MEGA-CITY LAW – TOP 10 REASONS WHY JUDGE DREDD IS THE GALAXY’S GREATEST COMIC: (9) DIVERSITY OF GENRE AND TONE (OR HOW THE DAY OF CHAOS TORE MY HEART OUT)
As a sci-fi fantasy kitchen sink, Judge Dredd extends to a diverse range of genres, albeit obviously not pure or high fantasy – and admittedly not particularly hard SF either. Indeed it’s pretty soft on the Mohs scale of SF hardness, what with psi powers and outright fantasy elements – arguably it ranks near the lowest part of the scale, along with other typically comedic or comic greats such as Futurama, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the DC and Marvel Universes, Star Wars and Warhammer 40,000. Of course, it is not primarily science fiction or fantasy – it’s primarily a dystopian satire or black comedy in a science fiction setting.
That said, Judge Dredd does dip into a diverse range of genres, predominantly within science fiction but also within fantasy. As highlighted in this list, Judge Dredd predominantly falls within a post-apocalyptic or dystopian SF setting – but also at times has elements of cyberpunk (as well as other literary ‘punk’ subgenres), military science fiction, space opera (notably in its forays into deep space, such as the Judge Child Quest) and time travel or alternative history fiction amongst others. It remains too embedded in its future world setting to venture too far into fantasy, but even so at times has had elements of dark fantasy or horror (particularly in more ‘psi’ episodes and especially those involving the Dark Judges), urban fantasy (what else given its predominantly urban setting?) and Weird West (typically in the Cursed Earth). For that matter, it has shared elements of genres beyond science fiction or fantasy, albeit in the usual suspects for its central premise – crime or heist fiction, espionage or war fiction, and police drama.
True to its roots in black comedy and satire, Judge Dredd frequently plays with other works of science fiction (or fantasy), generally to the detriment of the latter as they encounter the full force of Mega-City Law. It also has had more substantial crossovers, particularly with other 2000 AD stories (although not always to the benefit of consistent continuity), but also with other publishers – sometimes played for laughs (Mars Attacks Judge Dredd?!), but others played more seriously (Judge Dredd vs Aliens works surprisingly well with the scenario of a xenomorph infestation as a terrorist attack on Mega-City). And of course there was Judge Dredd vs Batman – the ultimate lawman vs the ultimate vigilante. Double the awesome!
And then there is the diversity of tone. Predominantly its tone is that of tongue-in-cheek black comedy or satire. Primarily, Judge Dredd is funny or comic, in contrast to what might otherwise be an unbearably tragic post-apocalyptic setting. As noted before in this list, the best post-apocalyptic fiction is absurdist at heart. Yet even here it can vary, particularly as Mega-City, its Judges and its citizens have engaged more depth of emotional reaction – from comic to dramatic (even with a sense of suspense or horror) and indeed to tragic.
The tragic stories could be heartbreaking or heartrending – they typically involved stories of individuals crushed by life in Mega-City One, often not so much by deliberate cruelty but by the vast impersonal carelessness of the city, and some so that even Dredd was moved by their tragedy. And then the whole city was overwhelmed by tragedy in the recent Day of Chaos storyline. Previous apocalyptic crises for Mega-City had tended to be somewhat absurdist, but there was little absurdist or comic about the Day of Chaos. Even in the Apocalypse War, when half the city was destroyed, it was a little hard to take seriously, perhaps it was on such an unbelievably large scale and we don’t really see it. The Apocalypse War (and for that matter The Day the Law Died before it, equally or even more absurdist as Caligula replayed in the twenty-second century) also set the pattern of future crises, in which Judge Dredd would typically lead a small force to turn the tide and save the city. So that’s what we anticipate in the recent Day of Chaos storyline, waiting expectantly as the Judge battle to save the city from a terrorist biological weapon. Except…they fail.
The Chaos Bug spreads through the city beyond any hope of containment, infecting all it touches with fatal rabid madness. As the poet wrote – “things fall apart, the center cannot hold”. And so the Judges enact their desperate, heartbreaking last resort – city-wide triage, evacuating a small uninfected remnant (only 50 million out of a population of 400 million) to safe blocks, poignantly symbolized by Dredd escorting his niece Vienna to a safe block as the city dies around them. Gruddamn you, 2000 AD – you tore my heart out with that story!
Gruddamnit 2000 AD – I said you tore my heart out!
Perhaps most poignantly in the tragedy is the sense amongst the Judges, not least Dredd himself, that they reaped the harvest that they had sown, in their destruction of Sov city East-Meg One and the distrust of their own population. The city has bounced back, its population rising to 72 million through the return of expatriates, immigration, the acceptance of refugees and most ironically, the formerly second-class citizens of its mutant townships. Yet it remains a shadow of its former superpower self – depopulated and mostly in dangerous ruins, bankrupt and with uncertain future, embattled for its very survival.
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)