Mega-City Law: Mega-Rackets (Complete Case Files Volume 5: Progs 208-212)





Judge Dredd Complete Case Files Volume 5 opens with some of the various criminal ‘mega-rackets’ that, well, rack Mega-City One. However, for crimes that occur in 2103, they’re not particularly futuristic or technologically sophisticated – mostly parallels or counterparts to contemporary crimes, with one or two exceptions or futuristic spins.


First, however, we have a short interlude in prog 208 with “The Problem with Sonny Bono Block” – poor Sonny Bono Block is the result of the city’s department of housing deciding to put all its problems into one block. While the Justice Department reigns as the supreme executive, legislative and of course judicial authority within Mega-City One, it apparently does delegate or leave some administrative functions – typically involved with housing or welfare – with the city council and its democratically elected Mayor of Mega-City. The result is predictable – the delinquent residents soon trash the shiny new block into a slum, much to the disdain of neighboring blocks. What was less predictable was Sonny Bono Block’s (incompetent) attempt at revolution and declaring independence from Mega-City One. That attempt is thwarted by a single Judge, albeit that Judge is Judge Dredd – who also deduces that the residents’ (latest) irrational behavior as well as much of the block’s (latest) structural decrepitude actually came from a sonic wave generator operated by the Citi-Def unit of the neighboring Patsy Ann Noble Block because of the aforementioned disdain. Ah, Mega-City Citi-Def doing what it does best – attacking other blocks. So they’re the ones who end up arrested – with the residents of the now condemned Sony Bono Block moving into vacated units of Patsy Ann Noble Block.


In progs 209-210, we have the first of the Mega-City Rackets – body sharks. Essentially, they’re the same as contemporary loan sharks, complete with savagely usurious interest – except whereas contemporary loan sharks enforce payment through bodily harm, body sharks do so through actual bodies as security. Typically not the borrower themselves of course, but some cooperative relative as security.


As the opening narration explains, body sharking – or the illegal dealings in the bodies of living humans – is one of the most prevalent crimes in Mega-City One, as “one citizen in every four will have dealings with a body shark in his (or her) lifetime”. Although I find that statistic a little questionable, given that a substantial proportion of Mega-City One’s population would end up on ice (particularly with the extortionate practices of the body sharks in these episodes). Of course, that statistic may also include those citizens who find themselves put up as collateral – or the citizens that then trade in the bodies for whatever shady purpose, presumably mostly organ transplantation (as we see in later episodes dealing with organ-leggers).


The mechanism for body-sharking is of course something we’ve seen in an earlier episode – the suspended animation that can prolong life indefinitely, such as that used in the homes of the semi-dead for those citizens dying of terminal diseases, to spin out their last days over years of family visits. The more cut-price ones also are fronts for literal body shops – or more precisely body banks – for body sharks.


A recurring theme in these mega-rackets episodes is that the Judges rarely get the mob bosses themselves, despite knowing their role in the mega-rackets, as the bosses keep themselves clean – and more fundamentally, lawyered up. Which of course goes to Dredd’s origin as a futuristic Dirty Harry, but rather belies the nature of Mega-City One (and Judge Dredd) as fascist, or at least consistently fascist. I mean, what self-respecting fascist police state is thwarted by lawyers – or the law for that matter rather than resorting to arbitrary arrest?


Just arrest them all, Judge Dredd – defense lawyers are just accessories after the fact


Anyway, Dredd gets a lead into the body sharks from the citizen who offered up his wife as collateral and then has to resort to (botched) theft to avoid defaulting on the loan. Although once again, Judge Dredd only apprehends the “small fry” operating the individual body bank rather than the big fish behind the body-sharking.



In progs 211-212, we encounter perp-runners and chump-dumpers, two sides of the same criminal coin – which we know in contemporary times as people-smuggling. Perp-running is smuggling Mega-City criminals fleeing Justice Department off-planet. Naturally, the perp-runners make even more profit by reneging on their end of the deal and selling the perps into alien slavery. They then use the empty spaceships for chump-dumping – people-smuggling or more precisely alien-smuggling would-be alien immigrants back to Earth, except of course only to dump them into space. Even if they do look like dolphins.


So long and thanks for all the fish, suckers!


Of course, Dredd having come on board impersonating a perp through the usual face-change (but having been detected and captured), foils the plans to dump him and the usual alien chumps.



Mega-City Law – Complete Case Files Volume 5





The Law at war!


Judge Dredd Complete Case Files Volume 5 features progs 208-270 (or years 2103-2104 in the timeline). Its centerpiece is of course the Apocalypse War and its prelude Block Mania, still my favorite Judge Dredd epic. The latter is Mega-City One at war with itself, with block wars being fought throughout the city, as teased in Block War episode in Volume 4 – which introduced the occasional wars fought between residential blocks (each numbering tens of thousands in population).


It sure does, Judge Dredd, it sure does.


However, Block Mania is only a prelude to the Apocalypse War, in which Mega-City One fights all-out war with the Sovs.





Of course, that was somewhat more topical with the new height of the Cold War with the Soviet Union at the time of its publication in the 1980’s, although that turned out to be the last gasp of both the Cold War and the Soviet Union (so that the Sov-Judges or Sovs in Judge Dredd must presumably be a neo-Soviet revival).


Anyway, conflict with the Sovs had been teased ever since Judge Dredd faced off Sov-Judges in the lunar Olympics.



The Sovs became a more direct threat to Mega-City One itself in subsequent episodes, notably the recent Pirates of the Black Atlantic. And Mega-City One has been trading blows (or weapons of mass destruction) with the Sovs ever since – they’re still at it even in the current issue as of this post.



So Block Mania and the Apocalypse War fall into that general category of Judge Dredd epic storyline in which Judge Dredd faces an existential threat to Mega-City One itself. And it doesn’t get much more of an existential threat than the Sovs – for all the various threats faced by Mega-City One, including omnicidal extradimensional super-fiends, the Sovs have been the most persistent, effective and dangerous. The Apocalypse War is the most epic of Judge Dredd epics, featuring an unrivalled epic scale in which literally half the city, both in terms of size and population, is wiped out. Only Chaos Day came close – in which the other half of the city is almost wiped out, again by the Sovs. Does Mega-City One win? Well, you should see the other city. East Mega-City  one, that is – the Soviet mega-city.


Spoiler alert – you can’t.


There are other episodes before we get down to the epic storyline that is the majority of the volume, particularly a number of episodes featuring the strange face of future crime in Mega-City One – body sharks, perp runners (and chump dumping), umpty baggers, blitz agencies, psycos, numbers rackets, stookie glanders and mob wars. We’re also introduced to the lethal mutant Gila-Munja from the Cursed Earth, as well as the so-called hotdog runs, that baptism of fire in the training of Judge-Cadets by missions into the Cursed Earth itself.


Speaking of existential threats in general and omnicidal extradimensional super-fiends in particular, Judge Death returns in the Death Lives story arc. And this time, he’s brought friends – the Dark Judges (of the Apocalypse).







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…




Mega-City Law: Rogue Lawmaster (Complete Crime Files Volume 4: Progs 202-203)




One of my favorite single episodes, prog 203 deals with a rogue Lawmaster. It’s always been an amusing part of Judge Dredd’s dystopian satire that Mega-City One Judges ride the streets on their Lawmaster motorcycles armed with their Lawgiver guns. Both are as over the top as the Judges’ uniforms.


As one comics commentator (Chris Sims of Comics Alliance) marveled at Dredd’s uniform and motorcycle


“The one thing you can get just by looking at that dude? He has a lot going on. The costume is blindingly ornate, almost overwhelming in just how much there is to it — you can’t really take it in all at once, and when you throw in the fact that he’s riding on a motorcycle with five headlights, four exhaust pipes, two machine guns and a Crash Bomber stuck to it, it’s ridiculous. There’s just too much. Which is, at a single glance, the perfect representation of Dredd and his world”.


So of course when a Lawmaster goes rogue (from damage to its computer), it is deliciously over the top. We get to see one of the finest uses of Dredd’s catchphrase (“I am the Law!”) and some black humor at the collateral damage the Judges do in keeping Mega-City One ‘safe’ (from their own equipment) – although the episode is somewhat poignant in the context of modern shooting sprees, given that the rogue Lawmaster essentially goes on one.


But first we have the preceding episode in prog 202. It features that common offshoot to those recurring disastrous consumer fads in Mega-City One – the equally disastrous fad TV shows. We’ve already seen one with Sob Story – now this episode features Any Confessions?


It’s a game show in which contestants compete with each other to confess the most serious crimes (and are immediately arrested by the Judges). Dredd is not impressed, believing that the show incites crime, and he’s right. Not just in a feature of Mega-City One life introduced in this episode, citizens making spontaneous confessions to crimes they may or may not have committed – but more seriously, Dredd identifies that future contestants of the show are committing crimes for their appearance. Despite proving it, the Council of Five reject his motion to outlaw the show – but conveniently two future contestants pick that very moment to attempt the assassination of the Council to scoop the prize jackpot. Deputy Chief Judge Pepper (to whom we were introduced back in The Day the Law Died) is mortally wounded, using his last breath to reverse his previous vote and vote for Dredd’s motion.



Now on to that rogue Lawmaster, introduced with a spiel that with its “Synitron GK13 Audio Computer, Notron 4000CC engine and Cyclops Phylon TX laser cannon”, it is one of the most deadly fighting bikes ever devised. Although there’s not exactly a large pool of candidates for that title, as a motorcycle lacks that primary advantage of other vehicles, fighting or otherwise, for its operator – cover.


As the episode opens, we see a Judge Gorman shot and injured by munce raiders – munce being the main synthetic meat product of Mega-City One, although I wouldn’t have thought there was enough of a black market in it for raiders. Worse, his Lawmaster’s computer is damaged – by a lucky hit as Gorman calls it, or an unlucky one for everyone involved, as it first goes out of control mowing down the perps and then turns on Gorman:


“Bleeding on the public highway is an offence against the Litter Act! The sentence is six months!”




Of course, by six months, it means gunning Gorman down, or rather, dead. After all, its law enforcement options are limited to its bike cannons. It’s as limited in its design as the ED-209 law enforcement droid in Robocop, which doesn’t have any options other than the two cannons for ‘arms’. Or for that matter, the Jedi with their lightsabers in Star Wars – whose minimum response is limited to lopping off a limb or two.


Dredd responds to the alert call – he has to as we’re told that a rogue Lawmaster is automatic priority one rating and all judges in the area must respond. And no wonder given the sheer danger a rogue Lawmaster is to Mega-City One citizenry: “Loitering with possible intent! Sentence – three months probation!”


Of course, it makes no difference what sentence the Lawmaster pronounces – it’s all the same sentence as it guns everyone down.


The responding Judges attempt to bring it down, but that’s not easy. “Lawmasters bear extensive 12mm armor plating. Firelock all-weather tyres are bullet-proof. Only an accurate shot – or a lucky one – can damage them”. (So there you have it – every Judge is the equivalent of Batman with the Batmobile).


“Conspiracy to damage Justice Department property! 2 years penal servitude!”


The Lawmaster continues to evade the efforts of the responding Judges (although Dredd remains in pursuit) – all the while continuing with its garbled pronouncements of crimes (with sentence of death by gunfire, regardless of what it says):


“Lawbreakers in force! Taking avoiding action! I’m letting you off with a warning this time, citizens!


“Walking on a public walkover! Remanded for psychiatric reports!”


Dredd tries to intercept it, but not before it gets on the monorail and pronounces sentence on the passengers with virtual glee:


“What have we here? More lawbreakers by the look of you!…All must be punished!”


Dredd successfully boards the monorail, but unfortunately not before the Lawmaster’s shooting spree of the passengers. The two of them face off in a futuristic gunfight. The Lawmaster pronounces “Interfering with a Lawmaster in the execution of its duty is a serious offence. Sentence – 20 years!”


And Dredd’s reply? You KNOW his reply! “You got it wrong. I am the Law!”



And as the episode pointedly repeats, “only an accurate shot – or a lucky one – can disable a Lawmaster”. Dredd’s shot is accurate – piercing the fuel tank with a high explosive round, which takes out what little was left of the monorail train. Although the lone survivor does thank him, with a nice touch of black humor.




Mega-City Law: Pirates of the Black Atlantic 4 (Complete Case Files Volume 4 Prog 201)





Out of the frying pan, into the…tentacles of a giant mutant octopus. Mmm…calamari.


Okay, that’s not how the saying goes, but Judge Dredd certainly finds himself fending off more tentacles than your average anime, as the mutant sea-beast Captain Skank calls mother comes to Skank’s rescue.


These tentacles are particularly savage as each has its own carnivorous head. Dredd hacks his way through them with a stray cutlass (having lost his Lawgiver pistol in the first onslaught), but the sheer number threaten to overwhelm him until he severs an electric cable – electrocuting both Captain Skank and his monstrous ‘mother’ (while Dredd is protected by his suit’s insulation).


Meanwhile, his fellow Judges have taken the pirate base. Firstly, Dredd releases the captured Mega-City scientists and Jenno Matryx confesses that she built the warheads as Skank would have killed her and her colleagues. Dredd is not impressed – “And now millions are dead. You had a hard decision to make, Citizen Matryx. You made the wrong one. Take her away”. I tend to agree with Dredd on this one.


Secondly – and more fundamentally for the future – it was a Sov plot all along!


As Dredd is musing what could have led Skank to launch the attack on Mega-City with no conceivable benefit, Judge Giant recovers some sort of remote control from Tuskarosa – a remote control for Captain Skank! Although that begs the question of how Skank seemed to act independently of Tuskarosa just last episode – did Tuskarosa forget to push the button or something? Anyway, the plot thickens when Tuskarosa’s mutations are revealed to be artificial – and surgically removed to reveal…Nikita Kramm, one of the Sov-Blok’s top agents! Although I suppose that Soviet red star tattooed on his forehead is a bit of a giveaway…



As Dredd returns to Mega-City One, the death toll is four million and counting (somewhat small fry for one of Mega-City’s epic disasters). As Dredd informs the Chief Judge and Mega-City Security  Council (somewhat misnamed for Mega-City One’s Security Council, rather than the suggestion of something like the United Nations Security Council) – “The Sov-Blok thought they could hit us through Skank without retaliation”. Ominously, Dredd intones “As I see it, there’s only one course of action to take now” and Chief Judge Griffin agrees.


No, it’s not all-out nuclear war but something of an exchange in equivalence. That afternoon, a Justice Department craft arrives in Sov-Blok airspace and lowers a coffin. Inside is of course Nikita Kramm and also “a curt note” from Dredd himself – ready when you are, reds!



Soon, the top-ranking Sov Judges meet to discuss their lack of options – “What can we do? We are not ready for a full-scale war – not yet!”. And so the Sov Judges agree – “They must be appeased. We must make a…gesture!”. And that gesture is detonating one of their own ten-megaton warheads in East-Meg One.


Hmm, not exactly détente. And the old Cold War looks like getting hot in the future – or again, given there’s already been the Atomic Wars. There’s that ominous emphasis by the Sov Judges that they are not ready for full scale war…yet. And Dredd too urges that Mega-City One will need to look to its defenses – “Sooner or later, the Sov Block will feel strong enough to strike again. Then the solution may not be so simple!”. Try sooner rather than later, Judge Dredd. Indeed, next volume…




Mega-City Law: Pirates of the Black Atlantic 3 (Complete Case Files Volume 4: Prog 200)





No one nukes the Big Meg and gets away with it!


Well, at least in these episodes – the point may be more arguable in later episodes, particularly in these post-Chaos Days, that Mega-City One doesn’t always give as good as it gets.


For now, however, Judge Dredd is commanding the Justice Department’s patrol craft (that doubles as aircraft and submarine), bent on exacting one thing upon the mutant pirates of the Black Atlantic – retaliation!


Not surprisingly, the Justice Department cuts through these ragtag pirates easily, like those special forces we always see cutting through henchmen in James Bond film finales. However, Captain Skank seems curiously unconcerned when chief mate Tuskarosa alerts him to the Judges boarding his submarine base. What is concerning is Tuskarosa’s thought bubble as he decides discretion is the better part of valor – “Crazy devil! Well, Skank’s served his purpose. I’m getting out while the getting’s good!”


Skank’s served his purpose? Obviously, there’s more to this – and Tuskarosa – than meets the eye. No more thought bubbles though for Tuskarosa as he is gunned down by the Judges.


Meanwhile, Dredd goes after Skank personally – and after an initial tangle with Skank’s cyborg dreadlocks, Dredd seems to get the better of him. However, Skank has one last trick up his sleeve – in the form of his giant mutant octopus ‘mother’ waiting for his call…




Mega-City Law: Pirates of the Black Atlantic 2 (Complete Case Files Volume 4: Prog 199)




Mega-City One gets nuked!


Not the whole city, mind you – just sector 403, with the aptly named Bob Oppenheimer Block in the epicenter of it, as “a Class K nuclear projectile penetrates Mega-City One’s laser defense screen” and the poor Bob Oppenheimer Citi-Def force looks haplessly on. And they had hazmat suits and everything.


Also mind you, it won’t be the last time Mega-City One gets nuked. Just saying.



The episode then flashes back to the source of the missile – cyborg pirate Captain Skank using the kidnapped nuclear scientist Jenno Matryx to install warheads in thirty missiles. Of course, it might have occurred to her to think what exactly pirates of the Black Atlantic would do with thirty nuclear missiles, as there would only seem to be one target close at hand, Mega-City One, and perhaps Iron Man herself out of her hostage situation. You know, rig up the warheads to detonate within the pirate base itself and hold the pirates to ransom (to release her and her colleagues), or just taking out the pirates in a worst-case scenario of heroic self-sacrifice. Even Captain Skank seems surprised at her lack of foresight (and distress) when he gives the order to nuke Mega-City One – “What’d ye think I wanted the warheads for, little lady? Zzz! Shooting mutiegulls?”



The thirty missiles fly past a Justice Department patrol aircraft, commanded by Dredd – its lasers intercept two of the missiles, but the others are then out of range and en route to Mega-City One: “Alert the city! Priority double red!”.


Along Mega-City One’s Atlantic Wall, the laser defense teams are waiting (although I would have thought that it was predominantly computers or robots) – “We’ve got to vape them before they splinter!”. Splinter that is, into the fifty independently functioning warheads for each missile. (Matryx must have been busy installing one hundred and fifty warheads, assuming fifty warheads to each missile).


Sure enough, one of the missiles splinters, but the laser defense screen catches all but one of the warheads, so the damage will be “minimal” – which brings us back to the stray warhead coming down on Bob Oppenheimer Block. As luck and blackly comic timing would have it, Bob Oppenheimer Citi-Def were practicing their nuclear survival drill – nil in this case, as they didn’t expect an actual nuclear missile up this close and personal.


Justice Department moves quickly in response. In Mega-City One, weather control stations clear the fallout from the skies, while in the Black Atlantic, Judge Dredd’s patrol aircraft identifies the launch point and goes into submarine mode (“convert to sub-sea status!”) to take the battle to the pirates themselves – “Let’s get those murdering scum!”



Mega-City Law: Pirates of the Black Atlantic (Complete Case Files Volume 4: Progs 197-198)





Judge Dredd does Pirates of the Caribbean! Literally, as in mutant submarine pirates (or are they?) operating out of an underwater sea fortress in the Caribbean. There’s even a version of the Kraken. Where’s the check, Disney?


Anyway, the Pirates of the Black Atlantic had a significance extending beyond its four episode story arc and its mutant pirates to foreshadowing the escalation of conflict with Mega-City One’s most persistent adversaries, the Sov-Judges of East Mega-City One (and Two). And by escalation – we’re talking Defcon One…



However, before we get to the Black Atlantic, there’s a single episode in prog 197 wedged between the previous story arc of The Fink and The Pirates of the Black Atlantic. While it lacks the dramatic impact of the latter, this episode does have some noteworthy features. In particular, as authoritarian as Mega-City One is, it still operates under the rule of law (and arguably is not fascist as such). The Judges simply can’t arrest someone without evidence of an offence. Torture is illegal and a confession extracted by torture will result in a conviction (albeit the instantaneous convictions dispensed by street Judges) being quashed – although that’s perhaps taking a very narrow view of torture given the extent of judicial interrogation techniques stopping short of physical injury. And as we’ve seen, Judges who infringe the law are dealt with by the Special Judicial Squad with a mandatory twenty years imprisonment in the penal colony on Titan upon conviction (although again that perhaps fails to distinguish between degrees of infringement of the law).


As for the episode itself, Judge Dredd and Judge Turpin apprehend a citizen for a minor street offence, but only after fleeing them first – arousing their suspicions of more serious offending. However, a crime blitz of his apartment finds no evidence and he doesn’t break under interrogation. So Judge Turpin beats a confession to a numbers racket out of him back at his apartment. Dredd had ordered ‘spy-in-the-sky’ drone surveillance, which recorded the beating. Dredd hands Turpin over to the SJS and the conviction is quashed. As Dredd releases the man from custody, he off-handedly asks the friendly question “Think nothing of it…tell me…just between us, did you run that numbers racket?”. The man stupidly replies in the affirmative, although in fairness he immediately realizes his stupidity, and Dredd arrests him again – because “while a confession obtained by torture is illegal, a confession obtained by deceit will stand up in any Mega-City court of law”. (Of course, the Judges are usually their own court of law – and I might note that while confessions can effectively be obtained by deceit, Judge Dredd’s little trick here probably wouldn’t hold up in the contemporary United States or in countries with similar legal principles).


On to the Pirates of the Black Atlantic, it opens with the titular pirates issuing forth in submersibles from the “great war sea fortress” they’ve taken over under the titular polluted Black Atlantic. (We last saw the Black Atlantic when the Sovs previously menaced Mega-City One and Dredd thwarted their attempt to steal the secrets of the city’s laser defense system – a significant premonition of the present storyline). The pirates are commanded by their Captain Skank, complete with cyborg dreadlocks, and his equally feared second mate, Tuskarossa, complete with, uh, tusks in a savage mutant underbite. The pirates attack a Mega-City research vessel. Unfortunately, the vessel’s solar-powered laser defense system has the flaw of being dependent on its solar panels – which are destroyed. Hmm – what about back-up batteries? Captain Skank orders the scientists to be spared but the rest of the research vessel crew (those not killed taking the ship) is fair game. And by fair game, I mean thrown overboard into the Black Atlantic, where they die within minutes from the toxic pollution.


An aerial patrol of Judges arrive, presumably after a distress call, but find only corpses. Back in Mega-City One, Chief Judge Griffin observes that so far the mutant pirates have been a nuisance, but that has all changed – as they have now captured ‘nuclear boffin’ Jenno Matryx and the old sea fortresses were equipped with 500 nuclear missiles. And now with Matryx to replenish the warheads…



Fortunately, Matryx holds out against cooperating with Skank, but unfortunately it’s then time for How I Met Your Mother. And by How I Met Your Mother, I don’t mean Skank subjects her to watching all the seasons of that TV series but actually meeting his mother. And by mother, I don’t mean his actual mother – although the cyborg pirate captain seems somewhat delusional about that – but the giant mutant sea octopus that Skank call his ‘mother’. If that wasn’t fearsome enough, Skank motivates her further by feeding two of her colleagues to his mother, before reminding her there’s forty more where that came from for the next course. She gives in as Captain Skank gloats “that when she’s finished, Cap’n Skank will be ready to challenge the might of Mega-City One!”, except with an electric buzz “Zzz! rather than the classic pirate “Arr!”. Uh-oh.




Mega-City Law: The Fink (Complete Case Files Volume 4: Prog 193-196)




Judge Dredd has only just recently completed the Judge Child Quest this very volume and its primary antagonists, the Angel Gang (that is, if you don’t count the Judge Child himself), has all Angels dead by hand of Dredd.


Or are they?


Enter a mysterious skeletal mutant bringing mischief with him into Mega-City One – a mischief of rats, that is. (I was intrigued to discover that a group of rats is called a mischief, although not quite up there with a murder of crows). Aww – and look at that! The mutant and the alpha rat have matching bowler hats. Although that’s the only thing ‘cute’ about them over this story arc of four episodes.


The clue to the mutant’s identity comes with his first victim – space Judge-Pilot Larter. The mutant uses a paralytic poison (or “pizen” as he calls it) to ambush Larter, who then suffers the grim death of being eaten alive by rats. If it’s any consolation, they’re normal Mega-City One rats – as the mutant tells his bowler-hatted rat unimaginatively named Ratty, “they ain’t so tough as you Cursed-Earth rats!” Or as toxic, since Cursed Earth rats, like virtually everything else in the Cursed Earth, are lethally venomous.


It’s not much of a clue, given that most readers have probably forgotten Larter as the pilot of Justice One in the Judge Child Quest but the mutant gives more of one as he appreciates Larter’s slow death by rodent – “it’s the way Pa would have wanted it”. Pa? As in Pa Angel? And in case that one slipped by, Fink Angel abandons all subtlety by literally leaving his calling card.



Looks like we have a rogue Angel on our hands – particularly as he intones “one down, two to go”, crossing Larter’s name off on a crude carved list which has two further names, Dredd and Judge Hershey.


And Dredd, called into investigate Larter’s murder, realizes it is a rogue Angel – just as Fink is luring Judge Hershey into a trap (by poisoning a random pedestrian in her vicinity, although it’s not clear how he’s tracked either Larter or Hershey in a Mega-City of 800 million people spanning the eastern seaboard). Too late, Dredd seeks to alert her – but she has disappeared, paralyzed and dragged into the depths by Fink. Dredd confirms from Texas City records that there was a fifth Angel – and correctly surmises that this Angel is seeking revenge for the Angel Gang.


That leads to the most interesting episode of the story arc, titled The Making of a Fink. Fink began as a normal human – well, as normal as you get, firstly in the Angel Gang and secondly in the Cursed Earth (near Texas City). As Pa Angel exhorts each of his sons to embrace their own criminal style, Fink becomes the loner of the family, hiding out in holes (literally) and becoming skilled in the art of ambush (and poison). Funnily enough, this episode also is the making of a Mean Machine, with some fun black humor. Unfortunately, young ‘Mean’ Angel is a disappointment to Pa as anything but his moniker, depicted distractingly sniffing a flower during one of Pa’s home-schooled criminal classes.



What a pansy! Well, Pa Angel won’t be having any of THAT – and he fixes it with some radical surgery, snatching up a doctor from Texas City to transform ‘Mean’ Angel into the Mean Machine Angel we all know and love, a murderous cyborg with four settings of rage dialed into his head.



Anyway, Fink continued to retreat from the family, being much more perceptive about the ultimate fate of the Gang – as “they ain’t too smart”, they’ll end up in prison. Of course, as it turned out, Fink was being much too optimistic – as they end up dead instead. And so Fink embarks upon his calling as a Cursed Earth desperado, using poisons and his innate sneakiness to ambush victims, while radiation slowly warped him into a skeletal mutant. Still, it wasn’t all bad – he did befriend the Cursed Earth rat, which joined him as Ratty. By incredible coincidence, a stray newspaper clipping literally blows into his hole in the ground – revealing the deaths of the rest of the Angel Gang at the hands of the Judges from the Judge Child Quest. And Fink, while retaining little else of his humanity, still retained his sense of duty to avenge the family.


That takes us to final episode, where we get out first good look at the Mega-City way of death – Resyk, where the bodies of the overwhelming majority of Mega-City One’s dead are recycled. I’m not exactly sure what they recycle the bodies into, but that’s dystopia for you. Whereas Fink fed Larter to the rats, his plan for Hershey’s slow and painful death is to feed her into the resyk conveyor belt. Fortunately, surveillance cameras detect him entering with Hershey, and by further incredible coincidence, Dredd is in the vicinity when the call is put out to the Judges. He arrives to activate the emergency stop just as the robotic arms are about to extract Hershey’s teeth.



Dredd pursues Fink into some weird decomposing fluid chamber. Fink and Ratty ambush him with the paralyzing poison, but Dredd uses his last ounce of strength to swing Ratty mid-bite at Fink. And then Dredd and Fink are both down for the count. Fortunately, other Judges arrive at the scene to extract Dredd and Hershey as well as to imprison Fink Angel – whose hardened Cursed Earth constitution survived the normally lethal Cursed Earth rat bite. And as for that Cursed Earth rat himself, Ratty escapes to thrive in the recesses of resyk, with plenty of food passing by on the conveyor belt. Eew!



Mega-City Law – Otto Sump’s Ugly Clinic (Complete Case Files Volume 4: Progs 186-188)




Judge Dredd gets ugly!


When I introduced that recurring Judge Dredd storyline motif of those dangerous or disastrous consumer fads that periodically sweep Mega-City One due to the stupidity of its citizenry, I joked that many of them are attributable to Otto Sump. That’s not quite true, although Sump does seem to have the reverse Midas touch in all his business ventures. Actually that’s not quite true either, since those ventures tend to be profitable despite being toxic in one way or other to consumers.


And I introduced Otto Sump himself in Sob Story – about a televised talent show where the talent was misery, with contestants ‘winning’ on the basis of who was the biggest loser, evoking the most pity in audiences (and received the most money sent in by those audiences). Dredd had planted Sump to lure out a criminal organization targeting the winners, but Sump’s misery was genuine – as the ugliest man in Mega-City One, he had the, ah, sobbiest story ever on the show, raking in 66 million credits in winnings. And so he became an entrepreneur, making even more money through a literal ugly fad that swept Mega-City One, popping up again every now and then as one of the city’s insane subcultures.


It is a theme I’ve seen in other science fiction, typically to comic or satiric effect – that people in the future are so beautiful or perfect, that being ugly becomes a highly desirable fashion. Typically, that universal beauty or perfection is from genetic engineering or similar biotechnology, although in Mega-City One it seems to be from cheap cosmetic surgery, with face change surgery as cheap and commonplace as hairdressing. I know it’s played for comedy or satire, but I’m not persuaded that this theme would ever apply in reality. Also, from what I’ve seen of Mega-City One residents, I’m not sure anyone would describe them as universally beautiful or perfect in appearance, although they do seem to have a higher average appearance than contemporary society.


In fairness, Otto Sump’s Ugly Clinics do not seem to be marketed as a counterpart to universal beauty, but to universal mediocrity – that is, standing out from the crowd, because we’re talking grotesquely ugly or virtual disfigurement. As the giant ad of Otto Sump speaks to passers-by – get ugly! Ugly clinics open all over the city, with slogans such as “one visit and no-one will ever forget you” and “be the talk of your block”.


Also in fairness, Otto Sump’s Ugly Clinics didn’t start that way. Indeed, Sump started with a chain of beauty clinics, so “no-one will ever be as ugly as me”. (Aaw…Sump continues to be the sobbiest person in Mega-City One). Unfortunately, he insisted on personally attending to clientele, despite his lack of any training and despite having robotic staff. Not surprisingly, he botches things – but perhaps surprisingly in an incredibly botched way, such that his clientele are rendered grotesquely or monstrously ugly. Well, no-one ever went broke underestimating the taste or intelligence of the average person, a maxim that applies even more so in Mega-City One – and his fortunes reverse when an attractive woman begs Sump to repeat (or even exceed) one of his botched treatments on her. And so the ugly fad is born.




The ugly fad brings with a veritable empire of, ah, anti-cosmetic products – pimplex, scum roll-on deodorant, sump paste for stale breath and tooth decay, scab powder, wart inducer, blemish cream, dandruff shampoo, lip chapper and flab-on (the last something of a prelude to another incredibly unhealthy fad subsequently in Mega-City One).


Apart from the, ah, ugliness of the fad (as well as its hygiene and health problems), it does create social problems – juvenile delinquent gangs of ‘puglies’ and more seriously, anti-ugly clinic terrorists bombing the clinics. One such occurs when Dredd visits Sump to investigate and the story diverts from the social satire as Dredd first pursues the bombers and then (after they are killed trying to evade pursuit) plants a false story that they are hospitalized to lure the true culprits, mob bosses running a protection racket.


However, once that is defused, Dredd is determined to drive Otto Sump out of business from sheer distaste – through the legal means of the Justice Department. What are you, Dredd – a commie? What do you have against free enterprise? Actually, for a fascist state, Mega-City One retains a surprising degree of its American capitalism, seemingly with little Justice Department interference into businesses or corporations. I suppose someone has to pay the taxes that support the city’s massive welfare state (with its 90% unemployment).


Anyway, where I have previously joked that Justice Department’s consumer protection division must be one of its most overworked divisions, here we are actually introduced to that division in the form of standards officers, who are brought to bear on Sump’s lurid advertising claims. Dredd also supervises crime blitz searches on clinics and their customers. Sump has enough money to fight back with media campaigns (although what self-respecting fascist state tolerates such media campaigns against it?) and mass demonstration of the so-called uglies. Dredd however unleashes that standard economic weapon of the state – a massive ugly tax on all the products or services. And so the clinics close down – except for the rich: “For now, only the rich could afford to be ugly”.