Reviews / August 8, 2019
Episode Four: Progs 7 and 8
MCKENNA: If we’re going to be totally honest, the plot itself of the Dredd strip in Prog 7 isn’t a particularly exciting one; it’s the context that sends the thrill power meters into screeching meltdown. Narrative or similar bollocks is probably the wrong parameter by which to be judging this stuff anyway; the preciousness of the term “worldbuilding” gets on my nerves, but I suppose there isn’t really an equally accurate way of describing how the gradual accretion of details—structures, customs, rules, subcultures, pathologies—that makes up a lot of Dredd is the point, with the story often functioning more like a skeleton upon which to gradually hang them. And come on, what a fucking world—the Statue of Judgement, for fuck’s sake! A vast statue of a judge dwarfing its now-redundant neighbor, the Statue of Liberty, which—obviously—is a massive tourist draw for the happy-go-lucky citizens of the Big Meg, perennially in search of diversion from the grimness of Meg life. What would eventually become artist Mike McMahon’s signature scruffy style was still sort of in its infancy at the time, but it works a treat here. So are you coming to see the Statue of Judgement, Kelly? From the top they say you can see right across the Mega-City!
ROBERTS: Yeah, the satire is the real story in this one—not only the Statue of Judgement, with all the citizens gathered in the eye of the judge (which is the highlight of the Prog for me), but also Dredd’s comment in the Hall of Justice: “You’d think in the 21st century we could wipe out crime – but guess there’ll always be punks like you.” As if a society that sacrificed liberty at the expense of justice-from-above could be anything but violent. The last line of the Prog, belted out by Dredd after he’s shot yet another outgunned, psychotic lowlife out of the sky, makes it crystal clear: “No one can take liberties with the law!”
MCKENNA: I still think it’s the ambiguity that makes Dredd electric, though—the friction between this nightmarish prison-city policed by walking lawbooks and the fact that who the drokk wouldn’t want to see some trigger-happy lowlife get Lawgivered in the face? If it was a straighter satire, I think it would be less effective: it’s powerful because it’s not really sure what it wants to say—probably because the story was cranked out in way less time than it took me to apply my feeble powers of analysis to it, and because you’re not sure how you’re supposed to react to it—especially when you’re a six-year-old who just wants to see Dredd blast loads of scumbags.
In any case, all spurious critique aside, crazed spree-killer Ringo shouting “Kill! Kill!” before being sent plummeting to his death on one of the spikes of the Statue of Liberty’s crown is a finale for the ages.
ROBERTS: Yes, this dystopia is absurd and funny, as we’ve talked about before, as opposed to all of the utterly humorless, self-important bullshit (The Walking Dead, The Road) that defines the genre today. To be honest, I think I’ve been rendered a little cynical by how much Dredd’s world is coming to resemble mine, especially given recent events in the States: both are so slavishly committed to accepting violence and punishment as the solution instead of the problem, all in the name of an ancient “law” that has become little more than easy cover to mete out even more violence and punishment. It’s becoming more and more obvious to me, uncomfortably so, how well Wagner and Mills and everyone at 2000 AD had us pegged. Hell, we love Dredd, not just because he taps into this primal unreason of Old Testament patriarchal authority and bloodlust, but because even he learns to be human in the course of time and experience. Which is more than I can say for America.
The similarities between the fiction and the reality carry over to Prog 8, which concerns “petrol driven cars,” the rich assholes who “collect” them, and the thieves who steal them. Is it wrong that I’m rooting for the lowlifes?
MCKENNA: Life in the Big Meg is just so drokking hard that you’ve got to root for everybody. This is a great little story, though, and it brings together so much of what made early Dredd feel like getting blasted with raw pop voltage: arbitrary violence, the clash of old and new, ridiculous fashions, insane new crimes…. Even in this tiny, compressed, throwaway form, the whole thing hums with the lysergic possibilities of the New Wave of SF.
This was Roman art droid Massimo Belardinelli’s—the late, great Massimo Belardinelli’s—first and (I think) only go at Dredd, and the poor bastard ends up having to draw that ne plus ultra of idiosyncratic British automobile engineering, the Morris Minor. Morris Minors were the UK’s supposed riposte to the Volkswagen Beetle. Production stopped in the early ’70s, and by the end of the decade they were practically giving the things away second-hand, their weird lines and bodywork prone to collapse into a pile of rust at the mere thought of rain (not ideal, given the British climate). Belardinelli gives it a go, but not even his strange blend of florid surrealist softness and imposing mass can quite capture the bizarre contraption’s awkward, hideous beauty. My mum’s first car after she passed her driving test—which would have been around the time this issue came out—was a clapped-out old Morris Minor, and much as I loved it, the idea of some wealthy idiot of the future wanting to collect the fucking thing was a pretty great joke.
ROBERTS: I thought Belardinelli’s art was terrific, as was Charles Herring’s script. This is a stand-out of early Dredd. The fact that cars are fetishized and collected as “art” in the hi-tech/low-life hellscape of The Meg—have we talked about Dredd as proto-cyberpunk?—is kind of genius, and smacks of all the precious collecting of “vintage” and “retro” we suffer today. Speaking of hi-tech, once again it plays a major role: as the bad guy tauntingly makes his getaway on the “walk-eezee” (a moving sidewalk), Dredd simply calls the system’s controller and has the direction reversed. It’s the Judges’ access to, control of, and indiscriminate use of advanced technology that makes them so powerful, a notion that, again, would soon become essential to cyberpunk.
MCKENNA: Yes, this Prog’s episode is the perfect summation of Dredd, to my mind: simultaneously mocking the clichés it is parodying while totally fucking inhabiting them. And fuck me that amazing reveal (which, thankfully, is no reveal at all, Belardinelli’s rendering of it being “censored” by the production office) of Dredd’s face: I was literally scared at the time by the idea of how hideous it must be, which is either testament to Herring and Belardinelli’s talents or testament to what an easily-frightened bellend 6-year-old me was.
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