Judge Dredd (character)
Illustration by Carlos Ezquerra
IPC Media (Fleetway)
|First appearance||2000 AD no. 2 (5 March 1977)|
|Full name||Joseph Dredd|
|Notable aliases||The Dead Man|
Judge Joseph Dredd is a fictional character created by writer John Wagner and artist Carlos Ezquerra. He first appeared in the second issue of 2000 AD (1977), which is a British weekly anthology comic. He is the magazine's longest-running character. He also appears in a number of film and video game adaptations.
Judge Dredd is a law enforcement and judicial officer in the dystopian future city of Mega-City One, which covers most of the east coast of North America. He is a "street judge", empowered to summarily arrest, convict, sentence, and execute criminals.
In Great Britain, the character of Dredd and his name are sometimes invoked in discussions of police states, authoritarianism, and the rule of law. Over the years Judge Dredd has been hailed as one of the best satires of American and British culture with an uncanny trend to predict upcoming events such as rampant mass surveillance, rise of populist leaders, and the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2011, IGN ranked Judge Dredd 35th among the top 100 comic book heroes of all time.
Judge Dredd made his live action debut in 1995 in Judge Dredd, portrayed by Sylvester Stallone. Later he was portrayed by Karl Urban in the 2012 adaptation Dredd. In audio dramas by Big Finish Productions, Dredd is voiced by Toby Longworth.
Character and appearance
Joseph Dredd is the most famous of the Street Judges that patrol Mega-City One, empowered to instantly convict, sentence, and sometimes execute offenders. Dredd is armed with a "Lawgiver", a pistol programmed to recognise only his palm-print, and capable of firing 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 dropped.[when?]
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 2020 are set in 2142. 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 was 38 when he first appeared, but is now 81 years old, with 63 years of active service (2079–2142), and for almost 30 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".
The Lawgiver is a fictional weapon used by the Judges including Judge Dredd. The Lawgiver is a self-loading handgun featuring manual and automatic focusing and targeting, plus a built in computer capable of controlling its operation. It fires a range of speciality ammunition. An in-line gunsight shows the view directly down the barrel. A Lawgiver can only be operated by its designated Judge owner, whose palm print is programmed into the gun's memory.
An earlier weapon appeared in the Origins storyline. Though little was known about the gun itself, it was capable of firing standard and armour-piercing rounds.
The gun has a maximum range of up to three miles and has six distinct settings:
- Standard execution - A standard bullet, with identical effects to normal kinetic energy projectile weapons.
- Heat Seeker or Hot Shot - A standard bullet propelled by the unstable element, 'Argon 88 b'. Heatseeker rounds lock onto the target's heat source, enabling the Judge to target fleeing perps, accurately fire in low-light situations and so forth.
- Ricochet - A metal bullet coated with rubber. Ricochet rounds can bounce off solid surfaces while retaining enough kinetic energy to penetrate flesh. This enables the Judge to, for example, kill a perp that is using a human shield, bouncing their shot off a back wall and hitting the target from behind.
- Incendiary - Capable of setting its target on fire. Less widely used due to practicalities of incinerating targets in built-up city areas, although useful against unconventional adversaries such as Judge Death.
- Armour Piercing - Armour-piercing rounds are extremely dense and contain a more powerful charge for higher muzzle velocity. Useful against cybernetic criminals and armoured opponents. When used against humans, it can travel through multiple targets.
- High-Explosive (HI-EX) - A round containing an amount of extremely concentrated high explosive. Judges must employ caution when using this extremely dangerous round; the blast caused by the exploding bullets can just as easily harm those firing as well as the target. Generally used rarely; against crowding attackers or large/dangerous foes.
Fictional character biography
Joseph Dredd and his older (by twelve minutes) "brother" Rico Dredd are cloned from the DNA of Chief Judge Fargo, the founder of the Judge System. Their growth is artificially accelerated in gestation so that when they are "born" in 2066, they already have the physiological and mental development of a 5-year-old child, with appropriate knowledge and training already implanted in their brains. The last name 'Dredd' is chosen by the genetic scientist who created them, Morton Judd, to "instill fear in the population".
When the corrupt President Booth starts World War III in 2070, also known as the Atomic Wars, the Judges move to restore order to the panic-stricken streets. Caders Joe Dredd and Rico Dredd are temporarily made full judges to restore order to the panic-stricken streets, despite the fact that they are cadets who are physically and mentally only nine years old. They are under the supervision of Judge Kinnison and make their first kills during this time, stopping a rape gang, but are unable to prevent Kinnison's death.  During the war, they discover that their clone-father Eustace Fargo is still alive despite the public being told he'd been killed years before. Fargo meets with Rico and Joe personally, recruiting them to be his temporary bodyguards. During this time, he openly expresses his doubts regarding what the Justice Department has achieved, and if they have taken away "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" in their efforts to instill strict order and control. Three weeks later, Fargo is placed in suspended animation and the Dredd brothers return to the Academy.
Distinguishing themselves, they Dredds are fast-tracked through the Academy of Law, Rico graduating first in the class of 2079, with Joseph graduating second. Joe's final assessment is done under the supervision of Judge Morphy, who is impressed with the young man and passes him. Soon after graduation, Joseph discovers Rico has embraced corruption, engaging in multiple crimes including murder, believing that Judges are thugs and killers by nature and so this is not a betrayal of that. Rico asks Joe to help him cover his crimes, but Joe arrests his brother instead, sentencing him to 20 years of labor on the penal colony on Saturn's moon Titan (a typical punishment for corrupt Judges). Joe Dredd continues operating as a judge, excelling, and quickly gaining a reputation throughout the city as a formidable but also incorruptible law enforcement agent. In 2099, Rico Dredd returns to Earth after serving his 20-year sentence. He comes after Joe for revenge, challenging him to a fast draw. No longer used to Earth's gravity, Rico loses when Joe shoots him dead in self-defence. Joe is visibly upset by the incident, insisting he be the one to carry his brother's body away.
Over the decades, Joe Dredd becomes a major force protecting Mega-City One and is sometimes the biggest catalyst in preventing its destruction. Offered the opportunity to become Chief Judge in 2101, Dredd declines, preferring to serve on the streets enforcing the law, though he does temporarily serve in other senior positions. In "Tour of Duty", Dredd is appointed to the Council of Five, Mega-City One's highest governing body, on which he serves for two years (2132 to 2134). On several occasions, he saves his city from conquest or destruction by powerful enemies, and in 2114 he saves the entire world during the Fourth World War.
In 2107, Dredd loses his eyes in combat during the story City of the Damned. He has them replaced with bionic eyes that granted him night-vision. In 2112, he suffers near-fatal wounds when a battle leads him to fall into a lake of acidic chemicals, burning his entire body. Later on, he undergoes rejuvenation treatment, healing him and added more vitality than a man his age would normally have. In 2130, Dredd is diagnosed with cancer of the duodenum, though it was benign. In 2138, at 72 years old, Dredd undergoes another "rejuve" treatment after being ordered to. It is specified that his entire epidermis, vascular, and muscular tissue are rebuit on a cellular level, once again restoring some lost youth and vitality. He turns down an offer for a full treatment that would rebuild his internal organs and skeleton.
Although Dredd holds his duty above every other priority, this devotion is not blind. On two occasions (in "The Robot Wars" and "Tale of the Dead Man"), Dredd resigns from the force on points of principle, but both times he later returns, believing that the Judge System while imperfect and vulnerable to corruption is the best protection that currently exists for people. In 2113, Dredd insists the Justice Department gamble its existence on a referendum to prove its legitimacy. In 2116, he risks 20 years imprisonment with hard labour when he challenged the policy of a chief judge; In 2129,Dredd threatens to resign if Chief Judge doesn't change the city's harsh anti-mutant apartheid laws.
In 2129 (2000 AD #1535), Dredd is present when his clone-father Eustace Fargo is revived from cryogenic suspension only to die later the same day. Before Fargo dies, he calls for Dredd to be at his side and admits his conclusion that the Judge system was a mistake that had killed the American Dream, that it was meant to fix things but not to last forever. He says he wants Joe Dredd and his brother Rico to fix things, as they are his blood (Eustace was unaware Rico Dredd had gone renegade and later died). After he dies, Dredd decides not to share Fargo's final words.
In more recent years, Dredd has met other Fargo clones such as Kraken and Nimrod, and a rogue clone of himself called DRƎDD. He has also developed a family of sorts with the introduction of two younger clones of his own named Judge Dolman and Judge Rico (no first name). Dredd also discovered his older brother Rico Dredd fathered a daughter, Vienna Dredd, who now looks on Joe as an uncle.
Family and associates
- Judge Rico Dredd: Judge Joe Dredd's older clone 'brother', also cloned from Chief Judge Eustace Fargo and initially superior to him in physical skills. Soon after Joseph and Rico Dredd became Judges, Rico became corrupt, engaging in crimes and murder. Joe arrests him and sentences him to twenty years on the penal colony on Saturn's moon Titan. Twenty years later, Rico seeks revenge, and Joseph kills him in self-defense.
- Judge Kraken: Another clone of Chief Judge Fargo, decades younger than Joe Dredd but otherwise identical in appearance and similar in skill. Kraken was created by Morton Judd, the geneticist who cloned and named Joe and Rico Dredd. Kraken was one of the Judda, clones subservient to Judd in his efforts to take over. After Judd's defeat, Kraken was groomed to one day succeed Dredd and was trained to become a Judge, though Dredd himself believes this shouldn't be so. When Dredd first temporarily quits, Chief Judge Silver makes Kraken a Judge and has him impersonate Dredd so others won't know that one of Mega-City's greatest lost faith in the system. Kraken is then manipulated into becoming a puppet of the Dark Judges and helps them temporarily turn Mega-City One into Necropolis, leading to the deaths of 60 million. After the Dark Judges are defeated, Kraken's mind is free and he peacefully accepts execution by Dredd.
- Vienna: the daughter of Rico Dredd and a journalist who visited him on Titan. Dredd considers her his niece and goes out of his way to save her on occasion.
- Judge Rico: A clone created directly from Joe Dredd's own DNA, identical to him but decades younger. Rather than adopt the same last name as Joe Dredd, this clone decides to redeem the name of Joe's late, corrupt older brother and so becomes Judge Rico with no first name. Judge Rico eventually inherits Joe Dredd's old apartment at Rowdy Yates Block.
- Dolman: Another clone grown from Joe Dredd's DNA, but years younger. Formerly a trainee judge and member of the MC1 Space Corps.
- Cadet Jessica Paris: A recent addition to the family – a clone of Joe Dredd grown without SRY, making her a woman as a result. Has only made a single appearance in the comic to date in which she was shown as being heavily pregnant and the decision on what to do with her and the child being left ambiguous. 
- Judge Anderson: For years, Dredd had a close but uneasy friendship with Cassandra Anderson of Psi-Division, which came to an end when Anderson briefly abandoned the law. After she returned to duty, Dredd initially denied their friendship, but re-affirmed it after she was injured while saving the city. Dredd has great respect for Anderson's abilities and trusts her often with his life, but sometimes finds her flippant attitude and playful jokes annoying.
- Judge Hershey: Dredd has known Chief Judge Hershey since 2102. Like all Chief Judges since Goodman, Dredd has easy access to her, but they also have a personal relationship based on mutual respect. While they've had differences at times, Dredd believes her to be "the best Chief Judge we've ever had".
- Walter the Wobot and Maria. Dredd used to rent his Rowdy Yates Block apartment from a landlady named Maria who had a thick, stereotypical Italian accent. After helping Dredd and the Judges fight a robot revolution, a former vending machine robot called Walter the Wobot became the city's first free robot. Walter then moved in with Dredd, acting as his cook and housekeeper out of love. After several years, Dredd parted company with both Walter and Maria. Walter went into business for himself, then briefly went rogue by trying to start his own robot revolution, leading Dredd and the second Judge Giant to arrest him. Dredd later assigned Walter a probation sentence of community service as house robot and caretaker of Mrs. Gunderson of Syliva Plath Block.
- Mrs. Gunderson is a sweet-natured widow living in a large apartment with multiple bedrooms that she often rents in Sylvia Plath Block. Following the "Necropolis" affair, the supernatural alien Judge Death rented a room from her, using the name "Jay De'Ath." Mrs. Gunderson was unaware of Judge Death's true nature due to the fact she is partially deaf and nearly blind, and he spared her after concluding he was the one truly innocent soul he had met. After Judge Death decided to challenge the Judges directly and no longer hide, Judge Dredd met Mrs. Gunderson. He would later meet her again when it was discovered that one of her rented bedrooms was now haunted by a journalist Judge Death had murdered. To ensure she could still make money from the room, Judge Dredd helped Mrs. Gunderson get in touch with a group with a ghost-hunting group willing to rent it for their own purposes. Dredd later assigned his former house robot turned criminal Walter the Wobot to serve a probation sentence as Mrs. Gunderson's caretaker and housekeeper. Dredd then visited the apartment once again when Judge Death returned on the 12th anniversary of his defeat at Necropolis in the audio drama Judge Dredd: Death Trap.
- Galen DeMarco was a Judge infatuated with Dredd. This breach of regulations led her to resign from the Justice System and becoming a private investigator. Dredd first tried to help her adjust to civilian life but she severed contact when he again rejected her advances.
- Fargo clan: Revealed in 2006 was a town occupied by the mutated descendants of Ephram Fargo, the twin brother of Chief Judge Eustace Fargo. These mutants, who share the common mutation of an overly large, exaggerated chin, are relatives of Judge Dredd himself, and consider him a "cousin". This led to Dredd campaigning to have Mega-City One's mutant segregation laws repealed.
- Judge Beeny is a Judge who, since 2007, Dredd has taken as his protégée. On Dredd's recommendation, Hershey appointed her to the Council of Five.
- Judge Morphy was Dredd's mentor at the beginning of his career and the two maintained respect and appreciation for each other over the years, arguably making him one of Dredd's only friends. The same day he told Dredd that he would retire from street duty soon and hoped to become a teacher, Morphy was later killed in the line of duty.
- Judge Logan was Dredd's assistant for a number of years. He was later promoted to sector house chief. Dredd encouraged Logan to become Chief Judge when Hershey resigned, and Dredd's public endorsement of him was instrumental in Logan attaining that office.
- Judge Giant Senior was Dredd's first cadet trainee, introduced during Dredd's first year of stories. Having graduated from the Academy of Law, he is assigned to Dredd for final field assessment. After testing if he will stand up even to other judges when they break the law or codes of conduct, Dredd is satisfied and approves Giant. Giant then bid his family goodbye, saying he needed to focus all his energy on enforcing the law. Giant was a recurring character for years and saves Dredd from execution when Mega-City One is temporarily controlled by the insane Chief Judge Cal. Judge Giant Sr. is shot in the back and killed in the line of duty during the "Block Mania" story (1981) while trying to arrest Orlok, just before the Apocalypse War.
- Judge Dekker was Dredd's second cadet trainee, first appearing in "Super Bowl" (in 2000 AD #370–371, 1984). Dekker quickly proves her worth and becomes a Judge after Dredd's assessment. The two fought alongside each other several times after she became a full Judge, and Dredd considered her his best cadet trainee. She died during the 1992 story "Judgement Day."
- Judge Giant Junior. In 1989, the story "Young Giant" establishes Judge Giant fathered a child in 2101 before his death, despite judges being prohibited from marrying and/or creating families. Orphaned when his mother was murdered in front of him shortly after the Apocalypse War in 2104, Giant's son "Junior" is inducted into the Academy of Law. Years later, the ten-year-old Cadet Giant is supervised on a field test by Judge Dredd, who notes the cadet performs extremely well but has unresolved rage regarding the murder of his mother. With Dredd's help, Giant Jr. brings in his mother's killer according to proper protocol rather than simply hunting the man down and executing him. Giant Jr. spends the next several years as a cadet, helping Dredd on different occasions such as during the "Necropolis" affair and "Judgement Day." Five years after his introduction, Giant Junior's final assessment is conducted by Judge Dredd and he becomes a Street Judge in 2116, the youngest to do so at age 15.
- 2000 AD #406
- Philip Johnston, Home Affairs Editor (22 September 2005). "'Judge Dredd' powers for police urged". Telegraph.co.uk.
- Judge Dredd Foreshadowed Our Covid Reality, by Graeme McMillan, at wired.com, 23 April 2020.
- IGN website
- Jarman & Acton, pp. 74–75.
- Jarman & Acton p. 75
- 2000 AD #30 and 1187
- Jarman & Acton, pp. 56 and 74.
- "The Face Change Crimes" in 2000 AD #52 (18/2/1978), written by John Wagner, with art by Brian Bolland. Page 14.
- Jarman & Acton, p. 22.
- Jarman & Acton, pp. 89–90.
- Jarman & Acton, p. 112.
- Judge Dredd Megazine #375.
- "Exclusive: John Wagner And Alex Garland Talk Dredd". empireonline.com.
- O'Brien, Daniel. "SF:UK: how British science fiction changed the world," Reynolds & Hearn, 2000
- "A Case for Treatment," in 2000 AD #389
- "Origins," in 2000 AD #1515
- 2000 AD #1517
- "The Return of Rico," in 2000 AD #30
- "The Day the Law Died," in 2000 AD #108
- "Tour of Duty," 2000 AD #1693
- "Day of Chaos," 2000 AD #1789
- "Judgement Day," in 2000 AD #786–799
- "The Edgar Case," 2000 AD #1595
- "Robot Wars," 2000 AD #11; "Tale of the Dead Man," 2000 AD #668
- "Nightmares," 2000 AD #706
- "Prologue," Judge Dredd Megazine vol. 2 #57
- "The Spirit of Christmas," 2000 AD #2008 (a December 2007 New Year issue)
- "The Return of Rico," in 2000 AD #30
- 2000 AD #116 and #1300
- 2000 AD #1186–88, #1280
- The Forsaken 2000 AD #1830–1835, reprinted in Judge Dredd – Day Of Chaos: Fallout
- Judge Dredd Megazine vol. 3 #1–7
- 2000 AD #1632
- 2000 AD #60 and 288
- 2000 AD #1101–1110, 1167; Megazine vol. 3 #52–59
- 2000 AD #1511–1512, #1542–48, #2008
- Judge Dredd Magazine #367
- 2000 AD #387, 662–668, 775
- 2000 AD #2115
- 2000 AD #2117–2118
- Judge Dredd: "Young Giant" (by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, in 2000 AD #651–655, 1989)
- Judge Dredd: "Giant" (by John Wagner and Ian Gibson, in Judge Dredd Megazine vol. 2 no. 50-52, 1994)