BLOG Judge Dredd Writer Al Ewing on 2000AD’s Surprising Crossover

A few months ago something new and different happened in 2000AD. A cross-over story event began, but this wasn’t like any other 2000AD cross-over event; for a start, when it started readers knew nothing about it. The three stories which would eventually combine to create this cross-over showed no signs of being connected in any way; they began separately, but then in Prog 1807 the three stories suddenly combined to the surprise and delight of 2000AD readers.

Prog 1807’s Judge Dredd episode concluded with a door being kicked in by Dredd and then on the next page The Simping Detective began with a door being kicked in. And through that door came Dredd…. And then Low Life picked up the threads of the same plot too. Minds were blown!

In this week’s Prog 1812 (left) – out today – the three stories conclude in a joint finale which brings the three writers together for one single, Prog-filling, conclusion.

We managed to grab a chat with Al Ewing, writer of the Dredd parts of this epic story, to find out a little bit more about how this all came about…

SFX: Hi Al, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. With the recent “The Cold Deck/Trifecta” cross-over story in 2000AD, which brought together Dreddworld stories Judge Dredd, The Simping Detective and Low Life, fans of the comic are singing your praises. How do you feel the story has turned out?

Al Ewing

Al Ewing: “It’s turned out well! Considering the level of ambition in terms of the job we set ourselves, I feel we’ve done ourselves and 2000AD proud. The readership has been incredibly positive from the start, even before they twigged that it was a crossover – and that’s something I’m very proud of, that we managed to keep everyone in the dark and made Prog 1807 a genuine surprise for the readers.”

Where did the idea come from? Who was the driving force behind it all?

“I think it was Si Spurrier who originally had the idea of him, me and Rob Williams getting together to co-write something. At the time, that was going to be an Image miniseries, but that idea ended up coming to nothing when all three of us got busy in our own lives. Last year, Si and Rob came to me with the idea to revive the project as a Dreddworld crossover – I think even at that early stage Si was talking about a single-story issue of 2000AD featuring all the characters. So really, it’s Si and Rob you should be thanking.”

I don’t think there’s been a cross-over event quite like this before. Was there a moment when you all thought you were a bit mad trying to pull it off?

“Hundreds of moments. It’s like doing a jigsaw where all three of us have slightly different sets, and we’re trying to make a coherent picture with them. The fact that we made something that’s as coherent as it is, is testament to Si and Rob’s skill as writers and my extreme flukiness. I don’t know if we’ll ever do it again – not for a while, anyway. If we do, in a year or five, we’ll go in with a better understanding of just how much work is involved.”

Dredd and Bachmann

“Nope. Originally, Bachmann was just someone for Dredd to bounce off, so the second half of that story could take place in real time, a month after the first half. And then it turned out that she was very popular, so I felt that I needed to finish her story quickly, so she wasn’t just another Dredd villain simmering in the background for years and years, which was why I pushed for her to be the Big Bad of ‘Trifecta’. It was literally me saying, ‘I have a villain going spare, can we use her?’

“As it turns out, while this is the end of her story, it might not be the end of the Black Ops story. So maybe we will have to team up again soon.”

With three writers, four artists and several plot threads to intertwine, how difficult was the story to coordinate?

“It was tough. Before we even started work, we went for several plotting/drinking sessions to work out what we wanted to do. We all had our own ideas and themes we wanted to explore – I wanted to use Bachmann and Maitland and have Dredd get beat up; Rob had an idea for Frank getting involved in corporate shenanigans on the moon; Si had ideas for a Church Of Simpology. So we all came in wanting things, and we worked out how we could all have our cakes and eat them. Then we ate them.”

During the story, especially your part of it, there were a lot of mentions of Dredd and Mega-City One’s past. Judge Dredd is unique in having a very consistent linear history. Would you say this helps or hinders you when you write the character?

“I think because of the nature of the reveal in the final episode – out today – we had to make the past a constant theme, to have it constantly reaching back to the present. I don’t think that was something we decided, it’s just something that happened subconsciously. It’s nice to have 35 years of history to refer to – plus another 20 years or so we can invent – but lean too hard on it and it becomes a crutch. I feel like I’ve pushed the past of Dredd as far as I can for the moment, and it’s time to start looking forward again.”

How do you feel about the fans talk about you being John Wagner’s natural successor on Dredd?

“Enormously flattered, obviously, and also a little bit scared. I don’t think I’ve done right by Dredd over the past year, in that I’ve been distracted by other things. From next year, I’m going to try and spend a lot more time with the character, and really get a lot of stories under my belt. Do my bit to earn all this praise.”

With “Day of Chaos”, “The Cold Deck”/“Trifecta” and the two Dredd films – the big 3D one and Minty – all happening this year, it really has been a great time for Dredd in his 35th year, where do you see the character going from here?

“Well, he’s getting older. More to the point, he’s starting to realise his own fallibility. He’s made mistakes, and he’s making them now. He’s starting to see that his judgement hasn’t been 100% correct 100% of the time, and the big question ahead is how he’s going to deal with that, when the evidence of his failures – Chaos Day, his strained relationship with Hershey – is staring him in the face. And eventually, someone’s going to have to address Fargo’s last words and what they mean for Mega-City One.”

Do you have specific plans for Dredd storylines in the future?

“I need to wrap up Deller and The Organisation, at least in the short term. I really want to do something with Giant – he’s Dredd’s successor, except he’s human in a way Dredd isn’t. He’s not a clone, he grew up with a family. While evidence of Dredd’s ‘father’s’ humanity is suppressed by Justice Dept, Giant is living evidence that his Dad had off-regulation emotions. So there’s a wealth of story potential there.

“I want to do some politics – bring back the thread of Gerhardt Crane, the political writer who keeps popping up. See what his reaction to the reduced Mega-City is, and whether his ideas take root in any official places.

“Annnnnnnd… I want to experiment with things like narrative collapse. Real In-The-Abyss stuff – someone mentioned the Black Lodge recently on the boards and it’s got me thinking.”

Dredd’s getting on a bit, he’s over 70 now… How would you feel about killing him off and replacing him with Rico or Dolman?

“Reader reaction seems quite positive to that. There were a few people who actually assumed we were doing that when we had him shot up at the end of ‘The Cold Deck’ – the Snake? Snake? Snaaaaake! moment. (Of course, that moment is always followed by ‘Countine?’, as Metal Gear Solid players should have worked out.)

“I don’t have permission to kill Dredd. Yet. If we do decide to kill him, it won’t be something we’d do lightly, I can guarantee. As for what happens after that… I’ve always been in favour of doing a ‘Taggart’ and continuing the Dredd strip without Judge Dredd in it. No need for Rico or Dolman to disrupt their routine. Giant’s the natural successor, anyway.”

It sounds like you have a lot of love for Judge Giant; do you have some clear ideas about what you’d do with the character given the chance?

“Just explore the human side of him, make him the POV character for some stories, give him some meaty cases to work on. Bring out the sides to his character that make him different from Dredd, put them on display, round him out a little; re-establish him as the successor. Not that I have anything against Rico, but I prefer Rico as his own man rather than Dredd-In-Waiting.”

Dredd and Roffman

You also managed to use PSU’s Judge Roffman, a fan favourite character, back during “The Cold Deck”. Along with several other Dredd characters his fate after the last big Dredd epic “Day of Chaos” was a little uncertain for a while, are there any other similar “fate uncertain” characters you’d like to involve in future stories other than Giant?

“Well, at some point I have to decide whether Bennett lived or died. I don’t want to get into a situation where everyone who ever worked with Dredd survived – that’s just unrealistic – but at the same time, the guy who I named Bennett after has helped me move house several times, so I feel like Bennett should probably survive!”

More of this interview on the next page…