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Dredd: The Citadel

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Reading “The Citadel” over the past few weeks has been a jarring experience.  On the surface there are aspects of the story that don’t sit well.  As a tale based in the AW, the visuals seem more fitting with current Dredd rather than those we all know from Ezquerra’s work in particular.  The cowardice and ineptitude of the Citi-Def contrasts with the actions of many as narrated in AW.  The cadets don’t carry the same callous indifference that many pre-AW tales showed us. In short, a lot of details don’t quite fit with what we remember of MC1 at that time.

Maybe it is being currently immersed in research into an assignment relating to Trauma and memory but going back over the story from the perspective of issues regarding memory puts a different spin on this.  The reconstructive nature of autobiographical memory, imperfections, distortions, guesses and gaps … all for normal memory.  Traumatic memory fits within this framework but there is a lot of research into how suggestion and mental health issues can add to the complexity.

So coming at the story from this perspective, it becomes a far more interesting piece.  It feels like perhaps Wagner is trying to say something about how we understand Dredd himself and his world.  Taking us back to what is considered an iconic story that is often used as a gold-standard for judging others is possibly intentional.  Certainly it would be interesting to have a conversation with him about some of these ideas.


Consider how the narrative is framed.  This is a ‘confessional / revelational’ story purporting to reveal some earth-shattering ‘truth’ about Dredd.  The recollection is being provided by an allegedly former cadet who has been kept in solitary for decades.  This Lector-esque figure is supposedly so dangerous he is fully restrained even in isolation.  He claims to know truths that the Judges don’t want revealed.

The question of validity is posed by these features.  What is Winterton really recalling?  How accurate is that recollection?  What disturbances are affecting his disclosure?  After all, this is not Winterton’s memory, rather it is his retelling of events.  It is clear that he has an agenda but do the Judges have one too in terms of letting him have this opportunity?

Within the framework of the questionable nature of memory, many of the features of the story make more sense.  Details such as the fact that Dredd looks more like modern Dredd than AW Dredd, the critical behaviour of the cadets, the cowardice of Citi-Def fighters … are these actually reflections of Winterton’s mind?  Is Winterton projecting his own resentments and behaviour on to the characters that populate his story?

The way he relates Dredd’s behaviour and language is telling too.  Dredd has always been larger than life.  There has always been a callous aspect to him.  Think about one of the more memorable lines from AW … “The citizens?  What makes you think they’ll be interested?”  There’s a level of jingoism and hyperbole that doesn’t quite fit though.  “That’s a chance I’ll take.  We go down fighting or we go down anyway, dammit!”  Granted there are times when Dredd spoke that way during the AW but largely there is an air of overwhelming restraint.  He talks of giving Citi-Def troops a chance to strike back.  His response to please not to nuke EM-1 is a blunt “request denied.”  He saves the bravado for the enemy leadership.

Is the clone the revelation we are led to believe it is?  Bear in mind that Winterton has recounted events that he could not have witnessed, conversations he could not plausibly have overheard.  It is clear that he is adding in material from his own ‘imagination.’  So the question of what parts of the story are really ‘true’ are constantly in question. 


The two Dredds also reflect different personifications – the hero and the fascist.  On the one hand we have a Dredd that is rigid, unbending and obscenely brutal.  On the other a Dredd that is critical and righteous.  Dredd’s execution of the burning judge is in keeping with his treatment of the rad-sickness refugees.  Clone-Dredd’s declaration regarding his judgement of Dredd’s action is in keeping with his attitude towards the law.  Yet they are presented as being in conflict. 

This seems like a contradiction.  Yet within the context of a ‘dubious memory’ it makes more sense.  Were there really two Dredds or is this Winterton’s projection of his conflicts about who Dredd is to him?  Is he processing his ideas about the way Dredd’s behaviour affected him by splitting the man literally as well as figuratively into two separate individuals?

It would certainly shed light on the ‘murder’ of Clone-Dredd.  The brutal zealot throws his righteous clone literally to the beast?  Any trace of a just figure is erased.  All that is left is the supposedly psychotic arbiter of Mega City Justice.  Is this a reflection of the way in which Winterton’s psychosis is linked to his experiences back in the war?

Arguably much of this interpretation rests on how Winterton is presented within the story.  It is clear that he is a disturbed individual but we don’t know why.  As I’ve already said, much of the framing renders his narration problematic.  It is hard to know what to trust, indeed if any of what he is saying can be trusted.  Is this a true memory or is it the product of years of isolation?  Was Winterton ever actually there?  Was he ever actually a cadet?


All of this raises the question of what Wagner is actually trying to say in this story, as I mentioned earlier.  All of this talk of narrative, memory and perception applies equally to us as readers.  Like Winterton, we’ve been immersed in Dredd’s world for decades but also removed from it.  Our memories of earlier stories frame our attitudes towards them.  The Apocalypse War above all others seems particular resonant.  Especially when you consider that it forms a part of what is generally considered the “Golden Age” of Tooth with the introduction of so many iconic characters and the work of so many influential creative teams.

What of how we view Dredd himself?  He is the supreme arbiter of a fascist system, upholding a totalitarian state in an utterly inhospitable world.  His ‘subjects’ are simultaneously free and oppressed.  The law clearly delineates their freedom just as its suddenly and seemingly arbitrary application brutally constrains it.  They are able to fill their copious free time with whatever fad or fancy they desire so long as it does not attract the attention of the Judges.  Dredd is the figurehead of this system, the ultimate symbol of its excesses.


Different writers have attempted to tell stories set in the world Wagner and Ezquerra created with varying degrees of success.  When we read these stories, our appreciation relies as much on how Dredd appears in those stories as events within the story do.  Dredd is never completely the same in these, reflecting the understanding of the creative team as well as us as readers.

Recent discussions around ‘mega-events’ in Dredd have questioned the lasting impact of each one.  Bearing in mind that Dredd is a collective creation … a product of numerous writers and artists down through the years, but also a product of reader reception … the question of whether there is one ‘real’ Dredd (yes, even as a fictional character) is moot.  Is there a danger though to holding on to our notions of who Dredd might be, of what is possible for him as a character and what his world should look like?

In ‘killing off’ Clone-Dredd as Wagner has, is he posing the question of what might be acceptable to us as readers?  In presenting Winterton’s ‘story’ as he does, is he challenging us to reflect on our ‘sacred cows’ and what we are willing to accept for Dredd’s world?  Are we willing to ‘kill off’ our own ‘True Dredd’ in order to allow the character to evolve and endure?

The above is being written before the final part of the tale has been read.  It will be interesting to see what revelations and questions it brings.  How many of the above questions will be answered?


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