A few years back, a publisher at Random House asked me to write a sample chapter for a proposed book that my agent – a big comic book fan – felt I should write. It was to be called:
THE COMIC REVOLUTION
Judge Dredd, 2000AD, Battle and Action
My book would have covered my personal recollections of how those comics were created and what a bizarre world comic publishing was back then. The sample chapter I wrote was about Judge Dredd, which would have been Chapter 12 in the book. Although editorial liked it and green lit the project, it was turned down by their marketing department, who felt there wasn’t enough interest in comics.
Today, especially with the new Dredd movie just out, all that’s changed. There seems to be more interest in comics and their origins than ever. So I thought it was time to dust the chapter off, update and extend it in light of the new film, and present it here as the introductory piece to my new blog. If you missed them, here are PART ONE: THE KILLING MACHINE, PART TWO: THE LAWMAN OF THE FUTURE, PART THREE: BETTER DREDD THAN DEAD, PART FOUR: JUDGEMENT DAY, PART FIVE: EXIT WOUNDS, PART SIX: IN THE SHADOW OF THE JUDGE?, PART SEVEN: DREDD AND DARKIE’S MOB and PART EIGHT: TORQUEMADA – THE SWINGING MONK.
PART NINE: HE IS THE LAW!
He was incorruptible, totally dedicated, an excellent and patient teacher, driven by religious zeal, with a fanatical love of the Lord which suggested to me Dredd’s similar love of the Law. Hence an early Dredd episode, where Dredd sits reading a giant volume on the Law in his spare time.
I looked him up online. At first I came across a De La Salle Brother called Brother James Carragher currently banged up for 14 years for past crimes against children, having previously done a 7 year stretch for the same. That took me aback. Abuse was endemic at my school, but surely not that bad? Fortunately, it turned out to be a different Brother James who taught me. There are so many ‘Christian’ Brothers these days whose appalling crimes have finally caught up with them, it can be confusing. But mine died recently and was called Brother James Ryan.
He wore a long black robe, Himmler-style, steel-rimmed spectacles, and had aesthetic, angular features and was as scary as Brother Solomon, from whom he took over as Prefect of Discipline.
One day he entered my classroom to find a thirteen year old boy talking. A great kid with a surly punk attitude to life. Seething with a chilling cold anger (that I would later draw on for the scene in the Cursed Earth when Dredd razes the town of Repentance to the ground), Brother James sent another boy to fetch a size ten plimsoll from the cloak room. Then, in full view of the rest of us, he went to work on his victim who was the younger brother of our English teacher. So no favouritism there. All are equal in the eyes of the Law. He raised the slipper high above his head and took a spin-bowler’s long run-up towards his bent-over victim whom he had carefully positioned at the far end of the raised wooden dais. His shoes thundered noisily across the bare floorboards, his black robes flapped wildly around him, before he administered a savage blow to the boy’s posterior, raising a cloud of dust at the point of impact. Returning to his starting point, he took several more high-speed, bowler’s run-ups to his victim, thrashing him without mercy, before the poor kid collapsed in a heap on the ground, whereupon – as we watched, quaking in fear – he stood over him and rained more ferocious blows down onto his crouched and cringing, sobbing form.
We should have gone to our classmate’s defence, and given this out-of-control bully what he richly deserved, but we were kids: the De La Salle Brothers relied on such terror tactics to subdue us, and how often do the citizens of Mega-City rise up against the Judges? They are the Law!
I have my notes from an earlier verson of the Friends Revisited site (before it was sanitised) which confirm these memories of my school. One old boy said James was responsible for severe beatings (plural) he would not wish on anyone. Another described him as “totally detached with a stand-offish manner, never accepting any excuse for anything.” Does that remind you of anyone…? That’s exactly how I saw Dredd. They also said he liked cricket. Though never leaving an impression on my backside, James undoubtedly left a deep impression on my mind. He was my Judge Dredd, a figure to inspire fear, an exponent of summary “justice”, an administrator of draconian punishment I would never forget.
A De La Salle Brother described him in his obituary in 2011 as “Timid and shy by nature.”
In fiction, we need these figures to inspire fear – Darth Vader, Batman, Judge Dredd, Marshal Law – but that fear has to be real, otherwise it’s off the peg, out of a bottle: fake. When Dredd enters a room, we want to feel that fear.
But mixed in with that fear, I felt admiration, too. For a great teacher in an otherwise great school with an excellent academic record that counts Brian Eno (in the year above me) and Richard Ayoade amongst its old boys. And it’s the same for Dredd: we fear and yet admire him. Significantly, it is the powerful but flawed teachers I remember from my youth. The normal teachers I barely remember and I think this tells us something about the charisma of evil and how attractive larger-than-life characters like James and Solomon can be. You have only to look at the newspapers this week to see this.
How far you see Dredd as good or evil depends on your perspective and which interpretation of Dredd – the relatively heroic figure of the Cursed Earth or the Lawman of Mega-City – resonates with you. There are inherent contradictions in his character and hence why I chose my teacher with his own contradictions as my role model for my Dredd.
Taking a holiday break now but hope to get back shortly to conclude the Dredd chapter soon with my thoughts on the Cursed Earth, the secrets of the unpublished Thargshead Revisited strips, and why Marvel comics editor, Margaret Clark], once presented me with a gold business card holder and cards inscribed, “Pat Mills. Artist Therapy always available.” See you soon!
END OF PART NINE