Monday, January 10, 2011

Judge Dredd with a tommy gun, because tommy guns are awesome.

Eagle Comics Judge Dredd #8 was the first Dredd story I ever read, and it was jumping in with both feet. The opener says it's part four of the Cursed Earth, and it is and it isn't. In the original presentation in 2000 AD, this issue was probably about part 16; and a couple of chapters have never been reprinted due to a lawsuit. (Check out the wiki link there, while I lament not having the chance to see Dredd vs. Ronald McDonald...Luckily, Slay, Monstrobot of the Deep! covered that very prog not too long ago!)

When a mutated flu virus (amusingly named "2 T (fru) T," which suggests to me that Mills or Wagner may have been fans of Romero's the Crazies) hits Mega-City Two and turns its victims into violent psychopaths, the Judges of Mega-City One develop an antidote. But with the airfield (no typo, I think MC2 may have only had one drokking airfield...) swarmed and unsafe, the only option is a land journey, across the radioactive wasteland of the Cursed Earth. Judge Dredd takes a few judges, robots, and a perp by the name of Spikes Harvey Rotten. Spikes was a biker and smuggler, familiar with the threats out there, and is conscripted as a guide.

By this point, Dredd and Rotten have picked up an amusing furry alien named Tweak, and made it all the way to Las Vegas, which is almost an oasis of civilization. Well, it is crammed full of gambling and the mob-Judges rule; but Dredd enters the yearly gang-fight for the title of God-Judge. Winning, he turns the city over to the League Against Gambling, and sets out on the final leg of the journey, through Death Valley.

On a brief stop for repairs, Rotten tries to teach Tweak basic math, only to discover the alien is far more intelligent than he let on. He explains that when humans reached his world, he used his precognitive powers to see what would happen if his people made contact with the humans, and saw that it probably wouldn't go well. But then, Tweak's children, and then wife, were captured by the humans, leaving him a terrible choice: tell the humans they are intelligent, and possibly open the door to humans overrunning his planet...or pretend to be dumb animals, and be taken to their terrible homeworld, earth.
I feel like that scientist all day, and I talk to people...

Taken to earth, scientists test the aliens, and while their instruments show them to be vastly intelligent, Tweak and his family continue to play dumb. Really dumb. Eventually, they are sold into slavery; with Tweak's children as pets to a spoiled little girl. Mistreated, they fight back, and Tweak only escapes after his family's death.

Rotten, rather unsympathetically, tries to get mining rights for Tweak's planet; Tweak surprisingly obliges. Dredd wonders why he would go through so much to keep his secret to tell them now: what's stopping Dredd from sending miners to his world? Tweak explains, he trusts Dredd; and Spikes won't be around long enough to tell anyone: he will die in Death Valley.

On day fifteen of their journey, Dredd and company reach Death Valley. Dredd stops to pay his respects to the fallen of the Battle of Armageddon: one hundred thousand Judges and Mega Troopers dead, lost in the final battle against the last President of the United States, "Bad Bob" Booth and his robot armies. (Although it's not spelled out here, the former government was irredeemably corrupt, and had to be replaced with the harsh but fair rule of the Judges.)

Unfortunately, a lot of those robots turn out to still be many that you wonder how the Judges won the previous battle. In short order, it's down to Dredd, Tweak, and Rotten. Make that just Dredd and Tweak.

Dressing Rotten in a spare uniform, Dredd and Tweak both take a package of vaccine, then send Rotten out in style on Dredd's Lawmaster bike, the set-up for that killer Bolland cover. The distraction covers their escape, but now Dredd and Tweak have to cover the last sixty miles through Death Valley, on foot, in three days or the vaccine will go bad. Dredd loses Tweak in a sandstorm...

Judge Dredd #8 ends on a nail-biter; but it would be years before I'd get to read the conclusion: I kept reading Dredd, but that issue kept eluding me. Worse? There was only like seven or eight pages left 'til the end! But I'm still OK with this being my first Dredd read: nothing wrong with starting strong. Written by John Wagner and Pat Mills, art by Mike McMahon, Brian Bolland, and Dave Gibbons.

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