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Judge Dredd is the Law in ‘Dredd 3D'

Joe Gross
jgross@statesman.com

Most Americans know of Judge Dredd only from the unfortunate 1995 movie starring Sylvester Stallone. This is too bad.

Now he is in a much-better looking movie called "Dredd 3D," starring Karl Urban. This one looks way better.

But the movies are far from the whole story.

Millions of comics fans see Judge Dredd as one of the best comic-book creations of the past 40 years.

Indeed, Urban, a New Zealander, is one of those fans. "I have no anxiety about (playing Dredd) whatsoever," he told the American-Statesman last year, "purely because I am one of those nerds. I grew up reading ‘Dredd.' "

In 1977, the British company IPC Magazines launched a science-fiction comics anthology called "2000 AD."

Unlike American comic books, which were smaller, monthly and were starting to abandon the anthology format, "2000 AD" was a tabloid-size weekly consisting of six-page episodes of several ongoing stories.

This allowed the artists a wider canvas, and the six-page episodes had to both crackle on their own and string together to form a larger story.

And crackle they did, whizzing along with bonkers, sci-fi comics energy like a weekly fix of high-octane weirdness.

Unlike the American superheroes with their optimistic, iconic do-gooding, nothing about the folks in "2000 AD" seemed all that heroic.

And to my eyes, unaccustomed to the depressive edge of English satire, the grim black-and-white stories of mutant bounty hunter "Strontium Dog" or the genetically modified "Rogue Trooper" seemed downright subversive.

But the most dangerous of all — the coolest of all the most popular of all — was "Judge Dredd," who was developed by writer John Wagner, editor Pat Mills and artist Carlos Ezquerra as the ultimate future lawman.

Astride his enormous "Lawmaster" motorcycle, Dredd and the other judges acted as, well, judge, jury and sometimes executioner in MegaCity One, an enormous, chaotic arcology stretching down the East Coast.

Beyond the walls of the MegaCity One lay "The Cursed Earth," a radioactive wasteland full of mutants. And for more than 30 years, we have never seen Dredd's face. Masked and almost anonymous, he is, as he is fond of saying, the Law.

There were a couple of brilliant things about "Judge Dredd." One was the obvious power fantasy — cool armor, awesome bike, excellent gun.

And the stories could also go absolutely anywhere, and usually did.

There was and is a fearlessness to the Dredd stories that captured comics' power to throw anything at you, no matter how silly or violent or grim or funny, and make it work.

It's no wonder that filmmakers keep bringing him to the big screen — he is the Law.