This January, lawman Judge Dredd squares off against his own mortality in "The Man Comes Around" by fan-favorite writer Rob Williams and "Scalped" artist RM Guera. Debuting in "Judge Dredd Megazine" #344 from 2000 AD, "The Man Comes Around" is Guera's first effort drawing the hard-chinned future cop.
Willams recently spoke with CBR News about "The Man Comes Around," revealing how the story was informed by the classic Johnny Cash song, how he wrangled superstar artist RM Guera for the project, teases a secret "Dredd" project with artist Henry Flint and much more.
CBR News: Rob, what is "Judge Dredd: The Man Comes Around" all about?
Rob Williams: It's primarily about mortality. Dredd's mortality. I love writing old man Dredd. To me, that's much more interesting than Dredd in his prime. Unlike your Batmans and Captain Americas, this guy ages in real time, so he's probably in his 70s now. And his body shows all the scars of all those battles. Matt Smith, "2000 AD's" editor, has said that because of advancement in medicine in Dredd's era and cybernetic enhancements, being 70 probably means he can function like a 40-year-old. But he's still human, and he's seen a hell of a lot, carried a heavy weight for a long time. Death's coming.
It's kind of a biblical western too. Dredd the aging gunslinger. Some nut's throwing citizens off a city block with bombs attached to them so they blow before they even hit the floor. But the title points towards a Johnny Cash feel. If you listen to Cash's "The Man Comes Around" you'll see what this story's really about.
How did you wind up using Johnny Cash's song "The Man Comes Around" as the title for this story?
The initial working title was "The Death Of Judge Dredd." Matt Smith suggested "The Man Comes Around." The Johnny Cash song is so perfect for this story though: "And I heard, as it were, the voice of thunder. One of the four beasts saying 'come and see.' And I saw. And behold, a white horse...
"There's a man goin' round taking names, and he decides who to free and who to blame..."
That's our theme. Our score.
You're right -- those lyrics seem to have been custom written about Judge Dredd. The last line is especially interesting - "And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts. And I looked, and behold a pale horse, and his name that sat on him was Death, and hell followed with him." So is Dredd Death here or is Dredd the man standing in Death's way?
My original working title for this one was "The Death of Judge Dredd." And there is a horse in the story. It's a tale about Dredd's mortality. About mortality in general. The bad guy is obsessed with choosing the time of his own death, not having that decision made for him. Dredd doesn't tend to let perps do that, though.
How did RM Guera come to the project?
Well, that biblical western approach I talked about, that was written with RM in mind. I loved his work on "Scalped," which is one of the best comics of the past decade, for me. He draws great characters, by which I mean he's wonderful at capturing the intrinsic sense of a person from their face. The weight they carry, their crimes.
A friend mentioned to me that he'd chatted to RM at a con and he'd said he'd love to do a "Dredd" one day. I thought that would be a perfect fit. I dropped RM a line and asked if he'd be interested and I was thrilled when he said he was. He wanted an idea of the pitch of the story first, which I gave him, and fortunately he liked it. But this is a script written with a particular artist in mind.
RM's style feels very European and that sort of suits "Dredd," I think. You look at classic "Dredd" artists like Carlos Ezquerra and Mick McMahon. They've brought a very European approach to the book and the world that feels outside of the American market norm, despite Dredd being an American hero. RM's "Dredd" feels very old school. The way he draws the Lawmaster bike, the uniform. It's a little reminiscent of early Colin Wilson work on "Dredd." That's a good thing.
What other foreign, non-regular "Dredd" artists would you like to script a "Dredd" story with in the future?
I would kill you in cold blood to have Goran Parlov draw "Dredd." That would be amazing. I think Sean Gordon Murphy could do a great "Dredd" too.
You've been at the center of a number of big Dredd stories in recent years. How did you become the go-to guy for hyped stories like "Closet," the Guy Davis "Dredd," "The Walking Dredd," the James Harren "Dredd," and now "The Man Comes Around?" Does "2000 AD" editor-in-chief Matt Smith come to you first for these types of events now?
I wouldn't call myself the go-to guy for "Dredd." "Dredd" still belongs to John Wagner and will until he's had enough of the character. Then you have people like myself, Al Ewing, Michael Carroll who also write "Dredd." It's a kind of tag team approach.
In terms of the stories you've mentioned, it varies. With Guy Davis, James Harren and now Guera, it was a case of me discussing with them if they'd be interested. Then, when they said they were, I pitched the stories to Matt Smith with them attached. And in all three of those cases, it's not just a case of me asking favourite artists to work with me (although that's in there, I can't deny). Those three are all people with styles I felt would really suit "Dredd," which wouldn't be the case for every big name US artist. I wrote their particular stories with their styles and strengths in mind too.
"The Walking Dredd" collaboration with Brendan McCarthy was different. The initial story concept was Brendan's and I was asked to script it. "Closet" was me pitching the story to Matt and Matt picking Mike Dowling on art. Mike did a great job on it. Matt Smith's got a good feel for which artist suits a story.
Dredd has become older and some would say wiser in the last decade or so -- backing mutant citizenship, letting his emotions cloud his judgments at times his younger self would shoot first and even rethinking his hardline stance on democracy. Where does the character go from here in terms of characterization?
That's going to be fun to find out. He's a little wiser. He's not softening though. He's still the hardest, most unrelenting bastard on God's earth.
From "Dredd 3D" to "Closet" to "Trifecta," what do you think of all the mainstream attention Judge Dredd has received in the last 12 months?
From what I'm told sales are rising and continue to rise. I think that's a combination of things -- the quality of the work in "2000 AD" at the moment, the "Dredd" movie getting critical acclaim and a buzz and the rise of digital comics. The "2000 AD" newstand app means it's easy for people in the states to get the comics now when beforehand it was a pain in the arse to get hold of.
Books like "Trifecta" and "Day Of Chaos" created a lot of buzz for "2000 AD" and, I think, showed off that the comic was creating really good and often brave, boundary-pushing contemporary comics. The comic is relevant again. There wasn't that lazy bullshit line about "'2000 AD' was only great in the good old days." It was great back then, of course, but there's a load of quality material in the comic now and has been for quite a few years. The "Closet" story we did gained mainstream media attention too, especially in the UK. That's partly down to the work of Mike Molcher on PR for "2000 AD." Previously there really wasn't anyone to push "2000 AD" in the comics or the mainstream press. But Rebellion have gone to a lot more conventions, U.S. conventions, in recent years. They've invested in PR. And that means that people are more aware of the comic.
What do you have in store for Judge Dredd in 2014?
There's something Dredd-y coming early 2014 by myself and my old "Low Life" collaborator Henry Flint. A longer "Dredd" story than I've done before. It's the type of "2000 AD" story that would've got me very excited back in the old days. Mucho thrill power!
"Judge Dredd: The Man Comes Around" by Rob Williams and RM Guera debuts this January in "Judge Dredd Megazine" Meg 344 from Rebellion.