“We’re fascists.” – Smiley to Dredd.
Subscribers to 2000AD get to read the final part of Judge Dredd: The Small House tomorrow, so I thought I’d write a little about the story and its intentions. It’s received a lot of buzz online, which is always a nice thing. People have responded to it. That’s probably, in part, because it does that very linear thing of having a definite nailed on bad guy who has all the odds stacked in his favour. And so Dredd is the heroic underdog, the David vs Goliath. We’re hardwired to want the hero to win the day in these circumstances. But Dredd’s not your average hero. Which is part of what makes him so fascinating to write.
The Small House is partly me finally getting around to tying up some plot threads I’ve left dangling for a few years – in Dirty Frank’s origin’s case, for something like ten years – and partly a very intentional direct confrontation of the fact that Dredd is a fascist. If you’re going to write Dredd for any length of time, or with any attempt at substance, you have to acknowledge that. Or you’re kind of in danger of making him an aspirational figure. The alpha hard man we all wish we could be. And, in times like these, where right-wing groups are on the rise in Europe and America, it’s a theme that I felt I had to confront. Paying your dues, as it were. It is frighteningly easy to think “A few more Judge Dredds, that what we need.”
But Dredd, and his world, are both cautionary tales. An irradiated, nuclear holocaust dead world where the survivors are only able to exist thanks to terrible compromises of freedom and the quality of life. The citizens have no jobs, no point to their lives, and many of them are insane, as the more lunatic aspects of Dredd’s world shows. The crime levels, in spite of them being policed by a brutal totalitarian police force all-too-ready to dish out justice with instant death sentences, are huge. Why would you do that unless you’re desperate and bored and out-of-your-minds with frustration?
Mega-City One is a prison. The Judges are the jailers. And the world outside, beyond the Great Wall – The Cursed Earth – is utterly deadly and something even worse. The wall keeps the greatest horrors out.
And this is Smiley’s POV – which is valid, as the best villains’ views often are. Smiley speaks of death already having claimed this world. It’s only the actions of he and the other Judges that stop the city, and humanity, falling into the grave “which already claimed them years ago.”
So, at the opening of The Small House, Smiley is a Council Member Judge without portfolio, who has been given free reign by various Chief Judges for years to move around the world, undertaking his spy work. And that has often meant assassinations of pro-democracy agitators, foreign Judges who show signs of achieving power and moving the world in a direction he sees as detrimental to Mega City One. And the odd MC1 Judge along the way. As Smiley sees it, this is all justified “for the greater good.” The survival of the city.
Now Dredd is a Judge, and a fascist, and the most effective tool of the same system. As Dredd says in the story of the citizens “They got a right to protest, I got a right to hit ’em with a daystick if they get outta control.” (paraphrasing) But Dredd is not a political thinker. Illegal assassinations are just that – murder. And that’s his bottom line. Smiley needs taking down, even if his roots are so deep in the Hall of Justice that taking him out could bring down the whole system and everything that Dredd has ever stood for.
“A creep is a creep.”
So Smiley’s right when he calls Dredd a “simple tool” and a “blunt instrument.” As Mike Molcher of 2000AD said to me during a drunken conversation about Dredd at Thought Bubble this year – any time Dredd gets involved in the macro workings of Justice Department, it ALL goes wrong. You want a big Judge bogeyman to go scare the citizens into compliance, or someone to win you the Apocalypse War via the force of his unbending will alone – Dredd’s your man. You don’t want him deciding the political movements of the city.
Dredd’s terrifying. He is, at this juncture, the greatest single mass killer in human history – see ‘Request denied!’ and the end of The Apocalypse War. He is the premier violent weapon of this totalitarian regime.
But he’s also the guy you want standing between you and the horrors of this world. And he will stand for you. Which is precisely why, after the Smiley ‘We’re fascists’ episode, we had the ostensibly unconnected episode where an escaped Dune Shark is eating citizens with great bloody impunity and Dredd arrives to save the day. The citizens might be terrified of him but they are VERY glad to see him arrive at times, to protect them.
So, he’s the good guy and the bad guy. Depending on your point of view at the time.
He’s also a man, something many forget. He’s not a robot. There’s all sorts of churning bloody biblical rage poured into that Judge’s uniform. Bubbling away several layers below the surface.
“He’s brutal and angry, he’s always been brutal and angry, but as long as long as he operates under the law we don’t have to worry about that” – Gerhart in ‘Fit.’
As with every human, what they sometimes think their motives are and what they actually are can be two different things. Sometimes I think Dredd just wants to hurt things, and the uniform allows him to that. Gives him a free pass. In the case of ‘The Small House’ he’s willing to sacrifice a lot of things – the lives of his ‘friends’, the Chief Judge, the entire Judge system – all for that rage coiling around in his gut.
Anyway, big doff of the cap to the amazing Henry Flint, who’s done such a beautiful job on The Small House, working with Chris Blythe and Annie Parkhouse. And Matt Smith, 2000AD’s editor, who backed the story and gave it the odd nip and tuck here and there.
Henry’s genuinely one of the finest artists – and storytellers, more importantly – in comics. Every dramatic beat you want to hit, he sells on the page. We worked together on JUDGE DREDD: TITAN before this, which lays some of the plot threads you’ll find in The Small House.
And before that, Smiley’s first appearance was in TRIFECTA, co-written by myself, Al Ewing and Si Spurrier:
Anyway, if you’ve not been reading The Small House in 2000AD and want to pick up the whole story in GN form, including the three-part prequel story ‘Act of Grud’ and the forthcoming epilogue ‘Pets’, Rebellion have announced that the GN will be released September ’19.
Here’s the solicit blurb:
Judge Dredd: The Small House
Rob Williams (w) Henry Flint (a)
“The best I’ve read in years” – Bryan Hitch. “Rob and Henry at the peak of their powers” – Al Ewing. “One of the best runs ever. This is special.” – Mark Millar. One of the most critically-acclaimed and fan-lauded Judge Dredd stories of recent times, The Small House sees Judge Dredd finally face off against the nefarious Judge Smiley, Mega-City One’s behind-the-scenes manipulator – who will be left standing at the end?