From Strip To Script – Judge Dredd: Greatest Single Panel In Comics?

By Josh Hechinger

Welcome once more to From Strip to Script, where I reverse-engineer a script from a finished page of someone else's comic.

Now, I've been trying to hop around various types of comics with these so, and here's where I sell European comics profoundly short by just doing a bit on Judge Dredd: in my defense, Metal Hurlant is a little trickier to come by, and also this Dredd page in particular begins with a contender for Greatest Single Panel in Comics, so.

But really, Judge Dredd, 2000AD in general, is a fascinating thing to me. You can see how coming up with an ultraviolent satirical sci-fi comic influenced various British writers who have gone on to leave their inky thumbprints on American comics, but beyond that…2000AD is a weekly anthology, right? Dredd installments/Progs are about eight pages each. Many of them tell self-contained stories, or are parts of short serials.

So while the tone of 2000AD promotes a certain kind of approach to comics (black humored, catholic towards genre, and entirely un-precious), the bit I find interesting is that everything else about it promotes balancing density of content with economy of storytelling, but on a super pulpy hi-speed publishing schedule.

Put another way, there's a reason Dredd co-creator John Wagner's panel descriptions been described as "a series of exciting telegrams". Chasing weekly deadlines demands a certain brevity.

Wagner is writing here with Alan Grant, for Brian Bolland; this page, originally from Prog 227, can be found in the eBook The Dark Judges, containing a gang of Judge Death and co. stories.

Last bit before we get into it: here's the pain of doing pages in isolation. This is the second half, the…aha…punchline…to a sequence on the previous page. All you need to know going in is that Judge Fear (him with the gated helm) has the power to terrify you to death just by showing you the cosmic horror that is his face. He usually shouts "GAZE INTO THE FACE OF FEAR!" as he does so, presumably so you know where to look.

In the last panel of the previous page, he tried it on Dredd. Dredd's rejoinder:

BC_05

And what I pared this back to, script-wise:

PAGE Forty-Five (SIX PANELS)

P1. DREDD puts his fist clean through the back of FEAR'S helmet.

– CAPTION      But Dredd is a Judge – and Judges are not ordinary men!

– DREDD       Gaze into the fist of Dredd!

P2. DREDD pulls his fist out of FEAR'S head, as ANDERSON props herself up and shoots FEAR with an incendiary round.

– ANDERSON      Incendiaries, Dredd! They'll work on this beauty!

P3. FEAR burns.

– FEAR      Foolsss! You cannot kill what doesn't live!

P4. DREDD and ANDERSON watch FEAR'S disembodied head float from his burning body.

– ANDERSON      His spirit form's escaping!

– DREDD      Forget it! The shield's all that matters!

P5. DREDD shoots the generator.

P6. Outside. The shield's down, the Judges are ready to charge.

– DREDD (no tail, loud)      This is Dredd! Shield is down! Hit the Billy Carter Block with everything you've got!

– CAPTION      Next Prog: Death's Dark Dominion!

So, What'd We Learn?

– Economy. "FEAR burns". What more do you need besides that, in the panel description? Not a blessed thing. I try to write fairly lean, as a rule, but it's interesting to keep the gold standard of Wagnerian minimalism in mind.

– P2's a bit crap, though, on my part. Dredd pulling his fist out of Fear's face is unnecessary hand-holding; Anderson wouldn't shoot the Dark Judge if Dredd was still elbow deep in his helmet, y'know? But you have to cover yourself, I guess, just in case the artist does draw Dredd catching some literal friendly fire.

– Now, they're writing and drawing for a magazine-sized page, but the usage of real estate on this page is interesting, what beats get priority. Obviously, "gaze into the fist of Dredd" gets the biggest panel, but a lot gets crammed into the remaining ~2/3rds of the page, doesn't it? Fear gets shot, burns to ash, escapes, Dredd shoots the generator, and we get an exterior shot of the building and the amassed Judges.

I feel like a lot of writers or artists would play up Fear burning defiantly, or the generator being taken out, or the exterior shot, but here, they're…not perfunctory, per se, and Bolland draws the hell out of them, but they're not overly emphasized. They don't need to be: of course Fear will burn, of course Dredd will take out the generator, of course you should remember that there's an army of Law outside. That's just plot though: the story here is Judge Dredd putting his fist through an undead demon cop's Lovecraftian horrorshow of a face.

– Not really a learning moment, but I love Fear's spirit form: half awful-ghost-sperm, half 1UP-icon. The biggest surprise when I finally read some Dredd was how goofy it could get, while playing it completely straight. Dredd's frequently got a straight-faced absurdity that reminds me of nothing so much as the Adam West Batman show. Only, y'know, with a fascist stormtrooper cop in a grim totalitarian future.

Philly-based comic writer Josh Hechinger is a Cancer, and his blood type is A+. He enjoys shepherd's pie, a pint, and definitely obeying the law if it means not getting punched in the face. While not a beauty, he can't deny that incendiaries would almost certainly work on him.

About Hannah Means Shannon

Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool. Independent comics scholar and former English Professor. Writing books on magic in the works of Alan Moore and the early works of Neil Gaiman.

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