Noncomics: Judge Dredd Beginners’ Books

dredd beginners' books

The 1995 Judge Dredd movie — the one starring Sylvester Stallone — is generally not highly regarded among Judge Dredd fans. While there are some who do really like it, they’re outnumbered by those who dismiss it, or even despise it. And there are those who see it more as a misfire than anything else. I count myself among that latter category. It’s a good effort with some great production design, but ultimately it falls down because the people pulling the strings fundamentally misunderstood the purpose and point of Judge Dredd, which is that Dredd is the product of a drastic and flawed solution to the problem of rampaging crime. In a giant, overpopulated city crammed with craziness, the Judges are the sledgehammer deployed to crack a few nuts.

The movie’s most serious flaw is that it tries to humanise Dredd, and I don’t mean just showing us his face: it gives him a parent figure whom he immediately loses, gives him a matching enemy, a sidekick, and a potential girlfriend. But Dredd as a character works best when he’s not showing his humanity, or when it emerges grudgingly. The 2012 Dredd movie, starring Karl Urban, gets the character and tone just about spot-on. That’s very nicely demonstrated at the end of the movie when, after an extremely intense night trapped in the Peach Trees block, the Chief Judge asks Dredd what happened, and Dredd simply replies, “Drugs bust.”

To be fair, the 2012 adaptation has one huge advantage over its 1995 predecessor… In 1995, the makers of Judge Dredd didn’t have a previous attempt to look back at and go, “That’s how we’re not going to do it.”

But for the 1995 version, well, you don’t get a world-famous star like Stallone to play the lead and not show his face. And somewhere along the line someone decided that Dredd didn’t have enough of a personality and he needed an origin story to explain his coldness. That, in turn, led to him requiring a redemption arc… They mined the back-issues of 2000AD for some great Dredd stories and patched them in without really understanding why those stories were great.

Another problem is that they didn’t know what sort of movie they were making. A grown-up, hard-hitting action satire like Robocop would have been ideal…

An early prototype design for Robocop (not kidding: this is real!)

…but R-rated movies generally don’t earn as much at the box-office. I’m sure that there’s a Hollywood formula along the lines of “every hard swear word or visible trauma wound or shot of unclothed naked nudity reduces the number of tickets sold by one million.”

Plus over-18s movies can’t be advertised on TV during the day, not to mention that you can’t sell tons of tie-in merchandise to the kids if the movie is restricted to those over 18.

Regular readers might recall that I’ve touched upon this touchy subject before, in my review of the Judge Dredd Sugar Puffs cereal box.

And that brings us to today’s noncomics… Judge Dredd: Hershey’s Story and Judge Dredd: Ferguson’s Story, both published by Boxtree in 1995. Alongside a pair of novelisations of the movie (which I’ll look at another time), Boxtree also produced two other Judge Dredd tie-in books: The Making of Judge Dredd and The Art of Judge Dredd, both of which are extremely detailed and I reckon they’re absolutely essential purchases for fans of the movie or the comic

But these two books are… somewhat less essential. They’re paperbacks, 204mm square (8″), with card covers and twenty-four interior pages.

hershey's story cov s

Written by Richard Mead, Judge Dredd: Hershey’s Story is the movie told from Judge Hershey’s point of view, in the first person, and it’s pretty faithful to the story, though of course it’s very watered-down and sanitised.

hershey sample1

Above: that’s page 2, and it contains about 125 words. Only eleven of the book’s twenty-four interior pages contain text, so we’re looking at about 1375 words in total, or just about the size of this article.

hershey sample2

The layout is in two-page spreads, as above, with the text illustrated with relevant pics from the movie. (The above scene is one of the movie’s dumber moments: Hershey gets Cadet Olmeyer to analyse two photos of Dredd, and he accidentally analyses the wrong one, the photo of Dredd as a baby with his parents. Olmeyer discovers that this photo has been faked — the background and the parents have been added later: only the baby is real. Um… why would the person behind this cover-up go to the bother of faking this photo? Just use any old photo of parents and a baby! It’s not like Dredd would be able to look at the baby in the photo and recognise himself!)

ferguson's story cov s

The companion volume, Judge Dredd: Ferguson’s Story, also written by Richard Mead, is — as you’ll have guessed — the story of the movie but told from Fergie’s point of view. It’s about the same length as Hershey’s Story, but this one is presented in the third person.

The book skips the entire opening scene and begins with Fergie already on the shuttle back to Aspen…

ferguson sample1

Because this volume is from Fergie’s POV we get to see the Angel Gang and the ABC robot, two of the movie’s most successful elements. Mean Machine Angel, in particular, is an absolute triumph. Though not in this book because it’s all been so heavily bowdlerised.

ferguson sample2

The “reveal” page of the ABC robot is of interest not only because it’s one of the few full-figure shots of the robot, but also because it appears to be a production photo rather than a frame from the movie… you can see a member of the crew standing behind the robot:

ferguson sample3

Related to that, one element I find particularly interesting is that in the movie’s original script Fergie gets killed at the end. In the finished movie, we see him being carried off by medics and still very much alive: he makes a quip about probably being a much better kisser than Dredd… but once you know that Fergie was originally destined to die, it becomes pretty obvious that final scene was tacked-on later as a re-shoot.

This cut-down version of the story must have been written and finalised before the reshoots, because it contains the death scene. However, as this is a kid’s book, it’s only obliquely referenced:

ferguson death scene

So poor old Herman Ferguson doesn’t get to live to the final page of his own book. And not only that, but his sacrifice is barely acknowledged. Fergie doesn’t even warrant a single mention in Judge Hershey’s account of the story, not even the scene where he fixes the popcorn maker.

Judging by the size and shape of the books, and the reading level of the text within, I guess they’re aimed at kids about six or seven years old, which is about half the age they would have needed to be to watch the movie in the cinema. Sobering thought: those kids would now be in their thirties!

I can’t help wondering whether there were more books planned should these two be successful. Mean Machine’s Story would be interesting to read, as would Dr. Ilsa Hayden’s Story, not least because then we’d get lots of pics of Joan Chen’s character (she only appears in one photo in Hershey’s book, and isn’t mentioned at all in Fergie’s).

They’re nicely-produced books, and story-wise the best I can say is that they’re fairly inoffensive. I reckon they’re really only worth tracking down if you’re a fan of the movie, or a collector of curios.

The books are also a perfect example of the biggest problem with the 1995 Judge Dredd movie: it was a boat steered by a committee, and each member had very much their own ideas as to where they were supposed to be going.

So while some lay the blame for the movie’s perceived failure at the feet of its director, Danny Cannon, I don’t. I think he did a good job given that his hands were tied by the money-persons who didn’t have the same reverence for the character and his world. Going back to a water-based metaphor, Cannon was swimming against the tide with this one, and towing the hopes of Dredd fans at the same time: we shouldn’t blame him for the times when the movie fell down, but instead we should thank him for the moments when the movie soared.


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