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Diggle Revisits “Judge Dredd vs. Aliens: Incubus,” Shares “Superman/Dredd” Pitch

by  in Comic News Comment
Diggle Revisits “Judge Dredd vs. Aliens: Incubus,” Shares “Superman/Dredd” Pitch

This month, Dark Horse Comics and “2000 AD” publisher Rebellion team up for “Predator vs. Judge Dredd vs. Aliens: Incubus and Other Stories,” a collection of crossover stories pitting the totalitarian future cop against a couple of the biggest, baddest fiends sci-fi films have to offer.

Included in the collection are 1997’s three-issue “Predator vs. Judge Dredd,” written by Dredd co-creator John Wagner with art by Enrique Alcatena, and 2003’s four-issue “Judge Dredd vs. Aliens: Incubus,” co-written by Wagner and “Losers” co-creator Andy Diggle with art by Henry Flint. “Predator” was also serialized in a 1997 run of “Judge Dredd Megazine,” with “Incubus” serialized in a 16-issue “2000 AD” run.

In celebration of the return of his story to print, Diggle spoke with CBR News about “Judge Dredd vs. Aliens: Incubus,” explaining how important the project was to his career, what writing lessons from John Wagner he’s carried with him throughout his career, his pitch for a potential “Superman / Judge Dredd” crossover and more.

CBR News: Andy, this was one of the rare inter-company comic crossovers that seemed to work on every level. What was the genesis of “Judge Dredd vs. Aliens: Incubus?”

Andy Diggle: It started when I was the editor of “2000 AD,” which is where Judge Dredd appears. I originally hadn’t been involved in writing it; I was just the guy who set up the deal with [“Aliens” comic book publisher] Dark Horse. I’m a big “Dredd” fan, but I’m also a big “Alien” fan, and I’ve always thought it was an obvious character match. So I reached out to Dark Horse, who had the license to “Aliens” at the time. They were interested in doing a crossover and I worked out all the boring paperwork side of things, but it was always with the intent that [“Judge Dredd” co-creator] John Wagner would write it solo. He’s the heart and soul of Judge Dredd, and it wouldn’t be appropriate for anyone else to do such a big book. Once I asked him to do it, though, he asked me to send him ideas because he knew what a big “Alien” fanboy I was. He always asked me for little snippets of story ideas for “Dredd,” little seeds that maybe could grow into a story under him. But I bombarded him with so many ideas about how to do this crossover that he suggested I co-write it with him.

It was a huge surprise that he even asked me. I was a bit flabbergasted, really, because John is one of my heroes. It was near the end of my tenure as “2000 AD” editor and I was already putting out feelers for writing work for once I jumped ship. The timing of everything worked out perfectly. I got to write two of my favorite characters of all time and learn the real nuts and bolts of writing from John Wagner, one of my all time favorite writers. It was fun but it was also educational.

What was it like collaborating with Wagner? You mentioned in a previous interview that you met up with him in person to work on outlines.

Yeah, I went down to his house in Shropshire for a couple days. We just sat around, drank tea, and threw ideas around until we worked out an outline. I think it was a three- or four-page document that ended up being the whole of the “Incubus” story. We figured out that four six-page “2000 AD” installments equaled about one Dark Horse issue, and there were four of those. So in “2000 AD” standards, it was a huge story, but in American terms it was a pretty short miniseries.

Once we worked out the basic outline, John went away and wrote the first couple of episodes. Then, he gave them to me to rewrite. I wrote the next couple of episodes, which I gave to John to rewrite. We alternated that way, passing work back and forth between us. We airbrushed over the joints so it’s not really clear who wrote what. It was an interesting process. I got to dig down into the nitty gritty bolts of how John constructs a story. Not just the big picture stuff, but specific panel-to-panel, line-to-line storytelling, which was really educational for me. I was consciously and deliberately mimicking John’s style. I wanted to do something that would fit with him instead of go off in another direction.

I think my Dredd was a bit talkier than [Wagner’s]. He would just add exposition to explain what was going on in the action scenes and stuff like that. But for the most part we worked pretty well.

“Incubus” hit right when you writing career was beginning to take off. Were there any specific lessons or pieces of advice you took from Wagner that have stuck with you over the years?

There were a few things. One of them was learning to write team stories, because I’d never been much of a follower of team books. I was never an “X-Men” fan. I preferred the stoic loner types who don’t talk very much. But yet, in this “Dredd” story, we had this big cast of Judge characters and this big cast of the Verminators, these alien pest control dudes. We did that because in an “Alien” story you need a lot of characters, because you need a body count. Red shirt characters that can be taken out by the Aliens. Because the “2000 AD” chapters only had six pages, we had to cram an awful lot of characters and actions into six pages. That was quite educational, learning how to juggle multiple characters, making sure everyone gets his or her own little moment in the spotlight. That became useful when putting together “The Losers,” which was my first effort at a team book.

I also think some of the stuff John added, like some of the exposition that I hadn’t put in there, was maybe just a bit unnecessary. But it was useful to help me calibrate how much you need to explain to the reader and how much you should just let them figure it out for themselves. Especially if the action is completely visually driven and I like doing stuff that is visually driven. I don’t like a lot of dialogue in an action scene. I find it a little jarring. So, again, that was a useful learning experience.

What was it like working with now-legendary “2000 AD” artist Henry Flint?

I love Henry. Henry’s a good friend. Working with him on “2000 AD” was one of the high points of my editorship. He had been doing “ABC Warriors” and “Nemesis the Warlock” at the time. He was practically chewing his arm off to do [“Incubus.”] He loves “Dredd” and he loves the “Alien” universe. He pleaded to draw that book, and when you get that attitude from an artist, you just know he’s going to completely rip when he gets to do it.

In one scene, Dredd gets attacked by a single facehugger that latches onto the front of his helmet. It was a difficult scene to draw, and Henry, bless him, phoned me and asked me to please, please change it to Dredd in a room with like 100 facehuggers and they’re all attacking him at the same time. Most artists would have nightmares trying to draw something that complicated. But Henry? It was Henry’s idea. When an artist is really into it, you can tell on every page and every panel the love and passion they’re putting into it. And this looked phenomenal.

Just like there’s many versions of Dredd, there’s been many versions of the Aliens in the way they’ve looked, moved and behaved across many films. Was there a specific version of the Alien you were going for in “Incubus?”

I’ve always been a big fan of the first “Alien” movie, with the idea that the Alien is completely unstoppable and totally unkillable. There’s something about the idea you simply can’t beat it that’s really scary. I love the second one, too. It’s a great action movie, but it turned the Aliens into cannon fodder. Most of Dredd’s bad guys tend to be cannon fodder by definition, though, so we needed a high body count. We couldn’t have four issues of Dredd shooting at this thing and missing. Plus, you can’t shoot the Alien in the films because its acid blood would eat through the hull [of the spaceships.] In Mega-City One, that’s not such an issue. So by default, it kind of had to be the James Cameron cannon fodder version of the Aliens. But I think we still made them pretty lethal. Hence the large cast of characters and high body count — which is one of the joys of British comics.

Speaking of the body count, early on in the series a Judge gets killed named Judge Brubaker. I’ve always wondered, is this a nod to writer Ed Brubaker?

That was John, actually, and I remember asking him, “Is this a nod to Ed Brubaker?” and I don’t think it was. He said it was a reference to the movie “Brubaker” with Robert Redford in it.

One of my favorite moments from “Incubus” is when Dredd shoves the flare into an Alien’s mouth before kicking it off a skyscraper. “Don’t know what other tricks you’ve got in your bag, but I’m taking a bet flying isn’t one of them!” What are some of your favorite bits?

That’s a great moment! [Laughs] Well, you know what, it’s been so long since I read it that I can’t remember half the story. I’m seeing Henry’s artwork in my head of that moment you mentioned, though. In fact, he gave me some of those pages, including a full-page splash of the Aliens swarming up the base of the Grand Hall of Justice. That’s a pretty awesome moment.

Another great moment is the maternity ward scene. There were all these sleeping babies in cribs and incubators all laid out, and an Alien kind of crouching there. And Dredd was there. That was the moment that recalled how you couldn’t shoot Aliens because they bleed acid. I thought, “Ok, babies. Dredd can’t shoot his way out of this one.” I was quite pleased at that. And, once again, they end up going out the window.

It’s been over a decade since it was released, but is there a chance we could see a sequel to “Incubus?”

Yeah, I hope so! I’d love to. I think Dredd really opens himself up well to these kind of crossovers because the world of Dredd is so crazy anything is possible. He’s got such a flexible universe. There’s absolutely room to do more — “Alien” stuff, especially, but other characters as well. It’s such a shame that DC isn’t doing crossovers like they used to do. Some of the “Dredd / Batman” stuff was great. I’ve always wanted to do “Dredd / Superman.” Dredd’s version of justice with Superman’s idea of justice are, frankly, such polar opposites that contrasting them would be very interesting. But I’m not holding my breath on that happening anytime soon.

Your “Dredd / Superman” sounds like it would be really awesome. How far have you actually thought it out?

I’ve given it a great deal of thought. In fact, I’ve got the whole thing plotted out, but I’ve never really pitched it because it doesn’t seem like something that’s ever going to happen. I think DC are rightly focusing on their core characters and are not so interesting in company crossovers these days. But if any of that changes, absolutely [I’d be up for it.] But trust me, I’ve got it all worked out. I’m not going to tell you what happens, though, in case I get to write it some day! [Laughs]

I’ve never wanted to read a Superman comic book more than at this very moment. Do you think you could at least tease the premise?

An object falls from space and crashes towards Mega-City One. The anti-missile lasers can’t seem to vaporize the thing, and it hits the ground and demolishes a fortunately uninhabited area of ground. Turn the page. Cue close-up of tech Judges in radiation gear looking down into this crater. Superman is lying at the bottom of it. He’s basically been blasted into a parallel dimension by a device created by Lex Luthor, which has partly depowered Superman. He’s not as super as he used to be, partly also because of all the pollution in the atmosphere of Dredd’s world. It’s called the death belt, this layer of pollution and junk thrown up in the upper atmosphere by nuclear war. It cuts out the sun’s rays, which depower Superman a bit.

Dredd is not going to like having an illegal alien running around in his city. Superman is not going to be very keen on this fascist version of justice. It’s no longer truth, justice and the American way, because it’s no longer America: It’s Mega-City One, creep!

Things kick off from there. It gets a little more complicated, there’s some twists and turns I’m not going to spoil here, but Lex Luthor is more heavily involved in the story than he would seem to be from the premise.

Finally, it’s been a year since we’ve seen your writing show up in either “2000 AD” or “Judge Dredd Megazine.” Any plans to return to either anthology anytime soon?

That’s where my heart really lies, but I’ve just got so much else going on at the moment. I just finished “Doctor Who” for IDW Publishing. I’m still writing “Thief of Thieves” with Robert Kirkman at Skybound. I’m doing “Uncanny” at Dynamite Entertainment, plus I’ve got this new series with my wife Angela called “Control” which will also be coming out at Dynamite and is drawn by Ben Oliver. So I’ve got a lot of plates to keep spinning at the moment. But once some of these things are done, it might be fun to go back to “2000 AD.”

“Predator vs. Judge Dredd vs. Aliens: Incubus and other stories” is available now from Dark Horse in North America and “2000 AD” publishers Rebellion in the UK.

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