1977 was an interesting year in terms of comic books. Located in what was known as the Bronze Age of Comics, we saw the rise in popularity of comic books tackling social issues of the time. Restrictions began to lift and the medium was allowed to become grittier and grittier. Although DC and Marvel had been established for quite some time, a new comic entered the fray tackling the blatant hypocrisies that were observed in American culture, “Judge Dredd.” Published by 2000 A.D. Comics in mid 1977, “Judge Dredd” set out to comment on the discussions of police states, blatant authoritarianism and rising fear of immorality within the western world. The Cold war had been going on for three decades and fears of communism and threats to Americans were reaching a tipping point. 2000 A.D. comics decided to react to this growing “Red Scare” by making stories about a policeman of the future that could slip by censors, but at the same time criticize them thoroughly. This is a short recap of what “Judge Dredd” came to mean.
“Judge Dredd” focuses around its central character, “Judge Dredd;” police officer in the year 2099 residing in one of the few remaining cities of the irradiated wasteland of America, Mega City 1. The stories follow the titular character who holds the rank of ‘Judge.’ The police force of the future has to deal with so much crime so quickly that they have no need for the slow process of getting a judge, jury, lawyers and executioners together, so they combined them into the police force and dubbed them “Judges.” Able to make quick decisions on their own about the crime and suitable punishment on the spot. Dredd has a very unique trait however in that the readers and the creators of the almost 40 years of Dredd, have never seen his face (discounting the 1995 film which is condemned by the original creators). The artist that created Dredd, Carlos Ezquerra said “I gave him a helmet because justice has no face.”
When you look at the first renditions of “Judge Dredd” it is easy to see how mocking his depiction was of symbolism in the western world. Ezquerra said “I took the description of the character and went over the top.” He was told that Dredd was Judge, Jury and Executioner all dressed in black, and after he made the outline of the character he started adding personal touches to subtly emphasize the authoritarian undertones of the piece. “He was supposed to be the representation of justice,” Ezquerra said. “Because justice has no face I made a helmet so it was covering all of the face it could. I tried to make something like the hood of a middle age’s executioner.” Ezquerra tried his best to make Dredd look as futuristic as possible back in 1977, but today he laughs at his own design because “He looks like any policeman does now.”
“In the [armor on] the shoulders I put an eagle,” Ezquerra continued. “The eagle is the representation of the American eagle but also could be a fascist symbol, since the Romans, the Nazis and Spain where I was living under Franco’s regime.” Created in England after the era of Margaret Thatcher, the creators believed it was easy to see the government as an authoritarian obsessed force and saw this as an opportunity to comment on the ruling officials of the time. Because America was the superpower that England was allied with, they saw fit that “Judge Dredd” should take place in America.
Soon celebrating its fortieth anniversary, anyone that is looking for a new type of superhero should pick up “Judge Dredd” not only for its action, but also for its satirical take on U.S. government. Find “Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 01” on Amazon starting at $13.99.