John WagnerJudge Dredd MegazineJudge Dredd
Judge Dredd in America
Medium: comic
Year: 1990
Writer: John Wagner
Artist: Colin MacNeil
Country: UK
Keywords: Judge Dredd Megazine, Judge Dredd, favourite
Format: 60 pages
Website category: Comics UK
Review date: 2 December 2021
It might be the best Judge Dredd story ever. Maybe. I haven't read them all, but good luck finding a better one. No matter how often you've read this finale, it hurts. Doesn't matter if you're a first time reader or not, since we all know what's coming. The narrator-protagonist tells us at the start. It's a tragedy, narrated by a (broken) Bennett Beeny.
It starts with the birth of America. No, not the country, although the parallels have become even more painful since 1990. Among other things, it's about the death of democracy. It's about the crushing of the American ideal. Yeah. If you wrote this today, people would be screaming that it's about Trump, or perhaps Republican-Democrat dysfunction. Nope. That would fit, but John Wagner wrote it to show what life would be like under a fascist, totalitarian regime. That he does. (Wagner himself is American-born, incidentally.) To quote Dredd himself at the end:
"Freedom, power to the people, democracy... the great American dream. Don't kid yourself. We tried it before. Believe me, it doesn't work. You can't trust the people. So dream on, creep, but just remember. That's all it is, a dream... America is dead. This is the real world."
Dredd has his heavy-handed methods, as demonstrated when our heroes are as young as five. They work on our timid hero, but they backfire with America. "He was a bad man, Beeny."
Beeny's in love with America, but they both live in their own ways. Beeny's obedient, living within the system. He shows us comedy vs. tyranny, but he's not really interested in challenging anything. America, though, is an idealist. She went on the democracy march, which we know was disrupted by the Judges playing dirty. What happened after that radicalised her.
Beeny doesn't think he deserves America. He'd like their relationship to be more, but he believes they'll never be more than friends. Note his nickname for her, Ami, and what it means in French.
These are good people. The Judges are... not. Jesus.
Damn, there's so much in this story. The deafeningly loud resonances of America's name force us to look at a contrast we'd never seen before in Dredd and make it shocking. It's political, but also personal and human. Your heart will bleed for Beeny and America, even as you're implicitly asked how you'd have reacted. Would you have fought against tyranny, or would you too have acquiesced? (Hint: fighting Judges is a very bad idea.)
Oh, and did I mention that MacNeil's fully painted art is gorgeous? Because it is.
The story has a sequel, The Fading of the Light. I'm sure it's good, but I don't want to read it. Some stories (and particularly endings) are too perfect to be polluted by sequels.