Cult & Pulp: Black Mirror (2011 – present)

 

CULT & PULP: BLACK MIRROR (2011 – PRESENT)

 

Black Mirror – the cyberpunk Twilight Zone of the twenty-first century!

 

Okay, that cyberpunk label may be overstating it, but it certainly is a series of dark and satirical twists in the tale of the unanticipated or unintended consequences of technology and social media in modern society – or, in the words of series creator Charlie Brooker, “the way we might be living in 10 minutes’ time if we’re clumsy.”

 

It is an anthology series with no continuity between episodes – each episode has a different cast, a different setting or even a different reality, so you don’t have to watch them in order. Personally, I’d recommend starting with the third season and working your way backwards (at least until the awaited fourth season) – particularly as the very first episode doesn’t extrapolate so much on technology or social media and can be a little confronting (although unforgettable – let’s just say you won’t feel about pork the same way again).

 

As for the premise and title of the series, it’s back to Charlie Brooker:

 

“If technology is a drug – and it does feel like a drug – then what, precisely, are the side effects? This area – between delight and discomfort – is where Black Mirror, my new drama series, is set. The ‘black mirror’ of the title is the one you’ll find on every wall, on every desk, in the palm of every hand: the cold, shiny screen of a TV, a monitor, a smartphone.”

 

Black Mirror episodes deserve their own top ten list – some episodes appeal more than others, although there have been no dud episodes to my taste. However, the third season is a definite highpoint (although that is not to exclude The Entire History of You in the first season, White Bear in the second and the White Christmas special) – with the series’ most acclaimed episode of San Junipero (a touching love story with some virtual twists and turns) as well as Nosedive (in which society is stratified into castes based on social media popularity) and Men Against Fire (with its chilling dehumanization in a dystopian war).

 

RATING: IT’S A RAVE! 5 STARS*****

 

Cult & Pulp: Hayford Pierce – Iceback Invasion (1979)

 

 

CULT & PULP: HAYFORD PIERCE – ICEBACK INVASION (1979)

 

“Give me your poor, your tired, your…Russians?”

 

Hayford  Pierce is an undeservedly obscure writer of science fiction, possibly because his writing tends less towards science fiction and more towards ironic social satire. I encountered him with this story in an Omni magazine short story collection. Iceback Invasion is typical of his short, sardonic, twisted and black-humored stories. And it is perhaps for those qualities that Iceback Invasion had a resonance that remained with me long after reading it.

 

And yes – the title is derived from the term, which I won’t repeat here, that is typically derogatory and used for illegal Mexican immigrants to the United States. Indeed, the story itself, a projection from the Carter presidency of the late 1970’s, resembles a latter-day conservative parody of the United States, such that it might not seem out of place among today’s internet or social media memes – as Pierce himself wrote of the story in a subsequent collection, “there’s enough black humor in here to keep it amusing two decades later, along with enough bare-knuckles satire to offend just about everyone”. The United States is presented as straining from the various social or cultural movements of the seventies – its President Martinez and official English-Spanish bilingualism reflecting its growing Hispanic population from illegal immigration, while his Cabinet reflects a whole plethora of other political issues. This is illustrated by President Martinez lamenting “the end of the Republic as we know it” to his Cabinet at the outset, particularly accusing the Secretary of Defense Mildred Haggleman of the state of the military – which can barely mobilize any numbers despite its trillion dollar budget, apart from the personnel manning its nuclear forces (although the President is less concerned with the lack of numbers to defend the Republic but the dangers of a potential military coup).

 

And then there is the Soviet Union, which still exists in this parody, although it is not doing too well – the European Union enticing away its eastern European satellites on one side, China and Japan doing much the same on the other, and a bottomless pit of insurgency or war draining away its agents and resources everywhere else. And, as the Politburo observes, there is still the United States, seemingly on its last legs but somehow still surviving, with its nuclear bombs or missiles targeting the Soviet Union. And so the Politburo decide to enact their master-plan Resolution Six against the United States – after all, as the Politburo observes “What, short of nuclear war, can they do to us?”

 

The plan proves surprisingly topical for both sides of the political spectrum today – essentially hacking the elections in the United States, although not with computers but immigrants, the ‘icebacks’ of the title,  millions of strapping young Russian men and women crossing the Bering Straits into the United States. And the twist in the tale perhaps proves equally as topical for both sides of the spectrum – as the United States proves to be surprisingly robust, with a little help from its new Russo-American citizens. As the saying goes, history never repeats but sometimes it rhymes…

 

RATING: IT’S A RAVE! 3 STARS***

Mega-City Law: Cityblocks (Complete Case Files Volume 3: Progs 117-118)

2017-03-02

 

MEGA-CITY LAW: CITY BLOCKS (COMPLETE CASE FILES VOLUME 3: PROGS 117-118)

 

It is in this third volume of Judge Dredd’s Complete Case Files – indeed, in these two episodes – that Mega-City One truly began to take its definitive shape in all its, ah, dystopia.

 

The first episode, Cityblock 1, quietly introduces the “sheer immensity” of Mega-City One “in the early twenty-second century” with its population of over 800 million people. Quietly, that is, because in The Day the Law Died, Mega-City One’s population was stated to be only 100 million – perhaps one of the most dramatic population explosions in history. Obviously, the writers decided that the city needed to be much bigger and more densely populated for its future dystopian setting. Ironically those writers subsequently decided that Mega-City One was TOO big and populated, so they halved it – in size and population – in The Apocalypse War epic. As for it being densely populated, this episode also introduced Mega-City One’s massive residential city blocks, typically named after some twentieth century celebrity or figure for comic or satirical effect – in this episode, it’s the Charlton Heston Block. As the introduction states, each city block houses about 60,000 citizens (so over 13,000 such blocks in Mega-City One), “a city within a city”.

 

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And in this episode, we see the sheer terror (and stupidity) that the police state of the judges – and Judge Dredd in particular – can inspire in the citizenry. The judges enforce a zero tolerance law enforcement regime – “in this tightly packed community, tensions could flare into violence in a moment” so “it took an iron legal system to control it: the judges with their power of instant sentence”. And so Dredd singles out a ‘perp’ or perpetrator. In his panic, the man flees from Dredd (never a good idea), racking up an impressive array of crimes in his attempt to escape Dredd, as he kidnaps a child as human shield and hostage as well as hijacking an ambulance.

 

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Finally Dredd apprehends him. “I’m booking you for vehicle theft, kidnap, assault, possible manslaughter” (for a hospital patient), eighteen other violations of the penal code and seven traffic offences” – all in his effort to escape from an original offence of littering!

 

The second episode, aptly named Cityblock 2, also quietly reverses the image of Mega-City One as presented back in The Robot Wars – which depicted automation and robots leading to a life of luxurious ease for its inhabitants. Instead, it has resulted in massive unemployment, stated here to be 87% – which only worsens (rising above 90%) in subsequent episodes – a major cause of the city’s crime rate through sheer boredom (stated to be 750 crimes every day in each city block, 87 of these being major ones). So at least the judges are busy. In this episode, Dredd is called to a ‘futsie’ or person suffering from future shock – in this case, the former caretaker of Benjamin Spock Block, made redundant by a robotic caretaker, sniping away at inanimate objects. Upon apprehending him, Dredd muses “sometimes even a judge can be merciful” – sentencing the offender to hard labor for the rest of his life, a prospect that fills the man with delight.

 

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TO BE CONTINUED – FOREVER CRIMES!

Mega-City Law Gets Epic: The Day The Law Died (Complete Case Files Volume 2 – Progs 86-108)

 

2016-12-18-1

 

MEGA-CITY LAW GETS EPIC: THE DAY THE LAW DIED (COMPLETE CASE FILES VOLUME 2 – PROGS 86-108)

 

Once again, the Law gets EPIC!

 

We return to Volume 2 of Judge Dredd’s Complete Case Files, which essentially consists of the back-to-back Dredd epics, The Cursed Earth (progs 61-85) and The Day the Law Died (progs 86-108). We’ve finished the former, but now we resume with the latter, which commences with Dredd’s return from the Cursed Earth (or more precisely, Mega-City Two). So once again, in our epic tradition, Stark After Dark will be featuring daily Mega-City Law episodes until we finish the epic – well, from next week, after we give it a proper introduction this week.

 

As I said before for the Cursed Earth epic, I still consider the back-to-back storylines of The Cursed Earth and The Day the Law Died to be Dredd’s first true epics – and more fundamentally, where the Judge Dredd comic came of age. This is the classic Dredd I know, although my introduction to Judge Dredd was The Apocalypse War epic (and its Block Mania prelude), still my favorite (and arguably the best) Judge Dredd epic. Each of the epics (and their precursors in Luna and the Robot Wars) respectively set up the quintessential Judge Dredd epic plotlines – Dredd venturing to some other, often exotic location, or confronting some threat, often existential, to Mega-City One.

 

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We’ve seen the former in the Cursed Earth, now we see the latter in The Day The Law Died. In this case, the existential threat to Mega-City One came from the Justice Department itself, in the form of the insane Judge Cal’s rise to the position of Chief Judge, essentially by way of coup. In this, The Day The Law Died effectively introduced a recurring theme in Judge Dredd – the dangers of corruption, and especially the corruption of power, within the Justice Department, albeit rarely at the level of existential threat to the city as it is in this epic. Ironically, the source of that corruption in this epic is Judge Cal’s position as head of the SJS or Special Judicial Squad, essentially the Justice Department’s equivalent of Internal Affairs or the body of Judges who judge other Judges. Nominally, the Special Judicial Squad is meant to guard against corruption within the Justice Department, but in practice in this and subsequent storylines they tend to have a somewhat antagonistic role to the rest of the Department (and Dredd in particular) at best and be a source of power unto themselves at worst.

 

I mean, substituting skulls for the SJS on their helmets didn't help their image

I mean, substituting skulls for the SJS on their helmets didn’t help their image

 

In fairness to Judge Cal, most of the existential threats posed to Mega-City One come from Judges, just not usually Judges of Mega-City One. The extra-dimensional Dark Judges, led by Judge Death, are perhaps the most recurring danger to the city and became an existential threat to it in the Necropolis epic, with their warped philosophy that all crime is committed by the living so the elimination of crime involves the elimination of all life – “The crime is life. The sentence is death!” However, when it comes to the most effective existential threat to Mega-City One, the Dark Judges are amateurs compared to the Soviet or Sov Judges, mainly because the Dark Judges typically insist on meting out their dark justice by hand, whereas the Sov Judges typically employed weapons of mass destruction – in the Apocalypse War and subsequently in the Day of Chaos.

 

As for the storyline, like The Cursed Earth, it is simple and straightforward – all the better to let the SF future satire and absurdist black comedy play out. Indeed, just as The Cursed Earth essentially just, ahem, borrowed its storyline wholesale from Roger Zelazny’s Damnation Alley, The Day The Law Died also borrowed its storyline, but from a more classical source – the ill-fated reign of Roman Emperor Caligula, straight from the pages of Suetonius’ The Twelve Caesars, or more so as it was closer in time to this epic, the BBC TV adaptation of Robert Graves’ I Claudius. Indeed, Judge Cal was named for Caligula (with his appearance modelled on John Hurt’s portrayal in the BBC TV series), and he is even named AS Judge Caligula when the series was introduced (and subsequently collected under that title). Of course, if that was his actual name, it would seem to have been begging for trouble. I mean, what next? Judge Hitler?

 

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Anyway, his insanity mirrors that of Caligula, albeit (somewhat disappointingly) without the depravity – not surprisingly in the more ascetic Justice Department of Mega-City One, or even more so, in the publishing restrictions for 2000 AD. And so as Caligula appointed his horse as a senator of Rome, Judge Cal appoints a goldfish as Deputy Chief Judge Fish, ironically remembered fondly by the Mega-City One citizenry for a death that saved the city.  Speaking of which, the insanity of Judge Cal was such that he sentenced the entire city to death – twice. Which again evokes the historical Caligula, who according to Suetonius, wished that all the city of Rome had but one neck.

 

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However, Judge Cal is made more dangerous in his insanity – and hence earns his place among the top tier of Judge Dredd’s villains – in that, unlike his historical predecessor, he at least has the cunning and presence of mind for a technique of mind control to ensure the loyalty of his equivalent of the imperial Praetorian Guard.  And as a failsafe, when Mega-City Judges proved too unreliable, to import a new Praetorian Guard – in the form of alien Klegg mercenaries. The Kleggs and their Klegg Empire – aliens resembling giant bipedal crocodiles with appetites to match – would prove to be an occasionally recurring element in Judge Dredd (and Dredd’s recurring hatred), although the reach of their Empire is obviously limited by their temperament and lack of intelligence.

 

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The Day The Law Died also introduced an element that would prove to be something of a recurring cliché in subsequent Dredd epics (until it was dramatically subverted in the Day of Chaos storyline) – that Judge Dredd becomes the focus of resistance to the existential threat to Mega-City One, leading a small ragtag underground force to defeat it. In this case, literally underground – in the Under-City, which became more fleshed out in this epic from its previous introduction, and contributed a critical ally to Dredd’s resistance, in the form of the dim-witted but hulking brute Fergee. Of course, Dredd didn’t have much choice in this, as he was an important target of Cal’s plans to assume the position of Chief Justice and control of Mega-City One – as he had not been subject to Cal’s mind control technique due to his absence from the city on his mission in the Cursed Earth. Cal’s initial plan is to frame Dredd – and when that fails, to assassinate him along with the incumbent Chief Judge. Sadly, these elements have something of a bad aftertaste as they were adapted into the abominable Stallone Judge Dredd film – including where the character of Fergee was transformed beyond recognition in all but name to comic relief played by Rob Schneider. Sigh.

 

Anyway, join us next week for the reign of the twenty-second century Caligula in Mega-City One…

 

TO BE CONTINUED

Mega-City Law – Cursed Earth 20: The God Judge (Complete Case Files Volume 2 – Prog 80)

2016-10-22-1

 

MEGA-CITY LAW – THE CURSED EARTH 20: THE GOD JUDGE (COMPLETE CASE FILES VOLUME 2 – PROG 80)

 

In Vegas, the house always wins.

 

We return to the Cursed Earth epic, where Judge Dredd finds himself poised on Loser’s Leap, after having arrived in Las Vegas to find it had “been taken over by the Mafia and turned into a gambling nightmare”. Hmmm – sounds like my last trip to Vegas.

 

Anyway, the Vegas Mafia, presided over by their God-Judge (sigh) Lucky Mutiano (sigh), waste no opportunity for gambling – even executions, as Loser’s Leap is a forced leap from the height of the Vegas Hall of Justice, with betting on where the leaper falls in the target on the street below.

 

Once again, Spikes proves his value on this mission (not bad for a Mega-City punk conscripted into it, albeit with a promise of a pardon) – Dredd spies him standing by with a fire escape (para)chute. So, Dredd takes the leap of fate, Spikes picks him up with the chute in mid-air and they land a safe distance away from the target. (I hope the bookies offered odds on landing outside the target).

 

Fortunately, they are rescued by the Vegas quasi-religious underground resistance, the League Against Gambling. Dredd is hailed by the League as their Savior, according to their book of prophecy (penned by their former leader) – “And lo – out of the east will come a man in black, his steed will be of iron and his anger will be like the roaring of demons. He will smite the chief evil-doer in his temple”. As Spikes jokes, “that’s you all over, Dreddy!”

 

Verily!

 

Dredd disclaims that he is a savior, but he does stand against the mockery of justice in Vegas. By happy contrivance coincidence that comes from six-page episodes, the top men in each Mafia family hold their annual gang-fight the very next day to decide the God-Judge – the Vegas judges dare not cancel the event for fear of gambling riots, and by even happier loophole, it is open to any judge, as the Vegas judges had not anticipated any other than their own participating in it. (Personally, I would have anticipated that the Vegas judges would change the rules on the spot). Dredd agrees with the plan, asking what their book has to say about it – “And he will join them in battle and the slaughter will be terrible to behold!”

 

And so do such things come to pass. Dredd and Spikes compete in the contest, which is some sort of death race between teams of two men (a driver and gunner), using “buggies” or vehicles that appear to be from the 1930’s, presumably because of their resemblance to vehicles used by Prohibition gangsters (sigh).  There appear to be only two other contestants, God-Judge Lucky Mutiano himself, and the challenger from another Mafia family. Not surprisingly, the two Vegas judges from a truce until they have eliminated Dredd, but to little avail, as Dredd and Spikes outmatch both the Mafia teams.

 

Dredd proceeds to the Vegas Hall of Justice to claim victory. The Vegas judges sneer at Dredd – “Do you expect us to take orders from you? That’s dead man’s thinking”. (Maybe the Vegas judges should have thought of this a little earlier – like before the race). Dredd replies “I don’t – but they do!”, as the League of Gambling have been emboldened by Dredd’s victory to mount their insurrection and surround the Hall.

 

The Vegas judges are stripped of their uniforms – Dredd is offered the God-Judge’s uniform, but declines it and gives it instead to the leader of the League. As Dredd resumes his mission to Mega-City Two, the League ‘prophet’ exclaims to the new God-Judge “I don’t understand! The Savior was supposed to stay for one score year and four!”. The League leader replies that Dredd’s memory will – “No one will forget the day Judge Dredd came to Vegas – and won!”

 

The house always wins, except against Judge Dredd.

 

Las Vegas was to recur on occasion in subsequent episodes or other stories set in the Dreddverse, when the action ventured far enough afield to it. Just don’t get too attached to the League, as the Mafia reclaim Vegas – or for that matter, just don’t get too attached to Vegas itself, as the writers presumably grew tired of its one dimensional schtick. Being Vegas, it does go out in style – nuked by Judge Death. Yeah, the house doesn’t win against Judge Death either.

 

He always bets on black

He always bets on black

 

TO BE CONTINUED – TWEAK’S STORY

Mega-City Law: Cursed Earth 19 – Loser’s Leap (Complete Case Files Volume 2 – Prog 79)

2016-10-18

 

MEGA-CITY LAW: CURSED EARTH 19 – LOSER’S LEAP (COMPLETE CASE FILES VOLUME 2 – PROG 79)

 

Dredd in Vegas!

 

The Cursed Earth epic is back on track, literally and metaphorically, as we leave the (uncensored)Utah Dustbowl silliness of the last two episodes behind. Of course, it still remains an absurdist satire, in this case for post-apocalyptic Las Vegas, which has metastasized into a city entirely based on gambling ruled by the Mafia. So…pretty much the same as PRE-apocalyptic Las Vegas, amirite? (Although I’m not sure how it works in the absence of any national or international tourism).

 

Judge Dredd and the Land-Raider crew are met with a “welcoming committee” in the form of an old-style tanks attacking them. The twenty-second century Land-Raider easily destroys the twentieth  century tanks. However, the numbered flag on each tank was a dead giveaway, as Spikes had guessed, of their real purpose which is revealed as soon as Dredd enters the city – they, like everything else in Las Vegas, was all part of a gambling game, much to the enthusiasm of the punters who bet on the “strangers”.

 

Dredd gets progressively more outraged as he explores the city, noting that Las Vegas has a judge-system and why it hasn’t intervened to halt the runaway gambling. (Although it makes me wonder more why the mega-cities, with their judge-systems, have had no contact with the judge-system in Las Vegas – particularly Coast Mega-City Two, of which Vegas should effectively be part). As Dredd looks for the Vegas Judges, his outrage is complete when he happens on the Vegas Hall of Justice, housed in a casino, and sets upon it like Jesus Christ after the moneylenders in the Temple. There he finds the Vegas Judges – in uniforms of the same appearance as Mega-City Judges, but with dollar signs emblazoned on their chests, and with stereotypical Italian accents – operating the tables. Dredd demands to see the Chief Judge – and his request is corrected by Vegas Judges to refer to the God-Judge. Sigh.

 

Dredd finally loses it (heh) when he discovers the God Judge to be “a mafia hoodlum” – who tells him that after the “Great War” (presumably the Atomic Wars – not, you know, the historical Great War or First World War), the “Syndicate” took over Vegas as its racket. Dredd assails the God-Judge as unfit for office, but is overpowered by the Vegas Judge Fingers, who presumably owes his six fingers on each hand and possibly his giant size to mutation.

 

And so Dredd finds himself poised over the precipice at Loser’s Leap because in post-apocalyptic Vegas, even death needs to have side-bets – a literal leap off one of the towering high-storied buildings, with target zones painted on the ground for onlooker bets as to the leapers’, ah, final destination. Viva Las Vegas!

 

TO BE CONTINUED – THE GOD-JUDGE

Mega-City Law: Cursed Earth 12 (Uncensored) – Burger Law! (Prog 72)

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MEGA-CITY LAW: CURSED EARTH 12 (UNCENSORED) – BURGER LAW! (PROG 72)

 

Judge Dredd and Spikes have been taken prisoner by Ronald McDonald and the McDonalds Marauders – they and the other prisoners are led in chains in a victory parade resembling a classical Roman triumph. Who knows? There may even be an old Triumph amidst the vehicles of the McDonalds Marauders. (“And Moses crossed the desert in his Triumph, while the Israelites followed in an old Kombi van”. Sorry – old gag).

 

Although…I’m pretty sure there’s a geographical or typographical mistake. The episode opens that “Judge Dredd has reached Arkansas” – except, the previous episode (the first “Burger Wars” episode), opened that “Judge Dredd has crossed the Mississippi into the nuclear dustbowl that was Kansas”. (So yeah, we’re definitely not in Kansas anymore, Toto!). Worse, you can’t really reconcile the two, as they don’t quite neighbor each other (although close enough perhaps to be attributable to the inexactitude of state boundaries in the post-apocalyptic United States), but Kansas is in the wrong direction from Arkansas in that it is further to the west – and north. The latter is a problem, because when we were apparently in Kansas in the previous episode, the townsfolk of In-Between said that McDonalds was to the north, while Burger King was to the south.

 

Admittedly, Arkansas is a better fit, as it is more in line with Dredd’s mission having just crossed the Mississippi (in the episodes with Tweak and the Slay-Riders) from the area of former Kentucky state (in the episodes with the ‘vampire’ President Booth). However, Arkansas just raises all those questions of the basic premise of the land mission across the Cursed Earth, since Arkansas is a neighboring state to Texas. Even if we accept the premise that the aerial “Death Belt” prohibits flight across the Cursed Earth, at least at the time of this epic (as it doesn’t seem to be a premise that seems to be followed in subsequent episodes), I’m not sure it would prohibit flight (aerial or space) or ship to Texas-City, which would have at least cut down on the danger and length of the mission – particularly as in some maps Mega-City One extended all the way to Florida.

 

But enough buzzkill – back to the Burger Wars!

 

Ronald McDonald announces his vision of the future to the cheering crowds of McDonalds City – a dream in which he sees “every square inch of this fair land covered by one big McDonalds burger bar…everything that’s decent and American HAS BEEN WIPED OUT and in its place will stand McDonalds – one huge onion-spangled McDonalds, from sea to shining sea”. That ends his “speechifying” – he then pronounces the “burgers and shakes are on me!”

 

However, there’s a momentary blot on this vision as the crowds (and prisoners) gather in the burger bar, Ronald queries a staff member why a table hasn’t been wiped. When the staff member stammers he’ll attend to it now, Ronald guns him down – “We’ve got standards of cleanliness to maintain”. Hmm – I must admit in with Ronald on this one. I bet that would improve service standards considerably – and there’s nothing worse than an unwiped table.

 

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Dredd and Spikes soon manage to escape (and free other prisoners) by overwhelming their somewhat perfunctory two guards – “both fat and slow from too many takeaways”. They steal one of the McDonalds vehicles, but run into a herd of giant mutated cattle the size of elephants – hence all that beef for burgers. Their truck is overturned when a Burger King ambush drives a stampede of cattle directly at them. They are about to be lynched (as sentenced by a Burger King judge, strangely wearing an English judge’s wig), but are saved in the nick of time by the Land-Raider, guns blazing and commanded by Judge Jack. With that, they leave the Burger Wars behind them and resume their mission to save Mega-City Two.

 

Big Mac and fries to go, Dredd? All this post-apocalyptic McDonalds prompts me to recall the somewhat obscure but thematically apt song Defcon One by alternative English band Pop Will Eat Itself – Defcon One of course being the designation for the highest alert state for the United States Armed Forces.  You know, the one where they actually launch the missiles. IT’S DEFCON ONE – GIVE ME BIG MAC AND FRIES TO GO!

 

 

TO BE CONTINUED – THE COMING OF SATANUS!

 

 

Mega-City Law: Cursed Earth 11 (Uncensored) – Battle of the Burger Barons (Prog 71)

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MEGA-CITY LAW: CURSED EARTH 11 (UNCENSORED) – BATTLE OF THE BURGER BARONS (PROG 71)

 

Burger Wars – Ronald McDonald vs Burger King!

 

Now we reach the point in Judge Dredd’s Cursed Earth epic where Stark After Dark’s Mega-City Law has a treat for you – the first of the episodes that were originally censored (and excluded, for example, from the Complete Case Files collection), as a result of lawsuit by McDonalds and Burger King against 2000 AD. I thought Judge Dredd was the Law?

 

Anyway, that changed in 2014 with a European directive on copyright law allowing the use of copyright protected characters for parody and 2000 AD’s publisher Rebellion Developments republished the suppressed episodes in a new Cursed Earth collection in 2016 – which naturally I purchased in its digital edition.

 

In the episode, Judge Dredd’s mission has crossed the Mississippi into “the nuclear dustbowl that was Kansas”. Hmmm – I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto.

 

The Land-raider needs a few hours repair from a post-apocalyptic storm, so Dredd and Spikes use the time to scout out the land. They find the oddly named town of In-Between, but they soon find out that the town is in between the two warring hamburger chains (or burger barons) – McDonalds to the north and Burger King to the south. Of course, they find this out when Spikes makes the nearly fatal faux pas of ordering a hamburger, offending the town’s neutral sensibilities as the last “free town” left and raising the suspicion that the outsiders are spies. However, this standoff is diverted when the two warring sides, led by figures costumed as their trademarks, descend upon the town (in pick-up trucks and vans), each claiming the town as their “customers”. Hmmm, one can see how this might have been controversial, although arguably also something of a backhanded compliment to the burger chains’ powers of endurance in a post-apocalyptic world.

 

Dredd and Spikes are captured by the overwhelming numbers of McDonalds’ men, while Ronald McDonald himself personally dispatches the Burger King – prompting the Burger King forces to retreat. Ronald McDonald orders the town burnt to the ground and the prisoners (including Dredd and Spikes) taken to McDonald City – “You lucky folks got a treat in store! There’s a difference at McDonald’s – a difference you’ll enjoy!” And yes – there does seem to be a certain menace to those words.

 

Dredd remonstrates with Ronald McDonald about the purposelessness of burning the town – “You’ve won this ridiculous war! You killed the Burger King!”. However, Ronald McDonald counters that “they’ll just choose another one”, revealing that he and the Burger King are just titled positions – he inherited his own as his father ran “McDonalds in these parts” before the Atomic Wars, and he’s just carrying on the “family tradition”. Although in this case, the family tradition has turned into violent empire-building. Unfortunately for Dredd and Spikes, Ronald McDonald pronounces they’ll just have to remain McDonalds’ “customers” until the war is won – and that might take a while. After all, “this is big country – burger country!”

 

TO BE CONTINUED – BURGER LAW!

Mega-City Law: The Cursed Earth 1 – Forbidden Fruit (Complete Case Files Volume 2 – Prog 61)

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MEGA-CITY LAW: THE CURSED EARTH 1 – FORBIDDEN FRUIT (COMPLETE CASE FILES VOLUME 2 – PROG 61)

 

“AN IMPOSSIBLE JOURNEY THROUGH A RADIOACTIVE HELL…CAN EVEN THE JUDGE SURVIVE THE CURSED EARTH?”

 

That’s quite the tagline for the opening of The Cursed Earth epic. Of course, by the Judge, we mean THE Judge, Judge Dredd (is there any other?) and his post-apocalyptic odyssey. Actually, come to think of it, The Cursed Earth bears some resemblance to the Homeric epic, The Odyssey, particularly the way that Judge Dredd and his company are gradually whittled down through their quest – although whereas Odysseus just wanted to go home, Judge Dredd wants to deliver a vaccine to the West Coast Mega-City Two.

 

This first episode naturally provides the setup for Judge Dredd’s journey across the Cursed Earth, as Dredd meets an “old friend”, strato-pilot ‘Red’, who is quarantined in a plastic bubble at “Justice HQ”. Red narrates that he was the pilot engaged to deliver the vaccine for a plague sweeping Mega-City Two, over-flying the “Death Belt” of radioactive debris floating one mile above the Cursed Earth, that mutated wasteland of the former United States between the two coastal Mega-Cities (and Texas-City, labelled Mega-City Three here). Fortunately, there is a convenient “hole” in the Death Belt above Mega-City Two, although perhaps not quite as convenient as the continuity-hole the Death Belt vanishes into after this epic.

 

What exactly is this plague (as Red’s co-pilot asks him)? No boring flu or anything like that for Judge Dredd’s first epic – it’s akin to the Rage virus in the 28 Days Later film franchise (where’s the check, 28 Days Later?), although its victims are marginally more intelligent and articulate, as in not quite the de facto zombies of that franchise. Red explains “it’s a disease left over from the Great Germ War… you know, the one that came after the Atomic War” (and which also seems to go into the same hole as the Death Belt). It’s a wonder that ANYONE is alive in the twenty-second century, let alone the 800 million people in Mega-City One. (I don’t recall if we ever learn the population of Mega-City Two, but it seems smaller than Mega-City One. Of course, it becomes a lot smaller in the Judgement Day epic. Like zero). Anyway, Red continues “somehow it got into the city…it turns people’s skins grey and scrambles their brains before they die”.

 

And how! Unfortunately, plague-infected citizens have taken over the airports and attack Red’s crew, chanting “tooty fruity” and clamoring for the “forbidden fruit” – which, as it turns out, is human flesh, as the plague has transformed them into bestial, crazed cannibals. Red barely escapes with his life (but sans crew), as he flies his stratospheric aircraft back to Mega-City One – hence, his quarantine due to exposure to the plague (just in case he’s one of the 10% upon which the vaccine doesn’t work). A medic chips in that “the plague has now been identified as virus strain 2T(FRU)T” – “those poor devils must have twisted the name into their strange battle cry”. I suspect that the virus strain may have been identified BEFORE the development of the vaccine, but anyway…

 

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Anyway, you know what’s going to happen. Sure enough, Red dramatically comes down with the virus – just as Dredd and the aptly named “Assistant Grand Judge Fodder” are discussing the virtually suicidal mission to take the vaccine to Mega-City Two by land. His appearance suddenly becomes bestial, chanting “tooty fruity” (I bet writer Pat Mills wrote that one with his tongue in his cheek) and reaching through the bubble to strangle Judge Fodder. Dredd has to dispatch Red without bursting the bubble and avoiding the unfortunate double entendre of Red saying he wants Dredd’s “juices”. Dredd manages to club Red with the isolation unit’s television, apparently saving Mega-City One from a plague outbreak (but doesn’t it have the vaccine?)

 

Heh – better Dredd than Red, amirite?

 

Now it’s up to Dredd to save Mega-City Two, as he announces “somehow, I’m gonna make it – across THE CURSED EARTH!”

 

TO BE CONTINUED – INTO THE DARKNESS (OR HELL’S ANGELS)

 

 

Mega-City Law Gets Epic: The Cursed Earth (Complete Case Files Volume 2 – Progs 61-85)

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MEGA-CITY LAW GETS EPIC: THE CURSED EARTH (COMPLETE CASE FILES VOLUME 2 – PROGS 61-85)

 

This is where the Law gets EPIC!

 

Here in Mega-City Law, we have finished Volume 1 of Judge Dredd’s Complete Case Files and embark upon Volume 2 – which essentially consists of the back-to-back Dredd epics, The Cursed Earth (progs 61-85) and The Day the Law Died (progs 86-108). So to celebrate, Stark After Dark will be featuring daily Mega-City Law episodes, corresponding to individual episode, until we finish the two epics – a tradition we will also uphold for further epics.

 

As I’ve said before, I still consider the back-to-back storylines of The Cursed Earth and The Day the Law Died to be Dredd’s first true epics – and more fundamentally, where the Judge Dredd comic came of age. This is the classic Dredd I know, although my introduction to Judge Dredd was The Apocalypse War epic (and its Block Mania prelude), still my favorite (and arguably the best) Judge Dredd epic.

 

Of course, the two epics had their precursors in the two longer story arcs (or mini-epics) of Volume 1 – The Cursed Earth in Luna and The Day the Law Died in The Robot Wars. Each of the epics (and their precursors) respectively set up the essential Judge Dredd epic plotlines – Dredd confronting some threat, often existential, to Mega-City One, and Dredd venturing to some other, often exotic, location, or a combination of the two, Dredd venturing to some other, often exotic, location TO confront some threat, often existential, to Mega-City One. Indeed, the Cursed Earth epic is just that – except the existential threat is not to Mega-City One, but its West Coast counterpart of Mega-City Two. In this case, it is a deadly virus that turns people into murderous, cannibalistic psychopaths (not unlike Rage virus in the 28 Days Later film(s), or for that matter, the Chaos Bug that almost wiped out Mega-City One in subsequent issues).

 

And it doesn’t get more exotic, or downright weird, than the Cursed Earth – except perhaps for alien space (both of which we’ll get to visit in The Judge Child Quest epic).

 

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You may recall the Cursed Earth all the way back from progs 3-4, although it had yet to be christened the Cursed Earth and was simply described as the “wilderness from the Atomic Wars” – if by wilderness, of course, you mean most of the former United States (outside the mega-cities on East and West Coasts and in Texas), now dangerous and mutated badlands (with a running theme of dark, mutated versions of the United States). In our brief excursion into the Cursed Earth in progs 3-4, we saw (and ate) a forty-meter praying mantis. and as I said then, the Cursed Earth is downright drokking dangerous, with things in it that make a forty-meter praying mantis look like, well, a delicious deep-fried dinner – mutants, aliens, ratnadoes, the last President of the United States, Las Vegas, war droids…and freaking dinosaurs!

 

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As for the storyline, it is simple and straightforward, much like that in Mad Max Fury Road (which come to think of it, would make for an excellent Cursed Earth storyline – Judge Dredd and Mad Max are even owned by the same studios, hint hint) – all the better to let the SF future satire and absurdist black comedy play it out. Dredd has to drive through the Cursed Earth to take a vaccine to Mega-City Two. Of course, they, ahem, borrowed the storyline from Roger Zelazny’s Damnation Alley. I know it, you know it and the writers know it. Who cares? It was an SF classic – a former Hell’s Angel has to drive a vaccine from the West Coast to the East Coast in a post-apocalyptic United States after a nuclear war. Judge Dredd just goes in the opposite direction. He even takes his own former Hell’s Angel-style biker with him (by the name of Spikes Rotten). In Damnation Alley, flight was simply not possible due to the freakish atmospheric conditions as a result of the nuclear war. In the world of Dredd, with its regular aircraft (and space flights!), this excuse doesn’t really seem to wash, although there is a passing reference to the Death Belt of floating (and radioactive) atmospheric debris – which doesn’t seem to recur after this epic. Hell – Mega-City One supersurfer Chopper later crosses the Cursed Earth on a hoverboard! The Cursed Earth storyline offers the flimsy excuse that the plague infectees have taken over the Mega-City Two airport(s?). Surely Mega-City One aircraft could simply land as near the city as possible? Or Mega-City could use drones or similar craft to land anywhere else within the city other than the airports? But again, who cares? Who wants to see Judge Dredd flyover the Cursed Earth? Of course, we want to see Dredd ride across it (in his special Killdozer vehilce) and fight dinosaurs. So strap yourself in for the ride…

 

TO BE CONTINUED – FORBIDDEN FRUIT (OR TUTTI-FRUTTI)!