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Brian Bolland
Brian Bolland

Everything You Need to Get Caught up on Judge Dredd Comics

Brian Bolland
Brian Bolland

If your knowledge of Judge Dredd is limited to the campy Stallone movie or a couple of comics you read in the ‘90s, you’ve only scratched the surface of what this sci-fi classic has to offer. With some advice from Douglas Wolk—comics critic, Dredd expert, and writer for the new mini-series Judge Dredd: Mega City Two—I've compiled everything you might need to know to get started with this surprisingly interesting and complex comic.

Who is Judge Dredd?

Joseph Dredd is a law enforcement officer in Mega-City One—a sprawling American metropolis in the 22nd century, spanning roughly from Boston all the way down to Charlotte. Dredd and his fellow officers are referred to as "Street Judges" because they have the authority to apprehend, sentence, and even execute criminals on the spot. He is the most famous and most feared Judge in all of Mega-City One, where crime runs rampant despite the zero-tolerance polices of its authoritarian government.

We’ve never seen Dredd's face and only learned his true origin after decades of comics. He is a clone of Judge Fargo, the first Chief Judge.

Dredd was created by British comics writer John Wagner and artist Carlos Ezquerra for the second issue (or “prog” as they’re called) of 2000 AD magazine in 1977. To this day, Wagner still writes a majority of the Dredd strips and has been behind many of the most beloved stories in the character’s history. There have been a number of artists involved in the comic over the years including Brian Bolland, Mike McMahon, Colin MacNeil, Steve Dillon, and many more.

It’s a comedy, police procedural, and sci-fi epic rolled into one

Most people with only a passing experience with Judge Dredd tend to think it’s a holdover of '80s-era right-wing revenge fantasies in the vein of Dirty Harry. However, even back then, it was actually a satire of those kinds of attitudes about crime and punishment. The Judges will often slap litterers and traffic violators with ridiculous multi-year prison sentences. Dredd himself is kind of a fascist jerk who delivers ruthless justice in a way that makes you question whether he’s even supposed to be the good guy.

This is a British comic about a dystopian America written primarily for a British audience, and it often has some Anglo-centric in-jokes and sight gags.The writers typically use a police-procedural plot structure to explore Dredd's futuristic world and socio-political landscape. In recent years, the tone of the stories have become more sophisticated in how they depict the politics and ethics of the Justice System in which Dredd operates.

The stories progress in real time and Dredd is now 70 years old

We’re so used to superhero comics existing in a state of arrested development, but, since its debut in 1977, Judge Dredd has progressed in real time. It began in 2099 and it is now 2136. Dredd himself is 70 years old. He's been on active duty for over 50 years and is much more world-weary and reflective than he was in the early strips. His fellow judges look at him a little differently now, too, like an old timer who may be past his prime.

About six years ago, Dredd was diagnosed with benign duodenal cancer. It’s not something that is referenced much in the current stories and it may not be life-threatening (especially with all the future tech cloning possibilities), but it seems to point to the fact that we may be reading the protracted end of Dredd’s story.

While the comics are structured as short stories—the 2000 AD editions are delivered in 6- to 8- page installments at a time—there is a very tight continuity and the events of one story will have a lasting impact on future stories. Although it’s pretty easy to jump into any Dredd story to enjoy the action, the more you read and become familiar with his world, the more you appreciate the way it's building upon what has come before.

He has an extended family (most of which are his own clones)

An early Dredd story involved his twin brother Rico (who was actually just another clone of Judge Fargo, like Dredd himself). Rico turned evil and Dredd was forced to kill him in a duel. In a story called "Blood Cadets," published in 2000, another Dredd clone joined the academy and took on the name Judge Rico to commemorate Dredd’s deceased brother. The original Rico was aggressive and antagonistic towards his brother, but the new Rico looks up to Joe, who is old enough to be his father.

In 2006’s Origins, Dredd finds a whole clan of mutant clones made from his “father,” Judge Fargo, living in the Cursed Earth, which are the wastelands between Mega-City One, Mega-City Two, and Texas City. Their existence completely changed his outlook on mutant rights and led to Dredd lobbying for a repeal of the anti-mutant laws, showing a glimpse of empathy that we hadn’t previously seen from him.

The original Rico had a daughter named Vienna who was orphaned by his death and has returned in recent years as an adult. Dredd is protective of her and even visits Vienna on holidays. She is the only person who seems to elicit acts of compassion from him.

Another Dredd clone is Dolman, who went out on his own after quitting the Academy. He was forced to get a face change to protect Dredd's identity and he pops up from time to time. Dolman has become close with Vienna, who treats him like a little brother.

There are more clones of Dredd/Fargo out there that we continue to meet over time such as Judge Kraken (a rogue clone created to overthrow the judges), Nimrod (a genetically enhanced clone), and others.

He has a long tradition of working with tough female judges

Dredd has had a number of tough female partners over the years, from Judge Anderson of Psi Division to Judge Hershey (both had their own spin-off titles for a while). The comics have always presented these female judges as working on an equal playing field with Dredd and they have, in some cases, been his superior. Judges are prohibited from having sex and Dredd is as cold as they come, so there have never been any romantic entanglements. (Well, except for one time when Judge Galen DeMarco took him by surprise.)

Judge America (Ami) Beeny is the daughter of an activist who was killed because of an order given by Dredd in perhaps the most celebrated Judge Dredd story ever, America. In Cadet, one of two sequels to that story, we see Beeny rise quickly through the ranks, becoming a full judge by the age of 15. She is a prodigy in the Justice System and Dredd has championed and defended her progress, even when other Judges feel uncomfortable taking orders from a young girl. Although she does not blame Dredd for her mother’s death, her goal is to reform what she sees as a problematic system from the inside.

Over 80% of the population of Mega-City One has just been wiped out

In Day of Chaos, the most recent major storyline which ran through 2000 AD progs 1743-1789, Sov City (the Soviets) unleashed a deadly virus called the Chaos Bug in retaliation for the devastation they suffered during the classic "Apocalypse War" story from 1982.

In addition to the Sov City attack, a serial killer who has been posing as the mayor goes berserk and the genocidal Dark Judges are set loose. As a result, 87% of the population of Mega-City One are killed and a terrorist attack on the Academy of Law takes out almost every cadet.

Things are now a hell of a lot worse in the world of Judge Dredd, and future story lines must deal with the aftermath of the disaster(s).

There are now two publishers putting out Dredd comics

Historically, British publisher 2000 AD has been in charge of all things Dredd, publishing stories in 2000 AD magazine as well as Judge Dredd Megazine. They usually collect individual storylines and include them in their own graphic novels, although these are often hard to track down in the states. Digitally, most volumes are available in Kindle format and 2000 AD has an app in the iOS Newsstand where they sell affordable volumes of every single Judge Dredd story they’ve ever published.

In 2013, American publisher IDW began putting out their own monthly Judge Dredd comic written by Duane Swierczynski plus spin-offs like Douglas Wolk’s Mega-City Two and a Judge Dredd: Year One mini-series. The IDW books draw upon what John Wagner and company have established in the 2000 AD books, but the stories are set back in 2100 and it looks like they aim to establish their own unique continuity.

Where to start reading

There are a lot of Dredd stories out there and, in the past decade or so, they’ve become sophisticated in how they continually build upon what’s come before. It can be intimidating to figure out how and where to jump in. Douglas Wolk has probably the perfect prescription on his blog, where he gets into a lot of critical detail on each storyline.

This is the gist of Wolk's recommendations:

If you want to sink your teeth into classic Judge Dredd, the best place to start is Judge Dredd: Complete Case Files 05. This is a black and white, phonebook-sized collection of strips from 1981-1982 that include important classics like "Judge Death Lives" and "The Apocalypse War."

For recent Dredd stories where things get richer and more interesting, you probably can’t go wrong with the America trilogy. It’s considered a turning point in tone for the series; however, it doesn’t actually feature Dredd himself that much within the story. It’s hard to track down a print collection of this in the States, but you can buy it digitally from 2000ADonline or get a Kindle edition.

Judge Dredd: Origins is a recently released collection that finally lays out all the pieces of Dredd’s origin that have been hinted at for decades. You can get it in book format or digitally via 2000AD. Appropriately, Dredd creators John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra reunited to tell this story.

Meanwhile, IDW is aiming for something of an “Ultimate” Judge Dredd, in which their comics are free of the past couple of decades of continuity and have started fresh with a younger Dredd and Judge Anderson solving cases in Mega-City One. This is still very early into its run, with three volumes of the main series currently available.

*****************

Previously in this series I've helped you catch up on everything going on in the X-men comics and in Batman comics.

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8 Things You Might Not Know About Ziggy
Welcome Productions, YouTube
Welcome Productions, YouTube

Devoid of pants or much of a personality, cartoonist Tom Wilson’s Ziggy has been prompting pleasant chuckles out of readers since he first appeared in newspapers in 1971. The bulbous-nosed little unfortunate has, against the odds, become a highly recognizable character, extensively merchandised on everything from greeting cards to pencil erasers. Before the inevitable big-budget CGI reboot happens, check out some facts about Ziggy's history, why fans were upset when he once spoke, and the bittersweet origin of his distinctive name.

1. HE WAS ORIGINALLY AN ELEVATOR OPERATOR.

Ziggy had a circuitous route to the comics pages. The character was first created by American Greetings executive Tom Wilson in the 1960s. (Wilson would later have a hand in creating the Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake.) Doodling an elevator operator who commented on the mundane events inside his small world, when Wilson first tried to sell it as a comic strip, there were no takers. When he resurrected the character for a 1969 American Greetings humor book, When You’re Not Around, the odd little man intrigued the wife of a Universal Press Syndicate executive. By 1971, Wilson and Ziggy were in 15 newspapers, a number that would eventually reach over 500. 

2. THE NAME “ZIGGY” WAS CHOSEN VERY DELIBERATELY.

Ziggy is often depicted as beleaguered and exasperated at the various obstacles life puts in front of him, from faulty ATMs to soured relationships. (He prefers to socialize with animals.) Wilson gave him the name “Ziggy” because the letter “Z” comes last in the alphabet and Wilson thought that was a proper position for his character, who often came last in life. (Another story has Wilson hearing the name from a colleague’s barber and remembering it.) In one strip, Ziggy is seen waiting for a rescue after a flood—but the responders are going in alphabetical order. In 1974, Wilson told a reporter that his full name is “Zigfried.”

3. WILSON TRAINED HIS SON TO DRAW HIM.

When Wilson died in 2011, his heir apparent was already selected. His son, Tom Wilson Jr., had been drawing the strip since 1987. Long before that, the elder Wilson would sit with his son at a table, draw Ziggy in a precarious position—a safe plummeting toward him from above, for example—and then instruct his son to draw a way out of the jam. Ziggy, Tom Jr. later said, was like his “successful little brother.”

4. HE WAS ENGINEERED TO BE LOVABLE.

Despite his general haplessness, Ziggy often draws sympathy and affection from readers. Wilson felt his large, circular nose and rotund body engendered feelings of warmth and told his son to go easy on his line drawing work. “Let’s keep Ziggy round and lovable,” the artist said. Ziggy also breaks the fourth wall, talking directly to readers, a technique Wilson felt further strengthened the feeling of companionship.

5. HE WOUND UP PAINTED ON THE SIDE OF A WATER TOWER.

For years, locals in Strongsville, Ohio have craned their necks to take in a curious sight: Ziggy appears on the side of one of their water towers. Wilson was from Cleveland, and when he heard a local sports team had painted the character up there in 1975, he offered to render a better portrait. Firefighters lifted him on a crane and allowed him to paint Ziggy next to the school’s mustang mascot. When the Cleveland Water Department threatened to cover him as part of a new paint job, residents signed a petition to prevent them from going through with the plan.

6. HE HAD HIS OWN BOARD GAME.

There was no limit to the kind of Ziggy product tie-ins hitting stores, including shirts, calendars, and mugs. But 1977’s A Day with Ziggy might be the most memorable. Players assumed the role of the put-upon blob, trying to avoid landing on a space that would worsen Ziggy’s day.

7. HE MET GENE SHALIT.

Ziggy first popped up in cartoon form in 1981, when he “appeared” in a segment with Today film critic Gene Shalit. Strangely, readers wrote in expressing disapproval of the spot, noting that Ziggy's voice didn’t mesh with what they had imagined he might sound like.

8. HE WON AN EMMY.

Ziggy made the jump to animation in 1982 with the ABC primetime special Ziggy’s Gift. Written by Wilson, it afforded Ziggy fans a closer look at the character’s daily life, including his sparsely-furnished apartment and a gig dressing as Santa for the holidays. At Wilson’s insistence, the character didn’t speak to avoid another Shalit situation. The special won an Emmy in 1983. Ziggy still wasn’t wearing any pants.

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12 Burning Facts About Hellboy
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

Two decades before he would become a two-time Oscar-winner for The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro set out to make a movie about his favorite superhero: a big red demon with a big gun and a heart of gold. It took years to finally get the film off the ground, but in 2004 Hellboy finally made it to theaters, adding another piece to the beloved supernatural filmography that’s made del Toro a favorite among genre fans for a quarter of a century.

Though it never rose to the box office heights of The Avengers, and it never reached the end of its planned trilogy, Hellboy remains one of the most imaginative, thrilling superhero films of the 21st century. From early script changes to an accidentally deleted scene, here are 12 facts about how it was made.

1. HELLBOY WAS GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S FAVORITE SUPERHERO WELL BEFORE HE MADE THE MOVIE. 

Guillermo del Toro grew up with comic books, noting that he was flipping through them before he even knew how to read the words. That childhood fondness for the medium stayed with him into adulthood, and by the time he’d reached his early 30s he’d not only discovered the work of Mike Mignola, but began to consider the Hellboy creator one of his great comic book visual influences alongside legends like Will Eisner, Bernie Wrightson, and Richard Corben.

“Mignola, in my later years, already as a young adult, fascinated me with his use of light and shadow, with his amazing bold line work, but also with the way he gave birth to my favorite superhero in my adult years, which is Hellboy,” del Toro said during the recording of the Hellboy Director’s Cut commentary track.

When del Toro and Mignola finally met during the making of Hellboy, they bonded over a mutual love of folklore and pulp fiction, becoming fast friends and collaborators. 

2. THE ORIGINAL SCRIPT FEATURED INTERVIEWS WITH HELLBOY WITNESSES.

In the world of the film, Hellboy is viewed as an urban legend and tabloid story, not unlike Bigfoot. The film’s opening credits underline this with blurry photos, grainy videos, and newspaper headlines meant to depict widespread eyewitness accounts of the creature. Agent Myers (Rupert Evans) further emphasizes this point when he exclaims “He’s real!” upon meeting Hellboy for the first time. 

According to del Toro, this idea was initially supposed to play out in a much more overt way through the film’s screenplay. In early drafts, parts of the film’s story were told through eyewitness interviews with characters claiming to have seen Hellboy.

“So people would be saying ‘I saw Hellboy over here. I saw him jump,’ and a kid saying, ‘I saw him on the rooftop.’ Now everybody does it, but back then it was 1997, '98, and I thought that was a great idea,” del Toro said. “That was the first thing we cut out of the shooting schedule because [the studio executives] didn’t understand it.”

3. IT COULD HAVE BEEN MADE MUCH SOONER.

Though Hellboy’s live-action debut occurred relatively early in the 21st century’s superhero movie boom, he could have been more of a comic book trailblazer than he turned out to be. According to del Toro, if it weren't for reluctant studio executives, the film could have come out as early as 1998, making it a contemporary of Blade rather than Spider-Man 2.

“The one thing that particularly infuriates me is that this movie could have been made in 1998,” del Toro said, noting that the film would have then pre-dated X-Men (2000), Spider-Man (2002), and even The Matrix (1999). At the time, though, many studio executives considered the comic book movie label “almost an insult,” and so Hellboy kept getting pushed back. In between the time it could have been made and the time it was actually released, del Toro made his comic book movie debut with another dark superhero film, Blade II, in 2002.

4. DEL TORO WROTE HIS OWN CHARACTER BIOGRAPHIES.

By the time Hellboy hit theaters, creator Mike Mignola had already been building his own mythology and supporting cast around the character for a full decade. While the film is a loose adaptation of the first major story arc of the comic, “Seed of Destruction,” del Toro couldn’t help adding his own touches to everyone’s backstory. Even before he began work on the script, del Toro wrote out detailed character biographies for each major player in the Hellboy story, which were then included on the eventual Director’s Cut DVD release.

A particularly amusing example from these backstories: The fictionalized version of historical figure Grigori Rasputin (Karel Roden) is said to have disliked “greasy food,” and while he really did die in 1916, he was resurrected in 1936 when Nazi occultists mixed his stolen ashes with the blood of the innocent.

5. HE ALSO ADDED THE LOVE STORY.

Long before his fantasy romance The Shape of Water earned him two Academy Awards, del Toro was imagining tales of unusual creatures falling in love with human women, and Hellboy was one of them. The romance between the title character (Ron Perlman) and Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) didn’t exist in Mignola’s original comics, where Sherman’s stronger connection was (ironically, given The Shape of Water’s subject matter) with the aquatic creature Abe Sapien (who is played by The Shape of Water's Amphibian Man, Doug Jones). Latching onto a particular moment in the comics in which Hellboy is enraged by the thought of Liz’s death, del Toro envisioned a story in which his demonic hero could fall in love with a pyrokinetic woman, and was particularly enticed by the image of that woman engulfed in flames kissing a fireproof creature. That particular storytelling decision made del Toro’s Hellboy significantly different from Mignola’s, who modeled the character after his father, but the creator ultimately allowed the departure in the final film.

6. RASPUTIN WAS ORIGINALLY SUPPOSED TO LOSE HIS EYES.

In several sequences throughout the film, the character of Rasputin wears a pair of small sunglasses, even in scenes set at night. This was not done simply to make him look cooler (del Toro recalls comparisons made to The Matrix), but because del Toro originally planned to take away the character’s eyes. In the film’s opening sequence, Rasputin is sucked into the very portal that baby Hellboy is drawn out of, causing him to vanish from Earth for decades until he’s resurrected in the present day. Del Toro wanted the portal to create a “cosmic eye-gouging” effect that would rip the character’s eyes out of his head, but it simply didn’t work in a PG-13 film.

“I thought the eye-gouging, the cosmic eye-gouging, was not graphic enough for people to get the point,” del Toro said.

So, the shot of Rasputin losing his eyes was cut from the theatrical release, but restored for the director’s cut, along with a deleted scene in which the character is given a set of glass eyes.

7. LABYRINTHS ARE A RECURRING THEME IN THE FILM.

Del Toro is a director known for his keen attention to detail. As a result, various recurring visual themes appear in all of his films. For Hellboy, he focused on the idea that “a man is made a man by the choices he makes,” and while the film’s story conveys that as Hellboy must choose between the ideologies of Rasputin and Professor Broom, he also sought to convey it through visual metaphor. To do this, del Toro settled on the recurring motif of the labyrinth. It first appears as part of the opening credits sequence, when the entire logo becomes a kind of maze, then reappears as Ilsa (Bridget Hodson) and Kroenen (Ladislav Beran) weave through mountainous terrain to find Rasputin’s resurrection site. To bookend the metaphor, Rasputin’s mausoleum in Moscow also functions as a kind of labyrinth. Even the metal gates leading to the BPRD’s headquarters resemble the lines of a maze.

8. ONE SCENE WAS ACCIDENTALLY DELETED BY SEVERAL PROJECTIONISTS.

While several scenes from del Toro’s Director’s Cut were left out of the theatrical release, even the version of Hellboy shown in theaters wasn’t always complete. As del Toro later recalled, some “careless” projectionists in “dozens” of theaters accidentally removed one key sequence from the film’s final act as they were assembling the reels. At the end of the scene in which Liz activates her fire powers to burn the Sammael creatures away, a rock flies directly at the camera lens, creating a brief blackout. That scene is supposed to be followed by a shot of an unconscious Myers waking up on the ground to find Ilsa and Rasputin standing over him. The blackout confused some projectionists into skipping over the scene of Myers waking up, so some theatrical audiences were taken directly to the scene that followed, in which Myers has already been captured and chained up. According to del Toro, he set up an email contact form for moviegoers to report this misstep and got numerous replies, though the studio was not able to correct all of the errors.

9. IT FEATURES MANY FREQUENT DEL TORO COLLABORATORS.

Beginning with Cronos (1993), del Toro has built a large and diverse company of frequent collaborators, many of whom continue to work with him to this day. Several of these collaborators contributed to Hellboy, both in front of and behind the camera, including actors Ron Perlman (Cronos, Pacific Rim, Blade II) and Doug Jones (Mimic, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape of Water, and more), composer Marco Beltrami (Mimic, Blade II), and cinematographer Guillermo Navarro (Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth, Pacific Rim and more).

10. IT SUFFERED BACKLASH BECAUSE THE WORD “HELL” IS IN THE TITLE.

During the Director’s Cut commentary for Hellboy, del Toro praised the film’s marketing team for finding ways to sell the film to the public, noting that it wasn’t always easy to attract audiences to a film called Hellboy. Some theaters refused to show the movie, while others retitled it Helloboy in an effort to calm potentially offended patrons. The problem was exacerbated by the presence of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, which opened a few weeks earlier and remained a big box office draw during the Easter holiday.

“Especially on Easter, some theaters mysteriously dropped the movie when it was still making money,” del Toro recalled.

11. IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE THE FIRST FILM IN A TRILOGY.

Hellboy opened on April 2, 2004 to strong reviews and a box office return good enough to merit a sequel. Just weeks after the first film hit theaters, Hellboy II was a go, with del Toro, Perlman, Blair, and Jones returning. With the knowledge that he would get to continue the story, del Toro envisioned a superhero fantasy trilogy, which moved closer to becoming a reality when Hellboy II: The Golden Army opened in 2008 to more critical acclaim. As time passed, though, a third film began to seem increasingly unlikely, with Perlman in particular noting that the epic scope of del Toro’s plans could be too taxing on the budget as well as Perlman’s own physical health. After years of holding out hope that the trilogy could be completed, del Toro finally announced in 2017 that all plans for Hellboy 3 had been scrapped.

12. BUT A REBOOT IS IN THE WORKS.

Del Toro might not get to finish his version of the Hellboy story, but that doesn’t mean Big Red won’t hit the big screen again. In May 2017, just months after del Toro announced an end to his version of the tale, Mignola revealed that the character would be rebooted as part of a new film franchise. Directed by Neil Marshall (The Descent) and starring David Harbour (Stranger Things) in the title role, the new Hellboy film is set to hit theaters on January 11, 2019.

Additional Sources:
Hellboy: The Director’s Cut special features (2004)
Guillermo del Toro: Cabinet of Curiosities (2013)

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