‘What was the married name of the scientists Marie and Pierre who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903 for their research into radiation?’
As with many of my fellow posters, David Lammy’s Mastermind struggles never fail to amuse me.
It did get me to thinking about what my specialist subject would be on such a programme. Though I’d like to claim I’d go for something erudite – ‘The Works of Thackeray’ maybe, or ‘The Punic Wars’ – I have to admit I’d end up with sticking with what I know, and plumping for ‘Judge Dredd and the world of Mega City One’.
Dredd made his first appearance in 1977, within the pages of the second edition of 2000AD comic, creator John Wagner gradually developing the character from being nothing more than the pitiless representative of a futuristic police state to using him to explore all manner of moral mazes.
For, as a Judge, he is the Law. Democracy being fully discredited by the actions of elected President Robert Booth, whose warmongering ways resulted in nuclear war with Soviet Russia, leaving the North American survivors grouped together in Mega Cities entirely surrounded by an irradiated wasteland known as the Cursed Earth, the Judiciary took over. Each Judge spends years training in the Academy of Law before he (or she) takes to the streets to dispense the law as judge, jury and, frequently, as executioner.
Which brings us neatly on to the subject of gender politics within the Dredd universe. A comment on IMDB regarding the recent Dredd film mentioned how both the film and graphic novels score highly on the Bechdel test. (The Bechdel test asks whether a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. The requirement that the two women must be named is sometimes added).
Frustrating as it may be that a ‘law’ scribbled on the back of a beermat is treated with the same reverence as, say, Boyle’s Law of Gases, it’s undeniable that the Dredd writers were ahead of their time in their portrayal of women. Female judges carry out the same roles as their male counterparts, with the same expectations, and there’s never a scene where the narrative screeches to a halt so a character can announce proudly (always with the proudly) that she, as a woman, is just as capable as a man when it comes to yadda yadda yadda.
Instead, it’s taken as read and the stories are the better for it, meaning that the character of each individual is more important than their pigeonhole – again, as it should be. Sure, Judge Cassandra Anderson was added as a partner for the Dark Judges series (the Dark Judges being Death, Fire, Fear and Mortis) to add a bit more heart and humanity to the story – she’s more of a cheery joker in the way that Dredd, uh, isn’t, but not all women are necessarily emotional types. If Dredd has a best friend it’s arguably Judge Hershey, who’s just as big a misery guts as he is.
And friend is as close as Judges are allowed to get. Virtually priestlike in their devotion to the law, Judges are forbidden from forming sexual relationships. This, together with the expectations placed on those who have the power of life and death over their fellow citizens, along with the normal human weaknesses for taking bribes or stretching the law just a little bit too far has also been a rich seam for the writers to mine – ‘The Pit’ is one of the better (if not the best) stories, seeing Dredd sent in to clean up a failing Sector House in the roughest part of the Mega City. Those Judges found to have failed to live up to these high standards, even Dredd’s clone brother, Rico, find themselves exiled to Titan (after a couple of minor alterations to enable them to deal with the atmosphere).
This awareness of human weakness coupled with Dredd’s own awareness that his fight is essentially unwinnable add to the nobility of the character – even when working 23 hour shifts with an hour in the sleep machine, there aren’t enough Judges in the city to keep control (especially as their numbers keep getting thinned out further by Sov attacks, Dark Judges and the day to day run-ins with perps) so the most they can ever hope to do is to keep some sort of lid on the boiling cauldron that is Mega City One before they’re either pensioned off into lecturing at the Academy or taking the Long Walk into the Cursed Earth.
So in a sense Dredd is the Sisyphus of the future, forever rolling his rock up the hill, knowing full well that his attempts are bound to fail, but keeping on regardless.
Albert Camus once asked, is Sisyphus happy? Should the same question be asked of Dredd then the answer is that he’s never happy… though he is ready.
Which bird BABEEP BEEP BEEP… I’ve started so I’ll finish… Which bird has the Latin name puffinus puffinus.
That’d be the Manx Shearwater.
And with that correct answer you have scored… well you got more than Lammers, let’s put it that way.