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Sunday, February 26, 2012

35 Years of Judge Dredd

You wouldn't know it from the cover but this was the issue of 2000AD which featured the very first Judge Dredd strip, on sale exactly 35 years ago today. Prog 2, which appeared in newsagents on Saturday February 26th 1977.

Clearly no one at the time knew that Dredd would swiftly become the comic's biggest hit. Indeed they were still promoting Dan Dare as the main attraction, but Dredd's debut had something that set it head and shoulders above other UK adventure strips at the time. I for one had been a little bit indifferent about issue 1, but this issue hooked me for life, mostly due to Judge Dredd I think.

Although designed by Carlos Ezquerra, (who drew the first strip that was shelved for later use) the first published Judge Dredd story was drawn by Mike McMahon. It's a powerful opening chapter.

Back then, Dredd's adventures were self contained. Not only did this help make the strip more accessible to new readers it also gave the writers the opportunity to explore different aspects of Mega City One every week, building up the foundation of Dredd's world. The initial story concluded on the back page, giving us our first glimpse of Dredd's uniform in colour, using the basic primary colours available for newsprint at the time.

The rest of the issue featured more of the strips we'd seen in issue one, including another dynamic centre spread by Massimo Belardinelli. A far cry from previous IPC adventure comics which had featured tame strips such as Billy's Boots (Scorcher) or Phil the Fluter (Thunder) in the centre pages.

Prog 2 included another debut, - the first published page Kevin O'Neill drew for 2000AD. This was a feature on Harlem Heroes Power Gear, situated opposite the latest Harlem Heroes by Dave Gibbons.

If you're wondering what the free gift looked like, here it is. Biotronic Stickers! Back in the days when free gifts were simply placed inside the comic, not Sellotaped to the cover or sealed with the comic inside a plastic bag.

I remember when Judge Dredd's popularity prompted readers to ask if he'd ever get his own comic. Such requests were politely dismissed. Back then the reasoning was that removing Dredd to his own title would severely weaken 2000AD. It was felt that the alternative of using Dredd in both comics and finding new writers to do the additional Dredd stories wouldn't match the standard of John Wagner's scripts. But eventually they found a way and launched Judge Dredd Megazine whilst keeping Dredd in 2000AD as well, and having John Wagner write the stories for both comics in most issues.

Later this year will see the release of the new Judge Dredd movie, simply entitled Dredd. From what I've seen so far it looks very low budget, but a lot could hopefully be added in post production to make Mega City One look less like a multi-story car park. Time will tell!

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