By Tom Shapira
“Love Story” is a comedy strip. We know it because the title is so unfitting for a Judge Dredd story. We know because the artist is Ian Gibson, whose jagged angular style often lends itself well to comedy. We know it because the narration is so over the top (“she watched him come towards her, so strong and bold and sure – and her legs began to turn to plasteen beneath her”). So it’s obviously a comedy, but it leads to some serious questions
In “Love Story” a lonely woman called Bella Bagley is saved from a mugging by Judge Dredd and begins to invest herself emotionally in him to the point of stalking. After he refuses her for the last time she tries to commit suicide and is summerly sent to the ‘psycho cubes.’ It’s not the best story in the world, the humor is obvious and the character never rises above pastiche, but it does make one wonder – can Judge Dredd even fall in love? Does he feel lust?
The subject of Judge Dredd sexuality is a fascinating one, if rife with pitfalls for the unwary. We must establish some context: As part of 2000AD the strip belongs in a proud tradition of British Boys’ Comics in which girls have very little room – they had their own specialty titles (Misty, Jinty, Tammy). Indeed, the first female-led 2000AD strip, Anderson: Psi Division, did not appear until 1985, and even now they are relatively rare (female creators even moreso).
The other large piece of context is Judge Dredd’s co-creator John Wagner – who said in an audio interview “I really don’t want to get into the sexuality; when I see it in a movie I fast forward.” Wagner is not only the top Dredd writer for the last forty years, but a man whose style guides the strip even when other writers take over. His style is often procedural, focusing on events and plotting with the inner-world of the characters barely simmering beneath the surface. This is done to great effect, nobody does broken masculinity in comics quite like John Wagner, but it means one of the biggest icons in British comics has a whole field of expression closed to him.
So it’s no surprise that when Wagner created the Judge Dredd’s world he made it one in which he doesn’t need to explain the absence of relationship, because they are illegal. We get glimpses of it early in “Academy of Law, Part 2” (prog 28, 3 September, 1977) in which newly minted Judge Giant informs his father that they can no longer see each other – he belongs to the law now. In “The Death of a Judge” (prog #139, 3 November 1979), a Judge called Harkness is driven into a homicidal rage when a fellow Judge is killed and tries to execute the perps. We are never told what was the nature of relations between the two Judges, merely partners or something more, but Dredd ends the strip by admonishing – “there can only be one love in a judge’s life – the law.”
It would be easy to categorize Dredd as asexual and aromatic: He never showed any interest in relations of any kind. In the few times he’d been perused he rejected all advances. But it would be just as easy to claim he is merely repressed, Dredd never had a choice – he grew up in a monastic environment, taught from birth to avoid any attachment other than to the law.
Thing is: this last part is true of all other Judges as well, and we have numerous examples from throughout the strip’s history of Judges engaging in romance, or even just sex. Long-running supporting character Judge Galen DeMarco chose to quit her position when she couldn’t square it with her feelings towards Dredd. Despite being, in all other considerations, a superior Judge slated for promotion. The previously mentioned Judge Giant also fathered a child while in the service.
In fact Dredd’s own brother Rico broke that law as well, fathering a child while being jailed for his other crimes. To add to the confusion Rico is not merely a regular brother to Dredd. The two are clones from the same person, Eustace Fargo, who also failed to uphold the celibacy standards he himself set. Three versions of the same person – but only one kept it in his pants. You can train Judges to kill people, ignore their own safety, be terrible to their fellow humans in the name of the law… but if the urge is there it’s nearly impossible to suppress it, as many monastic sects have discovered throughout the years.
The more I look the strip the more I believe that Dredd is aromatic and asexual. The monastic training that all other Judges undergo is often ineffective, good and bad Judges alike seem to engage in relationship of all types when no one is looking. Dredd, the living embodiment of the law, is the only one genuinely uninterested in anything beyond the work. Even on the physical level his reactions are always cold and confused – he doesn’t really get what Bella wants from him, and wouldn’t know how to proceed even if he did.
Dredd has his own personal issues with the law. One of the longest running plots in the series is his inability to square away the law with his idea of justice, but the focus in these cases is always on the idea the judges are too brutal, or that they haven’t given the citizens the protections they deserve. Dredd never seems to consider the idea that an otherwise good judge should be able to engage in relationships if it helps to keep them stable and happy. We’ve seen life in several other Mega Cities and in both Brit-Cit (England) and Oz (Australia) Judges can fall in love, and whenever Dredd sees something like his scowl grows only deeper.
It’s telling that Dredd response to Bella in “Love Story” is not that he is ‘forbidden’ from falling in love, or something else to the effect that his duty bounds him to celibacy. Instead he tells her he is “incapable of loving you!” There is something fresh about this presentation, at least for this asexual reader. Possibly it’s one the reasons I’ve fallen so deeply in love with the strip (irony). Asexuality and aromanticism in comic-books, and in popular culture in general, are barley a thing. In Judge Dredd we are told, from the start, that this isn’t a love story of any kind. We do not need to worry about any of the fluffy stuff and we can focus on everything else.
Dredd is not the butt of the joke in “Love story.” He’s been the butt of many jokes throughout the strip’s history, but never about the subject of his virginity. The comics hates what he does but not what he is. The strip gives him this basic respect, which is something that asexual people rarely get.
Of course, it probably says something about our culture that for the longest time that the only way we could conceive of a serious asexual protagonist is to make him a fascist tool, a faceless self-made-representation of the state’s will. Even if that is not what the (various) authors intended that is how Dredd comes across. Our own little icon – boot on stepping on human love, forever. We definitely deserve better.
2000AD Prog #444
Judge Dredd: Love Story
Writers: John Wagner and Alan Grant (under the pseudonym T.B. Grover)
Artist: Ian Gibson (under the pseudonym Emberton)
Letterer: Tom Frame
Tom Shapira’s writing has been featured on many different websites, ranging from Multiversity and The MNT right through to recent pieces published at The Comics Journal. The best place to find him online is on Twitter, right here!
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