Interviews: Every Empire Falls – Michael Carroll talks Dredd
One of the compelling hallmarks of the forty years of Judge Dredd tales is that, unlike many long-running comics series which periodically hit the reset button, Dredd’s history is mostly continual and past events can and frequently do effect events in current storylines, and the recently collected Every Empire Falls follows the Day of Chaos saga which saw the Big Meg hit even harder perhaps than the awful Apocalypse War, left a mere shadow of itself, reduced vastly in population, far fewer Judges to deal with the trouble, and other powers are scenting the distress and weakness of this once-superpower and are ready to take advantage… James reviews Every Empire Falls then follows this with a chat with its author, Michael Carroll – enjoy!
Judge Dredd: Every Empire Falls.
Michael Carroll, PJ Holden, Henry Flint, Colin MacNeil, Paul Davidson, Carlos Ezquerra
This is a perfect Judge Dredd story, with a clear-cut and introductory beginning, exhilarating middle and satisfying end. Every Empire Falls is a fantastic graphic novel. Perfect for the new reader or old reader returning. It captures the excitement of the summer extended epic story, personified for readers by the likes of The Apocalypse War, Necropolis and the gargantuan Day of Chaos.
The aftermath of The Day of Chaos, is still being felt, and this story really takes what occurred and extrapolates in some fascinating ways just how it has affected Mega City One, both in and of itself and also how it is now seen in the wider world. What would a desperate city do to survive, how could it be compromised, and what is it now vulnerable to?
I loved this comic, it is really so very enjoyable, as it is written in such a way that comprehending what is going on, despite complexities and the interwoven nature of six stories, two of which were published concurrently in the Judge Dredd Megazine and 2000AD, is not at all difficult. With twists and turns the stories possess depth and layers that the reader never becomes disconnected from.
(art by Paul Davidson)
The first piece ‘New Tricks’ is a lovely example of this, it was published months previous to the main story, but delightfully introduces us to Judge Pax and Judge Joyce on assignment with Dredd to see if they can integrated into the Mega City Justice Dept. The epistolary nature of Judge Pax’s narrative, allows a really high level of information, is a great entry point and helps new readers and any readers who missed Chaos Day get into the setting. The story telling is very strong, with a typical 2000 AD twist; one is not sure whether the judges will past muster, and there is a strong recognition of previous history, the Manta Tanks looking prefect from the pen of Paul Davidson and the reference to the ‘Barracuda’ from The Apocalypse War a nice touch.
(Paul Davidson’s depiction of a captured Justice Department Manta Tank in the Undercity)
Judge Fintan Joyce offers a very unique and different voice to that of Dredd, as the story heads to The Emerald Isle and we unknowingly see the seeds of later plots occur, there is a lovely humour, throughout this venture with a political element coming to the fore. As Dredd walks through justice central in Murphyville a picture of O’Blimey hangs next to that of O’Reilly and it makes one laugh out loud, a super piece of comedy, that is a trait of this book. The details are throughout, artist PJ Holden did a good job of naming the bars, and as with names on the Big Meg’s cityblocks such little artistic gems are pleasing.
Time moves forward, and although the political issues are still percolating in the background, the realities of a city struggling to survive continues and the action doesn’t stop. We follow Rico and Dredd as they take cadets on a run into the Cursed Earth to shut down bandits who seem to be attacking the resources of Mega City One and which will effectively starve the city. As we reach the halfway mark in the book, Dredd gets killed.
There is a sense of desperation in the air that this tragic moment seems to exacerbate. Brit-Cit is grinding its ax,e and with help scarce, Mega City reaches out to Texas City, who with Chief Judge Oswin extends a hand of friendship at a time in need back to Mega City One’s Chief Judge Hershey.
The story splits, part following Rico in the Cursed Earth who is soon joined by Coburn, and part following Judge Joyce who is sent to Brit-Cit to face charges for actions that occurred in Blood of Emeralds and part stays with matters at hand in Mega City One as Hershey finds herself between a rock and a hard place with Oswin.
I loved how there was an undercurrent of a variety of politics. Mutants have recognition and rights in Mega City One, which is something that has not always been the case intol; fairly recently. There was in essence a grotesque apartheid, something that reflected badly on the human part of the world of Dredd and indeed, something he as a character himself finally sought to end after many years. Having mutants as a historically marginalised group, who were brutally discriminated against in the past and who have only recenty realised their rights suddenly face a new wave of terror and hatred, felt like e a metaphor for so much more in our current world.
(Back to the Emerald Isle – art by Colin MacNeil)
Judge Dredd has always had a political element, as Joyce arrives in Brit-Cit, we see a pig balloon with “Dave’s Pork Pies” on it, an instant and very current gag on political goings on in the UK, which was very funny, and drawn by PJ Holden. Texas City Judges who come to the aid of mega City are bigoted and hate mutants, they favour ‘real humans’ what Oswin at one stage refers to a the ‘Pure Breed’ and the sinister nature of the help that Texas City wants to offer draws parallels with actions and issues in today’s world.
So many elements got me thinking. I would read a portion of the story and wonder what message or reference I was missing, what science fictional slant was actually prodding us to think about the now. I asked Michael Carroll, the writer of this epic some questions:
James: Was a blonde, boisterous Texan chief judge a reflection of US politics for you last year, as you wrote your story? What was the effect of hearing hate speech on telly? How were you influenced by outside politics?
Michael:. There was no one direct influence behind Chief Judge Oswin and her policies, but she certainly was born from the show-business aspect of modern politics: the candidate with the loudest voice gets all the press, especially if that candidate has the skills to persuade the ordinary people that only he or she can save them from some threat – regardless of whether that threat is real or imaginary. Of course, Texas City and Mega-City One are effectively totalitarian states so there are no elections as we know them, but the Chief Judges are chosen by the judiciary, so in some cases the same rule applies: the winner isn’t always going to be the candidate who’s most qualified.
Incidentally, Chief Judge Oswin wasn’t blonde in the original script: she was brunette, but making her blonde helped to differentiate her from Hershey!
James: There is a lot of politics going on here, what elements do you think you were bringing to the story?
Michael: The whole story is, in some ways, an exploration of nationalism. The people of Mega-City One had long known that their city was the most powerful in the world, so they assumed that they were top dog, on the basis of strongest = best. But Chaos Day and other disasters have drastically reduced MC1’s power, and the rest of the world is coming to realise that the self-declared top dog is now all bark and no bite. And the Justice Department in Mega-City One is realising that too. Their meagre resources have been stretched too thin. In their arrogance they’ve also managed to alienate most of their potential allies, leaving very few states to which they can turn for help.
The most obvious candidate is Mega-City Three, otherwise known as Texas-City, but the Texans have always been isolationists, wanting little to do with the rest of the former United States. More than once, they sat by and did nothing while Mega-City One was attacked, so asking them for help is a bitter pill that Chief Judge Hershey realises she has no choice but to swallow.
Texas-City’s Chief Judge Oswin sees an opportunity to finally put her own city on top. As she tells Hershey, “Mega-City One was once a great city. A powerful city… As you never once failed to remind the rest of the world. Constantly shouting ‘We’re Number One!’ will drown out the cries of the sick and the hungry, but it won’t heal them or feed them.”
At the same time, in Brit-Cit certain factions have noted MC1’s weakness and are keen to exploit it. They’ve seen a way to do so that’ll also sort out their recent problems with the Emerald Isle: blame Mega-City One. Oswin tells Mitchell, a senior Brit-City Judge: “You Brits have been doing the same thing for a thousand years… You invade another country, plunder its resources, treat its citizens like dirt, then you’re surprised when they fight back. Seriously, that’s happened so often it’s embarrassing that you never seem to see it coming.”
(art by Henry Flint)
That’s Oswin’s thing: she sees herself as a brutally honest leader who tells it like it is… And because of her I received my first ever piece of hate-mail in which I was told to “keep my opinions to myself.” It’s a shame that the sender lacked the guts to use his real e-mail address because there is a fascinating debate there, I think: should a writer be held accountable for the opinions of his or her characters?
Oswin is good at her job, but she’s utterly blind to her own faults. She chides others for their arrogance without being able to see that she’s more arrogant than all of them. She has the fundamental belief that her way is right… She has surrounded herself with “yes-men” so now the only thing she hears is “yes,” which of course just reinforces her own self-delusion and her belief that the Texas-City has always done things the right way. After all, Mega-City Two has been little more than dust for decades, and now Mega-City One is on its knees… Therefore Texas-City is the best.
Nationalism is further explored elsewhere in the story when Rico and Koburn encounter the Native American tribe. As their leader Daniel Crow says, “This is not our enemies’ land to plunder, nor your land to protect. This is – and always has been – our land.”
(art by Henry Flint)
One nation planting a flag in another’s soil – or drawing a ring around it on a map – and declaring, “This is now ours” rarely has an outcome that’s positive for the nation being subjugated.
However, if you’re the nation doing the subjugating then it’s easy to see yourself as the hero. You’re not a conqueror: you’re an intrepid explorer, or even a liberator. That’s what Oswin’s doing to Mega-City One in the story, it’s what our European ancestors did to most of the rest of the world hundreds of years ago, and let’s not forget that the Wild West was “colonised” not so much through noble frontiersman-ship but through butchery and genocide.
I really enjoyed the the variety of artwork in the books, I am a big fan of PJ Holden, Colin MacNeil and Carlos Ezquerra, some of that is the legacy the latter two have with the comic, yet Henry Flint and Paul Davidson did really lovely jobs. Contrasting the artwork was delightful, yet the tactic of having a different artists for segments of story, or indeed one could consider chapter or layer, worked really very well. It was like a fresh perspective and different viewpoint in visual looks to complement the narrative and perspective that was being told.
I was continually impressed with the level of detail, from RYB on the side of the City Block where we find Dredd, an acronym for Randy Yates Block, to the detail of the name of a carton of milk in a fridge, the humour or references all adding to the enjoyment of the overall story. Again I asked Michael about the art.
James: What were your favourite pieces of artwork in the story?
Michael: Each of the artists brought something different, and I love all of their work… It’s hard to single out individual panels…
Paul Davidson was the first artist on the story that introduced both Judge Joyce and Judge Pax, so that makes him their co-creator and for that I’ll always be thankful. His depiction of the Goblin King is just masterful!
Colin MacNeil has long been a favourite of mine – I named the lead character of my New Heroes series of young adult superhero novels after him and John Wagner – so it was a pleasure to work with him. (Though he does lose some points for changing the name of the pub in “Blood of Emeralds” – it was supposed to be “Dillon’s”, not “Shalvey’s”!)
Henry Flint’s splash-page reveal of Daniel Crow – on the last page of the first episode of “Dust to Dust” – is absolutely stunning, a stand-out page in an already gorgeous-looking strip!
PJ Holden, as always, brings so much action and fun. He’s one of the few artists who can master the perfect balance of grit and humour needed in a Dredd story.
And then there’s Carlos Ezquerra… Dredd’s co-creator, and one of my personal heroes. I’ve known and loved Carlos’s work since before 2000AD existed, so to work with him was a career highlight for me. Every page – every panel – is a masterpiece.’
(art by PJ Holden)
James: One of the key moments and lovely element to the plot was the death of Dredd. Given comics’ long-standing history of not really killing off characters, even when they do, they have a tendency to return, sometimes as if the whole death story never happened, I was not at all expecting this to be more than a twist. This was still very good though, as it allowed the story to change pace, and for the dynamic of two stories to run hand in hand. As Joyce was handed over to Brit-Cit his own adventure begins and I was pleased that he came into contact with an old favourite, Armitage.
Again though, I asked Michael Carroll about the killing of Dredd: You killed Dredd. He came back. I was expecting that, it was an interesting panel but I was not at all worried that he would not come back. As a comic writer were you playing on that expectation, that readers will assume that he will be back?
Michael: Well, the Powers That Be are not going to kill off their comic’s flagship character, and the readers know that – well, most of them do! – so the question of whether Dredd’s really dead wasn’t an issue. It was more a matter of why he “died”, how it happened and for how long would he be gone. From a purely practical point of view, Dredd “died” because the story was being split into two threads, one in the weekly 2000AD and the other in the monthly Judge Dredd Megazine. Since it was necessary for both threads to take place at the same time, Dredd couldn’t easily be in both, so I chose to remove him entirely for a few issues… It also gave me the opportunity to raise secondary characters – Joyce, Rico and Koburn – into the spotlight and show that they were more than capable of getting the job done without Dredd.
(art by the mighty Carlos Ezquerra)
James: There is much to be said for the other characters in the story. It is wonderful to see Judge America Beeny underestimated by Chief Oswin, to hear Judge Joyce talk about being ‘pissed off’ by the Texas City Judges, watching a solemn and stoic Judge Giant get beaten while defending a mutant, a moment that felt like it could be right now, was racism at play here as well as everything else. The challenge facing Chief Judge Hershey, her own council of Judges a mixed bag of lukewarm support or more interested in political expediency. In many respects Carroll really did take the spotlight off Dredd and allowed other characters to show, and then so many cameos, such as Dolman, or Armitage.
The turns of phrase were exquisite, frequently whether it be Dredd handing his mantle to Rico, or Joyce quipping in his off-hand humorous and relaxed way, or Oswin embodying a rhetoric and nationalistic approach that was frightening in its familiarity.
Overall the comic is a fabulous read, a classic Dredd epic told over a number of chapters, linked brilliantly together in a multi-layered plot twisting action adventure, full of depth and nuance, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.