Judge Joseph Dredd is a fictional character who appears in British comic books published by Rebellion Developments, as well as in a number of movie and video game adaptations. He was created by writer John Wagner and artist Carlos Ezquerra, and first appeared in the second issue of 2000 AD (1977), a weekly science-fiction anthology comic. He is the magazine’s longest-running character.
Joseph Dredd is a law enforcement officer in the dystopian future city of Mega-City One in North America. He is a ”street judge”, empowered to summarily arrest, convict, sentence, and execute criminals.
Character and appearance
Joseph Dredd is the most famous of the Street Judges that patrol Mega-City One, charged to instantly convict, sentence, and execute offenders. Dredd is armed with a ”Lawgiver” pistol (programmed to recognise only his palm-print, and capable of six types of ammunition), a daystick, a boot knife and stun or gas grenades. His helmet obscures his face, except for his mouth and jaw. He rides a large ”Lawmaster” motorcycle equipped with machine-guns, a powerful laser cannon, and full artificial intelligence capable of responding to orders from the Judge and operating itself.
Dredd’s entire face is never shown in the strip. This began as an unofficial guideline, but soon became a rule. As John Wagner explained: ”It sums up the facelessness of justice − justice has no soul. So it isn’t necessary for readers to see Dredd’s face, and I don’t want you to”.
On rare occasions, Dredd’s face has been seen in flashbacks to his childhood; but these pictures lack detail. In an early story, Dredd is forced to remove his helmet and the other characters react as if he is disfigured; but his face was covered by a faux censorship sticker. In prog 52, during Dredd’s tenure on the Lunar Colonies, he uses a ’face-change’ machine to impersonate the crooked lawyer of a gang of bank robbers.
In Carlos Ezquerra’s original design, Dredd had large lips, ”to put a mystery as to his racial background”. Not all of the artists who worked on the strip were told of this. Mike McMahon drew Dredd as a black man, while Brian Bolland and Ron Smith drew him as white. The strip was not yet printed in colour, and this went unnoticed. The idea was finally dropped.
Time passes in the Judge Dredd strip in real time, so as a year passes in life, a year passes in the comic. The first Dredd story, published in 1977, was set in 2099, whilst stories published in 2017 are set in 2139. Consequently, as former editor Alan McKenzie explains, ”every year that goes by Dredd gets a year older – unlike Spider-Man, who has been a university student for the past twenty-five years!”. Therefore Dredd is over seventy years old, with over fifty years of active service (2079–2139), and for almost thirty years Dredd’s age and fitness for duty were recurring plot points (in prog 1595 (2008), Dredd was diagnosed with benign cancer of the duodenum).
How Dredd’s ageing would be addressed was a source of reader speculation until 2016, when writer Michael Carroll and artist Ben Willsher published the story Carousel, in which Dredd is ordered to undertake rejuvenation treatment. Regarding the possible death of the character, in an interview with Empire in 2012 Wagner said: ”There could be many ways to end it, but the probability is that I won’t still be around when it happens! I would love to write it, but I can’t see it happening. I’ll leave the script in my will.”
Fictional character biography
Senior Judge Joseph Dredd and his brother Rico Dredd were cloned from the DNA of Chief Judge Fargo, the first chief judge, in 2066. Their growth was artificially accelerated to an apparent physiological age of 5, with all the appropriate knowledge for their age electronically implanted in their brains during gestation. The name ’Dredd’ was chosen by the genetic scientist who created them, Morton Judd, to ”instill fear in the population”. As cadets during the Atomic Wars of 2070, they were temporarily made full Judges to restore order to the panic-stricken streets. Distinguishing themselves, they were chosen to take part in assaulting the White House when the Justice Department deposed President Booth. They were fast-tracked through the Academy of Law, Joseph graduating second in the class of 2079, while Rico came first. Later that year, Joseph arrested Rico for murder and corruption. Twenty years later, when Rico sought revenge after serving a 20 year sentence, Joe was forced to shoot him in self-defence.
Joe Dredd excelled as a judge, rapidly gaining promotion to the rank of senior judge. Offered the opportunity to become chief judge in 2101, Dredd declined, preferring to serve on the streets enforcing the law. He has however served temporarily in other senior positions. In 2132, Dredd was appointed to the Council of Five, Mega-City One’s highest governing body, on which he served for two years. On several occasions he saved his city from conquest or destruction by powerful enemies, and in 2114 he saved the entire world during the Fourth World War.
Although Dredd holds his duty above every other priority, this devotion is not blind. On two occasions (in 2099 and 2112), Dredd resigned from the force on points of principle, but both times he returned. In 2113, Dredd insisted that the Justice Department gamble its very existence on a referendum to prove its legitimacy. In 2116, he risked 20 years’ imprisonment with hard labour when he challenged the policy of a chief judge and in 2129, he threatened to resign to persuade another chief judge to change the city’s harsh anti-mutant apartheid laws.
In 2130, Dredd was diagnosed with cancer of the duodenum, though it was benign.
The Judge System
Street Judges act as police, judge, jury, and executioner. Capital punishment in Mega-City One is rarely used, though deaths while resisting arrest are commonplace. Numerous writers have used the Judge System to satirize contemporary politics.
Judges, once appointed, can be broadly characterised as ”Street Judges” (who patrol the city), and administrative, or office-based judges. Dredd was once offered the job of Chief Judge but refused it. The incorruptibility of the Judges is supposedly maintained by the Special Judicial Squad, although SJS judges have themselves broken the law on occasion, most notably SJS head Judge Cal who killed the chief judge and usurped his office for himself. This ’Judge System’ has spread world-wide, with various super-cities possessing similar methods of law enforcement. As such this political model has become the most common form of government on Earth, with only a few small areas practicing civilian rule. There is therefore an international ”Judicial Charter” which countries and city states join upon instituting a Judge System.
The setting of Judge Dredd is a dystopian future Earth damaged by a series of international conflicts; much of the planet has become radioactive wasteland, and so populations have aggregated in enormous conurbations known as ’mega-cities’. The story is centred on the megalopolis of Mega-City One, on the east coast of North America. Within Mega-City One, extensive automation (including intelligent robots) has rendered the majority of the population unemployed. As a consequence, the general population is prone to embracing any fashion or craze they encounter. Mega-City One is surrounded by the inhospitable ”Cursed Earth”. Much of the remaining world’s geography is somewhat vague, although other mega-cities are visited in the strip.
Mega-City One’s population lives in gigantic towers known as City Blocks, each holding some fifty thousand people. Each is named after some historical person or TV character, usually for comic effect. For example, Joe Dredd used to live in the Rowdy Yates Block – Rowdy Yates was a character in the American TV cowboy drama Rawhide, played by a young Clint Eastwood. Eastwood would later play the lead in Dirty Harry – one of the thematic influences by which Judge Dredd was inspired. A number of stories feature rivalries between different blocks, on many occasions breaking into full-scale gun battles between them (such as in the story ”Block Mania”). The story Origins revealed that Mega-City One was formed by urban sprawl rather than deliberate design, and by 2051 it was recognised as the world’s first mega-city. The Judges’ powers reflect the difficulty of maintaining order. Mega-City One extends from Boston to Charlotte but extended into Florida before the Apocalypse War laid waste to the southern sectors. At its height, the city contained a population of about 800 million; after the Apocalypse War, it was halved to 400 million. Following Chaos Day in 2134, the city was reduced to 50 million. However immigration quickly increased the population to 72 million by 2137.
There are four other major population centres in Dredd’s Northern America: the first is Texas City, including several of the southern former United States and based on Wild West manners. South of the city is Mex-City. Far north is Uranium City. Canada remains a nation (now called Canadia) with scattered communities. Mega-City Two once existed on the West Coast, but was destroyed in 2114 during the world war known as Judgement Day. Nuclear deserts and destruction elsewhere in the world are also extensive: much of the north Atlantic is severely polluted, and is now known as the ”Black Atlantic”. An underwater settlement known as Atlantis exists in the Atlantic, half-way along a tunnel from Mega-City One to Brit-Cit (England).
Nuclear desert also stretches across western Europe. The British Isles are Brit-Cit, Cal-Hab (Scotland), and Murphyville in Ireland (a country-sized theme park depicting a stereotypical view of traditional Irish life). The continent has Euro-City (eastern France and part of Germany), Ciudad España (eastern Spain), the Ruhr and Berlin Conurbs in Germany, Vatican City, and a scattering of other city-states. Russia’s East-Meg One was destroyed by Dredd at the climax of the Apocalypse War in 2104. Further east is East-Meg Two, which has other territories under the ”Sov Block” banner. Mongolia, lacking a Mega-City or Judge system, has called itself the Mongolian Free State and criminals have flocked there for a safe haven; East-Meg Two performed vicious clearances there in 2125.
In Asia, separated from East-Meg Two by an extensive nuclear desert, are Sino-City One (destroyed during Judgement Day) and Sino-City Two in eastern China, with Hong Tong built in the remains of Hong Kong and partitioned between Sino-Cit and Brit-Cit control. Hondo City lies on the remains of the islands of Japan. Nu-Delhi (previously Indo-Cit and Delhi-City) is in southern India. Between Hondo and Sino-City lie the Radlands of Ji, a nuclear desert containing outlaw gangs and martial arts schools. In the Pacific cities survive in south-east Australia or ”Oz” (the Sydney-Melbourne Conurbation), the Solomon Islands (Solomon City), Tonga (Friendly City), and the New Pacific City; New Zealand is said to exist as well. All of Indonesia’s islands are now linked by a network of mutant coral called ”The Web”, described as a lawless hotbed of crime.
The Middle East is without many major cities, being either nuclear or natural deserts, and only the mega-city of Luxor, Egypt has survived; the Mediterranean coast is heavily damaged by mutagens. In Africa much of the south is nuclear desert and a ’Great African Dustbowl’ has formed in the north-west; but a large number of nation states have survived, whereof Simba City (Gabon), New Jerusalem (Ethiopia), Zambian Metropolitan, and Dar es Salaam are the largest cities. Nuclear fallout and pollution appear to have missed Antarctica and the Arctic, allowing one mega-city (Antarctic City) to be constructed there.
The high levels of pollution have created instances of mutation in humans and animals. The mega-cities largely operate on a system of genetic apartheid, making expulsion from the cities the worst punishment possible. Mega-City One ended apartheid in the 2130s, but encourages mutants to move to Cursed Earth townships instead of remaining in the city.
Earth’s moon has been colonised, with a series of large domes forming Luna City; another colony, Puerto Luminae, exists but is lawless. In addition, many deep space colonies have been established. Some are loyal to various mega cities, while many are independent states, and others still face violent insurgencies to gain independence. The multi-national Space Corps battles both insurgencies and external alien threats. The newly discovered planet ’Hestia’ (which orbits the Sun at 90 degrees to Earth’s orbit) has a colony; there are some references to colonies on Mars; Saturn’s moon Titan has a judicial penal colony; and Mega-City One is known to have deep space missile silos on Pluto.
The paranormal is both common and often openly visible and so is accepted by both civilians and Judges. Ghosts, demons, ancient gods and even two different creatures both claiming to be Satan have all appeared in Mega-City One alone. Magic is also real and has been practiced by some criminals. Psi Divisions worldwide tend to be the main defence against such threats.
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