Finally, after decades of waiting, 2000 AD delivers the origin story of one of the greatest Judge Dredd mysteries of them all. No, not the origin of the Megacities or the Judge System, or even the cloning of Dredd and his brother Rico — all of those have been covered before in much older comics. I am talking about this history behind one of the most powerful symbols of law and justice in the post-apocalyptic world of 2000 AD.
Judge Dredd’s chin.
Judge Dredd: Origins delves into the secrets behind that rock of justice, the indomitable chin that has broken the hearts and backs of so many lawbreakers across the decades. This is the chin that withstood the Apocalypse War, the Rock of Gibraltar that was the last bastion of hope and the rallying point during The Day the Law Died. The chin that will permit no smile. The chin that haunts the nightmares of every lawbreaker in the future-world of Mega-City-One. If you are a regular reader of Judge Dredd and 2000AD, then you know the chin of which I speak.
And now finally (Finally!) we know all of its secrets.
Okay, so there is more to Judge Dredd: Origins than the mystery of the chin, but that’s what I loved the most. Aside from chin, there is an excellent history of the entire Judge Dredd world, the rise of the Megacities, the origin of the Judge System, the last President of the USA Robert “Bad Bob” Booth and the war that created the Cursed Earth. Judge Dredd creator John Wagner and original Judge Dredd artist Carlos Ezquerra come together for the origin story of all that is Judge Dredd.
One of the things I liked about Judge Dredd: Origins is that it is one story. Most of these 2000 AD collections are anthologies gathered around a theme — a single writer, or a type of crime. I think this is the first one I have read that actually tells a complete story from the first page to the last. The book collects stories from 2000 AD Progs 1500-1519 (2007) and 1529-1535 (2008). There is a short intro story drawn by Kev Walker, but the rest is Ezquerra art.
The story revolves around the theft of the body of Chief Justice Fargo, the first Judge and founder of the Judge System. Dredd is called in (of course) to retrieve the body, gathering a band of trusted companions to go after the villains. Along the way, Dredd plays Decameron and tells early stories of the bad days before the Judges came, the rise and fall of “Bad Bob” Booth, and how Dredd and his clone-brother Rico came to be.
The story dips deep into the psychology of the post-apocalyptic world, about what steps lead to the creation of an absolute police state, and the mental and physical sacrifices that had to be made. Even the Judges are questing the justice of the Judge system — it reminds me a bit of the cracks in the façade of Catholic priests (not like that! Mind out of the gutter!) and how people question an absolute commitment to any ideal. The last scene in the book is especially powerful — the lies we tell ourselves when we want to justify our commitment to something.
I usually love Ezquerra’s art, but I wasn’t as blown away by it here. Most of that I think is the coloring; there was some attempt to use digital coloring effects to make Ezquerra’s art look “rounded” and 3D, and that just doesn’t work. The digital modeling and shading takes away from Ezquerra’s line work and doesn’t add much in return. Ezquerra is a unique artist — he has a stylized way of working that you can tell influenced later Dredd artists like Frank Quitely with his tube heads and pursed lips. But Ezquerra’s art is also flat, and works best with a flat coloring.
I’ve been reading Judge Dredd for so long I can’t really say if this is a good comic for first-timers to pick up. I don’t really think so. It is more of a “filling in the gaps” kind of thing that assumes previous knowledge of Dredd and his world. Personally, I think this is the kind of story that is appreciated best by those with a decent backlog of 2000 AD stories in their heads — you have to sell them on the mysteries before you give them the answers, otherwise the answers don’t mean as much.
Except for the chin. Everyone is going to want to read about the Chin.
Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the ’90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack’s reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.