How 'Judge Dredd Megazine' Is Celebrating 30th Birthday

Judge Dredd 30th Anniversary
Greg Staples/Rebellion
Editor Matt Smith looks at the anniversary stories combining familiar faces with new creations.

This week sees the 30th anniversary of the Judge Dredd Megazine, the companion title to Britain’s 2000 AD, spotlighting breakout character and iconic lawman Judge Dredd and the world around him, and the monthly anthology is celebrating in style.

The latest issue of the title, out now in digital format internationally (and in print in the U.K.; the U.S. print edition arrives next month), sees the start of an all-new line-up of stories combining familiar faces with brand new creations, including John Wagner — who created Dredd back in 1977, and helped launch the Magazine in 1990 — returning to the character, and the debut of a strip set just 15 years in the future about how the fascistic Mega-City status quo of Dredd got started.

As if that's not enough, the issue is accompanied by the first installment of The 2000AD Encyclopedia, a new project that takes the many characters and strips from the 44-year history of the Megazine's parent title and explains everything anyone could ever want to know (and then some).

The Hollywood Reporter talked to editor Matt Smith about putting the issue together, and about celebrating three decades of the all-Dredd action.

Megazine No. 424 feels like an anniversary issue done right, from the Greg Staples cover onward — everything, from the choice of stories to the Encyclopedia, feels like a perfect introduction for newcomers as well as a treat for longtime fans. Was there an agenda when putting together the line-up of the issue?

It was partly stories held back to launch in the birthday issue — Megatropolis, Dreadnoughts — because they were exciting new series to make a splash about; coincidence — Lawless’s 50th episode happened to coincide with the anniversary, and Dan and Phil had ideas about how they wanted to mark the occasion; and deliberately acknowledging the milestone by asking John Wagner and Colin MacNeil to return to the “America” storyline, which is still possibly the Megazines most resonant and pervading story in its 30 years.

Add to that Anderson and the Dark Judges, who've been integral to the Dreddworld for so long, and a new series of The Returners, which is a more offbeat splinter of the universe, and it all added up to a mega-issue that felt suitably special for such a big anniversary. Also, when we decided to do the 2000 AD Encyclopedia, and serialize as the Meg's supplement, this issue seemed like the perfect one to launch it with.

As you point out, there’s such a mix of old favorites and new material in the issue, but character co-creator John Wagner returning to the character for a story that references “America,” which anchored the first issues of the Meg, feels like a particular coup.

I deliberately asked John to write the Dredd for this issue and that it feature Judge Beeny, the daughter of [“America” protagonists] America Jara and Bennett Beeny, who's now a major supporting character in the Dredd strip, and in some ways the future of Justice Department. Dredd rarely explicitly states this, but he sees in her the next generation of the Judges, and she could prove influential in shaping how Mega-City One is governed in the coming decades.

John came up with 'The Victims of Bennett Beeny', which sees Total War terrorists —the anti-Justice Dept direct-action group — take over Bennett Beeny block, and also has Judge Beeny confront the legacy of her mother's actions. [“America” artist] Colin MacNeil was onboard to draw it, but alas had to pull out halfway through the first episode, so Dan Cornwell stepped in and has done a sterling job drawing the remainder.

Of the new strips starting in the issue, Dreadnoughts really stands out, especially for American readers right now. It’s an extension of what writer and series co-creator Michael Carroll has been doing in prose for a couple years now with the Judges series, but what was the thought process in creating a Justice Department prequel set just 15 years out from the current day? Is it something that will offer the opportunity to comment even more directly on contemporary events?

Mike had dipped into the well of exploring the early days of the Judges in the Dredd story "The Paradigm Shift," published in 2018, which cut between two timelines, but in Dreadnoughts he gets to immerse an entire series in that strange transitional time when Judges were emerging and operating alongside the regular cops.

He pitched it to me as something that would run alongside the "Judges" prose series, and I thought it was a worthy addition to the Meg — something we saw in glimpses in the Dredd story "Origins," but here we get to explore it in even more detail.

John Higgins has done an amazing job on the art, working from [Dredd co-creator] Carlos Ezquerra's designs for the early Judge uniform and rooting it in a near-future environment — and it feels incredibly prescient. When the scripts were written and this first episode drawn, we had no idea how pertinent it would feel for a turbulent U.S. right now. The opening scenes of the first episode, showing visored Judges beating down a demonstration, are scarily on point.

While Dreadnoughts feels like it’s doubling down on the mythology of the Dredd strip, Megatropolis is just the opposite; a visit to an alternate reality where Mega-City One is recreated in spectacular Art Deco fashion. It feels very closely tied to its creators’ specific styles and interests, but also offers what feels like a Euro take on what has been traditionally a very British — and, in a way, American — concept. Can you talk about the strip’s origins?

[Writer] Ken Niemand pitched it to me as an “Elseworlds” take on Mega-City One — full of the characters that we know from the regular Dredd strip, but repositioned in this ersatz 1920s alternate version. Where Joe Rico is a by-the-book cop working for a corrupt police department, and is partnered with young new transfer Amy Jara, where Barbara Hershey is a crusading journalist, and Madame Cassandra is a celebrity clairvoyant.

I loved it, thought it was a lot of fun — I could see it as an original graphic novel, so contained within its own world. The artist that immediately sprang to mind to draw it was Dave Taylor, as he'd done such beautiful Art Deco work on Batman: Death by Design, the book he'd done with Chip Kidd. Happily, Dave came onboard and has produced absolutely stunning work.

The Megazine making it to its 30th anniversary feels like a real achievement, especially considering the British comics market during that period. (COVID alone!) What is it about the Meg that gave it the sticking power, do you think?

Tenacity, and the strength of the material. The Meg’s had more than it's fair share of changes to its format over the past three decades — monthly, then fortnightly, then back to monthly, going half reprint, then expanding to 100 pages before going back to 64 pages — but the strength of Dredd's world, and the work done by the creators, has kept people coming back. It's now settled into a pretty strong shape, and with Rebellion’s backing it remains a vital companion to 2000 AD.

What lies ahead for the Meg?

Well, the line-up that starts in the birthday issue will continue into the middle of next year, and then we've got great stuff like Devlin Waugh and Angelic waiting in the wings — and the unmissable 2000 AD Encyclopedia will continue to be serialized in the Meg across 2021, right up to the Galaxy's Greatest Comic's 45th anniversary in February 2022. It's just one celebration after another round here!

Judge Dredd Magazine No. 424, the 30th anniversary issue, is available digitally now from the 2000AD webstore, with a print release in the U.S. Oct. 16.