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Brian Bolland

Everything You Need to Get Caught up on Judge Dredd Comics

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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.

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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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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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© Nintendo
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fun
Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.

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