“Judge Dredd: Lawman of the Future” was the tie-in comic to the 1995 Sylvester Stallone film. Where the film fell short, it got the character right.
The 1995 comic book adaptation Judge Drdd is widely regarded as one of the worst comic book movies ever made. Starring Sylvester Stallone as the futuristic cop – judge, jury and executioner – Danny Cannon’s adaptation ignored almost everything that made the character popular with his fans. Now an archetypal Sylvester Stallone hero, this version of Judge Dredd would spout silly one-liners, nonsensical catchphrases (“I knew you’d say that”) and, most unforgivable of all – almost never wore the iconic helmet.
Far from the inflexible and ruthless fascist created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra in 1977 2000AD #2. However, a redemption, of sorts, followed in the pages of the movie-related comic strip, published by Fleetway from 1995 to 1996. Judge Dredd: Lawman of the Future was a semi-monthly comic book for children and teenagers, depicting the futuristic adventures of Dredd.
Although the comic follows the movie version of the character, it stands out for the way it reconciles two very different personalities. Fleetway’s Judge Dredd was still very recognizable as Stallone’s version (at least on the surface), but that dampened his eccentricities; Gone are the silly slogans, in favor of designer John Wagner’s grittier, sharper style. It also introduced a number of concepts and characters that originated from the pages of 2000AD. In that regard, it was a precursor to the Ultimate Marvel Universe, rebooting and reimagining Mega-City One for its own purposes.
Crucially, Lawman of the future had a lot more input from the character creators. Indeed, Wagner was the author of the very first published story – ‘Future Crimes’, illustrated by Jim O’ Ready and PB Smith, with letters by Gordon Robson. Wagner returned in future lawman#4, for the story “Dial Mean for Murder” (illustrated by Jim Murray and Dondie Cox, with letters by Gordon Robson). This brought back the villainous Mean Machine Angel, a cybernetically enhanced psychopath with a mood control dial in his head, for a showdown with the vigilante. The dialogue and behavior of Dredd and Mean Machine is consistent with how fans might expect them to act in 2000AD correct. And, crucially for Judge Dredd, he never takes off the helmet.
However, when Judge Death made his Lawman of the future debuting in issue #8, it did so with an all-new origin (written by Robbie Morrison and illustrated by Alex Ronald, with color by Mike Hadley and lettering by Gordon Robson). Or 2000 AD Judge Death was a fanatical dictator from another dimension, Lawman of the future reimagined the alien super demon as being a version of Dredd himself, from an alternate reality where Dredd had taken his love of the law to gruesome new levels. In addition to Mean Machine and Judge Death, Lawman of the future also introduced his own recurring villains – an easier prospect, now that Dredd only killed in extreme self-defense circumstances. Villains included tattooed assassin Dragon, mutant killer Coldblood (a variant of Batman’s Killer Croc), and mobster Lucius Bludd.
Lawman of the future can I have lacked Judge Dredd’s usual satirical bite and often extreme violence, but its depiction of Dredd is faithful, offering young readers a respectable springboard to reality. Where Stallone’s Judge Dredd barely looked like the character, this book delivered a slick, approachable take on the character to appeal to all ages.
Lawman of the future will end in 1996, with its 23rd issue. Stories previously commissioned but unpublished would be collected in the same year. Judge Dredd special action – marking Stallone’s last Dredd appearance, at least until the 2021 “Trinity” crossover, published in 2000AD#2262. While this version of the character is often mocked for his stupidity and lack of fidelity to the source material, this link shows what could have been – a streamlined, simplified Dredd for all ages.
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