Judge Dredd: The Apocalypse War
By John Wagner and Alan Grant
Art by Carlos Ezquerra and Mike McMahon
The London Graphic Novel Network takes a trip to Mega City One and gets into nuclear war with Judge Dredd: The Apocalypse War! Somehow managing to drag in Love and Rockets and Neil Gaiman as well as psychically predicting articles in the Guardian as well as advising the best etiquette for talking about comics at dinner parties Questions include: Is most of 2000AD mediocre to awful? Which famous TV character does Judge Dredd most resemble? And how long does something have to run for before it gets good?
Judge Dredd is a comic about nothing.
I’d dispute Seinfield was really ‘about nothing’ (despite the makers’ protestations) let alone Dredd which has been addressing and satirising contemporary trends for forty years, That’s something almost unique within the medium and pretty unusual even in fiction generally. The closest comparison I can think of is Ed McBain’s 87th precinct novels. He wrote a book a year about his squad of detectives in a lightly fictionalised New York for over half a century which taken together give an incredible tapestry of how urban landscapes have changed over that period. (They’re also very readable and have inspired every decent cop show you’ve ever seen so well worth checkingout. You ought to be able to find one in pretty much any charity shop these days)
A couple of good links
Firstly, here’s a link to some of the recenly colourised art. The original strip was mostly in black and white but it’s been coloured so sensitively that it probably improves the already excellent art
And here’s a clearly heartfelt essay by Garth Ennis explaining why he thinks the Apocalypse War is so great
I’ve tended to think that 2000AD is where you go if you want to write comics but don’t know how to write them, it’ll print your rubbish comics and then you can go off to Image or Marvel and write stuff that hopefully isn’t bone-knawingly terrible. My knowledge of 2000AD is generally limited to trades, so is what they thought was *their best work* and most of it is mediocre to awful. Awful? Mazeworld, I’m looking at you. Mediocre? Neil Gaiman’s Futureshocks. The few exceptions are ‘Zenith’ which probably reads better if you haven’t read The Invisibles, which is about 60% the storylines of Zenith with space to breathe, Alan Moore’s stuff, because he did his years of writing shitty comics before he came to 2000AD and Garth Ennis’s collected Judge Dredd stuff.
So, I’ve not read Apocalypse War, I assume it’s in one of the big phonebooks and someone can tell me which one I need to read for what I assume will be another of the famous 2000AD six page stories from 2 issues? I’ve read ‘Day of Chaos’ and enjoyed it, though mainly as a compare and contrast, now that Rebellion have had Hollywood money sniffing around them they seem to have ordered a whitewashing and softening of Dredd’s stance. Whereas before every citizen of Megacity One was a perp-in-waiting now we get Dredd talking about how there are citizens and criminals. And if they have taken the challenge and run with it, it might be genuinely interesting to see how Dredd works in a city when he doesn’t have infinite power-ups and has to make compromises to get along. Book Three of Day of Chaos was hardly inspiring though, just story after story where the Justice Department has just enough resources to deal with the threat du jour.
I’m still reeling from reading ‘mediocre and awful’ in connection with 2000AD – surely one of the most seminal comics of all time?!
Now I’ll get back up off the floor….
Check out the E4 documentary ‘Future Shock: The story of 2000AD’ still available on catch up if you need further convincing.
Great insight and behind the scenes look with contributions from Pat Mills – editor and other contributors.
Confession time – I started reading 2000AD with issue 2 in ’77 and read pretty much everything Dredd since then and ‘The Apocalypse War’ was one of the great classic long storylines (long with The Cursed Earth, The Judge Child, Block Mania, Chopper etc)
Biting satire set against the Miners Strike and the Reagen era Cold War of the time that ran for some 6 months – unheard of at the time.
The story development is second to none – a dropped ice cream starts the Block War (Block Mania storyline precedes TAW) that escalates into Armageddon, written by the great Alan Grant and John Wagner, it’s clever witty, violent, it was written in 1982 when ‘Threads’ was on TV along with ‘When the Wind Blows’ and ‘Protect and Survive’ videos were shown – so very much reflected the anxiety and paranoia of the time.
If you want a treat I suggest the Apocalypse War re-issue/ reprint in newly coloured hardback version (the original was mostly B/W) – the art by the great Ezquerra has never looked better!
This book is the seminal JD work in my view and has no equal in its long history!
I’d agree with most of that. Volume five of the complete case files is definitely the best classic period of Dredd. But both Wagner’s writing and Dredd himself, (who definitely does have a personality these days) have changed over the decades and it’s a very different strip these days. You can trace the changeover mostly down to the period when they started doing stories about the judges brutally suppressing democratic protestors…
Personally I think both periods are great. I like the early stuff because they’re basically kids’ stories but done so well that adults can get something out of them too which is eve now a surprising rarity in the world of comics. but if you liked the more complex storytelling of Day of Chaos check out the collections like the ‘Tour of Duty’ volumes, ‘Mandroid’ or ‘Origins’
Hi Joel, all,
KEEP CALM… THRILL FACTOR OVERLOAD. TOTAL ANNHILATION DEVICE.
That’s Judge Dredd. It totally annihilates all senses and wears you down like a bludgeoning hammer, endlessly smashing your face. I mean this in a good way, because Dredd is good! (Maybe it has something to do with me being American and growing up in the 1980s, I dunno—Oh, before I forget, I want to say hello and thanks for inviting my into the “club.” First timer, happy to join in the discussion!) In the States, it’s probably safe to say that most folks are familiar with Judge Dredd primarily through the films. But, it’s funny, the movies adapted from Dredd books (like Richard Stanley’s Hardware and Danny Cannon’s Judge Dredd) don’t even begin to capture the insanity of the 2000AD tales. Pete Travis’ Dreddgets a little closer, but doesn’t quite find it either. No one in Hollywood would have the balls to properly adapt Judge Dredd to the silver screen.
Judge Dredd has always been an exercise in HOW TO BE THE MOST OVER THE TOP. I guess a lot of 2000AD was like this, but Wagner’s Dredd always did it with panache and made it work. It’s like a compilation of old-school action movies (already on steroids but on even more steroids). How do you write a feasible doomsday scenario for a world that has already gone through doomsday ten times over? You have a million nukes and billions of casualties like it ain’t no thing. “Apocalypse War” gives us the blatant topical sociopolitical parallels with its East versus West scenario and transparent commentary on the horrors of living in a nuclear age via massive collateral damage and loss of innocent life. But beyond these obvious metaphors, “Apocalypse War” (and a lot of other 2000AD Dredd) reads like grotesquely mutated (but fitting) continuation of the works of Robert Heinlein. There are never any heroes in Dredd’s world, only brutal pragmatists. This is a fascist power fantasy, whose conscienceless protagonist is the ultimate eye-for-an-eye soldier. Judge Dredd’s “charm” has always been this and always will be. And it’s exactly why Judge Dredd is so endlessly fascinating and why it’s titular character is so enduring.
The Dredd stuff I’ve read from the 1980s is mostly Wagner’s (from lovely large format Titan Books releases), so I can’t compare to many other Dredd stories, including Ennis’ run. Having just read the version of “Apocalypse War” featuring John Burns’ coloring of Carlos Ezquerra’s art, I can condidently comment that Burns’ colors are garish, but appropriately garish. Not sure if y’all have read the 2014 IDW mini-series by and definitely in the spirit of Wagner’s old stuff. This is the comic that shows how Dredd “works in a city without infinite power-ups and has to make compromises to get along.” Wolk ends each issue with a prose piece entitled “Dredd’s Comportment,” offering encyclopedic blurbs about the Judges and the Mega-Cities, written chronologically and continuity-obsessively (in the best way possible). Farinas’ prodigious Geoff Darrow-esque art is top notch as well, with a thousand-and-one Easter Eggs on each page. Check it out, if you haven’t already.
And last but not least, Joel mentioned ongoing continuity and character growth, specifically in Love and Rockets, which I’ve honestly never been able to get into either. I’ll try harder, I’m sorry! But if you want to watch characters grow in real time over a long period of time, then watch Adventure Time or watch/read Dragon Ball Z. (Note to the members of this discussion group, I will likely reference Dragon Ball Z in every post, so GET USED TO IT.) Continuity, growth, and legacy have always been important to me as a comic book reader. I could talk about the pitfalls and benefits of heavy continuity for days, but I’ll save that for another discussion (or my own blog). In Dredd, continuity and canon ARE undeniably very important, especially with its unbelievably complex world-building. But in Dredd, the story, unlike so many other comics, never gets sacrificed for the sake of continuity.
Conversely I don’t really understand why the material of Neil Gaiman is widely regarded as one of the finest pieces of fiction of the last 35 years. Because it isn’t.
I’m not a huge fan of Neil Gaiman’s work on the whole, FWIW. At his best, he’s very enjoyable, and he brings unusual ideas in sometimes. There are a few Sandman stories that I quite liked, and some of his early stories with Dave McKean. He’s certainly carved out a nice niche for himself, though, and good luck to him. (And everyone says what a nice guy he is, which I’ve no reason to doubt, and that counts for something amidst all the toxic personalities in the comics business.)
< fiction of the last 35 years.
Because it isn’t.Maybe it was the finest pieces of fiction 20 years ago when people who are now writing articles were first getting into comics? And I guess if you started and stopped reading there (or didn’t really start but sort of heard about it), it remains the finest piece of fiction?Though again you can be too negative. It enjoyed it a lot and it was my introduction to comics.It reminds me of when I was playing with my friend’s seven-year old. She asked me to pick which of the fairies should be crowned the next fairy queen. There I was trying to subvert tropes and not choose cliques, and picked the nearby farm girl doll, dressed for mucking out horses. The seven-year old was not amused. I guess you have to experience and enjoy the original version of tropes before you can move on to twisting and playing with them.At this stage I would recommend reading/watching Shakespeare, just so you can enjoy the Giant in the Playground spoofs with Order of the Stick (though you have to read all of Order of the Stick too). A spoof on Romeo and Juliet is so much more fun that watching some emo kids (though to be fair the original is pretty good too, who knew? Read/watch Shakespeare too 🙂 ).
So um yeah – there was a small part of me that was feeling kinda bad saying that the first thing Love & Rocket fans are always going on about it’s been running for so long and you grow with the characters and etc. But oh wait. What’s this? A Guardian article about Love & Rockets and how it’s so great? Let’s have a look shall we?
(Okay…so this message/response/thing got pretty bloody messy because…well there were cool new things to read and I wanted to write about them before throwing my own guff into the mix. I think I have? Yeah structurally this is a mess. Sorry!)
Apocalypse War was coool. I liked it less than the little city stories, but it was entertaining to see the Sov parody and Dredd facing complete impossible destruction (always a great character play). I really liked how fucking brutal they were with the Judges, killing them left or right. In a tight arc like this it really adds to it, the “Soviet” cover was phenomenal and…it was a cool exception story, but the city stuff is still way more interesting.
Re: these weird dinner parties where people talk about Love and Rockets all the time, I want an invite, can someone hook me up?
Oh – I’m sorry David: I’m guess they don’t have dinner parties in the The Caledonian Habitation Zone – huh?
We do but all anyone wants to talk about is The Broons and no one even talks about it in silly voices
I’m actually a dinner party right now: currently there’s quite a heated debate going on as to who would win in a fight between Persepolis and Maus.
(The bell tolled at– not sure if we’re still in the Dredd discussion, or into Grant Morrison’s book yet. Whatever…it’s a good discussion)