A Los Angeles where endless loops of freeway have been built over the Pacific Ocean, where traffic jams are so epic they make the Sepulveda Pass on Friday afternoon look like child's play, where life is a continuous reality show, where immigrants don't apply for citizenship — they audition. That is the L.A. of 2094 as envisioned by a comic book series devoted to a new incarnation of the future's most hard-boiled cop, Judge Dredd.
A collaboration between writer Douglas Wolk and artist Ulises Farinas (with Ryan Hill serving as colorist), "Judge Dredd: Mega City Two - City of Courts" is a five-comic series that explores the adventures of the cop/judge/executioner on assignment in the megalopolis once known as Southern California.
Prior to writing his take on the classic comic, Wolk, who is the author of "Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean," immersed himself in the Dredd universe by reviewing every comics compilation related to the character on his blog, "Dredd Reckoning." He says that for his version of the character he was definitely interested in exploring stereotypes.
"One of the things that is most interesting to me about the Dredd series is that it's this brutal satire of American culture that is made by and geared at British people," he explains. "I wanted to do something where I had the the same outsider relationship to the place I was writing about. For me, that's L.A." (Wolk lives in Portland, Ore.)
Judge Dredd emerged as a character in the late 1970s in the British comic book "2000 AD." He was the embodiment of the law-and-order-at-any-expense American cop — all set in a dystopic police state, Mega-City One, which covered the entire Boston-to-Washington metropolitan corridor.
Since then, the character has inspired multiple comics series and a couple of Hollywood pictures: the comically bad 1995 movie, featuring Sylvester Stallone in KISS boots, and the highly watchable 2012 version, which contains a deadly villain and a plot about mind-altering drugs. (If you really want some awesome Dredd-ness, check out the 27-minute fan flick "Judge Minty.")
Mega-City Two, as the greater Los Angeles area is known in the world of Dredd, has received only passing treatment in the comics. So when Wolk and Farinas teamed up to do their own Dredd comic, they decided to focus their attention there, since they could build the L.A. of the future from the ground up.
And it's quite a future: Mega-City Two is swimming in crime, corruption, bad traffic, endless freeway construction and tsunamis of entertainment industry oleagineousness. But that is exactly the point.
"I tried to play with every preconception of L.A. that there is," says Wolk. "This is a place where image is everything and where everything is about controlling images. It's California as a place of cults, of people with a golden dream, of a bunch of wildly different communities with totally different rules all squished up against each other in fiscal proximity."
At a visual level, this all comes together to show a Los Angeles that is an apocalyptically sunny, out-of-control mess, where the cameras constantly whir. It perhaps comes as little surprise that Farinas, the Portland artist behind this vision, is no fan of Los Angeles. ("I remember once sitting in traffic for an hour for something that would have been like a 15-minute walk. I was like, 'This is insane.'") But he does like to marinate in the action movies that have been set in our city.
"I mostly thought, 'What are the most ridiculous L.A. movies that I know?' and I went back and watched them all," he recalls. "Movies like 'Die Hard' and 'Falling Down.' There was a good maybe 15 years in which every action movie that took place in California was super orange-y looking and there was always this perpetual heat wave going on."
And, of course, there is 'Demolition Man,' which also starred Stallone. "It's really cheesy — I mean, really cheesy. And that's the feeling I was going for. I don't want this to be serious. I want everything to be plastic."
In all of this hyperbole, however, the pair inserted plenty of nods to the city. The drawings show oceans and cliffs and bits of Googie architecture. Place names refer to various works of art and films that are tied to the city, such as the town of "Barton Fink." The "Burning Museum" is a reference to Ed Ruscha's famous 1960s-era painting "Los Angeles County Museum on Fire," and the gang of motorcyclists was inspired by Hunter S. Thompson's epic article about the Hell's Angels.
In fact, the whole title of the comic — "City of Courts" — is a paean to "City of Quartz," Mike Davis' famous study of the city's urbanism.
"There are a lot of little hidden L.A. jokes," says Wolk. Plenty of reason to go back and comb through all the panels again.
Douglas Wolk and Ulises Farinas will sign copies of their Judge Dredd comic Thursday between 11 a.m. and noon at the IDW Publishing booth (#2643) at Comic-Con, San Diego Convention Center, 111 W. Harbor Drive, San Diego, comic-con.org, idwpublishing.com. (Pre-registration for Comic-Con required.) The collected series "Judge Dredd: Mega-City Two - City of Courts" will be available in book form from IDW in September.