a short list of things to hope for in the forthcoming judge dredd tv series

0      judge dredd the comic strip is about future crime, not the characters or relationships of the regular cast – the people making the tv show will hopefully be aware of that

the concept behind the story ought to be what attracts the viewer: an example is three people carrying out a bank raid (a standard crime situation) where the (future) twist is they’ve disguised themselves by changing their faces to look like 1930s comedians

(c) rebellion 1978

when they send the hostages out at the end they give themselves another face change, join the back of the line, walk straight past the judges + escape

that is a great idea.  note there’s no need to set up the motivation of the characters (it’s obvious), at no point does anyone’s back story get gradually revealed + the only thing from this episode that reoccurs in the next is dredd himself.  one of his functions in the comic is as a linking device for a series of tales which might otherwise be self contained

note john wagner came up with a similar story (poor johnny) with an even better twist in the mid 1990s

(c) rebellion 1995

where dredd’s role is almost solely that of a linking device.  he could potentially be as peripheral to the events of episodes in the tv series if the writers have story ideas of this standard, only appearing in the last scene to hit someone over the head with a baseball bat + arrest them (or more likely drive around on a massive bike blazing away with a firearm), although obviously he would be expected to feature prominently in most of the episodes because he’s a star turn

1      judge dredd is a constant (to use a programming metaphor)

although the story he gets dropped into changes each time, dredd remains the same.  roughly speaking this is the opposite of a sitcom

in a standard sitcom the situation doesn’t change, the characters have to get up to different things (or just talk about them) inside its boundaries.  with dredd it’s the other way round: no matter how mental the situation he’s put in he is not phased by it, + at the end of the story it’s the situation that has changed, not him

to paraphrase ecclesiastes:

perpetrators of imaginative crimes come and go
dredd abides

hopefully the show runner(s) of this TV series will not make the mistake which occurs regularly in dr who of sending the doctor or one of his companions (or even the alien species they’re up against) on a psychological journey during which they learn something about themselves, or are affected by an event in the story + changed permanently

they will be highly unlikely to make the even worse error of putting peter capaldi + matt lucas next to each other + either failing to notice or ignoring the potential of the vestigal double act that sprang up between the two actors.  their rapport is difficult to define, but depending on which episode you’re watching it verged on that of

an aristocrat + his butler; baron frankenstein + igor; the way peter cook looked down on dudley moore; the sort of exchanges you used to get between actors playing similar roles in the black adder, etc

this was new to the series, interesting + worth exploring, but instead the writers opted to concentrate on yet another feisty female co star, illustrating gay issues (again) + giving her an almost identical story to the one jenna coleman had in asylum of the daleks but taking longer to tell it

but I digress

swiftly snapping back to the original topic:

2      2000ad is a british comic

mega city one may be in north america but the stories of its citizens play out in 2000ad.  hopefully whoever’s making this TV series will have a go at importing some of the specifically british characteristics present in the original strip

two examples of traditions in UK comics which have already been adapted to suit 2000ad + could easily be imported to a tv show are

a) cartoon violence

this exists elsewhere in the world as well (see tom + jerry for a masterclass) but there is a recogniseably british (dundonian?) tradition, + a way of depicting less obviously cartoony violence which entails either taking it to an unrealistic extreme or otherwise making it funny, with the result that any gross stuff shown is not distressing

this is achieved by offering two experiences simultaneously (a joke + something horrible) to the reader, who should ideally appreciate both + not necessarily be moved to either laugh (ha ha) or recoil (yeuch) by either whilst he or she experiences them

(a common theme on this website seems to be explaining how comic strips work on more than one level – that was it again)

if you agree the following images exemplify a style of exaggerated violence unique to UK comics it will save time trying to further define it in prose (+ if you don’t then leave a response below this article)

(c) rebellion 1977

note this strip features american characters (apologies to anyone from the US for the unrealistic dialogue) being savaged differently to the way they would be in an american comic.  the image below is what happens to the sheriff when he gets in the shower + reaches for a towel

(c) rebellion 1977

2000ad’s general method of handling violence ought to be clear from the extreme egs above from shako.  it was usually more subtly implemented in the judge dredd strip itself (which is presumably down to john wagner’s influence) – as the representation of a funny fatality in the lunar olympics snow boarding event below demonstrates

(c) rebellion 1978

note the reactions of the characters who have to score the dead contestant.  the idea shown below of a bunch of villains who have escaped justice getting a lot worse than their just desserts (losing their lives because of an oversight concerning their oxygen bill) is typical of the harsh nature of life in this strip.  note there’s something ironic going on here + there’s no obvious moral to the story.  the TV show really needs to articulate these things as clearly as possible – they’re key attributes for judge dredd stories + are part of what defines the strip

(c) rebellion 1978

for an archetypal example of horror being undermined by humour (or vice versa) see judge cal executing innocent citizens below

(c) rebellion 1979

killing people in the order they appear in the phone book + explaining to the first victim what an honour it is to be that is a funny idea, as is the victim’s name.  when he gets dragged off to his death by monster mercenaries that puts an additional horrifying undertone beneath the previously mostly humourous events.  note virtually everything judge cal did or said would have been an equally good example

anyway that’s enough about violence – the next UK comic tradition is:

b) heartbreaking things happening

this is a tradition in british girls’ comics which appears to differ from those of the USA (UK evidence follows).  it sneaks into 2000ad probably via pat mills + the obvious example is ro jaws’s memoirs by him + mike dorey

(c) rebellion 1979

you would need to read the whole strip to appreciate the bullying + abuse the various robots have to put up with ending with ro jaws eventually losing his home.  this episode would have appeared in the second 2000ad christmas issue if there had not been a dispute which took it out of the newsagents for four weeks, meaning there never was one – the artwork above finally saw print the following jan.

the obvious example of a heartbreaking thing from the judge dredd strip has to be tweak, which may have been pat mills’s work again:

(c) rebellion 1978

moving on to a completely different issue (sob):

3      adaption of specific stories

clearly the makers of the TV series could elect to plunder existing comic book stories + adapt them, or make something up themselves as they see fit.  assuming they

a) start afresh

alan grant’s statement about where he + john wagner developed their stories from – reading about something (new scientist? national enquirer? – where would you look…?), exaggerating it + projecting it into the future – is the tried + tested method

it is unlikely whoever’s scripting the TV show needs to be informed of that but in case anyone’s interested in hearing it from the horse’s mouth alan grant states this on camera in an unfinished (ie without music or narration) documentary, on the link below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YvOZ1LzSAig

on the other hand if they are going to

b) adapt selections from the comic strip

fingers crossed they just pick the best stories to adapt + don’t try to stick to the order events occur in the comics (although obviously it’s important to remember not to eg have walter in it before the robots’ revolt)

if they just use the strip as a source of programme ideas not as some sort of rigid old testament style stone tablet with future events chiselled all over it they shouldn’t go far wrong.  for example, assuming it doesn’t matter to the story who the chief judge was in the original version put mcgruder in because she’s a great character.  no one’s going to write to the radio times about perceived continuity errors as long as the writers stay true to the spirit of the strip

(in case I’ve fascinated anyone with this topic additional suggestions for adaptating dredd appear in a previous article on this site concerning the most recent movie)

lastly:

4      selling the show to a new audience 

this has to be the most important thing to hope for

however: there seems to be a template hollywood defaults to for making a lot of its comic book movies: whatever the characters are like in the original strips, reinvent them as angst ridden gothic loners + spend the whole film explaining the motives of the villain

judge dredd already superficially fits the hero type for that + the story idea (the crime) is usually kicked off by a villain

hopefully this TV series will beware of accidentally fitting into that template: by using the same cookie cutter on dredd that has been used previously for a long list of other comic book characters it would risk rendering him indistiguishable from the rest of the genre + stand to lose what is unique about the comic strip

if the audience thinks they’ve already seen the city (eg in blade runner), the criminals (eg in gotham), the story (watch this space) + dredd himself (odd attributes from batman, wolverine, deadpool, etc) they won’t need to watch the show

in short what ought to sell the TV series is what sold the comics in the first place (see above)

a wider audience deserves to be introduced to the excitement we experienced reading judge dredd in our youth, + we cannot afford a third communication failure from strip to screen because of the damage it could do to anyone else’s chances of getting a movie project off the ground, + possibly even to the character (look what happened to tank girl)

getting nearer to getting it right may not be enough this time – I think they need to get it right

let’s hope they do

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