Karl Urban’s portrayal of Judge Dredd returns this month with “Judge Dredd: Underbelly,” the official sequel to last year’s “Dredd 3D” film adaptation. Debuting in “Judge Dredd Megazine” #340 from “2000 AD” publisher Rebellion, “Underbelly” is written by regular “Dredd” writer Arthur Wyatt and drawn by fan-favorite “2000 AD” artist Henry Flint of “Judge Dredd: Day of Chaos” and “Zombo” fame. “Dredd 3D” performed poorly at the box office but went on to become one of the biggest cult hits of the year on DVD and Blu-ray.
Wyatt spoke with CBR News about “Underbelly” ahead of its release, revealing how long after “Dredd 3D” it takes place, what separates “2000 AD” Dredd from “Dredd 3D” Dredd, the pressure he feels continuing the story of the cult film and more.
CBR News: Arthur, “Underbelly” is the official comic book sequel to the film “Dredd 3D.” When did you first see “Dredd 3D” and what are your thoughts on it?
Arthur Wyatt: I saw it with American friends a couple of weeks after the opening — getting out without kids is always a major hassle for me otherwise it would have been sooner — and as the Brit in the group and actually having written “Dredd” stories I felt a bit responsible for it. Fortunately it was amazing so that went alright, and I got to show off that I was in the credits twice, under “thanks,” as “all the writers and artists who have ever worked on it” and “anyone who has posted on the ‘2000 AD’ Message board”… both of which totally count.
How did you get brought on to “Underbelly?”
Matt Smith, the current earthly embodiment of Tharg, asked me if I was interested in doing it as I was finishing up on “The Streets of Dan Francisco.” I leapt at it.
My first pitch was probably a bit too much of a rerun of the movie — basically gang wars in the wake of the fall of Ma Ma. Matt asked me to open it up a little, and so in the final story you get to see some more of Dredd’s world, for instance you get to see a bit of the Cursed Earth. It’s at the periphery, but it’s pretty significant to the story.
I’d also want to have Dredd burst through a window on his Lawmaster as a tribute to his first appearance but that didn’t fit with the Dredd film feel.
In your mind, how is the “Dredd 3D” version of Dredd different from the “2000 AD” version of Dredd?
He’s younger, a little more enthusiastic about his job as the years have ground him down less. He doesn’t have any of the creeping doubts about the system that may have crept in.
Comic book Dredd is more of a colorful sci-fi sandbox — you name it and Mega-City One has got it, from sentient robots to ghosts to spaceships. Movie Dredd paired that back to a few elements, the Judges, the Blocks — Psi powers and the gun that fires multiple ammunition types are probably the most far out elements — and it’s all done with this awesome gritty, dirtied up ’80s action movie style, which is actually a great fit for the earliest “Judge Dredd” stories if you go back and read them.
So the focus is on “real world” crime rather than aliens, robots and inter-dimensional travel, which really strips things back to the core in terms of what kind of stories you can tell — I’ve aimed more for “The Wire” than the 1995 movie, which since I usually use a lot of SF or horror elements has been a challenge. I think it’s probably one of the strongest things I’ve written as a result of taking those props away.
That said, [Alex] Garland has mentioned wanting to use Judge Death as a possible villain for sequels, so maybe it can go there if done right. Maybe the robots from “Elysium” or “Hardware” would fit in.
What’s it like working with Henry Flint? He’s one of the best artists today for wild, crazy, out-of-this-world designs, from his recent Dark Judges work to “Shakara” to stuff like “Zombo. How does his style fit into the “Dredd 3D” world, which is a bit more realistic?
Henry Flint is the most “2000 AD” of all “2000 AD” artists — he’s like Ezquerra, Bisley, McMahon and Kevin O’Neill combined into a glorious force of nature. Getting to collaborate with him is a dream come true!
Part of me wishes it was on some totally far out space thing, but he’s fantastic at grimy urban action as well – you just have to look at “Day of Chaos” to see the fantastic job he’s done there.
I’ve tried to imitate Garland and keep the script fairly lean, so that should give him a chance to really show off in the action scenes. The art I’ve seen so far has been fantastic.
You say you tried to imitate “Dredd 3D” screenwriter Alex Garland in “Underbelly.” Did you speak with Garland at all about the project?
No, I’m not sure that he even knows it’s happening, but I’d be very happy if he approved of the result. I’ve read through the script a couple of times, trying to get the tone right, and it’s remarkable tight and sparse — really good stuff.
What’s “Underbelly” about? How long after the film will it take place?
It follows pretty closely from the end of the movie — the repercussions of the fall of the Ma-Ma are still being felt. Anderson has really come into her own and Dredd will actually be being brought into one of her cases in this one.
Do you feel extra pressure on this project than usual, giving the massive cult following “Dredd 3D” now has?
Yeah, it’s kind of terrifying. I’ve been writing for the “Judge Dredd Megazine” a lot lately, which doesn’t always get the same level of attention as “2000 AD,” but this one is going to be getting all of the attention from the fans. I’m hoping I’ve produced something worthy!
What other projects do you have coming up?
I have another “Dredd” two-parter for the magazine coming up, seeing the return of Judge Zheng from “Inversion,” my first “Judge Dredd” story. It also features some bad guys from another Dreddworld story I’ve written so it’s been fun pitting them against each other.
What’s your favorite “Judge Dredd” story?
It has to be the “Apocalypse War,” probably the most significant of all the Mega-Epics — Ezquerra art throughout, events happening on a huge scale even for “Dredd,” and all the really great Sov Gear. “Day of Chaos” gave it a run for its money, especially if you consider “Origins,” “Tour of Duty” and “Day of Chaos” a rough trilogy.
There’s also a place in my heart for weird horror hybrids like “City of the Damned” or “The Haunting of Sector House 9.” And I’d really like to see the Kevin O’Neill designed Varks come back…
“Judge Dredd: Underbelly” debuted in “Judge Dredd Megazine” #340, on sale in the UK and worldwide through the App store.
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