Most people know Judge Dredd from the 90's movie of the same name starring Sylvester Stallone. Some fans might have appreciated the movie and the campiness it presented. However, it was a poor representation of what the comic book by 2000AD was all about. The movie got some things right, of course, but it didn't have the same feel as the comic.
Set in a post-apocalyptic America, the comic features people residing in large cities known as Mega-Cities. These Mega-Cities are patrolled and ruled over by the Justice Department. The police force consists of just the judge, the jury, and executioner. Judge Dredd's first appearance in 1978 made him a fan-favorite.
Here are the 10 best Judge Dredd comics ever.
10 best comics where Dredd is the law
America follows two childhood friends, America Jara and Bennett Beeny, who eventually drift apart in their older years due to conflicting political beliefs. America dislikes the fascist Justice Department while Bennett blindly follows them.
Fans truly understand the type of dictatorship Mega-City One lives under when America is forced to end her pregnancy under false pretenses, which ends up being the straw that breaks the the camel's back. America joins a terrorist organization known as Total War. America and Bennett's reunion as adults goes poorly.
As the story's title suggests, this is an origin story, not just of Dredd but of the entire Justice Department. Fans get a glimpse at the creation of the Justice Department and the man from whom Dredd was created. The story flows from the distant past to Mega-City One's modern day.
In this comic, fans see the veil getting pulled away from Dredd's eyes as Chief Judge Fargo, creator of the Justice Department, tells the protagonist that the Judge system was a mistake. It's a pivotal moment in the character's development arc that changes him forever.
3) The Dark Judges
These comics have always been cemented in science fiction, but there have also been some supernatural elements sprinkled across the pages here and there. This is evident from the introduction of psi-judges like Judge Anderson. However, things get much darker and the comic delves deeper into the supernatural realm with Dark Judges, which features judges from an alternate universe known as Deadworld.
Judge Death is followed by Judges Fire, Mortis, and Fear, and they are reminiscent of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. These judges decided long ago that the only good method for order was death. John Wagner continues his brilliant work with the depiction of these characters.
4) The Day the Law Died
The Day the Law Died sees Mega-City One taken over by a man who doesn't have the citizens' best interests at heart. It might seem hard to believe since previous rulers of the city have often ruled with an iron fist. What sets Chief Judge Cal apart is that he is not a fan of happiness. In fact, he goes so far as to outlaw laughter, something even previous authoritarian rulers refrained from doing.
If Dredd had a moral alignment, it might be lawful good. However, he could just as well be lawful evil. Democracy holds no punches and reminds the readers that Dredd is not a good guy. He is a fascist (at least, in the beginning) who squashes democracy wherever it attempts to rise. Fans see him fabricate evidence, threaten the lives of children, and more.
This is not the character casual fans are used to because he is only ever portrayed as "The Law" in movies. Future stories with him questioning his choices become more impactful as we see him making the wrong choices in this comic.
6) Brothers of the Blood
These 2000AD comics don't typically have a warm and fuzzy feel to their storylines. Brothers of the Blood comes pretty close, however, by showing a familial bond between the stoneface main character, his younger clone Rico, and his clone's daughter Vienna. While there are moments of tension, some softhearted and pleasant interactions can catch readers by surprise.
One of the leading topics in Mega-City One politics for quite some time is automation, the idea of jobs being taken over by robots. The judges of Mega-City One have to opt for robotic assistance when they notice crime increasing and the number of humans in the Justice Department declining.
The protagonist gets an intrinsic look at himself in this story when the robots commit heinous acts of violence that aren't too dissimilar from his own actions as a Judge. While the story seems predictable and unoriginal on the surface, the theme and argument against automation truly shine in Mechanismo.
After the events of Origins, Dredd resigns from the Justice Department. That's right, the perfect cop resigns because his own existence was eating away at him and he gradually became disillusioned with the system for which he worked. However, things start to get weird. Interdimensional creatures emerge and bring with them the Dark Judges.
This is a gothic horror story that pushes boundaries not commonly seen in comic books. Judge Death begins killing off citizens with the death toll reaching the millions, all because the protagonist had a crisis of faith and decided to retire. John Wagner writes a compelling story that meshes nicely with Carlos Ezquerra's dark art.
9) The Cursed Earth Saga
At the time of Cursed Earth's release, fans were primarily familiar with Mega-City One and had only heard of Cursed Earth. This saga does well to establish a frightening world outside of the Mega-Cities. In the scorched lands outside the city limits lies a barren wasteland populated by mutants and corrupt judges.
Dredd is without a doubt the hero of this story as he transports vaccines across the wastes to Mega-City Two. This twenty-two issue arc expands Dredd's world and solidifies Cursed Earth with its own mythology. This is great worldbuilding since the wasteland will eventually serve as the backdrop during our protagonist's crisis of faith.
10) The Pit
The Pit was published shortly after the failed 1995 movie and served to reinvent the character. Dredd is put in charge of a struggling sector house in Mega-City One's most crime-ridden area. Interestingly enough, this arc sees the main character take a backseat to all the supporting roles.
This story introduces us to some fascinating characters like Judge Galen DeMarco who had an affair with another Judge. However, she chose her duty over the relationship, and was hence allowed to continue her life as a Judge.