“Every woman adores a fascist.” -Sylvia Plath
“We drove past the hatchery, / the hut that sells bait, / past Pigeon Cove, past the Yacht Club, past Squall’s Hill, / to the house that waits still, / on the top of the sea, / and two portraits hung on the opposite walls.” -Anne Sexton
I’m not going to Comic-Con this year, but I have been reading a lot of comics lately, plowing through 2000 AD’s editions of Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files and Savage She-Hulk #1-25. They’re wildly different comics projects—Judge Joseph Dredd is the main character in a long-running futuristic comics saga that doesn’t reboot, letting a year pass in his life for every one of ours, while She-Hulk is a mid-level character in the complex Marvel Comics universe. And even more important, they explore wildly different values. And over the past couple of weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why, as a feminist and a civil libertarian, I like both a fascist cop who originated as a British satire of American authoritarian tendencies and a green feminist defense lawyer who was created to preempt a television rip-off of both the Hulk and the Bionic Woman so much.
In coming to terms with the cop, it help that Dredd is a satire of the yearning towards authoritarianism, and that the writing is often very funny. In a confrontation with the Dark Judges, undead villains dedicated to eradicating all life, Judge Fear attempts to drive Judge Dredd mad by telling him, “Gaze into the face of fear!” “For a moment the icy chill of terror courses down Dredd’s spine,” the comic tells us. “The shock of this gaze can kill an ordinary man. But Dredd is a judge—and Judges are not ordinary men!” His response? A solid punch, delivered with the retort: “Gaze into the fist of Dredd!” In another story arc, called Block Mania, Mega-City One’s inhabitants, cramped into massive apartment buildings with strong internal identities, are drugged with a chemical that leads to city-wide riots. Dredd leads the response, but ultimately gets hit with a heavy dose of the substance himself. It’s hilarious watching this highly controlled man go as bonkers as his neighbors, hollering at the Judges under his command, “Now there’s just one thing I gotta know. I’m with Rowdy Yates Block! Who you fighting with?”
The comic also regularly punctures Dredd’s stoicism, particularly with regard to Walter, his lisping, worshipful robot butler who is an obvious stand in for stereotypically gay functionaries. Walter adores Dredd, and embraces subservience and slavery (something that causes him real psychological struggle down the line). But even though Dredd finds Walter irritating, Walter often inadvertently saves him. When Dredd is infiltrating the inner circle of a corrupt Chief Judge, the leader of the Department of Justice, which lead a coup and now rules Mega-City one in a dictatorship, Walter helps him sneak through a secret passageway in the Hall of Justice. During the Apocalypse War arc, Walter, who is trying to help Judge Dredd’s landlord Maria get cured of her Block Mania, finds out that invaders from East-Meg One, the nation that’s replaced the Soviet Union, are flanking Dredd’s forces and about to destroy them. Walter’s decency ends up being more crucial to Dredd’s survival in that moment than Dredd’s competence or authority.