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Saturday, February 27, 2021

Review: Essential Judge Dredd & The Rediscovered Scripts

Rebellion have launched a new line of ‘Essential Judge Dredd’ volumes bringing together some of the key stories that have helped establish Dredd as a character who has grown from the Lawgiver-toting roots of cookie-cutter Judges in his early appearances in 2000 AD into a complex and nuanced individual. In the dystopian world of Mega-City One, the lawmen are judge, jury and executioner… but the city, its citizens and its political establishment that control and inhabit the Justice Department have become more multifaceted as John Wagner has explored the world of Dredd more deeply.

In ‘Letter From a Democrat’, Wagner gave a voice to citizens who lived in fear of the self-elected Judges, who, after forty years, wanted to put power back in the hands of the people. A trio of ‘terrorists’ demanding freedom and democracy storm a TV studio knowing that, to get their point across, they must die as martyrs to the cause if their actions are to be remembered beyond the next news cycle.

The idea simmers until a march on the Hall of Justice boils over in ‘Revolution’ when Dredd is given carte blanche to stifle the march any way he can. “Democracy is a cancer eating at the heart of society. Any action we have to take to stamp it out – however regrettable – is justified,” he growls.

In ‘America’ we see the life of America Jara, the daughter of immigrants, through the eyes of her lovelorn neighbour Bennett Beeny. At the age of 15 America had already spent three months in the juve cubes for posting bills promoting democracy; her passion grows with the years, until she leaves her past behind to study politics. One night, Bennett stumbles upon her in the street. Now a member of Total War, she is part of an ambush that results in the killing of four judges.

Bennett covers for her and they later meet, but America admits that she wants money to buy explosives to destroy the Statue of Justice. Bennett gives her the money but informs on her, hoping to save her. The Judges allow the plot to unfold… they, too, know the power of symbolism – that shooting down the perps at the feet of the statue sends a powerful message.

The Democracy Now movement results in a referendum on whether Judicial control should continue, or make way for legislation by the people. The leaders of the democratic coalition want to separate the police for from the judiciary. Dredd believes that citizens will vote for the devil they know: “We’re not perfect. There may be room for us to take more account of the citizens’ wishes – some laws may be in need of revision – but otherwise, nothing’s changed. Discipline, good order, the rigid application of the law – those are the principals on which we stand.”

As Referendum Day approaches, even some of his fellow Judges target Dredd. It all boils down to the push of a button as over 100 million citizens vote…

Predicting the use of low-frequency sonics on marches (LRADs were used recently in the USA) and widespread misinformation to undermine the legitimacy of the march and those leading it, this classic series of stories have an undeniable ring of terrifying precience in these days of Donald Trump’s attempts to delegitimise the 2020 election and shock tactics at BLM marches. As Dredd chillingly says: “Justice has a price.”

America: Lost and Found
, meanwhile, presents John Wagner’s original script (minus episodes two and six, now long lost) along with selected panels from Colin MacNeil’s interpreation of the script. Apart from being the very model of how a comic script should be presented and an insight into how Wagner shaped the story through both dialogue and the images he created in his panel descriptions, the script adds little to the America story, the major change being her surname (from Ortega to Jara). Wagner commentary, on the other hand, is interesting. We learn, for instance, that he prefers to let a story grow organically rather than plot it out in full synopsis. “Sometimes I have an ending in mind and a few incidents along the way, but not always. Then I shake the pieces and see how they fall.”

The book also contains the full story from Judge Dredd Megazine and a gallery of cover images and character sketches by MacNeil.

Essential Judge Dredd: America by John Wagner, Alan Grant, Garth Ennis (w), Colin MacNeil, John Higgins, John M. Burns, Jeff Anderson (a)
Rebellion ISBN 978-1781-08860-9, 3 September 2020, 160pp, £19.99. Available via Amazon.

America: Lost and Found The Rediscovered Scripts by John Wagner & Colin MacNeil
Rebellion ISBN 978-1781-08894-4, 30 September 2020, 128pp, £19.99. h/c.

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