Mega City One is the setting for the John Wagner
/ Carlos Ezquerra
comic character 'Judge Dredd
', as seen in the pages of '2000AD
' since issue 2. Although Dredd is the title character, Mega City One is the main focus of most stories; the few that have been set outside the city (such as the Judge Child
saga) have not generally worked as well. Whereas Superman's Metropolis
and Batman's Gotham
are backdrops for a fascinating central character - particularly so in Superman's case, less so in the case of Batman
, where Gotham mirrors the sickness that haunts our hero - Judge Dredd reverses this. Dredd himself does not have a character; he is a book of law, on a motorcycle, with a gun. Mega City One, however, provides most of the drama, and it is from the city that Wagner and the writers who have followed him have drawn most of their inspiration.
Wagner and Ezquerra devised Dredd in the mid-70s, and Mega City One reflects the concerns of that time. It was inspired by a combination of contemporary concerns on overpopulation and pollution, and rising crime - at the time, New York was starting to earn a reputation as one of America's most lawless cities. Applying the ruthless logic which was Wagner's trademark, he envisaged New York in the 22nd century as having expanded to encompass the entire eastern seaboard of America, with a population of half a billion people. In the world of Judge Dredd a nuclear war has reduced the flyover states into radioactive ash - the Cursed Earth - whilst the dead Black Atlantic rolls by on Mega City One's other border. The city itself is walled and ringed with laser cannon. There is no escape into the countryside, as in the original end of Ridley Scott's 'Bladerunner'.
(Various wars, plagues and invasions of the undead have tinkered with the population figures, in a downwards direction - the writers have a habit of violently purging their creation every five years or so - but the Mega City is nonetheless a bleak, overcrowded place in which personal freedom does not exist.)
In keeping with another mid-70s paranoia, almost all jobs are automated; even newsreaders and pop singers are robotic. The unemployment rate hovers at 98 per cent, and most people having nothing better to do that sit at home watching television. The city is divided into cityblocks, skyscrapers which house the population of a 20th century town in the futuristic equivalent of a giant mall, and with so many people living in such close proximity, even small crimes - littering, smoking outside a designated smoking zone, noise pollution - are punishable by lengthy prison terms. Given that most of the city's core elements were devised between 1974 and 1979, it holds up remarkably well nowadays.
Part of Dredd's appeal is that, although the strip is set in America, it was devised by and is written by British people. Therefore, Judge Dredd takes place in a wildly exaggerated parody of America, one that becomes less implausible as time goes by. The citizens of the city feed on their dead, as the newly-departed are immediately sent to 'Resyk', a gigantic factory which processes corpses into food; groups of overweight people who feel that they are treated unfairly by society are compelled to commit terrorist acts in order to feed themselves; and whenever an employed person is murdered, the first reaction of those who hear the news is to swarm, en masse, to the victim's place of employment on the off-chance that the job is still free.
During the course of the strip Mega City One has been nuked twice (once by the Soviets, in a lengthy, controversial 1983 serial entitled 'The Apocalypse War'), possessed by witches, invaded by the undead and the dread Dark Judges, and afflicted with many minor plauges, killing sprees and accidents. It is not a happy place.
As a postscript, whilst many of New York's other landmarks make an appearance, the World Trade Center's Twin Towers were never featured in the main strip, having been destroyed in the 1979 2000AD annual.