Saturday, 1 February 2014

Judge Dredd Or Batman? (Shameless? The US-Published Superhero Tales Of Mark Millar Part 4.)

Panel by Millar, Yeowell & Giordano, from LOTDK#79
It wasn't until I was writing this week's installment of Shameless? that I realised what it really ought to be about. As such, the intended discussion of Grant Morrison and Mark Millar's writing partnership has had to be delayed until next week. Instead, a piece about the similarities between Millar's first shot at Batman and the way he'd depicted Judge Dredd has taken its place.

Writing the first draft of a book in public can be a disconcerting business. Looking back at what's already been posted by Sequart, there's a mass of words to be cut and a host of comment to be either tightened up or corrected. But for all that the process can be nerve-racking and embarrassing, it also allows for ideas to bubble up over time. And so, where next week's post - which I've just finished - has been more or less completed for ages, this week's came as something of a surprise. To my shame, I just hadn't noticed the parallels between the Batman of Millar's Favourite Things and the Judge Dredd of the early Nineties.

page by Mark Millar & Nigel Dobbyn, from The Hunt For Red Razors, as reprinted in Rebellion's 2004 Red Razors TPB.
    
You can find, should you ever want to, the latest Shameless? here. Next week, and to my great relief, I'll be moving into a period of the writer's career that will allow me to say unreservedly positive things about some of his scripts. It's something that I've been looking forward to doing, and I'm glad that I've at last reached the point when I can do so.

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7 comments:

  1. The late Donald Hamilton wrote a series of spy thrillers about a secret agent (and assassin), Matt Helm. In one of them, Helm described his job (and attitude) as, protect the people and the hell with the law. He complained that a cop's job was to uphold the law and the hell with people. I've always thought that could describe the difference between Batman and Dredd. The former is basically a vigilante who takes the law into his own hands and dispenses his own brand of justice, using illegal methods if necessary. Dredd is a government employee who goes strictly by the book, no matter what. When he returned to Mega City 1 (after temporary duty as marshal of the moon colony), he walked past several violent crimes-in-progress, and did not even try to help the victims. Why? He had not yet been officially reinstated as a Mega-City judge, and had no legal jurisdiction at the time. Batman's raison d' etre is to protect innocent victims without the hindrance of such technicalities.

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    1. Hello There:- As a pithy conversation starter, your defiition of the difference between the two characters is an undeniably thought-provoking one.

      Because long-lived characters tend towards such rich and contradictory histories, it's easy to find evidence that could undermine your argument. But that doesn't mean it's interesting and useful. For example, Dredd has frequently broken the law and placed his own conception of justice above that of the rules. He destroyed the RoboJudge programme and suppressed the information that he done so, and then repeatedly undermined the McGruder regime, refusing direct orders and behaving in ways that clearly put him beyond the law. As for the Batman, the pre-Crisis era frequently potrayed him as a fully licensed deputy of what would become known as the GCPD. (Bob Haney, in Brave And The Bold was particularly fond of that notion while I was growing up, if memory serves.) As such, we're trapped in a situation where some stories support your POV, and others contradict it. Since I'm all for everyone creating their own continuties, and since the results are always interesting, who could possiby object?

      My personal opinion is that both Batman and Judge Dredd are criminals according to all the most important codes of human rights that the international community possesses. This is, I will admit, hardly a common POV, and certainly not one which is likely to find much support. Both of them frequently violate a mass of rights AND laws that we in the liberal West claim to hold to today, although Dredd - who is a genocidilist on top of everything else he does in service of an entirely illegal regime - is quite obviously the worst criminal by far. That there are of course many and legitimate grounds for stepping outside the law isn't something that I'd disagree with. But I'm tending towards defining both Bats and Dredd as criminals, and then using that as a starting point for making sense of them both. The difference in their ends - Bats wants some kind of democracy while Dredd is a Fascist - is key, but seeing them both as criminals is, I think, one way to step outside of the usual ways of perceiving them.

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    2. I agree that long-running characters tend to have contradictory histories. Batman, in particular, went through different phases in his long career, and each version was probably a reflection of its time. The character began as a grim vigilante in 1939, operating outside the law, and considered a criminal by the police. There was probably a lot of influence from the Shadow and other "mysterious avenger" heroes in the pulp magazines. My impression is that DC came to realize that most comic book fans were children, so they adopted some self-imposed rules, toning down the violence and vigilantism. Commissioner Gordon officially deputized Batman in a 1941 story. When I was reading comics (and watching the TV series) as a child in the mid-1960's, it was frequently stated that Batman and Robin were "duly deputized officers of the law." (When I was seven years old, it didn't bother me that a police commissioner would deputize two persons, one of them a minor, without even knowing their real names, and without any background investigation or civil service exam.) In the 1970's, restrictions on content were relaxed, and Batman returned to the grim Dark Knight image. (Although he still seemed to have the cooperation of the GCPD.) So, one's impression of Batman can vary, depending on whether we are talking about a story from 1940 (or 1989), or one from 1966. With all the various retcons and reboots, I don't know what is now considered canon, or if the "duly deputized law officer" phase is still in continuity. And, with Dredd, one's impression can depend on each individual story. He can seem like an admirable hero when fighting a vicious outlaw biker gang (or when trekking across the Cursed Earth to deliver medical supplies to Mega City 2), and a bullying thug when he's harassing some pathetic loser over some trivial "offense."

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  2. One problem I've always had with Dredd is that the creators could not seem to make up their minds whether we are supposed to condone his actions or not. Dredd would not only impose severe punishment for a minor (and unintentional) offense, he would release a mass murderer or serial rapist if the arrest warrant were accidentally filled out on form X instead of form Y. Some stories seemed to be satirical, recognizing the absurdity of his attitude. Others (e.g., the Cursed Earth serial) seemed to portray the judges' absolutism as a necessary evil, or even as the greater good. The basic purpose of law is to protect innocent people from crime and other aggressive behavior (e.g., reckless driving). The basic purpose of so-called "technicalities" (e.g., requiring police to ask an impartial judge for a warrant before they can search your home) is to protect innocent people from abuses of police authority. In the Judge Dredd/2000 A.D. universe, the police are also the judges, which means they have unlimited authority, with no "umpire" or "referee" to restrain them. And Dredd, in his single-minded determination to aggressively enforce "the law," no matter how many innocent people get hurt as a result, is probably criminally insane.

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    1. Hello There:- The likes of Mills, Wagner and Grant most certainly did intend Dredd to be disapproved of. But they also wanted to recognise how the saviour-fascist figure contained a savage, seductive glamour and appeal. I think that's the brilliance of Dredd; he both encapsulates the horror and the appeal of fascism. In the great war between the Sovs and Mega-City One, for example, Dredd was cast as the liberator of his people. It showed how a certain kind of power and dead-faced charisma could fulfil a need at certain points in history. Yet at the tale's conclusion, Dredd destroys the lives of billions of enemy civilians without a second thought. The path of fascism always leads not to the people's security, but the people's suffering. And Dredd constantly shows that in a quite brilliant way. In 'America' and 'Democracy', in 'Origins' and just about every single of Al Ewing's quite brilliant Dredd tales, we see the circumstances in which people might turn to the myths that Dredd embodies, and we see the inevitable consequences of that too. Throughout his time, we've also been shown how human beings simply can't fulfil the role of impartial cops, judges and executioners. The burden of the impossible and quite frankly evil task constantly corrupts those who are risen to attempt to fulfil it. Even the Judges themselves are dehumanised and quite frequently broken by their responsibilities. It's telling that Rob Williams' Low Life tales shows how Frank's love of Mega City One and his total dedication to its blackshirted cause requires him to be both insane and living outside the law!

      The worst Dredd stories are those which portray him as an 80s-esque action hero, all bluster, quips and hyper-violence. Mark Millar and Grant Morrison, who've elsewhere produced work I very much like and admire, were particularly guilty of this in the 90s. They largely ignored the politics that Dredd was designed to play with, and ended up with a souless series of stories which carried little entertainment and some very dodgy values.

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  3. Colin may I take a moment to let everyone know that today (6th) marks twenty years since the death of Jack "King" Kirby.
    Forever missed.
    Forever loved.
    Forever remembered.
    Miss you, Jack.

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    1. Hello Karl:- I can only nod in agreement. As a way of underlying that, you'll note I posted earlier today several pieces at the TooBusyThinking Tumblr about the King;

      http://colsmi.tumblr.com/post/75810720766/a-bakers-dozen-of-typically-riveting-jack-kirby-covers

      and

      http://colsmi.tumblr.com/post/75805221206/the-incomparable-jack-kirby-returned-to-the-source

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