No. 208 – Rats

Prog 524’s (1987) Brendan McCarthy cover* for the Judge Dredd story Pit Rat** (progs 523–524), written by John Wagner and Alan Grant and drawn by Brett Ewins (1955–2015) v The Rats† (New English Library, 1974) by James Herbert OBE (1943–2013)

The first of a tetralogy of horror stories charting the spread of carnivorous, mutant rats that attack and devour humans in groups, The Rats was followed by Lair (New English Library) in 1979, Domain (Hodder & Stoughton) in 1984, and the graphic novel The City (Macmillan), illustrated by Ian Miller, in 1994.

Giant rampaging mutant rats is a modern twist on an age-old musophobic theme dating at least as far back as The Black Death (1347–1353), when the spread of the bacterium Yersinia pestis in an oriental rat flea infestation of black rats originating in Central Asia resulted in the most devastating pandemic in human history, killing an estimated 200 million people.

Employed in part by Herbert as a metaphor for the degeneration of London’s suburbs‡, mutant rats have long been a staple of Judge Dredd stories and are employed in a similar vein, as harbingers of destruction and embodiments of pestilence, intelligent and malign; whether adapting to soar on Cursed Earth thermals and swoop en masse upon quarry, or cast as the venomous accomplice of the skeletal Fink Angel, for whom crippling poison was the prefered means to homicide.

Rats are indeed fairly intelligent animals – although not quite as intelligent as many believe – posessing basic problem solving abilities, and displaying a high degree of social intelligence such as food sharing and even freeing other rats from traps. They do make good pets, and have done so since at least the 19th century, presenting no more of a health risk than cats or dogs, and capable of learning tricks.

*The tagline “Like a Rat out of Hell!” may be a nod to Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell (Cleveland International/Epic, 1977), or then again, it’s also just an expression and maybe we’ve been at this too long
**Rentakill, the prizefighting rat in Pit Rat, is named after British pest control company Rentokil (now Rentokil Initial)
†Giant mutant rats in horror fiction are certainly not to be attributed to Herbert alone: Stephen King also deserves a mention for having a memorable go at the subject in his popular short story Graveyard Shift (Cavalier, 1970), collected in Night Shift (Doubleday, 1978) and released as Graveyard Shift (Paramount Pictures) in 1990
‡Much sophistication has been generously attributed to Herbert’s work in kindly hindsight, but basically a James Herbert novel was about as low as a schoolboy could go in the ’80s without having it confiscated, being deemed as it was, perilously close to pornography

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No. 203 – Elevator of the Apes

Ugoo-Robert, leader of the All-new Ape Gang, from prog 2088’s (2018) Judge Dredd story Elevator Pitch[1], written by Rob Williams and drawn by Chris Weston v Koba, played by Toby Kebbell, from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)[2]

The “All-new” Ape Gang refers back to the Judge Dredd story The Ape Gang [or Monkey Business] appearing in prog 39 (1977); written by John Wagner and drawn by Mike McMahon; the leader of which was named Don Uggie Apelino, and which featured mutated, intelligent apes (or “uplifts”), the result of cerebral cellular engineering, inhabiting a Mega-City One ghetto known as The Jungle.[3]

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a re-reboot[4] of the successful Planet of the Apes (1968) franchise – based on the novel La Planète des singes (Le cercle du nouveau livre, 1963) by Pierre Boulle (1912–1994) – is the sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), the plot of which is loosely based on the film Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), and is followed by War for the Planet of the Apes (2017), loosely based on the film Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973).

Koba of the Apes series is a bonobo, or “pygmy” chimpanzee, as distinct from the larger common chimpanzee; an endangered species of great ape which, looked at in a certain light, sort of makes pitting him as an antagonist all kinds of dodgy.[5]

Notes:

  1. An “elevator pitch” is a US business idiom meaning a succinct and persuasive sales pitch, ie. one that can be presented successfully within in the constraints of a single elevator ride
  2. Koba was played by Christopher Gordon in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but it seems to us that Ugoo-Robert was more likely based on Koba’s lengthier and more memorable on-screen appearance in its sequel
  3. At least up until The Jungle’s obliteration during The Apocalypse War (progs 245270 (1982))
  4. Although Tim Burton’s uninspiring 2001 remake Planet of the Apes was a financial success, Fox nonetheless chose not to follow it up with a direct sequel
  5. The overall dodginess of ghettoised ape gangsters in Judge Dredd notwithstanding

No. 197 – The Tell-Tale Heart

“Villains!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed! – tear up the planks! – here, here! – it is the beating of his hideous heart!” – Edgar Allan Poe, The Tell-Tale Heart

The Beating Heart (progs 511512 (1987)) Judge Dredd story written by John Wagner and Alan Grant and drawn by Steve Dillon (1962–2016) v Edgar Allan Poe’s (1809–1849) short story The Tell-Tale Heart (The Pioneer, 1843), here illustrated[1] by Berni Wrightson (1948–2017) from The Edgar Allan Poe Portfolio (self-published limited edition, 1976)

As well as playing a crucial role in the development of Romanticism in the United States with his tales of mystery, troubled author and poet Poe is also considered to be the inventor of detective fiction[2], specifically with his short stories The Murders in the Rue Morgue (Graham’s Magazine, 1841), The Mystery of Marie Rogêt (Snowden’s Ladies’ Companion, 1842) and The Purloined Letter (The Gift for 1845, 1844)[3], concerning the adventures of the extremely Sherlockian Parisian detective C. Auguste Dupin, as he relates them to his friend, the unnamed narrator of the stories. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle KStJ DL[4] (1859–1930) owed no small debt of gratitude.

Notes:

  1. Experimenting with an impasto technique: painting with thick, broad strokes, using dark colours – primarily blacks and browns – and, when finished, varnished with a high gloss, making photographic reproduction extremely difficult, sorry
  2. Along with, perhaps, Wilkie Collins (1824–1889), author of The Moonstone (Tinsley Brothers, 1868), considered the first modern English detective novel
  3. The Gold Bug (Philadelphia Dollar Newspaper, 1843) also deserves a mention on the subject of Poe’s detective fiction, although it is not a C. August Dupin adventure
  4. Kinght of Justice of Order of Saint John; Deputy Lieutenant [to the Crown]

No. 194 – Burn Rubber!

Marvel Spotlight on… Ghost Rider image ©Marvel Entertainment, LLC

One-off character Johnny Biker from the story Heavy Metal Dredd: The Legend of Johnny Biker from Judge Dredd: The Megazine Vol. 1 No. 19 (1992), written by John Wagner and Alan Grant and drawn by Simon Bisley v supernatural stunt motorcyclist Johnny Blaze aka. Ghost Rider, here pictured in his first appearance in Marvel Spotlight Vol. 1 #5 (1972) drawn by Michael J. Ploog and Mamoru Morrie Kuramoto (1921–1985)

Ghost Rider refers to several supernatural anti-heroes in the Marvel universe but the incarnation with which most comic fans will be familiar is the original Johnny Blaze, who, in order to save the life of his father, agreed to give his soul to “Satan” (later revealed to be an arch-demon named Mephisto). Blaze made his first appearance in 1972, whereupon Marvel renamed their existing western-themed Ghost Rider to Phantom Rider.

Although a visually arresting character with considerable cinematic potential, only two somewhat mediocre Nicolas Cage vehicles have emerged: Ghost Rider (Columbia Pictures, 2007) and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (Columbia Pictures, 2011).

Instead of a Ghost Rider film trailer, let’s have some music instead:

No. 193 – It’s Life, Jim…

Ian Gibson’s cover for prog 1232’s (2001) Judge Dredd story Star Drekk: A Space Fantasy, written by John Wagner and drawn by Anthony Williams, colours by Chris BlytheGene Roddenberry’s (1921–1991) Star Trek; pictured here the original series cast [left to right, back row]: Lieutenant Hikaru Kato Sulu (George Takei), Lieutenant Nyota Uhura (Nichele Nichols), Ensign Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig), Yeoman Janice Rand (Grace Lee Whitney (1930–2015)), Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (DeForest Kelly (1920–1999)), Lieutenant Commander Montgomery “Scotty” Scott (James Doonan (1920–2005)), and [front row]: Captain James Tiberius “Jim” Kirk (William Shatner) and Commander* Spock (Leonard Nimoy (1931–2015))

Easily surpassing in cult status even its closest rival** for fan zealotry, Star Trek has since 1966 become a bona fide pop culture phenomenon, due at least in part to its uncharacteristically positive take on the future of humankind within the sci-fi genre; inspiring not only a host of films, television shows, comics, magazines, books, pop songs, merchandising, a language, and endless parodies, but also several documentary feature films such as Scott Colthorp’s Trek Nation (Paramount Pictures, 2011), William Shatner’s The Captains (Movie Central/The Movie Network/Epix/Corus Entertainment/Ballinran Entertainment, 2011), and also his TV film Chaos on the Bridge (CTD, 2014), For the Love of Spock (455 Films, 2016), among others; and even two documentary feature films about Star Trek fandom itself: Roger Nygard’s Trekkies† (Paramount Pictures, 1997) and Trekkies 2 (Paramount Pictures, 2004); not to mention inspiring non-canon films such as Galaxy Quest (DreamWorks Pictures, 1999) and Please Stand By (Magnolia Pictures, 2017), and the television series The Orville (20th Television, 2017– ).

And now we’re going to exhaustively list all the TV shows and films for the sake of completeness, because we like lists, and also so we have enough room to sprinkle this entry with amusing screen grabs from the Dredd story – so, television shows: Star Trek (CTD, 1966–1969), [sequels to the original series] Star Trek: The Animated Series (CTD, 1973–1975), Star Trek: The Next Generation (CTD, 1987–1994), Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993–1999), Star Trek: Voyager (CTD, 1995–2001), [prequels to the original series] Star Trek: Enterprise [or Enterprise] (CTD, 2001–2005) and Star Trek: Discovery (CTD, 2017– ); and [original series-based] films: Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Paramount Pictures, 1979), Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (Paramount Pictures, 1982), Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (Paramount Pictures, 1984), Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (Paramount Pictures, 1986), Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (Paramount Pictures, 1989), Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Paramount Pictures, 1991), [Next Generation films] Star Trek: Generations (Paramount Pictures, 1994), Star Trek: First Contact (Paramount Pictures, 1996), Star Trek: Insurrection (Paramount Pictures, 1998), Star Trek: Nemesis (Paramount Pictures, 2002), [original series reboot films] Star Trek (Paramount Pictures, 2009), Star Trek into Darkness (Paramount Pictures, 2013) and Star Trek Beyond (Paramount Pictures, 2016). Phew.

*Not “Mr.” – he’s the Science Officer and First/Executive Officer, i.e. second-in-command
**Star Wars Or Star Trek, The Fans Have Spoken – Forbes 04 May 2017; ‘Star Trek’ or ‘Star Wars’: Which is the greater franchise? – The Tylt 2016
†Although elements within Star Trek fandom itself insist that the correct term for fans is “Trekkers”

No. 192 – Feed Me!

Ravenous mutants from the Judge Edwina’s Strange Cases story Feed Me! from Judge Dredd: The Megazine Vol. 1 No. 7 (1991) written by Warren Ellis and drawn by Sean Phillips v Slimer from Ghostbusters (Columbia Pictures, 1984)

John Belushi

Slimer was not known by any particular name during the production of Ghostbusters but was referred to as “The Onionhead Ghost,” whose significant attribute was originally intended to be an incredibly foul odour rather than a voracious appetite. Frequently described in interviews as “The Ghost of John Belushi [1949–1982]” by long-time colleague Dan Aykroyd, this was due to a remark by director Ivan Reitman (who also voiced the character) that the model for Slimer reminded him of Belushi’s character John “Bluto” Blutarsky in National Lampoon’s Animal House (Universal Pictures, 1978).

No. 189 – Attack of the 50 Foot Woman!

Prog 492’s (1986) Judge Dredd story Attack of the 50 Foot Woman! written by John Wagner and Alan Grant and drawn by Gary LeachAttack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958), theatrical poster by Reynold Brown (1917–1991), who also painted the posters appearing in HoH No. 23 – Tarantula! and No. 24 – Ben-Hur

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is in fact a parody of other 1950s sci-fi films of the time featuring size-changing humans: The Amazing Colossal Man (American International Pictures, 1957), its sequel War of the Colossal Beast (American International Pictures, 1958), and The Incredible Shrinking Man (Universal Pictures, 1957).

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