Judge Dredd Annual 1981: 2000 A.D.’s top sci-fi hero bursts into action!

Judge Dredd bursts through a map of a Mega-City One sector in this Brian Bolland cover.

Tharg introduces the contents page, with a fantastic painting by Ron Smith of Mega-City One by Night. The city looks golden – probably more through a trick of the sunset or sodium lighting than from the blocks looking yellow.

John Howard and Mike McMahon bring us the first of their three Judge Dredd stories with PinBoing® Wizard. Nice to see Boing® making a third appearance (after the introduction of the miracle plastic, and its use in trapping Judge Death). Also nice to see that the branding remains – italicised except for the ‘n’, and with the registered trademark symbol, like so: Boing® (apologies if you’re reading this on a screen-reader or other browser which doesn’t emphasise text formatting). So, in addition to the Palais de Boing®, mega-citizens can now watch contestants play a game of pinball, as the Boing®-enabled pinballs. Into this, Dredd chases an armed gang into the arena, ending up with two of the perps and a Lawmaster acting as pinballs (until the table tilts). The last lines of the strip are “thank Drokk they don’t have replays!”, spoken by Dredd. Not sure about the timing, but there is a replay and I have a feeling I’d have read it before reading this original story – more about that in about five or six years!

Steve MacManus writes The Judge Dredd Story, and (on top of the history as we know from various articles, books, podcasts and the odd documentary) the big revelation is that John Wagner is behind the nom de plume John Howard. Also important was that (while it was still fresh in everybody’s memories) the names of those creators in those early uncredited progs. This article also features the first publication of some early sketches of Dredd by Carlos Sanchez Ezquerra.

Judge Dredd: Law-Giver: The Justice Gun – is a reprint of an Ian Gibson diagram, though this one is in black and white (the first time we saw it was in colour). There’s a lot of text on this one and I’d have covered it previously, so I won’t go in depth on this – though I can’t recall seeing the heatseeker shell being attached to the end of the lawgiver before firing in the comic (I’ll try to pay more attention in future).

The First Dredd reprints the first Dredd tale as written by Pat Mills and drawn by Ezquerra. Things may have changed a little in three years, but some parts are still censored (the bits about executing perps who have already been captured). It then ends with the black-and-white version of the back page of prog 3 (Dredd resuming patrol through a vista of starscrapers).

From A.A. Grant and Casanovas we get Max Normal The Pinstripe Freak! (He’s Dredd’s Informer) After the seriousness of the first Dredd it’s good to have a quirky tale of Max making his way through the Mega-City, feeling the rhythm of the city (literally – the sounds of vehicles and hot dog sellers is his soundtrack). En route to a shuggy hall, we see mega-citizens wearing anti-mugging gear and muggers wearing anti-anti-mugging gear – which we’ll see in a later story. Much later – after I’d started reading in about three years time! Max gets cheated out of money by the Sharkey Brothers (five mutants – just being in the city is a crime, so what Max does next isn’t entirely necessary). Max comes up with a criminal endeavour which he involves the Sharkeys in and (simple plan this) informs Dredd of what they’re going to do. So far Grant’s stories have been variable, this is one of the good ones. Though… Around about this time Wagner and Grant are starting their writing partnership, so some things credited to either John Howard, TB Grover or Grant (or indeed Wagner or Staccato) could be both of them writing together but taking turns getting the credit (and pay cheque).

A map of The Cursed Earth is next, including highlights from the eponymous story, plus more recent excursions in the early episodes of The Judge Child. Plus another story so recent that it hasn’t even appeared yet (it’s going to run later in this annual!

You Are a Judge Quiz – I haven’t done this one yet, so that I can be quizzed so I’ll edit this paragraph once I found out if I pass. Or maybe I’ll be the quizmaster and the person I do this quiz with will be trying to be a judge. EDIT: I was the one who was quizzed. As happens in these types of quiz, some answers are pretty much a guess – if you took Judge Dredd as a lead then you could give examples where he has taken two out of the three choices on different occasions (I’m thinking of the leniency question – “Say you’ll reduce his sentence for robbing the bank” (0 points) or “Thank him, but still give him the full sentence for the crime.” (5 points). Despite such quibbles, I got 56-80 on the survival rating (the top rating, though a medical check at the end of the day reveals I’m suffering from the strain of being a Judge for a day so I could never be a full-time Juudge).

Following up from that reprint of the Lawgiver diagram, next up is Judge Dredd’s Lawmaster, almost definitely by Bill leFevre.

McMahon is working overtime on this annual as he paints a Star Pin-Up (“Issued by Justice Central in the cause of Law and Order” and printed in black and white).

The Changing Face of Dredd! This is a three-page text but mostly pictures feature on the different artists to have drawn Dredd – which, in a nice touch, features early and later work by two of the artists showing how much the design has changed over three years. For fun I’ll see how many source material stories I can identify. Mike McMahon is from the Statue of Judgement, Massimo Belardinelli (is this the first time his full name has been printed in 2000AD publications?) from the Antique Car Heist story (which didn’t show Dredd’s face). Carlos Ezquerra – Dredd’s shooting a gun, it appears in Prog 10 but I can’t figure out which story that is (without looking it up). Ron Turner, probably the Solar Sniper story though possibly the Robot of the Year Show. Bill Ward: Mugger’s Moon. Brian Bolland – looks like one of the moon marshal stories. Ian Gibson – a post-Cal tale, my guess is Vienna. Gary Leach – The Day the Law Died. Brett Ewings (sic – I didn’t add that ‘g’ myself) – could be the DNA Man? John Cooper – The Invisible Man. Dave Gibbons – I think this is the mobster head-in-a-jar story. Barry Mitchell – The Great Muldoon. Brendan McCarthy – the one about the genius kid with the bombs? Ron Smith – one of the Judge-Dredd-goes-into-space-on-the-Judge-Child-Quest covers. Brian Bolland – the cinematic portrait of Dredd on the opening centrespread of the Judge Child. Mike McMahon – The Judge Child (Dredd’s holding the pic of Owen Krysler, which kind of gives it away).

Howard and McMahon are back on Dredd for the fully-painted Compulsory Purchase! This is rather similar in structure to a later story about a mega-citizen who is required to give blood but has a panic attack and ends up doing massive amounts of damage. There are many of the classic Dredd tale elements here though first I’ll moan about how the full-page splash opening is a flash-forward. So those elements – mega-citizens with weird passtimes (Norman reads the back of cereal boxes), the cereal boxes themselves have video adverts which change every sixty seconds, Dredd requisitions Norman’s heart, the transplant surgeon interjects his sentences with laughs while hammering away at an artificial heart and it even has a happy ending for all concerned (despite Norman’s panic attack where he smashes up some hearts, steals one and is almost killed in a horrendous traffic accident). If I’d thought of this story the first image that would have come to my mind would probably have been that of Norman at the end, almost all of his body replaced by artificial components, sweeping with a broom in the organ banks.

And Howard and McMahon don’t even go away for the third Dredd tale: The Fear That Made Milwaukee Famous! The ordering of these stories is a bit strange – Milwaukee is a two-part story though the first part follows directly from a different story. I have suspicions that it may originally have been intended to be run in one go with the Compulsory Purchase story to run where the second part of Milwaukee is, but maybe it was decided that Milwaukee provided a better end to the annual. Or maybe I’m reading too much into this and it ran exactly how it was always intended to run. In the Cursed Earth a convoy is being attacked by raiders (it says mutant raiders in the narrative, but everybody in this part of the story is a mutant, apart from Dredd). Captain Flatface is the leader of the convoy, and I wonder if he’s related to Miss Flatface, the schoolma’am from the Atom Gulch school in The Black Plague? Dredd uses a heatseeker, but we’re focused on the perps (are they still perps if they’re mutant raiders, or just creeps?) so don’t see if he has to place it on the end of the barrel first. I might be wrong but I think we get our first view of some dog vultures in this story. I like dog vultures – some day I’ll incorporate them in a game of Dungeons & Dragons (or other roleplaying game). I wonder if they’re related to the High Mountain dog-eagles from the 2000AD Annual for 1981? Before listening to the Space Spinner 2000 coverage of this annual, I’d have had no idea that there was a brand of beer called ‘Schlitz’ or that ‘The beer that made Milwaukee famous’ is its slogan, so the titles of this story has always gone completely over my head! We’re not told what the reason is, but Dredd has a warrant for the arrest of the leader of the raiders, a mutant by the name of Rhode Island Red (that’s a breed of chicken – you may know this, but I wouldn’t have, not first time I read this story as a child). His trail leads close the city of Milwaukee, which was destroyed by a stray missile in the war. By the end of the first part’s nine pages, Dredd has handcuffed Red and is being chased by the raiders.

Trans-Time Holidays Invite you to Mega-City One. It’s not credited, but it reminds me a lot of a feature that ran in the editorial pages of the early 1980s Eagle Comics reprints of Judge Dredd (I think I was getting those in 1983 or 1984). At least one of those features was written by Nick Landau, so I’m going to assume it’s all reprinted and reformatted from here. This is a guide to the Mega-City, told in the format of a (time) travel brochure from the 24th century. As you’d expect, it’s almost entirely descriptions of things we’ve seen in the weekly prog and is good for what it is. If you hadn’t read many of the stories then this would be a good introduction to some of the buildings, crazes and events that have run so far. There’s a bit at the end for ‘newies’ (the word ‘newbie’ obviously not invented yet!) that has a few examples of dated humour when it describes a few other Trans-Time holidays – cue the out-dated humour and racism (you can visit China, but it’s a “take-awayday only”), though at the same time there’s a streak of black humour as it details some of the imperialist atrocities that have been committed throughout history (“laugh as the Conquistadores loot and pillage friendly natives” and “help the criminal settlers decimate the indigenous population”). This feature ends with a few spoof adverts interspersed before and after that list of holidays.

Walter the Wobot: Fwiend of Dwedd. In lieu of an official title, I’ll call this one ‘Eisner Block’, because that’s where it’s set. As you can tell from the setting, this story wears its influences on its sleeve as it tells a tale of multiple people in the office block. Looking up the book called the Elevator I found out just how closely this was inspired – check out the first page of Eisner’s story and compare it to the first page of Walter’s tale. Walter has gone to a dodgy jewellery dealer to buy a present for Dredd, though this story focuses on the other people in the building as he leaves it, late at night. There are thieves, terrorists, murderous lovers and greedy bosses. And Walter. This has to be the best Walter tale we’ve had so far – much better than the one-page set-ups for not-very funny jokes (though I still like Ygor and his new mistress on the moon). McCarthy’s artwork is also much more suited to this noir story than some of the Future-Shocks and covers he did in the early days.

Another diagram reprint, this time Walter’s Works by Kevin O’Neill.

It’s an annual, so it must have a text story – this one is Mad Tooth’s Run by Jack Adrian with some pictures by Dave Gibbons. Jack has obviously been re-reading the features so far, as explicit mention is made of how long it takes to screw the heatseeker shells on to the end of lawgivers. And those starscrapers I mentioned earlier? They’re called stratoscrapers here – must more futuristic sounding! This starts off with Joseph ‘Mad Tooth’ McKill about to be captured by the judges. He gets his name from modifications made to his mouth, resulting in weaponised teeth. Using one of these teeth to take out a judge, he gets hit by a heat-seeker. Miraculously, it’s a dud and he survives. Riding on the exhilaration of surviving an almost certain death, he takes out more judges and stumbles across a top mobster (who he also elminates). On his way to Justice Central to kill Dredd, he comes across some other mobster high-ups, riding the sky-rail. It was at this point that I figured it was going to end up as a dream-sequence. He kills the mobsters, uses a glide-chute (those personal hover-chutes used in Firebug) and lands just as Dredd emerges from Justice Central, slicing the lawman in two with a laser. Cut to the real world and two judges discuss the last words of McKill as he died from the heatseeker, which wasn’t a dud at all… This was another so-so story, but along with my pet hate of most flash-forwards at the beginning of stories I also really dislike ‘it was all a dream’ endings – they’re just so lazy, for when writers want to put characters in inescapable predicaments and can’t be bothered to come up with a way for them to escape.

Rogan and O’Neill write, and O’Neill draws Shok! Walter’s Robo-Tale. Rogan is an alias for Steve MacManus and this story is fantastic, not least because it inspired (unofficial) film adaptation Hardware (post-apocalyptic film with cameos from Iggy Pop, Lemmy and Carl McCoy, sometimes called Mark 13). This mixes some of the best elements from the Cursed Earth with Kevin O’Neill’s burgeoning art style. This reads like a missing Comic Rock tale (even though it wasn’t written by Uncle Pat), with elements of the overlanders on the travel tube when a mega-citizen ignores her daughter excitedly pointing at Lyn as she screams for help. I’m getting ahead of myself – Mike is a stratbat pilot who appears to have a girl in every port, and for the one in Mega-City One (Lyn) he brings a present – the remains of a SHOK war droid from the Cursed Earth. While called away, the war droid reactivates, leeching power from a domestic vacuum cleaner robot. Programmed to kill humans, the partially-reassembled robot goes on the rampage. Despite an initially successful resistance against the robot, the epilogue shows that the SHOK trooper has survived. This story stands proudly beside Kev’s Deadlock episode and Terror Tube.

The conclusion of the Milwaukee story brings the annual to an end. The chase continues as Red’s gang try to retrieve their leader, but Dredd’s having none of it. Dredd’s Lawmaster takes some damage, and the route back to the city lies through the ruined city of Milwaukee. Some of Red’s men are hesitant to follow (and get shot for their concerns). As the sun goes down, the lights come on – ghost lights in a fairground populated by the ghosts of Milwaukee’s residents. They undead hordes take care of Red’s men, though when they turn their attentions to Dredd, the lawman monologues to the ghosts that the bomb that killed them was an accident, but the next bomb – twenty times the power, won’t be. They take the hint and fade away, never to return (not that I’ve seen, anyway). By the way, it was all a bluff – Dredd had no way of contacting Mega-City One as his hand-held radio isn’t powerful enough!

Grailpage: There is so much great art in this annual – the contrast with the same year’s 2000AD annual couldn’t be greater. So Ron Smith’s contents page painting showing a red hover-vehicle above the golden blocks of the mega-city has won against stiff competition.

Grailquote: A. A. Grant, Judge Dredd: “Thanks. Oh, and Max – hang loose, baby.”

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