Review by Frank Plowright
At venerable British publisher D.C. Thomson in the 1970s there was a humour comic editor convinced big chins were funny. Artists were encouraged to feature them at every opportunity, and with John Wagner working there at the time, one wonders if a little of that didn’t filter down to Judge Dredd and his distinctive jawline.
Chins are certainly big in Origins, and there are plenty of them as Dredd meets the family. It took almost thirty years from his introduction before the icon’s creator John Wagner saw fit to tie together all the hints, clues and actual revelations as to how Dredd and his society came into being. In typically capricious fashion, when asked why it took so long his response has consistently been along the lines of neither he nor Dredd growing any younger.
The obvious question would be “Was it worth the wait?” And the obvious answer would be “Hell, yes.” Over the years Wagner has proved a master of sneaking into stories by the back door, and he does so again here, almost literally, as a group of mutants covertly enter Mega-City One with a purpose and a package. It’s over-extended, and drawn in particularly gloomy and dull fashion by Kev Walker, but what follows is captivating.
It’s previously been noted that Dredd was cloned from Judge Fargo, first of the judges, but beyond that little has been revealed about him. What is known is that he’s laid to rest in the Hall of Judgement. Or is he? The main story begins with a ransom demand originating in the Cursed Earth and including a genetic sample that matches Fargo. Dredd selects a team of judges and picks up a billion creds, and heads out in the radioactive wasteland for what’s a decent enough adventure without the promise of Dredd’s background.
In addition to his role in creating Dredd, Carlos Ezquerra, sadly mis-spelled on the cover, has contributed to several Dredd landmarks. Using computer technology he now colours his own work, delivering pages swathed with variations of a single colour to good effect. His Dredd is surely now definitive, and he’s excellent at portraying his lumpy, wrinkly, individual people as they age.
The thread running alongside the search for Judge Fargo is why he was instrumental in the creation of the judge system, and the circumstances that led to it. The final president of the USA, Robert Booth, had been seen in The Cursed Earth, sentenced by Dredd to live out the remainder of his life working on a farm, but the extent of his megalomania is revealed here, along with how he came to power. It’s a compelling story filling in Dredd’s early days as well – out on the streets maintaining the law in an emergency aged eleven, and Wagner has some barbs about contemporary British politics.
Beyond the history lesson and the search, there’s a couple of powerful ethical dilemmas at the core of Origins, raising a good story still higher. It’s a problem not settled here, but leads into other stories, particularly Day of Chaos and Tour of Duty.
As well as the Rebellion edition Origins has been released as part of Hachette’s Judge Dredd: The Mega Collection series, also including a Colin MacNeil drawn Christmas story. Of course, being Dredd in some ways it’s not much of a Christmas story, but maybe goodwill to all will prevail.