Judge Dredd is one of the enduring legacies of British comics. A startling figure of post-hippy 1970s political angst, from these humble beginnings rose the legend of a dark futuristic policeman. Armed to the teeth, the Judges are trained from childhood to fight the tidal wave of crime that comes hand-in-hand with any pessimistic view of future living in an enormous metropolis.
The Judges are a step above the regular police, in that they can pass judgement on and sentence a criminal on the spot. It’s a ruthless and undemocratic system, but one that’s been widely adopted in Dredd’s version of the future, with most countries using their own cultural spin on the system to keep their respective populations from descending into anarchy.
These early stories set the scene for what’s to come but contain elements that fell by the wayside as Dredd’s mythos developed. In a few stories there’s evidence of a secondary police force, working below the Judges to help sweep up the mess, though this was soon dropped. Dredd also has a lisping robot butler called Walter, who appears in many of these early stories but is rarely more than an irritating foil to counter Dredd’s necessarily stony demeanour.
While this makes these first 60-or-so episodes key to the development of Judge Dredd as we know him today, they lack the refinement of time. Most of the episodes are single self-contained chapters, with the exception of the Robot Wars eight-parter. Dredd also goes on a brief stint on a moon base, which ties a group of stories together thematically and gives the strip a sense of coherence. However, it’s clear that in these early days, the 2000AD’s editors were requesting stories to satisfy casual readers and not just those who are coming back for more.
The artwork comes mostly from four classic 2000AD illustrators – Brian Bolland, Carlos Ezquerra, Ian Gibson and Mike McMahon. All four are gifted artists but Bolland’s work still stands out. While the others are developing their styles, Bolland’s art is fully formed and meticulously executed.
There’s no point in suggesting that this is a collection of the best Dredd stories ever published. In fact, it might be more than fair to say that they’re amongst the weakest. However, they chart a course through a little bit of comics history, and are required reading for anyone with more than a passing interest in 2000AD and Judge Dredd.