Since its release in 2012, fans of action film Dredd have been petitioning and campaigning online for a Dredd 2. After the movie underperformed at the box office, Dredd’s future outside of comic books had once again become uncertain. Yesterday, fans’ wishes were finally answered in an unexpected manner with the announcement that a TV series on the legendary street judge was in the works, titled Judge Dredd: Mega-City One.
While not quite a Dredd 2, the production is still an exciting prospect because it’s live-action Judge Dredd in a medium far more suited to the Judge’s world and misadventures. Not to knock Dredd by any means, that film realized the Judge and Mega-City One in a way that was previously unheard of and did it in a way that made both comic and non-comic fans happy (the ones that showed up, anyway). It’s just that capturing and distilling what Dredd is and the intensity of his universe in two hours is an impossible task in which certain aspects must be sacrificed for the good of a snappy, action-driven narrative. TV doesn’t hold such restrictions.
In the weekly 2000 AD progs that feature Dredd every issue, the Judge’s stories are procedural investigations, each week’s pages adding a new twist to a running case. Contrasting with the likes of Marvel and DC, since his debut in Prog #2 40 years ago, all of Dredd’s tales form a real-time canon. For the last four decades, readers have been watching Dredd’s career as an infamously skilled futuristic street cop unfold, exploring Mega-City One’s over-populated, gluttonous, mega-corporate dystopia through his eyes as the greatest lawman of them all. And with that comes intense, long-form running commentary on the nature of justice, law and order, and the price of heroism when it starts being doled out by infallible men and women who’re at once judge, jury, and executioner.
A television series can inherently go deeper and provide that nuance. Some of the most popular TV shows of all-time are so highly lauded because it used the format to tell morally gray narratives. Tony Soprano, Walter White, Donald Draper: leading characters audiences were enamored with because they got to know these individuals – who are reprehensible when seen in snapshot – in deep, meaningful ways. If you liked or supported their actions or who they were from season to season, you had a lot of time along the way to develop that conclusion.
Dredd isn’t just a character that would benefit from that kind of time, he relies on it. His mission is to protect Mega-City One. He’s been purpose trained and conditioned for that one task and his life revolves around it. But that doesn’t always make him the good guy because Mega-City One is far from an idealistic future, with gross overpopulation, a mostly automated industry, and a fascist class system overwrought with bureaucracy. Crime is rampant with an unceasing underbelly of drug misuse and societal resentment. It’s not a nice place to live, and it’s all kept from outright anarchy by the street judges – of which Dredd is among the most highly respected – who punish and prosecute as they see fit in line with the extensive legal scripture they’re bound to.
Dredd protects his city, and he does it well, much of his job fighting robots going out of control or evil forces from another dimension or, as in the legendary Apocalypse War, being a one man mission to stop Russia from taking over the world. Sometimes, though, Dredd protects his city from the kinds of things that make other heroes heroic. Like in America, the seminal arc from 1990 in which Dredd ultimately quashes an attempt at a democratic uprising that wants to overthrow Mega-City One’s fascist regime. It’s a tale that places the Judge directly in the role of antagonist and has him act no different to how one would normally read him, we just see it from the other side.
A film would struggle with that dissonance, but a TV show can more adequately portray the different philosophical underpinnings that such storytelling entails. It can dedicate hours to discussing the rights and wrongs, whether justice is worth freedom or if freedom is truly something feasible under the spinning wheels of capitalism. A TV series doesn’t need Dredd to be its hero for him to be its icon and protagonist, it can present him with complication, not compromising on how he’s a commentary on the American standard comic book hero as much as a comic book hero himself.
According to Rebellion CEO Jason Kingsley, production of Judge Dredd: Mega-City One is a while away with casting and most major production positions still to be filled. So it remains to be seen if Karl Urban, who played Dredd in the 2012 film, will return to the role, or at all. Either way, this isn’t going to be the Dredd 2 fans had always envisioned, hanging at the cineplexes with Iron Man or Batman. But what it will be is something that has a better chance of sharing the Judge with the wider world in a way that does him and his city more justice than a two-hour action romp with easy heroes and uncomplicated villains.