I had to double-check as it seemed strange to go from writing about the 2000AD and Judge Dredd Annuals dated 1986 to then go to the Daily Dredds for 1984, but of course I can’t write about the 1985 newspaper strips when we’re still in that year on the prog slog. Another full year of weekly newspaper strips – it later went daily which is why we generally think of them as a daily strip, and that was the name given when they were collected in a hardback edition a few years back. It’s a really impressive collection, by the way – this is the fourth round-up I’ve done. As I start this year I think that the creative team is constant throughout, but if any episodes are drawn by a different artist I’ll mention it on the individual entry. And that creative team comprises of scripts by John Wagner and Alan Grant, art by Ron Smith and lettering by Tom Frame.
Ghost Town has a defiant perp caught by Dredd in a Cursed Earth town. The perp informs Dredd that he has men in every building in the town and that the lawman will never leave the town alive. Dredd sets the lawmaster to destroy the building at the end of the street which it takes care of in very short order by use of bike cannon. Dredd issues a warning / challenge to the perp’s men – they have one minute to leave before he starts on the rest of the town. Just leaving time for a last-panel punchline where the perp accepts his fate and asks what the weather’s like in Mega-City One these days. I wonder if that will actually come up? It’s not been that long since the most recent Weather Control malfunction (that’s not foreshadowing, as I write this I have no idea if weather will come up in later stories).
Justice Dealer has Dredd break up an illegal gambling den. There’s not much more to it than that other than that the only non-numbered playing card we see is the Judge card – though the way it’s referred to (judge high) makes it seem like a stand-in for the ace but does that mean the jack card has been replaced as it’d be a bit confusing to have to ‘J’ cards in a deck. These things are important, grudammit!
Who’s Laughing? A husband plays a prank on this wife by dressing as Judge Death, causing her to have a heart attack. Dredd informs the widower that impersonating a known perp is a crime (this has never come up before, just judge impersonating) and further that as this crime caused the spouse’s death by heart attack, that Dredd is also going to arrest him for manslaughter.
American Kneepads brings news of the Italian City States – though only in as much that they provide high fashion kneepads. Mega-City kneepad manufacturers are not please and start demonstrating at the Atlantic Docks, going so far as to send froggers (frogmen) to commit arson on the ship bringing in the kneepads. It’s a nine-panel story so there’s no time wasted in sentencing the arsonits. All that remains is the mention of digital kneepads due to arrive from Nipcit – that name didn’t age well (while some people might argue that the ethnic slur derives from the word Nippon or Nihon, it should be noted that it only arose in anti-Japanese propaganda during world war II).
Rat-a-Touille offers a rare glimpse of home life for the judge as Walter watches the vid to get some cooking ideas, putting them in to action by feeding Dredd a rat-based dish of the day. Ever the pragmatist, Dredd muses on whether rat food can solve the city’s vermin problem (as well as that issue of food shortage). Even rarer that a view of the judge’s home life, he even compliments Walter on a meal well-cooked!
Dummy Remember that Dredd story where Joe discovers that a suspect has more than one job? Well, one of those jobs was as a human mannequin. The errant perp in this tale could have done with reading that story as he escapes from Dredd by hiding in a shop window. Having lost him, Dredd asks the shop window dummies if they saw a bald man running by, only for the other dummies in the window to reveal themselves as humans and point out the hiding perp.
Hand Walker a megacitizen has walked 500 kilometres across Mega-City One to deliver a petition to the Grand Hall of Justice, only to be killed on the road outside the hall. The reason for the petition? Demanding more pedestrian crossings, of course!
Rash Action Got to be careful when you receive a diagnosis of a fatal condition from a doctor – Ace Garp made a regrettable decision to fly in to the heart of a sun and the perp in this story decides to go on a crime spree, only to be told he doesn’t have a fatal condition after all. He’s got plenty of time to decide whether to laugh or cry – five years, to be precise.
Chem Pool A megacitizen runs up to Dredd begging him to rescue her boyfriend, who’s fallen in to chem pit. It’s already too late as there’ll be nothing to rescue but bones, but Justice Department does dredge the pit to find hundreds of bones from other victims of the pit. Dredd consoles the citizen and surprisingly doesn’t arrest her for being in a restricted area (I can only assume this happens off camera).
Good Neighbour A neat story with comedy throughout. A bank robber is accosted by an old acquaintance as he tries to escape from the vicinity of his latest robbery. This delays him enough for Dredd to arrive on the scene and arrest him. The punchline is that the ‘old friend’ mistook the robber for somebody else…
Dredd’s Bid An underworld auction of judge artefacts is broken up by Dredd. This one has a real feel of Rogue Trooper, when he broke up a similar auction (probably attended by Bland and Brass).
Man in a Suitcase Like Good Neighbour a couple of weeks earlier, this one has a farcical situation – a known repeat offender is caught with a stolen suitcase containing a body. Returning to the scene of the crime, Dredd and the perp locate the original owner of the suitcase only to find there’s an innocent explanation – the deceased died while visiting a friend and, to avoid paying freight charges, decided to take him home in a suitcase, on the bus. Though when I say innocent, Dredd doesn’t see it the same way and arrests the owner of the stolen suitcase with fare dodging. He had to arrest a victim at some point!
Jetpack Snatch A theft, a few panels of action and a pun – a jet-packer snatches handbags, Dredd uses a cling net to catch him and when the concussed perp asks what hit him the lawman replies “The flying squad” which would really confuse non-UK readers as ‘flying squad’ is a nickname for a branch of the (London) Metropolitan Police dealing with robberies.
Minor Disturbance this is a take on the old joke “Your face hurt?” “It’s killing me” – being Mega-City One this results in a street brawl. The punchline is that a passer-by repeats the set-up by the answer this time the answer is “You’re telling me!”
Hairspray Some juves go around attacking megacitizens with hairspray – this spray gives hair to the recipient, resulting in a long haired and bearded victim beseeching Dredd to do something about it. They run, Dredd fires and the juves are covered in the hairspray, suddenly covered in hair their escape is impeded.
Little Arnie Following a tip, Dredd and a squad of judges raid an apartment. They seem to have been fed a false tip until Dredd thinks to look in the handbag of the resident of the apartment – a tiny, foot-high besuited perp hides within (presumably he’s a mutie).
Cruise Block has a luxury flying block return to Mega-City One after a world tour, during which it conveniently missed the Apocalypse War. Some of those below are not happy that the idle rich used their money to avoid the conflict that everybody else had to live through and bring the flying block down. Always ready with a punchline, neither the idle rich nor the perps will be running out next time there’s a war (thirty years).
High Roller Better be careful when opening a skate slope in Mega-City One – if you get your measurement wrong you might kill your patrons (not to mention getting sentenced to ten in the iso cubes for criminal negligence). The patron was Dean Bovril, a take on Torvill and Dean who had won gold medals at the Sarajevo 1984 Winter Olympics in February of that year when they received the highest-ever scores of all time for a single programme. I don’t know anything about sport, but even I knew about them – you could hardly avoid them in the UK that year.
Funny Old World Riffing off of Monty Python and the Life of Brian, a couple of robots bemoan their situation as robots in the Mega-City, performing the dirtiest tasks for no thanks (apart from a pleasure circuit after twenty years of toil). This changes once they see Dredd shoot a perp, suddenly seeing the benefits of being a robot (no taxes, free lubrication, replacement parts). Interesting that other robots get the promise of pleasure circuits – the one time we’ve seen this so far is when Walter saved the city during the Robot Wars.
Free Plumbers A perp charged with a minor traffic offence tries to escape justice by giving Dredd the freeplumbers’ handshake (a parody of the freemasons’ handshake) and earns ten years in iso for his trouble (the first five for attempting to pervert the course of justice and the rest for membership of an illegal organisation). The punchline has a double-meaning: “shake a leg”, meaning to hurry up but also a reference to rolled-up trouser legs (both the handshake and trouser legs are real aspects of freemasonry, apparently).
They Came to Conquer Parts 1 to 3 You know sci-fi stories where aliens come to Earth, granting supernatural powers to a native of the planet? This time they land in Mega-City One and choose badly. Seeing that their chosen victim(?) immediately gets cubed, they instead choose somebody who is already a leader. Dredd! Joe plays along when they approach him, only to trick them in to an iso-cube (is it still an iso-cube if they’re both in the same cube?) They get out (being mighty and powerful beings) and command the judges to bow to their awesome power. Not knowing what powers they actually have Dredd tricks them once again – acceding to their request but telling them that it is a tradition for Earth’s rulers to prove themselves by travelling to the furthest part of the galaxy in a ritual spacecraft. Thus Justice Department brings the S.V. Limpalong out of mothballs and, in Dredd’s words, the problem isn’t exactly solved, “but we’ve postponed it for a few million years!” You just know I had to look this up. We don’t know how fast the (presumably sub-light speed) ship travels, but the distance from Earth to the furthest known point in the Milky Way is approximately 2,838,219,141,774,240,000 kilometres. The current fastest spacecraft (the probe New Horizons) travels at 58537 kmph or MACH 47 so would make it there and back in 11,069,400,000 years. I deny all responsibility if my calculations are wrong. The first multi-part weekly Dredd story to run in the newspaper and I’m not sure it was really worth it (nice solution but the two week’s run-up?)
Norman’s Ark How would Dredd react if Noah built an ark in Mega-City One? He’d condemn it as a health hazard (all those animals) and arrest the builder for eight months, that’s how.
Strike Bound Strange one this – the resolution in Rebellion’s collection is lower than that of other stories and the lettering is larger and not as tidy as Frame’s usual work, so I don’t know what was going on here. Dredd breaks up a protest, no clever denouement, no punchline (other than “not anymore they’re not”). One of the things being protested is food shortages.
Just a Hunch The dodgy lettering continues in to the next story as Dredd investigates an armed robbery with violence. In the food shortage-hit mega-city the only thing stolen was food from the shelves of a shop. Two days later Dredd locates his perps, his one clue – they’re fatties.
Frozen Out! Food again, and this time the robbers break in to the Deep Frozen Emergency Food Centre (Danger! Ultra-Low Temperatures). By the time Dredd declares “Freeze!” you know they’re already frozen.
Target Practice A megacitizen has a life-size photo of Dredd which he uses for target practice. Investigating reports of gunfire, Dredd breaks in, sees the megacitizen pointing a gun at him and shoot. This week’s punchline “Even Dredd’s photo can fire back!”
Dredd’s Day Off Dredd has a vacation day. Though he spends it doing the usual upholding-the-law. The next day: “How was your vacation?” Dredd: “Very relaxing!“
The Glare In the Mega-City equivalent of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders two megacitizens are upset by a juve who glares at them. The juve retorts that there “ain’t no law against glaring” to which Dredd draws the juve’s attention to “Public order act 420, section 34, sub-section 6b: “Behaviour likely to provoke a breach of the peace”… to wit: baleful glaring.” Thirty days!
Big Guy A big megacitizen (how big, about ten to twelve feet tall, if I’m any judge) begs Dredd to arrest him as wherever he goes he’s always picked on by bullies. Dredd tells him to see a shrink (psychologist – would I have understood that pun first time I read this?) – Dredd wasn’t joking…
Squealer Parts 1 to 4 Didn’t Dredd and the Mob Blitzers have something about a mobster arriving from the moon to testify against some high-up figures in the Mega-City One criminal underworld. Or is that low-down figures if they’re part of the underworld? Either way, this informant arrives from at the spaceport to recieve an immediate assassination attempt in the form of an android resembling Chief Judge McGruder (Dredd knows immediately it isn’t her as she’s visiting Brit-Cit). That’s the set-up in the first week’s episode, the second ep has more attacks and complaints from Mickey the Mouth that he was promised protection – Dredd tells him he’s still alive, so don’t complain until he’s dead. After another attempt, Dredd takes the informer down to the sewers to complete the journey to the Grand Hall underground. This time the complaint is about the possibility of catching a disease and Dredd’s retort? As long as it’s not lockjaw, Dredd wants him to talk. No action in the last episode, just the completion of the journey (as Dredd and the informer trail sewage up the steps a bystanding judge orders the steps decontaminated). Final punchline? “Better get him cleaned up first, then he can come clean!”
Hoppit! Dredd’s voice carries such authority that he can even order fleas off of a perp. I have a feeling this story may be non-canon…
Last Dance Very simple story – Dredd tracks down a perp to a nightclub and arrests him when he tries to run. The futuristic angle is that the nightclub has dancing on the ceiling. You may suspect this story was inspired by a Lionel Ritchie song. You’re wrong, that came out a year or two later.
Protection Racket Parts 1 to 4 Not sure this story justifies being turned in to a four-parter, but there are a few good lines along the way – a firebomber is caught and taken for questioning – he refuses to speak until he’s seen his lawyer. This lawyer makes the mistake of insulting one of the interrogating judges (Judge Dokker) and ends up serving three months for using disrespectful language likely to impede a judge “Okay, creep – you’ve seen your lawyer, now talk!” Next episode he pulls the ‘if you cooperate then I won’t charge you’ – then leaves it to Dokker to prosecute him. The last episode wraps it up, but the best jokes are in the middle episodes. Some great characterisation from Ron Smith with Judge Dokker – she’s somewhere between Hershey and Anderson – imagine Hershey if she has a slightly less severe hairstyle and smirked every now and then… By the way, the firebomber’s name is Bomber Frame – there’s little doubt this is an insertion of letterer Tom Frame’s name in to the story.
Seeing is Believing Dredd takes a megacitizen in for psycho-cube observation because he’s running away from little green men with wiggly antennae and big bulging eyes. The last-panel kicker is that there are little green men after him – though you’d expect Dredd wouldn’t be totally averse to the idea of aliens in Mega-City One.
Spare Parts A gang steal spare parts from the Sector 17 Transplant Clinic. There’s a reveal in the penultimate panel, but people familiar with Dredd will already have realised the spare parts will be organs and limbs.
Hover Hotshot A perp takes a hostage (quite a few hostages, actually) but Dredd uses ricochet to shoot him through the head. Though the bullet also goes through one of the hostages before it gets there. Dredd informs the megacitizen that he’ll be repaired (note: not ‘healed’) and compensated and offers thanks for co-operation. The stunned megacitizen can only respond: “Er… any time, judge… I think!“
Not-So-Great Moment in Science (6): The Incredible Disappearing Man / Gross Error In Frank Cannon Block (one of the four fat segregation blocks and former home to Arnold Stodgman) a scientist demonstrates a new slimming capsule though miscalculates the dosage and ends up shrinking down to a few centimetres in height. Unfortunately for the scientist, at this moment a perp bursts through the door, trying to escape from Dredd. Inevitably he gets crushed underfoot. It’s not mentioned that Frank Cannon is a fat segregation block in the pages of this story. Speaking of which, isn’t it about time that the food shortage ends in the weekly progs?
Big Bad Wolf? Latest thing to hit the news is whether the Wolfman of Mega-City One is a mutie (in which case he’d be exiled from the city) or a very hairy norm. He gets shot by a vigilante, though Dredd reckons he might have just made it as a norm – though his nose and mouth look a bit canine for that (in my opinion).
Slimey Gums Parts 1 and 2 In part one a robot bomb disguised as a well-known mobster fails to assassinate Dredd. Dredd, already suspicious, pulled a lawgiver on him even though the mobster was already in custody – when the ‘mobster’ failed to react in any way he shot the robot. In part two we get shades of Prezzel Logic as Dredd deals with the unco-operative (real) mobster by putting him away for thirty days for overparking on the meter outside his warehouse. And when he gets out of the iso-cubes the car will still be parked there, so he’ll go away for another thirty days. Not wanting to do life for overparking, the mobster starts co-operating. He does, of course, get sentenced to life anyway.
Batty Behaviour Death by knitting! A man is discovered dead outside his block, wearing a bat suit knitted by his wife. It was knitted out of chain mail (also the wife was seen pushing him out of the window first). I can’ t remember if we’ve seen actual bat gliders in the daily Dredds yet.
Santa Claus We’ve seen how Mega-City One Justice Department would react to Noah, now let’s see how Dredd reacts to Santa Claus. With suspicion – “Nobody gives anything for nothing in this city!” After a twelve hour interrogation on christmas day the judges finally let the gift-giver go (following a strip search, sending whiskers from the beard to forensic and checking parcels for explosive).
Happy New Year I’ll start with the spoiler, Justice Department puts out a hoax alert for killer bees from the Cursed Earth – which just happens to coincide with New Year’s Eve. Dredd justifies this to a doubtful newly-qualified judge by pointing out the drastic reduction in crime rates, murder, traffic accidents and burglary. “…don’t ask me if it’s right – in my book, that is a happy new year”. There’s something to be said by having everybody stay in and not go out – in the real world crime in the reporting period 2019/2020 (which only included two and a bit months of lockdown) went down by 4%. I wonder what crime rates which included most of a year of COVID lockdowns will do?
In conclusion this year saw a few multi-part stories which would have provided proof-of-concept that ongoing storylines could work, though it’ll be just over a year (January 1986) until we got actual daily strips which I’ll be covering after the 1988 annuals.
Grailpage: lots of great art from Ron Smith, though the final story of 1984 features a Manta Prowl Tank, so that’s always going to sway me. It also has a close up of one of those giant killer bees (though do they really exist?)
Grailquote: Judge Dredd: “Never mind, citizen. You may have lost a boyfriend, but you could be instrumental in clearing up at least 67 missing persons cases.” Megacitizen: “WAAAHHHHHH!” Judge Rocky: “Tact never was Dredd’s strong point!”