"Every single one of you has been introduced to the chaos bug when you walked in here!" joked moderator Douglas Wolk as he kicked off the "2000 AD" and Judge Dredd panel Friday afternoon at Comic-Con International in San Diego. The "chaos bug" is a virus recently unleashed on the inhabitants of Dredd's home MegaCity-One in the pages of "2000 AD."
This fans-only joke set the tone for a panel in which not only the fans, but also the panel members themselves, gushed over the storied UK anthology in honor of its 35 years of publication. That list of gushing fans included "Dredd" star Karl Urban, who made a surprise appearance alongside co-star Olivia Thirlby.
Before Urban arrived, "2000 AD" editor-in-chief Matt Smith went over the new thrills coming up later this year in the publication.
"2000 AD" prog 1792 is the next jumping-on point for the book and features four brand new stories including "Lenny Zero: Zero's Seven" by writer Andy Diggle and artist Ben Willsher. "Zero's Seven" brings back the classic character co-created by Diggle and artist Jock a decade ago.
Jock, who was on the panel, described "Zero's Seven" as a story he and Diggle originally intended to do together years ago. However, after they both got sidetracked doing "The Losers" for Vertigo, it fell by the wayside. The original "Lenny Zero" was Jock's first collaboration with frequent partner Diggle.
Chris Weston draws and, for the first time, writes a Judge Dredd story in prog 1800 this fall. Entitled "The Death of Danny Cannon," the story is named after the infamous director of 1995's box-office flop "Judge Dredd."
Prog 1800 also sees the return of "ABC Warriors" by creator/writer Pat Mills and artist Clint Langley in a story called "Return to Earth." EIC Smith said this story fills in the gaps between "ABC Warriors" and sister series "Ro-Busters."
New thrill "Brass Sun" by "The New Deadwardians" creative team Ian Edginton and I.N.J. Culbard, debuts in 1800 as well. "Brass Sun" is a "steampunky fantasy story set on a giant clockwork orrery on planets revolving around a mechanical sun."
EIC Smith then teased the return of "Low-life" by writer Rob Williams and artist D'Israeli. The return of the fan-favorite series sees undercover Judge Dirty Frank "wake up to find himself on the move. [This story] is gonna be a part of something much bigger."
Another returning thrill is "The Simping Detective" by writer Simon Spurrier and artist Simon Colby. Colby takes over for original artist Frazer Irving.
"2000 AD" Publishing Manager Ben Smith took the reigns from Matt Smith to discuss the publisher's upcoming UK graphic novels, but first took a second to address some confused audience members. "For anyone who is here for 'Dredd' and is wondering why we're mentioning these other stories, '2000 AD' is an anthology comic. It's got five stories of six pages each week and it's always five new stories, but the only thing that unifies each issue is the 'Judge Dredd' story in the front."
"I don't know if anyone is familiar with 'Spaced,' the Simon Pegg show, but basically Simon Pegg's character is in that life defining moment was when Johnny Alpha was killed forever," said Ben Smith. However, nothing lasts forever and co-creators John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra bring back the mutant bounty-hunter in "Strontium Dog: The Life and Death of Johnny Alpha." Alpha was originally killed off 20 years ago by Wagner's former writing partner Alan Grant.
"Savage: The Guv'nor" is the latest collection of writer Pat Mills' long-running series with artist Patrick Goddard. "Savage" is set in the "Mills-verse," a series of inter-connected titles by Mills like "Ro-Busters," "Invasion" and "ABC Warriors." "Savage" deals with an alien invasion of London.
"Judge Dredd: Restricted Files" Volume 4 is different from the regular "Judge Dredd: Case Files" series because it deals with specials and stories that weren't part of straight Judge Dredd continuity. Ben Smith said, "this is where you'll get off-kilter Dredd."
Other upcoming UK collections include alien revenge story "Shakara: The Destroyer" by writer Robbie Morrison and artist Henry Flint, Russian-themed fantasy story "Nikolai Dante: Sympathy for the Devil," by Morrison and artist Simon Frasier, and "35 Years of Judge Dredd Covers," which is the first art book in "2000 AD's" history.
"2000 AD" is also expanding its popular US line of graphic novels, starting with "Judge Dredd: Inferno" by writers Grant Morrison and Mark Millar with artist Carlos Ezquerra. "Inferno" features a beautiful Brian Bolland cover with Dredd's arm completely engulfed in flames.
Other upcoming US graphic novel releases include "Judge Dredd: Cry of the Werewolf" by John Wagner and artist Steve Dillon, among a host of other writers and artists, and sees Dredd transformed into a werewolf. "Tharg's Creepy Chronicles" features short stories by Mark Millar, Chris Weston and Frazer Irving. "The Ten Seconders: American Dream" by Rob Williams and Mark Harrison is about a human resistance fighting back against an invasion of god-like creatures.
IDW's Chris Ryall then made the biggest announcement of the panel, naming writer Duane Swierczynski and artist Nelson Daniels as the creative team on their upcoming US "Judge Dredd" series. Each issue of "Judge Dredd" will feature a 16 page main story by Swierczynski and Daniels. Six page back-up stories by Swierczynski will feature rotating art chores by classic artists like Paul Gulacy and Jim Starlin.
Swierczynski first became a fan when he chanced upon a bootleg Commodore 64 "Judge Dredd" video game as a kid. It piqued his interest, but he "was unable to find [the comics.] It was very frustrating. Whenever I'd come across a Dredd story I'd snap it up like forbidden fruit … I've always had a love for the character."
Swierczynski praised the futuristic setting of MegaCity-One in particular, saying, "It's an incredibly rich world, Dredd's world, and I just want to play in that world for a while and tell stories that haven't been told yet. It's a great setting to tell crime stories … I love crime novels where the city is a character and I'm excited to do that."
The panel paused for a minute to introduce the afternoon's surprise special guests, Karl Urban and Olivia Thirlby, who play Judge Dredd and Judge Anderson in the upcoming movie "Dredd."
Urban proudly displayed a "Dredd" badge on his button-up shirt as he and Thirlby walked up on to stage and sat down next to Jock, who also served as a concept designer on the film.
Wolk then opened up the floor to a lengthy Q&A session.
The first person to pick up to the microphone was, appropriately, dressed in a full MegaCity-One Judge uniform, minus the helmet. "Where's your helmet?" bemoaned Jock, to which the fan replied by pointing out his badge said "Hunter" and not "Dredd."
He asked about Dredd's movie uniform and how Urban was able to see out of his helmet during the movie. Urban joked, "it was important to be able to see out of the helmet!"
He added, "It was important to Alex [Garland, 'Dredd' screenwriter] for this to be tonally quite different than anything that's come before and it was incredibly important to us to be honorable to what was in the comics. So in this movie, ostensibly, Dredd is wearing a leather motorcycle outfit and the purpose of the helmet is for protective purposes. Bullets, bike crashes. That was really what informed the design process in the film. We felt the gold accouterments like you're wearing, which are fucking great by the way, we felt that in our version, realistically, things like a chain and stuff like that would get caught up in combat."
The fan agreed with Urban's assessment, confessing that the chains on his uniform get tangled up just walking around the convention floor.
Thirlby only wore the Judge helmet in one scene, where she rides on a motorcycle. She said, "I probably shouldn't admit this but my amazing stunt double Fleur did the actual driving of the motorcycle because, although I love to sit on it, my feet didn't touch the ground!"
Asked about when he first became familiar with Dredd, Urban said that he started reading the book when he was about 17. He was working in a pizza parlor and the manager was a "big Dredd head" who turned Urban on to "2000 AD." "The thing I really liked about Dredd is that it was just as much about the people living in MegaCity-One as it was about Dredd," the actor said.
He specifically stated the classic Judge Dredd stories "Necropolis" and "America" as ones that particularly affected him. In more recent years, in stories such as "Origins," Urban has enjoyed how Dredd has evolved and started "questioning the big lie."
Urban was applauded for his humility in taking a role where he never showed his face. Urban responded by saying, "you can't call a movie 'Judge Dredd' if you're taking the helmet off." The audience erupted in to cheers.
On his character arc in "Dredd," Urban said, "Dredd is the constant, Dredd is the immoveable object, everything else is in flux and changing and really the story is Anderson's story in many ways. It's the story of how Anderson becomes a judge. Olivia really has the arc in this movie. There is an arc for Dredd but it's a very subtle one, I'm not going to give it away. Let's just say that Dredd does something in the end of the movie that he never would have done in the beginning."
Matt Smith was asked if there was any news on "Rogue Trooper" returning to "2000 AD." "No plans, I'm afraid," he said. "He's sort of been run in to the ground. Reboot after reboot after reboot."
Ryall revealed that IDW's Judge Dredd is "definitely a younger Dredd... there's a chance we'll be revisiting some of the characters and story elements you're familiar with but in a different way." Swierczynski added, "it's a younger Dredd, but not rookie Dredd."
Urban then satisfied a fan's request by saying Dredd's classic line, "I am the law." Urban quickly said, "There's this one too! Judgment time." The crowd went predictably nuts.
Urban said he compiled a special Judge Dredd journal in preparation for the movie. He'd go through all his Judge Dredd comics and anytime a piece inspired him, either plot-wise or tonally, he'd photocopy it and stick it in the journal. Quite a few bits of the film's dialogue, and even some shots, were direct results of Urban sharing the journal with the film's crew.
A fan of the US graphic novel line asked Ben Smith if they plan to keep printing the "Judge Dredd Case Files" in the US. Smith said, of course, and "these books just keep on selling. Every time we do a new one we print more than the last one."
Ryall said IDW is printing deluxe versions of Brian Bolland and Carlos Ezquerra's classic Judge Dredd stories.
Asked how "2000 AD" might be affected by the new movie, Jock said, "So far the reviews on 'Dredd' have been amazing. We are absolutely thrilled, to be honest … How will it affect the comic? Well, hopefully more people will pick it up."
Ryall added, "We've been waiting for a good movie to sort of wipe [1995's 'Judge Dredd'] out of people's heads."
Urban admitted that his own first viewing of the movie was at the fan-screening Wednesday night. "I wanted to see the movie for the first time with an audience and I'm so glad I did. [The audience] got it on every level. It exceeded my wildest expectations. As far as where it goes from here, if the film is a one-off cult classic, I'm happy with that … If we get to make more, really, the sky's the limit in terms of Dredd and Dredd comics and it's all going in the right direction."
Ben Smith said, "One of the great things about the movie is it get's Dredd right tonally. There's no disconnect [with the comic] … The character of Dredd in the movie is Dredd in the comics."
Ryall closed the panel by asking why nobody asked about Urban's other franchise, "Star Trek." The crowd laughed nervously, acknowledging Urban's now infamous spoiler slip-up where he recently revealed the villain of "Star Trek 2" would be Gary Mitchell.
Urban just shook his head, looking embarrassed and said, "I'm not supposed to discuss 'Star Trek' at this time! But I will say there will be some Star Trek footage dropping in a couple of hours on YouTube."