Dredd, out on September 7, is the second big screen adaptation of comic book legend Judge Dredd, implacable lawman in a brutal, post-apocalyptic future. Karl Urban is set to play the one-man judge, jury and executioner, with support (or not) from Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey and Domnhall Gleeson. Here’s a quick introduction to the big man.
Judge Dredd first appeared in the second issue of 2000AD, the British sci-fi anthology magazine that's been going since 1977, and has since been a mainstay of the publication and its most consistently popular character. That may say something about the British public, since he's a ruthless, murderous bastard.
John Wagner conceived the character along with fellow 2000AD founder Pat Mills and artist Carlos Ezquerra. Conceived as Thatcherism set in, the comic reflects "a government that seemed at the time – and still does – heartless and uncaring. Dredd echoed that mood." When it appeared that younger fans weren't quite grasping the satire of the comics, Wagner amped it up, having Dredd brutally enforce laws that no one could regard as fair or reasonable. "It's still very much part of his character and his appeal, that mixture of good and bad, hero and villain."
What sort of world would empower a man like this? Well, a post-apocalyptic future, of course! A nuclear war in 2070 devastates – and irradiates – the globe, leaving only a few cities habitable after being protected by laser defences. Humanity clusters into "Mega-Cities", most of which are fascist dictatorships (to one degree or another) ruled by the Judges. Mega-City One (right), Dredd's hometown, is essentially the eastern seaboard of the USA and Canada. The city is home to about 400-800 million people living in gigantic tower blocks; that variance due to the population being periodically devastated by various disasters and attacks. Still, it's better than the "Cursed Earth" outside, which is generally peopled with mutants and criminals.
So Judge (Joe) Dredd is one of the (street) judges, one-man legal systems who have the power to catch, try and sentence law breakers on the spot. In Dredd's case, he's armed with a personalised Lawgiver pistol, day stick, knife and stun gas grenades. He also gets to ride a cool motorbike called the Lawmaster (sense a theme?). Dredd is as repressed as they come, emotion-wise, but has, in his time, captured criminals, stopped wars and – on at least one occasion – saved this and all universes from total annihiliation. So, thanks, we guess.
Fun fact! Dredd proceeds in lockstep with the real world, time-wise. So the series started in 1977 / 2099, and 2012 stories are set in 2134. Dredd is now in his 70s (it's a little complicated: he was born in 2066 but, as a clone of Chief Judge Fargo, his growth had been artificially accelerated to age 5, so call him 73) and, four years ago, was diagnosed with a benign cancer of the duodenal. Still, drugs and treatments should keep him active a bit longer. As of two years ago, Dredd joined Mega-City One's ruling Council Of Five, a body which has a 40% homicide rate among its members in recorded Dredd history. Somehow we see Dredd hanging on in the other 60%.
He previously appeared on screen in 1995's Judge Dredd, which starred Sylvester Stallone as a version of the character who spent most of the movie with his face on show. It's essential to note that Dredd has never shown his face in 35 years of the comic. On the vanishingly rare occasions that he has removed his headgear (see, for example, The Oxygen Desert), his face has been obscured by shadows. So Stallone's decision is rather like choosing to play Wolverine as a pacifist, or Superman as a bully. This was not a good move, and the film is generally hated.
Karl Urban has assured us that he will not be making the same mistake. "Not to knock any film that's been before, but I was pretty disappointed when I saw the full face of Judge Dredd in the previous movie. It was not my Dredd, and it was not the way the character was written. He is supposed to be the faceless representative of the law, and I think that is part of his enigma, what makes him interesting and cool. You wouldn't get to the end of a Sergio Leone Western and go, 'God, I didn't even know the character's name!' It's irrelevant."
Olivia Thirlby plays Cassandra Anderson, seen here as a young woman but someone who goes on to become one of the most respected Judges of Mega-City One. Judge Anderson, in the comics, is a member of the Psi Division and has a huge arsenal of mental powers including telepathy and the ability to sense danger. Psi operatives are charged with protecting the city from any number of supernatural dangers (see point 9 below) and generally deal in a whole extra layer of nasty beyond the usual.
Notable Dredd opponents the Dark Judges will not be appearing in the new film, but may one day make it to the screen if this launches a franchise. Still, the Dark Judges are worth a mention: they come from a dimension where their leader, skeletal psychopath Judge Death, figured out that all crimes were committed by the living, ergo kill everyone and you'll have no more crime. Genius! Having cleared his own planet of life, Death crossed dimensions to Mega-City One to carry on going. Once he was stopped and (for a while anyway) killed by Dredd, his homies Judge Fear (his face would drive you mad), Judge Fire (Ghost Rider's first cousin) and Judge Mortis (has a cow skull for a head) followed in his footsteps.
The new film was shot in South Africa, and features Lena Headey as Madeline 'Ma-Ma' Madrigal, a drug dealer peddling a scary new drug called Slo-Mo from what she hopes is a secure base high in one of the blocks of Mega-City One. We're not sure what's scary about Slo-Mo, unless you're in the Olympics, but we guess all will become clear come September 7. Pete Travis is directing, and the screenplay's by Alex Garland (who took the trouble to consult with Wagner extensively first). For more on the film, check out the new issue.