June: Judge Dredd: The Pit, by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, Colin MacNeil, Lee Sullivan, and Alex Ronald

“Dumping ground for every misfit and foul-up in Mega-City One… and that’s just the Judges!” So proclaimed the cover of 2000 AD Prog 970 when the story started, and it’s a pretty good summary. Poor Dredd has been sent to take over ‘the Pit’ and clean it up, following the suspicious death of the last Sector Chief – but both the corrupt Judges and the all-powerful Frendz mob are ready to push back hard. What he needs is a few good Judges to help him out, but what he’s getting are men and women with all sorts of problems lurking just under the surface: affairs, nerves, aggression, the odd serial killer…

At the time, this was a departure for the strip. There’d been long, long stories before, but this was the first of the “mega-epics” to be a Marvel/DC style soap opera. The large supporting cast get just as much time in the spotlight as Dredd, their problems are mostly ‘domestic’ in nature, and their subplots stretch out through the story. Wagner lets us get to know his cast of Judges before, inevitably, the twists start and everything becomes extremely violent indeed. The story is extremely well structured, starting off slow and quickly escalating, juggling lots of subplots and concepts; then it slows down to set up a calmer status quo so it can blow it all up in the final, explosive siege of Traffic Substation Alamo. (“Just a minor problem,” barks Dredd as the whole building is on fire…)

This also serves as a good, entry-level story for the strip. Dredd’s first bit of dialogue is “You may have heard of me”, and if you have heard the basics – toughest cop in a dystopian future dictatorship – you don’t need to know anything else. How Dredd’s world works and the tone of the strip – quickly switching from being serious to black humour to absurdity – is fed to you.

The one problem is the art: while all four of the artists are doing good work, their styles are quite different and at times the story will switch artist between cliff-hangers. It can get jarring. This is also a story from the mid-90s, when early Photoshop effects could first be put into art, and boy are they at times. The primary artist, however, is Carlos Ezquerra and even the odd dodgy effect is not enough to stop him being a brilliant artist. His attention to detail – the scenery, the background characters with their distinctive looks and expressions – never comes at the expense of kinetic, exciting action scenes.

And if that’s not enough for you, the head of organised crime is a beatnik. (“Judges! Bummer!”)

Violence: Quite a lot: fists, blunt instruments, blades, firearms of various types, and explosions. Blood is constant. (Hey, it’s Judge Dredd)

Sexualised Violence: Judge DeMarco is captured and menaced, but the situation is not sexualised.

Gender: Three of the main supporting cast (DeMarco, Garcia, and Calisto) are women, with distinct looks (uniforms aside) and personalities. Female Judges (straight and corrupt), civilians, and background criminals are repeatedly present. Two mid-ranking admin figures and deceased Sector Chief Rohan are all women (and a middle-aged one in Rohan’s case).

The Bechdel-Wallace Test: Passes, though scenes are only occasional.

Minorities: Supporting characters Giant, Egan, Guthrie, Hoffa, Struthers, Patel, and Patel’s father (Dr Chuck Patel) are all non-white. Judge Garcia is possibly intended to be Hispanic. There are numerous non-white Judges, civilians and villains in the background.

– Review by Charles Ellis