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BLOG Judge Dredd And A Tale Of Chaos

Reader blogger Steven Ellis raves about the current 2000AD story

The story is called "Day Of Chaos", it’s written by Judge Dredd ’s creator John Wagner, different chapters have been drawn by a selection of artists including Henry Flint and Ben Willsher and it has been running weekly since July of last year.

The story has Dredd and his extended cast of support characters pitted against surviving Sovs from East Meg One (a city destroyed by Dredd himself at the end of the "Apocalypse War" story 30 years ago) out for vengeance alongside various terror groups within the city.

What’s different about this story is its sheer complexity. Dredd isn’t faced with one enemy or a single crisis; in fact Dredd hasn’t even been the main focus of the story – it's very much an ensemble piece. The focus has been a systematic crippling of Justice Department and the city. We’ve seen terrorist attacks involving gas and missiles on both citizenry and the Justice Department’s infrastructure. We’ve seen enemy agents trying to sneak biological weapons into the city, assassination of key figures, sleeper agents causing civil unrest and rioting citizens turning against the law.

The plotting has been so dense that there have been several events occur in one six-page instalment which in the past would have been worthy of a multi-part story on their own. The story has been running for 40 progs so far and we haven’t actually reached the Day of Chaos of the title. We’re still on the eve of this fateful day.

As a long-time reader I’m finding this story both gripping and very compelling. It’s like watching news of a real-life crisis unfolding on TV; it particularly echoes the riots in Manchester, London and other cities we saw last year. Seeing something you know well slowly taken apart and the momentum of events is like a slowly unfolding nightmare over which you have no control. Exactly where John Wagner is taking Dredd and Meg City One in the "Day Of Chaos" story I have no idea. On his Facebook page Mr Wagner has said the script is finished and he’s "really looking forward to seeing what other writers do with what I've left them" because where he’s left the world is “a new ballgame.”

Since Judge Dredd first appeared in prog two of 2000AD back in 1977, mega epics have been a staple of his stories. Classic stories such as "The Robot War", "The Cursed Earth" and "The Apocalypse War" – longer-than-average tales that pit Dredd and Mega City One against a larger foe than the day-to-day lawbreakers we usually see in the strip. Stories that up the stakes and sometimes change Dredd’s world significantly. "The Apocalypse War" story famously destroyed half of Mega City One, killed 400 million and left the city and its survivors vastly different.

These stories were usually standalone type affairs with very little foreshadowing and in most cases only cursory attention given to any aftermath. A threat or a mission is announced, Dredd deals with it over 20 or more episodes and we move on. Only occasionally were we given any focus on the long term effects; the "Apocalypse War" storyline probably had more follow-up stories than most.

This approach changed with the introduction of the Democracy storyline in the early '90s as threads of a theme were spread out in smaller stories, which led into the traditional epic big story. We still had the big 20-plus part epic story, but John Wagner, Alan Grant and other writers started seeding events in smaller, subtler ways. This technique has been used many times since then with various storylines. The fact that Judge Dredd ’s timeline has been consistent since its beginning and the fact that the story moves in real time - a year for the comic is a year for Dredd’s world – means that the back-story is more linear than most characters with similar long runs.

There hasn’t been any significant reboots or revamps. We’ve had the occasional retcon but for the most part the story and its character have remained consistent. This all means that the city and its character have evolved as time has gone by and the consequence of events have echoed down through the stories. Writers have had a wealth of history to delve into which makes for a deeper more layered world.
With "Day Of Chaos" John Wagner has continued this standard and is continuing to prove how well he knows Dredd's world and the possibilities that world has.

I realise all this talk of a long convoluted back-story may seem daunting to someone who hasn’t read Dredd but may be thinking of dipping their toe in. I wouldn’t for a second suggest anyone try to pick up an ongoing story that’s been running for several months. But there are always easy jumping on points. I recently introduced a friend to the comic with selected suggested reading and he is now a firm fan. One of the good things about Judge Dredd is the longer arcs are weaved into the background of other stories so well that different parts work as stand alones as well as part of bigger and more involved plots. Most stories are just as accessible to new readers as they are rewarding to long term fans.

In case anyone is interested in getting into Dredd here are two threads from the 2000AD forum that might help. This thread is full of 2000AD fans suggesting three Dredd graphic novels they would use to introduce someone to the universe, and this thread gives a chronological order for all the non Case File Dredd graphic novel releases available.

Give Judge Dredd a try. I think he’s one of the best comic characters out there and he’s worth a read.

Steven Ellis

For news on the upcoming Dredd film, check out our previous stories here . For more on comics, remember to read our sister magazine Comic Heroes . Prog 1781 of 2000 AD goes on sale this Wednesday, priced at £2.35 in the UK.