BLOG Dredd Central: The Best Stories To Get Into The Judge

The Apocalypse War

Stacey Whittle and a bunch of 2000AD recommend the best Judge Dredd stories for newcomers to the franchise, inspired to read more by the new film

So citizens, you’ve seen Dredd, you loved it (we did – ed) and now you want more… you’re only human. But look at the Judge’s 35 year back-catalogue of comic strip stories: where the hell do you start?

Don’t worry we can help you. Are you ready, Rookie? You look ready…

My initial reaction would be to recommend that you pick up the Judge Dredd Case Files; big telephone directory-sized (and I mean telephone directory-sized from when I was a youth, and not that piddling little leaflets you get now!) collections of all the Dredd stories right from the beginning. But honestly, I don’t think that’s the best route. Those books are slightly intimidating for a new reader, and if you’re used to reading American comics, they may look slightly alien to you too.

So, instead start with one of my own personal favourites “The Pit”, with all episodes written by John Wagner and with some outstanding artwork by Colin MacNeil, Carlos Esquerra, Alex Ronald and Lee Sullivan. This is a full-colour collection and a great story: Dredd is sent to investigate the death of the Sector Chief of Sector 301 – nicknamed The Pit (you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy!). The area is a crime-ridden dive and some of the Judges are equally immoral and corrupt. This story is very much an ensemble piece but really sets up how Dredd’s world works and his place in it. And if while watching the film you fell in love with Anderson, then you are going to adore Galen DeMarco a female Judge who thinks Judges should be human. She is a brilliant character and this story is the one to start you off post Dredd 3D.

Speaking of Anderson, I am not terribly fond of the character in her first appearance in the story “Judge Death”. I found her a little annoying (though Judge Death is an iconic character whom you will love to hate). But her last run in the Judge Dredd Megazine entitled “The Trip”, written by Alan Grant, is utterly brilliant and has a storyline very slightly similar to the movie, in that Anderson is trying to stop the distribution of a powerful drug. This story of an older, and very much more confident, Anderson is handled with flair and has devastating consequences. It also has the most joyful and exuberant artwork with exquisite colouring provided by the very talented Boo Cook. The story is contained in Megs #309-#313 which are available to buy on Clickwheel.

“Tour Of Duty” has been a recent epic in 2000AD and the first I have read as it’s meant to be – on a weekly basis. This arc has been an eye-opener for me, as for the very first time I appreciated the impact of the episodic nature of the storytelling and the utter genius that is John Wagner. It has been collected in trade paperback recently so is easy to pick up. This epic deals with all sorts of comparable real life issues; it has bleakness and humour and the worst and best of human behaviour. I think if you do read “Tour Of Duty” it will leave you thirsting for more Dredd. After reading the beautifully full-coloured version of Dredd’s world and seeing the man he is, you will be much more interested in seeing where he came from and then you can read and appreciate “The Apocalypse War” properly. You will understand. All the pieces will drop into place and you’ll be forever hooked. Like me.

But, hey don’t just take my word for it, I asked some of 2000AD’s writers and artists to tell me where they think you should start:

Leigh Gallager (Defoe”, “Aquila”, Judge Dredd)
“Judgment On Gotham”! The wonderful crossover with Batman written by Wagner and Grant and drawn by Simon Bisley, is a cracking, funny read and gorgeous to look at. It manages to fit in a lot of classic Dredd characters like Anderson, Death, and Mean Machine Angel, without sacrificing any story, and readers are exposed to how crazy Mega-City One is through Batman’s eyes.

Michael Carroll (“Caterpillars”)
“The Apocalypse War” is a great place for new readers to start, especially readers who are already established comics fans but new to Dredd, as the other epics’ mix of different artists can be off-putting. Even better, “The Apocalypse War” appears complete in Judge Dredd Case Files #5, along with its prelude “Block Mania” and a whole bunch of other classics. (Also worth a look is the more recent one-off tale “Caterpillars” drawn by Alwyn and Bryan Talbot, he added hintingly…)

Rob Williams (“Lowlife”, “The Grievous Journey of Ichabod Azreal”)
There’s the big epics that everybody knows – for my money you can’t get better Dredd than “Block Mania” and “The Apocalypse War”, and Case Files #5 has them plus the Dark Judges storyline (“Gaze into the fist of Dredd”), so that should probably be first port of call. But it’s worth digging out the little memorable, more obscure one-offs too. I remember, when I started reading 2000AD again after a long absence, there was a standalone story by Wagner and Duncan Fegredo called The Runner about a jogger in Mega City One who ends up on the wrong side of the law. That, to me, felt like a quintessential little Dredd story and, of course, Duncan’s a bit of genius.

Mike Collins (Judge Dredd, “Hondo City Justice”)
“The Restricted Files” are a good little dip in the pond as they’re all self-contained gems, (and, fact fans, the Four Horsemen story was my very first Dredd strip!) and feature some lovely work (Colin Wilson’s stuff is just glorious, and still remains one of my favourite ever stories); “The Pit” is a cracker and of course has echoes in the theme of the movie; “America” is just stone cold genius art and script.

Alec Worley (“Dandridge”, “Age Of The Wolf”)
I think your first port of call would have to be the weekly Prog and the monthly Meg (Judge Dredd Megazine). The Prog has recently finished its latest mega-epic “Day Of Chaos” (in which Soviet terrorists unleash a virus that destroys half of Mega-City One), which means new readers should have no trouble jumping aboard and checking out the latest two/three-parters by writers including Al Ewing (Jennifer Blood, Zombo), Rob Williams (Avengers, Spider-Man), and Michael Carroll (The Quantum Prophecy), and artists PJ Holden (Battlefields) and Laurence Campbell (Punisher).

The Megazine is a lot more Dredd-centric (the clue’s in the title, really) and features Dredd strips, as well as creator interviews, fiction, and Dreddworld spin-off strips like Tales From The Black Museum and Strange And Darke. This month’s issue is the movie special and includes a prequel with art by Dredd fan-favourite Henry Flint.

If you’re looking to do your homework and want to dig into Dredd’s 35 year history, general consensus recommends you check out the trade paperback Case Files #5, which covers one of the biggest events in Dredd history, “The Apocalypse War”. It’s also a chocolate box of classic Dredd artists, from Brian Bolland to Ron Smith.

The pick of the individual series would probably have to be “Origins” (Dredd ventures into the Cursed Earth to recover the body of Chief Judge Fargo, the father of the Justice Department), “The Pit” (Dredd takes over as Chief of a particularly nasty sector) and “America” (a must-read about two citizens caught up in the Justice system).

There’s some pretty good Dredd fiction out there too, most recently Judge Dredd Year One: City Fathers by 2000 AD editor “Tharg” himself Matt Smith.

Newbies can take heart from the fact that Dredd isn’t particularly continuity-heavy. ‘Grim dutybound cop polices insane future city’ is all you really need to know. The best advice is probably just to jump in and enjoy!

Ben Willsher (Judge Dredd, “Lenny Zero”)
“I highly recommend any of the Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files, as they’re not only great fun, but great value for money – most being the size of a Yellow Pages directory and crammed to the rafters (to mix my metaphors) with darkly funny tales, thrilling action and amazing art.

I would highlight two for new readers; Case Files #5 and #7. Don’t let the purple and pink covers put you off. If you’ve just seen the film and want to see where Judge Anderson goes from here, then check out Case Files #5, as that has her and Dredd teaming up against the toughest foes Mega-City has ever seen – Judge Death and the Dark Judges – featuring some of Brian Bolland’s finest work to date. This is swiftly followed by “The Apocalypse War”, a story where Dredd’s actions are so strong that the ramifications are still being felt today, 30 years later, in the wake of the “Days Of Chaos” arc (currently running in 2000AD)!

Case Files #7, is a slightly lighter-hearted affair, but this volume really gives you an insight into the crazy world of Mega-City One and the citizens that live there. In this one book you’ll find werewolves, fatties, dinosaurs, giant noses, haunted houses, carjackers and a mayor that’s an Orang-utan. What more could you want?

Lastly I’d implore you to seek out Judge Dredd Vs Aliens. This is not just another throw-away comic company crossover license, but a product that fits into both universes seamlessly. This is one of the strongest uses of the Alien franchise (arguably stronger than many of its film counterparts) and you could find no better protagonist than Dredd to go up against this unstoppable antagonist. It is a true romp: action, adventure and horror in equal measures, brought to you by the writing talent of comic giants John Wagner (original Dredd creator) and Andy Diggle, and illustrated beautifully by the extraordinary Henry Flint. Each panel is a joy to read, and will leave you desperately wanting it not to end.

Al Ewing (Dredd, “Zombo”, “Damnation Station”, “Zaucer Of Zilk”)
I’d say start with… was it Case Files #9 that has the Midnight Surfer in? That’s a good Case Files. Modern Dredd – “The Pit” is a good start, also “Total War”.

Prog 1800 is out now and a perfect jumping on point for new readers. Ok Rookie, you got to the end of this assessment and it’s a pass…prepare yourself for Thrill Power Overload! (with many thanks to the 2000AD creators for their suggestions).

Read SFX’s Dredd review