MEGA-CITY LAW – 10 REASONS JUDGE DREDD IS THE GALAXY’S GREATEST COMIC: (1) APOCALYPSE WOW!
As I said, Judge Dredd is a futuristic Dirty Harry in a dystopian and post-apocalyptic SF satire
So fundamentally the foundation of Judge Dredd is dystopian or post-apocalyptic satire, although the world of Judge Dredd is more accurately post-post-apocalyptic (and so on, with additional prefixes) because recurring apocalypses are a feature of that world. After all, it’s hard to get more apocalyptic than an event called the Apocalypse War…
Spoiler alert – it has!
However, Judge Dredd is more than just dystopian, it is dystopian satire – in that it plays with virtually every dystopian or post-apocalyptic trope, mostly with tongue in cheek for black comedy.
Of course, there are the standard earth-shattering tropes. The apocalyptic event that definitively shaped the world of Judge Dredd was the so-called Atomic Wars of 2070, perhaps not surprisingly for an event written in the heightened Cold War tension of the 1970’s and 1980’s (which thankfully turned out to be the last gasp of the Cold War before the Soviet Union ended not with a bang but a whimper). Interestingly, reflecting more recent times, the apocalyptic weapons of choice moved from nuclear war to biological terrorism – what the Apocalypse War started, the Chaos Bug all but finished.
O 2000 AD! What have you done to Judge Dredd’s – and my – Mega-City?!
However, at least at the outset, the world of Judge Dredd was curiously one of the most populous post-apocalyptic settings, due to the huge conurbations or mega-cities with populations in the tens or hundreds of millions that survived the Atomic Wars because of their missile defense systems. Of course, most of the world outside those cities was laid waste, although some hardy (and mostly mutant) inhabitants live even in these radioactive badlands. The United States essentially separated into its three surviving mega-cities, on each of its coasts around the former heartland of the country, now the Cursed Earth. Judge Dredd’s home city is Mega-City 1 on the coastline of the toxic Black Atlantic, a megalopolis seemingly based on a New York that merged with other cities and swallowed up the Atlantic seaboard from Canada to Florida. It was matched by Mega-City 2 on the West Coast and Texas-City on the Gulf. The Soviet Union (or rather a neo-Soviet Union or Russia) similarly separated into East-Meg 1 and East-Meg 2, which remained opposed to the American mega-cities.
And so you have a world that is both post-apocalyptic and overcrowded, with the world’s population crammed into mega-cities that are themselves socioeconomic dystopias within the larger global and environmental dystopia. In its glory days, Mega-City One consisted of 800 million people, housed in city blocks that resemble vertical towns of 50,000 people or more. This overcrowded city would be dystopian enough in the best economic climate. However, Mega-City 1 has an unemployment rate that is variously cited but is at least 90% due to automation and robots.
The overwhelming majority of the population of Mega-City 1 therefore live in welfare dependency, prone to crime and violence out of sheer boredom and breakdown – crime and violence which is further compounded by the capabilities of future technology. A primary illustration of this is the recurring block wars that would break out between bored city block populations in full urban warfare – one of my favorite characteristic images of Mega-City were block warriors so absorbed in block war that they are still fighting each other as they plummet to their deaths off the city block.
In short, few things are more dangerous to the citizens of Mega-City 1 than themselves. I have two favorite quotes from the comics that illustrate the citizenry of Mega-City 1. The first is from one of the perennial consumer fads that sweep Mega-City 1, usually to destructive effect – in this case, genetically engineered vaguely sentient plant lifeforms marketed as pet ‘couch potatoes’. (The consumer protection division must be one of the most overworked parts of the Justice Department). It emerges that these couch potatoes can exercise a form of mind control – the potential threat is initially dismissed at it only affects those of the most basic intelligence, but as Judge Dredd drily observes “in other words, two thirds of the population”. The second is from two citizens fighting each other in their own block war as a mushroom cloud rises from the city’s southern sectors (in the opening nuclear shots of the Apocalypse War). Personally I’m somewhat proud that one of them had the momentary presence of mind to stop fighting and observe that “they’re using the big guns down south” (before the other characteristically tells him to shut up and they both resume their fighting).
All this has resulted in political dystopia – the authoritarian police state of the Judges (although I would argue that it is not totalitarian or even fascist in the strictest sense, at least in Mega-City 1), a system of government that has almost universally spread across the world (at least to the extent that we can see it). In Mega-City 1, the Department of Justice combines all branches of government, as well as the police and judiciary or in that popular phrase – judge, jury and executioner (although Mega-City justice generally does not involve the death penalty). Summary justice? Try instant justice – as they deliver their sentences at the time of arrest. The perfect symbol of this political dystopia was the Statue of Justice towering over the Statue of Liberty.
However, the most important part of all this dystopian satire is the satire or black comedy. As a recent article in io9 argued:
“What do Judge Dredd, Mad Max and Adventure Time all have in common? They’re three of the best post-apocalyptic narratives we’ve ever seen. And they’re all slightly ludicrous, ranging from outright surrealism to mad social satire. In fact, the best post-apocalyptic storytelling is usually kind of ridiculous”.
Well, perhaps not THAT ridiculous…
The article goes on to argue that absurdism is a necessary feature of the best post-apocalyptic narratives. (Otherwise, you end up with something unbearably bleak and unrelenting – I’m looking at you, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road). I agree. Indeed, Immortan Joe from Mad Max Fury Road would slot in nicely in Judge Dredd’s Cursed Earth. (And as one of my favorite Youtubers, Bandit Incorporated, has pointed out – this is entirely possible in cinematic terms, as they’re both owned by the same company. How awesome would that be?). However, the article omitted two other of my favorite absurdist post-apocalyptic narratives – Futurama (although in fairness, it’s not characteristically a post-apocalyptic narrative, as its post-apocalyptic elements only occur away from the center of the stage, in brief flashbacks – or flashforwards) and the role-playing game Paranoia. The latter actually reminds me a lot of the world of Judge Dredd, although Mega-City One and its Justice Department are nowhere near as utterly dysfunctional (or as utterly played for black comedy) as Alpha Complex and Friend Computer in Paranoia…
The Computer is your friend – you commie mutant traitor!
So whatever your apocalypse or dystopia, Judge Dredd has it for you – and in just the right flavor of black comedy and satire.
MEGA-CITY LAW – 10 REASONS WHY JUDGE DREDD IS THE GALAXY’S GREATEST COMIC (AND DESERVES ITS OWN SCREEN UNIVERSE):
(1) APOCALYPSE WOW!
(2) SCI FI FANTASY KITCHEN SINK
(3) REAL WORLD SATIRE (OR HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE SEXUAL OLYMPICS)
(4) FUTURISTIC DIRTY HARRY (OR DO YOU FEEL LUCKY, PUNK?)
(5) MORAL COMPLEXITY (OR JUDGE DREDD DIED FOR YOUR SINS)
(6) THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE UGLY AND THE WEIRD
(7) THERE WERE 800 MILLION STORIES IN THE MEGA-CITY
(8) ROGUES GALLERY
(9) DIVERSITY OF GENRE AND TONE (OR HOW THE DAY OF CHAOS TORE MY HEART OUT)
(10) THE TAO OF DREDD (PLATO’S REPUBLIC AND HOBBES’ LEVIATHAN)