Thursday, December 31, 2020

Aftermath part 2: the actual best Judge Dredd epics

OK, so this month-long ramble has all been just one reader’s ranking. But is there a wider consensus on what are the best Dredd epics? 

Well, over on the 2000 AD forums, Evil Cyborg Broodblik set up a poll to see what the 2000AD superfan hivemind thinks. He built a master list of 50 epics – mostly the same as my 52, but with some missed off and others included, based on stories from 2000AD (and not the Megazine) that were 7 episodes or longer. Here are the results of that poll, with the numbers in brackets representing a score based on how high people placed each story on their own list. Something to do with Formula 1 points, I think?

I’d say this list is definitively what hardcore 2000AD fans think of when they think of Judge Dredd epics. It matters, to me at least, that most of the 20+ people who voted have read all of these stories, and maybe even all of Dredd! So you know these guys know what they are talking about...


Fun fact! Judge Dredd has never, to my knowledge, referred to himself as a citizen
of the USA nor pledged allegiance to the flag.
Art by Carlos Ezquerra

1). The Apocalypse War (192)
2). Necropolis (165)
3). The Pit (133)
4). The Cursed Earth (128)
5). Tour of Duty (106)
6). Tale of the Dead Man (99) [I’m not clear if this is just ‘the Dead Man’ or that story and the first set of prologues to Necropolis, which was titled ‘Tale of the Dead Man’]
7). Block Mania (89)
8). Day of Chaos (84)
9). The Judge Child (78)
10). The Day the Law Died (70)


Fun fact! Chief Judge Cal, the villain of the epic known as 'The Day the Law Died'
is never actually referred to as 'Caligula' except on the cover of this collection.
Art by Brian Bolland

So yeah, the Top 10 is 70% ‘Golden Age of 2000AD’ material, but then there’s The Pit, published at the Prog’s absolute nadir in the mid 90s, and there are two relatively recent epics in there too.

Oz: the Aussie edition
Art by Ashley Wood

11). Oz (69)
12). Cry of the Werewolf (67)
13). Total War (59)
14). Mandroid (58)
15). Trifecta (54)
16). Origins (53)
17). The Graveyard Shift (45)
18). City of the Damned (37)
19). Destiny's Angels (37)
20). Emphatically Evil: The Life and Crimes of PJ Maybe (37) (this is part of the build-up to Tour of Duty, if you’re wondering)
21). Sin City (36)
22). Terror (34) [I don’t know about other voters but I lumped this in with Total War myself; I actually think it’s the better of the two]
23). The Small House (30)
24). Incubus (26)
25). Machine Law (26)
26). Return of the Assassin (24) [This is the only part of the ‘Doomsday’ epic listed here – it’s also likely the best part of that story]
27). Sector House (22)
28). Judgement Day (21)
29). Beyond the Call of Duty (18)
30). Dredd Angel (18)
31). The Edgar Case (16)
32). Wilderlands (12)
33). Block Judge (11)
34). Titan (11)
35). Death Aid (9)
36). Enceladus (8) [I bundled up the two-part Enceladus with Titan; interesting that they’ve ended up split by another story.]
37). The Scorpion Dance (8)
38). Dark Justice (7)
39). Dead Reckoning (6)
40). Revenge of the Chief Judge's Man (5) [I lumped all three ‘Chief’s Judge’s Man’ stories together]
41). The Lion's Den (5) [The biggest single part of ‘Every Empire Falls’, and the best.]
42). Guatemala (4)
43). Mandroid: Instument of War (4)
44). Blood Trails (2)
45). Book of the Dead (2)
46). Darkside (2)
47). Ladykiller (2)
48). Crusade (1)
49). Goodnight Kiss (1)
50). Mechanismo - Body Count (1)


(Fun fact: this collection reprints the previous two Mechanismo stories, not Body Count)

In case you want to make sense of the point-scoring system, head on over to the original posting!

Right, that's it.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Aftermath part 1: What'd I miss?

To create this ranking, I spent a LONG time on Barney, trawling through the list of Dredd stories in Prog and Meg, and checking a few specials and Annuals, too, to see what measured up to and ultimately ‘felt’ like an epic story. I ended up going almost entirely on length, will a side order of ‘has this story been collected in its own volume?’ to get around some stories that were originally run in smaller chunks. ‘Split epics’ as I’ve been calling them.

Partly for the sake of making this manageable, I decided to draw a line, and that meant some longish stories didn’t qualify for the list, being less than 60 pages long. In case anyone cares, here’s the full list of stories that were longer than the first Dredd epic I did count, ‘the Robot War’, which was was 9 episodes and a mere 46 pages long – but that I felt didn't deserve inclusion.

I’ve added links to collections for the stories I rate highly, that would’ve cracked the Top 20 in all likelihood. They’re listed here in chronological order.

Destiny’s Angels (8 episodes, 50 pages) Progs 281-288
Cry of the Werewolf (7, 47) Progs 322-329, read it in Case Files 7
The Graveyard Shift (7, 45) Progs, read it in Case Files 7 (It's a great collection!)

'Cry of the Werewolf' - it's exactly the story you think it is!
Art by Steve Dillon

Midnite’s Children (5, 48) Megs 1-5
Twilight’s last gleaming / the Devil you know (7, 42 in total) Progs 750-756
Book of the Dead (8, 48) Progs 859-866 – special mention that this story, for me, is even worse than Crusade (although the art is better)

The Scorpion Dance (8, 48) Progs 1125-1132, read it in Case Files 29
Sector House (8, 48) Progs 1215-1222
The Satanist (7, 42) Progs 1350-1356
The Edgar Case (7, 42) Progs 1589-1595 – long time foil for Dredd, Surveillance Judge Jura Edgar has been part of some very significant stories but never quite an epic (apart from a cameo in ‘Chief Judge’s Man’). This story is actually about her legacy, and it’s compelling stuff. I’m curious now why the Edgar strips have never been collected into one volume.

This is a nice collection of John Burns Dredds

Emphatically Evil: the life and crimes of PJ Maybe (7, 42) Progs 1569-1575 – this is really part of the build-up to Tour of Duty, but would’ve qualified as its own mini-epic had it been a couple of episodes longer. It's NOT in The Complete PJ Maybe, which covers (almost) all the PJ stories up to that point. It IS included in Tour of Duty: the Backlash. To get the missing bit of Maybe, you'll need the Hachette collection. Speaking of PJ Maybe...

Ladykiller (8, 48) Progs 1991-1999 – PJ Maybe’s final outing, and although he got starring roles in Tour of Duty and, to a lesser extent, Day of Chaos, it’s kind of a shame this last story didn’t quite get epic status. I’m also gonna confess that although he draws it well, I’ve never found King Carlos to be the best fit for PJ.

Deep in the Heart (8, 48) Progs 2012-2019

I'm going to single out a handful of edge cases that only just missed out:

The Exterminator (9, 59) Progs 919-927
I feel especially bad for this story missing out by 1 page! But, you, know, it’s only OK and doesn’t quite feel right as a ‘Judge Dredd’ epic. It’s more or less well known that this was originally a ‘Terminator’ story proposed by Wagner that he repurposed into a Dredd tale. And, if it hadn’t been played as a ‘Judge Dredd’ story it could have seeded the mystery of ‘who is this unstoppable killer from the future?’ in a super neat way, with a twist ending to match the Dead Man…

Goodnight Kiss (9, 54) Progs 940-948 – I could have tacked on the Prologue story ‘Enter Jonni Kiss’ from Prog 830, and it'd just qualify - but that prologue isn't part of the same story, it just sets up Jonni Kiss as an assassin. I suppose I could’ve counted ‘The Marshal’ from Progs 800-803 as the true prologue. But I didn’t. Draw you own conclusions.

Progs 2141-2145 isn't nearly long enough, but has an an epic feel and HAS just been collected along with its two prologue stories - but added together that still isn’t quite 60 pages. So much juicy Chris Weston art! But not an epic.

The one I came closest to adding was the set of tales by T C Eglington that have not yet been collected, but could be, perhaps under the name ‘The Booth Conspiracy’. Three short tales and one longer one that, totted up, DO come in over the page count. But a) there is no collection, and b) the final story, despite being the longest, doesn’t really have an epic feel. It’s pretty good though! Bung it all in a floppy Tharg, you know you want to.


Just to stave off further complaints, here are a few stories that might seem longer and more epic in the memory than they actually are. Just for fun, I’m listing them in order of how much I rate them.

These range from great…

Midnight Surfer (6, 43)
America 2 (6, 48)
Judgement (6, 36)
Ratfink (5, 52)
Guatemala (6, 48)

…to good…
Ghosts (6, 36)
Radlander (3, 36) + Damned Ranger (3, 40) which are really two separate stories about the same character, but one could lump them together for an epic-length tale. John Ridgway art, not less!
Blood of Emeralds (6, 36) – basically a prologue for ‘Every Empire Falls’.
Monkey on my back (3, 45)
The Monstrus Machinations of PJ Maybe (4, 50)

…to more-or-less forgettable:
Warzone (4, 48)
Regime Change (4, 40)
Your Beating Heart (6, 36)
House of Pain (6, 36)
Killer Elite (4, 48)
The Forsaken (6, 36)
Meatmonger (6, 46)

These are fun but kinda silly:
The Starborn Thing (6, 38)
Lawcon (4, 48)
Death Aid (7, 42)
Cascade (6, 36)
Three Amigos (6, 54)
Dredd Angel (7, 40)
Dead Reckoning (7, 42)
Missing (6, 36)

These two are good stories with GREAT art but are a little bit racist:
The Warlord (6, 41)
Emerald Isle (6, 36)

…and then there’s this one, which is super racist and not very good:
The Sugar Beat (6, 36) 

Here's the Midnight Surfer - you know, so we don't have to end on a sour note!

Next time: enough of this nonsense, what are REALLY the best Dredd epics??

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Epics 3-1: the bitter end

In theory, as I've been reading over each epic, I've been keeping an objective score of the writing, the art, the overall importance of a story - and that's how this ranking has shaken out. And yes, I've made up my own rules about what counts as an epic in the first place, giving pride of place to that crudest of tools, page count. In practice, that's all nonsense, but it's MY nonsense, all right??

There's just one story left that everyone would agree is a Judge Dredd Mega Epic, and here it is...

Epic 34: Origins (Prologue 5, 30 Progs 1500-1504; 1505-1519; 1529-1535
Written by John Wagner; Art by Carlos Ezquerra and Kevin Walker
(28 episodes across 169 pages in total; this one's epic 34 in sequence)

As well as its direct prologue, The Connection, Origins picks up on a whole heap of old story threads. It goes back all the way to the Cursed Earth, specifically the story of Bad Bob Booth, last President of the USA. Origins bears such a debt to this Pat Mills scripted tale (not to mention parts of his Return of Rico) that it’s a wonder he doesn’t demand a share in royalties on this story! (Although of course there’s the part in-story where Wagner basically tells Mills his concept of ‘the Judgement of Solomon’ is pretty unwise.)

Bob Booth was last seen in the Hunting Party, and it’s no coincidence that Wagner selects young Judge Renga, also from that epic, to re-appear in Origins.

The Basics: Judge Dredd receives a package containing DNA from founding Chief Judge Fargo, and a ransom note demanding billions of creds. With a small team of Judges, Dredd heads out into the Cursed Earth to investigate the truth. Along the way, that team learns some of the story of how today’s USA ended up being run by Justice Dept, and Dredd recounts the story of President ‘Bad Bob’ Booth, the war he started, and Dredd’s own part in what happened.


Dredd picks a squad for a dangerous mission.
Art by Carlos Ezquerra

Analysis: Origins is an extraordinary achievement. John Wagner very explicitly is attempting to explain to readers (and presumably to himself) just how on Earth a super freedom-restricting system like Justice Dept could have ever come to take control in the USA, land of the free. It’s the big unknown of the whole of Judge Dredd – frankly, an unknown that we never really needed to know, as we’ve come to accept it as a Sci-Fi premise of a sort of dystopia. But by golly does Wagner make a good fist of it.


It starts with riot control... ends with The Supreme Court taking on the President.

On top of that, he’s also doing his daily job of telling an entertaining, action-packed story involving Dredd, and a team of Judges, mucking about in the Cursed Earth. Now, this part of the story is to some extent a little by-the-numbers. We’ve been out in the Cursed Earth a bunch of times now, and the usual tropes rear their heads: a band of mutant marauders who make trouble for everyone. A town of freakish mutants who are downtrodden but ultimately decent...

"Say, do you remember that scene in Society..."
Art by Carlos Ezquerra

A town of seemingly decent folk who turn out to be not-so decent...

"Say, do you remember that scene in The Passion of the Christ..."
Art by Carlos Ezquerra

 And to end a shadowy figure who has amassed a loyal army to fight for him. Perhaps the only twist is an encounter with a town of mutants who turn out to be pretty happy, and mostly kind as well!


But these tropes work, so it’s forgiven. The only weak link perhaps is Nicey’s band of marauders. Their look is fine but also not so special by Carlos Ezquerra’s mighty standards. They are a nuisance but nothing more, and although it’s kinda neat seeing Dredd and his team make such short work of them, it’s also not massively satisfying.


No one delivers mass shooty carnage like King Carlos

Of course, no one is reading Origins to see Dredd take on some uppity mutant bandits. They’re here to read the secret history of Mega City One! And this history doesn’t disappoint. There’s a lot of exposition, which Wagner works wonders to embed in a story way. Not always completely elegantly – there are a few ‘but weren’t you telling us about xxx’ speech balloons, but we don’t care because we want to drink it all in. If anything, there’s a frustration in quite how good Wagner is at explaining it all with very few panels. The sequence in which young(ish) Eustace Fargo is able to set up the new Judge system is dealt with across a mere two pages, and yet it’s done in such a way that it makes sense. Likewise a scene a little later in which Judges Solomon and Goodman manage to oust President Booth, and set up Justice Dept as the new leaders of the USA. In fact, Wagner is doing that super tricksy writerly thing of explaining just enough that you feel like you’re getting a proper ‘Origin’ (of Dredd himself, as well as his world), while leaving an awful lot unsaid, and also making it clear that the teller of any given tale either doesn’t have all the facts, or is lying. So basically, any future writer could come along and have another go and it would be allowed to contradict what we’re given here. Clever bastard.

As if to make up for all the history, in the second half of the epic Wagner gifts us with an extended sequence of young Dredd and clone brother Rico doing their thing on the streets. It’s thrill-a-minute stuff, always rooted in character. 

"Why yes, a series following both cadets Dredd
WOULD be a good fit for a young version of 2000AD
Art by Cliff Robinson

And then for the big finale, we’re back into the classic ‘ragtag team of Judges versus giant army’ fight, with the bonus of that ragtag team being super efficient, and the big bad being someone who we’ve really come to hate by this point in the story!


'Bad' Bob Booth. Any similarities to actual US Presidents are entirely coincidental. :)
Art by Carlos Ezquerra

One last note to mention the Prologue again. Taken apart, Connections is an odd story in which various not-so nice people muck about with a box, which ultimately ends up in the hands of the judges – where it was always meant to end up. In that sense, it’s a lot like a Coen Brothers movie. Also like those celebrated movie makers, Wagner and Walker craft such a beautiful story that you never care that it could’ve been told in a one-page flashback. I think it’s the rain that does it. Sets up a beautiful mood, and makes it easier to swallow the dreams and premonitions that plague Dredd throughout. This, for me, is Walker’s finest Dredd hour.

Art by Kev Walker

Story: 9/10 I know, I know, an origin story is just such an obvious thing to pick as 'best'. And this one has a lot of exposition-y bits in it. But gruddammit if Wagner doesn't pull off a miracle of making you feel like you're really reading about the origins of Dredd's world, and even his own youth, while not actually doing anything other than telling a rollicking tale that combines history, politics and bad dudes fighting each other in the desert. I will agree that it's not as good as that other 'Origins' story by Wagner & Ezquerra - Strontium Dog: Portrait of a Mutant.
: 10/10 - not much to argue about here: you've got Walker AND Ezquerra at the peak of their powers.
: So much legacy! From writer John Wagner’s point of view, this story essentially set up the next decade of Dredd’s character, not to mention a ton of plot points for the wider story of Judge Dredd the strip. It all spins out from the final episode, in which present-day Dredd gets to meet Judge Fargo one last time. The great man confesses that his concept of the Judges ruling everyone, and perhaps even the concept of ‘judge, jury and executioner all in one’ was not meant to last forever. And this fans the flames of doubt in the system for Dredd, a man with a long history of having doubts.

The initial focus of those doubts is about Mega City One’s law against mutants. Which leads into the strips first set of recurring characters, the Fargo clan. They’ll appear again soon, setting off the next Mega epic - Tour of Duty, which in turn leads more or less directly into Day of Chaos, which itself upended Mega City One more than even the Apocalypse War.

Fargo's life hasn't been epxlored much, but that early period of the Judges setting up has lately become Michael Carroll's playgorund, in a series of novels but also in a couple of Judge Dredd stories, and most recently in the Megazine series Dreadnoughts.

Even Bad Bob Booth hasn't gone away entirely. TC Eglington had a great crack at exploring the people who loved Booth enough to make him president, in super timley Trump-comparison fashion. His series of shorter tales about 'the Sons of Booth' is almost an epic in itself. Almost.

Finally, spare a thought for young Judge Logan, Dredd’s assistant, who first appears in Origins and has a starring role as the Judge who won’t stop getting blown up, but also just won't die. He’ll stick around for quite some time...

He's going to go far, that boy.
Art by Carlos Ezquerra


Overall Score: 19.6 out of 20
Want to read it? Here's the collection. And it'll end up in a Case Files in the next couple of years, unbelievably.

So, what's left? Well, for my penultimate pick, you could say it's merely the prologue to another true epic, but you know what, it's a LONG story, and boy does it stand up to reading on its own. Spoiler alert, its...

Epic 2: The Dead Man Progs 650-662
Written by John Wagner; Art by John Ridgway
(13 episodes, 81 pages, it's epic 10, or 10a if you prefer, chronologically speaking).

Look, this is something of a cheat - this story is clearly a prologue to Necropolis, just as Block Mania was a prologue to the Apocalypse War. On the other hand, this story is twice as long, and it was originally run as an all-new story that didn't even have a direct connection to Judge Dredd at first. At least, it didn't to the 12-year old boy who was reading it week by week in the first flush of having set aside Whizzer and Chips and emrbaced 2000AD as THE weekly comic of choice. (I'm talking about me) 

Now, let's ignore that the story originally ran as mystery. I mean, by golly it was a cracker of a mystery and it kept me guessing and blew my tiny mind at the end (I hadn’t even made the Cursed Earth setting = Dreddworld connection). But it can't achieve that effect again. What it can do is remain a compelling and terrifying horror story. And I say that after having read it through at least 5 times. And Judge Dredd hasn;t been in all that many horror stories. Certainly not ones that maintain the horror all the way ot the end, rather than ending up as Science Fiction mysteries or, more typically, action romps.

It's the art, see. John Ridgway just knows how to do rural horror, knows how to show people who are on the edge of fear, disgust, panic – all those dangerous emotions that we like to play with in the safe space that is horror fiction.


But it's also the writing, and indeed the story itself. The Dead Man explores what happens when Judge Dredd teams up with a boy. It's not a million miles from Batman and Robin, if Batman was hideously scarred and Robin was less of a circus brat and more of a child doomed to have his eyes burned out by an eldritch horror. But it works. There's frustration and camaraderie in equal measure. There's the excitement of going on an adventure, on that spans desert wasteland and woods and swamps. And of course there's two very different personalities rubbing against each other.

Dredd genesis, we're told, was to bring Dirty Harry to a science fiction comic. Perhaps the part that surives that trnalsation best is the Clint Eastwood taciturn style. The Dead Man is less Dirty Harry and more 'the Man with no Name'. There's the same Eastwoodness about him, except perhaps he's a little kinder. You feel that the Dead Man wants to be good and helpful, even as he knows his past is full of violence, usually delivered by his own hand.

The other thing that helps raise The Dead Man above other epics is that it's all told from Yassa's point of view. Most Dredd stories just throw us into the action in Mega City One, sometimes with an omniscient narrator but typically with no narrator, just Dredd and cits shouting at each other with captions (or TV announcers!) to explain time and place. But here we have Yassa, who tells the story in his own fashion, setting a mood we've not encountered before and, in the world of Dredd, won't encounter again - outside of one other, even more famous story narrated by a protagonist who is not Judge Dredd...

Writing: 10/10
Art: 10/10

Legacy: Well, this story was the real kick-off to Necropolis, even though the very next Judeg Dredd story is the one that goes back in time to explain what led up to the events of the Dead Man. And, beyond Necropolis itself, there have been surprisingly few callbakcs to this Cursed Earth jaunt. Basically it boils down to the characters of Yassa Povey, and the two sisters of Death, Nausea and Phobia. 

Povey appears only twice more, in the super-important democracy-based story Nightmares; and as a minor cameo in Death Aid. The sisters appeared slightly more often, but were never again used as the main antagonists. They were kind of only invented as an excuse to bring Judge Death and Co. back from limbo, and they certainly function better as nightmares than they do as flesh-and-blood villains. Not least because they were never literally IN Mega City One - they're only 'present' as psychic entities. That said, the sisters were a big part of 'Young Death', and have, much later, taken up a small role in the series Fall of Deadworld.

On a meta-level, the Dead Man has a bigger legacy. One could argue that the whole concept behind it was a way of telling readers that even Judge Dredd is expendable – except that, of course, he's never actually dead. Although he can go through some seriously bad times, this story, if anything, reinforces the idea that Dredd is just too tough as a man and especially as a character to ever be gone for long. That said, Tharg has a few times since 1990 chased the high of telling a story with a central mystery that keeps characters guessing, or even comes out of the blue.

Overall score: 20 out of 20
Want to read it? Here's the collection. Sadly out of stock in the print edition - you know, because it's so damn good!!

The Dead Man is, for me, the single best Dredd story – but I can't give it top spot, hand on heart, because it is inherently part of a larger whole. Certainly I've never read the Dead Man and not immediately needed to read on. So what is at the top?

Why, it's...

Epic 1: America Megs 1-7
Written by John Wagner; Art by Colin McNeil
(7 episodes, 62 pages; this is number 11 in my sequence)

The Basics: The life story of a young pro-democracy terrorist and her best friend, and their occasional run-ins with Judge Dredd.

John Wagner's thesis on justice, set to music.
Art by Colin McNeil

Analysis: This one's kind of in on a technicality (the page count is just long enough to qualify under my arbitrary rules), and some wouldn't think of America as an epic. But if it had run in the weekly Prog, rather than the monthly Meg, we'd have felt its full weight at the time for sure. As it is, America remains for many THE Judge Dredd story. But it almost isn't a Dredd story at all*. He's in it, certainly, but he's not the protagonist, or even really a big player in himself. 

This is a story about what it's like to live in Mega City One, about what the faceless Judge system might really feel like. And they are not good guys. Dredd himself isn't evil per se – in fact you could even argue he's soft on Bennett Beeny – but his presence is felt as someone intimidating and terrifying, even if he's also reliable and transparent in his motivations.

A kids' eye view of Dredd
Art by Colin McNeil

I think this is one of those stories where the reader brings a lot of themselves to it. Wagner, it seems to me, is merely presenting a few different angles on the world of Dredd, I honestly don’t think he’s picking sides here. You have America Jara, a second generation immigrant and as such kind of a stand-in for what ‘America’, the ideal has meant to so many people since the 17th century. Then you have Bennet Benny, the stand-in (as I see it) for Americans of white British extraction, the main point being people who have all sorts of privilege they may or may not recognise. Beeny clearly does recognise his privilege, certainly compared to America, but he doesn’t do much with this knowledge beyond hiding it in some sufficiently low-key jokes that he won’t get in trouble. He has his own problems, man – and don’t we all. Then there’s Dredd, who is given very little inner monologue in this story. All we see is him upholding the system that he was raised into, doubts and all. Except in this story, he has no doubt that any form of terrorism is wrong, and that bullying people into informing on their friends is also morally acceptable, even necessary. Wagner the writer, and we the readers, may or may not agree with either of those things.


Is murder justifiable? How about shooting out someone's throat?
Art by Colin McNeil

Where America as a story stood out, for me, is that it allowed this mixture of characters to come together into a full-on tragedy of a story. It is not funny. Really, at all, even if there are a few jokes in passing. Just as in life, people do tell jokes and laugh whether their lives are going well or badly. Up until that point, pretty much all Dredd strips had been comedies, albeit sometimes super dark. The only exceptions being the Democracy-themed tales, that are fairly clearly part of the background rumble of America. It’s telling in America that Dredd doesn’t fill the pages with idiot citizens, so often the focus. These are more-or-less ‘normal’ people, perhaps even more so than the Democrats we’ve met before, who were given names but not given thorough backstories or inner lives.

Sure, in the decades since Wagner and other writers have explored the tragedy of life in Mega City 1, so America has lost some of its impact. Plus, the plot twist at the end may or may not sit well with a 2020 audience – although I think it’s so clearly rooted in the psyche of an individual that I think it’s acceptable? Look, it's spoiling a pretty big twist but we're talking about a man who ends up tkaing on a woman's body. And it's 100% not because, at least as far as the story tells us, that man is unsure of his gender identity, and as such it's kind of not actually representative of any trans person alive today. But it's not not about that, somewhere underneath it all?** It’d help if there was more and more diverse trans representation in other Judge Dredd stories, of course, before knowing how problematic this story is.


One of those pages of a story that takes on a VERY different tone when you get to the end and realise what you're actually looking at.
Art by Colin McNeil

Story: 10/10 it could be Wagner's finest hour, firing on all cylinders as a thriller, a slice of life drama, and of course as an examination of conflict between justice, freedom and terrorism.
: 10/10 and it would be Colin MacNeil's finest hour, if he wasn't so good at reinventing his style and scaling new heights. I'm tempted to give it a 9 as he would go onto better things (just about), but at the time its impact was so strong, I've got to give it top marks.

Legacy: For a story that a) isn't technically Judge Dredd, and b) wasn't reprinted in the Case Files, it's kind of essential reading for Dredd continuity. There's more about the Democracy movement, and in particular its violent fringe, Total War (who will lend their name to an epic in the future). Plus of course there's the very good sequel (marred by less good art), which introduces a new character who will go on to be a major player in the world of Dredd, starting in the shorter but no less essential 3rd America story. There has, since, been a fourth America story, Terror Rising, and most recently a fifth, 'The Victims of Bennet Beeny'. Not sure why these weren't billed as ‘America 4 and 5’, but I guess very few 4th and 5th sequels are well regarded. Nonetheless, America Beeny's story, one suspects, is going to carry on being crucial for whatever vision John Wagner has of the future history of Mega City 1 Justice Department…


Overall score: 21 out of 20
Want to read it? Of course you do! Why not treat yourself to the most recent Essential collection, which gives some of the build-up of the Dredd vs Democrats storylines. Or maybe you'd prefer the Lost and Found collection, which includes a running commentary on his own script from John Wagner.

*notoriously, you won't find America reprinted in Judge Dredd complete Case Files 15, where it sits chronologically. I don't know if Tharg or anyone has given an official reason why not, but one suspects it mostly hinges on two things: a) the story is called, and is about America - not Judge Dredd; b) anyone who is buying a comic called 'Judeg Dredd the Complete Case Files 15' probably already has this story in at least two versions and would rather not sacrifice 62 pages to yet an other reprint...

**side note - is it meaningful that another story Wagner was writing at exactly the same time was about a macho man who becomes pregnant?

There's tons more one could say about America, and essays have and will continue to be written about this one comic. Perhaps the only thing to say here is that, if you haven't read America, go read it now! 

Of course, mine is far from the only opinion. Some interesting arguments here from some readers who didn’t like the story much, and a few who did:
On Drokk!
On Dredd Reckoning
On Nexus Wookie

And, if you prefer using your ears to your eyes, you've got Eamonn and Pete talking about America on the Mega City Book Club, twice!

That's it then. 

Or is it? Next time - some housekeeping.