by Jarrod Jones. Outside the walls of Mega-City One lies the Cursed Earth, a wasteland of lawlessness and brutality where once you’re outside—you’re outside. A precious few approach the city walls and expect a warm welcome.
One day, however, rides a pilgrim. Carrying a big sack. Psi-Judge Anderson demands this stranger be allowed clearance. Why? What in grud’s name is going on? What’s in that sack? That’d be telling. But know this: Anderson’s decision kicks the venerated Judge Dredd strip into overdrive with what is likely to be the most insane story Rob Williams has written for 2000 AD yet.
He’s calling it “End of Days”, a Wild Bunch type of team-up that sends Judge Dredd and a motley crew of backup out into the war-scorched hell of the Cursed Earth to put a stop to the apocalypse—which has taken the literal form of the Four Horsemen of said calamity. Failure means the absolute decimation of Mega-City One… and the planet it happens to be sitting on.
“The Four Horsemen have come to Earth and the planet is about to die,” Williams tells me in his understated way. When I ask him about the Four Horsemen, the terrifying supernatural implications that come riding with them, and what that means for our man Dredd, Williams plays it cool. “Dredd’s not a deep thinker. He’s a linear form of brute force. Point him at his target and he’ll get the job done.” Then Williams tosses in a sentence that stops me dead:
“At least he has in the past.”
The pedigree of “End of Days”, which will run at an anxiety-spiking 15 parts, only compounds the sheer awesomeness of it all. This bonafide über-epic unites Dredd veterans Williams, artists Henry Flint & Colin MacNeil (the latter of whom will be teaming with Williams for the very first time), colorist Chris Blythe, and letterer Simon Bowland for a story that dares to go big, where damn-near anything can happen—and definitely will.
I have so many questions for Rob and only so much space to ask them. Answers are coming. Read them below, along with the full first chapter of “End of Days”, courtesy of 2000 AD.
As for the title of his latest story? Does “End of Days” mark the end of Rob Williams’ run on Judge Dredd?
I put the question to him; the answer may surprise you.
1. I wanted to talk a bit about “End of Days” as it fits into your ever-expanding ‘Judge Dredd’ run. Where does this storyline kick off, exactly, in the Rob Williams era of ‘Dredd’, and what are the events that kick it off?
Rob Williams: It’s present day for Dredd. One night a lone rider heads for the city out of the Cursed Earth, chased by monsters. The rider comes looking for “The Sheriff”—a.k.a. Dredd. He has a warning, delivered by an severed Angel’s head he carries in a sack. The Four Horsemen have come to Earth and the planet is about to die.
2. You told Graeme McMillan over at THR that this storyline is similar to the “Judge Dredd on a mission” epics you loved as a kid. The kind of stories where Dredd had to set out into the Cursed Earth to quell some skirmish or nab some creep. You even cite “The Judge Child” as an influence. How do your memories of reading these kind of ‘Dredd’ stories factor into the story you’re now telling as a professional? Is there a feeling of renewed enthusiasm for this character?
No renewed enthusiasm. I love Dredd and the variety of stories you can tell with him. “The Small House” was more a political paranoia thriller. This is more a road movie apocalyptic adventure. “The Judge Child” was the type of thing I was aiming for. A small team, a ship, a mission. Head across Dredd’s world, trying to track down and kill the Four Hosemen. Save the world. It probably has less to say about the current political landscape than “The Small House”. But you don’t want to repeat yourself.
3. So “End of Days” is decidedly more apocalyptic than “The Small House”, which dealt with heady political overtures and the fascistic nature of the Judges. You are, in a sense, taking the gameboard—with all its familiar pieces and settings—and flipping it over. You’re introducing a dark unknown that’s a deal more abstractly frightening than what we’ve read from your run: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Since this is the longest arc you’ve written yet for ‘Judge Dredd’, did you consciously wish to tap into something more creatively (not to mention Biblically) visceral rather than delve once more into the cerebral? If so, why?
“The Small House” was never really reaching for mega-epic status. It just felt like ten episodes was the right length for that story. “End of Days”, I felt, could be something more epic in scale, and so leant itself to a longer running time. We settled on 15 episodes but to be honest, I could’ve run it for longer. I found I very much enjoyed the extra running time and the creative possibilities. Each act takes place in a different setting. There’s mini-stories within the overall narrative. It might be more horror and action and cosmic, [but] it’s still “cerebral” I hope. Just less political. It’s about the characters’ internal lives as much as it is who Dredd’s punching.
4. How do you feel a no-bullshit character like Judge Dredd works when juxtaposed against such supernatural elements? Does Dredd share the same elasticity as a character like—oh, let’s go with Batman, when he’s tossed into the genre grinder?
I can’t speak for Batman, but Dredd’s strength is he’s the straight man against the crazy. That’s how the city works. Mega-City One gives us the outré insanity and Dredd grunts and smacks it down whatever it may be. He treats the supernatural the same way. As long as it’s a threat, a creep, a lawbreaker, he’s going to put his fist through it. There’s a great history of Dredd supernatural tales—”The Haunting of Sector House 13″, “The Dark Judges”, etc. He’s arrested the devil in the past, or something that claims to be the devil. And Anderson’s a big part of this story. The supernatural is very much her wheelhouse.
5. One of the last times we spoke you referred to Judge Dredd as “a very Peckinpah-like character.” Are you taking this view of the character to a further extreme in “End of Days”? Is this story, where Dredd steps out into untamed country backed by a strange crew, a way of paying some kind of homage to ‘The Wild Bunch’?
I love Pekinpah, love The Wild Bunch. Dredd’s increasing age here, and how it factors into this story? The end of an era. A line in the sand. A stand to be made. Yeah, I guess you can say The Wild Bunch is a totem here.
6. I mention ‘The Wild Bunch’ specifically because you’ve included another ‘2000 AD’ character in “End of Days”: Ichabod Azrael, a frightfully effective gunslinger from the Old West who went and killed the Devil himself. How are you incorporating Ichabod into this story? How will a character like Dredd react to a character like Ichabod—and vice versa?
Ichabod is, in Dredd’s words, just another “dirty creep.” Dredd doesn’t care if Ichabod is 300 years old and died and killed his way across the afterlife and murdered Charon The Boatman and the devil. Ichabod and the Angel’s head are leading him to the Four Horsemen. He doesn’t trust Ichabod and he’s probably right not to. But Dredd’s not a deep thinker. He’s a linear form of brute force. Point him at his target and he’ll get the job done. At least he has in the past.
7. More than a year has gone by since readers first got to check out “The Small House” and people are still talking about it. Now that you can look back on it, how do you feel about the critical reception to “The Small House”? Do you feel that the reactions are reflective of what you and Henry Flint wanted to accomplish with the story?
I never expected it to get the reception it did. It was really unexpected and kind of validating to see so many people praising it. Even people who don’t normally read Dredd. It wasn’t intended to be a book that would make a big splash. It was a story that was a natural culmination of a bunch of other storylines I’d seeded over years in 2000 AD. We didn’t even know we’d get a graphic novel collection going in. So it all felt organic. I guess the political aspects, dealing with the Judges as a fascist force—that hit a zeitgeist moment considering some of the scarier aspects of what’s happening in Britain and America right now.
Did you have a favorite moment from “The Small House”? If so, which one?
“We’re fascists” is the page people remember as iconic. I loved Dredd telling Hershey “I no longer recognise your authority” though. That’s a good subtextual line, right there. He’s furious from Judge Sam’s murder, walks out ready to kill someone, Hershey’s there and tries to pull rank on him and he takes all his rage out on her. He knows exactly what he’s doing there. The shit, overt way of writing that would’ve been “I’ve just seen a good man killed, Hershey, I don’t have time to deal with you… etc.” But no. “I no longer recognise…” Boom. Brutal. Quite proud of that line.
8. Speaking of Henry, you’ve teamed with him again for “End of Days”, only this time he’ll be splitting art duties with Colin MacNeil. Two artists passing the baton back and forth during such a huge storyarc that takes place outside Mega-City One—it’s very evocative of McMahon and Bolland alternating strips for “The Cursed Earth”. Is there some reverent design to this or are you simply writing the scripts only for them to be handed off to the artists as the schedule allows?
It is very Dredd epic tradition, to have more than one artist and them hand over chapters to each other. Colin and Henry are both Dredd greats, so there’s gravitas to them both doing this story. But mainly they’re both really good. The book looks amazing, and Chris Blythe does a wonderful job colouring.
Now that a couple of chapters are out, how does it feel to finally be working with Colin?
A treat. I’ve never worked with Colin before. He drew “America” for goodness sake. One of the best Dredds ever. I still get a wee thrill getting to work with artists I read as a teenager. I’ve been fortunate to work with Jim Lee, John Romita, Jr., Walter Simonson. I was reading the Dredd Megazine as a teenager when Colin was drawing “America”. So, yeah, thrilled.
9. Thinking back on “The Cursed Earth”, part of me would love to see the raw, untamed black-and-white Dredd strips to return to ‘2000 AD’ at some point—hand-lettered, not a shred of digital flourish to them. Let’s delve into the hypothetical: Do you ever think you would team with Henry and/or Colin (or any other artist) for a ‘Batman: Black and White’-style anthology that featured Dredd?
A Dredd anthology where different non-Dredd people could drop in for, say, 8-page black and white shorts? I think that’d be an amazing idea. I’ve got people like Guy Davis, James Harren and RM Guera to draw one-off Dredds over the years, and none of them are regulars to 2000 AD. A whole anthology of that sort of thing would be terrific. The best artists in the world usually feel they have one Dredd in them.
10. Since we’re talking about end times, when do you think your work in the world of ‘Judge Dredd’ might come to an end? Do you have a plan in the back of your mind for how the last Williams-‘Dredd’ saga might come into being—your own personal “long walk,” if you’ll forgive it?
This might be it, for me and Joe. You never know. It’s called “End of Days” after all.
Chapter 3 of “End of Days” is available now. Chapter 4 hits the UK on June 24.
Read Part One of “End of Days” below, courtesy of ‘2000 AD’!
More comics interviews to get those synapses firing…