Why Should You Be Reading Judge Dredd?

Reading Judge Dredd

So if you’re into a good cyberpunk or post-apocalypse and you’ve never delved into Judge Dredd, you’re doing yourself a grave disservice. The comic takes place beginning in 2099 through the early 2100s largely occurring in the sprawling Mega City One, which takes up the entire east coast of North America. Our hero is a stubborn cop serving the fascist government of the Mega City who never ever takes his helmet off and always obeys the law— to a fault.

One of the things that really drew me into Judge Dredd once I decided I was going to read this thing is how the setting blends post-apocalypse and cyberpunk genres so skillfully. You get both versions of the dark future science fiction in one package and the creators drift back and forth between them as casually as that. And I think this blending of sci-fi sub-genres is what makes the setting so easy to accept. Judge Dredd isn’t beholden to the tropes of any one of these sub-genres.

This blend of genres also allows the comic to tell a variety of different tales. There are stories that head out into the cursed earth and give you a sort of Mad Max story. Then other stories keep themselves within the confines of the Mega City and range from political intrigues and examinations on ethics to street-level gang fights and out-and-out urban warfare. Then there’s the wholesale acceptance of psychic powers and the supernatural that allows for more fringe-oriented tales. And if you get bored of that, there’s always space and interstellar travel. All of these are story formats that appear throughout the Judge Dredd comics run.

Another rewarding aspect of the comic is that characters come and go. Some die, some disappear for a while and resurface later in a different story. I always get a little thrill when an old friend pops up in a new storyline. Some characters I wish would die and somehow manage to survive every appearance. The comic has such a deep bench of characters that there’s a real sense of comings and goings within the setting.

So you should be asking yourself at this point: "how do all these disparate pieces come together in any sort of coherent whole?" And that, my friends, is where the cynicism and the dark humor come in. If you read Judge Dredd without a sense that everything, on some level, is hilarious. All of it. The bad guys are insane. The good guys are insane. The common man is insane. Nature itself is off it's rocker. It's all a nihilist, cynical, dark joke. And all of it's uncomfortably close to how the "real world" functions. Which is either hilarious or it's terrifying. And either of those readings alone alone make for really powerful storytelling. But both mix together into and intoxicatingly complex flavor that makes a Judge Dredd tale the sort of story you keep thinking about hours and months after you put it down.

So where do you start? Judge Dredd has been running a long time. Every month in some form or fashion since his orignal appearance in 1977. And the comic has accumulated a massive body of work. And it does seem to fall into a pattern of repeating itself over time. If you’re new to this, there are better and worse jumping off points. I haven’t read all of it by a long shot, but I can suggest where I parts I think you should hit based on what I think have been the better stories I’ve read.

Here’s where I would start (in order):

  • Judge Dredd The Complete Case Files 02
    • The Cursed Earth
    • The Day the Law Died
  • Judge Dredd The Complete Case Files 04
    • Judge Child Saga
  • Judge Dredd The Complete Case Files 05
    • Block Mania
    • Apocalypse War
  • Judge Dredd America

Ultimately there’s a lot more worth reading, but I feel like this should be enough to get you started.