Story: Robot War
Appears: 2000AD Progs 10-17
Writers: John Wagner
Art: Carlos Ezquerra, Ron Turner, Mike McMahon,
Dated: 30 April to 18 June 1977
Plot: Robots ill-treated by humans stage a murderous revolt.
Verdict: This is where Dredd takes a giant leap forward. Having your protagonist written by the man that created him, and who doesn’t seem to be a bad writer, makes a real difference. As does time to tell a decent story. This is the first multi-part tale and as such it introduces something very valuable – tension. With cliff-hangers you can add danger and suspense. With more pages you can pace a story rather than condense it all into a breakneck tirade.
As well as a dramatic story with lots of action there are also plenty of messages you can take away, although how many of them were actually planted at the time who can say. Wagner is clearly well read quoting Asimov’s laws of robotics and Hitler’s speeches. Robot slavery can easily be replaced by human slavery and this story was written barely a decade after the American civil rights movement and at a time when Britain was struggling with racism. Unfortunately it is deemed the robots are better off as slaves, so take from that what you will.
Dredd speaks and behaves like a hero from Commando or Battle comics which is a step forward although his internal monologue is occasionally verbose. Like all great cops he turns in his badge when he disagrees with his superior only to come to the rescue when all seems darkest. It also appears that a Judge’s first course of action is to set gun to High Explosive.
The judges are still separate from the police and America is still a more important national identity than Mega City One. The Lawgiver is named for the first time and we meet Walter the Robot who quickly becomes Walter the Wobot. There is good continuity between episodes and earlier stories although the Statue of Judgement is depicted as the same size as the Statue of Liberty. There is a nice cameo from T.V Presenter Shaw Taylor, complete with “keep ‘em peeled” catchphrase, who fronted the crimewatch style program Police 5.
The art was done by three separate artists which was the hazard of a weekly comic back in the day and although there is consistency there is a noticeable difference between Progs. There are some android office workers that look very like Clark Kent too. Creepy.
We have also sadly lapped Dredd history as the weather computer tells us Mega City One was around in 2012. Ah well.
Appears: 2000AD Prog 9
Writers: John Wagner
Art: Ron Turner
Dated: 23 April 1977
Plot: Dredd muses on the humanity of robots while capturing an extortionist who released a deadly gas.
Verdict: This is Dredd co-creator John Wagner’s first story. Whilst there is a rich philosophical idea about the sentience and consciousness of robots it has some vast plot holes. A criminal in a bulletproof bubble somehow drops a large blanket. Maguffin ahoy.
It is interesting that someone in a wheelchair is called a cripple in 2099 just as they would have been in the 1970’s. A word that is all but banned today.
This is Ron Turner’s first outing and although his panels are the most structured we have seen to date he has great composition and really good angles. He also works very well with black and white.
Shockingly the story ends before the space does leaving a blank quarter page. Maybe there was a compulsory advert here or maybe Wagner was still new to scripting.
We see the helmet respirator for the first time.
My First Month in the Megacity
Well this might be an unfair time to cast a critical eye over a title that is still suffering its birth pains but almost two months have elapsed in 2000AD time.
Many things surprise me about seeing these early strips for the first time. There are strong roots laid down that will carry the concept forward for a long time to come. The iconic look of the Judges, the Lawmaster and even the megacity are all firmly established from day one. Although there is no sign of the square-jawed, Clint Eastwood figure that I remember, at least he dresses the part.
Also surprising is the amount of action you can fit into five or sometimes four pages. I don’t know if this is a sign of great writing but four pages doesn’t seem a lot of room for a beginning, a middle and an end. And the layouts are pretty radical. Coming from the regular, ordered, straight edges of the Dandy and Beano or even Tintin and Asterix to the frenetic visual jumble of Dredd is a real eye-opener. Even in today’s graphic novels the hard border and separate panel structure is king.
There are some novel ideas, good nuggets of science-fiction, and a wry look at the culture of the time but the dialogue is really bad. Dredd hasn’t yet found his voice and swings wildly from Shakespearian monologue to cartoon character. There is no sign of the “show, don’t tell” maxim as thanks to an incessant internal monologue Dredd is both showing and telling at the same time.
If this were published today for the first time would it stand up to a spoilt and jaded readership? That’s a tricky one. An eight year old of today bombarded by media from birth might not give it a second glance. But there are enough interesting ideas and tantalising glimpses at what this title could be to peak my interest.
Let’s see what next week’s literary archaeology turns up.
Story: Antique Car Heist
Appears: 2000AD Prog 8
Writers: Charles Herring
Art: Massimo Bellardinelli
Dated: 16 April 1977
Plot: Antique cars are now considered art and someone is stealing them.
Verdict: This is a quaint idea and an interesting comment on art and nostalgia.
A new writer and artist slip into this firmly codified format with ease. Bellardinelli has cleaner, finer lines than anyone before him but he follows the template with dynamic panels and loose composition.
We see the High Explosive Bullet for the first time and Dredd takes his helmet off. Yep! But it is covered by a huge censored banner. Clearly the fourth wall hadn’t yet been discovered.
There seems to be a standing order that Dredd must have the last word in each strip and he has to deliver a pun of judgement. This one is particularly weak. “I ordered the Walk-eezee to be put in reverse! Something that must never happen to the law!” And every sentence ends in an exclamation mark. I am not kidding you, there are no full stops in anybody’s speech.
And if you were wondering the Walk-eezee is a moving walkway that travels at 500 feet per second. Isn’t that 360mph? Good luck stepping off that. Sorry … off that!
Story: The Statue of Judgement
Appears: 2000AD Prog 7
Writers: Malcolm Shaw
Art: Mike McMahon
Dated: 9 April 1977
Plot: A gang is robbing tourists at the unveiling of the Statue of Judgement. Dredd shoots them.
Verdict: We now know who invented the cheesy one-liner. It wasn’t Arnie it was Dredd. After a criminal falls to his death on the Statue of Liberty Dredd says “No one can take liberties with the law.”
In four pages you aren’t going to have sophisticated plots, narrative devices or even character development. These mini-stories are like trailers for the main event to come. Each week there is a sneak peek at a fabulously detailed future world beyond that leaves us wanting more.
We do see the Statue of Judgement for the first time which now dwarfs the still standing Statue of Liberty – a metaphor maybe? And also learn judges have rifles as well as handguns.