notes on Judge Dredd: Mega-City Two #2

I’ve had a few requests for annotations on the mini-series (and I always love reading comics writers’ annotations of stories they’ve written), so here goes. “Spoilers, obv.,” as Kieron Gillen says. (But what about notes on the first issue? They’re being reserved for a special thing. More on that when I can say more.)

The epigraph in the script for this issue:

“The Angels don’t like to be called losers, but they have learned to live with it. ‘Yeah, I guess I am,’ said one. ‘But you’re looking at one loser who’s going to make a hell of a scene on the way out.'” –Hunter S. Thompson, Hell’s Angels

Title: “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream” is also the title of the first essay in Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem. (Thanks to Jessica Bruder for the suggestion.) This is our “cults and culture in Cali” issue, and the “golden dream” of California is the idea that you can move out there and everything will be utopian forever–for some values of utopia, which are not always the same.

Pg. 1: The three big groups of golden-dream-dreamers I was conflating in my head throughout this issue were the Hell’s Angels around the time Thompson wrote his book (it’s an amazing work of reportage, and one of the things that made his reputation long before Fear and Loathing…), the Children of God as they were in the early ’70s, and the cult of Californian art–specifically around the Ferus Gallery artists of the early ’60s and the related group of “finish fetish” artists who made their work out of the new Californian industrial materials.

Mother 13’s name is a riff on Father Yod (of Ya Ho Wha 13), various high-ranking biker-gang dudes known as “Mother,” etc.–and it’s also a reference to The Best Show on WFMU‘s Jon Wurster character Corey Harris, of the godawful alt-rock band Mother 13. (Benjamin Birdie, who was the first person to catch that particular joke, linked me to his drawing of Corey Harris from the “First Rock Band on Mount Everest” sketch.) No relation to the mutant Father from Michael Carroll’s Dredd story “California Babylon” a couple of years ago…

What Fiery Jacq–name courtesy of an early Fall single and the remarkable Jacq Cohen, among a few other sources–is doing here is a variation on what both the Children of God and the Hell’s Angels did. CoG members would seduce lonely people to get them into the group, a practice known as “flirty fishing” (cf. “friendly fixing” on the next page). There’s a kind-of-amazing, deeply NSFW comic book/tract called “The Little Flirty Fishy!” that explained how to do it. The Angels, who had serious PR problems, made a habit of helping motorists whose cars had broken down, and giving them a card that would let them know “you have been assisted by the Hell’s Angels”; here’s Thompson’s own. (Great text on the back of it, too.) Other branches of the Angels combined both approaches, apparently.

“The Burning Museum” is a nod to this Ed Ruscha painting. Plus I just thought it sounded good.

Pg. 2: Love the little Strontium Dog outfit Ulises snuck into Hurley’s wardrobe. The community Dredd and the Dahlia Studios crew are in this time is Scorpio Rising, named after Kenneth Anger’s biker film

Pg. 3: I think I’d suggested that Mother 13’s look could be inspired by latter-day La Monte Young, arguably the most visually badass fine artist of the past few decades, but I love the very different approach that Ulises came up with here. In the early drafts of the script, his henchmen all had names inspired by notable Californian artists, but those mostly ended up getting in the way.

Pg. 4: Of course Dredd is referred to “The Man,” because that’s what he is–in the sense of “we want to be free to ride our machines without being hassled by the Man.” He’s playing the laconic type because the operation depends on his keeping his mouth shut, basically. (Ulises’ stroke of genius was linking him to The Dude by way of the WITE RUSN logo on his jacket.)

Pg. 7: “Jean Paul, David and Sonny”: I was rereading The Ballad of Halo Jones last week and realized that this joke was completely lifted from “Matthew, Marx, Luke and Jung” in there.

It’s occasionally been suggested that one corollary to Dredd being a great street judge is that he’s hopeless at other disciplines. He’s nearly incapable of being anything other than blunt and straightforward–but, of course, telling the C.L.G.’s the truth about where he learned to fight is the fastest way to make them think he’s kidding and get on their good side.

Pp. 8-9: This project’s resident West Coast hip-hop enthusiast U. Farinas told me, at some point early on, “you know what’s awesome California sci-fi? Tupac’s ‘California Love’ video!” Which, as it turns out, is set in 2095: perfect! I had some exposition to get out of the way, so I figured why not just make it rhyme and scan like Dr. Dre’s verse? And then of course Ulises knocked it out of the park.

I was pretty pleased with the Leon Large routine this issue (which Ulises actually teased with a billboard in the big double-page spread in #1): his name is a riff on this bit from Airplane!, but also echoes other fashion-business people we’ve seen in Dredd stories (like the Yess family), as well as the name of a famous L.A. patron of the arts. I figured Large kneepads are as much a crucial accessory for the C.L.G.’s as Levi’s denims were for the Angels.

Pg. 10: The C.L.G.’s are not the only gang of high-aesthetic bikers around. “Cannibal dynamo” is a phrase from Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” that sounded like a gang could name itself after it.

Pg. 11: Ulises designed the Zzizzypop logo and can (which we first saw way back on the first page of #1); I suggested R. Crumb’s cover for Zap Comix #0 as a reference point. Oh my God do I love that can design. I would drink that stuff.

And of course The Man can’t stop talking like a Judge. Shush, The Man.

Pg. 12: Naturally, it makes sense to Jacq that the first thing The Man is going to want to do is get an endorsement deal and put some money in his wallet; setting this up is her way of currying favor with him. It doesn’t even occur to Dredd that he’s supposed to play along; the idea is impermissible to him. As so many ideas are. (See also the “What If Judges Did Ads?” bit from 2000 AD Prog 521…)

Pg. 13: Jacq is very earnestly explaining her Romantic ideal of the “golden dream”–this is her world-view, and it’s her way of trying to convert The Man. “Saloon Society” is another phrase from Thompson’s Hell’s Angels, a quotation from the California Attorney General’s report on the Angels, about how their victims and witnesses are “vulnerable to the mores of ‘saloon society.'”

Pg. 14: Ulises sent me a whole lot of notes on how the various traffic-related technology in Mega-City Two works; most of the captions describing the traffic knot were actually written by him. The “family man” bit is one of those things that reads differently depending on how much Dredd you’ve read. The super-nerdy reading is that “family man” is a MC1 Justice Dept. code word for undercover Judges to identify themselves–but maybe he’s just threatening the gate Judge by hinting at his gang/cult affiliation. Same result, either way.

Pg. 15: Another Leon Large billboard! Dredd’s trying to get some information out of Jacq, but he is also, naturally, thinking about Rico, which is what he does any time his id starts to even faintly assert itself or when he starts thinking about the possibility of doing something “wrong.” The two cultists going forehead-to-forehead at lower right are in a pose from the all-time champion in the “California comics with cops on the cover” category, Love & Rockets #33…

Pg. 16: As Jacq said, they go through ’em. That is actually a hell of a lot of information that Ulises and Ryan get across visually in a six-panel page. (Love the lighting change as the bikes collide.) L.A. residents invariably refer to big highways with the definite article; there are just a lot more of them by the time of our story.

Pg. 17: You can tell he’s just itching to get his hands on a functional weapon again. (I had to look up the ACAB badge that Ulises gave The Man: “All Coppers Are Bastards.”)

Pg. 18: Some fantastic character acting going on here, especially considering how stoic everybody’s being.

Pg. 21: And we finally see Leon Large! Kennedy shows up to hog a certain amount of the glory, because that’s what he does. I really like the C.L.G. guy’s Dan Dare eyebrows in panel 5. A couple of reviews suggest that I may not have made it entirely clear that Dredd’s “clemency” is as ungenerous as it could possibly be: credit for time served isn’t much against consecutive life sentences.

Pg. 22: Yes, that is a giant shrimp. Just when you thought it was safe, etc.