Gandalf’s Crap Understudy (Book Three, Part 51: Ennis’s Judge Dredd)
Previously in Last War in Albion: Judge Dredd in the late 80s and early 90s did an extensive arc concerning Mega-City One contemplating the restoration of Democratic rights. Late in that arc came another 2000 AD featured called The Dead Man, revealed in a late twist to be a secret Judge Dredd story, featuring the eponymous Judge walking the Cursed Earth aroudn Mega-City One.
“I notice bein’ Gandalf’s crap understudy doesnae stop you bein’ a condescending prick ’n’ all.” – Simon Spurrier, John Constantine: Hellblazer
At this point the main strip began depicting the backstory of how Dredd came to be a badly burnt body out in the Cursed Earth. This began with “A Letter to Judge Dredd,” a thematic sequel to “Letter From a Democrat” written in the form of a missive from a young boy questioning the efficacy of the Judge system. The boy dies horribly at the end of the strip just before his letter is delivered to Dredd, and this confluence prompts Dredd’s resignation. In an attempt to hide this fact a clone of Judge Dredd is given his badge and put on the streets in his place, which precipitated another epic, the twenty-six part Necropolis, which featured the return of the Brian Bolland co-created Judge Death. The story culminated, of course, with Dredd returning and saving the day, but still resulted in a massive death toll in Mega-City One as Judge Death and his Dark Judges spent months ruling the city. In the fallout of this, Dredd, his faith in the Judge system restored, concludes that the only way to reestablish order is to allow a referendum on the judge system and the restoration of democracy, setting up the culmination of the years-long arc.
This took place in a pair of short arcs towards the end of 1991, beginning in issue #750. The first of these, “The Devil You Know,” was penned by John Wagner and took place on the eve of the referendum, with Dredd arguing passionately against the restoration of Democracy (“When some creep’s holding a knife to your throat, who do you want to see riding up… me—or your elected representative?”) as the ordinary citizens struggle to even understand how to vote in the first place. The plot concerns a conspiracy by a group of judges to assassinate Dredd and prevent the referendum, which they (along with the rest of the city) are convinced will spell the end of the judge system.
The second arc, meanwhile, depicted the referendum itself. Called “Twilight’s Last Gleaming,” it was unexpectedly written not by Wagner, who had written virtually the entirety of the Democracy arc, but rather by the incoming regular writer of the Judge Dredd feature in 2000 AD, Garth Ennis. As Ennis explains the handoff, “at that point John had enough American commitments and was writing the lion’s share of the Megazine. He had enough outside commitments that handling the Dredd strip in 2000 was too much work.” And so the opportunity passed to Ennis, who was of the up and comers the one with the deepest affection for Dredd, and, with his clear love of transgressive and boyish humor, one of the two most obvious fits for the property.…