MEGA-CITY LAW: UN-AMERICAN GRAFFITI (COMPLETE CASE FILES VOLUME 4: PROGS 204-207)
And now we reach the conclusion of Judge Dredd’s Complete Case Files Volume 4 – with the highlight being the concluding episodes themselves, Un-American Graffiti. Apart from the play on George Lucas’ pre-Star Wars film American Graffiti, these episodes introduced the recurring character of Marlon Shakespeare. Shakespeare – or Chopper as he is known, from his graffiti ‘tag’ – is that rare example of a sympathetic citizen ‘perp’ character. Normally, the narrative places Judge Dredd readers on the side of the Judges – or at least Judge Dredd himself. In these episodes, and those involving Chopper generally, the Judges – and Dredd in particular – are the antagonists, and we sympathize with Chopper against them. It helps that Chopper is not your average Mega-City One ‘perp’. His ‘crimes’, from graffiti to sky-surfing, don’t hurt anyone (well, apart from property damage and the risk assumed by the participants for themselves) and are the actions of a juvenile or youthful citizen yearning to breathe free beyond the huddled masses of Mega-City One citizenry – requiring considerable courage, determination and skill on his part. Of course, they still set him squarely against the Judges and particularly Judge Dredd.
However, we have a few episodes before that first. In Who Killed Pug Ugly?, Judge Dredd solves the murder of the lead singer (or ‘voker’) of a band (part of the ‘ugly’ subculture that originated from Otto Sump’s Ugly Clinics, cosmetic surgery designed to make one so ugly as to stand out from the Mega-City crowd). The band themselves set up the murder to cash in on the fame – but unfortunately for them, the vocal chords transplanted to a new lead singer have a literal mind of their own through “cellulo-psycho regenesis”. In The Alien Way, an alien visitor is assigned to accompany Dredd on patrol. It’s something of a running gag in Judge Dredd for Dredd to be assigned to diplomatic or goodwill missions with predictable results – they don’t end well, as Dredd is not one for diplomacy or goodwill. Although in this case, the alien is representative of an even more hardcore stance on law enforcement than Dredd or Mega-City One – which leads to Dredd arresting the alien for attempting to execute one of Dredd’s arrests. And finally Alone in a Crowd shows there are no Good Samaritans on Mega-City One’s walkways, as ‘tap gangs’ of muggers can target pedestrians with impunity as other pedestrians ignore them out of fear of being next – “The walkway’s a gold mine. You can do anything in there an’ nobody gives a damn, so long as you don’t do it to them!”. As Dredd corrects the tap gang – “I give a damn!”
Now to the highlight of Un-American Graffiti, as the Judges crack down on Mega-City One’s latest criminal fad – graffiti or wall-scrawling. We are introduced to the causes of this criminal fad along with Marlon Shakespeare – the soul-crushing welfare drudgery and boredom that is the lot of most citizens in Mega-City One, with its unemployment rate of 87% or so.
The prospects for a young Mega-City One citizen are bleak. As Shakespeare’s teacher reprimands him for not paying attention in unemployment class – “we’re talking about unemployment here – your future!”
However, Shakespeare has plans beyond unemployment – at night, he is Mega-City One’s most daring graffiti tag artist, Chopper. Most daring that is, apart from his mysterious rival, the Phantom. And so they engage in an escalating ‘scrawl war’, with ever more bold and brazen tag locations – from the white cliffs of Dover (bought and imported as a tourist attraction by a Mega-City One billionaire) to the undercarriage of a Justice Department hover wagon. Admittedly, that last one is impressive.
The scrawl war escalates to a challenge to tag the most judicial landmark in Mega-City One – towering the Statue of Justice. Of course, the Judges are alerted to contest and keep the Statue under tight surveillance, but both Chopper and the Phantom evade the searchlights to climb to the statue’s badge itself. In one final twist, the Phantom is revealed as a robot – a city painting droid that mirrors Chopper’s own quest to escape from the mediocrity of its existence. Unfortunately, the robot is detected by the searchlights – and rather than being re-programmed, the robot decides to go out scrawling, leaping to its destruction and trailing paint behind it. As the Judges apprehend Chopper, he is still in shock at the spirit shown by the robot – and perhaps he shouldn’t be the only one, as Mega-City One might want to review its robots as citizens rather than objects. The Judges take Chopper off to juvenile detention, but he has the last laugh as the heat-sensitive paint he sprayed on the badge is activated by the rising sun to show his tag for all the city to see…
TO BE CONTINUED – COMPLETE CASE FILES VOLUME 5