This year’s 2000AD FCBD contribution was an “all ages” take on some of our favourite characters. But this isn’t The Mighty One’s first attempt. The last published venture by the House of Tharg to create a younger / all ages title looked to capitalise on a certain mid ’90s film. Luke takes a look so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.
Judge Dredd : Lawman Of The Future
By Luke Williams
It has long been claimed that 2000AD has grown with its audience and this is both its blessing and its curse. It’s difficult to attract a new generation of readers to a title that was becoming increasingly sophisticated (and I don’t mean more T&A, swears and an increase in the violence). Early 90s 2000AD publishers, Fleetway, wanted to create an entry point title of the same ilk, theoretically this pre-teen audience would then progress to 2000AD and the still fresh faced “Judge Dredd Megazine”. In answer editorial developed “Earthside 8” in 1992. An aborted anthology title that would have included “Canned Heat” (Wagner & MacNeil), “Dinosty” (Mills and Langley) and “Tracer” (Dave Stone & Paul Peart), all of which found publication in the prog’ or specials.
For whatever reason “Earthside 8” was canned, Fleetway hadn’t given up on the idea of an entry level comic. Their next opportunity came riding on the back of the upcoming Sylvester Stallone starring, “15” rated, movie “juggernaut” that was going to be “Judge Dredd”.
I’ll just let that sink in. “15 rated” film, pre teen comic. Editorial obviously thought it was a good idea at the time in defiance of logic, but who are we to argue with Tharg? There was a hope that the film would have a lower age rating to have a wider market appeal. Not an auspicious start, however there was a significant marketing campaign, toys, games, models etc were licensed to tie in with the film. This was high profile.
The comic itself was to be fortnightly and set in the continuity of the film, costumes, codpiece, gadgets and all. As it was aimed at younger readers the level of violence was toned down. Making up the package were features on Dredd (“10 Things You Never Knew About Dredd and his Future World” , features on the movie, “Could You Be A Judge?”), games, features on that film and more.
Editor David Bishop brought in a lot of (then) new talent to create strips for the title, Robbie Morrison, Gordon Rennie, Simon Fraser, Dylan Teague, Charlie Adlard, Charlie Gillespie, Jim Murray, Chris Standley, Jim O’Ready, Rob Davis, Dondie Cox, Sean Longcroft, Alex Ronald (he of the photo’ realistic Prog’ and Meg’ cover), Ashley Sanders and Kevin Cullen. But more established creators were also commissioned, John Wagner of course, Simon Furman, Geoff Senior (who contributed a lot of work) Gina Hart, Robin Smith and Ron Smith.
The strips are a mix of super powered villain / monster of the week type and reboots of classic 2000AD strips. Stories such as “Dragon” and “Cold Blood” which saw the debut of recurring titular villains. Lucius Bludd, a “Kingpin” (as in Spiderman / Daredevil villain) knock off who was seen as controlling all the rackets and organised crime in MC1 was being set up as the main nemesis to Dredd. John Wagner and Gordon Rennie rebooted “The Mega Rackets”, “The Hot Dog Run”, “Graveyard Shift” , “Hunters Club” and the “Robot War” (pre teen mix). Both Judge Death and the Mean Machine show up, with an interesting wrinkle on Death’s motivation and origin.
The run was short, lasting just under a year issues 1-23, with an action special to tie in. The returns on the film were not what were hoped. The film’s release should have seen the profile of the host comics raised but the expected bucket loads of merchandising royalties didn’t appear. The whole publishing group apparently suffered as a consequence and “Loftie” as it was affectionately referred to by David Bishop was a casualty, with surplus material published in the 52 page action special – which is seemingly quite elusive to 45 year old collectors of British comics.
This “cuddly” Dredd didn’t have the edge of early 2000AD Dredds. Even if they were rough around the edges the early Prog’ strips had a charm that this version is lacking, but it does get into a groove. Whilst they retained the essential elements of the character and his world most of the black humour and pointed satire that had evolved was absent, rendering the strips “bloodless” both literally and figuratively.
However, (and what I kept telling myself when reading it) this wasn’t aimed at 22 year old (at publication) me, and I knew that in 1995. I remember seeing copies in Merretts Newsagent (RIP) and decided that I would not pick it up, because
a. My Halfords Saturday job pay wouldn’t stretch to another comic
b. It was for 11 years olds.
It’s interesting as a curio particularly for some early work from some now well established creators. Don’t expect anything with much bite or sophistication, but again it had a specific target market. In my mid 40s I have clearly succumbed to my completist urges (still missing the Judge Dredd Action Special). It’s only a matter of time before I hunt down DC & the ropier end of IDW Dredd.
But, if anyone has a Judge Dredd Action Special going spare, you know who to call.