Monday, 11 February 2013

Judge Dredd: The Day The Law Died review

Review by Steve Hargett.
Judge Dredd: The Day The Law Died graphic novel published by 2000AD
Writer:John Wagner
Artists:Mick McMahon, Ron Smith, Dave Gibbons, Brian Bolland, Brendan McCarthy, Brett Ewins, Garry Leach
Tom Frame, John Aldrich, Jack Potter, Peter Knight, Tom Knight, Dave Gibbons
Previously published in Progs 86 to 108 of 2000AD in October 1978 to April 1979
This story follows on straight after The Cursed Earth Saga and the first episode was in the first issue of 2000AD and Starlord following the merger of the two titles. There were four strips, Dredd leading supported by Ro-Busters, Flesh Book II  and Strontium Dog.
Dredd is given given a parade through the city to mark rescuing Mega City Two. Sat in the car with him is his mentor, Chief Judge Goodman, and the Deputy Chief Judge, Judge Cal. This is the first appearance of Cal and this story introduces the Special Judicial Squad, SJS. These Judges judge the Judges, they investigate and punish crimes committed by Judges. Judge Cal is clearly modeled upon Caligula, the third Emperor of Rome who history depicts as increasingly insane throughout his reign. There are subtle hints in the first part – during the parade Cal questions the cost of the mission Dredd had just been on; during a Triumph, a parade for a victorious General in Rome, someone stood behind the General would whisper that they are only human, to curb the General’s ego.
The SJS uniforms vary throughout the story, mostly due to the amount of artists involved. However it is also reasonable to accept that the uniforms do actually alter. The SJS are Cal’s men, as Deputy Chief Jusfe it seems he was also the Head of SJS. As such it is only reasonable o accept that as his ideas about himself become grander so his closest supporters would be affected.
There are some spoilers following, as this is a reprint I don’t think I am revealing much more than an active reader of 2000AD who hasn’t read this story before might realistically have come to know. I will try to keep the spoilers light.
Judge Cal frames Dredd and sent to the prison on Titan and has Chief Judge Goodman killed, seizing power for himself. Overwhelmingly the Judges of Mega City One support Cal, to the surprise of Dredd. Before his death Goodman gives Dredd a clue that the SJS are behind his murder, Dredd survives an assassination attempt only to be sentenced to death by Cal.
Dredd isn’t alone, however, and his one-time Rookie, Judge Giant, comes to his rescue. Together with Giant Dredd goes on to fight a guerilla war against Cal with a group of Judges mostly comprising Tutors from the Academy of Law.
Giant is the son of John ‘Giant’ Clay, captain of the Harlem Heroes jet-ball team from the strip of the same name. Not essential knowledge for this story but I’ll briefly give some more details, given that 2000AD doesn’t have one shared universe how this fact fits in with continuity. Harlem Heroes was set in a futuristic USA, sometime after 2050. In Prog 8 the home city of Harlem Heroes is referred to as Mega City One, where Artie Grubber is in intensive care (oh I loved Artie!). A sequel to Harlem Heroes, Inferno, was set in 2078, the year before Dredd graduated from the Academy of Law. One of the team members, Rip Venner, was an ex-Judge. So the links are clear and credible, indeed the current Judge Giant met his Great Grandpappy in ‘Whatever Happened to John ‘Giant’ Clay in the the Megazine, that story was set in 2126.
Back to the story in hand. This story introduces some other giants of Dredd continuity, pun intended, such as: Judge-Tutor Griffin; Fergee; the alien mercenaries race of Kleggs and also involves Walter the Wobot, Maria and Max Normal. Again, as in the Cursed Earth Saga an interesting cast of supporting characters.

Of these Fergee has proven to be hugely popular, a huge fellow with low intelligence many forget he isn’t a mutant or a Trog (a denizen of the Undercity). Fergee was born in Mega City One but by his own admission he did a few (well lots) of bad things. Given what seems to be his inate kindness one would assume that his enjoyment of violence was probably taken advantage of by some perp or other – but there are no explanations in the story. Fergee’s name was misappropriated in the Stallone film and used for the bumbling robotics expert who was a comedy sidekick for Dredd in that film. The 2012 Dredd 3D film makes mention of a riot in Fergee Memorial Park.
The fact that supporting characters like these become so important to the reader is a great reflection on the craftsmanship of the creators. Not only John Wagner but many of the script writers over the years.
Returning to Judge Cal and Caligula. There are so many comparisons it is easy to overlook them. Deputy Chief Judge Fish can be compared to Caligula making his horse a senator. Other comparisons include wild building projects and random death sentences. Bringing in the alien mercenaries, the Kleggs, could be compared to the barbarian mercenaries, Germans, that Caligula used as body guards. Oh and pickle jars, but I stray too near spoiler territory with this one.
This story reinforces the importance of Dredd in Mega City One. Even the experienced Judges that have become Tutors at the Academy of Law look to him for leadership. Of course he is a clone of the first Chief Judge, Fargo, and Judge Goodman had clearly been grooming him as a successor.
As noted earlier the amount of different artists on this story do give a lack of visual continuity. At times we see Dredd wearing  the more modern straight sided helmet and at other times the more rounded Ezquerra original. I don’t find that a distraction and as I said earlier the changes in SJS uniforms can easily be explained. You may note that only the head of the SJS, Judge Slocum, has the Deaths Head helmet insignia.
Interestingly this collection credits only John Wagner as writer but the creator panels show the names John Howard and T B Grover. These are pseudonyms that were used by John Wagner and Alan Grant when working in partnership. I assume as the credit here is for John Wagner alone that Alan Grant was either not involved or was involved only in part, perhaps talking through the plot. Certainly the plot is fluid and yet consistent.
A true classic, if you haven’t ever read this and still fail to… someone might have to get heavy with you.
Easy! The Ferg!

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