Judge Dredd – Robot Wars.
(AfroGamers.com) When it comes to comics, Judge Dredd is one of my favorites. It’s anthology-style making it a light read in one sitting–think the old Marvel Presents comics or a chapter of a manga. Storyline-wise, the world building starting in the late 1970s to now is interesting. Most of the early Dredd stories are one-off adventures until you get to the multi-part storylines which fill in some of the history of late 21st century-early 22nd century America.
The Robot Wars was the first storyline in Judge Dredd. First published in 2000 A.D. between April and June 1977, it’s one of those stories I always refer to when news of AI or robot advances pop up on the timeline. It just…fits. Let’s dive into this story!
A Dreddful Premonition
One of the things I love about Judge Dredd is that he looks at everything negatively. He’s pessimistic to the point that nothing gets past him. In the year 2099, humans have become overly dependant on robots to do everything. It’s gotten to the point that humans work 10 hours a week at most in Mega City-1.
Since this gives humans the time to enjoy life and family, you’d think we’d be grateful to robots for doing all of that manual labor, right?
Wrong! In Judge Dredd, humans tend to belittle robots and scrap them readily as we see in the opening of the story. Dredd isn’t with it nor does he like that robots are given emotion chips and the ability to think on their own. He knows it will be a problem in the future.
The Three Flaws of Robotics
Actually I should’ve said “He knows it will be a problem soon.” The early Judge Dredd stories are funky when it comes to passage of time. Sometime issues you know a few days have passed while others it’s like one long day.
Call-Me-Kenneth has a logic chip like most advanced robots but something is horribly off with him as he takes to oil robbery and murder. Dredd takes the fight to Kenneth directly and is also killed by his chainsaw.
Even though he manages to blow up Kenneth’s head, the robot isn’t out as his brain is kept in his chest. In the end, Dredd defeats Kenneth by electrocution him.
The Robot Revolt of 2099
Judge Dredd ends up quitting the force after the Chief Judges refuse to pass a law destroying all advanced robots. These Chief Judges are super nonchalant about it not passing the law. “Oh, he just killed 14 people, no big deal. We can’t just destroy all the robots doing the work. Dredd you wild.”
Meanwhile, a doctor had put Kenneth’s brain into a new even stronger body. Why? Why do this? He is hosting a robot surgery show where he is trying to see why Kenneth went bad. He found a flaw in his circuitry that makes him follow the rules.
At that exact moment, a clumsy nurse drops a tool into Kenneth’s power supply, reviving him! Now Call-Me-Kenneth is back on his “destroy all humans” ish and kills the doctor on TV while telling all robots to revolt. All over Mega City-1, robots begin attacking humans. The judges are called in but they don’t have Dredd.
Or at least they didn’t but here’s Dredd, showing up conveniently. I bet he quit and just chilled in the lobby eating the free soft mints for visitors. He just showed right when he heard his name. Dredd leads the judges in controlling the robot revolt.
The Heavy Metal Kids are indestructible construction robots that serve as Call-Me-Kenneth’s major muscle. They’re helping the road crew bots kill a couple a humans, just a couple of them, when the judges roll up.
After some losses, Dredd makes with the strategery and the Heavy Metal Kids end up destroying the ground around their feet and falling to their doom? Or as close to doom as indestructible robots can get. They fell to their extended period of inconvenience. Better.
Dredd decides that the only way to end this is fighting Kenneth one-on-one. Around this time, the judges capture the vending robot Walter. This character is so annoying. He was frightened so much by the revolt that he developed a speech impairment.
I don’t know how a robot does that but Walter the Wobot did. Walter just loves humans and wants to serve them because he’s been on that wobot slavery since he came off the assembly line. These wobots rebelling are shaking the boat and now he’s been caught up in it!
Dredd’s plan is use Walter to infiltrate the robots while posing as one. While showing up at their base, Dredd fights off some robot dogs and is bitten in the process. Once inside, Dredd’s plan seems to work until one robot notices him bleeding.
The robots take him and Walter to Call-Me-Kenneth. Old Kenny has a plan to take Dredd’s brain and put it inside an actual android and kill off the judges. He then shows Dredd how he is running his army. Dredd mentions he just like Hitler and Kenneth’s flattered. Afterward, the lawman is thrown in jail and Walter is put to work. This allows Walter to break Dredd out and they find other robots who want to fight the rebellion.
Wobot on Wobot Violence
Dredd and his makeshift army take the fight to Kenneth’s army. He leaves to stop more robots from being created with Call-Me-Kenneth’s “New Laws.” These laws are basically kill the fleshy ones and obey Kenneth. Vague but easy to remember.
Dredd is successful in ending that and defeating the rebels. Unfortunately, Kenneth and his Heavy Metal Kids are at the Halls of Justice wrecking shop. Once again Dredd has a plan and turns on Mega City-1’s weather system for thunderstorms. Mind you, thunderstorms have been banned since 2012 and I don’t know what the punishment is for causing one.
The gambit works and all of Call-Me-Kenneth’s troops are destroyed fighting each other. Kenneth manages to escape at the last moment but Dredd is hunting for him.
Dredd eventually finds him trying to steal more oil. There’s got to be a better way. Really. After another scrap, Dredd defeats him by shooting at his exposed circuitry. The sparks catch onto the oil and Kenneth catches fire before exploding with an oil tanker.
All in all, Dredd has caused just about as much destruction and litter as Call-Me-Kenneth’s revolt. Shameful. After all the “bad” robots are destroyed, Walter the Wobot is honored in a ceremony, given a pleasure chip, and given his freedom. Note, only after helping humans does he get freedom. Charles Xavier would love this walking trashcan.
Walter doesn’t want his freedom, he only wants to serve Dredd who wants nothing to do with him. Since Dredd can’t ditch him, he ends up being the lawman’s second servant and his main sidekick.
The Robot Wars is a great introduction to the world of Judge Dredd. In all it would be like reading four or five American comics back-to-back but if you’re accustomed to reading manga, the stories just breeze by.
Something I’ve noticed after going through the late-1970s Dredd episodes is that Dredd kills off his foes. Like, they don’t come back–which can be good or bad depending on the villain and if you’d like to see them again. Call-Me-Kenneth is definitely someone I’d love to see more often.
This storyline is tied into Neon Knights, which is basically a humans-only vigilance group out to kill robots. If some of the stuff in The Robot Wars seemed…foggy with robots being referred to as slaves and freedom being the ultimate goal, Neon Knights drove home what they were talking about.
If you think The Robot Wars was madness, things intensify when Dredd has to leave the safety of Mega City-1 to save Mega City-2’s citizens!
Staff Writer; M. Swift
This talented writer is also a podcast host, and comic book fan who loves all things old school. One may also find him on Twitter at; metalswift.