Rumor has it that comics’ premier lawman is stomping back to the screen. Judge Dredd has made it to movie theaters twice so far. The Sylvester Stallone-starring 1995 blockbuster, Judge Dredd, was a good-looking, noble failure that made the error of trying to uncover Dredd’s mystery, and face, straightaway. Then 2012’s leaner Dredd got a lot more right, with leading man Karl Urban keeping his helmet fastened on as it pared the action back to an epic tower block siege. Unfortunately, it was overshadowed by action-thriller The Raid on release and further trips to this dystopian future stalled. We’ve been waiting a decade for the street judges’ live-action return. Whether it’s a direct sequel or a streaming series of if it pins the badge back on Urban or someone new, there’s a lot of content to mine from Dredd’s half-century of comics.
He is the law
Dredd arrived in the pages of legendary British anthology comic 2000 AD in 1977. Writer John Wagner and artist Carlos Ezquerra created the hard-chinned policeman and judicial officer wrapped up in one who patrols the mean streets of Mega-City One, a vast conurbation that covers the East Coast of the United States in the late 21st century.
The good news is that it harbored hundreds of millions of humans after a devastating nuclear conflict that left areas outside the city a wasteland. The bad news is that even before the apocalypse, the rise of country-sized cities like Mega-City One brought new challenges to politics and society. As crime ran rampant, it necessitated a new type of law enforcement. Enter the Judges, equipped with their trusty lawgiver weapons, who patrol the streets with the power to arrest, convict, sentence, and execute criminals on the spot. Dredd is 2000 AD’s longest-running character, and his stories continue to probe themes such as authoritarianism and mass surveillance with a finely tuned dose of satire, violence, and science fiction.
Stallone’s Judge Dredd loosely adapted The Return of Rico, the first of many arcs exploring the life of Rico, not a brother of Dredd but, like him, an artificially aged clone. There’s potential to return to those roots and pick up on the all-too-brief appearance of the Angel Gang, who debuted in the legendary story arc, The Judge Child. A second Dredd film would do well to expand on the first movie’s success, growing from the tower block to explore the wider Mega-City, judicial system, and Dredd’s family and origins, but without giving too much away. Any sequel will weigh up these classic comic storylines, being careful not to drag in a Rob Schneider-style comic sidekick on the way.
Here is the list that should be the law for Dredd 2’s filmmakers.
The Robot Wars (2000 AD progs 9–17)
An early comic arc and Dredd’s first story that covered multiple issues (or “progs,” as 2000 AD calls them). In it, the Judges opposed an uprising by Mega-City One’s robot servant workforce. The idiosyncrasies like the revolution’s head carpenter-droid Call-Me-Kenneth, and Judge ally Walter the Wobot would probably be smoothed out. Still, this arc would bring action and establish the importance of robots to this universe. Machines weren’t going anywhere, and more recently, Harvey (progs 2024-2029) and Machine Law (progs 2115-2122) saw robot judges introduced, which proved to be more reliable than their flesh predecessors.
The Cursed Earth (progs 61–85)
There’s a whole world outside Mega-City One, and this is the famous story arc that threw Dredd and some unlikely comrades into it. A small group of Judges, punk biker Spikes Harvey Rotten and the alien Tweak head into the wasteland to transport an essential vaccine to the virus-afflicted Mega-City Two. Regarded as an epic classic, it’s high on many fans’ lists for adaptation.
The Day the Law Died (progs 86–108)
Judge Dredd’s I Claudius, where insane Judge Cal, with the name, looks, and attitude of notorious Roman Emperor Caligula, assassinates his way to Chief Judge. As he corrupts judges and introduces crime-fighting mercenaries, it falls to Dredd as the head of a small gang of Judges and Judge-Tutors to rebel. The second movie could do worse than explore how Mega-City One’s justice system works. How better to destroy it and rebuild it?
Later, another arc, The Pit (progs 970–999), delved deeper into what becomes of incompetent and corrupt judges when Dredd becomes Sector Chief of the area where they end up. Dredd’s gruff demeanor isn’t typical of the street judges, so new movies will need to dig out some charismatic foils.
Judge Death Lives! (progs 224–228)
Consistently named as a fan-favorite story arc, this followed on from Judge Death (progs 149–151), which happened to be the first appearance of Dredd’s arch-enemy and one of his most popular allies, Psi-Judge Anderson (played by Olivia Thirlby in Dredd). Death is a classic dark mirror, springing from the parallel Earth, Deadworld, where the undead Judge reasons that as life causes all crime, all life must be sentenced to death. When he’d destroyed his world, the evil Judge continued his mission on Dredd’s Earth, starting a long-running rivalry of epic violence and horror.
Death can survive the destruction of his physical body and has returned again and again through new hosts. In this arc, he was revealed to be one of the four Dark Judges, the leader of Fear, Fire, and Mortis. Epically popular, he is almost inevitable to make it to the screen one day. A later story to draw on is the Dark Judges’ takeover of Mega-City One and another Dredd-led rebellion in Necropolis (progs 674–699).
Block Mania (progs 236–244)
Dredd hasn’t shied away from casting a caustic eye on all aspects of society, including the response to the coronavirus pandemic. Far before that, this arc introduced Russian megalomaniac Orlok the Assassin, who contaminates Mega-City One water supplies, provoking madness and aggression in its citizens. With wars breaking out between colossal city blocks, this sounds like a classic bigger, bolder sequel. It’s also an excellent way to explore the epic city Dredd calls home and work. In the comics, it led to the devastating destruction of the Apocalypse War (progs 245—270).
The Devil You Know (progs 750–753) and Twilight’s Last Gleaming (progs 754–756)
The next Dredd movie could wear political satire on its giant shoulder armor. In these arcs, tensions between the totalitarian Judge system and the call to restore democracy ends in a vote. It’s a slow and cerebral burner that sees Dredd assume the rare role of negotiator. Apathy, extreme views, peaceful protests, epic marches—this would be a punchy choice for a follow-up, drawing lines few other comics could touch.
Earlier stories collected under the Democracy banner explored the growing democracy movement and firmly established where Dredd and the Judges sit on the political spectrum. The classic America storyline, which kicked off Dredd’s solo Megazine, further explored these issues and the Judge’s psychology in some of the icon’s most experimental moments.
Top Dogs (Judge Dredd Annual 1991)
Rumors of adaptations of fellow 2000 AD character Johnny Alpha, the Strontium Dog, have persisted, and a forthcoming Dredd movie could show off Dredd’s character by introducing this famous rival.
After all, Alpha and Dredd have met several times in the comics, starting with this tense crossover. When the mutant bounty hunter travels back from later in the century to a time of mutant apartheid, he naturally comes to blows with Mega-City One’s brand of justice.
The Doomsday Scenario (progs 1141–1164, 1167, Megazine 3.52–3.59).
An arc lifted from two magazines that told a story from different viewpoints could be an inspired narrative device for Dredd 2. The Doomsday Scenario balanced two epic intertwined events. As former judge Galen DeMarco is caught in an attempted takeover of Mega-City One by a robot army, Dredd is captured by mass murderer Orlok the Assassin and put on trial for war crimes.
Terror (progs 1392–1399) Total War (1408–1419) Blood Trails (progs 1440–1449)
When the fanatics who call themselves “Total War” deploy 12 nuclear devices in Mega-City One, their ultimatum is that all judges must leave immediately. The comics’ tense thriller further explored Dredd’s family before branching into a larger, Earth-covering tale of face-changing assassins and political asylum claims between Mega-City One and the Russian East-Meg 2.
Cry of the Werewolf (IDW)
If the series wants to make a name for itself, it could jump straight into the supernatural elements that have added an exotic tint to Dredd’s adventures for years. It’s one way to keep viewers guessing.
In this story, Dredd enters the dark Undercity to fight off an infestation of infectious werewolves. An excellent showcase for the flexibility of Dredd’s concept—gripping, unexpected, and fearless in the stony-chinned face of stretched credibility.