By Leo Healy
Carlos Ezquerra, Judge Dredd’s co-creator and responsible for the iconic visual design of one of British comics’ most recognisable and unique characters, was also the artist on some of Dredd’s most memorable and well-regarded stories throughout the history of the strip, from ‘Destiny’s Angels’, and ‘The Pit’ to the legendary ‘Apocalypse War’. Prog 2023’s ‘Get Jerry Sing’ from March 2017 was Ezquerra’s final collaboration on Dredd with co-creator John Wagner, and was also his final outing as Dredd artist before his death in 2018. For that reason alone it holds an important place in the history of 2000AD, but even after over thirty years into their respective careers, neither Wagner nor Ezquerra were content to rest on their laurels. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that ‘Get Jerry Sing’ is one of their best Dredd stories, and since someone seems to have left this soapbox unattended, now seems like a good time to climb up and start shouting about it.
‘Get Jerry Sing’ starts with a large piece of graffiti appearing on the wall of Donald Trump Block (this was 2017, at the start of Trump’s presidency), with the ambiguous message that gives the story its name; ‘Get Jerry Sing’. Jerry Sing is a singer and minor celebrity in Mega-City One, and the message is unclear about what the ‘Get’ in ‘Get Jerry Sing’ is imploring citizens to do – kill him? Appreciate his music?
Unusually for modern mainstream comics, Wagner has an omnipotent narrator commentate over the story through captions, at this point pondering on the intent behind the graffiti and its effect on the citizens of the Big Meg. That effect is rapid and widespread, as copycat graffiti starts appearing all over the city; at first just mirroring the original message, but sinister and violent additional threats soon start appearing. In some ways this is a traditional Judge Dredd story trope, harking back to the early era of Dredd with crazes that sweep Mega-City One before fizzling out again, such as Umpty Candy, Boing or any of Otto Sump’s madcap schemes. This fad however is far darker and more socially relevant than anything from the classic era, as the sinister evolution of the original wall scrawl shows how a message can become twisted in repetition; how a simple command can have a profound persuasive effect on individuals if seen often enough and by enough people. Which, in a time when Trump had just been elected, was a clear and devastating subtext.
This silent mutation of the original message was also a fascinating way for Wagner to develop the story’s plot. There is no concrete antagonist raising the stakes and the threat is ethereal, a process rather than a person. It also gives Ezquerra an excuse to show off his beautiful Mega-City One cityscapes as they’re covered in new graffiti, his bulbous, almost bio-mechanical buildings never fall into cyberpunk cliché, they remain utterly unique.
It isn’t long before these graffiti messages start manifesting in attempts on Jerry Sing’s life, and Dredd tracks down the original scrawler, Naldo Luff (a perfect John Wagner character name). It turns out that Luff had rented out the wall space legally, so he can’t be convicted of graffitiing, but seeing as the latest attempt on Sing’s life has been successful, Dredd hauls him in as an accessory to murder. Questioning Luff under a lie detector, Dredd uncovers the full story; Luff had meant to write ‘Get Jerry Sing off the vid‘, an innocuous message expressing his frustration at seeing the annoying celeb on TV every day. However the Powerboard he was using to scale Trump Block to spray-paint his message had started malfunctioning, so he had been forced to land before finishing. The lie detector confirms Luff is telling the truth. In another subversion of classic Dredd tropes, ol’ Stoney Face fails to get his man, and he has to let Luff go as he hasn’t committed any crimes.
Naldo Luff is ecstatic – as the captions explain, he’s got everything he wanted; Jerry Sing is gone forever, and he’s been cleared of any involvement. But there’s a final twist in the tail for Luff, and Wagner and Ezquerra deliver it with exceptional skill. Being a 32 page anthology comic with around five stories in a typical issue, space in 2000AD is at a premium, which means that full page splashes are rarely utilised. With ‘Get Jerry Sing’, Wagner and Ezquerra throw this convention out of the window, using the final page of the story to deliver one of the best endings to a Dredd story in recent memory.
We left Naldo Luff on the bottom of the penultimate page of the story jumping for joy, he’d been found innocent and released by the toughest lawman in the city, and Jerry Sing, the bane of his life, is dead, never to bother him on the vid again. On the final page, everything goes wrong for Luff. We see a gorgeous full page splash from Ezquerra, a beautiful, intricate depiction of Mega-City One as only he could draw it, the interweaving buildings covered in a new graffiti slogan… ‘Get Naldo Luff’.
In the top left corner is a close-up of Luff’s face, a contorted look of horror on his face, another Ezquerra trademark. The page is silent apart from Luff’s shocked exclamation, “Huh?”, the omnipotent captions have departed now. This twist of the city itself meting out its own justice is so apt with Ezquerra on art duties; this is the city as depicted by its creator, of course it can exhibit agency. Were the captions throughout the story the city itself giving us its thoughts? Or is that a stretch?
Either way, this is a fascinating, intricate gem of a story, one that deserves to be held up alongside Dredd’s best, and since one story had to be the last collaboration between the creators of one of British comics’ most iconic strips, we are lucky that Wagner and Ezquerra made such a phenomenal final statement.
2000AD Prog #2023: “Get Jerry Sing”
Writer: John Wagner
Artist: Carlos Ezquerra
Letterer: Annie Parkhouse
Leo Healy has written comics for the now sadly defunct FutureQuake Press, last year he made a computer game (play it for free here if you like) and his prose short story debut will hopefully be published by Obverse Books later this year. Follow him on Twitter here!
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