Definitions

Mechanismo

Mechanismo

Mechanismo is the title of a Judge Dredd story published in the British comic Judge Dredd Megazine in 1992. It was the first story in a series of stories published over the next two years in both the Megazine and 2000 AD. (The rest of this article is about the series as a whole.) The stories concern the Mechanismo Programme, a project to build robot Judges to police the streets of Mega-City One, and the decline of Chief Judge McGruder's authority during her last years in office. All of the stories were written by Judge Dredd creator John Wagner.

"Mechanismo" may also refer to the robots themselves.

("Mechanismo" is also the title of a book published in 1978 containing illustrations of futuristic technology, like star ships, robots, weapons, etc., by a variety of artists (including Giger, Jim Burns, Achilleos, Angus McKie, and Russell Mills), along with text by Harry Harrison.)

Significance

Judge McGruder was one of the most important supporting characters in the Judge Dredd strip at the time that the Mechanismo stories were published. Her eccentricity and questionable mental health had been a recurring theme in the background of many Judge Dredd stories ever since the character's reintroduction to the strip in Necropolis over two years earlier. There had been hints of a split personality, a tendency to talk to herself, and other odd mannerisms and characteristics, which were primarily used for comic relief. However, in the first three Mechanismo stories McGruder's judgement and suitability for high office were increasingly called into question. This issue rapidly became the focus of the Mechanismo storyline, and was dealt with in a much more serious tone than previous stories had done. As the storyline developed, the emphasis moved away from robots and action, and towards political intrigue and McGruder's paranoia, before reverting back to action again as it neared its conclusion.

The storyline is also notable because it included "Wilderlands", the second crossover story between the Megazine and 2000 AD.

Robots' design

The Mechanismo robots were humanoid in shape and were armour-plated, with insignia resembling those on human judge uniforms. They had infra-red vision, built-in weaponry including missiles and gas grenades, and carried large machine-guns. They were issued with Lawmaster motorcycles. Although no longer vested with judicial powers, they are still used as combat units in dire emergencies.

Their original appearance was designed by artist Colin MacNeil. A later upgraded version, the "Mark IIA," was designed by artist Peter Doherty.

Plot: the Mechanismo trilogy

First story

Following the cataclysmic disasters known as Necropolis and Judgement Day in which many street judges lost their lives, Justice Department was severely under strength. To supplement the numbers of human judges and bring the escalating crime rate under control, Chief Judge McGruder authorised Tek Division (Justice Department scientists) to build robot judges, which once ready would be vested with full judicial powers: authority to arrest, convict, sentence and if necessary execute criminals. The whole project was developed in strict secrecy under the auspices of Tek-Judge Stich, and was not revealed to the public or to rank-and-file judges until the first batch of robots were ready for duty in late 2114.

The Mark I robots were field-tested under strict supervision. Although they made a promising start, Judge Dredd was not impressed with the idea and was aggressively resistant to the whole concept: however Stich and the Chief Judge ignored his concerns. Dredd was soon vindicated when two of the robots ran amok and began slaughtering innocent civilians indiscriminately. When the robots were ordered to shut down, the two rogue units ignored the order and had to be destroyed. Dredd personally gunned down unit number 5.

Mechanismo Returns

Even this fiasco was not enough to persuade McGruder to cancel the Mechanismo Project. She simply paid compensation to the victims' families and ordered Stich to rectify the fault in the robots' design and programming. Her ambitions suffered a further setback however when the damaged Number Five reactivated itself and embarked on a second killing spree, escaping from Justice Department premises and shooting judges and civilians alike. This time the robot escaped into the sewer system and was not recaptured.

Body Count

After the massacres perpetrated by the Mark I robots, Judge Stich was unable to bear his share of the responsibility for the disaster and he went insane. He was committed to a psychiatric ward, from where he would persistently escape and search the sewers for the rogue Number Five. It was therefore generally assumed that McGruder had learned her lesson and that the project had been discontinued. It suited McGruder to allow people to think so. However, she still authorised the development of Mark IIs, this time under the purview of Tek-Judge Quiggley. After another year of work, Quiggley almost had the improved robots ready for a second field test when Number Five re-emerged from the sewer and began its third campaign of murder. This time Number Five had learned to go to ground after each attack, and all efforts to locate it failed. Taking personal charge of the search, McGruder brought forward the new robots' field test and deployed them on the streets, reasoning (wrongly as it transpired) that the best way to anticipate the next move of a robot was to use other robots to hunt it.

Dredd was appalled to learn that the Mechanismo Programme had continued in secret, and openly demanded the Chief Judge's resignation. She refused. This was a major turning-point in the strip, as the two characters, formerly allies, became adversaries.

Resolving to stop the Mechanismo Programme, Dredd decided to discredit the Mark II robots by finding Number Five before they did. He realised that the robot was still using the sewers to move around undetected, and began his search there. However, one of the Mark IIs found Number Five at the same time as Dredd. Ignoring Dredd's shouted order not to fire, the Mark II destroyed Number Five. Dredd then illegally destroyed the Mark II and persuaded the suggestible Judge Stich – who had witnessed the entire incident – that he had seen Number Five destroy the Mark II and then Dredd destroy Number Five.

New direction

For Judge Dredd to break the law was almost unheard of, as one of the defining traits of his character is his inflexible devotion to enforcing the law. This crime was to have major repercussions in the next phase of the storyline, as attention moved away from the robots themselves and settled more on the conflict between Dredd and McGruder.

Plot: "Wilderlands" story arc

Following the apparent failure of the Mark II robot judges, Judge Quiggley was demoted and Tek-Judge Greel was put in charge of the Mechanismo Programme, again in secret. In 2116 his Mark IIA robots were ready. They had a radically different appearance to the first two batches, and were given names instead of numbers to make them less intimidating to the public. (Although the script described the Mark IIAs as looking "friendlier" than their predecessors, artist Peter Doherty's design looked sinister and inscrutable.)

To much controversy and consternation, the new robots were again deployed on the streets. This finally brought to a head the widespread concerns about Chief Judge McGruder's deteriorating judgement, and a delegation of the city's most senior judges – including Dredd – met with her and requested that she reform the Council of Five (which she had suspended four years earlier). McGruder refused, believing the request to be a ploy to depose her: "crazy old McGruder appoints a Council, Council votes out crazy old McGruder!" McGruder was prepared for this turn of events, and had ex-judge Stich brought into the meeting. Stich had been interrogated at length by Greel, and subjected to truth drugs, until he had remembered the true sequence of events when Number Five and the Mark II robot had been destroyed. Implicated in criminal damage and perjury, Dredd confessed and was sentenced to 20 years' hard labour on the penal colony of Titan. The delegation dispersed, defeated.

McGruder was due to visit the planet Hestia on a diplomatic visit, and left Greel in charge as acting chief judge in her absence. She took Dredd with her, intending to take him to Titan on the return journey.

The Tenth Planet

The diplomatic visit was not a success. McGruder attempted to sell some Mechanismo units to the Hestian government, but when her party was threatened by a stampede of large animals her robot bodyguard took no action to protect her. Worse still, it was Dredd – despite being in handcuffs – who averted disaster. On a later occasion McGruder's life was threatened by an attack of deadly Dune Sharks: deadly man-eating predators native to Hestia. One of the Mechanismo units had a dune shark in its sights, but appeared to deliberately miss, and it was a human judge, Judge Castillo, who saved her life.

Wilderlands

As McGruder's spaceship, Justice 4, began to leave the planet Hestia the flight crew were murdered, and the ship crashed. Many passengers and crew were killed, and the survivors were stranded in the hostile wilderlands of the unexplored part of the planet. Since no distress message had been sent, nobody even knew that they had crashed. McGruder received a head injury in the crash, and went into a life-threatening coma. Even though Dredd was a prisoner he assumed command, since none of the ship crew (who now all technically outranked him) were competent or experienced enough to keep the survivors alive.

Dredd sent Judge Castillo away from the main party to search for an abandoned outpost from which it was hoped she could raise Mega-City One on whatever communication equipment was there, while Dredd remained in charge of survival efforts. While Castillo struggled through the hostile terrain on foot, Dredd was forced to deal with a rogue Mark IIA Mechanismo robot which had escaped the stricken spaceship and which had been responsible for causing the crash in the first place. Dredd prevented the robot from assassinating McGruder, who finally saw the error of her ways and pardoned Dredd for his crimes.

Aftermath

Greel was arrested on suspicion of sabotaging the robots and attempting to kill the Chief Judge. However, after 72 hours of intensive interrogation no evidence was found to prove the charge, and he was released (but demoted). McGruder aborted the Mechanismo Programme and, on returning to Mega-City One, resigned from office. Her final, controversial act as chief judge was to order that her successor was to be elected by the 400 senior judges of the Justice Department. Judge Volt decisively defeated Dredd, Hershey and Herriman in the election, and reinstated the Council of Five.

Crossover and criticism

The Mechanismo trilogy had been told entirely in the Judge Dredd Megazine in 1992-93, and no mention of those events had been made in sister comic 2000 AD. This was addressed by a short story in 2000 AD in 1994, beginning the new "Wilderlands" arc which then continued in the Megazine. The story "Wilderlands" itself was told in both comics, but using a different method to the previous crossover "Judgement Day". Whereas "Judgement Day" had been told in a completely linear fashion, with episodes alternating between the two comics, "Wilderlands" initially began in the same way, but then diverged into two separate plotlines, one following Dredd and the other following Castillo. This meant that readers who only bought one comic could still follow the story. However, some readers who read both titles complained that much of the content of the early episodes was repetitive, as the same events were told twice – once in each comic – until Dredd and Castillo were separated. Writer John Wagner would not perfect this technique until the third such crossover, "The Doomsday Scenario," in 1999.

Subsequent appearances

Although the Mechanismo Programme was ended, the existing robots were not destroyed, but were retained for military use. The Mark IIs were deployed on spaceships, and the Mark IIAs were mothballed and kept in storage in the Grand Hall of Justice. Taking control of the stored Mechanismo units was the key part of an attempted coup by Space Corps veterans in 2129 (in the story Mandroid: Instrument of War).

Incubus

In Judge Dredd vs. Aliens: Incubus, Judge Giant and several of the Mark IIA robots defended the Grand Hall of Justice from the Xenomorph.

Bibliography

All stories written by John Wagner.

  • Mechanismo trilogy:
  • "Wilderlands" story arc:
    • "Conspiracy of Silence" (with Mark Harrison, in 2000 AD #891-894, 1994)
    • "Prologue" (with Peter Doherty, in Judge Dredd Megazine #57, 1994)
    • "The Tenth Planet" (with Carlos Ezquerra, in Judge Dredd Megazine #58-62, 1994)
    • "Wilderlands" (with Carlos Ezquerra and Mick Austin, in 2000 AD #904-914 and with Trevor Hairsine, in Judge Dredd Megazine #63-67, 1994)
    • "Parting Shots," "The Candidates" and "Voting Day" (with Carlos Ezquerra and Mick Austin, in 2000 AD #915-918, 1994)
    • "Farewell to the Chief" (with Cyril Julien, in Judge Dredd Megazine #68, 1994)

Collections

Two volumes have been released:

  • Mechanismo (Hamlyn, 1993, ISBN 0-7493-1640-3)

Does not include "Body Count"

  • Wilderlands (Hamlyn, 2001, ISBN 0-600-60309-1)

Does not include "Farewell to the Chief"

See also

References

External links

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