Brian Bolland draws the Dredd cover where Joe is judge, jury and executioner, except it looks like he’s in the dock this time, with a gallery of his past foes stood in judgement on him…
The contents page has Tharg make it clear that this annual will be dominated by Carlos Ezquerra artwork, as the King’s Dredd holds up a handheld display device (like a modern mobile phone) with the contents listing on it.
Judge Dredd: The Big Itch! by T B Grover and Carlos Ezquerra. Over in the weekly prog we just had a disease based on a mutated fungus whose spread could be traced to one person who encountered it in Sector 1, before getting in to the general population. In the annual we have a similarly mutated rad-flea who was introduced to the city by a homeless person who wandered through a wasteland in Sector 500 before dying, at which point it spread. Structurally the story starts with a cold open – a full page scene of the effects of the superflea on a cityscape reminiscent of the first King Carlos poster from Prog 3 followed by a Justice Department briefing, a quick flashback to the origins of the plague of superfleas, it’s effects on the citizenry and on to the present for the final one and a half pages. The breakthrough comes when a robot at a munce factory notices that the human operatives are not showing signs of the scratching that has affected everybody else. The order goes out to provide every cityblock with raw munce (which has the unfortunate side-effect of a very strong, bad smell). Pretty soon everyone is stripping off and applying the foul-smelling munce paste. On the streets gas masks become standard dress. I have no idea how things will be in the future (if you’re reading this post in years to come), but as of writing, face masks are de rigueur… Continuity-wise, munce is described as being a ‘new miracle foodstuff grown in the Cursed Earth’ though doesn’t say how new. The story ends in a nuclear explosion, taking out the source of the superflea.
Judge-Speak! is a list of 20 definitions and words. It’s easy enough that I didn’t bother to look at the answers.
Block Mania: How the Madness Spread is filler, showing a map of Mega-City One (the usual low-detail one we’ve seen throughout Block Mania showing the circular central region which is too far to the West to contain Old New York) with call-outs detailing notable events from the story, roughly one per episode, including a pic from the Apocalypse War.
Burt Interviews T.B. Grover is self-explanatory. Things of interest? It’s entirely in-character between Burt and ‘Grover’ so don’t mention that the name is a pseudonym for John Wagner (or that ‘John Howard’ was as well, though does use an old pic of ‘Howard’ by Ezquerra). I do wonder who actually wrote this ‘interview’, I suspect it was entirely John Wagner’s work. Speaking of art droids, TB compliments Bolland, Smith and Ezquerra for their Dredd work, and Belardinelli for Ace Trucking Co. His current favourite books are Damon Runyon’s From First to Last and The Lord of the Rings (though that may just be a comedy answer as an example of a ‘thin’ book) and favourite film is Harvey (which got referenced in a 2010s Dredd storyline, so is a long-term favourite of Wagners).
Officially written by Alan Grant, but you never know who really wrote something from the credits, next up is a Max Normal story (without a title) with artwork by Jose Casanovas. A post-Apocalyptic tale, this one shows how Max’s routine hasn’t changed, even though he’s now the only remaining resident of Ricardo Montalban Block, the tuneful neighbourhood which we saw in the last annual (and which I didn’t mention at the time) is now a wasteland and his regular hang-out now has a skeleton behind the bar. But the main part of the story regards some holdouts from the Apocalypse War – namely some block maniacs who are trying to demolish Max’s block. After getting physical with them, he realises he’ll need to deal with them more permanently and lures them through ten miles of wasteland to the nearest City Reclamation Project where the judges are called to tranq them (so they can be given the vaccine). In a nice development of the character, Max’s eccentricities are shown as having gone a bit further as the informant is having difficulties adjusting to post-War life. More next prog-year!
Text story time, brought to us by Alan Grant and Dave Gibbons is A Day in the Death of Joe Egg. The six pages alternate between flashbacks (causing upset in the life of the titular character) and revenge. Three crimes are committed, two are acting on resentment that Joe Egg has been stewing in for half his lifetime and more while the last is what spurs him in to action and the achievement of an ambition. Following Captain Skank’s destruction of Sector 403, Joe Egg has been suffering from radiation sickness which has eventually led to his condition being terminal. With the last 48 hours of his life (as related to him by a robodoc) he has taken the revenges he’d fantasised about for most of his life though the third is simply an ambition to have his life saved by a judge. Which he achieves by jumping from a high observation platform. As he falls past level 24 an H-Wagon catches him in a cling net. Joe just about has time to thank the judge before his heart finally gives way.
Justice Department Data File: Melda Dreepe. Is filler. Continuity-wise it reveals that Melda was 39 years old during the events of Block Mania.
Judge Dredd: The Comic Pusher by TB Grover and Mick McMahon (surely that should have been John Howard?) – reprinted from Prog 30. This was Max Normal’s first appearance and had “Skinner and Sloper” as a front for comic pushers – speculating I wonder if Skinner is a reference to Dez Skinn (who would have been involved with the comics industry at that point and variously edited Mad Magazine in the year this story was originally published, Doctor Who Weekly two years later and Warrior, around the time this was reprinted) and Ally Sloper (early British comic)? Vid/audio slugs will be making a reappearance in the next few months.
Judge Finlay’s Case Book. Making use of Robin Smith’s ‘Dredd Dead‘ cover, this text feature modifies it to become Finlay’s badge. The name comes from Dr Finlay’s Case Book – a radio series (I think) which ran for decades but stopped before I was born, and around the time that the average reader of 2000AD in the late seventies, early eighties were babies. I find this feature fascinating – mocked-up in-universe newspapers are of variable quality, but this selection of items from Judge Finlay’s feed – which I’d imagine update constantly throughout his patrol on the bike computer – is so obviously a major inspiration for the White Dwarf articles on the Judge Dredd roleplaying game (which will be along in about two or three years). Though the recovered rate for stolen vehicles is actually pretty close to that in the real world. Though I’m sure at some point we’ll get told that the judges only investigate a small fraction of crimes committed, so maybe vehicle crime is one of their priorities? Or maybe the North Sectors were having a good day.
Judge Dredd: Behold the Beast! by T B Grover and Carlos Ezquerra. Centrepiece of the annual, though not as amusing as The Big Itch, this has Dredd transported to another dimension where he’s put on trial, presiding over which is Chief Judge Cal. Also in attendance is a rogue’s gallery of those whom Dredd has faced over the years, though they’re actually just called in to being from Dredd’s memories by Behemoth (the Beast of the title). Lots of threats are made against Dredd, he stands up to them, Behemoth folds and sends Dredd back to Mega-City One. The best bit about it is the perp that Dredd had just arrested when our Joe was transported by the dimension warp. Standing around for a while it’s only when he decides that he can escape as Dredd won’t be back – just as Dredd returns, of course. I’m thinking Ezquerra’s depiction of Dredd is a smidgeon closer to his original pictures of the lawman from the early progs, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this was drawn before The Apocalypse War, as I know some annual work was prepared far further in advance than material which appears in the weekly prog. It’s amazing just how much work Carlos did in this year – three painted colour stories in this annual, a 25-part mega-epic and a few stories following it.
Another text story, though “I was a Teenage Perp!” has starts off with a few panels of comic strip by Brett Ewins and more art interspersed throughout the text written by Alan Grant. The kneepad craze has only been around for around a year (though the person telling us this is only fourteen years old, so there may have been earlier fashion waves for kneepads). I mention this because kneepads are one of those distinguishing features of a 2000AD story. The story is about a juve in the block park who is wearing a flashy (literally, it flashes and is animated) kneepad which sends a robot duck haywire. The duck attacks and destroys the kneepad spurring the juve to kick the malfunctioning robot at his friend (who is finding the whole incident hilarious). The juve’s friend has fast reactions and kicks the duck away but it hits a visiting Citi-Def member, killing him instantly. And that’s how the kneepad-wearing juve became a teenage perp. The whole tale is presented as a statement made to the judges and cleared for civic consumption as a warning to citizens not to lose their temper. Interesting direction for these text stories – a few previous stories have involved taking perps or sleeper agents out of the city and putting them in the Cursed Earth. The two in this annual are much more about life as a fairly typical citizen in Mega-City One (though naturally those who have committed crimes, otherwise their wouldn’t be such a judicial angle on it). There’s a continuity glitch between the script and the art as the Citi-Def member hails from Dennis Tanner Block (in Grant’s words) and Dan Tanner Block (in Ewins’ art). When in doubt, check whether either name features as a character in Coronation Street (Dennis does).
Could you Survive a Holiday in Mega-City One? is a multiple choice quiz (possible scores for answers are -2, 0, 2 or 5) in the format of a questionnaire for potential tourists to take before travelling to Mega-City One. I tried this out with Rachael, who you may know from such podcasts as Mega-City Book Club 67: Otto Sump, who got 57 (with a range between -29 and +75).
Judge Dredd Readers’ Art has seven pictures. One looks like a straight copy of John Cooper pic of Dredd on a Lawmaster from Mugger’s Moon and there’s a few similar copies in other pictures. I always appreciate an attempt at a credit note though my favourites from this selection of readers’ art is Judge Out of Hell and a pic of Dredd without his helmet (his head is expanded out to fill the helmet) – we’re going to get a lot of humourous takes on Dredd’s Dark Secret in the Nerve Centre (if we didn’t get some already).
In Memorium: Judge Giant is filler, including a recommendation for inclusion in the Hall of Heroes from Judge Hershey to the Chief Judge.
Justice Department Data File: Skank is more filler and nothing that couldn’t be gleaned from the Pirates of the Black Atlantic story.
The Mean Machine Gets Married! by Alan Grant and Robin Smith. I think it was obvious by this point that the Angel Gang didn’t get the use they could have before they were killed off in the same mega-epic in which they were introduced, so we get another flashback tale. Obviously the status quo must be maintained as the most noteworthy events from before their Judge Child caper have already been covered in The Fink (Fink leaving the family and Mean getting his arm and dial). In a flashback within the tale, Mean meets another bank robber while pulling a heist on a Texas City bank. The other Angels aren’t happy but Pa blesses the union (though only so that they can extort wedding gifts from the local populace (cash only, 50 cred lower limit)). Seven-Pound Sadie Suggs (named after the singer from Madness and fellow Squaxx?) plays along, though after the new bride wedding tricks Mean in to demolishing the Cursed Earth shack in which the Angels live so that she can steal the afore-mentioned wedding gifts.
Judge Dredd: Komputel by R. Flynn and Mike McMahon from Prog 32. In a more joined-up mega-world there’d be mention of why they’re persisting in opening a completely computer-controlled hotel so soon after the Robot Wars.
Justice Department Data File: Fergee reveals nothing new.
Crossword I treated as a quiz and got most answers right (the ones I got wrong were the ones with ambiguous or multiple possible answers, which would only be revealed if you were actually doing the crossword and had a few letters to narrow them down).
Lawmaster Mk1 Blueprints from Justice Central Design Department Classified. This doesn’t quite make sense, continuity-wise, as the Mk1 prototype gets handed to Dredd and Giant for testing (even though we saw it in use before Giant graduated). More sensible is the Mk II (Rough Sketch) which shows what the differences are, with a suggested nickname of ‘Quasar’ bike. Other than a slightly more rounded mudguard at the front, the differences are a Justice Shield replacing Cyclops TX laser at the front, additional armour on the undercarriage and front and rear bike cannons on either side of the wheels. I think these got used by Citadel Miniatures when they started to make RPG figures towards the end of the eighties.
The Mega-Rackets! Organised crime in Mega-City One, 2103. As you’d expect, this filler summarises the data files that started off the series of stories a year earlier (with a few updates from the outcomes of those tales).
It’s Out of this World! the obligatory advert for the 2000AD Annual, plus solutions to the various quizzes and crossword on this page.
Judge Dredd: It’s Happening on Line 9 by T B Grover and Carlos Ezquerra. The last of the three new painted stories and I have a feeling this one was drawn before the Apoc War too (I think The Big Itch may have been after he’d spent months refining his depiction of the lawman on the mega-epic). This one pokes fun at the vapid nature of radio and TV phone-in shows, where matters of life and death are pushed up against trivial matters. There’s also some social commentary on sleazy advertising claims. The context is somebody calls in to a vid show to inform Mega-City One that they have killed and shall kill again. The reaction from the show? That’s off-topic – call back in an hour during the open line show. During that hour the killer picks a vantage point in the midst of a traffic junction and starts picking off drivers of vehicles. During the second call Dredd arrives and makes short work of the caller. In a move we’ve seen a few times over the years, Dredd then wraps up the broadcast to send a message out to the mega-citizenry. Such is the hectic pace of life in the Big Meg that Dredd gives the clean-up crew ten minutes to clear away the bodies and wreckage and get the traffic moving again. Meanwhile the broadcast show carries on as normal, continuing with its usual programming as if nobody had been killed.
Robin Smith’s badge from the Dredd’s Dead cover gets another airing on the back cover, where it’ll be for the next six years.
Grailpage: I was tempted by the Lawmaster blueprint by an unknown hand, but in the end I’m going for Carlos’ opening full-page cityscape showing the citizenry scratching.
Grailquote: TB Grover, SCRATCH! Citizen: “How could you ain’t – ahh – got the fleas, Judge Dredd?” Judge Dredd: “I’ve got them. I’m just not scratching.” Second citizen: “That Dredd’s a man or ifon! Yaaaah!” SCRATCH!