Judge Dredd is a comic about a future America where the interior has been completely destroyed by a nuclear war. The coastal areas manage to survive because of a missile shield but one that only covered the most densely populated areas. Essentially the entire Eastern seaboard of the United States survived the war. What was left were towns and small cities surrounding major ones, that, out of necessity, eventually merged into one giant city. At some point after this war, the Judges lead a rebellion and overthrew the President and implemented martial law. They knew that if they didn't manage to maintain some semblance of law and order, the city would fall into chaos. The Judges declared themselves the sole authority and empowered themselves to not only make arrests but to dispense sentences on the spot. Including death sentences. The story centers around one Judge: Judge Dredd. He is the quintessential Judge. The standard by which all other Judges are Judged (sorry). All of the Judges are extremely tough. They train from the age of five to do the job and only a small percentage become actual Judges. Dredd is the toughest of the Judges and the stories perpetually test him and his partner, Judge Anderson. "2000 AD" is the comic in which "Judge Dredd" appeared. It was originally published in 1977 by IPC magazines. It is a science fiction comic anthology and each issue contains one or more different stories. Judge Dredd emerged over time as the most notable. IPC changed hands several times over the years and is currently being published by Rebellion Development. Despite this, the comic has remained true to its roots for the most part and still sells the "Judge Dredd" comics, though as stand-alone comics and graphic novels now. Another interesting thing to note, several notable artists and writers have worked at or contributed to "2000 AD", Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, and Neil Gaiman being among them.
Recently I was reading an article about some studio that was planning to make "Judge Dredd" into a tv series. And because of the strength of the most recent film (not that Stallone monstrosity), Karl Urban might even end up reprising his role as the title character. I was really quite excited to hear about this. I enjoyed the movie, mostly because it managed to convey some level of the darkness of that world. Although it didn't quite nail the dry humor of the original comics, I feel like a serialized version of the movie might have a better shot at this. I'm excited about the show. Mostly because of the impact that the original comics had on my life. Even before Walter Jon Williams or William Gibson created the Cyberpunk genre, my first encounter with cyberpunk-esque, dystopian fiction, was "Judge Dredd". Oddly I first played the role-playing game with friends before hearing about the comics. That didn't come until months later when I was in a comic shop and saw a copy of "2000 AD" on the shelves. I enjoyed the game, despite not knowing much about the world, so I gave it a chance. I bought two black and white graphic novels and began reading them right away. The interesting thing about the black and whites is, for the longest time I believed Dredd was black. He was always wearing a helmet and the lower half of his face could have been anything. I would have read the comics either way, but looking back on it, I wonder what made me think that. The thing I loved about the comics was the rich detail about criminal sub-cultures, urban sub-culture, and youth sub-culture. All of the little things that a cop in a future megacity might encounter. I found the little glimpses into the lives of the citizens of Mega-City One to be fascinating because it made me interested to read more. One of the greatest things about the comics was Judge Dredd himself. He was this tower of iron will, this uncompromising being with the competence and the toughness to back it up. The last thing I loved about comics is the evolution of the stories and the art. Granted, "Judge Dredd" has jumped the shark many times in its 40-year run, but new writers and new artists have always managed to draw me back into the fold. I hope one day they will release a comprehensive art book detailing the entire history of the series because I thoroughly enjoy just looking at a lot of the art.
In a departure from the normal "media". (i.e. print), I am linking to the 2000 AD shop. There are several free downloadable "Judge Dredd" comics available which should get you started. There are also a couple of other freely available titles there as well. "Jaegir: Strigoi" a comic about a war veteran who hunts down escaped war criminals, is an awesome read. The main character is a badass. "Brass Sun" which wasn't my cup of tea about a character from a "clockwork solar system" that is dying and must find the key to restarting their sun. "Ichabod Azreal" is about a gunfighter who dies and has to shoot his way out of the underworld to get back to his life and family. I like westerns and I liked the art so give this one a try too. Lastly, there is a title there called "Aquila", a gladiator who was crucified for participating in Spartacus' rebellion. He makes a plea for vengeance and is brought back by a demon and now walks the Earth killing people. If you like that period then definitely check this out. I liked the concept, writing, and art, but ancient Rome isn't my thing when it comes to comics or film. Keep in mind that these are just samples. If you like them then please purchase some, either digital or hard copy. I am not being paid to promote the magazine. I simply love the comics and hope you will too. Considering that "2000 AD" has been running continuously since 1977, it may seem a bit daunting or weird to jump into a story. I have embedded a youtube video below of a couple of guys from the magazine who give an incredible guide to getting started reading the comics. I suggest you watch that before making any purchases. And I hope you enjoy "2000 AD" as much as I have. Below is the link to the 2000 A.D. store.