Judge Hershey is one of the most beloved characters in the Judge Dredd canon. Her career has spanned more than 40 years and we've watched her rise through the ranks, eventually becoming the city's Chief Judge not once, but twice. A few years ago, however, she was poisoned with a slow-acting toxin and, in the recent 2000 AD Prog 2349, she finally met her end.
In the current Judge Dredd story arc, Poison, the future lawman must find out who was responsible for Hershey's death. Written by Rob Williams and drawn by PJ Holden, the story puts Dredd in the position of detective trying to solve a whodunnit with very personal resonance for the Judge. There are several suspects and in this week's issue a new name enters the fray: feared serial killer PJ Maybe. But Maybe is dead... isn't he?
Newsarama spoke with Williams, who also wrote the recent Hershey spin-off series, to find out more about the mystery and what the character's passing will mean for Mega-City One and for Judge Dredd.
Newsarama: Can you give us a quick recap of the Poison story so far, for those who aren't yet caught up?
Rob Williams: Well, Hershey has been one of the closest things that Judge Dredd has had to a friend since the start of the 1980s. Somebody poisoned her and murdered her.
Dredd is The Law, always. Any homicide will cause Dredd to brutally bring justice to bear, particularly if the victim is a Judge - but this time it's personal.
So this is a full-on murder mystery story?
We so often see Dredd smashing down doors and firing his Lawgiver and being the man of action. But he is, first and foremost, a cop. I thought it'd be interesting to place him as a detective in a story. Following threads, tracking down clues. It's really a road movie across various landscapes from Dredd and Hershey's past. Poison goes to some pretty unexpected places, I hope.
How will Hershey's death impact Dredd personally? He's not an outwardly emotional man, but this is big for him. How does he feel about it?
Dredd sort of shows glacial emotion on the surface but below that, he's a big burning churning ball of anger and Biblical rage. Lucky for the 'good guys' (heavy emphasis on the single quote marks there, as the Judges are fascists, let's not forget) that all that ferocity is channelled into the form of The Law. But it'll be very satisfying for him to get hold of Hershey's killer, put it that way.
More broadly, how will Hershey's passing change things in Mega-City One?
A: Not overtly. Hershey left her role as Chief Judge a few years ago now and the position was seamlessly taken over by Chief Judge Logan. That's how the system works.
John Wagner, Dredd's co-creator, had Hershey be poisoned while on an off-world colony some time ago. It was a slow-acting alien pathogen that was going to get her eventually. Dredd's 'friends' don't tend to last long. Hershey managed to survive 40 years. It was a very good innings.
But Dredd's kind of the totem for Justice Department. As long as he's there, they seem strong to the populace. And the Poison of our title is really a double meaning. Along with the substance that killed Hershey, it also refers to doubt that seeps into Dredd's gut as our story progresses. He is a man who trusts his instincts and they've never set him wrong. But what if he can't trust them any longer? Then he's lost. And if Dredd's lost…
How do you feel about the end of Hershey? What does the character mean to you personally?
Well, I wrote Hershey quite a lot in stories like Enceladus and The Small House, and gained an affection for her. So when she left the role of Chief Judge, Simon Fraser and I took her on and wrote four series' of a solo series, of which I'm very proud. We wanted to give agency to a 'retired' female character who was dealing with her slow death, and trying to put things right out in the world before she went.
So, Barbara Hershey's a character I've spent a lot of time with. Poison feels like the right thing to do, to put a respectful cap on the character's legacy. And it's just a thrilling Hitchcockian yarn, I think. Lots of twists and turns along the way.
Judge Dredd: Poison continues in 2000 AD Prog #2355, which is published by Rebellion on October 25. You can buy the first volume of Hershey here.
Eager to get started reading the fearsome future lawman? Here are the best Judge Dredd stories of all time.