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.
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
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?
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.
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.
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