Friday, May 26, 2023

Rebellion's "I Am The Law" By Michael Molcher


History isn't as much of a cycle as people would like to think. It is a staccato drumbeat, pounding at its points until people have to listen. I think that I Am The Law is the first ever piece of non-fiction published by Rebellion, and it is an historic look at the development of British comics powerhouses Judge Dredd and the 2000AD magazine.

The 2000AD magazine owes a debt to earlier comics magazines like Action and Battle. Where Action magazine crawled, and ultimately stumbled before being taken down by political forces in the UK, Judge Dredd would eventually stand up and walk.

Like a lot of satire, problems always arise when the satirical elements are taken at face value, and this happened with Judge Dredd pretty early out of the gate. Where the writers and artists of the early Judge Dredd stories like John Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra, and Pat Mills, looked out at the world in which they lived and channeled that into the creation of the character. Wagner looked at the rioting and police corruption in England at the time, and used it to create a world where the police were the ultimate arbitrators of right and wrong, who were judge and jury, as well as executioner.

The earlier comic magazine Action featured prototypes to the ideas that would find a home in Judge Dredd stories and its setting of Mega-City One. The Kids Rule, OK stories in Action showed a lurid and hellish cityscape where gangs of teenagers run amok, and not even the police could stop them. The One Eyed Jack stories took the essence of movies like Dirty Harry and Death Wish and make them bleaker. However the magazine ran afoul of crusading "law and order" politicians who didn't like how they and the police forces were portrayed in these stories. So they cracked down on the comics and saw to it they were censored. Does this sound familiar? That drum beat is pounding away again today, as politicians seek to censor anyone who looks or thinks differently than they do.

This isn't a reflection on I Am The Law but I would really like to see Rebellion do an anthology of some of the early Action and Battle stories, particularly the Kids Rule, OK stuff. We've seen a reprint of One Eyed Jacks, but as far as I know the only Kids Rule, OK material currently available are the updated stories, including the Vigilant related one.

I Am The Law is a warning. It shows the rise of authoritarian police powers, a surveillance state that not only has cameras pointed everywhere but also keeps track of the bands you listen to, and corrupt politicians who want to rewrite history and hide what they've done in the past. This is a powerful book, and it leaps with both feet into the turbulence of the UK in the 70s and 80s that brought us punk rock, and Judge Dredd. Not everyone is going to like this book, and a lot of people will have problem with some of the brutality and utterly heinous acts that are recorded in the book. History is a staccato drumbeat, and with I Am The Law Michael Molcher plays that beat in as masterful of a way as Gene Krupa. This is a must read book, not only for fans of the history of comics around the world, but also for those wanting to know about about the rise of authoritarians powers and the dark mirror that fiction can hold up to them. Read this book.