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Inside the minds of the Judge Dredd writers putting him (and Mega-City One) inside a 'Defund the Police' style storyline

The real world inspirations (and in-universe context) behind 'A Better World' revealed!

Judge Dredd: A Better World
Image credit: Henry Flint/Rebellion

After almost half a century of being comics’ toughest cop, Judge Dredd’s latest storyline — launching in 2000 AD Prog 2364, out now — sees him come up against something that he genuinely might not be to overcome: proof that brutal policing is less effective in combatting crime than well-funded social programs.

A Better World,’ by Rob Williams, Arthur Wyatt, and Henry Flint is literally years in the making — Judge Maitland first came up with the theory in the storyline ‘Carry the Nine,’ back in 2020 — and has the potential to turn everything fans know about Mega-City One and the entire Judge Dredd mythos on its head… if the city isn’t torn apart trying to bury the idea before it spreads too far. Popverse asked Williams and Wyatt about the storyline and its origins… as well as whether or not audiences should brace for an unexpected outcome from what might be one of the most important comic book storylines of the year.

Popverse: Dredd as a strip is almost 50 years old and readers have seen the character deal with everything from supernatural threats to everyday lawbreakers, futsie cases, and everything in between. This is far more of an existential crisis than I think he’s faced before: the idea that maybe the system is wrong. We’ve seen signs of this in the past, both in terms of stories relating to democratic movements and mutant rights, but at the heart of A Better World is the idea that maybe the Judges as a whole are bad for the citizens. Is this something that you think Dredd is even equipped to deal with, as a character? He’s a pretty black and white thinker, traditionally, and he *is* the law…

Rob Williams: I don’t think Dredd’s even remotely close to thinking that the Judges and their system are a problem. He’s The Law. He is a Judge. He’s not a great thinker but he’s also not stupid. He’s on the streets every day, fighting a war on the citizens. Decades ago he’d not have questioned that.

Now, when a smart Judge like Maitland shows him that maybe increasing spending on social programmes and education brings crime down - he’s willing to listen. Dredd wants to stop crime in his City. If this does that, maybe it’s worth a try? Maybe it saves Judges’ lives?

Arthur Wyatt: He is the law… but he’s not lacking in pragmatism. If someone he trusts and who has demonstrated competence in the past is pushing a way of changing things that seems to work, he’s going to consider it, at least. He’s not a theorist or a deep thinker but if something works he’s not going to crush that out of hand. And Maitland herself is somewhat Dredd-like and pragmatic - she works in a different field, but if she sees something that works she’s going to push forwards with it.

And chance has thrown them together a couple of times, so Dredd has seen what she is like in the field, knows she’s not messing around. Is he going to agree with everything she says? No, but he’s not going it brush it off either. The rest of Justice Department, on the other hand, may not see her or what she is doing in quite the same light.

Judge Dredd: A Better World
Image credit: Henry Flint/Rebellion

Where did the idea for this come from? As I said, it’s been building for years now — Maitland’s initial pitch for utilizing the money usually allocated for street Judges to education and social programs ran more than a year ago alone! — but how did you both arrive at the idea of “We should actually take the real-life topic of defund the police and turn it into a Dredd story”?

Wyatt: I think Rob initially suggested that, but we both really latched on to the idea. It’s all about systems and analysis, perfect for Maitland as a character, and she’s also a character that’s going to press ahead no matter what hot water it gets them into, so it leads into a confrontation. Dredd’s got reasons to be at least partially on side with her, other forces in the city don’t, and some are playing their own game. It’s pretty fertile ground.

Williams: Maitland is an accounts Judge. Numbers are her super-power. When Arthur suggested we first write a Maitland story together I think a Defund The Police theme and storyline came up pretty quickly as an idea. It just seemed to make a lot of sense for the character. Maitland’s very driven, will absolutely try and do what she sees is right even if it threatens the status quo. And that all offers some delicious dramatic possibilities for a Dredd story that has something to say about where we are in the word right now, with the rise of autocratic governments across the world. Judges vs Judges. A schism. And Dredd in the middle having to chose which side he’s on.

Mike Molcher’s I Am The Law detailed the history of real world parallels inside Dredd; did that influence what you’re doing here?

Wyatt: The whole Maitland story has been going for a while, and I’ve been aware of Mike writing his book in parallel with that, and some of the conversations we’ve had there may have bled over into it, but I think it’s more working in the same field and drawing from the same material drawing some similar conclusions than being influenced by it. Most of our story was locked in before the book came out, but reading it was a great reassurance that we were on to something.

Williams: Not directly, but Mike and I had a few online chats about all this which did probably push certain aspects of the story. I’d heartily recommend reading I Am The Law if Dredd and these themes are of interest to you. It offers a rather scary view of where we’re heading. And Dredd has always been a cautionary tale about fascist, police power.

Judge Dredd: A Better World
Image credit: Henry Flint/Rebellion

Are you nervous about dealing with such a controversial real world topic inside the (somewhat melodramatic, intentionally exaggerated) Dredd framework? Does it impact how you’re approaching things, for fear of upsetting people on either side of the argument?

Williams: I don’t think you can go into a story like this scared of upsetting people. You try and show both sides to the argument. In an episode we just did the lettering proof on today a Judge tells Maitland that he’s lost Judges on the streets, and has took a bullet in the line himself. He thinks her ideas are naive and Judges will pay the price.

That’s one argument, Maitland offers another. Ultimately you write the characters and try and push them into tough choices. It’s up to the readers how they respond.

Wyatt: Some people are just going to be upset at something no matter what, and if we spent all our time second guessing them we’d never get anything done.

Any time I’ve been writing Dredd and something like Ferguson or some other horrible thing has come on the news I’ve felt bad about not dealing with the real world enough and letting Dredd be a sort of copaganda fantasy, so if anything I’m pushing a bit harder so I’m not disappointed in myself.

There’s no small irony that Judge Maitland might be the one to break the Justice System as it currently exists, given that Judge Dredd has a historically poor relationship with accountants, a running joke going all the way back to the Judge Child Quest back in the early '80s. Is all of this a roundabout route of demonstrating that Dredd was right to be suspicious of accountants all along? You can tell us.

Wyatt: Not just Dredd: 2000 AD as a whole has a downer on accountants, with the big robot yelling about them and chasing people around in The Black Hole. And they make great comic foils because they’re always telling you what you CAN’T do because there’s no money, and wanting you do unfun things like actually keep track if the money you do have is doing anything useful.

Williams: That, and Dredd’s brutal mistrust of moustaches in the Judge Child. Absolutely. I love in the Judge Child quest where Dredd’s crack team to head off into space to try and find the powerful child that might just save his city, and one of them is an accountant who will be keeping close tabs on what Dredd spends on the mission. And Dredd immediately orders him off the ship before they leave. He has a slightly better relationship with Maitland.

Wyatt: I think skewering all of that was what Al Ewing was doing when he created Maitland and we’re continuing that to a logical conclusion. Maybe I have a secret pro-accountant agenda because my wife used to work in business finances.

Judge Dredd: A Better World
Image credit: Henry Flint/Rebellion

Can we talk about Henry Flint being amazing? Because this art feels like the best thing he’s done in a career of best things he’s done; not just in terms of the layouts, which you’ve spoken about previously, but also in terms of colors and line work. It feels like he’s leveled up in this extraordinary way, coming up with something that’s as much Heavy Metal as 2000 AD. What’s the collaborative process with him like? Is there a lot of back and forth?

Williams: Henry’s a genius and genuinely one of the best storytellers we have in comics. I’ve worked with him several times on Dredd stories - most notably on Titan and The Small House (go buy them in GN form!). You can give him any kind of story — crazy comic, sci-fi, action, horror, character beats — and he just pulls them off brilliantly.

The strange thing is, there is very little back and fore with Henry. You submit a script, then you usually see the finished product, and it’s incredible. With this one, Henry asked if we minded if he “tried something different.” Sure. What he’s come back with — reworking 5,6,7 panel pages into 12,13,14 panels of incremental beats - just works astonishingly well. Amazing acting performances from his characters. And somehow he’s not lost the scale of Mega-City One in the process.

Wyatt: How did he get better? How? How was there room for that? It seems like eventually he should hit some kind of ceiling. I have no explanation for that.

There wasn’t much back and forth in the reflowing of the story at all - Henry’s naturally a great storyteller and once we saw what he was doing with the pages we let him get on with it, continued writing scripts for 5 to 7 panel pages knowing they’d get broken up a little. I’m constantly fighting with a bit of a control freak tendency on layout suggestions so it was nice to just trust him and let him do his thing there.

Just as A Better World came out of years of previous Dredd stories, should fans expect this to impact Dredd in a significant way going forward?

Wyatt: Here’s hoping for years of Dredd stories coming out of this one! I do think they get interesting and textured when they build on each other.

Williams: Ah, no spoilers, Earthlet! But there are big repercussions at the end of this one.

Dredd has a history of bold storytelling swings that don’t get walked back: the end of The Apocalypse War, Chaos Day, and so on. There’s a very real potential heading into this, especially given the slow build to this story, that a very different Mega-City One is going to come out of this storyline, and readers don’t necessarily know what that’s going to look like. Should everyone be taking this as a sign that the story might not end the way everyone is expecting?

Williams: Maybe

Wyatt: Dredd linking hands with the International Anarchist Accountants collective and singing The Internationale will be a bit of a surprise for everyone.

2000 AD Prog 2364 is available now via the 2000 AD webstore.

‘A Better World’ was initially announced at Thought Bubble 2023; revisit the liveblog for 2000 AD’s panel from that show.

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