Dredd vs Judge Dredd (2012 /1995)

Judge Dredd is back on the streets. Judge, Jury and Executioner on the streets of Megacity One. Back in 1995, Sylvester Stallone filled the oversized biker boots of the ultimate Judge – in 2012 it’s the slightly more svelte Karl Urban (LOTR and Star Trek). Obvious critical antipathy aside the problem back then was not Stallone, quite frankly the iconography, CGI, battle sequences and hard edged machismo on display matched what was taking place in the pages of 2000AD at the time very well though in the intervening years it’s aged inevitably, Roy Schneider, too many plot lines and a weird ending derailing a promising comic book adaptation.

The modern remake looks to be taking a less bombastic approach to Megacity One, with intermittent Megablocks between normal buildings, more of a sprawling metropolis than a monolithic tech city – reminiscent of District 9 and Predator 2 rather than Attack of the Clones and Blade Runner – which fits in with the sombre rethinks of other iconic comic book characters in recent years – though is just as likely to date it for future generations. It appears smarter and more universal perhaps than its predecessor on the whole though.

The problem in 1995 was flash-in-the-pan silly voiced ‘comedy actor’ Rob Schneider, dropped in to provide some misjudged light relief. Max Von Sydow and Diane Lane as Chief Justice Fargo and Judge Hershey were well placed but a retread of an old ‘clone’ story in which Dredd’s ‘brother’ Rico (played by Armand Assante) pushed the Sci-fi too far too quickly before Dredd was properly developed. Cramming ABC Warrior references, The Angel Gang (in particular JD strip regular Mean Machine Angel, a clone storyline and an intro that used elements of Wagner’s original Block War storyline into one short film caused a mess to ensue. By the denouement, set in an unexplained hideout in the head of the Statue of Liberty, apparently moved to the middle of Megacity One for no other reason than to have an exciting setting for the ending, things were confusing and a little overblown.

The new version has involved the creative teams that created Dredd in the first place, screenwriter Alex Garland (The Beach, 28 Days Later) has worked closely with Dredd creators John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra to get the characters as close to the original concept as possible. Their plans seem to be very much more long term as well in this age of franchises, with the trailer suggesting only the utilisation of Wagner’s early Dredd storyline ‘Block Wars’ in which Dredd has to fight his way through one of the Megablocks (giant housing blocks) to take out Ma-Ma Madrigal, the dealer of Slo-Mo, a drug that causes the taker to slow their perception of time.

The other controversy back in 1995 was the decision to reveal Dredd’s face – as Sly – though really this could be a redundant concern as the world and his mates dog knew what Sylvester Stallone looked like and frankly Stallone filled the role very well, even down to the twisted lantern jaw.

This time it looks like the helmet is firmly stuck on, which is a shame in some respects as Karl Urban has a less interesting chin than Sylvester Stallone. This, in itself, might kick up it’s own controversy in film fans that are not so familiar with the source material. Never-the-less, hats off to anyone who wants to stick as resolutely as possible to any long standing character – made easier no doubt by Alex Garland’s position as Producer.

Never the less, both have moments of cleverness, the original’s section in the Cursed Earth and the depiction of the senior Judges (in particular Max Von Sydow’s Chief Judge Fargo) was well translated and the meaty, cartoon violence and tongue in cheek satire of rampant total martial law was imbedded nicely without becoming part of the plot, as in the books themselves. The action sequences were on the whole nicely put together (excluding the last) and Stallone was effectively born to play the Judge of Judges. Ultimately it’s flaws brought it down but it was a worthy attempt brought down through too much fiddling by the powers that be.

This version looks more careful and considered with a sharp eye on the future of the franchise as well as a neat look at the past that inspired it. Whether relying on Wagner and Ezquerra, geniuses though they are, to imbed ideas that have been developed since will prove a great idea is yet to be seen but the more I watch the trailer the more I think they’re on to something. However, in the cold, gritty realism they’ve claerly aimed at alla Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight franchise is there room for Mean Machine Angel and more to the point, the snickering countenance of Judge Death…. probably not based on what we see here… but there’ll always be another franchise in another 17 years and franly I’m psyched to see what this one holds in store for us.

In the meantime, below is the 1995 trailer that inspired me to convince 50 mates to go see it – something I paid for dearly. I still blame Schneider. Pre-CGI Jar Jar that he was!! Compare and contrast – based on the trailer below you’d be a fool to miss it, sadly the end result wasn’t quite on par, but do note how irritating it gets the moment Schneider turns up. Fingers crossed for September 2012.

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Practitioners 17: Brian Bolland (Part One)

Brian Bolland (born in 1951) is a british comic artist known for his meticulous, highly detailed line work and eye catching compositions. Reknowned as one of the ultimate Judge Dredd artists for British comic anthology 2000AD, he spearheaded the ‘British Invasion’ of the American Comics Industry with Camelot 3000 (with Mike W. Barr), the first ever 12 issue Maxi-series to be released by DC comics.

Most notable, however is his masterwork. Along with writer Alan Moore Bolland created one of, if not the definitive examples of Batman in the critically acclaimed Killing Joke.

Drawn into comics in 1960 – a couple of years after they began to arrive on the shores of England (in 1958) – by Dell Comics Dinosaurus! which appealled to his love of Dinosaurs at that age. Turok, Son of Stone and DC’s Tomahawk furthered his childhood fascination with the form and before long he was writing and drawing his own work from his home in Butterwick, Lincolnshire. A fascination with DCs heroes, in particular Batman and Robin was formed from seeking covers featuring ‘any big creature that looked vaguely dinosaur-like, trampling puny humans.’

It was in 1962, aged 11, most likely from comic books bought on a family holiday to Skegness that he came across Carmine Infantino’s Flash and Gil Kane’s Green Lantern and the Atom. His interest locked firmly on the artists of DC at the time, not favouring Marvel, feeling the covers were crude and the paper quality crude. Even at so young an age Bolland remembers taking direct reference from the early artists of the classic superhero series – including Joe Kubert (dad to Andy and Adam of X fame) and Mike Esposito. His appreciation of the work of Jack Kirby came through the eyes of a seasoned professional much later. His interest was in no way limited to US imports as he enjoyed the comparable UK strips of Syd Jordan’s Jeff Hawke and David Wright’s Carol Day as well as Valiant, a weekly comic book collection by Brit practitioners such as Eric Bradbury (Mytek the Mighty) and Jesus Blasco’s Steel Claw.

Coming from a quiet household Bolland embraced the cultural revolution taking place throughout his country while studying O Levels and A Levels in art, moving on to five years at art school in 1969 learning graphic design and Art History.In 1973 he wrote a 15,000 word dissertation on Neal Adams – an artist his teachers had never heard of. He is sited as saying that ‘During my five years in three art schools I never learnt a single thing about comics in any form from any of my tutors.’

His feverish need to understand the form led him to study off his own back the American legends of the burdgeoning art form from across the pond; Foster, Herriman, Alex Raymond and Winsor McCay, Noel Sickles, Mily Caniff and Roy Crane as well as the Europeans… Moebius, Manara, Breccia. Later the Filipinos – Alex Nino, Nestor Redondo. Discovering an untapped resource in these incredible figures of a seemingly undiscovered art form was like sailing the coast of a country no one around him knew existed. In a world in which comic creators are responsible for some of the most influential cultural icons and most reliable film franchises in popular culture its perhaps difficult to understand how exciting this glance at the edge of a culture formally unrecognised in the halls in which he was learning yet precise and clear in its form and intention might have been but I think its a position most of those who collect comic books would wish they could experience. And there he was at the edge of it – having familiarised himself completely with the form. All that was left was to try out for himself.

Bolland self-published fanzines which was published in underground magazines Friendz, International Times and OZ. Following a cover design for RDH Comix featuring Norwich Cathedral. But it was an underground magazine about to hit the big time as ‘the biggest weekly listings magazine’ named Time Out that gave Bolland his ‘first paid job’ producing a proper illustration of Jazz bassist Buddy Guy.

Meanwhile, he produced the first episodes of an adult Little Nemo in Slumberland parody entitled Little Nympho. This took off and he continued to design full page strips for a 50-copy fanzine entitled Suddenly at 2’0 Clock in the Morning as well as smaller strips entitled ‘ the Mixed up Kid’ to the Central School of Art’s college newspaper The Galloping Maggot.

But it was meeting and befriending Dave Gibbons (later of Watchmen / Green Lantern fame) at a comic convention at the Waverley Hotel in London, joining Art Agency Bardon Press Features. A couple of two-page strips featured with DC Thomson but Bolland would refer to this as his ‘lowest time’. However, it was a title through a client called Pikin that offered Bolland a chance to get his hands dirty. It was for a title to be sold in Nigeria (the first of its kind) and was a weekly comic book featuring an African Superhero named ‘Powerman’. He quickly realised that Gibbons could produce a page a day and struggled initially to keep up the pace. The pages had to simple and numbered because of the lack of familiarity in Nigeria to this form of work. Not only was this work “the best way to learn the simple rules of comic book storytelling,” but “better still, it was going someplace where nobody I knew could see it.” He “drew around 300 pages of that very straightforward, simple-to-follow work, and I guess the storytelling flowed naturally from that.” Even so friends from his school days had to help him occasionally to complete as he ‘was always struggling to get the last eight to ten pages finished’. A little help was also offered from Dave Gibbons and 2000AD and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen artist Kevin O’ Neill.

But it was here he struck a particularly lantern jawed law man associated with the success of so many of the greatest artists from the UK. As Gibbons joined Carlos Ezquerra at 2000AD for Prog 1, Bolland remained on Powerman but as it dropped monthly his agent at Bardon, Barry Coker offered him a cover on 2000AD. From his first he created more than a third of the first 30 covers. Moving inside 2000AD as well as taking on occasional inking duties on Gibbon’s Dan Dare was the dream and for prog 41, editor Nick Lauman called on Bolland to complete an unfinished Judge Dredd story from when on he became a regular artist on the title. He offered art to the most prominent Dredd storylines ‘Luna-period’, The Cursed Earth’, ‘ The Day the Law Died’, The Judge Child Quest’ and ‘Block Mania.’ He found it difficult to deal with the requirement to produce double page spreads (as Dredd started at the time) and Bolland struggled to complete the required work, eventually splitting it between himself and Mike McMahon.

Bolland was heavily influenced by McMahon’s ‘impressionistic’ style and described McMahon as ‘ the real idea man on Dredd,’ although acknowledging that ‘the average comics reader, certainly at the time, does tend to prefer realism.’ Aping the impressionism of McMahon and applying his own realism ‘finally cemented the iconic image’ according to Mark Salisbury. It was Bolland who created the look of iconic characters featured in Mega City One – namely Judge Death (and the other three Dark Judges) and Judge Anderson. Judge Death was drawn as ‘just another villain in just another excellent John Wagner script’ and was inspired by the look of Kevin O’ Neill’s Nemisis the Warlock. He also drew the great majority of Walter the Wobot: Fweind of Dwedd strips in 2000AD and the first three Dredd issues for the united states as well as a number of covers.

Mix that together with magazine covers for Time Out and every major comics publications (according to Wikipedia) and fanzines such as Nick Landau’s Comic Media News and Arkensword and the ‘hazard cards’ for a game called Maneater. And, as will be remembered around the age of 30 in the Uk completed two covers of the Fighting Fantasy Adventure Game Books and RPG scenario pamphlets for Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone.

He handled ad work through the agency – in particular Palitoy’s Star Wars toys 1n 1977 and on the associated material for the opening of the comic book shop Forbidden Planet. But his future lay across the sparkling Atlantic Ocean with a comic company that had spawned his interest to begin with…..

CONTD IN PART 2 (THURSDAY).