In general the aim of this blog is to cover every publication from the House of Tharg (plus a few Tharg-adjacent things that have cropped up over the years) in roughly the order they came out – one blog per publication. When it comes to the newspaper strips, practicality demands a different approach. In 1981, with very little notice, the editorial team of 2000AD were informed by the managerial team at IPC that they were to start producing a Judge Dredd comic strip for the Daily Star tabloid newspaper. I’ve just looked up the details in the introduction by Richard Burton – amazingly they were given twelve days to hand in the first strip! If you just want to get to the coverage of the stories, skip the next paragraph – otherwise I’ll detail how I’m going to cover them.
In the year that I’m covering at the moment (1983) if I were to take this approach I’d be publishing one blog post on the weekly prog then one on the weekend strip published in the newspaper. By the time I get to 1986 (when the newspaper strip went daily) I’d be covering the prog one day then for the next six days I’d be covering the newspaper strips. Impractical, right? How about I just cover the strips as they get reprinted in the annuals, specials, and very occasionally the periodicals (last minute filler when intended artwork didn’t turn up, I gather)? It could be done, but it’d miss out a lot of episodes as reprinting in that way was patchy at best – until we get to the hardback edition published a few years back which printed everything in order from 1981 to 1986 (and then another book covering 1986 to 1989). That’s the third option – one blog post per reprint edition – but these are hefty books, and the first one covers a five-year time frame. So I’ve arrived at what I’m actually going to do – cover one year at a time, from the reprint books (that has its own issues, but it won’t arise for a good few years, so I’ll skate past that). For the next three days I’ll be catching up with the first three years of Daily Star strips. The reason I’m doing it now is because I moved house and couldn’t find out where I’d put my copy of the collection. It was hiding in a box under a bunch of paperbacks.
On to the first strip! Titled Devil’s Island in this collected edition, as you’ll remember from two paragraph’s ago, it was hurriedly prepared with twelve days notice, cobbled together by Richard Burton from the first Peter Harris-scripted Dredd strip from Programme 2 (art by Mike McMahon). First printed on 29th August 1981, this wouldn’t be reprinted until November 2014. This adapts the details of the Judge Whitey story by having Whitey be a Futsie, though the punishment remains the same – no kook cube for the un-named perp in this reduced version – reduced to nine panels, by the way, but still with enough space to fit in an advert to “Follow Dredd’s adventures every Monday in the galaxy’s greatest comic – 2000AD!”
Secur-O-Pod Heist and John Wagner is now free to write the script, with Ron Smith on art duties – so just about all the weekly prog stories Ron has been working on have been in addition to what he was doing for the newspaper! Complete guess, but I think Ron may have been drawing The Hotdog Run around the time he started on the Daily Dredds. Wagner is obviously introducing the readership of the tabloid to a few core concepts: Dredd takes place in a future city, the Lawgiver can fire general purpose and heat-seeker bullets (plus four others, not introduced in this strip) and that the Lawgiver is programmed to auto-destruct if somebody other than its owner attempts to use it. Obviously Wagner can get right down to business a lot quicker as the world is four years old now, and what’s more I think it was much better developed immediately after The Cursed Earth and Day the Law Died mega-epics.
Unemployment Riot sees a slight tweak to the creative team as Alan Grant joins John Wagner and Ron Smith – the team which will last for the rest of 1981, plus the next and I think every year up to 1986! Running contrary to the narrative of the newspaper it ran in (unemployed people are all work shy) this strip takes as its basis a riot by those who are unemployed wanting to work. Dredd shows pity, but arrests everybody anyway – though sentences them to a year’s hard labour, for which they are overjoyed!
Anti-Smoking – basically a re-right of the Prog 23 Smokatorium story though in this story some teenage smokers are subjected to a minute in the smokatorium instead of some bank robbers.
Futsie Loose. Subtle one this, taking place in Alvin Toffler Block – Alvin Toffler being the (real world) person who came up with the term Future Shock in a 1970 book. Contrary to the introductory Star strip, this one proclaims that all futsies are classed as medical cases and put in psycho-blocks. And not on to Devil’s Island then?
Cursed Earth Castaway. The newspaper readers have seen Mega-City One, now it’s time to be introduced to the desolate wasteland outside the walls (plus a mention of the Great Atomic Wars). A mega-citizen finds their way to the city, lost in the desert for seven years. After being stripped and run through decontamination he does the talk show circuit. Until Dredd catches up with him. Before leaving the city and getting stranded in a hoverpod crash he left his cooker on, which caught fire and killed twelve thousand people. The punishment – exile from the city for ten years. This seems like the most original strip so far, and should be as entertaining for those who have been reading the weekly as for those new to the character.
City-Block riot. This is a parody of riots at sports matches (without checking but I assume at the height of the spate of football riots). The sport is jetball and there are two references to block wars, though no explanation of what block wars are. I’m now wondering if the newspaper strips ever depict a block war – I should find out in the next few months.
Citizen’s Arrest – seasoned readers will now what a title like that means. A passer-by makes a citizen’s arrest on a fleeing perp – Dredd, of course, arrests the both of them.
Robo Robbery. Next it’s the turn of the robots as we find out how Mega-City One gets by with all those unemployed people not doing the jobs.
Lawmaster in Action – we’ve seen the Lawgiver, now it’s time for the Lawmaster to shine. Literally when it breaks out the infrared beam. Wary of an ambush, Dredd sends in his bike, alone. And it literally goes in to a building, hunts down and orders the perps to accompany it out. They are unwilling to surrender to a talking bike but see the error of their ways when the laser cannon is let loose. As I’ve said a few times now, lawmasters with character are one of the aspects of Dredd stories we don’t get nowadays and that I really miss.
Crime Blitz sees the premier of the Criminal Code Section 59 (D) as the judges use it to put a big-time racketeer away for a variety of minor offences, adding up to a total of eight years in iso-cubes. As an aside, the criminality of possession of sugar is mentioned, but barely commented upon.
Sus-Animation has a second look at the Lawmaster’s capabilities as a judge is murdered but the bike is untouched. Unlike that previous lawmaster story, this one wasn’t given instructions and so was just waiting around until Dredd turned up. Dredd’s lawmaster’s infra-red beam reveals which of three tunnels the murderer has escaped down. Lawgiver wise it’s time for dodgems (rubber-titanium ricochet) to make their newspaper debut. Not only that, but also the Vaults as the perp was critically injured. This was under the old Justice H.Q. by the way.
Walter. In Neon Knights, somebody referred to Walter as a free robot. In this story the vending droid is specifically called out as the only Mega-City robot to have been granted freedom. Dredd shoots through Walter in order to kill a bank robber. There’s a few great lines where a bystander criticises Dredd for shooting his own robot, for which Walter themself defends Dredd, and points out that the robot can be repaired (while Dredd thinks to himself “More’s the pity”).
Judge Under Arrest – does what it says on the tin – a re-run of Knock on the Door this has a judge using torture get sent to Titan – and shows what happens to judges who get sent to Titan in to the bargain.
Boing doesn’t quite get the Boing® brand identity of the miracle spray-on plastic right (it’s supposed to be in italics apart from the ‘i’). Rather than a ‘joy-riding’ Boing®er, this one is using it as an escape vehicle. They still get an incendiary fired at them so that they get stuck to the side of a block though
Cyborg. A perp on the run is – surprise – a cyborg. The bionic enhancements make him dangerous – using audio-circuits and x-ray scanners to detect Dredd’s approach and bionic arms to punch through a brick wall. Though when Dredd kicks him in the (organic) kidneys he crashes on to a rail track. The fall damaged the cybernetic legs, causing the perp to run uncontrollably in to the path of an oncoming train, or zoom, or whatever the thing running on the rails is.
Perp Runners – less than a year after they made their debut in the prog stories, the perp runners also make it in to the newspaper strips. This one has the runners dump their perps from a great height when they get chased by the judges. Fortunately the H-wagon in pursuit is prepared and manages to dive down and use magnetic clamps to grab hold of the perp pod before it hits the ground.
A Christmas Story – the last story of 1981. 99.9% of citizens have voted for a fine day (thus introducing us to Weather Control). A small group of extremist mega-citizens launch a demonstration demanding snow and threaten to start a riot. Dredd suggest to the Chief Judge (Griffin, un-named) that they oblige – though uses a localised blizzard in a very riot foam manner, trapping the rioters to their chagrin.
Grailpage: Ron Smith, Sus-Animation for the lawmasters, infra-red beams and cityscape view of Justice H.Q.
Grailquote: John Wagner & Alan Grant, perp: “Reprogramming you two to steal for me was the smartest thing I ever did, eh, boys?” Robot: “We have no opinion on the matter, boss!”