Thursday, February 5, 2009

Judge Dredd: 1984 Annual

In early 1985 (I think…maybe it was Fall 1984 ?) a comic book shop, located near the front entrance to Louisiana State University on Chimes street, was going out of business. I wasn’t much of a comics fanboy, but I decided to stop in and see what was for sale. I found some hardbound Annuals for a British superhero named Judge Dredd, as well as a b & w paperback edition of ‘The Cursed Earth’, featuring the same character, and decided to pick them up.

I liked Judge Dredd. He exemplified dry, sarcastic British humor, particularly where things like mutants were concerned. This was during the Claremont Era of the X-Men at Marvel, where the mutants were depicted as quasi-saintly beings, who starred in overwrought, heavily moralistic plots that revolved around the struggle for civil rights among these ‘different’ people. In the Dredd comics, the mutants inhabiting the radioactive wastelands between Mega City One (i.e., New York city) and the west coast were uniformly depraved and hostile creatures, delivered to the reader accompanied an unashamed ‘yuck’ factor.

Far from sympathizing with the mutants who trespassed into Mega City One, Judge Dredd and his fellow lawman were intent on arresting and deporting them, or in the case of the more violent ‘mutie’ criminals, exterminating them ! What a welcome, politically incorrect change from the Mutant storylines in Marvel.
Also in contrast to many of the Marvel and DC titles at the time, the Dredd comics were more violent, and less inclined to be preachy on social issues. Judges and perps died in spurts of blood; there was little remorse on the part of participants on either side of the law; criminals were presented as genuinely evil people, rarely as the warped products of an unjust and uncaring society obsessed with consumerism.

Since the 2000AD line didn’t have to observe a British counterpart of the Comics Code (which still constrained most US comics, save ‘special’ publications like the Epic line, even in the mid-80s), the writers and artists had greater leeway to depict the near-future in a grim and sardonic manner. This fitted nicely with the less polished, sometimes crude, but often exuberant artwork that was used in the Dredd tales.

Nowadays the unique atmosphere of the Dredd / 2000AD line of comics has dissipated quite a bit, with the advent of dedicated lines of non-Code titles like ‘The Punisher’ and other of Marvel’s ‘Max’ comics. But well-written, engaging Dredd stories still pop up now and then, such as the teamups between Dredd and Batman, or the Dredd Vs Aliens series from Dark Horse. Dredd (and his Brit writers) always bring some memorable humor to these encounters.

I’m posting images of the front cover of the 1984 Dredd annual, as well one of the stories it features: ‘The Other Slab Tynan.’

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