Thursday, June 21, 2012

Where to Start Reading Judge Dredd

I get asked "where do I start with Judge Dredd?" rather a lot. My short answer: Of the books that are currently in print in the U.S., you're going to want to start with Judge Dredd: Complete Case Files 05. That's right: volume 5. It's a very solid introduction; you won't need any information from the earlier volumes that it won't give you, and you can always go back and read those volumes later if you want. It's a big fat black-and-white paperback with a year's worth of weekly stories, circa 1981-1982, including (among others) three very fondly remembered serials: "Judge Death Lives" (drawn by Brian Bolland), "Block Mania" and "The Apocalypse War" (drawn by Dredd's co-creator Carlos Ezquerra).

The best introduction to Judge Dredd is probably America, a collection of three stories by John Wagner and Colin MacNeil (from 1990, 1996 and 2006) that made the series much more interestingly complicated. It's finally back in print--in the U.K., not the U.S.--but there's a Kindle edition of it that's available in the U.S., too. (There's also an argument that a lot of the drama of America comes from its reversal of what had come before it; I still think it's a terrific place to start.)

The most recent material that's been collected is Judge Dredd: Tour of Duty - Mega-City Justice , which collects a pretty terrific 2009-2010 serial. It's a British book, though, and effectively the second half of a long storyline (the first half has been collected as Judge Dredd: Tour of Duty - The Backlash). (UPDATE: As of this writing, the most recent U.K. material to be collected is the terrific Judge Dredd: Trifecta.)

The most recent long storyline in the weekly 2000 AD comics was "Day of Chaos," an excellent, very densely packed thriller that ran for an entire year, from 2000 AD #1740 to 1789. It hasn't yet been collected, and it's the payoff for several years' worth of buildup. You can, however, buy the whole thing issue-by-issue, in physical or digital form, from 2000 AD's site. (UPDATE: It's now available in two volumes:  Judge Dredd Day Of Chaos: The Fourth Faction and Judge Dredd Day Of Chaos: Endgame.)

Is there a story from which Dredd-the-movie was adapted? No, there isn't. (From what I can tell, the movie effectively takes place a little while before the beginning of the comics series.) However, Olivia Thirlby's character Cassandra Anderson makes one of her memorable early appearances in "Judge Death Lives," in the aforementioned Complete Case Files 05. (UPDATE: There is, however, a one-shot comic book sequel to the movie that's also available in digital form: Dredd: Underbelly.)

If you want to read everything in order, there's always the blog you're looking at right now: I'm writing about all the non-redundant collections of Dredd comics in the publication order of the first story they include that hasn't already been covered (with a few exceptions). There are a lot of them--counting spinoffs with the same setting, there are currently about 75 volumes' worth of material, and that's not counting the hundreds of episodes that haven't yet been reprinted. 

And the best books? The general favorites among fans are everything named above, as well as the British collection Complete Case Files 14, which collects the "Necropolis" storyline (and serves as the payoff to another few years' worth of stories). My personal faves also include Brothers of the Blood and the spinoffs Chopper: Surf's Up, Mega-City Undercover Vol. 02: Living the Low Life, The Taxidermist and Devlin Waugh: Red Tide.)

(Note that if you click through on any of these links and end up buying the book from Amazon, I get a little cut of the price; I hope this guide is helpful to you! And if anyone wants, I can set up links to Powell's, too.)

If you have other opinions, feel free to leave them in the comments!


  1. I think The Pit is worth a mention alongside America, as a story that also expands on the series concept and character but focuses more on the Judges and the system (and it's corruption).

    I've always split Dredd into two categories: old-school and modern-day Dredd with America being the definitive beginning of the modern-day version of the character.

    I do cringe a bit when I see people wanting to get into Dredd and then saying they bought Case Files 01. CF01 is really more of an experimentation period where various creators threw everything at the wall to see what stuck. CF02 at least has the Judge Child Quest (and I think the Day the Law Died?_ which are personal favourites of mine and show off the dark humour and Wagner's satirical edge quite effectively!

  2. I just wanted to say that this is a great resource. Thanks for doing all of this work.

  3. Yes, thanks Wolk. Your enthusiasm and insight got me reading 2000ad again, and catching up on the decade's worth of stuff I'd missed.

    Great advice this week; I've been getting asked those same questions a lot lately too.

  4. This is exactly what I came looking for. Thank you very much, that's a great blog you run there! Thanks again, such a helpful info! Take my cut off the price, you well deserve it, sir!

  5. Okay, so if I get what you say are good introductions, would it then be prudent to go back to the very first issue?
    Or where would I start for the 'years of build up' so that the payoff collections make most sense/have the correct amount/greatest impact? How many issues does this character have in total, is there a comprehensive post about this somewhere on this blog? I just- I just want to know that I'm doing justice -heheh justice- to this comic. But comics are hard if you aren't there from the beginning. I've already resigned myself to giving up a lot of arc and stories from the Thor comics since the marvel universe is so ginormous. And if it's at all possible to not have to do that for this comic I'd like to know.

  6. Amy: It's hard to go too far wrong, reading-order-wise--there are probably a handful of people who've read all 1800+ episodes in 2000 AD and 300+ episodes in the Megazine in strict release order, but they're greatly outnumbered by those of us who've had fun piecing together the history of the character and the fictional world. (This is a series that didn't get around to its "origin story" for almost thirty years!) All those back issues are there for you when and if you want them, but they're not going to demand anything from you.

  7. Thank you for your efforts. I liked the (latest) movie, just read they're working hard to produce a sequel (after great DVD sales salvaged the rotten box office), and I want to give the comics a shot. I'm starting w/ "05" as you suggest, then will go from there. Ordered it through the link you provide, so hopefully you'll get some kickback.

    It's websites like this, true labors of love, that make the Internet great. Thanks again.

  8. I realize this is an old post, but I was wondering if the author or another reader could help: is there some type of website, chart, whatever, that lists what Dredd stories have been printed in various formats?

    For example, I've got nearly everything on Eagle (early cases, child quest, normal monthly run, etc.), some Quality/Fleetway monthlies from back in the day, and some large format Chronicles of Dredd books but I'm not sure which Case Files to get that would not duplicate stories I already have.

    Given how much the stories have been reprinted, it'd be great to see a rundown of everything to guide me in future purchases (mainly of Complete Case Files and more Chronicles) to prevent me buying the same stories over and over. Thanks!

    1. Hi Unknown! I don't think it's possible to fill in the gaps in your collection without duplication.

      Those Eagle comics only cover the first few years of Dredd, so the books you'd be at risk of duplicating wouldn't set you back a great deal in terms of cash.

      Douglas provides a great list of the contents of each book:

      ... and you can use Barney to see where individual stories have been reprinted. It's a great resource!

  9. Can I read CF 14 without any prior knowledge? Like any serialised character I expect a lot of uneven issues, so I'm trying to cut to the good parts. The comic book shop where I work has a good few of the CF, all of them after 10 I think, and I'm going to try and get #5.

    I was also planning to get Zenith Phase Three and Sláine: The Horned God; and maybe some Strontium Dog, based on availability. Any thoughts on those?