or not it’s a wink to the audience that everything’s fine, really, or a sign that things are worse than they seem. My need for narrative closure shows up, and Jeff is a prince amongst men for not making fun of me for it.
0:59:15-1:26:57: We speed through another few stories in the volume, touching on the greatness that is the name “Slick Dickens,” Jeff’s being creeped out by Kevin O’Neill art (and my sharing a possibly apocryphal story about Kevin O’Neill and the Comics Code Authority), and the greatness that is Brendan McCarthy’s artwork on “Atlantis,” a storyline which Jeff compares to Jim Thompson, of all people. We also talk about about Jack the Ripper and Michael Jackson, or at least the versions of them that re-appear in this volume in a way that may or may not be connected. All this, and Harlan Ellison, too!
1:26:58-1:39:11: Finishing off going through stories, we touch on a few more, and talk about the brutality and rejection of nostalgia present in this book, even as the strip celebrates its 10th anniversary. Jeff talks about what might be his favorite moment in the book, while I share what I think is the most important line in the entire volume, and we end up talking about how prescient the series is in its approach to certain topics, even if that seemed like science fiction three decades earlier. Is this the British version of Jack Kirby’s OMAC in that respect…?
1:39:12-2:02:34: We wind down by talking about just how much we love this book (Spoilers: a lot), and the level of craft that Wagner (and Grant) have maintained for almost a decade at this point, and the complexity of tone and content that we’ve just come to accept and expect from Judge Dredd as a strip without really thinking about it. We also talk briefly about yet another short serial in this volume, this time one that I’m a big fan of while Jeff is far cooler. Basically, though, these are comics done right and we want to see more of this if possible. (There are many more volumes, so it’s pretty possible, really.)
2:02:35-end: As the end approaches, we swiftly wrap everything up by mentioning the Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and Patreon, while somehow failing to wish you all a happy Christmas and Hannukkah if you celebrate either What were we thinking? As always, thank you for listening and reading; we’ll have a year-end episode next week, but until then, I’ll do it here: Happy Holidays, Whatnauts.
[This post contains spoilers for Watchmen, both the HBO show and the original comic series (and, by extension, the 2009 movie). It basically presupposes that you’ve read the comic, to be honest, and probably makes more sense if you’ve also seen the show. Which you really should anyway.]
Every so often, I walk away from experiencing some kind of media totally energized. At this sensation’s most pronounced, it feels like my individual atoms are each vibrating like a guitar string tuned too tight, like I may never go to sleep, like I’ve been downing Sudafed with an energy drink. It’s usually a one-time event that prompts this feeling—an unexpectedly good live show, say, or my team winning the World Series—or, at a minimum, after finishing for the first time a piece of content that immediately becomes one of my all-time favorites.
When this happens, I don’t want to talk—or even think—about anything else. I’ll go online and read whatever people are saying about it, I’ll search for unfamiliar podcasts discussing it, I’ll try to find some friend, real-life or online, who shared the experience and wants to discuss. I’ll wonder why anyone anywhere is talking about anything else.
It doesn’t happen that often with TV shows. There’s too much routine there—you know when they’ll air and how long they’ll be and, often, roughly what’s going to happen. But for nine straight weeks, it happened with HBO’s Watchmen.
This show has no right to be as good as it is.
Hey, everyone. Don’t be fooled–this isn’t an episode. It’s just seventeen minutes of Graeme and Jeff talking about when we will next be podcasting and the reason for the delay. (Hint: international travel is involved.) I mean, I hope it’s amusing…because goodness knows it goes on long enough? And it even touches on comics news and other things…but it’s more of an amuse bouche at best, rather than one of our usual super-sized meals.
As we say in the non-episode, we hope you have a great Thanksgiving if that’s a holiday you celebrate, and look for us on December 15th!
Previously on Drokk!: We’ve made it nine years into the comic book career of Judge Dredd, and we’ve watched the character come into his own after a number of missteps, with the eventual return of co-creator John Wagner midway through his second year being the turning point. With that in mind, the prospect of tackling a collection of one-off stories from throughout that same period, originally published in annuals and special issues, sure sounds like fun, right…?
0:00:00-0:03:34: In which we briefly introduce ourselves, the intro gets away from me — note that I’m literally in the middle of a sentence when throwing it to Jeff to introduce himself, and he just runs with it — and we briefly touch upon the fact that both a dog’s breakfast and a dog’s bollocks are somehow noteworthy, but not as the layman might expect. More importantly, we talk about the fact that neither of us really liked the volume we’re talking about this episode, Judge Dredd: The Restricted Files Vol. 1. It’s… not good.
0:03:35-0:11:04: Stumbling into a discussion about the book, we talk about the unevenness of the book, especially as it relates to the (high) quality of the artwork versus the not-so-high quality of the writing. Are stories intended for annuals and specials by their very nature underwhelming, even if they’re written to be (as Jeff puts it), “visually big”? We also talk about how long it takes to get to the good stories, and our different ideas of what that actually means. (Spoilers: Jeff is far more forgiving of early Alan Grant than I am.)
0:11:05-0:17:37: Perhaps a little later than would be useful, I give a little bit more context about 2000 AD annuals in general, and their prospective audience and purpose, before we talk about the appalling casual racism on show in one of the stories — really, it’s astonishing — and whether or not “Pinboing Wizard” is the first actually enjoyable story in the volume — “only” twelve stories into the book itself.
0:17:38-0:30:47: If annuals and specials were intended to act as introductions to the characters, then surely a collection of those stories would be a great introductory volume for a new reader, right…? Well, not exactly, and we start to break down quite why that might be the case. Is there a lack of nuance in these stories, or simply a lack of darkness? It’s surely no coincidence that the stories Jeff and I enjoy most in the volume are the more downbeat ones, and the moments in the comedy stories are the more… grim jokes…
0:30:48-0:42:25: We take a brief diversion from the meat of the volume to talk about the Strontium Dog strip in 2000 AD — also created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, with Alan Grant co-writing the majority of the stories — which, for me, heavily influences some of the more supernatural stories in this volume. Also discussed: My odd head canon concerning the limits of Dredd as a strip, Jeff seeing an influence on Simon Bisley from the stories contained in this book, and “William Nilly”’s success as a pseudonym.
0:42:26-0:49:06: We return to the idea that the value in this volume is almost entirely in enjoying the visual stylings rather than the writing, talking about the ways in which the off-model early stories have a lot of things to enjoy in them, at least in how they look, such as Kevin O’Neill drawing in what looks like a quasi-early McMahon style for a couple of stories, or a wonderfully pop-art Brett Ewins/Brendan McCarthy collaboration.
0:49:07:-1:13:05: Can everyone take a moment to enjoy the fact that Jeff and I take quite so long discussing one 14-page story, purely because we cannot get over quite how bad the John Byrne artwork for it actually is? And, oh, friends; it’s very bad artwork indeed, all the worse for being presented next to some truly great stuff from the likes of Brian Bolland, Mike McMahon and Ian Gibson. I mean, just take a look.
This was when he was being considered one of the finest artists in the American comic book industry. Just think about that.
1:13:06-1:23:46: Jeff is clearly trying to wrap things up early, but I won’t let him; instead, we end up talking about how surreal the story from the Dan Dare annual is. It’s so off-model that it reads like a parody that accidentally got published, but it’s also one of the meanest parodies you can imagine, making everyone depicted — and involved — seem a little worse by comparison. Of course, we come up with some conspiracy theories about the story’s creation and just who was actually behind it, because it’s us.
1:23:47-1:34:21: If this is, as we describe it, a book for completists only, then what kind of completist? (An art-lover, if nothing else.) Do we think that because we’ve been spoiled by “better” Dredd in earlier Case Files volumes, or is this genuinely lacking — and if so, is that the case because these stories exist outside the context in which they were originally published? All of that gets brought up, if not necessarily resolved, here!
1:34:22-end: We have a long, meandering trail towards the end by talking about the inherent flaws of the annual as a narrative chapter in an ongoing story, talk more about just how disappointing this volume is, and then finally wrap things up by talking about the Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and Patreon of it all. Next month, we get back to the Case Files proper with the 10th volume, and let me just tell you, Jeff and I are very much looking forward to it, thank you very much. And while I’m thanking you, thank you for reading through all these show notes, as ever.
[Sorry, we didn’t get to discuss this on the episode, but Jeff read a couple of terrific “Superman has taken on a new secret identity stories” on DCU, courtesy of intel from Martin Gray and Doc Beechler. Thought those of you who enjoyed hearing about the Secret Year imaginary event might get a kick out of seeing this. Thanks, Martin and Doc!]
Previously on Drokk!: The eighth volume of Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files was the first to leave Jeff and I underwhelmed, and doubting whether it was possible that Wagner and Grant, who had seemed near invincible for the run so far, had utterly lost it completely, or whether they were just in a lull and recovery mode…
0:00:00-0:04:49: As we introduce ourselves and the fact that we’re covering Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files Vol. 9 — AKA stories from 2000 AD Prog’s 424-473, from 1985 and 1986, written by John Wagner and Alan Grant and illustrated by a bunch of people — Jeff and I also very quickly get into the weeds explaining the references in the names of our particular city blocks this episode. It’s not a great start, let’s be honest.
0:04:50-0:26:56: You know what is a great start? The first story in this volume, “Midnight Surfer,” which boasts some amazing artwork from Cam Kennedy and supremely confident writing from Wagner and Grant, who clearly have their mojo back and then some. We talk about both things, and also why this story is the ideal introduction to this book, as well as Chopper’s place in the wider Dredd narrative as a hero, Dredd’s place as, as Jeff puts it, “an instrument of the government,” and also Jeff’s joy of balancing his ignorance of what’s to come with my, and the commenters’, knowledge of future storylines. All this, and whether or not Dredd shaves in our personal head canons!
0:26:57-0:31:41: The unmistakable greatness of “Midnight Surfer” is followed by the… dubious pleasures of “Nosferatu,” which I describe as being “shambolic on some level,” yet nonetheless not without its charms. Why do Wagner and Grant return to such generic monster gimmicks on a recurring basis? We talk about potential answers.
0:31:42-0:50:54: In a relatively wide-ranging section, we talk about the value of stories not outstaying their welcome in this volume, and the fact that this allows Wagner and Grant to both follow their interests and show off their diversity, even as their showing off may prove to be less showy than, say, Alan Moore. This leads into a discussion of influence — I ask whether Jeff can see the influence of Wagner/Grant (Really, Wagner) and Pat Mills on Alan Moore, and Jeff counters by talking about the clear influence Wagner/Grant had on Garth Ennis. Somehow, from there, we talk about the relative impact of Dredd as a strip relative to its strengths as great comics, and then get briefly into some of those strengths: namely, the expositionary powers of Wagner and Grant and the fact that these comics were written for children but not written down to children.
0:50:55-0:55:39: Another brief diversion, as we pit Otto Sump against the Fatties, as Wagner and Grant revive two running jokes once again in this volume, and Jeff and I have different favorites, and different reasons why each story works (or doesn’t) for us. Who knew that Jeff wasn’t into happy endings?
0:55:40-1:11:14: It’s not all greatness in this volume, as our discussion of the (almost impressively racist) “The Warlord” story underscores. We talk about cultural differences on either side of the Atlantic in the mid-80s, the failures of this story outside the racism, but also the things that come closest to saving graces: Cam Kennedy’s artwork, and also the surprising impact of continuity on this storyline’s final episode, but also the aftermath of it all. Slow world building — and the fact that Jeff and I have read nine years’ worth of this strip over nine months — means that, when the story suddenly and unexpectedly leans on the mythology of it all, the result can be surprisingly effective.
1:11:15-1:33:36: We skip through a couple of done-in-ones before reaching the story that is, arguably, the heart of the volume: “Letter From A Democrat,” which I describe as the story that breaks Judge Dredd as a strip — in a good way, I hasten to add — and which is also, potentially, a story that breaks Dredd. What happens when Wagner and Grant just wholeheartedly go in on the fact that the Judges are the bad guys? It’s a choice that has, arguably, informed so much of this volume — we touch on a few more examples — but it’s also something that resonates more today than it would have five years ago, Jeff suggests. It’s a wonderful, breathtaking story that makes what was already a great volume into something even better.
1:33:37-1:39:34: I confess that this volume exhausts me — it’s more than 400 pages long — as we talk about some other stories, including an extended Christmas episode that suggests, not for the first time, that Wagner and Grant do not properly understand how lobotomies work. Also, we talk Gribligs — not good — and Lemmings — very good — even as Jeff admits that he doesn’t like Brendan McCarthy’s art. (I know, I know; he’s ”problematic” to be very, very kind, but I still like his artwork a bunch; sorry.)
1:39:35-1:59:59: Is this a volume to recommend to newcomers? Jeff and I split on the answer, because he’d rather recommend it as a second volume, whereas I think it’s strong enough on its own merits to work as an introduction. We also list our favorite stories in the book — we both like “Midnight Surfer,” while Jeff adds “Letter From A Democrat” and “West Side Rumble,” and I go for “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (which we discuss a little) and “The Lemming Syndrome” — and I ask whether Jeff expected the volume to go quite as dark as it ended up going. Also under discussion: D notices, Ron Smith, and whether the decision to go full villain with the Judges was what revitalized Wagner and Grant.
2:00:00-end: We wrap things up our usual way, mentioning the Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and Patreon, and also let everyone (including Jeff!) know that we’re not going to be doing Case Files Vol. 10 next time; instead, we’re going to be doing Judge Dredd: The Restricted Files Vol. 1, which includes stories from special issues and annuals from 1977 through 1985. Get ready, everyone; it’s like a crash course in the evolution of Dredd.